Fanny Gendrau-Kelly

Interview with ITIA member

Fanny Gendrau-Kelly

from Members' Corner in ITIA Bulletin 2015-04
Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.

I am French and have been a permanent resident of the Emerald Isle since 2005. I completed my Master’s Degree in English in NUI Maynooth in 2006 and learnt so much about myself and the world during my “Erasmus year” that I decided I would stay a little longer, and then a little longer still. Professionally speaking, I have been a full-time, in-house translator in an Accounting Firm specialised in taxation a little too far from Dublin City for the past three years. I also perform freelance work in my free time, to keep my perspective open (article writing, interpretation, revision, translation). My two working language pairs are English into French and French into English.

When and why did you decide on a career in translation/interpreting?

Full disclosure, we’re among friends: I only realised translation was a possible career as a first year University student, in France. I never knew what I wanted to do for a living until I started considering translation as my vocation, in my mid-twenties. When I was younger, all I wanted to do was break codes (as a seven year old Champollion wannabe, my “Fun with Hieroglyphs” was an epiphany) and be on holiday (i.e. travelling to other countries where I truly felt free). In time, my interests translated into learning and practising languages; once I mastered the language well enough, opening a book in English meant I got to wear my second skin. Not knowing what I wanted to study proved to be a recurrent issue: I had to choose major subjects at the end of my years in collège, at 15; then once again in lycée, at 18; as a University student, the dilemma presented itself at the end of every single term. I traced a winding road, picking whatever subject felt most interesting while working for a living, thus gaining self-defining experiences. Through translation, I rely on my entire study curriculum and make use of all the sections on my dilettante’s résumé. It feels like I never had to settle for one profession in particular: I keep on studying and broaden my horizons a little more with every translation job I take on.

Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career.

I think this would have to be moving to Ireland; it was meant as a year studying abroad, at first, but one thing lead to another and I’m still here! Very early on, my family instilled in me a taste for languages – my parents would speak English to each other so I wouldn’t eavesdrop on certain conversations – and it grew into a passion. I initially meant to teach English in France; so, after a bureaucratic whirlwind of cover letters, tests, interviews, grant applications, and an epic quest for accommodation on top of it all, my home University (Versailles/Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) sent me to its partner institution in Ireland, NUI Maynooth. As unsettling as it was, at first, I became addicted to discovering new things, new words, new people every day. I had left my proverbial comfort zone and it boosted my ambition in a positive way: I learnt to live through English and also, with the help of one especially dear friend, to fly by my own wings.

How important are training and qualifications for a career in translation?

Both practise and qualifications are essential components of a translator’s background. Studying translation is obviously what helped me elect my chosen path, but I’ll also emphasise what I came to view as two key aspects: first, a translator’s career comes in many shapes and forms (conference interpreter, technical translator, freelancer, in-house staff member, a combination of these); then, translating in school is great to test the water and establish whether you actually like translating, reading, writing, but it has nothing to do with the day-to-day activity of a professional translator. It can be difficult to find your place, pace, clients, etc. I don’t think there’s one universal recipe, a reliable ‘How to Become a Translator in 12 Steps’ instruction manual. If you love translating then you’ll find ways to keep on doing it, hopefully for a living. I try and focus on the pleasure that the act of translating brings me, in whatever task, small or large, that I undertake in my various work environments.

Is CPD important?

CPD is pivotal: languages evolve, business sectors mutate constantly – the translation business over the past 20 years in particular

CPD is pivotal: languages evolve, business sectors mutate constantly  – and technological advances help improve the condition of professionals across the board. Translators – especially self-reliant freelancers – should keep informed and seek helpful innovations, strategies susceptible to improve efficiency, sources of inspiration. Professional associations (such as the ITIA!) offer a great way to ensure continuous learning and professional development.

Is it of benefit being a member of the local translator/interpreter association?

Local associations bring about invaluable opportunities to develop as a translator and grow a business through CPD, networking, professional recommendations (professional associations are many of your potential clients’ first port of call), sustained involvement in the industry (email alerts about training opportunities, large-scale selective recruitment by the EU, etc.); they also highlight a freelancer’s willingness to have her or his work assessed, since most associations would test their established members.

What type of texts do you translate?

I work on varied material depending on which of my two Translator’s Hats I have on. On the one hand, I’m a full-time in-house translator at the Technical Department of an Accounting firm specialised in taxation. I work on-site in the Dublin area and translate my colleagues’ emails, perform phone or live interpreting, liaise via email and phone with Tax Inspectors or suppliers based across Europe (in French) to then report my findings (in English) to my colleagues, and vice versa. On the other hand, freelance interpreting and translating allows me to widen my perspective. As a Sole Trading Freelancer – to employ Revenue-esque terminology – I have been assigned on various interpretation jobs (e.g. cinema festivals, symposium in the medical field) and get to translate written text for direct clients (e.g. art exhibition brochures, fashion articles, marketing material, short biographies, tourism & travel reviews, etc.). I find this twofold activity salubrious for many reasons: having your fingers in more than one pie means a richer tasting experience in the form of an overview of the translation sector, multiple work environments, opportunities to expand your network, potential career moves, and a chance to grow your business

Do you work in a team or on your own?

I’m the only English/French translator in my company and have one translator colleague in charge of English/German translations. We get on very well and regularly confer to work out efficient ways, tackle our daily missions. There isn’t any formal translation process in place, other than the one we implement ourselves, and the two of us are in charge of both production and quality assessment, translation, proof-reading, and technical writing. The upside is that we may consult on-site experts whenever issues seem a little too unsurmountable.

As a freelancer, I vouch for tip-top output quality: I only ever undertake text types with which I’m relatively familiar, prepare adequately before any assignment through preliminary research, and organise proofreading by a native speaker of the target language before delivery

As a freelancer, I vouch for tip-top output quality: I only ever undertake text types with which I’m relatively familiar, prepare adequately before any assignment through preliminary research, and organise proofreading by a native speaker of the target language before delivery

How important are CAT tools in your daily work?

As an in-house translator, even though I have encouraged my employer to acquire a CAT tool, there is none in place at the moment. My German translator colleague and I make do with MS Word for translation tasks and Excel for terminology management, which I see as capital in any field of technical translation. After I was trained on various types of CAT software as part of my Postgraduate Diploma in Translation in Dublin City University in 2008-2009, I acquired a memoQ license and use it as a freelancer. CAT tools help you ensure consistency throughout repetitive or technical text, efficient term base management, and a growing number of agencies expect translation memories and glossaries to be part of translators’ modus operandi.

Is there a minimum daily output?

As a freelancer, it really depends on the text type. While technical material usually requires preparatory reading and terminology research, it’s safer to commit to tight deadlines for content of a general or familiar nature. For this reason, I would be uncomfortable giving a word count per day. As an in-house staff member, because my duties involve following up on tax mysteries with suppliers, European Tax Authorities, etc., translation isn’t my only responsibility, and I’m not held to any daily output. I will also mention that in-house translators working in translation agencies are dealt a different hand; again, it depends whether they earn a set monthly income, a rate per source word, or even get a bonus for excess output.

How do you find clients?

Everywhere and anywhere. I don’t mean that I’m offering my services 24/7, but I do keep an open mind, an attentive ear, and have my business cards within hand’s reach. Networking has been a key marketing element in my career so far. Your prospects may contact you via professional associations such as the ITIA, on-line communities such as, previous employers, friends and family.

Is it really necessary to specialise?

I think it’s important to specialise, yes. As an in-house staff member I enjoy touching upon more than one field of expertise. At the moment I try and make the most of insights into the fields of accounting, EU law, finance, and IT. I also work on a variety of source material as a freelancer.

Does it become boring translating the same types of text day in day out?

Specialising in one field can become monotonous, but there are ways to avoid it: often, all it takes is shifting your focus and getting organised

Specialising in one field can become monotonous, but there are ways to avoid it: often, all it takes is shifting your focus and getting organised. My freelancing activity brings me variety and I try and focus on the arts in order not to be restricted to content relating exclusively to tax law and finance. On the other hand, when I deal with the core and fibre of accounting, I cultivate the art of template design. CAT tools and translation memories are especially useful to avoid translating the same thing over and over again, which will save you time and energy. Term base compiling is well worth the effort, it helps me organise data and learn more efficiently. These day-to-day strategies give me the feeling of a job well done, which is a reward in itself when you work in a team of one. Self-reliance is a laudable goal, but it can also bring about a feeling of isolation.

Is translation a high-pressure job with tight deadlines?

It really depends on your work environment: translation agencies constantly seek out new clients and fast turnaround is their selling point. Cheap and fast, however, just like immediate gratification, is a questionable priority. On the translators’ side, this means more pressure, lower rates, and tight deadlines. Try and consider each job as it comes and negotiate with your Project Manager or direct client. More negotiation means more communication, conciliation, and ultimately a better knowledge of the needs and priorities of all parties involved.

Very often these days, we never get to see or meet the client, all communication is done by email or phone or skype. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Telecommunications are great in that you get to do business all around the world. In order to gain experience in the industry, I worked as a Translation Project Manager for two years, in Waterford at first and then from home in Dublin. I was given the chance to meet and interacted with countless Desktop Publishing professionals, interpreters, translators all over the globe, and now work in partnership with some of them. A friend in San Francisco proofreads my English translations and another in Vancouver proofreads my French output. Actively engaging with people from such distance is physically freeing and allows you to bring your portable office with you anywhere. Be warned: with this business format come new rules, new ways for clients to establish their suppliers’ reliability. In my experience, being (very) responsive and regularly reminding clients of my availability is what pays off. As a freelancer, neither your potential nor your regular clients can see you on a daily basis: find new ways to show commitment, polish your on-line presence, fine-tune your professional profiles, read and proofread any on-line content you authored and, last but not least, Google yourself (you may be surprised).

What is the best / worst thing about being a freelance or staff translator?

On my best days, I’m able to focus on the fact that I help make people’s own professional tasks easier. In my day job, I cheer up any time my immediate colleagues express gratefulness (at which point I also drill it into them that free on-line translations will cause the end of our species). I feel rewarded when their skills combine to mine and we all reach satisfactory results. As a freelancer, any compliment from my clients is a source of motivation.

The worst about being a translator is manifold, and it’s easy to get bogged down by frustrating experience which we all share: stubborn CAT tools, having to justify the value of quality translation, agencies asking for lower rates, etc.

The worst about being a translator is manifold, and it’s easy to get bogged down by frustrating experience which we all share: stubborn CAT tools, having to justify the value of quality translation, agencies asking for lower rates, etc.

Is it possible to have a good standard of living as a freelance/staff translator/interpreter?

I wouldn’t be an authority on this, but I hear the average income fluctuates immensely. At this stage, I’m not freelancing full-time because I need a guaranteed income, and yet I regularly browse the Internet for personal stories by sole trading translators as a source of motivation. I find these articles useful; they help me find direction in the wide field of professional translation before I go solo again. For now, I’m electing areas of speciality and keep working on my approach to business negotiation.

What are the most important characteristics of a good translator?

Open-mindedness and curiosity are key: everything you learn, see and talk about can be put to use. It’s also capital to practise and find ways to remain functional under pressure. Time and stress management are of the essence in order to maintain a professional attitude towards clients and keep deadlines.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a translator?

Aspiring translators may ask themselves whether they want to dedicate their time and energy to life-long language learning; whether they are willing to patiently engage in educating clients when it comes to the importance of text quality as the key to value for money (low cost and rushed jobs don’t pay off in the long run); and whether they will accept multiple responsibilities in addition to their chosen vocation (bookkeeping, general business management, marketing, public relations, time-keeping, etc.). If you feel you can commit, then trust yourself and enjoy!