Lidia Grabowska

Interview with ITIA member

Lidia Grabowska

from Members' Corner in ITIA Bulletin 2015/5

Describe yourself professionally in a few words.

I am Polish and I am a certified Polish-English and English-Polish translator, professional member of ITIA. I work as a freelance translator. My main focus is on the translation of official documents that require ‘the stamp’; occasionally, I work as an interpreter, usually in the legal environment (courts, solicitor’s office, etc.). I arrived in Ireland in 2003 and it has been my home since.

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

Since I can remember, I always wanted to study the English language without really thinking what my future career would be. I graduated from the English Philology Department at the University of Silesia, Poland with a Master’s Degree. After the university, as many of my classmates, I ended up teaching English as a foreign language for 5 years. Lucrative as the profession was, I did not see myself doing it for the rest of my life. So I started looking for something more exciting. I decided to do a post-graduate course in Translation and Interpreting at the School of Translation, Interpreting and Foreign Languages in Poznan. I loved it from day one! Studying there helped me to further develop my language skills, but more importantly, I learned a lot about different aspects of the profession.

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

After graduation, I decided to travel a bit before looking for a ‘serious’ job and I came to Ireland. Initially, I planned to stay for a few months. When I decided to stay a little longer, I started to look around and enquire how I could get into the translation business in this country. Before I arrived in Ireland I had some translation experience gained in Poland but only after I joined the ITIA I slowly started progressing my career as a translator.

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

I think they are necessary. In my case, the training I received in the translation programme made me aware of numerous issues that are involved in the translation profession such as ethical issues, stress management, or even voice training; thanks to it I was prepared for many situations. Of course, you do learn as you go along and practice is the only way to make perfect but with good grounds you reach that ‘perfect’ sooner.

What type of texts do you translate?

I mostly focus on translation of official document that require certification such as birth or marriage certificates, court documents. I also translate a variety of texts for agencies those could be legal documents, contracts, social welfare documents, medical certificates and many others.

How important are CAT tools in your daily work?

They are not really useful with the type of texts I translate. I have my own translation database that I have created over the years and that I use all the time. I have used SDL Trados in the past, and I admit it helps a translator work considerably faster. It really depends what kind of projects you work on.

How do you find clients?

My target audience are mostly Polish people living in Ireland so I try to reach out to the Polish communities. After a few years of work, the word-of-mouth rule works great ways; and of course I always have a couple of business cards at hand.

Is it really necessary to specialise?

Yes, it’s very important to have a specialisation. If you’re an expert in a particular area you can dazzle clients more easily, consequently they will be willing to pay a higher rate for your services!

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

Most of the time I get similar projects, I don’t really mind that – all part and parcel of the job. However, sometimes I get a super interesting project that makes my day/week/month. Such projects are essential not only to keep you sane but also to extend your skills and knowledge.

Is translation a high-pressure job with tight deadlines?

Just like in most jobs, you have to work to deliver on time. The advantage of being a freelancer is that, most of the time I can extend the deadlines to match my schedule. In general, private clients are more flexible than agencies but if you do your best to deliver good quality translation, and have a good relationship with them, they can forgive an odd slip.

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?

I do meet clients in person but I also have clients whom I have never seen. I don’t mind having an ‘e-mail relationship’ with a client. Sometimes it works to my benefit: it gives me time to think whether I really want to work on the project, or to do research on the client. What can be a little bit frustrating though, is that an e-mail client usually expects my answer straight away, and if I don’t respond quickly enough – usually within 15 minutes – I get a phone call.

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

Oh yes, that’s difficult…this is a problem I have been dealing with throughout my freelance years. You have to be very well organised, I suppose, designate time for work and stick to it. Especially if you work from home, you have to try to avoid all sorts of distractions.

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

I suppose it is possible, but you have to be very much business-oriented. Being a mum, I have always worked as a part-time translator and that works fine for me.

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

Yes! Certainly I benefit from that, my clients do ask about my credentials and I know that some of them verify my details on the ITIA website.

I think that being a member of some recognised body should be a prerequisite for translators/interpreters who want to work for the government, public offices, etc. Unfortunately, in Ireland there is no regulation that would require interpreters to undergo a scrutinised selection process in order to be able to work for the government.

It is hurtful that qualifications are not appreciated, of course! I think every translator could provide examples of clients who believe that translation is very easy and always complain about being overcharged. Usually, I stop working with such clients almost immediately.

I believe that in Ireland this lack of appreciation is more evident than in Poland – I can only compare these two countries – and it is due to the absence of proper regulations regarding this profession. In Poland government agencies, public offices, courts would never accept documents that do not bear stamps of a sworn translator; in Ireland, you can hand in a translation of your birth certificate done by practically anybody and it will be accepted in the Civil Registrations Office. In Poland this would be unthinkable.

What are the most important characteristics of a good translator?

This is common sense really… but you should be very thorough, if not meticulous and have that keen eye for detail. As you are bound to have clients from different walks of life you have to be flexible, tolerant and non-judgemental and always remember what your role is.

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

I think that translation/interpreting is one of those jobs you have to have a passion for. It also depends if you want to work with a written word or be a conference interpreter, freelancer or in-house translator – the advice would be different. So if translation is something you are truly passionate about, then you should follow the calling.