Penelope Eades Alvarez

Interview with ITIA member

Penelope Eades Alvarez

from Members' Corner in ITIA Bulletin 2022/3

Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.

With over thirty years’ experience as a freelance translator, I could probably best describe myself as a veteran of the trade! I’m an ITIA Certified Legal Translator and in addition to legal translation my areas of special interest are architecture and related fields, such as engineering, art and history. I mainly translate from Spanish and French into English.

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

Rather than a conscious decision, it was my great love of languages that guided my career-path. I can still vividly recall first-year French classes in secondary school. Our teacher was truly inspirational and she it was who introduced us to a different culture, a different world, that of ‘la belle France’. I was also privileged to have parents who were convinced of the benefits of language learning, and so I was packed off on my own at the age of just 13 to spend part of my summer holidays in a large French family. That stay and subsequent exchanges opened up a new world, and I was hooked!! Not surprisingly I opted to study German when the opportunity arose the following year. Later on at university where I studied French and German, one of my favourite modules was translation. Once I finished my language studies in UCC, I lived and worked abroad for two decades. It was in Paris as a fairly recent recruit of Tourism Ireland that I had my first foray into the world of interpreting. On the occasion of the World Tourism Fair we received the official visit of a junior minister, who was to make a speech on opening day. No one had thought of hiring an interpreter, so I was elected to carry out the task. I must confess that the minister’s delivery was singularly uninspiring, but I, full of youthful
enthusiasm, was determined to get a positive message across to the French audience. I believe this was my first tangible realisation of the importance and the power of being able to convey the message from one audience to another through a different language.

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

In 1982, in post-Franco Spain I joined a group of some 40 foreigners with a common mission: to inform the rest of the world what was going on in Spain. To our Spanish colleagues we were ‘los exóticos’, the exotic ones, the translators and broadcasters of Radio Exterior de España, Spain’s external radio service operating from Madrid. Working in a team alongside translators of different nationalities with a very high degree of fluency in two or more languages was an exhilarating environment and my own fluency and translating abilities grew enormously.

How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating/interpreting.

Extremely important, I would say. In my own case there was no specific translation degree available at the time. Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to avail of an excellent training programme and expert guidance when I worked at Spanish Radio. Nowadays I would encourage all budding young translators to achieve the relevant qualifications as a starting point; however practice and experience are essential to becoming a good translator.

On my return to Ireland, joining the ITIA was hugely important. Apart from the obvious benefits of CPD, networking, professional recommendations and engaging with my peers, it also afforded me the possibility to sit for and pass the ITIA professional and certified translation exams, a welcome endorsement of my status as a translator.

How do you find clients?

I have a number of regular clients and through them I get a lot of referrals, so mostly they find me nowadays.

Do you think it is necessary to specialise?

I think it’s extremely important to specialise, to have a subject area in which you stand out from the crowd. This is something that doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a good deal of hard work, understanding the concepts and becoming familiar with the particular language of your chosen area.

What is your favourite type of text/assignment?

I think it’s extremely important to specialise, to have a subject area in which you stand out from the crowd. This is something that doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a good deal of hard work, understanding the concepts and becoming familiar with the particular language of your chosen area.

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

There are so many rewarding aspects to our work, not least of which is that sense of achievement when you manage to perfectly convey thoughts and ideas that are not easily transferred from one language to another. The craft of a good translator is creating a voice, not the author’s original voice, but its equivalent and that’s a challenge so many of us enjoy in our daily work. Not only that, as translators and intermediaries between different language systems and cultures, our work connects us to many and varied topics, opening the door to the understanding and appreciation of other people, other ideas and other worlds.

As a freelancer, learning to cope with the ebb and flow of work can be trying. How often have we heard translators say ‘it’s either a feast or a famine’? Perhaps worst of all is being faced with almost impossible deadlines.

Is it possible to have a good standard of living?

While plenty of translators/interpreters manage to earn a good steady income, there are wide variations. As a freelance translator it can be difficult to achieve a guaranteed income, which is why many freelance translators turn to teaching to supplement their incomes. In my time I’ve done part-time university teaching, voice-overs (definitely a more lucrative activity!) and even accounts management, but without ever giving up on my work as a translator.

What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator/interpreter?

If you are passionate about languages, then follow your instinct! Spending time working in-house with a reputable agency may well be a good kick-start to your career. Do your research, join associations, take advice and network as much as possible. The ITIA offers an excellent mentoring programme, which is something I would have loved to have had the opportunity to avail of in my early years.