ow long have I been a translator? Long enough to remember when it was a technology-free profession. I have fondif not very efficienttactile memories of translating with freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils on crisp legal pads. Specialized translations would require a trip to a university library that would take up the better part of a day, painstakingly coaxing terms, one-by-one, out of the voluminous collections of journals and books lining the shelves. I remember translating way before e-mail even existed, and certainly before Adobe Acrobat allowed for the safe delivery of documents containing non-Roman characters to clients who did not have a Hebrew-localized operating system. Eventually, into-English translations would be dispatched via painfully slow dial-up modems and electronic bulletin boards, while into-Hebrew translations could only be delivered by printing them out and sending the hard copy via FedEx. Windows were something to be washed; we translated in WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. Printers were plodding and cacophonous daisy wheels; diskettes were wide and floppy.
I have a clear memory of the day that I went out to purchase a thermal paper fax machine, which was novel and revolutionary, at the time. I purchased it on credit, for the then terrifying sum of $1,000, and had no idea at the time how I would ever pay it off. Later on, I had to be persuaded to adopt e-mail, quite confident that I would never really need it.
I started translating during my army service in the Israel Defense Forces, and continued while studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and working there as a research and teaching assistant. My military commanders and university professors regularly made use of my knowledge of English for a myriad of different purposes. My original plan was to embark upon a career in academia, focusing upon International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies. At a certain point during my graduate studies, I realized that while I thrived upon research, I was far less enthusiastic about teaching in front of a classroom of students.
Invariably, good marketingand good businessis about your clients and their needs.
At the same time, professors in my department started asking me to translate or edit articles and books for them. Word spread, so to speak, and before I knew it, I was in frequent demand throughout the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Hebrew University Law School. I grew to realize that my true talent was anchored in my love of the written word in both Hebrew and English, and that I could harness both my language and research skills to provide high-level translations in a wide variety of academic subject areas, collaborating closely with the authors.
Once I moved to the United States, in the late 1980s, I was at a turning point. It became clear that the academic translations that I had specialized in in Israel would not provide me with a living in the United States. I did not know anything at all about the commercial translation market, or even that such a thing as translation companies existed.
With two very young children at home, I started translating for a daily government publication produced by JPRSthe Joint Publication Research Service and FBISthe Foreign Broadcast Information Service. JPRS and FBIS provided translations and daily compilations of foreign media from around the world, for the purpose of academic analysis and historical, political, economic and sociological research. Deadlines were extremely tight, and the demand for top-notch quality was unrelenting. That thermal paper fax machine sure did come in handy, thoughsource texts were delivered by fax, as were my translations, which had to be rekeyed upon receipt. I had wonderful editors who taught me a great deal about translation, and I remember my years at JPRS/FBIS as a valuable school, from which I benefited immensely.
At a certain point, I decided to try to build up a commercial clientele, and I turned to the yellow pages at my local library, photocopying the translation company listings in major U.S. cities, and contacting them primarily by telephone. I had no idea that a professional organization even existed.
I cannot recall how I eventually became aware of the American Translators Association (ATA), but my first conference was in 1993 in Philadelphia. Since then, I have not missed a single year. What a shock it was to realize that translation actually was a bona fide profession, and that I had been reinventing the wheel, when such an abundance of information already existed for aspiring freelancers like me. Does anyone else remember Glenn's Guide to Translation Agencies? Now defunct, it was my bible in the development of my translation practice.
Fast forward many years, and here I am, the managing director of a very successful and well-known translation company (www.hebrewtrans.com), that counts many hundreds of translation companies and direct clients around the globe among its clientele. My company deals almost exclusively in Hebrew translation, interpreting and typesetting and specializes in legal, financial, business, marketing, technical, medical, pharmaceutical and clinical trial documents.
I have also served for the past three years as administrator of the Translation Company Division of the ATA, and spent a number of years on its Public Relations Committee. I have had the pleasure of presenting at translation conferences all over the world. And I can say with certainty that everything that I know about the translation businessand of course I like to think that I know quite a bitwas largely the product of my involvement in the ATA and somewhat the result of good, old-fashioned trial and error.
I never made a conscious decision to expand my business from a single freelancer to a translation company with a full-time staff that utilizes the services of dozens of specialized translators. It was simply a natural and gradual outgrowth of my freelance success. To what do I attribute this?
I think that my business has prospered and flourished because, in addition to being an avowed Word Geek, I am disciplined, business-oriented and client-focused and I remain enthralled by the sheer variety of subject matters that we encounter on a daily basis. I believe that the most successful translators have an innate understanding of the fact that translation is, first and foremost, a business, and that we are here to serve our clients and to provide them with what they need, when they need it. No nonsense, no excuses. Successful translators comprehend that excellent communication and business skills, along with effective and standout marketing, will make them or break them as freelance translators, and they incorporate these practices into their daily routines.
Over the years, I've had a lot of fun producing a constant evolution of marketing materials for my company. My marketing motto is "business is serious; marketing should make you laugh." I think that a smile goes a long way in being memorable to an existing or potential client, and thus like to incorporate humor into our communications. I also prefer to err on the side of brevitya newsletter with a hundred words and a prominent and an amusing graphic has a much better chance of being opened and read than an all-text communication of a thousand wordsespecially when those thousand words are all about you. Invariably, good marketingand good businessis about your clients and their needs. In recent years, I have also adopted various forms of social media in order to raise my industry profile, and have found that to be a very beneficial component of my company's marketing efforts, as well.
Some highlights of my translation career (thus far) have included interpreting for a number of Israeli prime ministers on live television broadcasts. I had the privilege of interpreting for former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon during his last state visit to the United States to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. He was downed by a stroke several months later, while still in office and in the midst of spearheading the Middle East peace process, and went into a coma. I have vivid recollections of then spending five grueling days and nights in the newsroom of a major television network, interpreting the medical updates and breaking information.
Particularly meaningful assignments have included the translation of scores of legal documents into Hebrew and Yiddish for the compensation of Holocaust victims and many millions of words of translation from Hebrew and Arabic into English for terrorism-related litigation. I have also interpreted on numerous occasions for Israeli victims of heinous terrorist attacks, and have always found it a sobering responsibility and a distinct honor to serve as their English voice in the American legal system, and to assist them in effectively communicating.
Lastly, it has been very gratifying and exciting for me to watch my daughter, Talia, who is a university student and a budding linguist, in her mastery of Arabic and Italian, and her successful efforts to perfect and polish the Hebrew that she has heard and absorbed since infancy. I hope to be able to utilize my knowledge and skills to assist her in her fledgling steps in the language industry.