Mentoring in translation

Mentoring is a two-way relationship between a mentee and a mentor, just as translation is a two-way relationship between a translator and a client.

With the increased use of social networks, internet, emails and smartphones, the life of a translator is constantly changing, and translators must be able to follow the pace of the rapid changes in technologies — with clients, with new trends, new training and so on.

Most translator-hopefuls have no idea how to start a career, how to write a query email, how to apply with a proper résumé to a translation agency, or how to pursue the aim of achieving some level of profit each month. Essentially, how to become a full-time translator. To this end, mentoring, already in use in associations such as ATA, ASETRAD and APTRAD, is becoming an effective and important tool to help recently-graduated translators to start their careers in the “real” translation world.

The case of Portugal, the one I know best, is a very complicated one, since universities do not have ways to help these students. Students get the idea that the translation world is complicated, and don’t get much help to navigate it. When they finish their BA or MA — which in Portugal are mainly theoretical and not practical, and most people who pursue becoming a translator do feel compelled to have an MA, at least — they almost need someone to take them by their hands and explain how the real translation world works.

I have been a mentor for recently-graduated students since 2015, and even though most of them have the will to start a career, they find themselves on an empty road with nowhere to go. Most of them ask questions on how to write a résumé, how to apply to an agency, what is, what kind of associations we have in Portugal, where they can find a list of companies and so on. These are the basics of a translator’s life, so to speak. Write, answer, convert, open, save, bid, export and import are the main verbs in the life of a translator, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

However, what I have been noticing is that people are becoming increasingly worried about their careers, about the schizophrenic rhythm of the translation world nowadays and about the profit they will have if they start to work full-time.

The orientation given with mentoring is important for these future colleagues to understand their way along the successful translator`s path. The support given by the mentors is a crucial tool to help these translators feel supported, to feel that they have a place in the market, to feel that their efforts in their courses are going to be rewarded. They just want to work, to fit in the market and to be professionals. With mentoring they start to work, they send out résumés, they kick off their careers and they feel happy for being part of the translation industry.

Mentoring is a way of sharing experiences, of sharing opinions, of learning (both for the mentor and the mentee) and of creating a strong impression that translation is a world filled with opportunities and not just some kind of mechanized work.

If it’s correctly used, mentoring will become a crucial tool for translators and should even become a subject in future translation studies courses. Translators-to-be will be thankful and so will the professional translation world.