9th CTS Professionalisation Talk 2018-19

On 12 December 2018, Catherine Rushton presented to students at the University of Leeds on Key Skills in Translation.

In the talk “Employable You – Key Skills in Translation”, Catherine introduced various aspects of the language services industry, a typical translation workflow, possible career paths, and the skills necessary to get the job. Catherine is a freelancer but also currently works with German translation agency TRANSMISSION Übersetzungen GmbH as German to English Quality Management and Recruitment specialist. However, she did not start out in the language services industry. She received her BA in Modern Languages from the University of Bradford in 1989 and her MA in European Management from Cranfield School of Management in 1990. For the next 20 years, Catherine worked in the world of corporate marketing and business analysis. After deciding that this was not the path for her, she became a freelance translator (DE/FR/ES > EN) in 2011 and later passed the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) translator exam. For Catherine, passing this exam was a personal achievement that verified her language skills and substantially expanded her client base. Her previous career in the corporate world has given her an insight into how corporations work and allowed to her to acquire a good grasp of business vocabulary.

Catherine then went on to give an overview of the translation industry as well as describing the skills required for success. She gave some examples of the growing industry and the top language service providers (LSPs) at the moment. Catherine highlighted that ‘translation’ is the term many people use to refer to a number of language services that the industry provides, including:

  • Translation
  • Adaptation
  • Transcreation
  • Subtitling
  • Localisation
  • Internationalisation
  • Supporting technologies
  • Interpreting


The industry also has certain trends at the moment. These include:

  • Machine translation, which Catherine informed budding translators to use skilfully as part of their toolkit.
  • PEMT production, remember to use YOUR language skills, even though MT is getting better, human language skills are essential. Catherine also advised translators to be cautious when charging clients for PEMT, making sure to ask for a sample before agreeing to any rates or making a commitment, as MT quality can vary widely.
  • Crowdsourcing and community translations. However, this is generally not done by professionals (not regarded as professional) and trained translators should be aiming for ‘high-end’ work.
  • Market expansion
  • ‘Augmented’ translation, which facilitates the ability to integrate your research into your CAT tool. This has yet to take shape.

Catherine then went on to talk about the importance of CAT tools in the translation industry and how they are consequently here to stay. She highlighted some of their benefits for both PMs and translators. These benefits for a PM include being able to perform a word count analysis, pre-translation using a TM, integration of a client glossary, and the creation of a project template. For translators, CAT tools provide consistency, speed, and references from TM matches, concordance and glossaries. Quality checks also help to speed up the quality assurance process. However, Catherine warned translators not to rely solely on these, and to use their own skills and knowledge when revising and proofreading their work.

Catherine went on to detail the typical ‘life cycle’ of a translation, as well as certain realities, challenges and pitfalls that arise. She stressed the importance of remembering that as a translator you occupy a middle phase of the translation workflow, following negotiation and order confirmation between customer and agency and prior to post-processing and customer review. For this reason, punctuality and meeting deadlines are crucial as lateness can not only damage your own professional reputation but also that of others by holding up the overall workflow.

A further example given was the Project Manager’s (PM) role (something that Catherine prefers not to do but has done in her previous non-language career). PMs within a translation agency are responsible for overall product quality, and their role can be broken down into the ten following steps:

  1. Checking the source file for any potential technology-related problems. These could involve CAT-tool format compatibility and checking to see if the file needs any special preparation.
  2. Analysing the ST for word count (total & weighted)
  3. Checking customer requirements
  4. Selecting an appropriate translator and reviewer
  5. Scheduling the deadline
  6. Analysing the pragmatics of the text (subject/purpose/audience/genre)
  7. Liaising between the translator and the customer at any point to resolve queries
  8. Sending the completed product to a reviewer
  9. Carrying out spot-checks after review
  10. Converting the translation to native format

Catherine was keen to highlight that the PM is the ally of the translator as they represent the crucial buffer between translator and customer, which, if you prefer to avoid customer contact, is advantageous. It’s therefore beneficial to make full use of the PM by never being afraid to ask questions in order to produce a better quality translation.

Regarding some of the realities of a translator’s job, Catherine explained that from experience, she has encountered poor source documents (spelling/grammar/punctuation, poor file conversions, inadequate glossaries, bad machine translations, etc.) as well as the frustrating matter of having non-native speakers miscorrecting her own work. She said that in these cases it’s important for a translator to firmly but professionally stand their ground in order to get the best outcome for the customer. As a translator it’s also important to set limits on the amount of research time you spend when translating a text otherwise it eats into strict words-per-day targets. Again, in this case, the PM can prove invaluable in eliciting the relevant information from the customer via a query list.

Catherine finished off by giving advice on “Getting the job” or making ourselves more employable when applying to work as freelancers. Some of the things she said that agencies look for are a third level education, certification by a professional body, expertise in the use of CAT tools, good research skills, reliability, professionalism, the ability to take and apply feedback and a willingness to ask questions rather than just guess. Catherine even suggested that within the translation industry you will ask more questions the more experienced you are, rather than the other way around as you would expect. She then went on to talk about how LSPs manage their freelancers, from the initial test translation to trial projects and development supervision during the trial phase, and through classification by areas of expertise, translation quality, adherence to instructions and service quality. She highlighted that offering a professional service is key as well as stressing that freelancers must never offer to translate out of their mother tongue, which is seen as unprofessional. Catherine also gave us some tips for our CVs such as ensuring that they contain perfect grammar – she noted that your CV is the first piece of written work that an agency usually sees – using an easy to read layout, keeping to a length of one page (or two if you have had a previous career), not underestimating work experience that you see as insignificant such as factory, retail or barista work, and analysing and integrating your key strengths. She also gave us some ideas on how to stand out, particularly as agencies receive many requests from freelancers on a daily basis. She suggested calling the company and speaking to the relevant person, or sending something by post rather than sending an email. Catherine also highlighted the importance of understanding yourself and your skills. She suggested working out whether you work best independently or as a part of a team, 9–5 or whenever the mood takes you, whether you’re a creative broad thinker or more detailed and analytical and whether you prefer constancy or variety in your work. She also advised taking the Myers Briggs 16 personalities test to help understand how you work best.


Written by Sophia Georgiou, David Gray, Lauren Hughes, Katie Nolde and Chloe Stout.