Enough Work for Everyone…?
Emilio Maggio is an Italian language consultant, translator and teacher. After finished her degree in Cambridge, UK, she moved to London and completed the Diploma of Translation at the Institute of Linguists. She talks to smarterwork about her work and tells us why she’s not worried about the competition…
Name: Emilia Maggio
Occupation: Freelance Language Consultant
Based in: London, UK
smarterwork Expert in: Translation Services
Freelance since: 1982
smarterwork: You're a freelance language consultant. What exactly does this involve?
Emilia Maggio: I teach Italian, translate from and into Italian, edit Italian documents, provide interpreting services and cultural briefing sessions for people going to work and/or live in Italy. My clients range from company directors and City executives to publishers, art dealers, musicians and fashion designers.
SW: How did you get started?
EM: I have been translating Italian into English (and Latin!) and vice-versa since school. When I finished my degree, students from other faculties started to get me my first (paid!) translation jobs.
After translating, on and off, for nearly 20 years, I decided to sit for an Institute of Linguists' Diploma in Translation. Translation is a peculiar field, in that the people who need translators have no way to find out how good they really are because they don't understand the foreign language involved. So they want to know that you have an official qualification before they feel that they can trust you. After I got my diploma I had a lot more translation work and could ask for better fees.
SW: You are based in the UK. What is it like to work there?
EM: There are more opportunities for translators here than in Italy, I think, partly because there are a lot more publishing houses, partly because there is more scope for specialization.
What I like about working in the UK is that here you're taken at face value. If your CV says you have a degree you don't have to dig out endless documents to prove it. If a prospective employer decides to contact your referees he/she tends to trust that they will tell the truth. Also, here a translator generally gets paid within a month of completing the job rather than at some unspecified time in the future.
SW: Do you enjoy working at home? Or do you sometimes miss the more 'structured' environment of a regular office job?
EM: I do quite a bit of rushing around in the City of London for my Italian lessons, so it's a relief to be at home sometimes. My home is packed with reference materials that would be a problem to access from an office. Also, at home you can do translation work in the gaps in-between activities, eg, when you're waiting for a student or friends who've rung saying they're late. Having said this, translating from a place outside home can be a welcome change of scenery for a while.
SW: What have been some of your most memorable projects?
EM: A very interesting project was helping a Japanese opera director translate the score of Puccini's Madam Butterfly. After this, I found myself doing a lot of work with opera singers, both as an Italian coach and as a translator at the Trinity College of Music
SW: How do you think the translation market is developing in the UK?
EM: There seems to be an increasing demand for translations, because the UK has intensified its relationship with Europe at all levels. Publishers produce international editions, advertisers have woken up to the fact that different countries require different advertising slogans, insurance companies need their policies to be operative across borders, lawyers demand absolute precision, computer manuals must be accessible to readers who don't know English… the list could go on forever. A few years ago I formed an association of language consultants (Language Contacts) with some of my colleagues, and since then we've been receiving quite a few enquiries for translation work in different languages.
SW: Do you think the Internet is changing the translators' working habits?
EM: Yes, it is, because now it's easier to take up last-minute jobs, since the final product can be dispatched by e-mail. Also, when you don't know something you have very little excuse nowadays, because there's bound to be some website or other with the answer. Once I had to translate an article on mountain bikes, and because I just have an old battered girl's bike I had no idea of all the state-of-the-art bits and bobs that make the heart and soul of MTB; until a colleague gave me the link to a very nice site featuring an Italian-English technical dictionary…
SW: Do you have any advice for people thinking about going freelance?
EM: Yes. Don't be a puritan and decide you're not going to soil your hands with anything other than translation. Marketing yourself as a Language Consultant is a much more realistic option, because it can take years before you build a clientele you can rely on for regular translation work.
Also, no freelancer should scoff at the possibility of getting a part-time contract with an employer. This can mean a steady, if small, income, which would provide some financial security
Finally, don't worry about competition. I believe that there is work for everyone. The point is that prospective clients must be aware that you exist and that you are a translator. They'll never find out about you if you are secretive for fear that colleagues may steal your work away. When I have to refuse a job (yes, this does happen, and even at the early stages!) because I've already accepted some other work or am about to go on holiday, I recommend a colleague. Chances are that when my colleague happens to be in the same situation he/she will recommend me. Not only that, but the client will be more likely to recommend both to his own clients and colleagues.
SW: What are your plans for the future?
EM: I don't have long-term plans, except that I think I will always be a translator even if I have other interests in my life. Translating is a skill that improves with time, provided it's practised, even to a moderate extent. I don't know whether not having long-term plans is typical of freelancers or it's just me, but the exciting thing about freelance work is that it' so unpredictable!
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