People who rock the industry: teacher and translator Corinne McKay

People who rock the industry: teacher and translator Corinne McKay

Together with Anne Diamantidis of The Stinging Nettle, we continue our series series: “People who rock the translation industry!”. We are interviewing people who have made a positive contribution, no matter how small or large, to the translation industry – at the international, national or local level. Meet, or get to know better, a fantastic teacher and translator Corinne McKay.

Hi Corinne! Tell us a bit about you. Who are you? What led you to translation?

Thanks very much for asking me to be interviewed! I’m American (born in California, currently living in Colorado with my husband and daughter) and I’m an ATA-certified French to English translator. I translate mostly international development, legal and corporate communications texts and I write and teach about translation. When I’m not at the computer I enjoy skiing, biking, hiking, yoga, gardening and crafting.

Let’s start with your book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, which sold over 5,000 copies. You’re now just about to publish Thoughts on Translation. What was your motivation behind writing it?

When I decided to launch my translation business in 2002, I had good language skills and a Master’s degree in French, but I really struggled with the business aspects of working as a freelancer. I knew that I could do the job well, but I had no clue how to prepare an invoice, write a translation-targeted resumé, estimate how long a translation would take me, and so on. I theorized that if I had a hard time learning how to run a freelance business, other people must have the same questions.

You’ve been also blogging for some 5 years now and Thoughts on Translation is very highly regarded and respected among our colleagues. Why are you blogging?

A few reasons, but mostly, it’s fun! I like to write, and the blog gives me an outlet to do my own thing instead of translating what someone else wrote. I enjoy the connection with other translators, and the blog is an excellent marketing platform for my book and for my online course for beginning freelancers.

In the course of your career you were the President of the Colorado Translators Association, you worked within the American Translators Association as a French Language Division Administrator, Public Relations Committee Chair and Active Membership Committee Chair. In October 2012 you were elected to the Board of Directors of the American Translators Association. You’re a great example of involvement with professional organisations! What’s their role in the translation industry?

As freelancers, we have no real day-to-day colleagues, so we need professional associations to help us build a network of people we can trust in our industry. Every day, all of us have lots of dilemmas: how to find new clients or raise our rates, how to find an editor for direct client jobs, whether to attend a translation-industry conference or a client-side conference, whether we should use a cell phone or a land line for our business phone, and on and on. Professional associations help us solve all of those dilemmas, either because we’ve met people in the association who can help us, or because the association offers a resource like a webinar or a conference or a consultation that can help us.

What makes the American Translators Association different from other professional organisations around the world?

I think that ATA is the largest translators association in the world, with over 11,000 members. So our size is a big advantage because we can offer lots of chapters and divisions to meet people’s interests and needs. But also, I think that ATA is incredibly welcoming to new people in the industry. We have a very active mentoring program and many experienced translators are there to give advice to newcomers.

I know that you organise your famous ATA conferences. Why should one attend?

The ATA conference is one of the highlights of my professional year. About 1,500-2,000 people attend every conference, so it’s an incredible networking opportunity. Also, there are usually around 10 sessions being presented in every slot, so there is a huge range of topics for any specialization or language. It’s also a great way to keep up with new developments in the industry and see how other people are feeling about the business climate. I come away from every ATA conference feeling inspired for the upcoming year.

You certainly know how to market your professional services. What do you think of the whole social media hype?

It depends. How’s that for a direct answer! Definitely, social media can be a huge time drain. Also, if your target market is high-end clients, I think that in-person events are a better bet than social media for marketing purposes. However, social media offers incredible networking possibilities especially for those of us (like me!) who don’t live in a large city and who don’t live near most of our clients. Personally I feel that my blog and Twitter are the best marketing tools I’ve ever used, but I do try to put strict limits on how much time I spend on them.

In your opinion, what could freelance translators do to help the whole profession? The small steps we all could take to make the world a better place for translators?

1)Stop stewing and start doing. Take the time you spend procrastinating and complaining and put it toward something positive that will improve your business.
2) Be a little nicer than you have to be: this goes for clients and colleagues alike.

Corinne has been awarded our You Rock the Translation Industry Badge!

3) Become too busy to work for clients who pay you poorly or treat you badly. Instead of complaining about them, market yourself consistently and you won’t need them anymore.
4) See yourself as a professional and be willing to invest time and money in your business. This includes conferences, training, technology, etc.

And now, what do you think the future of the translation industry in general looks like?

Never better! Really! I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the industry because our job is so interesting to start out with, and clients are really becoming aware of the difference between professional translators and bilingual people who are not translators or writers. I also think that the next decade will see an increased emphasis on subject-area knowledge; not just the self-taught knowledge that many of us have, but real training in our fields of specialization.

Thank you Corinne! You’ve been awarded our You Rock the Translation Industry Badge! Well deserved. Do you have any comments or follow up questions to Corinne? Use the space below!


  1. Sadie , on Jan 11, 2013 at 17:05 Reply

    I was thrilled when I saw that Corinne was the one being interviewed this time! I just finished sitting in on the first conference call of her translation course, and I can say with confidence that Corinne definitely rocks the industry, especially for newcomers. It is so valuable to have a mentor, and those can be hard to find when you work from home. Thanks for rocking the industry, Corinne! And thanks for another great interview, Marta and Anne!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 20, 2013 at 23:27 Reply

      What a coincidence, Sadie! I agree with you in terms of having a mentor. I’d recommend that everyone gets one when they’re getting established.

  2. Lidia Carney , on Jan 11, 2013 at 19:24 Reply

    I enjoyed reading this article about Corinne, I recently bought her book “How to succeed as a freelance translator” and I am enjoying reading it, it has lots of valuable tips! thanks also to Marta and Anne for your hard work putting these articles together, it is very inspiring to read about our colleague’s experiences, well done to Corinne and you girls!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 20, 2013 at 23:28 Reply

      Thanks for your input, Lidia. I’ve read Corinne’s book a while back, but it’s great to know it’s still very much up to date.

  3. Corinne McKay , on Jan 14, 2013 at 16:51 Reply

    Thanks for the interview, Marta! I normally think of myself as being too nerdy to “rock” anything, but if you say so… These were great questions and they were a lot of fun to answer!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 20, 2013 at 23:29 Reply

      Nerdy is the new rock, Corinne! Thank you very much for taking part in the series.

  4. Daniela Slankamenac , on Jan 26, 2013 at 12:04 Reply

    I liked this piece of advice mostly: “Become too busy to work for clients who pay you poorly or treat you badly. Instead of complaining about them, market yourself consistently and you won’t need them anymore.”
    Thank you for the excellent interview.

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