People who rock the industry: technical translator and business mind Nick Rosenthal

People who rock the industry: technical translator and business mind Nick Rosenthal

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 great technical translator and business mind Nick Rosenthal.

Dear Nick, Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. So, tell us about yourself: what were the turning points in your career? We can read on your LinkedIn profile that you started working in the industry back in 1986!


I first wanted to become a translator when I was about 14. I enjoyed languages, and I enjoyed technology. But the careers teachers told me I couldn’t be a translator because my parents weren’t foreign, and because there were very few openings. So my first lesson, at 14, was to never let people put you off!

I studied languages at Salford University, which was a “practical” languages course. That gave me an opportunity to spend six months working as an intern at Intertext in East Germany ¬– a fascinating environment to be thrown into, very challenging, but hugely rewarding. Working closely with more experienced translators on a daily basis was an ideal way to learn. I sound like an old codger, because I realise that such opportunities are few and far between for young translators today. But the central point remains – you can learn a lot from experienced professionals, so I guess the trick is to go out of your way to put yourself in situations where you can do just that. Things like translation workshops run by professional bodies would be one example.

When I left university I worked for Unilever for a while, as one of their management trainees. I was also qualifying as a management accountant at the same time, so it involved a lot of hard work, but taught me a lot about the business world.

In 1986, I became a freelance translator, working from German and French into English. It coincided with the introduction of the first personal computers, and my curiosity and desire to simply understand how computers worked quickly put me in a position where I became known for being a translator specialising in computing. I didn’t actually set out to go there, it just sort of happened. 25 years later, I still enjoy the challenges of learning new stuff, of staying up to date in my specialist field. I spent two years as a freelance translator, and then set up my own translation company (Salford Translations Ltd), which specialises in software localisation and in translations for the high-tech sector. But no matter what area we specialise in, all translators need the same core skillset of excellent writing skills and good subject understanding.

You’ve been the Chairman of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting Council for the last 2 years. What is the mission statement of the Institute?

I’m not really a corporate sort of person. I never bought into the whole “mission statement” thing when it first came out in the 1980’s – and I still haven’t!

What is ITI about? As a professional body for practicing translators and interpreters, it should be about quality, and about the recognition of that quality. Everything else follows on from there. If we ensure that our qualified members (that is, MITIs and FITIs) all work to the same high, demonstrable standard, then that helps both the individual members and the profession as a whole. Of course, you can’t ask people to demonstrate that they are of a certain standard without also providing help in getting to that standard, which is why ITI offers a range of training courses. And it shouldn’t stop there. Once people are fully qualified, whether they are translators, lawyers, accountants or paramedics, the good ones will always carry on investing in themselves, learning new skills, updating existing knowledge. As a professional body, ITI should be there to support people in that.

Then we must represent the industry to the outside world. This might mean explaining the difference between a qualified professional translator and someone who speaks a foreign language. Or it might mean engaging in protracted discussions with civil servants and government ministers when we see the sort of short-sighted changes that have been made to police and court interpreting (and translation!) in the UK over the past 18 months.

It must have been a very busy period for you. What were the main challenges for you as a Chair?

I think the main challenge has simply been related to driving change, in order to up our game. Change is not something that most people are comfortable with, so it has been quite a challenging process – particularly because we’ve wanted to introduce change by consent, to bring our members with us on a journey of improvement. As an organisation, we’d coasted a bit in the previous few years, so we’ve had to invest a lot of energy in reaching out to our membership, in engaging people again.

The other area that has needed a lot of energy has been trying to communicate with government about the changes to court and police interpreting that were introduced by the Ministry of Justice. In that respect, I’m particularly pleased with the way that the various professional bodies and campaign groups have come together in order to represent the profession.

ITI is very active in promoting professionalism to newly qualified or aspiring translators. What forms of support do you offer?

I first joined ITI when I was 24, and a new translator at the start of my career. And I remember being touched by the warm welcome from older, more experienced translators at ITI events. They were supportive and encouraging. That set a tone.
ITI has always offered a range of training courses for newcomers to the profession. Back in the late 1980s and 1990s that meant running weekend training courses on business skills, or computer skills for translators. These days, far more of the training is

When we met Nick, he had the badge printed!

run in a virtual environment, such as ITI’s OC course for new translators or the PSG course for more experienced translators who are new to freelancing. Both of these courses are online, run over about three months, and include both a range of modules and an opportunity for open-ended online discussion with a number of experienced, support professional translators (there are ten tutors on the PSG course, for example). We’re also looking at setting up a similar sort of scheme for interpreters.

The annual ITI Conference will be held at the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick in a few weeks’ time, and we already have over 160 delegates booked to attend for the weekend. Again, it is a great way for new translators and interpreters to meet other professionals, to get to know ITI’s management team, and to build their skillset.

For me, one of the best opportunities that ITI offers is the weekend workshop, when we sit down in groups and translate together. It is a wonderful confidence-builder, a great opportunity to confirm to yourself that you have what it takes, and a lovely way to meet fellow professionals and build lasting relationships with them.

Last but not least, ITI offers a post-experience membership exam, which leads to the MITI qualification. This differs from an academic exam in that it is marked by experienced professional translators, in the same way as a commercial translation. And you sit the exam in your normal working environment, using your normal production resources. You can read about the ITI exam here.

People who rock the translation industry

Nick, you rock the industry!

What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?

I’d offer two pieces of advice.

Firstly, don’t be put off. Like anything worth doing, translation and interpreting are hard professions to break into. Persevere. Be determined.

Secondly, I’d encourage people to take an honest look at their skillsets. For a translator, for example, there are three key ingredients that you need: Understanding of the foreign language, the ability to write really good, clear, incisive text in your own language, and understanding of the subject matter. Most people put a lot of effort into learning the foreign language – and let’s face it, that is no mean achievement in itself! But I’d encourage people to also look at their own writing skills, to invest in developing them. How many translators have been on technical writing courses, for example? Or to creative writing workshops? And then to think about subject understanding, about how to build their skills in those areas.

What is your personal take on machine translation and post-editing?

That’s not an area that I know a great deal about. I’ve used various CAT tools since 1997, and we currently run MemoQ server version at my company. But I’ve not yet had much to do with machine translation. That may well change in the next few years.

In your opinion, what does the future of our profession look like?

We live in an era of great change. But I am convinced that there will still be demand for qualified professional translators.

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


  1. Diana Coada , on Apr 21, 2013 at 09:40 Reply

    Well done, fellow Salfordian graduate. You rock indeed!

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