Lesson 138: A letter to my younger self as a translator

Lesson 138: A letter to my younger self as a translator

I recently gave a talk at my Alma Mater to a group of translation students. Seeing my lecturers, the building I knew so well, hearing questions I swear I had when I was on the other side… All this made me reflect and go back in time to the days when I was a student. I put all these thoughts together in a letter to my younger self as a translator. This is what I’d say to myself. What would you want your younger translator self to know?


Dear Marta,

Thank you so much for your message. It’s wonderful to see a young and dedicated student working hard with the aim of ultimately entering and succeeding in the translation and interpreting profession.

You asked me for some advice and I’m glad to share my experience. I think it’s great that you approached a more established translator for their insights – we all benefit from learning from our peers and those with more experience. Thanks for also outlining your background, as that makes it much easier for me to respond. Now to get to your main question: “Which things do I wish I knew or did back when I was starting my career?”

First, I wish I had translated more from day one. I read somewhere that if you are a writer you write, and I think the same applies to translation. You are a translator if you translate, and I wish I was stubborn and persistent enough to translate a short text, any text, of around 200 to 300 hundred words, every day, even at the start. This is an excellent exercise that grants you experience and exposure to a variety of texts, while also helping to improve your confidence. Better still, I’d have tried to find people to join me in this, and regularly meet up to discuss our respective translations and opinion of the text. Not only is this fun (I chose translation for a reason – I do enjoy it!), but it helps to establish good practices and improve your skills, even before you’ve “gone professional”.

Second, and somewhat related, remember that you should be striving to get better every day, with every job. Don’t settle once you’ve finished your degree and think that’s it, and you don’t need to keep working on your skills. Quite the contrary, you should be working more and more to get better over time. This is necessary if you want to move upmarket.

There is no course, no webinar, no book, no professional association, and certainly no Facebook group that will turn you into an established translator overnight. No level of business or marketing expertise can ever make up for deficiencies in core skills. By all means, work on getting better at the business side of things, but never ever stop working on becoming a better translator.

The other thing I wish I’d known from the very beginning is the value of my work as a translator. You will get belittled by big business people, you will be asked to work at borderline offensive rates, and you will see surprised faces when you say that yes, you entered this profession intentionally and it wasn’t an unfortunate accident. Don’t let any of this affect you in any way other than making you stronger and more determined. Translation plays an important role in the world of business and it’s up to all of us to make this clear – to ourselves, our clients, and the economy at large.

Don’t be afraid if you are not a perfect fit to the “ideal” profile of a translator, if there is such a thing. Make the most out of your passions and talents, and if you have a related skill and are in a position to offer this service professionally to your clients, go out there and see if there are any potential clients looking for this service combined with translation. Don’t feel that there is a rigid job description that you have to fit. There isn’t one, and this is part of the beauty of this profession… But at the same time, don’t ever promise you can do something that you can’t, and don’t ever stop asking for feedback. Accept your limitations, admit mistakes, and most of all – keep learning.

One thing I acknowledged from the very beginning was that it is hard work starting out and getting established. But it’s a different kind of hard work to the work we did at university, or in any standard 9-5 position. There are no grades, no promotions, and (usually!) no bonuses if you do a good job. You work very hard and your reward is your freedom. First, the freedom to leave commuting and the office environment behind. Then, the freedom to travel and live wherever you like. And the more established you get, the more time you win back, having freedom to do what and when you choose. But yes, you have to put the work in.

Finally, listen to your colleagues, but listen to your clients even more. They’re the ultimate indicator of how good you are – or not – and whether your educational efforts, marketing, branding, website, attitude and so on are really working for you.

I hope you’ll find this feedback useful, and good luck! This is an exciting time to enter the translation and interpreting industry. I wish you all the best – and let me know how you get on!



Thank you to Rose Newell for the brainstorming session.


  1. Nicole Koenig , on Apr 14, 2016 at 15:27 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    what a wonderful blog post and a note filled with advice like most of us would have dearly needed while struggling through the “why” and “what if” phase of becoming a translator.
    One of the things I love about this profession is that you never really stop to evolve, become, grow. So in your article, the part about making the best out of one’s talent and working hard to shape that talent into something to proudly put to use for appreciating clients … I really loved that. Thank you so much!

    Anyone who hasn’t yet: buy her book! It has done me tons of good. Happy Thursday and xox, Nicole

  2. Antonella Barbieri , on Apr 14, 2016 at 15:54 Reply


    thanks for this beautiful letter. It is very inspirational and reminds us of how it is important to focus on our main skills.

    Nowadays it seems like many colleagues have forgotten about this. Thank you again for bringing this back to light.

  3. Tara H , on Apr 15, 2016 at 05:52 Reply

    Hi Marta,
    I just wanted to say I loved this post! Everything you said is true! I also really enjoyed your book (which I purchased recently) and think everyone should read.
    Thank you!

  4. Aída Ramos , on Apr 15, 2016 at 13:14 Reply

    A brilliant ‘note to self’, Marta!
    All the best,

  5. Jana , on Apr 15, 2016 at 13:55 Reply

    Nice lunchtime reading, thanks, Marta 🙂 I would add “Be guided by your instincts and don’t let other people tell you that something is not possible when you damn well know it is :D”.

  6. Thierry Boudjekeu , on Apr 15, 2016 at 15:34 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    This is a beautifully and carefully written post/letter. I love the way you vary means to pass across the core message you’ve been preaching all these years.
    All is there: “keep learning, keep listening, keep translating!”
    Thanks for sharing, Marta. Keep moving.
    Take care,
    Thierry B

  7. Tatyana Johnson , on Apr 15, 2016 at 17:46 Reply

    Marta, thank you for the post. Quoting you: “Accept your limitations, admit mistakes, and most of all – keep learning.” — This is the advice I would give my younger self.


  8. Irene Acler , on Apr 16, 2016 at 09:50 Reply

    Hi Marta,
    Great post, really!
    I couldn’t agree more with the suggestions you give in the letter.

    All the best,

  9. Leticia Albani-Hawa , on Apr 16, 2016 at 13:08 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    Thank you so much for your inspirational letter!
    I love your posts and your words of advice are always so full of wisdom, making me reflect on things that many times I had not thought of.
    I really appreciate your selfless contributions and fully agree with your message: accept you limitations, make mistakes but, above all, keep learning and striving to be better and better at what you do. All the best, Leticia. x

  10. Inca Vallès , on Apr 17, 2016 at 15:55 Reply

    Dear Marta,
    I really enjoyed this post. I think it is crucial to get feedback because otherwise how will you know whether you are doing a good job or not? I can’t describe how I feel when my clients tell me how happy they are with my work, but it’s very hard when you don’t get any feedback at all, and that’s why we should never be afraid to ask.
    By the way, if we don’t believe we are good translators and we don’t show it, how can we value ourselves and how can our clients value what we do?
    I love how positive your posts are and people like you have really helped me overcome obstacles and fears and feel accompanied in this profession that is not lonely, unless you want it to be. Thank you for what you do for other translators.

  11. Siaka Doumbia , on Apr 17, 2016 at 20:11 Reply

    What a wonderful post! It looks like the letter was drafted to be sent to me as I am a fresh graduate from translation school. I am so sceptical about how I can make a name in this profession. I am keeping carefully this letter, it will be my reference. Thank you so much !

  12. Edith van der Have-Raats , on Apr 18, 2016 at 10:42 Reply

    Thank you for this inspiration, Marta! Learning something new each day, that is what I love most about being a translator 🙂

  13. Suzanne Smart , on Apr 18, 2016 at 18:37 Reply

    Great post Marta and it’s amazing that you still manage to blog whilst doing so many other things!
    Getting plenty of advice from experienced translators is definitely something I would write in my letter!

  14. Taina Pemberton , on May 4, 2016 at 22:25 Reply

    Great post! I particularly liked the bit about admitting your mistakes and keeping learning. I’d also tell my younger self to welcome criticism. It may hurt at first to receive it but if you’re determined to learn and if the criticism is valid, it can really help you to take your work to the next level fast. For example, many years ago a client said my translation was too close to the source text. It helped me to notice instances like this more and gave me courage to deviate from the original text.

  15. Paula Saavedra , on May 11, 2016 at 02:26 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    Thank you very much for your letter. I graduated from my university this year and your words describe what I’ve been feeling in this period of time. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve been able to learn from them.

    I’ll have in mind your words, thank you very much!

    Take care,

  16. Cris Babuska , on May 16, 2016 at 12:27 Reply


    Thanks a lot for this amazing and useful post. I’m a graduate student in Translation Studies and loved reading this. 🙂

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