We have the great fortune this month to read the 50th guest article on the blog!
Meghan McCallum, an ATA-certified French to English translator, answered our questions, for our greatest pleasure.
NAME: Meghan McCallum
PROFESSION: Freelance translator
WORK LANGUAGES: French to English
PLACE OF RESIDENCE AND WORK: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
What kind of translation work do you do and what type of clients do you work with?
My translation work is primarily in corporate communications, human resources, marketing and personal finance. For example, one day I might translate a company’s internal newsletter, and the next I could be working on an employment contract or a pamphlet about an employee savings plan. Another day I might translate an individual’s bank statements. I also enjoy translating marketing content, for example applications and websites for e-commerce and tourism. I recently translated a book about a video game, which was a lot of fun as well.
My clients are primarily translation agencies, and I occasionally work with direct clients. These agencies usually have repeating projects from the same clients or the same groups of clients that need translations in my fields of expertise. I enjoy these repeat projects because it allows me to further my knowledge and experience in certain fields and brands.
Can you provide a brief description of a typical work day?
My first priority in the morning is to respond to client e-mails. Since I work from French to English, I may have messages from France that arrived during the night, so I aim to respond to those as soon as I can. Once time-sensitive e-mails are taken care of, I plan out my schedule for any new projects I have taken on. Then I spend the majority of my day translating! At the end of the day, or if I need a break from translating a larger project, I’ll respond to other e-mails that come through during the day or any other non-urgent messages.
What aspects of your profession do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy the creativity, flexibility and variety in my work. I’m able to choose projects that interest me, and I can be somewhat flexible with my schedule as well. And of course no two projects are the same! Every day is an opportunity to work on something new, and also to learn. Above all, a professional translator is a professional writer. I’ve always loved writing, and I’m so happy to have made a career with it.
As a freelancer, I also have the opportunity to take on projects that I wouldn’t be able to in a more traditional corporate environment. For example, for the past two years I have led a two-day translation workshop for students in the Professional French Masters Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I also recently helped co-facilitate a four-day software training course for microfinance delegates in Senegal.
Which aspects do you least enjoy?
There’s really not much I don’t enjoy. There is a bit of uncertainty being a freelancer, in terms of what your next job is going to be, so that can be a challenge for someone who likes to plan everything in advance. But once you get used to giving up a bit of that control, it becomes less worrisome. I’ve learned to embrace the spontaneity inherent to freelancing.
How long have you been working as a translator?
I first started translating and working in language services in 2009, when I was a graduate student in translation at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. I then worked for a translation agency for a few years after graduation. Then I became a full-time freelance translator in January 2015.
Does this work fit with your initial studies? Did you in fact study to become a translator?
I didn’t have a clear career path in mind until very late in my senior year as an undergraduate student. I was about to graduate with a double major in French and English, but wasn’t quite sure what to do next. After some research, I decided that translation might be a good fit for me since I could combine my love of writing with my French skills.
I very much enjoyed my graduate program, and ended up getting my master’s degree with a concentration in French to English translation. I felt that this program really helped prepare me for the next step, which was going out and starting a career in the field.
What is your career path? Why did you make the decision to work as a translator?
After completing my master’s degree, I worked for a translation agency for just under five years. I was a project manager for the first year, and then worked as a French quality manager. When I started at the agency, I had a plan to work there for several years to really learn the ropes of the business side of translation. During these years at the agency, I really learned a lot from all the different pieces of the business, from CAT tools to sales to desktop publishing to quality assurance. Once I put in this time, I felt I was ready to continue on to my next step: freelancing.
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