This post was inspired by a recent quick poll on ProZ.com which asked whether respondents thought that being a member of a professional translation association had benefited their career. A staggering 48% were not members of any translation association (!), whilst 15% actually felt that membership had not benefited them in any way. Staggering figures for an organisation that purports to bring together professional translators….
However, my intention is not to re-examine the pros and cons of ProZ itself; I’ve done that before and I’m firmly of the opinion that it serves a valuable role, especially for people starting out and as a useful shop window in what has become a very global market place. However, it doesn’t apply any entrance criteria and despite the “Certified ProZ” scheme, is certainly no guarantee of quality amongst its members. What really amazed me was the number of translators who “couldn’t see the point” of joining a professional association.
I have to confess that I am a relatively late convert to the benefits of professional associations, and the ITI in my specific case. I started out as an in-house translator, and I don’t think the ITI even existed in the early years of my career. I’m not sure there would have been a huge benefit in those days for staff translators to join and it certainly fell outside my radar. I left on maternity leave in 1988 and then spent the next 15-20 years bringing up my family and working on a very much part-time basis, although gradually increasing my workload as my boys grew up. When we moved to Scotland in 1994, a translator colleague put me in touch with a fellow local translator who in turn introduced me to the ITI Scottish Network – my first taste of networking since I left the in-house fold many years earlier! I thoroughly enjoyed the events organised in Edinburgh, or occasionally Glasgow, and started to think that maybe I should consider joining up. At the time, though, the volume of work you were required to do each year was prohibitively high for a full-time mum with a part-time translation habit and the fees were also quite expensive for my fledgling business. I think I did sign up for the ITI Bulletin at that stage, though, as a useful means of keeping in touch with what was happening in my profession. The internet was relatively new in those days of course, and social media but a twinkle in someone’s eye!
Further down the line, we moved back to Southern England from Scotland, and I discovered the delights of online networking via ProZ – I still have a number of good clients who’ve found me via ProZ over the years, so to my mind, this was further reinforcement of the benefits of being part of an association of like-minded colleagues, albeit one with a rather commercial footing.
One other thing ProZ did for me was to introduce me to the notion of translation conferences, leading me to attend my first conference in Aix in 2007, closely followed by the London conference co-hosted by ProZ, the ITI and the CIoL, in 2008. It was at this event that my real Damascene conversion came about. Up to that point, I’d been trundling away with plenty of clients from my in-house days and personal recommendations thereafter. I still wasn’t working full-time and felt no real need to market my services. However, at a panel discussion during the conference, I vividly recall Nick Rosenthal, former ITI Chairman, when asked how he would go about selecting a freelance translator, responding that he would only consider an ITI member. At the time I was incensed: there are perfectly good translators out there who are not members of ITI, I fumed to myself, that’s not the be-all-and-end-all – and yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realised, deep down, that he was right. It’s all very well knowing that you are a good translator, but if you haven’t proved it to anyone, and especially to your peers, who’s to say that you are right? What proof do you have that you’re any better than Joe Bloggs? The seed was sown. And the next quietish spell I had saw me registering to become an Associate Member of the ITI, and soon after I applied and was accepted as a Qualified Member after submitting proof of my work. The usual route is via examination, but I’d been translating for so long by then that I was able to apply for suitable samples of my work to be assessed instead – I’m not sure I’d have relished the idea of sitting an exam nearly 25 years after my last one!
Admittedly, this coincided with a time when I was at last able to work full-time and so could fulfil the entrance requirements and prove the amount of work I had done over the previous 5 years – a huge undertaking in itself, especially if you don’t keep particularly comprehensive statistics, as I didn’t at the time! However, being accepted as an associate, and subsequently as a qualified member, gave me an enormous sense of achievement. Yes, I knew that clients liked my work, but it’s extremely reaffirming to have been assessed favourably by your peers too. I think there comes a point in everyone’s career when they look back and want to show they’ve achieved something more concrete than just a list of contacts and translations churned out; those letters after your name are certainly testament to that next stage. And yes, now I too, on the rare occasions I’m outsourcing work, tend to look for ITI members first and foremost, because I know that they will have achieved a certain standard and have taken the trouble to seek professional validation of their skills.
Quite apart from the professional accreditation aspect, ITI membership gives you an entrée into a whole host of excellent networking opportunities and professional support, either via the language or regional networks, most of which have active e-groups as well as arranging in-person events, or via conferences and training events organised throughout the year. In such an isolated profession, this cannot be overestimated – and greatly adds to the enjoyment of the job, as well as throwing up new contacts, leading to lifelong friendships, or finding out about the latest developments in the industry. Then, of course, we shouldn’t forget the ITI Directory which lists qualified members and can be accessed by anyone seeking a quality translation. I certainly receive a steady stream of enquiries from my listing in the Directory, although that most definitely wasn’t the main point of joining for me.
One of the accusations levelled at professional organisations by the naysayers on ProZ was that it was expensive and entry requirements were too demanding. Well, I think it should be pretty obvious that entry requirements need to be demanding if the qualification is to count for anything! And actually, just over £200 or so a year is pretty reasonable when you consider that it’s tax-deductible and offers you fringe benefits such as the excellent bimonthly ITI Bulletin (which I felt was worth its £49 annual subscription even before I joined the ITI), access to a legal helpline, and cheaper professional indemnity insurance, to say nothing of discounted rates for conferences and training events.
I can’t speak for other professional organisations, but I’m pretty sure they all serve a similar purpose – to provide a benchmark for the profession and promote its aims. As such, I’m extremely proud to be an ITI member and I only wish I’d got round to doing it earlier! I strongly recommend anyone dithering about whether or not to take the plunge to just do it – I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Networking at the very enjoyable ITI conference in Newcastle earlier this year