Martin Hemmings started his freelance translating career in 2006 and is one of WhP’s outstanding vendors. His love of French actually started when he was a four and a half year old boy, playing in the street with a French neighbor. When his friend moved back to France with his family, Martin visited him during the summer holidays and perfected his French. French became more than a means to reach out to him; it became a passion and the subject of his studies.

MFrienship leads to translation careerartin, what appeals to you most in your translator job ?

I know this sounds a little cliché, but being my own boss is just fantastic. I do keep set office hours and work to strict guidelines and timetables, but those rules are my own and they respect my family life. I can choose what projects I want to work on and don’t have to be particularly presentable when the children have kept me up the night before. I also love learning new areas of expertise as I dig deep into my customers’ written material.

What skill sets are required to be a good translator?

I translate more marketing material than software text strings. For this type of material, the most important skill is a perfect command of your target language. You need to be extremely well-read and have a polished written style. Time management is also essential, because translation projects come up all the time and have to be carried out simultaneously. Respecting deadlines is a pre-requisite, both for big and last-minute projects. As a freelancer, it’s also important to set time aside for business development, marketing and accounting.

What was your worst experience in translating?

Very early on in my translating career, while I was still studying for my MA in Translation degree, I took on a translation job from Russian to English. The project was ambitious and well paid and I accepted it without second thoughts. As I later found out, it was beyond my capabilities. I spent far too much time on it and got mixed feedback from the customer. Eventually I called the customer and told them I would not charge them for my work. I made two decisions after this negative experience: to decline Russian translation jobs and to only accept assignments for which I have the necessary subject matter expertise.

What kind of tools do you use to support your translation work?

I have used Trados from the outset and Multiterm for terminology management. I also use XBench, an invaluable QA tool. I can feed bilingual files in any format into it and it will flag issues such as translation inconsistencies, typos in figures, tagging errors and double spaces. To manage my business I use Translation Office 3000. It does all my accounting and project management tasks, and generates invoices automatically. Those tools are time – and life – savers. For specific projects I also use online resources, such as the IATE termbase for European Affairs and the Swiss Government termbase for a particular agency that deals exclusively with Swiss clients.

How has your translation work evolved and what trends do you see emerging?

There are some trends that are quite unwelcome in my view. There seems to be a general drive to achieve the lowest possible price and some translation agencies send out RFPs at, frankly, insulting rates. I have an established customer base and I only take on jobs where my value-added is acknowledged. It must, however, be quite disheartening for new entrants to the profession, who look for work on web translation portals and can be confronted with unacceptable rates. On the other hand, we keep hearing that the translation industry is booming and that there is a growing need for high-quality native-speaking translators.

Technology and CAT tools are well established and I don’t foresee any further technological breakthroughs. Machine translation is gaining ground in response to the ever-growing volume of online written content, and some translators are moving towards machine translation post-editing. However, I don’t believe that this workflow is suitable for the type of work I do, such as marketing copy and financial reports.

A by-product of machine translation is that customers want human translators to position themselves far above it. There is strong demand for industry specialists, and ideally people with industry expertise, such as multilingual engineers, lawyers and doctors.

You work mainly with agencies. In your view, what is the critical factor that facilitates the translator – agency relationship?

As a translator, Project Managers (PMs) hold the key to delivering outstanding translation projects. They should be on my side (or at least give the perception of being on my side) and understand what I do. I expect PMs to filter customer feedback and only pass on to me those questions that directly relate to translation. There is nothing worse, in my view, than an agency that forwards a translator feedback form or a text that has proverbial red pen all over it and says “Here Martin, fix this”. It’s the agency’s job to educate the customer and deal with the customer’s problems and misunderstandings. My favourite agencies and PMs are the ones that handle client-facing matters effectively and give me the freedom and peace of mind to do what I do best… translating!