If one of your goals for 2009 is to market your translation services to a more discriminating client base, you’ll certainly want to step up your marketing efforts. At the same time, it’s important to focus on the quality of the product you’re offering; don’t try to sell a Yugo at Mercedes prices. The latest Fire Ant & Worker Bee column’s first piece of advice on surviving a recession as a freelancer is “Make yourself indispensable,” and a large part of that is giving your clients the type of translation they’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere. (The column I’ve linked to coincidentally includes a link to my blog, but this isn’t a link exchange!) Here are a few suggestions on improving your translation quality, and feel free to add your suggestions in the Comments!
Read industry publications. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or travel great distances to find some excellent continuing education materials. For example, the current issue of Translation Journal includes an article on enhancing translation quality as well as a number of language-specific translation technique articles. The ATA Chronicle (included in your membership dues) also runs articles on translation technique.
Read other translators’ work. Whether on a paid basis (for example as a proofreader) or just for your own education, one of the most practical ways to improve your translations is to read work done by translators who are more experienced, more specialized or more skilled at writing than you are. As long as the materials you’re asking for aren’t confidential and you make it clear that your purpose is self-improvement, I think that many translators would be flattered to be asked for some samples of their best work.
Take a writing or editing class in your target language. Some of the best professional development money I’ve ever spent was on a series of editing classes with Alice Levine. I still enjoy translating much more than I enjoy editing, but these classes showed me that there were concrete things I could do to improve my editing skills. Likewise, there are many people who are excellent translators but who just aren’t very good writers in their target language; look into a local adult education or community college course if you’re in this category.
Take a class that applies to one of your specializations. Some (lucky!) translators come to the profession with significant work experience in a targeted subject area, but most of us are largely self-taught in our specializations. Pursuing some training in your specializations can put you a cut above the “jack of all trades” translator. Your local colleges and universities are great resources for this (consider taking the course on an audit basis if you don’t need/want the credits) or look at online programs. Through places such as the USDA Grad School, you can take online or correspondence courses such as Business Law, Legal Writing (you can even become certified as a paralegal), Principles of Accounting, Audit Report Writing, Intro. to Editing, Hydrology, and more.