Local Linguists: Theresa Shepherd

This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read other posts in the series here and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.

Theresa Shepherd, French-English translator

Theresa Shepherd is a French-to-English translator specializing in marketing, food, and tourism. She has worked for big, established F&B brands, start-ups with something exciting to pitch, and a whole range of clients in between. She is based in Washington, DC (for now). Find her at LinkedIn.


Question: How did you get started in translation?

The real question is how did translation get started in me! I got bitten by the bug in my teens—translating a magazine interview as a bonus project for my French class—and I’ve been itching ever since.

With two degrees in French, two years in-country, and another year working for all intents and purposes in France (the only thing that gives away the French Embassy’s actual location is the absence of A4 paper), I knew I had the proficiency, the nuance, and the cultural background I needed to pursue translation as a career. All along I had been translating when I could at work and at home, taking courses as part of my degree programs, trying my hand at different texts—because of the itch. It’s a fascinating itch, one that combines the urge to create, the desire to communicate, and the thrill of the chase (for just the right word or expression).

But I also knew I still didn’t fully understand how the industry worked. So in 2005, I applied for a project manager position at a translation company. It was the best next step I could have taken.

I learned terminology management and client management. I got a crash course in Trados. I saw what made a good translator and a bad one, and what made a good translator someone I wanted to work with again or not. I worked on complex multi-language projects with intricate layout requirements and countless rounds of quality checks and proofs. And since I had high-level skills in both French and English, I was made part of the internal editing team. I learned best practices such as creating style guides and client glossaries. It was an invaluable experience.

When it was time to set out on my own, I was ready. And to pursue the adage “Do what you love” to its extreme, I decided to focus on just the juicy stuff. Food (yum). Travel (sigh). And marketing, where you put all of the art and all of the craft (and all of your business savvy) into play to create something that strikes the same emotional chord as the original.

Seven years in, I get to scratch that translation itch every day.

Q: Why do you keep going at it?

I keep at it because, cheesy as it may sound, I feel I am contributing to society in my own special way. I know that I’m adding value (with or without tongue in cheek, depending on whether you’ve drunk the business-speak Kool-Aid) in this global age. I can help connect people with the products and experiences they are looking for.

When I see a bad translation, I want to fix it. It just seems like a waste of a good opportunity to communicate something. And I think we all feel very deeply how tragic it is when communication fails. Saving those communications is one thing that keeps me going.

When I see a good translation, I get goose bumps. Like when you read really good writing. Or when you see a really good ad (think the Chrysler “Imported From Detroit” spot that debuted in still-bleak February 2011). I love that feeling of (dare I say?) transcendence, and I want other people to feel it too.

Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?

The ATA Business Practices list is such a concentrated source of wisdom and insight, I usually just steer new translators to that. But it is always worth mentioning how important it is to invest in having your translations reviewed by an experienced colleague for the first several months, or any time you’re working on something that’s more of a stretch outside your comfort zone.

Yes, it takes a little away from your immediate cashflow, but it is the single best way to work out any kinks in your translation skills so you can make your clients happy, get more and better work, and keep moving up the fee ladder. Consider it part of your start-up budget.

Many thanks to Theresa for her thoughtful responses! If you have any questions, ask away. And if you have any advice, do share!


4 thoughts on “Local Linguists: Theresa Shepherd

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