This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read the other interviews in the series here, here, here, and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.
Nadine Edwards is a patent specialist and Japanese to English translator/interpreter. She has a background in computer science and specializes in translating all types of patent documentation related to information processing, electrical and mechanical engineering, and optics. She also interprets at patent-related presentations and invention disclosure meetings. You can find out more information on her website.
Question: How did you get started in translation?
I became intrigued with the art of translation while working for a Japanese electronic components manufacturer at the company’s headquarters in Kyoto. More specifically, I was hired as a native English speaker with a technical background to work in their intellectual property department. After becoming proficient in business and technical Japanese and experienced in patent-related matters, my department tasked me with finalizing a system for and actually evaluating the outsourced patent document translations we received. The perspective was that skillful rendering meant avoiding the pitfalls in Japanese to English patent translation that occur because of differences in the patenting systems, and meant providing a clear and concise translation that did not change the scope or intent of the original. My experience evaluating translations from the buyer side aroused my curiosity in the art of patent translation and of patent writing.
Q: What keeps you in the game?
I enjoy translation and interpreting, and having my own business offers a certain kind of pleasant flexibility. The process of translation itself feels like working on a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that requires extra detective work and even experimentation to find the right pieces. In a sense, it is like writing a computer program. [Carolyn says: Absolutely! Computer languages are just as interesting to play with as natural languages.] As for the flexibility, when I decided to move back to the US, I wanted to be able to use my experience in patenting, my technical background as well as my Japanese language skills to customize and shape my career into something that would allow me to keep learning about new technologies and keep me going back to Japan. Despite the challenges, I keep playing the game to keep doing the things I enjoy.
Q: What has been your favorite assignment thus far?
My favorite thus far is my first paid interpreting assignment. I chaperoned six Japanese university students and interpreted for them at various presentations on US patent practice. The experience made me realize that I do enjoy interpreting and the opportunity to help people who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to interact and learn from each other.
Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?
Especially for those entering translation from another field:
a) If you can find one in your language pair, participate in a translation program or translation workshop. [Like NYU, perhaps.]
b) If you have confidence in your source language speaking skills, do certainly try to get phone interviews or appointments with potential clients in your source language country.
c) Know what your ideal client looks like. From the business they are in, to what they think of you, to why they should ask you for advice.
d) Learn to say No. If you keep going back and forth with yourself trying to find excuses to take on a project, you should probably just say no.
e) Ask a lot of questions—even if you only end up asking them through a search engine, there is vastly more information available online from the veterans that ever before. You don’t have to jump on the bandwagon, but definitely take stock of the different perspectives.
f) Understand what the landscape looks like and where you want to be in it. For example, along the supply chain there is the very end (blind bidding) and there is the front (specialized agents and direct clients who call you for advice). Your positioning will affect pricing, negotiability, and the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert or a part of the team.
Many thanks to Nadine for her practical advice! I wholeheartedly agree with her words for “debutante” translators: the best thing you can do is to treat your freelance hopes as the business venture they are. Take yourself seriously as a professional, and so will the clients. If you have any questions, ask away. And if you have any advice, do share!