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, here, and here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.
Mila Cobos is an English-to-Spanish translator who lives in Fairfax, Virginia. She has a degree in Translation from the University of Granada, Spain, and has been certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) since 1994. She specializes in Healthcare and Social Services documents, although she enjoys working with all kinds of subjects. You can connect with Mila on LinkedIn.
Question: How did you get started in translation?
As a teenager in Spain, I was always listening to music on the radio. I loved to sing to my favorite songs and a lot of them were in English. The lyrics to some of those songs used to appear in a teenage music magazine I read (no internet back then, so it was not so easy to find song lyrics!). I was always trying to translate the songs with my limited English and my friends would ask me what they said. I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up, not translating lyrics, but helping people understand what others were saying and contribute to the communication between cultures.
Knowing I had to learn English really well, I came to the US as an exchange student my last year of High School. After returning, I attended the School of Translation at the University of Granada in Southern Spain… and the rest is history!
Q: What keeps you in the game?
Whether I’m working on a healthcare document for the Spanish-speaking population in the US or a business document going to a Spanish-speaking country, I like to know that I am helping people. After they read my work, they can understand something that was originally foreign (literally!) to them and hopefully it will make their lives a little easier.
Also, the fact that I have seen so many bad translations everywhere makes me want to do my job even more. Several times I have written to companies that had signs or instructions written in “Spanish” that were completely unintelligible. Since they tried to have a translation, I’m assuming they were aiming to help their Spanish-speaking employees/customers. But, how much help were they getting when they could not understand the message?
Q: What advice do you have for a newbie?
Make business cards and always carry some with you. You never know when a business opportunity is going to pop up.
Also, try to meet other translators. Most of them will try to help you and give you advice. Look for the local chapter of the ATA or other translator groups where you live and attend some of their meetings or conferences. [Note: Around Washington, DC, the local chapter is the National Capital Area Translators Association.]
Many thanks to Mila for sharing her story! I’m happy to learn about a fellow translator who picked up language skills while on a high school exchange year. Have a question for Mila? Ask away!