My interview to BeWords.com

Rafa Lombardino tells Bewords about her thoughts on translation

1. Could you kindly tell us and our readers about your personal and professional background in a few words?

I started working as a freelance translator back in 1997, when my day job was teaching English to young kids, teenagers, and adults. Three years late, while I was in college pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, I started working with a professor who was also a professional translator. That's when I realized that translating was a viable career path.

2. What does it feel to be independent and what are the associated advantages and limits?

I currently work at Word Awareness, Inc., a small network of professional translators established in Southern California. I'm the founder and director, which gives me a lot of freedom as to whom I'll be working with, since we only collaborate with translators we really trust. The best part is that we were able to become a cohesive team that acts as language consultants to help our clients achieve their goals. The only limitations in our current setup is that, since we're a small group, we can only take so much volume, but this limitation is good in a sense that we provide quality services as opposed to worrying about quantity and hiring anyone despite their qualifications just to secure a large contract.

3. What can you tell us about your mother tongue, the languages you translate from and the business associated to it (trends, sectors, etc.)?

My A languages are English and Portuguese and, since Brazil is currently one of the largest developing economies in the world, there's a lot of business going back and forth with multinational companies all over the world. We're mostly working with business communications these days, including press releases, news clippings, and presentations. We also work with employee and client surveys and some human resources materials, such as company-sponsored training and on-line courses, so that these corporations can have a better understanding of their markets and workforce and, in turn, employees can align themselves with the global strategy being implemented worldwide.

4. The value chain of the translation business is undergoing a strong evolution. With changes and impacts at different levels (players, tools, processes, customer relationships, etc.). What is or are the evolutions you consider the most important for you on the short or medium-term?

Computers in general made our lives a lot easier. Back in 1997, researching was more limited and freelance translators could barely afford a decent CAT tool. Nowadays, these technologies are a readily accessible to most professionals and the surge in information resources and social networking definitely helps when it comes to finding the right word, be it by reading materials in your target language or connecting with peers whose background will allow you to reach the best solution to a language problem.

5. Do you think (especially in your country) that the cooperation between players (freelance translators, agencies, CAT tools providers) is satisfying and effective?

Personally, my interactions tend to be more international, since our profession is heavily web-based. Most of the agencies we deal with are on the East Coast, so we can use the time zone difference as a competitive edge. Only one of my colleagues is within a 20-mile radius, and most of our freelancers are overseas. Nevertheless, we have established an effective communication channel to keep in touch not only during our projects, but also when we need a helping hand. I do make up for this lack of face time by meeting with a local translation association, presenting workshops, and participating in events organized by the American Translators Association (ATA) whenever possible.

6. What about Machine Translation in your language? Did you test some solutions? Any feedbacks to share?

My first professional background is in technology, mostly due to my Associate's Degree in Computer Sciences, so I'm always interested in new tools and solutions. However, I've been greatly disappointed with machine translations in my working languages, that is, between English and Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian. MTs would only be a valid option if they could dramatically cut down production time and offer a higher accuracy, at least as close as to what humans can do ―while keeping in mind that human errors do exist.

7. In your opinion, with advances in MT, will translators become "mere" proofreaders? Is-it foreseeable? Opportunity or threat?

The time it takes someone to proofread and do a QA on a machine output is usually longer than what translators would take to do it all from scratch. And, if you're not careful, there's room for a lot more mistakes due to wrong context and text nuances. I have to say that what Google is doing ―using human suggestions to improve their machine translations― is definitely something fascinating, but it's not consistent or reliable enough to be used at a professional level. Enough said, I really don't think I'll see computers taking over the translation business in my lifetime, but there's still a lot of work to be done in client education regarding this matter, so everybody can be on the same page and client expectations can be truly met. In other words, the translation industry isn't about who will do the job for less money, but who will offer the best quality.

8. Being an independent translator, what advice could you give to young professionals starting their career? Or, if you are starting your career, what kind of advice are you looking for?

What I tell my students who take the Tools & Technology in Translation class I teach at the University of California, San Diego Extension is that, as a translator, you never stop studying. If your preferred approach is to specialize in a single area, you have to become an expert in that field and learn everything you can about the interaction between your working languages and the professionals who work in the area, since they'll be your audience. In other words, being a translator who is responsible with the use of his/her target language is a great start and the other required skills (i.e. building a successful business) will come with time.

9. Concerning websites for translators or translation platforms, do you count on them as a primary source of customers (for you personally) or do you see them as an extra?

I have first contacted many of our clients through job boards, so I'd say that websites dedicated to the translation and interpreting community are our main lead. We also get many emails from potential clients who found our company information or my resume in several other solutions, including our company website, my professional profile in translation sites, or even in social networking platforms.

10. What about social networks (Facebook, Linkedin, etc.)? How do you use them for your professional activity?

I see Linkedin as a strictly professional website, so my account features my professional background and I've only linked in with people in the industry. Twitter is in the middle of the road in our strategy, being a professional option for business networking, considering that we've mostly connected with translators and language-related accounts as a way to meet peers, read articles they suggest, and keep up to date with what they're experiencing in their daily translation activities. Additionally, since it's a company account, we mostly post translation headlines, which are also featured on our website. Facebook is a lot more informal, and that's where I keep an account that is a mix of business and pleasure, combining our Twitter feed (thus allowing some interaction with peers), but it's also a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

11. Is there any other topic you would like to talk about here?

I'd just like to thank BeWords for the opportunity to participate in this interview and for the effort of creating a community dedicated to translation that will promote our industry in a responsible way, so that clients can understand what to expect from translations that are professionally done and beginner and advanced translators can interact and exchange experiences.