Oleksandr Ivanov on Being a Freelance Translator in Ukraine – INTERVIEW
Oleksandr is an ATA Certified Translator (English into Ukrainian) since 2014.
He has been working as Translator/Interpreter since 1994. He translates from English, German and Polish into Ukrainian and Russian. He’s started as a staff interpreter with ARGE Walter-Tekser (a German/Turkish construction consortium), then continued with Tebodin Consultants and Engineers (a Dutch technical consulting company), ING IGA (as senior translator/interpreter on two banking advisory projects in 2000-2002 and 2004-2006), and Bank Aval (as staff translator/interpreter for the core banking system implementation project).
Years of experience: 26
Language combinations: English and German into Ukrainian and Russian
Services performed: Translation (I used to offer interpreting services as well, but then realized that I enjoyed translating and that interpreting caused too much stress for me)
Next stop in our interview series is Ukraine, where we sat down with Oleksandr Ivanov :). Enjoy!
TC: How and why did you become a freelance translator/interpreter?
OI: I’ve never really wanted to become a translator/interpreter but I have always been fascinated with language—at a pop-linguistics level, I would say. A booklet for a Made-in-DDR knock-off Meccano construction set became my first Rosetta stone and taught me to read Polish, Czech, and Bulgarian (well, sort of). I was helping guys in my class to read articles about Deep Purple and AC/DC published in Polish magazines. Still, I wanted to become a Microelectronics engineer and enrolled in Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. In the meantime, the Soviet Union went bust, and newly independent Ukraine started printing money like crazy. During my last two years at the university, I worked selling art albums and books to tourists and decided to take evening courses in English and German. The work improved my speaking and listening comprehension skills, and I went to work on my graduation thesis at the Technical University of Darmstadt (TH Darmstadt).
Once back to Ukraine in 1994, I got my diploma but couldn’t see any opportunity in working at the electronic components plant I was supposed to work at. And then I saw IT—a job ad for translators/interpreters to work for a German-Turkish construction consortium building houses for the ex-servicemen withdrawn from Germany. I applied for the job. The Turkish guy interviewing me turned out to be a TH Darmstadt alumnus ;-), and the job was mine. Later, I worked for a succession of construction and consultancy companies, and development projects. In 1998, I encountered Lantra-l listserv, where I learned what freelance translators and interpreters were. Three projects later, I felt confident enough to register as a self-employed translator and go freelance in 2004. For a couple of years, I worked part-time for a banking-sector technical assistance project from my home office. Once it was over, I’ve only worked as a freelance translator from January 1, 2007.
To get over the impostor syndrome, I took the certification exam offered by the ATA and was certified as a translator from English into Ukrainian in 2014.
In fact, I rather liked the in-office work and I still maintain good working and personal relations with my former colleagues. Still, even being a freelance translator feels more stable than having to look for a new project job every 2 or 3 years.
”Having been born in the Soviet times, I yearn for freedom.”
TC: What are your main fields of specialization and how did you choose them? Or maybe did they choose you?
OI: Well, my fields of specialization mainly chose me—I’ve hardly ever translated anything related to microelectronic component production processes. I currently specialize in construction, banking (regulation), (tax) laws, management consultancy, accounting standards, and environmental impact assessments—these are areas where my current clients work. When starting on my first job for the construction company, I was able to rely on advice from my mom and my late dad—they both used to be civil engineers.
TC: Can you tell us a few words about your working environment? Do you work at a desk or in a hammock?
OI: I am fortunate to have my own home office room with a proper desk and a gamer’s chair. I have a 17” laptop PC on a cooling paid at the core of my setup, with a 24” screen, a vertical mouse, and an ergonomic keyboard. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, I used to spend a day or two per month in one of my favorite co-working spaces in the city when I felt lonely. Since March, however, it has never been the case, with my wife and both sons working or studying from home together with me.
TC: And while we’re at it, how many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer?
OI: It always feels too long. Usually, it is 6 to 9 hours but sometimes I do work long hours.
TC: What about staying fit? How do you manage to squeeze in exercise in your busy life?
OI: I enjoy long walks with my dog, as there are a forest and a lake not too far away from my home. Before the lockdown, I used to swim in a public swimming pool once or twice a week, but now I am waiting for the epidemic to end. At the moment, I am definitely not doing enough for my fitness.
TC: As for your eating habits, do you usually cook or order/dine out? 🙂
OI: Oh yes, I like good food, and I share cooking responsibilities with my wife. But we also have a tradition of “takeout Tuesdays” in our family—we order pizza or khachapuri (Georgian meet/cheese/beans pie) from one of the places nearby, and watch movies together. And I am definitely going to dine out more, once the lockdown is over.
TC: All right, let’s get back to the business side of things. Do you mostly work with agency clients or direct clients?
OI: Most of my work comes from direct clients. I work for some of my ex-employers and for new employers of my former colleagues, and for clients of my old clients—I rely mainly on word-of-mouth advertising. At the moment, I only have three agency clients.
TC: Do you feel your local language services market is the same or different from markets in, say, Western Europe or the Americas?
OI: I believe that translators and interpreters in Ukraine face many of the same issues that our colleagues face in the EU or the US. Obviously, Ukraine is not a rich country, and the rates offered by local agencies are often too low. One distinguishing feature of Ukraine’s translation and interpretation market is, in my opinion, that there are no sworn translators or interpreters, and that there are no formal barriers to entry into the profession. Many people (including me) have come to the profession from other careers—however, many people with translation credentials, whom I know, pursue other careers (in management, HR, IT, psychotherapy). So, it works both ways.
TC: When you go to a conference and attend a presentation or workshop on marketing by a professional or trainer who is not familiar with the situation in your country, how useful is their advice? Do the principles or strategies presented apply to you?
OI: My take on it is that the advice offered is usually sound. It may not be applicable directly because you may have to adapt the ideas to your country’s culture and laws. Alternatively, these principles and strategies can be used in dealing with people from other cultures.
”I know that many colleagues would disagree, and there are examples of the appalling treatment of translators and interpreters but I believe that the “free” in “freelance” gives you the right not to work for such clients.”
TC: How is the translation/interpretation profession regarded in your country? Are you happy with how local clients perceive language professionals? Do you feel that they are aware of the expertise and efforts required by this profession?
OI: Now that you asked about it, I am satisfied with the relationship with my clients. I tend to work with agencies established by other language professionals or with clients’ representatives, who may have been translators themselves. I know that many colleagues would disagree, and there are examples of the appalling treatment of translators and interpreters but I believe that the “free” in “freelance” gives you the right not to work for such clients.
TC: Do you mostly work with local or international clients?
OI: I mostly work with international clients with local project or country offices, or local agencies that work for such clients.
TC: Is there a strong community of linguists in your country? Do you have an active translators’ or interpreters’ association?
Yes, there is a strong community or, rather, many intersecting communities. It grew from Internet forum meet-ups, and then in 2007, Oleg Rudavin and the Proz country office organized the first regional conference in Kharkiv. In 2013, InText translation agency organized its first Ukrainian Translation Industry Conference. In 2016 and 2019, this conference was held in the form of the Ukrainian Translation Industry Camp at a campsite on the bank of the Samara River in a forest 50 km away from the city of Dnipro.
Also, there are (were?) regular informal meetings organized by translators in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Odesa.
The Ukrainian Association of Translators and Interpreters was registered just one month before the lockdown. It is just starting up. As one of its founding members, I believe that its main goal should be to help translators and interpreters reach the clients, organize mutual support, and set up a certification scheme for translators and interpreters.
TC: We’re approaching the end of this interview and we would like to find out a couple of things about Ukraine. What is your favourite city or region in Ukraine? What should a tourist who has never been to Ukraine visit first?
OI: Ukraine is huge and diverse. Come here for churches and parks of Kyiv, constructivist architecture of Kharkiv, multiethnic diversity of Odesa, festivals and restaurants of Lviv. However, my favorite tourist destination in Ukraine is Kamianets-Podilsky (Camenița Podoliei), with its fortress, the old town almost surrounded by a canyon of the Smotrych river, and its St. Peter and Paul Cathedral with a minaret.
TC: And finally, if you had to give a single piece of advice to young language professionals, what would that be?
OI: Build and develop your relationship with clients and colleagues, learn from them, put yourselves into their shoes—in other words, develop your human capital. But, as Margaret Atwood put it, nolite te bastardes carborundorum, and always remember what the “free” in freelance is about!