Dana Szabados on Being a Freelance Translator in Romania — INTERVIEW
Years of experience: 24
Language combinations: EN-RO, FR-RO
Services performed: translation, proofreading, transcreation
Based in Râmnicu Vâlcea, Romania, I have been an English to Romanian freelance translator since 1996.
After years of working as a part-time freelance translator, I switched to full time freelance translating, leaving my career as a Quality Manager of a major chemical plant in Romania. Holding a M.Sc. diploma in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Timișoara, I specialise in technical, environmental and marketing translations, as well in fashion and cosmetics.
I also hold a diploma of lead auditor for quality management systems and a several certificates and diplomas in management.
I am interested in creating awareness on the importance of translation in everyday life, across all industries. I am passionate about new technologies and their impact on the freelance translators’ workflow.
My favourite pastimes are a mixture of museums, hiking, cooking, archaeological sites, books, music, sea, clouds, driving.
If you are part of the international community of freelance translators, chances are you probably know Dana (hint: TTNS 😉 ). For those of you who haven’t met her yet, here’s a chance to find out her views about the market and the profession. Enjoy!
TC: How and why did you become a freelance translator/interpreter?
DS: A teenager who loved music, living in Romania of the ’80s, had to speak a foreign language to find out about news about the charts and the artists. At that time, a foreign language and a good radio set were door-openers for the magical world of pop and rock music.
Though I never planned to become a translator, translation was present in various stages of my life: first, in secondary school, when a short text translated by me was published in a school newspaper, later, when I translated technical texts for the university, and when, in order to be employed as an engineer, the first company I applied to asked for proof of my knowledge of the English language, so I became certified. Finally, I was employed by the second company I applied to but the translator certificate was already in my hands. It was like something was guiding me to the path of translating.
It took me some time and patience to enter the market back in the ’90s, until I found the way to the right clients but when I did, my workload grew steadily. Honing my business skills was what I needed, the interactions with other translators were very limited back then so no best practices were shared. Knowing what my experiences were and what I lacked at the beginning are the factors that made me want to help and support beginner translators whenever I have the opportunity.
In 2018, after 24 years of work as a full-time engineer and 22 as a part-time freelance translator, I turned to full-time freelance translating, and I am happy with my decision.
”My work is never boring due to the variety of topics and texts, deadlines and communication with clients. How lucky I feel to read about new things every day! It's funny when I translate quizzes and I know the correct answers from the previous translations I did.”
TC: What is the main advantage of being a freelancer in your country?
DS: Time is a limited resource, the more we take advantage of it and use it in our favour, the more we improve our lives.
Though being employed comes with advantages, for me these advantages are outperformed by the advantages of freelancing: a flexible schedule, the possibility to work from almost anywhere – internet connection permitting, and a decent pay. Even if sometimes I work on weekends, those out-of-office Wednesdays are priceless. Definitely, freelancing is not for everyone, a freelancer holds, simultaneously, multiple positions in their one-person company.
I love the freedom to (more or less) set my own schedule, enjoy my cup of coffee, be able to rush to the market in the morning, and have lunch with a friend during the working days. Both my professional and personal life are positively influenced by the freelance-specific way of working, commitment at another level.
TC: What are your main fields of specialization and how did you choose them? Or maybe did they choose you?
DS: I started as a technical translator as my background and hands-on experience are technical. Then, adding environmental and compliance translations came naturally as I was acquiring more formal training in the fields.
Fashion and cosmetics were added because of my personal interest in these fields and now I have a reason to read more about them because now it’s work-related. Imagine my peace of mind when entering a shop of a brand I translate for!
And then, there is transcreation, this is a field that chose me, and it grows slowly.
My work is never boring due to the variety of topics and texts, deadlines and communication with clients. How lucky I feel to read about new things every day! It’s funny when I translate quizzes and I know the correct answers from the previous translations I did.
Fulfilment is when I look around and see things that embed my work, when I see slogans or texts that were translated by me, and I recall the translation process. I am still unsure how many of the people are aware that in such slogans, operating instructions, marketing campaigns, checklists … translators were involved. Unlike literature, where the reader finds out at a glance who the translator was, when it comes to the majority of translations, the user thereof does not acknowledge the human behind them.
TC: Can you tell us a few words about your working environment? Do you work at a desk or in a hammock?
DS: I work in my quiet office at home. It is a designated room that I proudly call my office and it feels so well to commute for only 10 seconds per day.
I work at a large sitting desk, using a laptop and an extra display with a gaming mouse. I recently tested a height adjustable desk and it could be an interesting choice. Last year, my office welcomed a new ergonomic chair, replacing the previous one that got a new life in somebody else’s office, I apply circularity as much as possible. My agenda is a paper one, they work for me better than the digital ones, call me old fashioned. Last but not least, the smartphone, indispensable for running a freelance business nowadays.
If I had to make a list of all the places I worked in, comprising translating, sending quotes, negotiating deadlines, confirming projects, it would cover such a variety of places and environments!
TC: And while we’re at it, how many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer?
DS: Depending on the workload, from two to thirteen, maybe an average of six and I try to spend as little as possible procrastinating. A quick note: the time spent on TTNS and Foodie Translators is work! I am a natural born planner so I always plan my day and week and I never work during the night. I love the joy given by tracking my schedule and by adding the small check mark next to the jobs when I deliver them.
TC: What about staying fit? How do you manage to squeeze in exercise in your busy life?
DS: I prefer hiking and walking instead of going to the gym, though I consider returning to the gym when it is allowed.
TC? As for your eating habits, do you usually cook or order/dine out? 🙂
DS: As I like to cook and know my way around the kitchen, I cook but I also enjoy dining out. While travelling, I enjoy trying the local cuisine and buying local spices.
A phrase we've been hearing a lot recently is "unprecedented times", making us review our strategies and create risk management scenarios. What if, instead of saying "this does not apply to me", we say "can I apply this to my work?, can this help me improve my business?".
TC: All right, let’s get back to the business side of things. Do you mostly work with agency clients or direct clients?
DS: Mostly with agencies, I have long standing relationships with my clients, proving mutual trust and respect.
TC: Do you feel your local language services market is the same or different from markets in, say, Western Europe or the Americas?
DS: The core issues and processes are very similar all over the world, the difference resides in the details and the approaches.
Our local market is evolving, still there are entities who consider translation as a commodity though they want to buy a tailor-made service. The rates on the local market are on the low side and, as long as the profession does not get the recognition it deserves, this would be difficult to change.
Awareness should be risen on the importance of this profession and it is up to us to create this awareness.
Of course, there is a culture-specific approach of business in each country though in Romania some consider a translator to be a typist or even less than that.
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?
DS: I, for one, always find something interesting in all the presentations, be them on marketing or on other topics. Indeed, sometimes the presentations may be spot-off if the speaker is from another country and they are not aware of the specificities of the Romanian market. So, yes, if the speaker is from abroad, the principles are relevant for me but they may be meaningless for those working on the local market. We should encourage the Romanian translators to share more and make steps forward in order for the local market to evolve.
A phrase we’ve been hearing a lot recently is “unprecedented times”, making us review our strategies and create risk management scenarios. What if, instead of saying “this does not apply to me”, we say “can I apply this to my work?, can this help me improve my business?”.
There is no general business model applicable for all freelance translators, we have to develop our own models, the ones that work for us and these models have to be dynamic. When I look back to when I started and assess the present status of my business, I see so many changes and such an evolution… if I had kept on doing things as I used to do them 20 years ago, I would not have been where I am. Don’t be afraid of change.
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?
DS: Because of many factors, translation is regarded as a low-level job that could be done almost by anyone IF they had the time to do it. There are misconceptions and urban stories related to the perception of language professionals, starting with: “can you make ends meet?” and ending with “what do you discuss about at a translators’ conference?”.
Unfortunately, many of the local clients consider the process of translation is simply replacing the words in the source language with the words in the target language, missing the core of our work: translating means conveying ideas and meanings and one needs expertise and education in order to translate. Again, creating awareness is our task.
TC: Do you mostly work with local or international clients?
DS: Exclusively international, though I always cooperated well with local agencies and local direct clients. I have a diverse portfolio of clients, an interesting mixture of accounts, terms and conditions and approaches and I am always happy to enrich this diversity.
Trying to support others, whenever I am contacted by clients I cannot accommodate, I try to recommend someone who fits the specific job.
TC: Is there a strong community of linguists in your country? Do you have an active translators’ or interpreters’ association?
DS: The community is dispersed, it would need a catalyst to create a stronger community. There are some associations in Romania, meaning a good step forward was made on the way to create a community, namely identifying the need of unity, there are many others steps to be made and all of us have to contribute to creating a professional environment for the Romanian freelance translators.
I think we are on the right path and the more the freelance translators interact, take part in profession-related activities, seminars/webinars, courses or even informal gatherings, online groups, the better our work becomes, getting a grasp on the dynamics of our profession. Any amount of time or money invested in developing our skills, knowledge or network is likely to generate a higher outcome than the invested amount.
TC: We’re approaching the end of this interview and we would like to find out a couple of things about Romania. What is your favourite city or region in Romania? What should a tourist who has never been to Romania visit first?
DS: There are so many things to see in Romania, a country with all varieties of landscape, good food and good wines. A translator tourist who has never been to Romania should consider attending either an informal event, the gathering in Râmnicu Vâlcea, or a formal event, the TranslateCluj Conference, wholeheartedly recommended by many translators who attended them. Romania may become addictive!
My favourite region is my native one, around Râmnicu Vâlcea, with mountains, hills, monasteries, vineyards, a salt mine and the starting point for trips on the famous Transfăgărășan and Transalpina mountain roads.
TC: And finally, if you had to give a single piece of advice to young language professionals, what would that be?
DS: Find a mentor, someone to guide you on your first steps as a freelance translator, you will be surprised how easy, and in the meantime difficult, everything related to your career and work can be. And if you cannot find only one mentor, join TTNS, where you can have more than 14,000 mentors.