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Posted on4 September 2013

Studying translation vs. actually working in a translation agency

Studying translation
I was very confident before I came to Atlas, and would never have imagined the type of problems that I would encounter  when I started my work placement. At my university, our lecturer created a simulated working environment, where students took on different roles such as that of a project manager, translator or proofreader – but this couldn’t be any more different from the real world of work.

Firstly, you might lose your chance to work for a translation agency if you make a mistake. Some days ago I heard from my colleague that one translator had submitted a poor quality translation. What made it worse was that she refused to accept the proofreader’s suggestions and corrections and replied in a very impolite way. It is now very unlikely that she will be offered jobs again. At university you could never imagine such a scenario because your tutor will never stop giving you assignments as long as you are still a student.

Secondly, communication between colleagues, clients and suppliers is totally different to that which takes place at university. Courtesy is not as important in the simulated working environment, especially between very close classmates, but in the real working world, you should pay attention to the way you speak: “Can I possibly have…” “Could you please…” “I was wondering whether…” These are tiny issues, but if you have been accustomed to your previous way of speaking, you may express yourself (albeit unintentionally) in an inappropriate way. This became obvious when I started dealing with telephone enquiries. When talking with a classmate, for example, I could say something like “what on earth do you want to say?” if I am confused by a point they are trying to make. However, on the phone, I need to force myself to be patient, to take down as many details as possible, and to deal with many strong accents!

Lastly, in a real working environment, you feel more pressure to be a competent teammate. During my first week, for instance, I forgot to record the date I signed off a supplier invoice. Afterwards, our accounts manager had to go back and do it from scratch, otherwise she would never have known whether the supplier had been paid. The lucky thing is that we uncovered this before it became more of an issue. However, in the simulated working environment, even if you make a mistake like this, the consequences will never be as ‘real’. . After this incident, I became more cautious so that such mistakes would never happen twice.

Now I have been at Atlas for 6 weeks. Whenever a friend asks how I am getting on here, I say “At Atlas I have learnt loads and will learn more”. I am looking forward to being a qualified translator as well as trying my hand at project management before I leave this wonderful company.

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