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Come and Enjoy the Community: A Call for Action

Updated: Jun 7, 2018

This article was originally published in the 2017 Winter Newsletter of the Chinese Language Division, an ATA (American Translators Association) division. I wrote it after ATA's 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco, urging more of our colleagues to join the greater translators and interpreters community of ATA as well as its divisions and chapters. Since ATA recently announced that I'm running for the Board of Directors this fall at the New Orleans conference, I thought it would be opportune time to repost this article.

I joined ATA in 2014 and have not missed a single conference since then. Beyond the conferences, I have been actively involved in ATA's Interpreters Division and Chinese Language Division and the Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters, an ATA Chapter. I wrote the following with immense enthusiasm over a year ago, and I am sharing it again with the same amount of sincerity and passion, if not greater:

Come and Enjoy the Community: A Call for Action

My dear reader, I hope you went to the most recent ATA Conference in San Francisco and enjoyed yourself there, because I certainly did! I loved the sessions I attended and the job opportunities I came across. But you might have also seen me connecting with newbies at the Buddies Welcome Newbies event, delivering a report on social media performance at the Interpreters Division Annual Meeting, or brainstorming ideas to bring more Chinese Language Division (CLD) speakers to the next conference. I had tremendous fun celebrating the annual translation and interpretation community get-together and felt a real sense of belonging. I can’t wait to go back next year!

And that’s why I wanted to write this article: I wanted to share with you why I enjoy being part of the translation and interpretation community, and why I think you should, too. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve just joined the ATA or CLD or been a long-term member of either group. If you haven’t been active in the community, please read on. How do you know if you are active? Complete the quiz below and see. If you can correctly answer four out of five questions—Congratulations! You are an active member!

1. Name three cities where the ATA Conference was held in the last 5 years.
2. Which ATA Chapter is closest to you?
3. Name three ATA divisions.
4. What are some major changes to the ATA Certification Exam in 2017?
5. What’s new with the interpreter credentials in the ATA member directory?

(Please find answers to these questions at the bottom of this page.)

I’ll explain why I think you should get involved in the translation and interpretation community, but I’d like to first share with you my path to it. I began my journey as a professional translator and interpreter with Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters (CATI), an ATA chapter, in late 2013. I had taught Chinese at that point but was always interested in translation. CATI hosted a social event at a local coffee shop one evening, and I went. It was a cold winter night, but I remember how warm and welcoming everyone was. They gave me advice on how to get started, whom to contact for work, how to prepare for the ATA Certification Exam, etc. By the end of the evening, I left with a small bundle of business cards and a heart leaping with joy, thrilled by the possibilities that lay before me. After that, I kept returning to the quarterly get-togethers in my area. Every time I went, I would see old faces and make new friends. Since each time I was in a different place in my career or had different questions on my mind, I learned more about the profession and about what I needed to do to grow my business. I also went to CATI’s annual conferences where I learned from seasoned linguists and met people outside of my area. As time went by, I gradually realized that there were others who were just like me on that cold winter night when I first walked in the coffee shop: nervous, uncertain, but excited. And there were always people who would sit next to them and befriend them. At the same time, there were people who seemed to know each other well and would spend time catching up with each other or exchange ideas on a situation they came across at work. That was new to me, since I was a freelancer and was used to translating or interpreting alone. I also started to notice how the CATI Board of Directors—a group of volunteers—worked as a team to organize social events and conferences, to support translators and interpreters, to promote the profession, to network with language and translation schools, to reach out to organizations who use our services, and, in a word, to serve fellow CATI members. I really appreciated the work the board did and wanted to give back to my profession, so I ran for office and became a board director in 2014. For the past two years, I’ve run CATI’s Learning the Ropes Program (a mentoring program), co-organized a client outreach workshop with local attorneys, and helped organize CATI’s conferences.

I had a similar experience with ATA’s Chinese Language Division and the Interpreters Division. I started as a newbie, met some generous colleagues, and decided to give back in ways I could. Essentially, this is what being in a community is about: You get back what you give out. I wouldn’t be where I am today but for CATI and other translation and interpretation communities. A community, first of all, offers companionship to like-minded people who share common interests. I have a support group who understand what I do. Although I work as a solitary freelancer, I have colleagues to whom I can reach out for help when I come across a linguistic question or an ethical dilemma. There are different translation and interpretation communities in different geographic areas, languages, and specializations, but once you find the right groups for you, you will benefit from a collegial relationship with them. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a beginner or have many 9 years of experience, as we all have different needs and can offer assistance to one another.

Secondly, by being a member of the community, I have grown my business. I’ve made friends who brought me business and helped me in my work. But more importantly, I learned from them how to work with agencies, direct clients, and colleagues; I came to understand the trends in the profession and how to stay attuned to changes and technologies, and I learned how to develop my professional skills. This has made me better at what I do, and I have parlayed my knowledge into revenue for my business.

Thirdly, by working as translators or interpreters, we are de facto members of a larger community whether we are actively involved in it or not. It doesn’t matter how many hours we work each day. As long as we work for hire and not just as a hobby, we are professionals and should regard ourselves as such. I want to work at a reasonable rate and get enough of work that I enjoy doing for many more years to come. You probably agree. But this won’t happen without a healthy, thriving industry. This is what professional associations like the ATA are for. As a group, we set standards, promote our profession, and educate our clients. Together, our voice is louder, and our action more effective. And we need every one in the community to be active to achieve our goals.

How do we become involved? You can begin with your language division in the ATA. The Chinese Language Division should be the first stop for every new ATA member who works with Chinese. Perhaps you are already a CLD member, but do you know that we have a Wechat group, a Listserv, a Facebook group, and a LinkedIn Group (links and a QR Code are available at the end of the article)? Of course, there are other divisions based on areas of practice, such as the Medical Division and the Government Division. And if you’re an interpreter, don’t forget to join the Interpreters Division, too! Next, find out if there is an ATA Chapter in your area. One good thing about joining a local chapter is that you’ll meet colleagues in the same geographic area. You may be able to refer local clients to each other and help each other understand the market. Reach out to the board and find out what activities they might have coming up that are close to you. Or perhaps they have virtual socials or online webinars? Just find something that interests you and join one of them. In additional to ATA Chapters and Divisions, there are other ATA Affiliates and associations similar to the ATA. You can find them on the ATA website and get involved. Do you work in-house or with a team of linguists? Are you a staff translator at a company or a court interpreter? Why not organize a social event among yourselves? Once a community is established, the same benefits still apply!

What if you’ve done all those? Is there anything else you can do? Sure! You can talk to the 10 board or the leadership council of your association, chapter, or division and find out what you can do to help them. It’s a way to give back to the community, but you’ll also develop a relationship with incredible people who are generous enough to volunteer, and this relationship will benefit you in many ways. Or reach out to clients and students who might become clients or members of our community. You can find the Client Outreach Kit and guidance on school outreach on the ATA website, too. Also, don’t forget that you might be qualified to become a Voting Member with the ATA and cast your vote next year to decide who shall be on the ATA Board. Find out how to become a Voting Member here.

Whether you’re a newcomer to the CLD or an old friend who’s been inactive, I’d like to extend the warmest welcome to you to become an active member in the CLD and the ATA. I hope you enjoy working as a translator or interpreter, and I hope to see you next year in Washington D.C.!

1. The last five ATA Annual Conferences were held in San Francisco (2016), Miami (2015), Chicago (2014), San Antonio (2013), and San Diego (2012).*
2. A list of ATA Chapters based on geographical locations
3. A list of ATA Divisions based on languages and working areas
4. What the Chronicle-Online says about the changes to future certification exams
5. You can now add interpreting credentials in the online directory

*After the article was originally written, Washington D.C. held the 58th Annual Conference in October, 2017. The next conference will be in New Orleans from October 24 to 27, 2018.

About ATA

ATA is a professional association founded to advance the translation and interpreting professions and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters. Its over 10,000 members in more than 100 countries include translators, interpreters, teachers, project managers, web and software developers, language company owners, hospitals, universities, and government agencies.

(Source: About us, ATA website)

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