In this third and final installment about volunteering I will discuss how you can donate your time in order to expand your skills while doing something not directly related to translation or interpretation.
Professional translators come from many different backgrounds. Many have not studied translation formally but have a university degree and/or work experience in a particular field or industry and later decide to become translators and specialize in that specific field. By contrast, for those who majored in languages or translation studies, it’s important to acquire experience in a certain area of specialization. Language professionals know a lot about translation theory and are exceptionally good at languages -as you would expect- but often know very little about law, chemistry, history, or crafts, to name a few.
If you are in the latter group, your best option is to take classes and/or actually work in one of these fields; specifically, the one that you want to specialize in. In some countries, translation schools have internship programs for translation students to gain experience at law firms, insurance companies, factories, etc. If that’s not your case, you can still look for a part-time job while you are going to school, or a full-time job after graduation to gain relevant experience in your field of choice. This will be incredibly valuable once you start translating.
So what about volunteering? If you are already translating professionally and manage to earn a living, you may not want to look for a job doing something completely different. While you can certainly specialize by reading and studying, volunteering can be a good way to gain valuable work experience. The opportunities are countless: universities, research centers, museums, conservation societies, advocacy groups… Doing some research can help you find fields that interest you, such as financial literacy, animal welfare, community development, environmental protection, health and safety, housing, immigration, etc.
No matter what you choose, you will make contacts, acquire terminology, and learn the ins and outs of an organization. In general, all of this is valuable in itself. But be wise, selecting an organization based solely on the cause it supports is not always smart. You should choose the organization based on the opportunities available to learn new skills and expand your current skills. For example, if you volunteer at a blood bank, you won’t learn much about blood work doing administrative tasks. By contrast, volunteering for an affordable housing coalition might not interest you very much, but helping with graphic design, or social media campaigns might help you learn what you need to know to become an expert in graphic design or marketing. One day you could find yourself using that expertise to translate a book for graphic designers, interpret at a conference or localize a social media campaign.
I must admit that some opportunities are easier to find than others. Be prepared to be creative and ask for help to find the perfect volunteer opportunity. Say you want to specialize in dentistry, ask your dentist, dentists you know, or a dentistry association if there’s anything you can do for them. Free help is usually welcome, and even if you don’t translate or even read a single word, understanding what your future clients do –and meeting them- is very beneficial.
- Volunteer Match, http://www.volunteermatch.org/search
- Volunteers of America, http://www.voa.org/Get-Involved/Volunteer
- Institute for Financial Literacy, http://www.financiallit.org/support/volunteer.aspx
- Volunteer to Learn, http://www.volunteertolearn.eu/
- The old-fashioned way: friends and family members
- Another old-fashioned way: letters, cover letters offering your service
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
-Disputed author, maybe a translation. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi