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Corinne McKay: “I’m a very hard worker and I force myself to look at possibilities rather than impossibilities”

This is the second part of the interview I’ve had a privilege to do with Corinne McKay, an established French to English translator and a recognized thought leader in the field of translation. In this part, Corinne shares insights on taking care of your health as a translator, leveraging translation memory tools, advantages to a freelance career, and many more. By the way, I bet you will find some useful tips in the first part as well.

1. Do you find it easier to work from home now as compared to when you were just starting as a translator?

A: Interesting question! No. I actually find it harder. I adore my daughter, but anyone who has raised kids will tell you that sitting in front of a computer is like a vacation compared to running after a 2 or 3 year old kid all day. So when my daughter was really little and I only worked during the few hours a day that we had a babysitter, being alone in my office felt like an incredible break from the rest of my life. Now that my daughter is in school for a full day and is much more independent, I find that I have to make more of an effort to get out of the house and interact with people. I’ve recently started co-working with a friend one day a week and I love it. I can definitely envision moving my office out of the house someday!

2. Given that working long hours in front of a computer can be detrimental to a translator’s health, what are some of the things you do regularly to prevent health problems?

A: I try to make my work setup as ergonomic as possible. I sit on a yoga ball rather than a standard office chair, I use reading glasses whenever I’m at the computer and I have two very large monitors on my desktop computer so that I’m not squinting at the screen. I’m also kind of an exercise addict so fortunately I don’t have to force myself to exercise; I run or ride my bike for about an hour at lunch every day. Also I’ve recently been experimenting with setting my watch timer for 50 minutes while I’m working, then getting up and walking around the house or doing some yoga for 10 minutes. So far I like it!

3. Would you consider an in-house translation position now if it paid better?

A: Probably not. I am satisfied with how much I make as a freelancer and I like making my own decisions and being responsible for the success or failure of my business. I think it would be very stressful to have my career destiny in someone else’s hands.

4. Have you ever entertained a thought of furthering your career by accepting a management role at a translation services agency? If yes, at which specific moments?

A: No, not really. I did a four-year term as the president of our local translators association and I really enjoyed it, but in general I think I’m better at translating than at managing people.

5. What is the best thing for you about a freelance career in general?

A: Making my own decisions and setting my own priorities. Choosing who I work for and who I work with. Setting my own goals and making my own plans to achieve them.

6. What is the best thing for you about a translation career?

A: I’ve always loved words and languages, and that’s what translation is all about. Also, you have to admit that our industry is never boring! We have a lot of interesting personalities and subject areas to deal with!

7. What is your reaction when a professional translator says they never use a translation memory program and aren’t planning to?

A: Well, that description applies to some of the highest-paid freelancers I know, so I wouldn’t dismiss it entirely. In my experience, direct clients don’t know (or probably care) much about translation memory, much as I don’t know (or care) much about software for accounting or creating legal documents. If I need my taxes done or if my husband and I need a will, I just want the job done. On the other hand, I think that translators often resist buying new translation memory software just for the sake of resisting. Translation memory is a business decision; nothing more and nothing less. After years of railing against the evils of Trados, I bought Studio 2011 and I love it. Now I realize that I was very unwise and stubborn for all of those years!

8. You are an active blogger and have also presented at every annual conference of the American Translators Association since 2004. How do you manage to find interesting topics every time?

A: Well, hopefully they’re interesting! One thing I’ve learned over the years is that we all struggle with the same issues: first-year freelancers and high-level freelancers all have to decide how to find new clients, how to raise their rates with existing clients, how to juggle multiple projects at once, how to keep up to date with technology, and so on. I guess I feel that if something is a big issue in my freelance life, it is for other people too.

9. Do you have any thoughts about how formal (University) translators’ education can be improved?

A: Well, here in the US we just need more high-quality programs to train translators and interpreters. More universities are starting translation and interpreting certificate programs, but we have only a few Master’s programs in translation and, to my knowledge, only one Master’s program (at Monterey Institute) for conference interpreting. In addition, I think that T&I programs need to teach more business skills to their students. In the US at least, the vast majority of jobs for translators and interpreters are on a freelance or contract basis, and many in-house jobs will not consider beginners. So I think that every translation and interpreting program should require a course in the business side of T&I.

10. What is the most important factor in your success as a freelance translator and blogger?

A: I don’t really think I have any extraordinary skills. I’m a very hard worker and I force myself to look at possibilities rather than impossibilities. Here in the US there’s a popular children’s book series called “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” about a family of orphans who have to extricate themselves from all sorts of horrible circumstances. Whenever they seem to be trapped in a bad situation, the oldest girl says “There’s always something,” and then she finds a solution to the problem. And that’s kind of my philosophy with freelancing: there’s always something!


What I personally like about Corinne’s work is that she is such a great role model. Being a hard worker who focuses on solutions rather than problems, she is an example of what’s possible for many of us working in the translation industry. Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom, Corinne!

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.