Kathleen Shelly is a Delaware translator and interpreter certified by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts. She has a master’s degree plus doctoral work in Latin American literature from the Ohio State University, and was a college professor for 12 years. She has been a member of NAJIT since 2005, and currently holds the office of secretary on the board of directors.
As we prepare to soon launch the official blog for the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), I have asked those interested in being part of that blogging team to make guest appearances on my blog to start publishing their views and becoming familiar with the logistics involved in this art form. Kathleen is the first to share her posts from that group. I know you will enjoy her takes- Blogmaster
The following is the first in a series about the practical aspects of being a free-lance interpreter. We will be discussing topics such as car maintenance, managing assignments, record keeping and general protocol. My idea is to help newcomers become acquainted with the nitty-gritty of the profession, and get feedback from those whose experience and knowledge are greater than my own. All comments and ideas are welcome!
About thirteen years ago, I was informed that my state had become a member of the National Center for State Courts, and that an exam for court interpreters was being offered. Trapped in a dead-end job fielding Spanish-language calls at a credit card company, I jumped at the chance, passed the exam and entered the ranks of free-lance interpreters. Work was rather sparse at first; looking back at my records, I see that I made a whopping $4,450.74 my first year. Over time, I developed my business and client-base, and I am now doing a heck of a lot better, although still far from wealthy.
I love my work. Even at its dullest, it beats the 9 to 5 treadmill I had found myself in before. That is not to say there are no drawbacks. There are indeed. Sometimes, as I drive that hundredth mile, I find myself yearning for the security of the staff-interpreter, that lucky soul who enjoys benefits, a short commute, a guaranteed parking space, taxes deducted automatically, etc. Unfortunately, that option is not open to me, but over time I have learned to deal with the exigencies of my trade.
What is a free-lance interpreter? In essence, we are self-employed business persons who must handle our own work schedule, our own taxes, our own benefits, our own marketing, our own record keeping and, just as important as any of these, our own professional development. The money we make must pay not only for the hours we work in court, attorney’s office or medical setting, but also the time we spend attending to business. People who know how much money I make an hour are often shocked and sometimes outraged. They have no idea how much work it has taken to get to this stage in my career, and the ongoing hours of paper work, study and preparation. I have gone through many years of education—high school, college, graduate school, travel abroad to prepare myself for this work. And, since I rarely work eight hours a day, the amount I earn does not even reflect a full day’s pay.
I always feel a little grim when someone says to me, “Well, being a free-lancer must be great! You can name your own hours, work whenever and wherever you want!” Well, yes and no. You can pick and choose assignments as long as you accept the fact that you will make less money if you get too picky. In addition, it is to your advantage to accept certain assignments to get your foot in the door. If an agency calls you repeatedly and you always turn them down, they will eventually stop calling you. I also hate hearing: “Oh, Monday’s a holiday! You won’t have to work!” Unlike a regular employee, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid, period.
So let’s take a look at some of the facets of being a free-lance interpreter. My next entry will be about car maintenance. Gotta go. I have an appointment with the dealership to find out about that pesky engine light that keeps popping on!
In the meantime, I would love to hear your freelancing stories so please leave your comments below.