Quest Belgium would like to introduce Corinne McKay from the U.S, who has kindly joined us for an interview and tells us about her successful career gained from her fluent French language skills and freelance translating work.
1. Hello Corinne, can you tell us where are you originally from?
I was born in Southern California (near Los Angeles) and grew up there, in New York state and in New Jersey. I now live in Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
2. How old were you when you started to learn French?
I started learning French in school when I was 11. Unfortunately, foreign languages are not a big part of the US educational system and the schools that I attended did not offer foreign language courses before that! But I continued to study French through high school, college and graduate school.
3. Did you enjoy learning French and was it easy for you?
I wouldn’t say that learning any foreign language is easy, but French was always my favorite subject.
4. When did you decide that you wanted to work in languages?
During my senior (final) year of high school, my French class went on a trip to Paris for three weeks where we lived with host families and went to school in France. I was hooked! I knew then that I wanted to become really proficient in French and do something that would allow me to use languages and travel.
5. How did you gain such a high level in the French language? Do you think living in the country where they speak the language helps to increase your knowledge of the language?
I put a lot of effort into improving and maintaining my French skills. After living in France for a year in college, I went back almost every summer for ten years, until my daughter was born. Now I go to France for work at least every other year. I also work with a French conversation tutor and take French conversation classes here in Colorado. It’s hard to keep up your language proficiency when you live in your native language country, but I find that clients in Europe definitely prefer to work with translators who speak French, even if the translator lives in the U.S. I do think it’s really hard to become very fluent in a foreign language without living in a country where it is spoken.
6. What tips would you give to anybody who wants to or is currently learning a new language?
Don’t get discouraged too easily; if you’re taking language classes, it takes at least a few years to become conversational in a foreign language. At the same time, if you can force yourself to become immersed in the foreign language, your proficiency will start improving right away. I’ve learned little bits of other languages as an adult; my husband and I went to Nepal on our honeymoon and I learned a little Nepali for that trip. Still, I was amazed that after three months in the country, I could start picking words out of people’s conversations and at least getting the gist of what they were talking about. Immersion is definitely the way to go!
7. You live in America, do you communicate with many French speaking people? Is it difficult to maintain your high level of French now that you live in an English speaking country?
Yes, it’s hard! No one else in my family speaks French and there is not a big French-speaking community where I live. But through local organizations like the Alliance Française there are lots of programs to get involved in.
8. How did you get started in freelance translating?
When my daughter (who is now almost 9) was born, I wanted to find a job where I could work from home and use French. I decided to try translation because I have always loved to write. On my first day as a freelance translator, I sat at my kitchen table with my baby and the phone book and called every translation company in Colorado to ask how to apply for work with them. Then I expanded my search throughout the US and into France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and other countries. After about a year and a half, I was finally replacing the income from my previous full-time job.
9. What advice would you give to anyone who plans to start their own translating business?
Make sure that your foreign language skills (especially reading comprehension) and your writing skills in your own language are excellent. Count on six months to a year of spending most of your time looking for work. Don’t charge too little; charge real rates and earn them! Follow through on what you say you will do for your clients and you’ll set yourself ahead of 90% of your competition.
10. Have you ever considered working for a translating company or would you rather work as a freelance translator?