For years now I’ve gotten all kinds of written messages asking for advice about interpreting. If you’re just starting out as an interpreter–especially if you live in an area where you’re not connected to a professional network–it can be tough to know what steps to take, and writing to an established interpreter for advice can be a huge help. It can also be hard to know how to do it so you get a good result. Here are my top tips for writing to an interpreter (or any professional, really) to ask for advice.
Format, style, punctuation: Include a greeting, and then type your name at the end. I realize it may be tough to know how to address someone you don’t know, and I totally get not wanting to go too formal or too casual. But there’s something about getting an email that reads something like, “Hi Im wanting to know how to be a certified interpreter thanks”, that not only rubs me the wrong way, but it doesn’t exactly scream out that this is a serious person. It’s nearly impossible to reply. It goes over a lot better with a proper greeting. I happily respond to Liz, Liz Essary, Elizabeth, Ms. Essary, and Mrs. Essary. And I’m sure anyone else would be happy to respond to the respective versions of their own name.
Remember, this is a human being with feelings and dreams and a life that you’re writing to, not some automaton mind reader meant to do your bidding.
Do your homework: Want to know about interpreter certification and getting started as an interpreter? Great! Start by Googling “interpreter certification” or “getting started as an interpreter”. I promise you, you will find a ton of information–I have already written a bunch about these topics, and I’m not the only one. Once you’ve looked at some of the results, determine what questions you still have. Then you can send a message that goes something like, “I’ve been reading about how to get started as an interpreter. I’ve looked at the information online about certification, and I’ve joined my regional professional organization. I’m particularly interested in court interpreting. What else would you recommend to get started?” instead of, “Hi Im wanting to know how to be a certified interpreter thanks”.
I’m more likely to respond in detail if I can see the person writing to me has already done some digging around to find the answer the their question.
Include relevant details: If you’re asking for advice, include these things: Where you live and work, what languages you speak, a brief explanation of your experience, and which area of interpreting interests you. You’ll know the answer to that last thing because you’ve already done your homework, right?
Make a personal connection: Guys, my life is all out there for you to see on my website, my That Interpreter Facebook page, and my LinkedIn profile. It’s not a secret who I am. Other interpreters have similarly public professional lives. The highlights are on the About Liz tab of this very blog, and it takes all of ten seconds to read. Find something that resonates with you, and mention that. For example, “I saw on your Facebook page that you’ve been working in court, and I’m interested in getting started in court interpreting.” Or, “I see that you’re in the Midwest–I’m a Spanish interpreter in the Midwest, too!” Or, “I see that you went to school at the University of Costa Rica. I’m from Central America myself!” You could even write and say something like, “I love your blog!” if of course you actually love the blog.
Don’t underestimate the amount work that is writing and maintaining a blog, and what it means for your intended audience to tell you that they like what you’ve created.
Ask a specific question, or make a specific request: I’m really happy to accommodate requests to shadow me (when I can), or to chat about interpreting over the phone or over a cup of coffee. If you’ve ever talked to me about interpreting, you can attest to the fact that it’s hard to get me to stop.
Respond to say thank you: Even if I can’t help you because, for example, you’ve written to me asking about translating, I will still respond and point you in the right direction. No matter the response, always write back to say thanks, and possibly ask a follow-up question. Off the top of my head, I might get responses from less than half the people I reply to. I am busy. Everyone is busy. Thank them for their time.
The point is that when you’re making connections, you want to put your best foot forward. And it’s not that hard to do, yet so many people miss the mark on something that requires so little effort. Don’t give the impression that you’re just lounging around and all of a sudden decided you’re interested in interpreting. Demonstrate that you’ve put some thought into it, and the result will be much better.
What would you add to these tips? Let us all know in the comments!