Last updated:  
Apr 10, 2018 @ 6:57 PM
Ask a Pro: Becoming a Freelance Translator

Sylvia Dekyndt Interview

Sylvia Dekyndt is a translator and editor based in Quebec, with over ten years of experience in translating from English to French.

For this edition of Ask A Pro, we asked her about her career as a translator, her perspective on the translation and localization industry, and what her favorite translation tools are. She has some great insights for aspiring linguists and anyone interested in the translation process.

When or how did you realize that you would like to be a translator?

Sylvia Dekyndt Interview

I realized that I would like to be an English to French translator when I was 40. At the time, I was making a career change and wondering “What could I do that I would be really good at?”

Becoming a freelance translator was not only a natural choice for me, but also a logical one, as two of the things I had done the most in my life were reading and writing – all kinds of administrative and technical documents in the course of my duties, and poetry mainly for my own pleasure. Plus, I’ve had the chance to work for more than seven years with senior managers in the private and public sectors. So, when I decided to make that move and do translation studies at the university, I already had some field experience.

For example, among others things, I knew how businesses work, what their needs are; how each department relates to another; what were the most common problems. I also had a deep and factual knowledge of the administrative language and the technical terminology used in various fields (marketing, HR, finance, legal, business operations and management, etc.). And was used to writing in both French and English in the course of my duties.

Besides, I had strong entrepreneurial, methodological, computer, and relational skills. And I was quite an autonomous, creative and self-disciplined person by nature. So freelancing was the perfect solution for me.

Being a freelance English to French translator and proofreader is definitely one of the best things I’ve done in my life. This career has always brought me so much pleasure and satisfaction. I’ll never regret that move.

What is the best part of your job? What is the most challenging part?

For the past 11 years, the very best part of my job has been that I’ve learned something new each and every day.  For an inquiring mind like mine, this is unquestionably the greatest luck of all, a pure blessing really.

As for the most challenging part, it is to be very careful and apply utmost attention to not changing the meaning of the source text while translating it.

Having excellent linguistic skills and deep knowledge of the field is not enough. The first and foremost quality required to avoid that common pitfall is showing humility at all times. Too much confidence, too much pride, too much of “I already know that…”, too much over-reliance on one’s memory, is exactly what will keep one from opening grammars and dictionaries. And this is what inevitably leads any translator, old or young, expert or newbie, into the ditch of serious mistakes. Actually, the more experienced you get, the more you should watch yourself so you don’t fall into that trap.

So, this is why each time I start working on a project, I keep in mind what Mr. Lionel Meney taught us: “Always translate any document that is submitted to you as if it was the very first time.”

What does that mean?

Well, it means check, double check and triple check everything, ALWAYS. Particularly at early stages of the translation process. It also means never fail to use reliable terminology databases, dictionaries, grammars, or any other reliable reference books, to perform your terminology research and to carry out these QA checks.

No one can pretend to know by heart or remember all of the acceptations of a word, neither all of the rules and subtleties specific to one language, at once – not even the most brilliant mind – as we are not computers, but simply humans. Pretending the opposite is to be walking on the sure road leading to shifts of meaning or mistranslations, much sooner than later.

It certainly doesn’t means to get hooked on these books or online resources either though, as many other aspects should be taken into account here: translation is and will always be quite a complex and demanding process.

Dictionnaire Sylvia Dekyndt InterviewAfter more than 11 years of professional practice, I still consider I know nothing compared to what there is still left to learn – Linguistics is a huge and fascinating field and, just as life is, it’s an ongoing learning process. And still today, I never fail to apply what Mr. Meney told us then, in order to ensure the steadiness of the quality of translations I deliver.

It’s worth mentioning that besides being the author of the Dictionnaire québécois-français: pour mieux se comprendre (ISBN: 2-7601-5482-3), which is a great and very useful dictionary, Mr. Meney used to be one of my teachers at Laval University, and furthermore, is one hell of great linguist and funny teacher! I owe him a lot and I’m more than very grateful for all he taught me.

Are there any special requirements for or challenges associated with your language pair?

When I started this career, I had already a clear vision of how to deliver high quality translation/proofreading services to my clients and about the means to be taken to do so. And one thing I knew instinctively was that being a great translator doesn’t simply amount to mastering the target language, or to having a hell of a deep knowledge and understanding of the source language.

Even though great linguistic skills are critical to any language pair, the reality is that they are only one part of the many skills required to become an efficient professional translator-proofreader.

Among other special requirements/challenges associated with my language pair (and this also applies to other language pairs) are the two following:

  1. No matter what one’s fields of specialization are, having a good knowledge of various business management processes, and especially how one relate to another, is definitely a must. – Translation-wise, it’s important to remember that we live in a commercial world, and that most translation projects submitted to a translator have first and foremost a commercial purpose, somehow, whether obvious or not. 
    Therefore, lacking such basic knowledge shows. For example, one might then overlook that contextual aspect, which eventually might have an impact on the appropriateness of the words chosen and used in the translated text. 
    They say that one thing leads to another. Well, this is especially true in French: one word leads to another; and one mistake leads to another; it’s truly a chain reaction.
  2. Having a good knowledge of technologies (hardware, software, online resources, etc.) available (not only in the industry, but in general); knowing how to use them; and again knowing how one relates to another, is also a must. – The first impact of this is an economic one, as translators lacking such knowledge, or who didn’t make proper investments, in order to be technologically up to date and meet the standards of the industry, will definitely have a hard time to make a living out of translation on a freelance basis, due to poor productivity and performance levels among other things. Besides, such a lack of know-how ends up making the whole translation-proofreading process much more burdensome.

Please note that there are many other equally important requirements/challenges related to that profession (i.e. the importance of terminology research; QA processes; developing a rigorous methodology and even stronger research skills; having more than one field of specialization; offering great customer service; being flexible and result-based oriented; etc.).

Since you started working in translation what changes have you seen in the industry?

Two trends:

  1. More post-editing of “machine translations”, based on human translation memory databases.

  2. More translation and proofreading multitasking.

What are a couple of tools/pages/references you find useful for translators?

Among the tools that will help you deliver high quality English to French translations are:


Reference books and online linguistic resources:

There are many other very useful tools, but these ones I’ve just mentioned are mostly the ones you’ll be required to work with.

Thanks Sylvia! Find Sylvia online: or on LinkedIn.

New Call-to-action