My first love
I’ve been lucky with the ‘first times’ in my life. I met my first love at the age of 16 and we were happy together. When I’m old I’ll tell you the details, but for now, I keep it close in order to look socially acceptable. What I can tell you is that with hindsight, I believe this first love has been a major contribution to my life and outlook; unfettered romantic love is a strong positive force capable of making you feel good about yourself, mankind and life, no matter what others might think about you.
So before going into my first translation job, let me first tell you about how I started in the profession – beginning with my unique and varied background.
From a proper job to a good life
On the basis of the widespread belief that “one should have one’s profession, language skills are a plus,” I was encouraged to become a prestigious and respectable engineer or businessman. I was convinced to the extent that I went all the way to Japan to study engineering and then again for an MBA. In the meanwhile, my leisure time was spent studying one language after another, learning the violin and even the piano too…
After watching people literally killing themselves because of their oppressive lifestyle because of overworking, I realized that I was more inclined to a life of independent living, freethinking and the arts. For example, I like sticking my finger into a cat’s mouth when they yawn and sniffing books before reading them. Even more, I like cooking and singing to charm Asian girls.
Striving to escape the corporate life, I concentrated on my love of singing – which I had already been studying for leisure – and started performing in Japan as a tenor. However, I discovered that being a soloist may give you freedom, but it won’t provide a stable income. That’s why last year I came up with translation as a future career path. These two fields of work actually happen to fit very well, with the former using your voice and not so much your brainpower, the latter using the opposite. Another aspect of translation common to singing is that you can do it virtually anywhere. Between performances I can chill out for a few weeks in a completely new Asian country. I do this by looking for local friends and hosts on Couchsurfing.org or by staying in guesthouses. I have always seen myself as a traveler, not a tourist.
In January 2013, whilst in Shanghai, I came across another couchsurfer from Russia. We shared the same room, and almost every day I would see him engrossed in something on his laptop, face serious, for an hour or so. He revealed to me that he was translating and that he got paid well for the service. He was working on Russian translations, but this was no matter, for I realized I could do the same for Italian clients. I admit that, in the rat race times, I had always had a certain disdain for translation work because of the ‘cheap’ image the work had. But options were slim to me then, and well, this guy seemed to be making money whilst travelling, so I thought I’d give it a go.
First love in translation
In February 2013 I entered the translation industry with virtually no experience or training. That’s when I registered for free to Proz.com, where two months later an Italian translation agency got in touch with me. I was asked to complete the translation of a domain name dispute resolution from Korean to Italian (1,500 Korean characters – about 400 English words) in a simple Word document. I wasn’t yet an expert or experienced in the field but I knew I could do it.
So I replied in a three-line email: per-character rate, character count and total price. I asked for a high price – most agencies say to do so – and in less than a day I got the job without any further questions! They didn’t even ask for my CV. I wish it were that simple with other agencies too… As the dispute took its course, they assigned me one document after another – a total of four in one month – of which all were longer than the first. I confess that the conditions were so good that I feared it was all a scam. That was until they actually paid me on time!
I had now discovered that the profession I had always shunned could actually be lucrative. As with my first romantic love, my first translation job had changed my life perspective; now I felt good about the profession, the industry and its clients. I admit that not all the clients I’ve had since then have been as successful and smooth sailing as the first one, but I still cherish the feel good factor I experience with every new inquiry.
Voice and brain in a suitcase
Because of my major, I did end up translating the kind of documents dealing with the corporation world that I wanted to avoid, such as technical, financial, business and marketing documents. A balance sheet is no opera aria. Nevertheless it is different, and I have the all-important freedom I need to spare my voice for singing, as well as the spare time to practice with it every day.
All in all, translation fits quite well into the life of this wandering artist, who is both unfit for organizations and uninterested in competition. Now I’m carrying my voice to perform and my laptop to translate.
Stefano Lodola, MEng, MBA, is a professional translator and artist who has over seven years of experience studying and working in Asia. Under the brand Gifted Translations, he offers translation services from Japanese, Korean and Chinese into Italian and specializes in translating business, marketing, financial and technical documents. He is the founder of Translators Need Websites, a service offering specialized, industry-specific web design for translators. Member of Mensa, fluent in seven languages, winner of four writing contests in Japanese.