Jean Campbell, PhD, is adjunct assistant professor in the MS in Translation & Interpreting (MSTI) program. She is the language specialist for Shearman & Sterling LLP, a global law firm based in NY, NY.
Q: How did you get into translation?
A: Having learned a few languages by avoiding translation back to English, which is my first language, [translation] was something I could do and was asked to do at my first job out of college, at graduate school for professors visiting and writing in German, and at every job I have ever held since.
Q: Many translators work as freelancers or small business owners. How does the experience working full-time in-house differ from that?
A: The main difference is that I cannot refuse a job, no matter how little time there may be to complete it. The very great advantage of in-house work is direct immersion in and therefore knowledge about the industry. I have this direct experience for social services, philosophy, art history and economic publication, banking and law.
Q: What does a regular day look like in your work at Shearman & Sterling LLP?
A: There are no regular days. In principle, I am available to a large international law firm with offices around the globe and the differing time zones that accompany that condition. I expect communications to come in while I am sleeping, and I also have to build into the planning of projects to allow for reasonable response time from the opposite sector of the globe that may not be awake yet. However, translation companies that want to respond across all time zones make use of a network of offices that in effect "follow the sun".
Q: You work with English, French, Spanish, and German. What are some benefits and challenges of translating for multiple languages?
A: Actually, I work with any language that crosses my desk, which can also be the first time I have heard of it. You can add Portuguese and Italian to the languages I translate from, into English. I don't think I can say working with multiple languages presents any benefits. It is interesting to see variations across languages for expression of the modalities of being. Each language must necessarily be understood within itself, according to its own symbolization and rules for correct formation. Just one significant challenge is to avoid the mistake of naturally reacting to the spelling of a word with the same letters or that resembles one formed with a different alphabet, and unreflectively taking its meaning as determined outside that system.
Q: Since the pandemic began in March, has the shift to working online changed your work? How so? Have you noticed any change in the translation industry at large?
A: Because the translation studies department at NYU has already been teaching online for many years, this area had no adaptations to make to continue its courses. The law firm anticipated reduction of personnel in the office at any time by assigning employees to either team A or B and setting a schedule for when one team would work in the office and the other remotely. After the lockdown, only a small, designated essential staff was allowed to enter the office, and all other employees were then equipped to work remotely, if they had not already had such capacity. Even before the lock down measures, most communications were via email both within and across offices. But I have had to devise work-arounds to compensate for the inability to consult various hard-copy records and references. A special remote notarization procedure was established by the State of New York. Because the pandemic response has created many problems and harmful situations, law firms are naturally dealing with an increase in the types of cases to handle, so people working there are really quite busy.
Once the Internet became established, translations have been produced and transmitted electronically. This basic modality is not affected by the pandemic response and puts both of these industries, law and translation, in the advantageous situation of being able to continue to work.
Q: Do you have any advice for MSTI graduates?
A: Pursue your interests! And buddy up with a colleague to review and check each others' translation drafts. You can pay each other a small editing fee, which is covered by the price you charge for your work product. Consider working in-house in an industry you want to specialize in as a translator. Work there at least two years. You do not actually need to be a translator, but you do need to work in a company with cross border transactions, requiring use of the languages in your working pairs.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: If you stay in this industry, you will never be bored.