Corinne McKay, CT is an ATA-Certified French to English translator. From her home in Boulder, Colorado, she translates legal, corporate communications and international development documents for direct clients and translation companies throughout the U.S. and Europe. She is the current President of the Colorado Translators Association and the Chair of the American Translators Association's Public Relations Committee. In 2006, Corinne published “How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator,” which has since sold over 3,500 copies and has become a widely-cited reference for the translation industry.
For more about Corinne’s professional services, see:
When not at the computer, Corinne can often be found skiing, hiking and biking in the Rockies with her husband and daughter or digging in the dirt in her vegetable and flower gardens.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
A. I have a Bachelor's degree in French and English (including a year of study abroad in France) and a Master's degree in French literature. I taught middle school and high school for eight years after college; then when my husband and I started our family, I wanted to find a job that would allow me to use my language skills and work from home. I started freelancing in 2002 and have never looked back!
Q. What are some of your favorite translation projects?
A. I really enjoy translating for the international development sector; for example documents that support USAID and World Bank-funded projects in French-speaking developing countries. It's a lot of fun to use my language skills in a way that directly benefits people's lives, health and well-being.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a freelance translator?
A. The translation industry is booming and I think that the demand for highly skilled translators will continue to outstrip the supply for the foreseeable future. However, it's also important to plan your startup phase carefully: count on at least six months and probably closer to a year before you have a base of regular clients.
Q. What are the best and worst parts of being a freelance translator?
A. I love making my own business decisions, getting to learn something new from every document I translate, having time for my family and my non-work interests and earning a healthy income while working from home. On the negative side, it can be stressful to try to be and do everything that a business needs in order to succeed. When you have an in-house job, you generally work on a narrow range of tasks and someone else handles the rest. As a freelancer, everything – marketing, billing, collections, accounting, client relations, technical support, filing, shredding, web design and even cleaning the office – is your responsibility.
Q. Do you see machine translation as a threat to the translation industry?
A. Machine translation and human translators are suited to completely different tasks. Machine translation is fast, cheap and great for getting the gist of a document. But when you really need to get the message right, only a human translator is up to the task. At the high end of the market (where I think most translators should aim to be), I think that it will be a long, long time before machine translation can compete with what human translators produce. At the low end of the market, I think that translators who charge only a few cents a word have cause for concern, because if a client is satisfied with a poor translation, it's a lot more appealing to get it for free than to pay for it.