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Tips for Starting a Translators’ Association

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Tips for Starting a Translators’ Association advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee (more columns in Translation Journal


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I live in a country many people see as a translation backwater—but things are moving!

About a hundred translators here are in the process of creating order out of chaos by setting up a national translators' association. We've made a lot of progress in establishing our structure and organization, and are working on a code of ethics and other projects. Would you have any input on client education and the like? Actually, any tips at all on stumbling blocks facing new associations would be most welcome (it sounds like you've been there before).


Meeting Man


Meeting Man,

What terrific news!

One hundred people may be a nightmare to organize, but think of all the energy and good will you can tap into, gushes Worker Bee. Think of how you can advance together, promoting greater awareness of translation and better working conditions for one and all! Think, too, mutters Fire Ant, about the near certainty of dysfunctional loners and government-issue gasbags in your midst, and act now to ensure that your fledgling group does not get side-tracked by them.

No sooner said than done: below are our tips on what to focus on, what to watch out for, fascinating projects that will get everyone on board, and heads to knock together preemptively. (Readers' comments welcome).

  • Some translator associations admit agencies and companies, while others are limited to individuals, either freelance or salaried (company owners can nonetheless join as individuals if they are themselves translators). We can see pros and cons for both models, but is important to settle this early on, as there may be bad blood between freelancers and agencies. Your new association will need all its energy for moving ahead on concrete projects, not for squabbles.
  • Given the surge in online marketplaces (proz, gotranslators, etc.) where sign-up is as easy as clicking, paying your money and posting self-descriptions of "professional" details, you should also decide whether your group is focusing on "promoting the profession" or "promoting the services of individual members". If you want to do the two (why not), decide precisely where the line lies and plan ahead to avoid conflict-of-interest situations (e.g., if volunteers are manning your association phone line, they should not be siphoning off clients for their own business).
  • Meetings: Translators attending your meetings should go away with more energy than they had when they arrived. Full stop. This means that if ever a negative, nasty or simply needy individual or group of individuals starts transforming your get-togethers into moan & groan sessions or even food-fights, you must rethink the whole set-up. It is worth stating this explicitly right up front: meetings must generate energy, not sap it.
  • Training (1): Win-win! Training is one of the most constructive options around, and something a national association can do very effectively. Demand is absolutely enormous, perhaps because translation can be such a solitary job: people are generally eager to get out and interact with others. Just as importantly, specialized knowledge helps translators produce better quality work and charge higher rates. We repeat: win-win!
  • Training (2): By all means invite expert colleagues to contribute to your training sessions, but it is also important to bring in speakers from outside the language services industry: at one blow your training becomes client education, since a scientist, patent agent or finance director who has spoken to a group of translators in a training session usually goes back to his or her own industry with a new awareness of what professional translators can do for that industry.
  • A listserve/discussion group (yahoo, gmail or other) is free and a great way to get the flow going. Colleagues remind us that most existing associations have gone through ups and downs when aggressive individuals or small groups have hijacked discussion lists with flames and rants, chasing the rank and file away. The solution is have list members sign an agreement setting out basic netiquette up front. You must also have a moderator.
  • Money (1): In a general way, tread carefully on "money issues" (perceptions and reality) which can be a catalyst for all sorts of disputes and time-wasting.
  • Money (2): Some members/potential members will complain about the cost of whatever you plan to do, whether their contribution be $1, $10, $20 or $250 (refreshments at meetings, room rental for training, chipping in to finance a website, etc.). Let such comments go by, with a smile. Base your priorities on what the most dynamic, professional people want, and don't worry if there is not 100% agreement. Let us repeat that: the poverty cultists must not be allowed to set the agenda; with luck, they may climb on board later.
  • Money (3): Even the most dedicated volunteers can get discouraged if they lose too much business through the time they invest in the association. So decide together, at the start, what is reasonable "volunteer" work and what should be bought in (pooling costs). If your whole structure is "financed" by motivated people donating "free work", there will be burn-out at some point—perhaps even bitterness and martyrdom (loudly proclaimed or suffered in silence). Both are to be avoided.
  • Networking opportunities of all types are important, and work best if there is a specific timeline and objective. How about a joint writing project, such as an adaptation into your language of the excellent client-education brochure "Translation, getting it right" ? (We admit to a vested interest in this particular venture.)
  • Re codes of ethics, FIT-Europe recently asked its member associations to contribute theirs to a central repository, now online at There may be some ideas to recycle there—why re-invent the wheel?
  • At one of your meetings, create sub-groups and go around the table having each person describe how he/she sees the association "in ten years' time". This (1) helps get everyone thinking beyond immediate issues (where you might not all agree) and (2) creates a positive atmosphere as people realize that what they are doing now will have an impact in ten years. Finally (3), it helps people get to know each other better.

We wish you the best of luck as you advance with your new association. And we'd be delighted to hear from readers with hands-on experience in this area.


Fire Ant and Worker Bee have five decades’ combined experience in translation. They believe that in addition to producing consistently strong work, translators benefit commercially from adopting an entrepreneurial outlook and exchanging tips and experiences.

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