By Andie Ho
A few years ago, I began lending my translation skills to a local, volunteer-run school that holds Saturday French classes for K-12 students. The classes are aimed at both francophone children of French expats in the Houston area to help them maintain their French while living in the U.S. as well as students learning French as a foreign language.
My role as the school’s official translator came about gradually. Through a separate organization for French expats, I became friendly with several of the school’s board members. One day, one of them called me and asked if I’d be willing to do a short volunteer translation for the school. I replied that I’d be happy to help. Since then, I have been receiving sporadic translation requests, on the order of a handful of times a year. The texts are easy enough and frequently repetitive and mostly consist of job postings and either translating or proofreading the English version of the quarterly newsletter. The staff are gracious and respectful of my time, and the deadlines are usually long compared to my paid work, so helping out is never a burden.
Though I initially agreed to volunteer for purely selfless reasons, one side benefit of being involved with the local expat community has been the opportunity to advertise my services. As a translator for the school, I am considered a staff member and attend school celebrations for events like la Galette des rois and la rentrée. At these gatherings, I meet many French expats and am usually introduced to an auditorium full of people not just as the school’s translator, but as a professional translator in my own right. As a result, I have had people approach me for my language skills.
My experience has also made me rethink how I network. A number of years ago, I attended a networking event where I received the name of a prospective client, a French expat who had started a small business in Houston helping other French expats settle in the U.S. She was reportedly often in need of translations for her clients. I contacted her several times by email and phone, citing our mutual acquaintance and hoping to speak with her, but I never heard back. A couple of years later, when I began volunteering for the school, I discovered the same woman was one of the school’s board members. She didn’t remember my attempts to contact her, but we became well acquainted, and just last month, she referred me to a friend in need of a translation for his business. People prefer to do business with people they know—and from what I understand, that goes double for the French. Volunteering has allowed me to serve a good cause while simultaneously giving me a foot in door to the sizable French expat community in the fourth largest city in the United States.
I no longer attend networking events where I’m not likely to ever cross paths with the people I meet there again. In fact, anything that bills itself as a networking event generally tends to be unfruitful for me. Instead, I focus on recurring activities where I see the same people over and over and have an opportunity to build relationships, an approach that happens to suit my personality. After all, it’s much more pleasant to make a friend and then have her call you for a translation than it is to try to foist your services on a stranger.
On a personal level, I believe that everyone should strive to make the world a better place in whatever way they can, and volunteer work is certainly a major way for people to do their part. If you’re able to draw professional gains at the same time, then all the better.
Andie Ho is a Houston-based, ATA-certified French to English translator. She specializes in the areas of food and cosmetics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @JHawkTranslator.
Editor’s Note: Have you had a positive experience volunteering? Please share it with us! Also, did you know that volunteering your translation services is a great way to earn continuing education credits for your ATA certification? Keep track of the time you spend volunteering and include it on your CE points report.