The Translator Diaries: Marie Jackson

The Translator Diaries is a series that looks at how current freelance translators made it into the career. In this second set of interviews, we will learn what makes them so passionate about translation, how they established themselves, and what obstacles they have overcome to succeed as a translator.


Marie Jackson (@lookingglassxl8) is a French and German – English translator and interpreter, and owner of Looking-Glass Translations. Freelancing since June 2012, her main areas of expertise are business, ICT, law and logistics. She also frequently does copyediting work and offers other services such as CV optimisation and speechwriting.

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At what point did you know you wanted to become a translator, Marie?

I may be slightly unusual in that I’ve known I wanted to work as a translator/interpreter since I was about eight years old! My mother used to buy me games in foreign languages as a kid because “they looked like fun”, and she eventually put me into French classes once a week when I was four, again, all in the name of fun.

By the time I was eight, I was translating simple sentences in class and interpreting for my family on holiday – and I loved it. As I got older, I found that I had a flair for language and that I enjoyed solving puzzles, and so translation and interpreting emerged as the perfect career choice for me.

How did you build on this passion in your education?

Since I knew from such a young age that this was the career for me, I chose to complete an undergraduate course in translation and interpreting at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh – one of the only courses of its kind in the UK. I think that there are arguments for and against entering the profession so early on in life, but overall I feel that this was a good decision and that the course – very intense and practically-orientated – really set me up for a strong start in the industry.

There are also arguments for and against obtaining relevant qualifications, but I think that having a degree makes my position more credible; the lack of regulation in our industry means that qualifications are by no means required to find work, but they’re a valuable marketing tool nonetheless, and help to legitimise our industry. The only way we can secure fair rates from clients is by earning their respect and teaching them that we are highly qualified professionals, not just people who happen to speak two languages!

How did you make the transition from university to professional translator?

Once I graduated from university, I actually ended up going freelance immediately. I’d spent the last few months of my degree perfecting my online profiles and reading as much as I could about freelance businesses, and so I was really able to hit the ground running. With valuable language pairs, diligent networking and comprehensive online profiles, I had people contacting me with offers of work almost immediately – but I think that this is probably far from typical.

Did you have a flood of test pieces to deal with?

My client base is currently a mixed bag of direct clients and agencies, and I’ve actually only ever completed one or two test translations. Generally, I’d say that I’ve found looking for work a relatively pain-free process. A lot of my work has come by word-of-mouth, and so I can really vouch for the value of networking.

What would you say sets you apart from other translators?

Aside from the things I’ve already mentioned, I think that my strong pro bono portfolio (spanning around five years) and my obsession with CPD have really helped to convince potential clients of my skills and commitment to my chosen profession.

What kind of difficulties did you face when starting out as a freelancer?

The two main challenges I’ve faced since starting my freelance business are time management and isolation. After graduation, business picked up far more quickly than I’d anticipated and I initially let it take over my life. After some trial and error, I’ve found that the trick is to set yourself clear boundaries and to remember to respect yourself both as a professional and a human being.

As to the second challenge, this is something that can really only be fixed by joining professional associations (I’m now an Associate member of the ITI) and relocating! Personal circumstances forced me to move back home following graduation, and I miss the buzz of a city and all the opportunities that come with it. Consequently, I’m actually working on a plan to move either to London or abroad at some point over the next year or two. I think that the move will not only be good for my own wellbeing, but will also help me to better position my business for growth, which is certainly no bad thing! All in all, I’ve enjoyed freelancing so far and look forward to seeing my business, Looking-Glass Translations, grow from strength to strength over the coming years!

Next week, Alison Hughes (@AHcreattrans) tells us how her 15 years of experience in another industry helped her to find her niche and launch her career in translation.