By Thaïs Lips
September 18, 2014
The Colorado Translators Association has gained a new member who may be known to many in the translation industry: Karen Tkaczyk, a French into English technical translator, recently moved to beautiful Colorado and joined our association. It was my pleasure having Karen over for lunch and having the chance to discuss our profession with such a dedicated and thorough professional. Also a great cook, she was nice enough to share her Poires pochées au vin rouge (Red Wine-Poached Pears) recipe with me!
Thaïs Lips: Karen, we are delighted to have you as a CTA member, and I am particularly glad to have you practically as a neighbor. What made you and your family move from Nevada to Denver?
Karen Tkaczyk: We have lived in a small town in northern Nevada since 2000. We were happy but never felt like we would be there forever. Small-town life suited the family nicely while the children were little, since we could afford to travel when we wanted to experience something more cosmopolitan. My husband and I are both self-employed, so we had the freedom to live anywhere. Earlier this year, we reached a tipping point where we felt that moving would be the right thing to do. We were looking for good schools, a dry climate and proximity to a major international airport. We like the combination of outdoor activities and cosmopolitan culture available here and thought the Denver area would suit the family well. Our loved ones who know both us and this area agreed. So far, so good.
TL: Tell us a little bit about your story; what cultures have affected you? Where do you feel at home?
KT: I was born in South Africa to British parents but they returned to the UK when I was an infant. I probably pay more attention to South African news and culture than your average person, but I’ve never been back there. I grew up in Scotland and England, went to university in England, spent time living in France and Ireland. The UK is what I get homesick for. London is my favorite city. I love many things about Scotland. I’m British at heart. Yes, I’m from Scotland, but I’m not a nationalist. I hope that the imminent referendum result will keep Scotland within the UK. My husband, Yves, is French, so we have many French cultural influences at home and we enjoy those. Our name is Polish – two of Yves’ grandparents immigrated to France from Poland in the 1930s. We don’t have much Polish cultural influence. We became naturalized US citizens in 2009.
TL: You have a PhD in chemistry; do you consider it was a 180o change to become a French into English translator?
KT: I had studied French throughout school and university, did a one-year internship in a French pharmaceutical company, then married a Frenchman. So no, it wasn’t a 180° change to use that skill set in a different way and market myself as a chemistry translator. It is unconventional, for sure. I didn’t want to go back out to full-time work in the chemical industry after we had children. I love the flexibility of freelancing and it has served the family well.
TL: How did it happen? Did you take any courses?
KT: The same as any freelance practice, I suppose: hard work and self-discipline. I think that putting PhD in the subject line of emails to agencies made a difference in the beginning though, as my practice took off faster than most. I wrote many emails to agencies and got my first jobs on ProZ.com. Within three or four months, I had several repeat clients. I never looked back. At the moment, nine years later, I spend about half my time working for agencies and half for direct clients. That changes every year as I weed out less desirable clients.
I didn’t take any courses, no. Online courses were just beginning at that time. I have taken courses on craft and subject matter since then, but not much on business practices.
TL: Based on your professional experience, what best marketing advice would you give to new translators?
KT: I’d say pick something specific and say that’s what you do. Don’t try to be all things to all people, and don’t be scared to be unusual. Be narrow and deep, not a generalist. This blog post by Walt Kania puts it well: http://thefreelancery.com/the-most-lucrative-ways-to-specialize/.
TL: And to the old ones? LOL
KT: I think word-of-mouth recommendations are typically the best marketing method for most established freelancers, but I think it’s important not to get lazy and stop updating our websites and online profiles and the like, so that when people search for us, we look current.
TL: You have been very active in ATA leadership lately. Would you like to tell us about that?
KT: I am on two committees (Divisions and Nominating/Leadership Development) and I am a division administrator (Science and Technology, S&TD). So I do have a fairly heavy volunteer load. I think that divisions are a member’s home within ATA, and that is the area I wanted to help with most, so I offered. I’m a highly specialized technical translator, so S&TD is a great fit for me.
I was invited to join the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee because I know a lot of the division leaders, which means I can help recommend new people who are doing good work for the association and may be ready for a different role. When a committee needs new members, the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee is often asked for ideas. We also meet once a year for a weekend to recommend a slate of candidates for the annual elections.
The Divisions Committee helps make sure that all the divisions are functioning properly. Division leadership style, activity and culture varies a great deal (each is meant to have the freedom to exist as it wishes within the governing framework), so having a committee made of people who are active in many of the divisions is important. Many people assume that what they are used to in the few divisions they are active in, is the way things work in all the others. Not so.
TL: How would you see yourself more involved with CTA?
KT: As long as I have major volunteer roles in ATA, I won’t be volunteering heavily for CTA as well, but I’d be pleased to socialize and in join in with specific tasks or events where my experience could be useful to others. Thanks for having me!
TL: Thank you Karen, we look forward to seeing you around very soon in CTA’S activities.