The 5 Ws: Advice for Emerging Translators and Interpreters (Part One)

10/24/2022 13:37 | Brianna Salinas (Administrator)

New or not-so-new to translation or interpreting? Whatever your answer, don’t be surprised if every now and then you find yourself overwhelmed by the same question I struggled with when I first joined the profession in 2018: What do I do when I don’t know what I don’t know?

Even after four years of taking training courses to stay educated about the profession, I continue to find myself not completely sure of what to do if I don’t know what I don’t know. How could that be? You may ask. The answer is simple: The translation and interpreting landscape is constantly changing. The changes come as human innovation continues to advance, terminology management becomes more complex, communication with direct clients and agencies evolves, and we try to find our niche in the surrounding market culture. In my humble opinion, this ever-evolving market keeps us language professionals aspiring to stay engaged in what we love: being a bridge that connects language communities.

How can we stay engaged in the translation and interpreting landscape? I would like to offer some advice based on the “Five-Ws” approach and the knowledge I have acquired since joining the profession four years ago.

The “Five-Ws” approach utilizes the words Who, What, When, Where, and Why as a guide to create a schema of the key elements of a story. Remember back in the day when our teachers were trying to show us how to write a book report? (I know—I taught this when I was a classroom teacher beginning in the 1990s!) Those five words would serve as the primary components in our summaries of a given story or passage. In the same way, I would like to repurpose the “Five Ws” to help you summarize yourself and, in so doing, find your own answer to a question we all sooner or later face in this field: What do I do when I don’t know what I don’t know?

For starters, let’s take out a piece of paper and something to write with and begin with the first guiding word in our series of five: ‘Who.’

  1. Start with a sentence describing ‘Who’ you are using two to three adjectives that summarize the uncompromising you!
  2. Now, write a second sentence sharing how you envision yourself as a translator or interpreter at this juncture in your life—regardless of your present age. If you are working as a translator or interpreter, for instance, you are probably a person who enjoys languages and likes to be a bridge of communication for others.
  3. Write yet a third sentence to mention who you have around you that could potentially hold you back from becoming exactly who you want to be as you plow the ground for your professional success.
  4. Direct a fourth sentence to that person—in a positive and confident tone—expressing how determined you are in your pursuit of this new career.
  5. Before you write the fifth sentence, think about who you have contacted (including professional associations or colleagues) as key components of the T&I landscape you are now exploring. Write the names of the associations or chapters you have joined to educate yourself about the industry on your way to becoming a serious translator or interpreter.
  6. Finally, combine the above five sentences into a single paragraph, editing anything you would like. Once you’ve finished, read the paragraph out loud and listen to who you have become in this new venture. You embody the success for which you are willing to work hard. You just discovered who is in charge of making the inevitable decisions that come your way in your translating and interpreting business: You, that’s who!

To summarize, when you are just beginning to establish yourself as a translator or interpreter, everything begins and ends with who you are and who you choose to keep around you. It is of great importance that we all begin this journey knowing who we are and how that has led us to where we are. This foundational knowledge must remain firm and ever-present, even as we continue to discover along the way that we may not know exactly what to do when we do not know what we don’t know.

This piece is the first installment of a five-part advice column for new (and not-so-new) translators and interpreters. The next four installments will be released periodically over the coming months. Subscribe to the NW Linguist Blog and to NOTIS News Quarterly, our—you guessed it—quarterly newsletter, here.

Have you got a question for Teodosia? You can get in touch by leaving a comment or, if you prefer to remain anonymous, by emailing

Teodosia Rivera has been working as a professional translator and interpreter since 2018. She is a member of ATA’s Interpreters Division, Spanish Language Division, and Translation Company Division, in addition to two ATA chapters: the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF) and the Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society (NOTIS). Teodosia has established her own business since participating in professional development in the language profession. She brings with her the background of a classroom teacher after teaching for more than 20 years in Osceola County, Florida. “I am still growing and learning,” she says.

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