Nathalie Reis


You have been an English to French translator for 18 years now. What does it entail?

Being a translator means working with written words (as opposed to spoken words for interpreting). Translating is transferring a text from one language into another language, in my case English into French, whilst respecting the style, the register and the content of the original text.

On a typical workday, after I have walked my dog for an hour, I start work at 9-ish and translate solidly until 1pm. Then I may do some marketing (replying to emails from potential clients) or some invoicing. I usually translate for another two hours in the afternoon.  

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a freelance translator?

In my opinion, there are a lot more advantages than disadvantages. Being freelance means that you are your own boss and decide everything (or almost everything) about your career: the texts you want to translate, the people / companies you want to work for, the number of hours you want to work. It offers a great flexibility and as a woman, it is invaluable, especially when you start a family. One of the disadvantages is obviously finding the right balance between work and income. Sometimes you are too busy and you have to turn down jobs. At other times, you could do with more work. 

You do translation for the United Nations (UN), for instance on the Development goals report or the UNICEF report on HIV and AIDS. How did you get them as a client?

I have always been interested in development, more specifically topics linked to women and children such as violence against women and children, reduction of poverty, education, HIV/AIDS. When I started my career as a freelance translator, I was mainly translating in the fields of economics and finance, marketing and market research, but one day Médecins du Monde contacted me directly – they had seen my profile on the Institute of Linguists website - and I started doing some work for them. It was highly rewarding. I felt that I was making a difference. Soon after, I was contacted by a consultancy specialising in the field of development and I gained a lot of experience translating one project after the other. A few months later, an agency got in touch with me to work on similar projects. And now translating in this field accounts for a major part of my workload.

Is there any particularities to translating for international organisations like the UN?

When you work for the United Nations, you have to follow a few directives and use their terminology. You also have to read and do a lot of research. Knowing what is happening and being up to date is essential.

Why did you decide to become a translator?

I decided to become a translator when I was about 15 years old. I started learning English at 11 and German at 13. My teachers were really inspiring and I found every aspect of learning a language fascinating. It meant communicating with the “rest of the world”. As for the decision to become a translator, it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision to start with. But I found that when I was bored on a cold rainy day, I would take a book and try to translate it. I simply loved the gymnastics involved in translation. It also helped me when there was a lesson I particularly disliked at school. To stay focused, I would take my notes in English.

You are a Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and an Associate of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). What does this add to your career?

Belonging to both institutes adds a lot to my career. As I mentioned above, Médecins du Monde found my name on the register of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. In fact, a lot of my clients have found my details on the register of both institutes. If you belong to an organisation whose vision is to promote the highest standards in the profession, and if you abide by its Code of Professional Conduct, it supports the fact that you are a professional translator.

You’re also the Publicity Officer for the London Regional Group of the ITI. Why is it important to be involved in professional organisations such as ITI?  

It is very important because it provides you with an opportunity to give something back to the profession. By helping others, especially the new comers in the translation industry, you are contributing to the promotion of your profession. We organise events for our members to help them with their professional development, we provide a networking opportunity and a source of information and support.

You have an MA in English and Economics from Paris III Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in France. How has it been helping your career?

My first Degree is in English Literature and Civilisation (Aix-en-Provence). It was a great course, but I felt that it was not sufficient to face the challenges of the translation market. So I then decided to specialise in Economics and English. The MA gave me the skills and the knowledge I needed to approach translation in the business field. Finally I took the Diploma in Translation and chose Business and Science as my specialisms.

What advice would you give to a woman who wants to do a similar job to yours? 

I would recommend studying one or two languages and to specialise as soon as she has an opportunity. Masters in translation studies are available in a few universities and are perfect too.

What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career?

The most rewarding aspects are definitely knowing that you have helped communicating vital information. It is also great to see your work published either on paper or the web. Apart from the business field, I love art and was very lucky to be able to translate two art books. Seeing your name on a book makes you very proud.

I can’t see any aspects of my job which are not rewarding apart from working with clients who don’t understand our profession at all and don’t appreciate our work at all, but isn’t that the case for many professions?

 What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?

The key skills are language skills which I acquired at school, then at university. The fact that I have lived in England for the last 20 years must have helped too!! In addition to languages skills, you need to have excellent writing skills in your native language and marketing skills to promote your services. The fact that we constantly learn is what I really love about my job.

What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?

The toughest lesson I have learned is to stick to your specialisms. When I started out, I translated a lot of financial texts. But one Friday afternoon, I accepted a legal text and I simply couldn’t do it. I had to wait for the Monday morning to contact the agency and apologise for taking a job I couldn’t do. To this day, I turn down anything that has any slight legal touch. I have learned that it is not because you speak a language that you can be a translator. For specialised texts, you need to be very knowledgeable and experienced.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?

My biggest challenge has definitely been the technological aspect of translation. Computers are user-friendly most of the time but I did find CAT tools very challenging. CAT tools are Computer assisted translation tools. They help you re-use what you have already translated by building a memory. They don’t translate for you (like Machine Translation), but they help you with terminology and consistency. Working from home means that you are on your own when you have a problem and it can be frustrating. That is why training is essential.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am proud of a few projects I have carried out in most of my specialist subjects, whether it is book translation, website translation, hotel websites or museum brochures I have worked on, but the projects I am particularly proud of are the projects linked to development because they do help on a human level.

Do you have a role model and if so who and why?

I don’t have a role model, but I do admire people who commit to what they believe in and show hard work, consistency and perseverance.

Nathalie Reis - Director at Nathalie Reis Translations

20 years' experience

CV in brief: 

Studied: English and American Literature at  Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille I); Masters in English and Economics at  Université Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III); Diploma in Translation, Translation in the Business and Science fields at Chartered Institute of Linguists

Previously worked at: Strategic Agenda, Strictly Translations, 3di Information Solutions Ltd

Find her online

On Twitter: @natreis1

Nathalie Reis Translations website