I’ve been translating for ages (it’ll be 20 years in January) and the first three people I mentored, I didn’t even realize it was mentoring; I just figured out the skill set that was working for me and shared tips with people around me who had similar skill sets. One of those, a med student at the time, has gone on to complete med school, residency, and a PhD in cardiology, but he’s still translating clinical trials in his spare time, almost 16 years later. I mentor more deliberately these days, but in all cases, it’s a give-and-take between me and a person who has a skill set close to mine and an intense eagerness to learn. In some cases, it’s led to a closer collaboration with long-term benefits for both of us.
Internship, on the other hand, generally involves a more hierarchical structure. In the Netherlands, students are at least encouraged and in some cases required to do an internship (or ‘work placement’) for credit. This involves forms, progress reports, appointments with their study supervisor, and so on. The time period is often defined by the university; for instance, my current intern was required to do a 21-week internship, and her final thesis will use my company as a case study.
I’ve also discovered that interns are often woefully unprepared for the realities of translation practice. No, 500 words a day is not fast enough. Yes, you need to thoroughly proofread your own work before submitting it to a second reader – and that always, always includes a spellcheck, but you can’t blindly accept all the suggestions. Two of my interns had never used a CAT tool at all before starting their internship, although that has thankfully changed in recent years.
At my company, at least, an internship involves committing to a certain number of hours and a certain number of translated words, and I require translation interns to do part of the work from home but provide accountability of when they’re working – not because I care, but because I want them to take a good hard look at when they’re fastest and when they’re producing the best quality, which is not always the same thing. I have them do shadow translations of my own older projects, which I then proofread, and we walk through my edits, and finally compare the edited result to what I delivered. I always include several texts that I personally do not think were my best work, and we talk about why the results were less than 100%, how to address issues like that in their own practice, and whether or not it’s fit for purpose.
And finally, I teach them the basics of personal project management and invoicing, and we discuss strategies for client acquisition and the importance of building up a portfolio – not just to show potential clients what you can do, but also because there is absolutely no substitute for hands-on practice.