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How Yuliya Tsimashenka makes a living in Minsk: “The rates are 5-7 times lower than in other countries”
May 28, 2017
She was born in Mogilev, though few believe it. Border guards stare quizzically at her passport, and new acquaintances always double-check: is that really your name? Many find it hard to believe that the woman before them is…another Yuliya Tsimashenka.
The moment Yuliya adopted her husband’s surname, her life changed:
“On the work front I would say it works in my favour, if anything: people remember me.”
Yuliya left a well-paid job some years ago to try to find herself. And that’s exactly what she did. Today, Yuliya is a translator – and she makes a good living out of it. So how can this be done in Belarus? In an exclusive interview with Салідарнасць, Yuliya Tsimashenka reveals all.
“I realised that I wanted to be happy. And I quit my job”
After obtaining a degree in languages, Yuliya spent two years teaching German to students. The serious money started coming in after she took up a job in the local office of a foreign company.
“It’s a well-known company, all my former colleagues still work there. But during those four years, I realised that working in an office just wasn’t for me, and that I was merely selling myself for money.”
Yuliya’s duties included doing technical translations (mostly user manuals for machine tools and the like), and consecutive interpreting during business negotiations.
“When I worked for this company, I had a stable salary that was five times higher than the average salary for Minsk,” Yuliya recalls. “Some people might think, ‘What more does she want?'” The job did not give me enough scope for being creative, though – every day I literally had to force myself to go into the office.”
Yuliya knew that by turning her back on a stable, high salary, she was taking a big risk. But she stuck to her guns.
“A good salary is something you quickly grow accustomed to. But I realised that I just couldn’t see myself still being there in five years’ time. I wanted to do something that I would enjoy. That was the main reason why I started working for myself.
Her husband supported her decision, taking responsibility for providing for the family on his shoulders, and Yuliya, after leaving her job, registered as an independent entrepreneur.
“Our market? The rates per page in Minsk are far lower than the rates in other countries”
Yuliya points out that she became a translator partly because of her interest in the job and partly because of the financial factor. Initially, she worked for a number of translation agencies in Minsk, but ultimately she decided not to remain on their staff.
“I stopped working for them altogether when I realised that I simply wouldn’t be able to make a living on the money they were paying me,” she remembers. “The rates per page in Minsk are five to seven times lower than in other countries. Our agencies only pay 2-3 dollars per page…”
Though she admires the professionalism of many of the translators who work at agencies, she is nonetheless sure of one thing: if people learned how to respect themselves and “stopped working for food, the whole system would come crashing down…”
“Today, I work with clients from Germany, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the USA… They pay good rates. There is a lot of competition on the market, but if you make a name for yourself, the customers will soon come a-calling,” Yuliya tells us.
“In order to translate the accompanying documents for medical preparations, I took a course in pharmacology for translators”
When the conversation turns to her fellow translators, Yuliya says she is in awe of the ones who can do simultaneous interpreting:
“I consider what they do to be the highest craft within the profession. I have a lot of respect for them. I wouldn’t say I feel dwarfed by their skill levels, though – we are on an equal footing; it’s just that everyone operates in their own niche.”
The idea that every translator should have their own niche is one that developed in Yuliya’s mind over time:
“When I was first starting out, I took every job that came my way. I needed to pick up experience. I soon learnt, though, that if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to master a particular subject. I started searching for my niche, and ended up choosing medicine. On top of that, I also translate texts about cosmetics and tourism.
To gain the knowledge she needed to translate instructions for medicines, doctors’ prescriptions and test results, Yuliya took a special course on pharmacological translation and the basic principles of medical knowledge for translators.
“To work in this field, you don’t necessarily have to be a doctor, but you do need a certain amount of knowledge of the subject – it’s a complicated one, and you need to be able to make sense of the subject matter,” Yuliya notes. “As well as that, I have an ace up my sleeve: my parents and my sister are all doctors. I sometimes ask them for help or advice.
How can you tell a professional translator from an amateur, on the basis of the text alone?
“Just by reading a small section of the text, you can work out how professional the translator was in his or her approach to the job. You can tell by how the text sounds, which terminology was used, even the layout on the page. When you read a translation on a subject that requires specialist knowledge, you can see straight away whether the person who worked on it is an expert or merely a dilettante.”
Yuliya tells me that translators who are just starting out tend to have an overly high opinion of their skills, due to a lack of experience. The same thing applied in her own career:
“Right at the beginning of my time as an interpreter, I was doing some interpreting for a German businessman at an event related to changes in the customs documentation. I was doing chuchutage (whispered, in-ear interpreting). Just 20 minutes into the job, I felt like my brain was about to explode – I wasn’t prepared for such a rapid pace, and I didn’t know all the nuances of the vocabulary. But that incident showed me that interpreting jobs were not the right area for me.”
Nowadays, Yuliya has a more scrupulous approach to her work, and she even reveals the system she uses when working on a translation:
“Not long ago I translated a text about a hematology analyser. By the time I had read up about the appliance on industry websites, looked at equivalent instructions in Russian, watched a video about it on YouTube, and checked everything, several hours had gone by. And that was for just one-and-a-half pages of text! I was pleased with the result, although I spent more time on it than I would normally have done.”
Today, she feels more confident in the market, since she understands the laws by which it operates: “I work with an editor, so we are a team of two. That is standard practice. There’s always a chance that you’ll miss something, so a second pair of eyes always comes in handy. I also use computer-assisted translation tools.”
Yuliya is happy with her work at the moment. The best compliment she can get, she says, is positive feedback from the customers.
“In Belarus, there is nothing stopping me from working as a translator”
She realised during her student years that foreign languages could only be truly mastered through practical experience. How did she go about finding foreigners in Minsk in the early noughties, though?
“Some friends of mine had the contact details for a German family who had visited them back in the early ’90s. They hadn’t been in touch with them for ages, but had kept their phone number. I plucked up my courage and asked for the German family’s number,” Yuliya says with a smile. “I sent them a fax, saying that I was studying foreign languages, and asking whether I could go and stay with them and practise speaking German. I didn’t expect to get a reply, but they invited me to go and stay with them. In the end, things turned out very well and I’m still friends with that family today.”
Yuliya Tsimashenka interpreting for Alexander von Bismarck – the great-grandson of the legendary ‘iron chancellor’ (2009, Belarus)
Today, Yuliya visits Germany at least once a year. She is in no hurry to move there permanently just yet, though, despite the fact that half of her group from university have already done so.
“I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years’ time. I’m not ruling out the possibility of working abroad, but leaving the country is not my aim. My family all live in Belarus, and they mean a huge amount to me. And there’s nothing stopping me from working as a translator in Belarus.
Besides Russian and Belarusian, Yuliya knows three other languages, but she says German is her favourite foreign language:
“I’m so in love with the German language and the way it is pronounced that I could go on about it for hours. I may even start a YouTube channel soon, so that I can share a few tips and hints for beginners. I’ve got some experience on that front: after all, I initially studied to be a teacher, not a translator.”
Interviewer: Ilja Lopato
Translated into English by Huw Davies
Original in Russian: https://gazetaby.com/cont/art.php?sn_nid=126392