I’ve recently received a message from a novice football translator asking for advice. I’ll use this blog to reply to him as I believe my answer could be useful for other people in the same situation.
Q: I have a passion for sport and am currently going about securing some work experience in the world of sport. What would be the best way about getting into the industry? I already do some football commentary both for radio and TV in French and Italian, as well as English. Is it, for example, worth contacting football institutions eg UEFA to see about getting some work experience? I am constantly hearing that in the sports industry it's simply a case of who you know. Is this what you have found in your experience or are there specific things I can do to get "my foot in the door"?
A: In my opinion, the best way to get into the industry is first of all to build up your profile, both online and offline. To be a successful football translator, you need to obtain experience both in the translation arena and in the football industry, even if separately. For instance, you can get experience and improve your curriculum as a translator by translating travel brochures, and you can build up your profile in the football industry by working as a sports journalist. You need to write articles, go to places and meet people. If nobody knows who you are, you won’t know which door to get your foot in.
But perhaps I’m forgetting the most important point: you need to be the right person for the job. You may want to swim against the tide, but eventually the market will lead you to where you belong, where you can do a good job, earn money and feel accomplished. And how do you know if you have what it takes to be a good football translator? First of all, you must be mad about football, and the longer you’ve been mad about football the better, as you’ll be able to remember moments in football history you’ve experienced yourself which will help you decipher the context in some translation jobs.
However, being an avid football fan is just the beginning. There are two other aspects: writing skills and language competency. Is your writing up to the standards you see on the sports pages of newspapers such as The Guardian and magazines such as Four-Four-Two? What about your source languages? Do you read football newspapers and magazines in Italian? Watch games with French commentary? That’s paramount if you want to get to a point where you understand that football translation is actually a misnomer, as the game is seen with different colours in each football nation, and you need to rewrite the source text accordingly.
You ask me if it’s just a case of “who you know”. No, it isn’t. It’s about “who knows you”. But, as I said, being well-known is not really useful unless you have a very good portfolio to show. Of course you should attempt all types of contacts, but try not to burn all your bridges until you’re totally confident that you’ve reached the level where you can say that yes, you’re the man for the job.