Volume 16, No. 2 
April 2012


Helen Eby


Front Page

  Translation Journal
Translator Profile

Planning and Passion

by Helen Eby

uan Carlos, my uncle and a very successful accountant, once told my children to make sure they pursued a career they were passionate about. He has seen people pursue accounting because of the money and they are never successful. You don't excel in anything unless you are passionate about it.

You donít excel in anything unless you are passionate about it. .
From the time I was 12, I have enjoyed being involved in translation, interpreting, and teaching a foreign language. I love it and find myself thinking in this way a lot. I love to collect books, including dictionaries, even if I have no immediate use for them. I love to read, alternating languages. I love to sing in both languages. This is simply a big part of who I am. Maybe it is because I had an amazingly bilingual upbringing. I was born in the USA, but my mother is Argentine. We moved to Argentina when I was eight, and I attended my grandmother's British school in Buenos Aires. That was merely the start of a fully bilingual life.

After high school I did a lot of interesting things: I went to medical school for two years, graduated as an elementary school teacher of English and Spanish, worked as a secretary in an import company in Argentina, traveled all around Latin America on a missionary ship doing interpreting and translation, worked in Atlanta and in Portland, then got married and took time off from paid work to raise my children.

Back in 2001 our family had some very expensive emergencies that drained our college savings for the children. At that point, my husband and I realized we were going to need to supplement his income. During a meeting with our financial advisor, I suggested that the best way to prepare for this was rather unorthodox: I could develop my credibility and credentials as a translator and interpreter and be available to work when our children graduated from high school. I have always been busy, and I expected to enjoy getting back to full-time work after the children graduated.

I couldn’t start to work any earlier because I was already committed to homeschooling my children through high school. Because of their combination of giftedness and Asperger’s Syndrome, this was the most appropriate educational choice for them. Instead of saving, we invested in their future by way of cello, viola, piano, orchestra and choir activities that helped them thrive. We figured we’d take care of the future when it came.

So we made a plan. I observed what was necessary to be a credible professional translator, and started to check items off my list.


The American Translators Association has a highly regarded certification. I could pursue it even though it only has a 20% pass rate among professionals, with very little feedback in the preparation process, or I could take the courses required to get the New York University certificate in translation. I chose the latter, which was more expensive, but I learned a lot in the process. I completed the requirements for the NYU certificate in 2010, and my business doubled. The cost of the program was $5,000 plus dictionaries, and it paid for itself within a year.


I joined the ATA and NETA (New England Translators Association) very early in the process. When we moved from the Boston area to Portland, Oregon, I joined the Associated Linguists of Oregon and NOTIS (Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society). These professional associations have always paid off with new jobs. Most important, these networking groups have given me a place to enjoy a collegial relationship with other professionals, to ask questions and to be mentored.


I worked part time as an adjunct professor of Spanish at Gordon College, and I accepted enough translation and interpreting jobs to stay on my clients’ lists, but not so many that I would neglect my primary responsibilities as a homeschool mom. This kept me connected so I had people to call and say “I’m available for more work and I have credentials now.” It also gave me references for future applications.


As I talked with clients and other professionals, I noticed the questions they were asking and I tried to provide simple answers about my credentials, software and experience. I developed a website and business cards to provide some basic answers. I worked with professionals to develop my public relations materials because I wanted to get them right from the start of my business. You only have one chance to make a first impression.

Things about my background that help me run the business:

Who knew that my experience working as a secretary in Argentina would help me run my business? Back then, one of my responsibilities was to make sure our clients paid on time. Having interfaced with the managers of the Argentine railroad system, I learned how to do this politely! I also took accounting in high school, which taught me to be very careful about tracking finances. I have set up QuickBooks for my business, and I love using it. No matter which accounting system is selected, it is important to use one that tracks income and expenses.


I had a deadline looming. Our youngest daughter would graduate from high school in June of 2011, so I wanted to be fully functional by the end of that year.

By April 2010 I had completed my NYU certificate requirements. I started taking classes in 2008, and it was an excellent program and learning experience. This gave me a year to publicize my certificate to future clients before I launched my business full-time in 2011.

In May 2010 I started to research how to launch as a business. I consulted with SCORE, potential clients, and people in business. I needed a business name for two reasons. Businesses prefer to do business with another business. Some clients also had trouble believing that I could be an accomplished Spanish translator because I look American. (In Argentina I have the reverse problem.) So, I created a business and named it Gaucha Translations . When clients asked about the name, I referred them to my website for a full explanation. They loved it!

When I lived in Argentina I found one of my best jobs through the British Chamber of Commerce. When I got ready to launch my business in Oregon, I decided to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce here. This developed a wonderful network for me, but it took about a year of activity to develop visible results. It certainly helped when I announced that I was now a certified court interpreter… Certifications are really important in this field!

I had a lot of questions, so I joined the ATA Business Practices list. I posted my questions, and others gave me answers that generally matched up with my common sense. Soon I started to post my own answers to other people’s questions, hoping for others to fine tune my response. Instead, I received a lot of affirmation, which built my confidence.


In the last quarter of 2011, four different organizations talked to me about full-time openings they were considering. I accepted one that allows me to balance working there while continuing some freelance work with my favorite clients. My husband supports this decision and we are happy that I can select my clients based on my current life situation and preferences rather than on dollar amounts involved.

Over the last ten years I spent time talking to successful people in different fields. I found that my uncles, who are all successful business people, and my friends were very happy to share their insights and experience with me. I also spent a significant amount of money (about $22,000) on education (including travel), dictionaries and certification, as well as memberships, an iPad, an iPhone, a web page, business cards, and business name tags.

During this time, I was turning down a lot of work so I could focus on homeschooling my children. However, my expenses were more than covered. Now my business is fully launched with no debt for startup expenses.

It has been an interesting journey. I really started translating when I helped my mother with an IATA (International Air Transport Association) contract, back in Argentina, as a teenager in 1975. I was taking the Proficiency course (British equivalent of the English AP), and was able to understand things well enough to do a good job. A lot of life experiences and professional exposure have helped me to mature my process and understanding. I have benefitted from the mentorship and support of others. Rudy Heller was a great encourager when I got involved with NETA when we lived in Boston back in 2001. I would love to be a “Rudy” to someone else. And along the way, I discovered that my uncle Juan Carlos was right. You don’t excel in anything unless you are passionate about it.