In October 2017, while attending a linguist mixer event at the Los Angeles Netflix office, I met another translator who told me about the American Translators Association (ATA) and shared with me how she had benefited from being a member.  I have been a translator and subtitler for over 15 years and am quite busy with my work and life, so, although I had heard of the ATA, I had never thought about joining.  I had not involved myself with organizations like the ATA or sought certification, not because I didn’t need help, seek professional development, or desire to network with fellow translators, but because of my own ignorance of the associated benefits.

The fellow translator I met told me that she really learned a lot in the conferences and sessions held at each ATA annual conference.  She said she would be going to ATA58, the next one, in DC where I live, so I told her that I might go to check it out as well.

I joined the ATA and signed up for the conference but, because I had missed the deadline for early registration, it was quite expensive.  I attended some sessions and met a few people.  I did meet some other Chinese translators but ended up missing networking opportunities because I had to leave early.

I learned two important things from that first ATA conference.  First, I met Sara Maria Hasbun (韩梅), Managing Director of Meridian Linguistics, who told me about the Locworld conference.  She explained how she had got her first big job for her company there.  I was able to attend Locworld in Seattle this year.  Although it mainly focuses on corporate businesses, Locworld was still a good venue to learn about new technologies and to network with other people in the translationindustry.  Many big companies tend to work with the largest translation companies.  However, many other corporations with in-house translation departments were there, and many of those still work directly with freelance translators.  I found Locworld to be a great marketing opportunity, with the potential to open new doors for anyone looking for more direct clients.

The second thing I learned was the importance of ATA certification to potential clients.  I followed up by taking and passing the ATA English-to-Chinese translation exam this summer.  I did not get more direct clients right away, but the certification certainly helped me gain the trust of potential clients.  I encourage ATA members who haven’t yet taken an ATA translation certification exam to do so.  It will surely help you.

I was hesitant to attend this year’s conference, ATA59 in New Orleans, because I had felt a little disoriented at my first ATA conference.  I had not known many people, and many sessions turned out not to be what I had hoped for.  I had found it difficult to gauge my actual interest in the various workshops from their titles alone.

However, with the help of Pency Tsai (蔡晓萍), the administrator of the ATA’s Chinese Language Division[1], for ATA59 in New Orleans I was able to get a room at the Sheraton Hotel just opposite the ATA conference venue.  Since I had not originally planned on attending, I had not booked early enough for a room in the conference hotel.  My expectations were not very high for this conference, but I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the mood felt a lot warmer this time.  I had made more friends and, through them, met yet more new people at the conference.  The hotel was nice, with breakfast and afternoon snacks included.  I am grateful to Pency for helping me find such convenient accommodation at the last minute.

Evelyn Yang Garland (杨荣), a director on the ATA Board, captured my feelings perfectly.  She pointed out that, if you are new to the ATA, you probably don’t know many people, and it can be hard for you to find the right sessions.  However, after you know who is to speak in each session, you will find that some of them are amazing speakers.  That is exactly how I felt.  I had been a little disoriented at my first ATA conference, but I found my place at this one rather quickly and many of the sessions I attended were quite interesting.

I was particularly impressed by a session in which one speaker talked about the importance of good customer service.  He said that, if we are to treat our customers nicely, we should also manage our translators the same way.  Many translators testified that they had had great experiences working with his company.  It reminded me of what I had heard from the founder of East Penn Manufacturing Co., a battery maker located in Pennsylvania, which was rated by Forbes and Statista[2]as one of America’s Best Large Employers for 2018.  The motto of the company’s founder is that their success lies in three simple things:  Treating their customers kindly, treating their employees kindly, and treating their vendors kindly.  This simple rule has made them very successful.

The language business is not only about documents and computers; it’s also about people.  Unfortunately, I have encountered some businesses and agencies who did not pay me, even after taking my work, and I imagine many other freelance translators must face the same issue.  Despite such discouragements, I remain grateful that there are also many wonderful people in this industry who do amazing work.  They encourage me to continue following their great example.

At the 2018 conference, I also took the opportunity to network with many different companies and to meet with my company’s technology partner, SmartCat.  If you run a translation company, or if your company has a translation department but you cannot afford a translation management system, SmartCat is worth a try.  It offers free CAT tools integration, payment solutions, machine translation, and editing, as well as a Translator Marketplace.

I am not being paid to advertise these companies; I mention them only because I think they may be helpful for some of you.

All in all, I discovered that, although it takes time to get comfortable and become a full member of a community, the investment pays off.  Before joining the ATA, I was a lone ranger in the translation business, but now I finally have found a community of like-minded people.  The benefits of participating in this community are not limited to finding new clients and learning from others; there also are opportunities to enrich oneself by helping others and contributing to the community.  I am still learning, but I am happy to associate with the ATA community and feel certain that my efforts are worthwhile.  My second conference allowed me to really get to know more people and broadened my horizons.  Thus, for ATA60 in Palm Springs, California, in October 2019, I am planning to attend again, because the ATA’s annual conference provides such a great way to recharge and to re-dedicate oneself to higher aspirations in our profession.

About Sean Song:

Sean Song graduated from the Communication University of China with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, London School of Economics with an MSc in Globalization and Communication, and the University of Southern California with an MA in Global Communication. He began his career as a journalist for an Asian Newspaper and media company but later became a translator. He is the founder of Translation Boulevard. Email:



This article was originally published in the Newsletter of Chinese Language Division (CLD) of the American Translators Association. A special thank you to CLD editor Trevor Cook for his editing and suggestions.