Faculty of Arts

James Philip Hewlett, Senior Translator

James has used his passion for languages to build a career in translation.

He talks to us about the role of a translator, language learning and his year abroad in France, Cuba and Spain.

Business profile of alumni James

The role of a translator

"The job of a translator is to transfer information from one language into another. That's the central underpinning. It focuses exclusively on written content and can vary in size, complexity and subject area.

I specialise in the legal and financial sectors. On the financial side, I translate key information documents for investors and shareholders, and accounting reports required by national authorities. On the legal side, it can range from anything from privacy policies to criminal court documents. All translators must be very careful in regard to accuracy, but when compared to the marketing sector, the legal and finance fields require a higher degree of accuracy in regard to terminology.

I really enjoy the variety, I get to work with lots companies from a range of sectors from many different countries.I also enjoy the research. Before we even jump in to start translating, it's important that we research the topic and the company involved so we have the context and background. We might consider: who is the audience? What tone of voice do they expect? How is the text going to be used?"

A year (and more!) abroad in France, Cuba and Spain

"I made the most out of my time abroad, leaving shortly after my last exam in second year and not returning until a few days before the start of my final year. I was able to spend almost 15 months in France, Cuba and Spain.

In France, I spent three months working for Air France in their HR department in Toulouse, where I organised staff training sessions and hosted English classes. Then I began a different type of internship with a hotel chain called Madame Vacances, where I was able to work in a variety of roles and locations. Initially, I worked for one of the company's resorts in Arcachon, then I moved right to the other side of France to Chambéry to work in the company's head office. Lastly, I went to work in one of the company's ski hotels in Méribel-Mottaret, just in time for the start of the winter season.

My French language skills really improved over the last three or four months of my time in France.

You can watch loads of YouTube videos or binge-watch foreign TV programmes, but the one thing that will really improve your language skills no end is talking on the phone. Unlike face-to-face conversations, all non-verbal cues are removed, so you have to rely solely on your listening and speaking abilities.

The Spanish-speaking part of my year abroad was spent partly in Cuba, where I studied at the University of Havana, and partly in Spain, where I worked for a translation company.

Cuba is different in that it is under an economic embargo, it doesn't have all the conveniences or networks that you might find elsewhere in the world. It was like going back in time, which was really rather challenging, especially the lack of a reliable communication network, but we were very well prepared. Professor Antoni Kapcia encouraged each cohort visiting the country to create a guidebook for future students with advice on how to bridge the cultural gap.

It was really enjoyable. We stayed with host families and just kind of slotted in. We also travelled around the island and did some of the touristy things, and as we'd been living in Cuba for a few months, we were also able to see things in ways that usual tourists wouldn't. It was absolutely fantastic." 

My decision to study for an MA

"Coming to the end of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my colleagues had gained places on graduate schemes or had wonderful jobs lined up. I realised around the same time that translation was something I was passionate about, so I started looking into doing an MA in order to develop my skills further.

I think the main benefit of staying at Nottingham for postgraduate study was the consistency of staff. I also knew all the systems and where everything was."

A languages degree gives you more than language skills

"During my undergraduate degree, I worked for the Students' Union in their events and advertising department, which developed my skills in leadership, teamwork and communication.

During my year abroad, I not only improved on my language skills, but also how to be resilient when things become challenging and stressful, and how to work as part of a team to get a job done.

I've also completed translation internships with the United Nations and the European Union, where I developed my English language skills and diplomacy skills. Diplomacy is vital when dealing with lots of countries and different types of cultures coming together and working together. Understanding each other, approaching sensitive subjects delicately and being aware of such issues is something that's really paid dividends later on in my career."

What does success look like for you?

"Success is when I receive positive feedback from a client on a job that I've been working on. To know that I have achieved the overall aim of the text or that the team involved is pleased with my work … nothing is more satisfying."

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Faculty of Arts

University of Nottingham
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