I’ve got to be honest, I thought 99% of translators were on the same page as me when it comes to CPD, or Continuing Professional Development. I thought it was something that we all did, sometimes in an on-the-job way, for example, the research that needs to be done to carry out a project. Other times, in an “on-purpose” way, i.e. doing a specific course.
I was wrong.
My friend Christina messaged me yesterday and said I should check out a poll (and its related discussion) on Proz. We’ve talked many times about CPD and even undertaken classes together, so she thought I ‘d find it interesting (not least because of my adventures this year in developing a course.)
She wasn’t wrong.
The question on the poll was “In your opinion, which factor is the most important when selecting a CPD course?” Fairly innocuous, I thought to myself…until I saw the results. A whopping 40.8% of respondents (and there were 825 when I last checked, so not just one translator and a few of his mates) said that they didn’t undertake CPD. Didn’t, like, not at all, you know…
How could that even be true? When I clicked through to the corresponding discussion, I saw that a few of the respondents were equally befuddled at how 40.8% of respondents could claim to never do any CPD, and pointed out how CPD could take many forms: reading, attending conferences, doing MOOCs, university degrees, online courses, professional certifications….to name a few. Regardless, many contributors seemed to feel a real mistrust for any online aspect of CPD, in fact, many believed this was the only type, and worried that it wouldn’t be worthwhile because it could be impersonal. Some translators replied that they had all the CPD they could ever need right on their desks, which could be true (personally, my desk wouldn’t be nearly big enough.)
So what is CPD?
In my opinion, CPD can and does take many forms. I do CPD to improve as a translator; improving my subject matter knowledge and translation skills (which can be as simple as improving my typing skills, as techy as doing a course to learn about my CAT tool, or as “formal” as doing an accredited course or exam from a translation institute.) To my mind, this CPD is essential, and a given. We must improve our craft or, well, you know what? There’s no “or”. We must improve our craft.
I don’t feel that CPD should stop there. I bang on about it all the time, but we are not one-dimensional. As a translator, you cannot just be a translator. You are running a business. Whether you identify with being a freelancer, an entrepreneur, a businessperson, a Captain of Industry or a self-employed superhero, it doesn’t matter. The title is irrelevant. You are running a business. And in business you cannot be one-dimensional. You can’t just focus on the quality of your translations (though definitely start there), you must also market to clients, woo them (I just love that word), win them, negotiate with them, manage the project (sometimes managing others in the process), communicate with them, deliver, get feedback (gracefully), invoice……so in the life of that one project you’ve had to be:
- Marketing Manager
- Business development executive
- Sales rep
- Customer service evangelist
- Project manager
- People manager
- Finance controller
Oh yes, and translator.
And that’s just for a single job. What about when your computer throws a tantrum? Or your internet goes down? How about when you’re putting together your website? Or (hopefully not often) chasing late payers? What if, to get back to the be-the-best-translator objective, you wish to move into another specialism, like literary translation?
Are you telling me that a bit of external wisdom wouldn’t be helpful?
A bit of, what was that word again? Oh yes, CPD. Perhaps it’s having a name for it that’s the problem. Maybe if we didn’t label it, that would be okay. Maybe it wouldn’t be so mistrusted.
Are we right to mistrust “CPD”?
That’s a good question. There’s so much useful (and useless) information out there. We live in an age where everything is available. And so everyone can be, or become, an “expert”. I think having a system for your CPD is a good place to start when deciding what’s right for you, if anything. So where do I start? First off, I set a budget for my CPD per year, which includes, but is not limited to….
Books (hard copies and e-books)
Subscriptions to services that improve my languages (like Audible, Netflix, Scribd)
Courses for improving my skills in marketing, writing, customer experience, finance, business administration (I could go on!)
Specialist subject courses (for example, I have taken several courses on literary translation)
Technical training (I’m headed to some Trados training next month)
Translation-specific courses (I recently decided to seek accreditation from an association)
Some people also include attending conferences under the CPD umbrella. For me, it depends on how my yearly budget is going! I usually allocate a separate “pot” for attending conferences or networking events. But sometimes, if it’s an event that’s more focused on hands-on learning rather than more general topics I’ll borrow a little from my CPD funds…especially if it’s a conference involving a long haul flight!
So how do you decide on a course?
As I’ve mentioned, one thing that struck me in the Proz discussion was the level of mistrust surrounding CPD. Parting with your hard-earned cash is difficult enough when you can clearly see what you’re getting, or the value. But if you have doubts about the quality of teaching, for example, or what you’ll actually be learning, then it’s not surprising that you’d hesitate.
So naturally I developed a list (I know, it’s quite out of character *innocent face*) I thought it’d be really handy to put together some questions you should ask yourself before you commit to making a CPD purchase, in the form of an online or in-person course (I’m going to assume you don’t need a questionnaire to buy books.) You’ll notice that I haven’t numbered these questions, and there’s a reason for that.
Hang on, I don’t mean I’m not going to tell you the answer. What I mean is that CPD, and your reasons for choosing it (or requiring it in the first place), are based on your needs, and your circumstances, so you’ll find the order that works for you.
Does it fill a business need I have right now?
Let me give an example. A few years ago, I decided to venture into the world of literary translation (you can read some of my tips here.) I’d tried to go it alone for a while, had made little headway, and was feeling like putting my dreams of being a literary translator in the nice-idea-but-not-for-me bucket. But then, out of the blue, I had a potential project smack me in the face and I knew I really really didn’t want to let go of the dream.
I’d been reading the lovely Lisa Carter’s blog, Intralingo (which is amazing, definitely check it out!) and in one of her posts she mentioned courses she runs on becoming a literary translator. For me, after completing my little CPD Certainty quiz, I knew it was the course for me, so I signed up (and it was fantastic – I would highly recommend it to any aspiring literary translators.)
Will the course challenge me?
You could do a course to prove how much you know on a subject. Though, if it’s an online course, your teacher’s pet status might not be quite so…appreciated. (How would one do that? Send images of apples to the course tutor?) I think it’s important to choose a course that stretches you. You can get a good idea of this from the course material and the schedule. You should be able to see information on both of these things on the course provider’s website. If you can’t, ask. Which brings me neatly to my next question….
Can I contact the tutor beforehand?
For almost any course I have ever done I have got in contact with the course provider before making the decision to buy. Their availability and willingness to answer questions before you actually become one of their students can tell you a lot about how they will run the course itself.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but some of the course providers I’ve respected the most have been in charge of course I never actually took. Why? Because, when I contacted them with my questions, they answered honestly that they didn’t think their course could help me. I’ve tried to implement this into my own practice, both for translation and for the translator course I run. It’s honest, and it speaks volumes about how much the course provider values your learning experience. To help you make a decision, they might refer you to recommendations, or provide you with a sample of the material (although often good course providers will already have given that, in the form of downloads on their site.)
Am I being pressured?
Doing a course because colleagues or friends are doing it (which is really just a non-carcinogenic “but all the cool kids smoke” scenario) is not a good enough reason to take a course. Yes, maybe the course has helped your colleague master MemoQ, but if you don’t use MemoQ, or you’re already pretty good at it, then the course enters into chocolate fireguard territory on the usefulness scale.
Pressure by the course provider is another massive no-no. High stress techniques are often used to get someone to make a purchase that very instant. You know, where they tell you that you simply must pay, with your credit card, that second, or the world will literally stop turning. I joke, but I’ve been there, and was poorer to the tune of a few thousand pounds after I succumbed to these tactics and purchased membership to a group that provided no real support and was not suited to my business model at all. Lesson learnt (the hard way) and I never now make decisions straight away, I always have a think, even if only for a few hours. If the course is genuinely for you, and the provider is genuinely invested in your development, it’ll still be there.
What’s the cost?
How the course fits in with your financial situation is an important consideration. The cost of the course should, in my opinion, be expensive enough to reassure you that it’s going to be a worthwhile investment (cue: you get what you pay for adages) but without, and this is very important, putting you into debt or negatively impacting on your ability to pay your essential bills.
So what is “expensive enough”? Well, this changes for everyone. For some people, it’s a few hundred dollars, for others, it edges up towards the $1000 (or whatever your currency is) mark. For still more, it’s into the “several thousands” realm. It depends on what’s being taught, if you’ve answered yes to all the previous questions, and your personal circumstances. I think there’s something to be said for purchasing a course that’s a bit out of your comfort zone, as it means you’re more likely to do the work as you know it’s an investment.
But it’s up to you.
Finally, does it feel “right”?
Sometimes, you can just have a good feeling about the course. You might like the tutor, maybe you love their website, and just feel that they “get” you and get the material they’re teaching. A little bit of nervousness is a good thing before purchasing your chosen CPD; it shows you care, you’re excited to learn and that you’re invested in making a go of it (partly because you’re investing some cold hard cash), but a horrible, keeps-you-awake-at-night, gnawing dread in your stomach is not.
Go with your gut.
So there you have it, my mini-quiz to make sure you’re certain about your CPD choices. I’ve prepared a take-away resource for you, which you can save on your computer or stick it up on your wall for any “Is this right for me?” moments on your CPD journey. It goes through the questions we asked above, plus it has some more notes and ideas on extra things you can think about.
Download it here (for just $1 million. Kidding. But I do need your email address.)
If you have any questions at all about my course, I’d be delighted to answer them. And if you’d like to share how you decide on CPD, I’d love to hear in the comments.