You may have a language-related qualification, or several. You may have experience; maybe even more than just a few years. But no industry is static; languages and job requirements move.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD), or just Professional Development (PD), means maintaining, improving, and expanding your knowledge and skills as a professional linguist and actively engaging in activities to do so. It is essential for every translator and interpreter so you stay on top of your game.
The standard recommendation from professional associations is thirty hours of CPD per year, and it is crucial that you log your CPD. This is the element that many people forget, but in some professional bodies, you need to have proof of your CPD hours and commitment to move up the ranks of the membership categories. Keeping track of your learning and development also shows you how much progress you have made and helps to identify any gaps in your knowledge.
Many professional associations have their own CPD logging tool, but you can also use an Excel or Google spreadsheet, Word document, or Google Doc. Time-keeping tools, such as Toggl, may also be helpful.
Being a translator or interpreter requires a varied repertoire of skills and a wide range of knowledge — this should be reflected in your CPD activities. Keep things interesting and try to cover each of the following areas:
Profession-specific skills, such as translation or interpreting techniques, skills needed in specific settings or for particular clients, or skills covering further services you do / could offer, e.g., transcreation, copywriting, revision, editing, or proofreading.
Language learning includes maintaining and improving existing C or B languages, adding a new language, and keeping up fluency in your source and target languages, particularly if you are not living in a country speaking your target language.
Subject-specific knowledge for any specialisms you already have or developing your information base of a new subject. As well as technical areas, culture and language are inherently interconnected. Continue improving your understanding of the cultures of the countries in which your languages are spoken and keeping up with any new developments in those cultures.
Supplementary skills are just as important as your linguistic or specialist knowledge. This could include finding out more about how to run a successful business, building a brand, accounting, marketing, negotiating, technological, and computing or software skills.
Finally, professional organizations are increasingly advocating participation in CPD on welfare, mental health, and work-life balance, particularly for freelance linguists and those working in highly demanding sectors and stressful situations, e.g., crisis translators and interpreters.
Formal CPD activities are usually those which are taught and / or organized by professionals and therefore have a fixed timeframe. For example, courses, conferences, workshops, or lectures which could be online or in-person, language shows (e.g., ELIA Conference), online tutorials, webinars, or e-learning.
Gaining further qualifications in a new language, as proof of your translation / interpreting skills, or in a specific subject area may give you the edge on other candidates. Preparation and the courses for these qualifications count towards CPD hours.
Professional associations often organize such events and run similar courses. They usually have an events calendar or page on their website showing the courses they offer; some even have a webinar library with a huge range of past events, courses, and talks that members can access. Connecting with industry professionals, experts, and professional associations on LinkedIn is another way to find out more about upcoming formal CPD activities.
As an Australian study found in 2020, the most common challenge for translators and interpreters regarding CPD was the cost. However, CPD need not be expensive and there are plenty of informal (or self-directed) forms of CPD too. For instance, reading reference books, journals, specialist publications, research (as part of a course or paid work), pro-bono projects, writing articles, event reviews, or a blog, watching or listening to source or target language content, and subscribing to industry news from experts, like Slator, to stay up to date without really trying; it just falls into your inbox.
The obvious benefit of engaging in CPD is that it improves the quality of your translation / interpreting work. Even if you have a professional qualification, that is only the beginning. Making sure your knowledge keeps up with new developments will allow you to offer the best services possible.
Adding new skills or new languages could mean you can earn more. Improving your existing capabilities can help you be more efficient and productive, allowing you to work on more projects. It will also expand your CV so you can offer additional services / languages, and give you access to more job opportunities. Not only could there be more work, but it could also allow you to dip into more interesting projects.
Actively undertaking CPD shows your commitment to the profession and will be a sure sign to existing and potential clients that you are dedicated and invested in honing your skills. As well as professional benefits, CPD events can be a great way to network.
Turn the tables
If you have been in the industry for a while, why not switch places by training in-house staff, being a mentor, doing committee work in a professional body, or offering outreach work to schools or with organizations such as Inspiring the Future in the UK. All of the time spent preparing, delivering, and reflecting on improvements to these activities can count towards your CPD hours and gives you a chance to give something back to the profession.
Listen to the experts
Sometimes listening to those in-the-know is simply the best way to learn and absorb new information. And with such a variety of conferences, webinars, and workshops out there, it would be a shame to waste them. For example, at SlatorCon Remote, you can find out everything from what the high-growth industry segments and emerging new markets are. Practical events could help you learn how to market yourself as a translator or how interpreters can negotiate to get top-end projects at top-end rates, or help you brush up on your creative writing and work on your voice as an interpreter.
Remember that preparation and reflection are important so you get the most from your time and you do not come away with more questions than you had to begin with.
Whether it is a formal conversation class, finding a tandem language partner, or just having a chat over coffee with a native speaker, doing regular speaking practice in your source languages ensures those skills do not get rusty. If you primarily work with the written word, you never know when you may need to negotiate with a client. If you do not live in a country where your target language is spoken, it is even more important to keep every aspect of that language active.
Chill out and tune in
CPD can be enjoyable and it does not need to be serious. Watching films, TV shows, YouTube videos, or listening to the radio and podcasts in your B and C languages, about the language industry, or your specialisms can be a more relaxed approach to CPD.
Chances are if you are only trying to engage in formal CPD, it will be expensive, you may not clock up the hours, and you will not be having nearly as much fun as if you had simply watched your favorite sitcom in Spanish.
Up, up, and away!
Taking regular trips — even just a summer holiday or short skiing adventure — to countries where your target languages are spoken, then voilà you are already racking up CPD points. Of course, to really classify it as CPD, you need to fully engage in the language and culture while you are there. However, for a natural linguaphile, that should not be too difficult. After all, actually eating a French baguette from a boulangerie along with café au lait is much better than just dreaming about it.
If you are not yet convinced, perhaps words from a few of Slator’s recent SlatorPod guests will sway you. “Do not stop learning,” urged Lecturer Callum Walker. “Try and attend as many events as possible. These could be CPD courses or networking events,” said Conference and Business Interpreter Jan Rausch. Lecturer Joseph Lambert also highlighted that, “networking is so important because you can find people who have gone through similar challenges to you, [and] who are working in similar domains.” Networking itself is a hugely advantageous form of CPD, bursting with learning opportunities.