Interview with Judy Jenner, The Entrepreneurial Linguist

Photo Courtesy of Judy Jenner

I was fortunate to meet Judy Jenner early on in my translation career, thanks to my involvement in the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association (NITA). As former past president and head of the election committee, Judy tapped me to fill a vacancy on the board back in 2014, a position that I still hold today. When we first met, I was completely unaware of Judy’s rock star status in the industry, her book, or her blog. Since then, I have come to learn a lot from her, even though she might not even know it. She was gracious enough to take time out of her schedule to answer a few of my questions about her career and to share some words of wisdom for translators of all levels.

Ben: You are one of the most multi-talented language professionals in the business. You’re one of the few people I know translating to and from multiple languages (EN, ES, and DE) and providing both translation and interpretation services, in addition to the many other things you do. So, first things first, how did you get started in the languages services industry and what has brought you to where you are now?

Judy: First of all: thank you very much for the kind words. I very much appreciate them, and thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts here on your fantastic blog. I was born in Austria and had the pleasure of growing up in Mexico City, so I am in the very unusual and privileged position to have two A languages—something I very much owe to my parents, especially my father, who ran a German company in Mexico City. As our company has grown, I translate less and less, and while I do miss it, I am proud of the amazing team of colleagues we have assembled. In terms of translating into and out of several languages, which is very much not the norm in our industry, I think it’s noteworthy to point out that I hardly translate into German anymore. I think it’s crucial to critically evaluate your own language skills, especially if you don’t live in a country where your target language is spoken. I haven’t lived in a German-speaking country as an adult, and it does take a bit of a toll. When my twin sister (and business partner) Dagy and I evaluate my translations critically, we find that they are good, but not world-class, and we want all our work to be world-class. Thus, all the into-German work is either done by my sister or by another member of our German team, and I oftentimes work on final revisions.

Both Dagy and I always knew we wanted to work with languages, even back in middle school. I remember being on the school bus in Mexico City on the last day of school before spring break in 7th grade. Dagy and I were talking about what we wanted to do when we grow up. We came up with “Jenner and Jenner Cross-Cultural Consulting.” I am not sure we knew what that meant back then, but turns out we have a business that’s very similar to what we envisioned on that school bus. Getting Twin Translations to where it is today was no accident—it was a lot of hard work, grit, some luck, and calculated risk-taking. We have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but we try not to make the same one twice. I was a competitive athlete as a junior and received a full scholarship to play NCAA Division I tennis in college, so I very much believe in the importance of hard work. But just because you work hard doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get there.

BK: What prompted you to write your book, The Entrepreneurial Linguist?

JJ: Essentially, it was our lovely colleagues who asked us to do it. We’d been writing a popular blog for a few years and I had developed a presentation that I was giving at conferences around the country and the world, and it very much focused on the entrepreneurial skills you need to succeed as a small business owner. That presentation was called “Lessons From Business School: The Entrepreneurial Linguist,” and after resisting for some time because we knew it would be an incredible amount of work and essentially a labor of love, we decided to go ahead with writing the book. It took the better part of a year, three editors, one cartoon designer, and one layout professional in addition to many sleepless nights, but we got it done. It has sold some 5,000 copies around the world and is required reading at many universities, which makes us very proud. I am glad you didn’t ask about the second edition (there isn’t one yet).

BK: You’ve been writing your successful ATA Chronicle column, also called The Entrepreneurial Linguist, for many years now. What motivates you to share business advice and your experience with other language professionals?

JJ: The fundamental belief that we are stronger together and that we must help each other succeed on both an individual and a meta level. I truly do believe that we can strengthen our profession from within by advocating for each other and learning from each other. It’s a pleasure to share what I know, and I also love learning from others. I am a proud volunteer for the ATA and enjoy writing the column very much, and I also get a lot of fan mail from colleagues, which makes me smile every week.

BK: You wear many hats. You are a translator, interpreter, speaker, author, teacher, mentor, blogger… am I forgetting anything? Which “hat” do you enjoy the most?

JJ: Tough question indeed. I think I am happiest when I am in motion and juggling a lot of things at the same time. I thrive on having a variety of work projects in my life. That’s what keeps things interesting and challenging for me. If I had to pick one, perhaps it’s my consultant work for start-up companies in T&I that come to me for my insight into the industry and to get an idea if their product or service is feasible. But I also very much love my interpreting work, especially in the federal courts. And there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a big website translated into several languages and to know that Twin Translations made it happen, or seeing a former student land their dream job. Come to think of it, I really do like all the hats that I wear. I can’t pick one!

BK: What is the single most important thing translators can do to think more entrepreneurially?

JJ: It’s actually relatively simple: to see themselves as a real business. A one-person business is very much a legitimate business. Oftentimes, linguists are so wedded to the humanities that they forget that this is a business like any other, that you must behave like one, and that you must sell your own services even if that’s something you don’t love to do. On the other hand, we often forget that to be treated as a business, you also need to have basics such as a website, business cards, etc. Just wanting to be taken seriously as a professional is not enough. You have to earn it. So, in my humble opinion, the paradigm shift from “I am just sitting here in my spare bedroom” to “I run a successful small business and I am behaving like a business” is essential.

Thank you so much for your time and insight, Judy!

Judy Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a federally and state-certified (California, Nevada) Spanish court interpreter. She has an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister Dagmar. She was born in Austria and grew up in Mexico City. A former in-house translation department manager, she is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She is a frequent conference speaker and writes the blog Translation Times with her sister, Dagmar Jenner.

If you enjoyed this post, please tweet Judy at @language_news to thank her and be sure to check out her website, blog, and book.

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