Off the Beaten Track: Working away from the main translation markets


– Beatriz Figueiredo (PLD member) –

When I tell people I live and work in sunny Fortaleza in Northeastern Brazil, their reaction is almost always immediate: “Oh, you’re so lucky! All those amazing beaches just a few minutes away!” And while I can’t complain about the view and the fact that quality of life around here is mostly better than in larger cities in the Brazilian Southeast, being a professional translator in the Northeast has its own specific challenges.

In a region where roughly 18% of the population still struggles with illiteracy, little is known about what a professional translator or interpreter actually does. It is not surprising that in the entire state of Ceará, where I live, there are fewer than ten registered companies whose primary activity is providing translation and/or interpreting services. On a certain level, we are still forced to compete with teachers, university professors and exchange students with a limited or nonexistent grasp of translation techniques. Therefore, a significant part of my prospecting activities revolve around explaining to clients what I do and why my services are different from those provided by amateurs.

Another difficult aspect of working in the Northeast is that local companies underestimate international business opportunities. Many of them still don’t even have a website, and when they do they’re usually translated using some type of free machine translation (no post-editing, I’m afraid). We all know that translations are more and more often treated as commodities in the global market, and that is certainly the case in the Northeast, where clients lack the tools to assess the quality of our services.

On the other hand, there are a number of positive aspects to working in an area that the translation industry giants seem to ignore. There is plenty of room to grow your business working with direct clients who sometimes resort to agencies in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo simply because they had no idea there were professional translators right next to them. Those clients like having a more personal relationship with their providers, and letting them know that you’re available for meetings face to face is greatly appreciated. In addition, clients are becoming less tolerant of the subpar work of many teachers, professors or “bilingual” staff. The market is wide open to people who are able to provide quality translations combined with excellent customer service. Finally, most clients in the Northeast have absolutely no idea what a CAT tool is, let alone repetition discounts!

Although education still has a long way to go in Brazil as a whole and in the Northeast, the impact of all this for language professionals is that it expands the range of services we can offer to local clients. A quick look through 99% of the documents I receive tells me that my clients could desperately use editing and proofreading services. Diversification is key, and providing the whole package as a one-stop shop for clients, from copywriting to proofreading, translation and editing, certainly makes a difference. You stand out from the crowd!

Beatriz Figueiredo is a Portuguese translator based in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil. She is certified by the Ceará state government to render official translations and perform court interpreting in Brazil. She also does technical and editorial translations for government agencies, law firms and multinational companies. Find her at

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