Greatest Women in Translation: Melissa Harkin


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation series! Since our last “interview” was actually a tribute, it was my turn again to nominate someone and restart the thread. Since my first nomination was a foreign translator (Marta Stelmaszak, from Poland), this time, to be fair, I decided to nominate a Brazilian role model. I must confess I’m curious to see where this thread will take us.

Now please welcome Melissa Harkin.


melissa harkin

1. When I created my professional Twitter account, you were the first person I followed. You were my only Brazilian role model. I admired (and still do, of course) your professionalism and your online presence. Could you tell us a bit about your beginning?

Well, I guess my main driver back then was that I was tired of the ‘same old’ pattern in business relationships, regardless of the industry. I was tired of e-mails, machines, lack of customer care, automated replies, etc. I wanted to get personal. However, we are talking about the social media and technology era, so the best way to get personal was to put myself out there using all of that technology, but in a way that seemed I was talking to my clients directly.

That’s when I started adding my picture to all that had my name on it: e-mails, quotes, stationary, social media, etc. I didn’t want to be a logo. I wanted to be me! I wanted people to see a person, an individual, and relate to me.

That was different back then. People in Brazil were not used to business getting so personal. Maybe, that is why a lot of my clients became good friends along the way.

I made sure I replied to everything, even the ‘help me out real quick’ requests from friends that needed to write an e-mail in English and were feeling insecure. I made sure I was replying to everyone’s messages and requests in a timely manner, and I made sure I could add value to their activities on an ongoing basis.

2. You have the most lovely baby boy, Bruno, 1 year old. Although I myself do not have children, I can only imagine how having a baby changes a woman entrepreneur’s life. What advice would you give to a freelance translator who is thinking of having children or is already expecting a baby?

I’m not sure I’m already qualified to give advice in that area. I’m still finding my own new pace and balance. It’s hard, there are a lot of mixed feelings – it’s quite bipolar, actually. One minute you’re dying for some time for yourself, for work and silence, and the next minute you’re feeling kind of guilty about it.

Last year (2015) was a difficult one. I finally realized I coudn’t do all of the things that I did before. I made the decision to focus on getting my job done and decreasing my online presence a bit in order to have more availability to translate. Now that Bruno attends daycare full time, I can go back to adding more activities to my schedule other than just pure translations.

I guess what really helped me out was financially planning my pregnancy ahead of time, so it wouldn’t be a burden when I finally took a break to focus on my son. Two years before getting pregnant I was already buying gender neutral baby items and had two different savings accounts to prepare for the first few months: one for all of the big ticket items and one for 6 months of maternity leave.

There’s not much you can really plan when it comes to having a baby. But the financial part of it is one that you can and I highly suggest you do so. Everything else will probably not go according to plan and you’re either going to have to change your initial plan or just wing it. Whatever happens, don’t lose focus, don’t lose your mind, and ask friends, family and fellow translators for help. I say fellow translators because, family and friends can and will help you on a more personal level, but having good partnerships with fellow translators will literally save your business life when your baby gets sick and you need help with your translations and deadlines.

3. You have recently moved out from Brazil to the USA. Could you share with us the difficulties you faced in the transition and the advantages and disadvantages of working and living in the USA?

I’ve lived here before and my husband is American, so culturally speaking I didn’t really have a hard time moving back. Initially, we were in Florida, and that was hard because we didn’t have any friends there, only my brother-in-law and his family, who lived about an hour away from our home. Having a baby makes the one-hour drive something difficult to take on. We felt quite lonely there, so we decided to move back to Missouri, where my husband is originally from, and to be close to friends and family. That changed everything. We’re happier now, we have people we can count on minutes away from home, we know the place, etc.

When it comes to the translation industry, I can tell you that there are differences in how to do business, such as prices, taxes, ethics, business practices, etc. I’m still learning about all of that here in the US and I do so by networking with fellow translators, attending courses and conferences, reading industry-related publications, etc. It’s been great and business is getting bigger and better on a weekly basis.

4. You work with a pool of translators who usually help you with projects and have already worked as a Translations Manager at a consulting firm. Based on your experience, what are the most common mistakes freelance translators make and, based on that, what advices would you give to translators in general?

Poor reviews and commitment to deadlines. People, please! These are extremely important aspects of being a translator.

How can you deliver a good translation without taking the time to review it? That’s something that drives me nuts. And how can you expect to get more jobs if you keep missing deadlines?

Read the source file before starting your translation so you can get acclimated to the content, take notes on vocabulary, do research, etc. This way, when you start your translation, you’ll not only be more knowledgeable on the content but you will also do a better job translating the material. Take a break after you’re done. Go get some coffee or take a nap and clear your mind. Come back, spell check, read the translation to make sure it ‘sounds’ good and it flows nicely, spell check again, and then deliver your file.

In case of questions throughout the translation that you cannot find the answers to in your research, talk to your client or translation manager. Don’t just send a file with a bunch of comments of what you couldn’t find on your own. Questions need to be asked and answered during the translation process in order to deliver a good product. Skipping this step means you don’t care about that text, the impact it’s going to have on readers, on your client, and on yourself as a translator.

Comply with deadlines! That means you need to plan your day, prioritize, time manage, and make sure your head is clear and focused on the job you’re about to do. Keep track of how much you can translate per day and at what times you feel most productive and use that to your advantage and to plan your work schedule.

5. You are a volunteer translator for Translators Without Borders and also worked for Greenpeace. In your opinion, why is it important to do pro bono work?

It’s important to make this crazy world a better place. It doesn’t matter if it’s pro bono or not. Translators Without Borders is pro bono, Greenpeace wasn’t  ̶ I was an employee there.

Greenpeace taught me a lot, not only about the environment, but about people, community, the future, responsibility and accountability, and all that changed me. There’s nothing more marvelous than helping others, making a difference, and impacting lives. That is why I keep supporting Greenpeace worldwide in any way I can, and that includes having a special discount rate for NGOs that work with causes that are close to my heart, such as slave labor, environmental issues, children, medical procedures for the poor, emergency response, etc.

Translators without Borders (TWB) is an independent non-profit association established in 1993, dedicated to helping NGOs extend their humanitarian work by providing free, professional translations. The funds saved through the use of volunteer translations can then be used by the NGOs in the field, enabling them to extend the scope and reach of their humanitarian work. I fell in love with TWB because it’s not only an opportunity to give back to the global community but also a way of being part of something bigger, something greater, set out to make this a better world for our children and our children’s children.

6. You wrote the English Version of Brazil’s Anti-Corruption Law with Stefano Enepi. Well, you have an educational background in Law and also translate this type of material, right? How is the book useful to law translators? Also, could you tell us a bit more about how you came up with the idea of writing it and how was the writing process?

Because of my legal background, I have always translated all kinds of legal documents and, more often than not, they include quotes from different laws. Throughout the years, I felt there was next  to nothing out there when it comes to Brazilian legislation in English, and we’re talking about a BRIC country that is quite complex to do business with in terms of legal framework. Brazil is also going through a period of sociological change, in which people are tired of corruption and are saying ‘enough is enough’, so when the new Anti-Corruption Law came into effect, it was a no-brainer that it needed to be available in English as well.

I partnered with Stefano Enepi for the review because of his legal background and because he was a resident of Brazil, with deep knowledge of the language and culture behind it all.

It was a great project for us. It put our names out there and it shows potential clients what we can do.

I also chose that particular law for ‘protesting reasons’. I too think that enough is enough. It’s time we come together as a society to make our country a great nation. And fighting corruption is a huge part of that process. I hope our English Version of Brazil’s Anti-Corruption Law helps people, government officials, and companies to do business the right way in my country.

I may no longer reside there, but Brazil is my country and I want to see it become a great nation for our people.

7. What are your plans, goals, dreams, wishes, whatever you like to call them, as a freelance translator entrepreneur, for the short and long term?

Oh boy, where do I start?

Professionally speaking, I’m focused on growing my business and presence in the US right now. In the long term, I’d like to translate more Brazilian laws, work with more NGOs, volunteer more often, and educate others on the Translation and Interpreting market, business, and careers. One dream that I have is to develop continuous education courses for our fellow translators, thereby sharing what I know and have learned thus far as a translator and entrepreneur.

My other focus is my family. My husband and my son are my life and I want to see them happy and healthy every day. I want to grow old with them and be there for them every step of the way. They are the main reason for every good thing in my life.

8. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next interviewee. Who is your role model?

I nominate Luciana Meinking – Brazilian translator with a PhD in Portuguese and English Philology from the University of Freiburg, Germany, and a member of the American Translators Association. She is, by far, the best translator I ever worked with.

Luciana does a great job and far exceeds the ability of an average translator. She always brings her keen analytical skills to the table and is an excellent researcher and linguist. Her many years of study and experience, along with ethics and professional attitude, definitely add value to any translation/localization project. She is trustworthy, consistent, and reliable! I always love working with her and, throughout the years, we learned a lot from each other, especially when it comes to glossary management and researching skills.

Thank you so much for accepting my nomination, Melissa! It’s always such a great pleasure to welcome you on my blog. I loved learning a bit more about you.

Now stay tuned for next month’s interview.


19 thoughts on “Greatest Women in Translation: Melissa Harkin

  1. Two great women that I admire! I feel very lucky for having developed a friendship with Melissa! Great person with big heart, excellent advice and deserve all that she has accomplished!
    Carol, hope to meet you one day too! I love your series! 🙂


  2. Yes, yes, yes on all points regarding translators – meeting deadlines, careful review, questions. Very well put!

    A pleasure to e-meet you, Melissa. Thank you for the introduction, Caroline!

    I am in awe of your organisational skills, Melissa. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who prepared for a pregnancy years before (and with so much attention to details).


    • Can you see why I admire her, Alina? This woman knows where she’s headed to and does not “brinca em serviço”, as we say in Brazilian Portuguese. Let me know if you know what I mean by that. 😉

      Mel, Alina is learning Portuguese. And she’s quite something herself. 🙂

      Have a fantastic week you two, amazing women!


    • You girls are making me blush. Alina, I don’t know if I’m well organized or a control freak :p I guess, depends on the person’s point of view. My husband is here right now and he said “Yeaaaahhh….both!” Lol 😉 Thanks for your feedback and I look forward to interacting with you more often. Cheers!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Translation Tidbits and commented:
    Honored to have been a part of such a great series!

    The Greatest Women in Translation (#gr8estwomenxl8) series, by Brazilian translator Caroline Alberoni, interviews women only, and each interviewee is nominated by the previous one. The idea is that each interviewee appoints a woman they look up to and admire in translation.

    Check out my interview and those of other wonderful women translators out there!


  4. Pingback: Greatest Women in Translation: Luciana Meinking | Carol's Adventures in Translation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s