A helping hand

A helping hand

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Mentoring is a two way process

This week I begin a new undertaking for me, mentoring a fellow translator who has asked for help under the scheme just begun by Mediterranean Editors and Translators. I’ve been interested in the idea of mentoring for some time, although until now I haven’t found a way in which I could take part. But the MET scheme, providing guidelines and support while at the same time allowing a degree of freedom in the way the mentoring is carried out, encouraged me to get involved.

I’ve actually already helped a number of translators (they know who they are) with various aspects of their careers in an informal way and I’ve enjoyed being able to give something back not so much a faceless “industry” as to translators as a group; a group that has also provided figures who have helped me when I’ve needed it, both when just starting out and when I’ve needed inspiration and ideas for doing a better job with my work and my business.

Over the last few days I’ve thought a lot about my motives for getting involved in something like this, and I’m in no doubt that this idea of paying something back is my genuine motivation. I’m certainly not making money out of it: although the MET scheme does advise that the mentor should charge something for his or her services, this is a nominal fee and is not expected to compensate for the time involved. It is simply recognition that if someone is paying for something they will take it more seriously.


I expect that, as the mentoring progresses goes on, the abstract idea of “giving something back” will transform into the desire to help and support the particular person I am mentoring, who I hope will become a friend over the period the process lasts. The MET scheme doesn’t set a limit on the mentoring period; all it does is suggest that one should be agreed.  In my initial contacts with my mentee, though, we found it difficult to predict how long we might need and decided to go on at least until the end of this year and reconsider the situation then, depending on whether or not the targets have been reached.

Means of contact has been another matter to be decided. It so happens that e-mail, with a degree of immediacy but with no pressure to be in a particular place at a particular time, suits us both very well, so we’ve decided that should be our principal form of communication. But, as we also want to communicate a bit more directly from time to time, we’ve agreed on a monthly Skype chat too. Fortunately all this can be adapted depending on the circumstances. There would be little point in fixed calls or mails if they were going to have no useful content and it would be stupid to wait for a set period to communicate something that needs saying immediately.

It seems I am lucky enough to have a mentee with a very clear idea of what the process should achieve for them, and I think that is going to help a great deal. As quite often seems to happen, in my experience, with people who ask for help, it is someone who actually seems to have quite an impressive record and qualifications. More than anything, it seems, mentoring is about helping instill confidence. I am certainly not going to tell my mentee what to do, or even how to do it. All translators need to go through that process themselves and imposing something unnatural for the person concerned cannot do any good. But what I can do is look at what is being done and how and suggest things that should be looked at again and alternatives to be tried. I can also be a fresh pair of eyes on the person’s work and point out any recurring faults that there may be. And the result of all that should be increased confidence for the person I am trying to help.


One of the advantges of mentoring under a scheme like MET’s is that the organisation has a sizeable pool of translators and has matched me and my mentee as if it were a dating process, ensuring we have some of the same language pairs and translation interests. That will enable me to be much more helpful than I could be to a medical translator, for example.

I feel the process is going to help me as well. In order to assist someone else, I’m going to need to think much more about what I do, how I do it and why I do it that way, and that can only be good for me in improving my own ways of working. I’m sure I can also learn from my mentee too. I don’t believe it should be an entirely one-way process and there are bound to be things that make me stop and reconsider my methods and approach, whether associated with work, marketing, finding clients or any other aspect. That can only be a good thing, because if I went into this thinking I was the know-it-all teacher and the person I’m helping a “pupil” or a “student” I think I would be making a serious mistake.

The world of learning and sharing knowledge is a complex one. None of us knows it all and each of us has only an imperfect share of the picture. So there are two dynamics at work. I can learn from people who know more than me or whose knowledge is better than mine. There are others with less or weaker knowledge than mine who can learn from me. But that does not prevent me from learning from everyone to a certain extent because they may have part of the picture I do not have. It is, as I said in a recent post on this blog, a question of discernment. I am simply honoured that someone (and, not having discussed it with the person, I am not going to name or identify them here at the moment) should believe that I have some of the knowledge they need right now. That is faith and trust I am not about to betray.

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  1. Oliver Lawrence

    Good stuff, Simon; do keep us posted about how things pan out.

    Being open to learn "even" from those with less experience than ourselves is a great thing, too. A few years ago, I remember disagreeing about something with a colleague who then proceeded to assert that they were right purely on the grounds that they had 30 years’ more experience than I. Eeh dear…

    Best wishes

    • Simon Berrill

      Thanks, Oliver. We’ve had a Skype chat now and it looks as if there are plenty of things we can work on, so I think it’s going to go well.


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