Mentoring: Get As Much As You Give

By Deborah Wexler

The following was originally published on Next Level: The ATA Business Practices Blog. This initiative by ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee provides information for both freelancers and company owners to use in all aspects of their careers, from improving their privacy protections to planning for retirement.

From the Next Level team: Do you remember the first few years of your career in the language industry? Was it smooth sailing, or did you sometimes wish for someone who could give you advice and point you in a new direction? If you’ve ever wanted or had someone to help you find your footing, consider doing the same for someone else.

ATA’s Mentoring Program creates peer-to-peer relationships in which an experienced language professional offers counsel and support to another who requests help with a specific area of their business. This relationship doesn’t include tutoring in translation skills; it’s strictly for discussing business topics. Those topics can include finding agency work, finding and keeping direct clients, marketing through a website or social media, transitioning from an employed position to a freelance career, using a newly gained certification to land more work, or any other non-linguistic area a mentee wishes to focus on.

Both mentees and mentors benefit from the pairing. Mentees receive valuable business advice for which they would otherwise pay handsomely. They also gain understanding and support from a close contact in the T&I world. Professionals who volunteer to mentor are not guaranteed a match with a mentee every year, but those mentors who are matched earn continuing education (CE) points toward ATA recertification. They also gain other benefits, which Deborah Wexler describes below in an article originally published in Deep Focus, newsletter of ATA’s Audiovisual Division.

To learn more about serving as a mentor, visit ATA’s Mentoring Program page and watch the ATA Mentoring Experience video showcasing veteran mentors speaking about what the program brings to both mentor and mentee.

During ATA’s 59th Annual Conference in New Orleans in 2018, a colleague asked me, “What was the motivation that drove a group of translators to create an audiovisual division within ATA?”

I sat for a minute, pondering. “Many different factors motivated each of us,” I said.

He then asked, “Well, what do you think was the single most important thing?”

I replied without hesitation, “We want to help the next generation of audiovisual translators succeed.”

And I think the most effective tool to achieve this goal is through mentoring. In the following, I want to briefly explore the meaning of the term “mentor,” as well as the benefits and responsibilities of being one.


In the epic poem The Odyssey, by Homer, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who stayed in Ithaca in charge of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Athena appears to Telemachus disguised as Mentor and acts as his adviser. The common noun meaning “wise adviser” was first recorded in English in 1750, going back through Latin to the Greek character name.1


The benefits for mentees are evident. Mentoring empowers them with essential information, feedback, and support, and helps them build confidence and grow, both personally and professionally.

But are there any benefits for the mentor? Yes. There are benefits beyond “it looks really good on your résumé.” It improves your leadership and communication skills. You gain a renewed sense of pride in your profession. You get to share your experiences with a kindred spirit, somebody hungry to hear them, which is very satisfying. Most gratifying of all is helping a colleague succeed.

Mentoring will also teach you a few things. When your mentee says, “We do that differently now,” and shows you a more efficient route to doing the same task, you’ll be amazed. When you’re explaining things to a novice, it makes you stop and look at how and why you do things and helps you see everything through fresh eyes and revitalized interest. You’ll learn while you teach!


While the mentee has responsibilities—to be open to constructive criticism, to learn and do homework, to be willing to correct course, etc.—the mentor has greater responsibilities. Our mentee will adopt our way of doing things, both the good and the bad, so we have to be careful when we teach and never lose sight of ethics and values. We must set a higher standard for ourselves because we’ll be leading by example. We must remember that our mentee looks up to us, and our opinions and advice will carry a heavier weight than normal.2

For me, as a mentor, the task is not to carry anyone up the mountain. It’s not even to hold their hand during the climb. For me, it’s preparing them for the climb: letting them know what kind of gear they will need, what kind of terrain lies ahead, if they will encounter inclement weather, what type of obstacles will be waiting for them, and teaching them how to sort them.

You Can Be a Mentor

But who has time nowadays, with the pressures of work, family, and daily life in general, you say? We all do. We all have to. In most cases, this commitment will only require a handful of hours a month from the mentor, but it will have a great impact on the mentee’s life. All of us could spare that kind of time to give back, right?

That’s why mentoring programs are so important. Nevertheless, the need for mentors is great. And the new generation needs you.

Yes, you, the language professional who is reading this. It so happens that ATA has a mentoring program! You can look at the guidelines on ATA’s website and watch the free webinar.

ATA Mentoring Program

No matter where you are in your career, the advice and encouragement from working professionals with on-the-job experience is priceless. But finding the right mentor is not always easy.

ATA’s Mentoring Program offers a unique one-to-one matching service for a limited number of mentees and mentors. Matches are made based on business goals defined by the mentee, but both sides of the partnership benefit from the rewards of collaborating and sharing knowledge.

Members interested in participating must submit an application by March 31. The program runs from May 1 through October 31. Watch the ATA Mentoring Experience video or visit the Mentoring Program page on ATA’s website to learn more!


Additional References
  1. “Etymology of ‘Mentor.’” English 591, Doctoral Colloquium, University of California, Santa Barbara (October 8, 2004).
  2. Hart, E. Wayne. “Seven Ways to Be an Effective Mentor,” Forbes (June 30, 2010).

Deborah Wexler, CT is an ATA-certified English>Spanish translator and editor with more than 20 years of experience specializing in audiovisual translation and Spanish orthography. She has translated and reviewed over 6,000 program hours for television, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, streaming media, and the big screen. She is a frequent speaker at international conferences and an educator who has mentored and trained many translators wanting to get into the audiovisual field. She is the director of localization of the Americas at Pixelogic Media and the co-founder and administrator of ATA’s Audiovisual Division.

“Business Practices” will alternate in this space with “The Entrepreneurial Linguist.” This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors.

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