Faces of Gengo: Azman

Azman, an English to Malay Senior Translator living in Kuala Lumpur, fell into translating after a long career in IT. He began as a hobbyist, translating old Malay literature on his blog, but soon decided that he preferred spending his days immersed in words. Here’s his story.

What languages do you speak? How did you learn them?

My native tongue is Malay. Like other Malaysians, I learned English in school and use it in daily communication, primarily in business. I also learned Arabic in school. In the 1990s, I lived in Northern California for a few years while I completed my computer engineering degree and took a semester of Spanish. I loved it there—so many things to see, so many different cultures and languages.

How did you get into translation? Do you translate full-time?

I am a full-time freelance translator now. It started out as a hobby, translating old Malay literature from the 1700s-1900s into English from Jawi, an Arabic script with Malay pronunciation. I published the translations on my blog.

After working as an IT consultant for 17 years, I decided that I wanted to do something else. I asked around and signed up for a weekend translation course, translating part-time outside of my regular office hours. Eventually I started to burn out and quit my full-time position. I’ve been translating ever since.

What was your most enjoyable translation experience? Your most challenging?

Becoming a professional translator and leaving behind my demanding 9-to-5 job is a definite joy—no rush hour traffic jams or late night hours in super cold IT data centers troubleshooting software glitches. With translation I still have to work long hours chasing deadlines, but I’m glad to be working at home and able to take breaks at my own discretion.

To date, my most challenging project involved translating 30,000 words in one week. While translating that content, I still had to keep up with requests from other clients. Fortunately everything turned out well, and I’m thankful to my wife who helped with pre- and post-translation document formatting.

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Describe your office setup or workspace. What is the view like? What kind of scenery do you look at every day?

I have a proper office set up in one corner of my living room. I spent a fair amount of money on a quality chair and desk to prevent stiff neck and sore joints from typing long hours. My wife and I have two laptops, an iPad, two smart phones with internet and Wi-Fi with 10Mbps internet between us. I also invested in a CAT tool, OCR software and so on.

My desk is pushed against a white wall, so there isn’t much to see. In the morning, though, I work outside on the front porch, where there are green fruit trees to calm my eyes. When the sun is high and heat becomes too much, I pull my chair back inside.

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Based on your specific cultural expertise, what are the best books or movies you would recommend to others?

I enjoy nonfiction, especially history and religion. One of the books that I hold in high regard is the Hikam (Aphorisms) of Ibn Ata’illah, likely written in the 1200s. It has great advice on how to approach life and the book is still widely read. The words are beautiful, as are the lessons.

What is your favorite “translator’s snack” for while you work?

I only need tea or coffee to keep me going in the afternoon or late night. I can’t eat when there is a computer in front of me, so no food.

What online productivity tool saves you the most time?

As a Malay writer, Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu (PRPM) is the official resource to look up terms, spelling and proverbs. Google Translate helps give me a quick sense of how long a translation might take.

Finally, if you had to give advice to your fellow Gengo translators, what are the best ways to relax and stay sane as a translator? What is your top tip for those who are just starting out?

Every translator has to treat this profession just like any career. Dress comfortably, and manage your time even if you work from home. Equip yourself with knowledge on language and culture to prevent making errors.

Malay is a beautiful language in its own right, and English is just as beautiful in its own way. I think that translators are responsible for maintaining the beauty of their source and target languages by having good grammar skills, rich vocabularies and strong cultural knowledge.

To stay sane, learn to say no to new jobs when your schedule is already full. Also, go outside for walks and make time for vacations.


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Sarah Siwak

The author

Sarah Siwak

Sarah manages content production for Gengo's marketing team. A native Detroiter and fluent trilingual, she's passionate about finding creative ways to communicate ideas across different media and languages. She spends her free time exploring digital worlds and whipping up late-night omelettes.

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