Friday, 12 October 2018

LOST FOR TRANSLATION

Last week I attended the 2018 Mediterranean Translators and Editors Meeting (METM18). It was set in the beautiful Catalan city of Girona - conveniently only a stone's throw away from Barcelona, where I am based. As well as taking part in a practical workshop led by Laura Bennett* and learning a wealth of information from presentations by fellow translators and editors, METM18 was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow colleagues based in the Mediterranean region and beyond.

When talking to other translators, I was struck by how hard it was to get a straight answer to the simple question: "Where are you from?" 

Now, before you jump to conclusions, I'm not saying that translators are a shifty or reserved bunch. To the contrary, most answers were fascinating and reassuringly resembled how I usually (sometimes uncomfortably) respond: "I was born in Country A, studied in Country B, moved to Country C for work and am currently living in Country D". 

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It felt great to be in an environment where I didn't have to justify my nomadic lifestyle. Indeed, I realised that it is simply part and parcel of the job. If so many of us have moved around so much, it is surely because translation is not merely an academic exercise. Some translators have never lived abroad and are successful, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, for many of us, to integrate the cultural aspects of a language into our work, we have to have spent a significant amount of time in the country(ies) where the language is spoken. Therefore, the more languages a translator has under his/her belt, in all likelihood, the more places he/she will have called (or will still call) home.

So, dear colleagues, the next time your family/friends ask you when you'll finally settle down, lift your chin up high and proudly explain that to do your job well, you need to be a global citizen. Keep roaming, keep exploring, keep learning. To grow, just as a flower needs to be watered, a translator needs to be regularly immersed in his/her working language(s). Go on, keep getting lost for the good of your profession!



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*Translating for the Art World



Tuesday, 19 June 2018


Location, Location, Location

Or how to create REALationships AND nurture your target language


For the first two years working as a freelance translator, my company was based in the UK and I was translating exclusively from French into English, mainly for customers in the aerospace sector. Previous to this, I worked as an in-house translator for several years in Toulouse, France (the headquarters of Airbus, hence my specialisation).

Although in Toulouse I worked alongside other English speakers, one of the aspects I noticed about spending a vast amount of time speaking a source (foreign) language or even speaking your target language with other people who master both languages as well as you do, is the effect on the quality of your target language (the language you translate into, namely your native language, or mother tongue). By quality, I do not mean that you suddenly start to make grammatical errors or use the wrong terminology. However, over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to find natural-sounding ways of expressing certain ideas. Sometimes I would not even notice that certain phrases sounded stilted, as they were what a specific customer preferred, and both myself and my colleagues had grown accustomed to a certain way of expressing ideas. After some time, I practically stopped questioning whether there were better ways of expressing the same idea in English. I grew aware that my English was becoming somewhat restricted. I initially believed that a trip back to the UK a couple of times a year was enough to remedy this, and it did help to some extent. Yet, after a few months of actually living back in the country of my target language, I realised just how much better my translations were starting to sound. I therefore now strongly believe that translators really need to make a conscious effort to regularly converse with people who do not speak their source language(s), to nurture their target language so as to produce translations that sound natural and retain a native-level richness of expression.





In terms of finding customers in the UK, luckily for me, this was not too difficult because I had just returned after seven years of living and working in France and had made a lot of contacts during this time. However, when I wanted to add to my base of customers, to market to direct customers for example, I found that it was hard to make new contacts when not in my customers’ country. I hate the idea of cold calling, and find that the work put into preparing to market in this kind of way is not cost-effective, as it is difficult to ascertain just when a customer needs you, and even harder to convince them to choose you from a range of translators with the same language combination and specialism. People tend to want to work with people after all; it is vital not to just make contacts, but to create REALationships. I have found that most of my work over time has come from customers who either knew me or heard about me from people who have worked with me in the past. I did go to France on a couple of occasions to attend trade shows and I met some potential customers, but found that this was a rather expensive way of generating not very much work. As I had never lived in France whilst working as a freelancer, I wrongly assumed that attracting new customers was always going to be a challenge. 


Then I moved to Spain.

Initially I moved to Barcelona in order to improve my Spanish, with the long-term aim of adding it as a working language. I already had my customers in France, and operating from Spain did not affect this. I was, however, more conscious this time that I should continue spending time with other English-speakers here, as well as reading English books and watching English films to ensure that my target language did not suffer as my Spanish improved, which had started to happen in France. I still have to speak to my French customers on a regular basis and I work with the language almost daily, so I am not too worried about my French. However taking this new approach has meant that my English still feels as natural as the day I left the UK. Quality of target language does not, therefore, have to be an issue when you live outside of the country, as long as you are aware that you need to keep practising your target language as you improve your source language skills.

After a few months of living in Spain, a few of my French customers asked me whether I could take on some Spanish to English translations for them. After some initial hesitation and self-doubt about whether or not my Spanish was good enough yet, I bit the bullet and both myself and my customers were pleased with the outcome (see previous post). However, this work did not really reflect the fact that I was living in Spain, as it was still coming from my customers in France.


As I became more confident with working with Spanish, I decided that it might be nice to try and find some local customers to work with. One of the things I have found very helpful here is working in a coworking space. Not only does it beat the boredom and solitude of working from home, but it helps create REALationships in a natural way, which are much more likely to generate work than reaching out to total strangers. I also find that the energy you put into making something work is often rewarded. Initially because I wanted to feel at home in my new location, I started joining local translator events and also joined some local Facebook groups for women, totally unrelated to translation. Now, despite only having lived here for less than a year, without having to make anywhere near as much effort as I did when trying to target people I did not know in France from the UK, here in Spain I have picked up a few new direct customers from other translators, co-workers and even contacts I have met socialising. I have also been put in contact with more potential customers.

I fully intend to make the most of my time in Spain to keep building REALationships that may lead to working relationships. For this reason, I also joined the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET) association and I will be attending their annual conference in Girona in October, hoping to meet new people and learn from my peers. I also intend to constantly keep nurturing my native language, as it is clearly part of a translator’s CPD to ensure we are up-to-date as regards evolutions and trends in our target language, as it is not only a service we provide but the product we are ultimately selling.

Stay tuned for news on the MET meeting in October!



Thursday, 22 March 2018

ADDING A NEW LANGUAGE


I have been translating exclusively from French to English professionally since 2011 and, luckily, have rarely been short of work, for which I am eternally grateful. In part, this is due to the fact that I specialise in the field of aerospace and engineering, where there is no shortage of texts to be translated.

However, with seven years of experience translating a large quantity of these very technical, but now very familiar documents, I recently reached a point in my career where I no longer felt challenged. Feeling like I am learning something new is very important for me in terms of job satisfaction. Variety is the spice of life, as they say!

Therefore, I decided that something needed to change. I needed to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Further to completing my MA (in 2011), I had been learning Spanish rather sporadically. I have a lot of Hispanic friends and I have taken Spanish lessons on and off. Although I was able to express myself fairly well in the language and my comprehension is good, I never had the confidence to use it on a professional level; it felt so basic compared to my French (I lived in France for seven years after my studies). I had toyed with the idea of adding Spanish as a working language for years, but self-doubt always held me back.
In September 2017, I decided to take a leap of faith and spend a few months in Barcelona to brush up my Spanish. I loved my stint as a digital nomad in Spain so much that when I returned to the UK for the Christmas holidays I just knew I had to return, and that three months were not enough for full fluency.

So I returned to Barcelona in January and have been immersing myself in the language ever since – Spanish friends, a housemate from Ecuador, Spanish books, Spanish films, yoga classes in Spanish – you name it.



Since January, my confidence speaking the language has greatly improved, having survived the trials and tribulations of real life (doctor appointments, accountants, residency applications, opening a bank account, and so on).

Then, this month, after a total of six months in Spain, the challenge came right up and knocked at my door! One of my regular customers in France asked me whether I would be interested in revising a large aerospace project that had already been translated from Spanish to English. Despite my initial nerves, I decided to accept the job, provided I had a longer deadline, as I assumed it would take me much longer than a French job. I am so glad I did! As the project was in my area of specialism, it took a lot less time than I had bargained for, and was nowhere near as unattainable as I thought. The more errors I found in the translations, the more my confidence grew, and I realised that I could have translated the text myself. The customer was happy and I felt pretty accomplished.

The same customer came back to me last week and asked me to take on a Spanish to English translation project and I gladly accepted. Although I spent slightly longer on it than I would have done with French, everything went swimmingly.

The realisation I had from all of the above is that I could not continue comparing a passive (or C) language to an active (or B) language I have been comfortable speaking and writing for years. At some point I had to stop being a perfectionist and just start doing. Doing made me realise that I had been far too critical of my language skills and that my Spanish does not need to be at the same level as my French for me to be able to produce work that meets my customers’ expectations.
If anyone else has any feedback on adding another working language, feel free to get in touch, I would love to hear your stories!



Tuesday, 21 November 2017

NOMADIC TRANSLATION


As we approach the end of 2017, I thought I would spare some time to tell you about a new chapter in my life as a freelance translator.

I absolutely love travelling, but being self-employed, I am cautious about taking too much unpaid time off work. THEN, I came across the idea of working as a digital nomad and decided to give it a go. This idea appealed to me as it provides the opportunity to keep running a business, but from any location in the world. As most of our work is sent via email, this lifestyle is completely feasible for freelance translators. What can I say? I haven’t looked back since!

I chose to start with a stint in Barcelona for three months – and with recent current affairs, what a time to be here! Arriving in the city was half the fun! I packed my computer and some clothes into my car, then went on a road trip through France, visiting some friends on the way.




I arrived here in mid-September. The first few weeks were quite a challenge, working from my flat, looking for ways to meet people and trying to get by with my rusty Spanish in a predominantly Catalan-speaking city.


Not being one to avoid a challenge, I went looking for a yoga class, both to socialise and discover a new activity, and stumbled across a co-working space in the process. I am a strong believer that when great opportunities fall into your lap, they are meant to be. Therefore, I signed up to join the co-working space that day. It was brand new, and I was the first co-worker, so I have also had the pleasure of seeing the place grow and being a part of that growth.



For anyone who is interested, this is my co-working space: wellco. Next to the office space, which has a smashing view of Barcelona from the 6th floor of a renovated industrial building in Poblenou, is a studio that offers various classes related to well-being (including my yoga class).



The first part of this adventure is almost over, as I plan to return to the UK for some time at Christmas. However, I have fallen in love with Barcelona and have had some exciting news about the prospect of an upcoming project here in March, so I plan to return to the city as a nomad in 2018.

This journey has also enabled me to significantly improve my Spanish. It has reminded me about how much I love learning new languages and discovering new cultures and has also taught me never to become too comfortable with my established routine. For me, this change has paved the way to both personal and professional growth.

Have any other translators out there tried this kind of digital nomad lifestyle? It would be great to hear about your experiences if you have! I would love to publish a series on your experiences in different locations! Feel free to send me an email here.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best for the coming year!




Friday, 25 March 2016

BUILDING AN ONLINE PRESENCE

I recently celebrated one year as a freelance translator (hurrah!).

During the first six months or so, I worked almost exclusively with agency customers (for whom I completed an application process). Recently, I have also been working with some direct customers (who I mainly found through contacts and recommendations).

My work flow has gradually become very healthy (by mid-February, I already had orders taking me through to the end of March). I even find myself regularly having to turn down work with my agency customers due to a lack of availability. However, I decided that as my company is maturing, so should my online presence.



There are two main reasons for this:

1. To have a more professional image,
2. To attract more customers searching for the services I provide, by being more visible on the web.

With this in mind, I recently took the following steps:

In addition to this blog, I already have a (very basic) website, which I plan to develop over the coming months. I have been meaning to set time aside to do this for a while, and thanks to a very busy March, now is the time I can really afford to.

I have also been making an effort to connect with more people on Twitter and follow subjects and causes related to modern languages, and translation in particular. In doing so, I have learnt a great deal, discovered interesting blogs and networked with more people in my industry. A fellow translator, Eric Hansson (@erik_hansson), recently created the #xl8promote hashtag as an initiative to promote professional translators. If any of you would like to take part, send him a direct message and get your name tweeted!

I also recently wrote a guest post that was published on Nikki Graham’s blog, in her series on Translation MAs: http://nikkigrahamtranix.com/2016/03/11/the-benefits-of-an-ma-in-translation/. Hopefully this will help people understand the importance of education and training in our profession and provide potential translators with information on the courses available.

To round it all off, I have just created a Facebook page for my business (https://www.facebook.com/translatingmatters). I am hoping this will direct more traffic to my blog and website.

If any of you have any hints/tips/experiences to share related to building an online presence, feel free to comment at the end of this post!

Happy Easter!






Wednesday, 3 February 2016

LONG OVERDUE!

Firstly I’d like to wish my fellow translators a belated happy new year, and apologise for my absence from the blogosphere these past few months - the end of 2015 was very busy for me, with plenty of work coming in after the summer period. 

As this blog is dedicated to sharing my experiences as a (relative) new-comer to the world of freelancing, here are some of the things I have been up to over the past few months and the lessons I have learnt. Hopefully these lessons may be of use to other translators who are new to freelancing.

Continuing Professional Development

When you work for yourself, it is easy to get comfortable when the jobs start coming in and you are invoicing a decent amount every month. However, in my opinion, it is important to keep learning and add new strings to your bow! Personally, I find that sitting at a desk all day translating can sometimes be a little solitary, so I decided to invest in my company (and myself) by attending training organised by a translation company. In late October, I went to an introductory one-day workshop on voiceover work in London. This full day of training was beneficial to me on many levels – the content was interesting, the trainer had many connections in the industry, the course meant leaving my home and talking to people and I was able to meet other translators and network. I am planning to attend the second part of this course in April, before attempting to put this training to use. I have already told some of my agency customers about this training, and they have expressed an interest! So go on, go out, meet new people, learn something new and show people reading your CV that you are constantly looking to pick up new skills! 

Word of Mouth

In my last blog post I mentioned that I had just picked up my first direct client. Since then I have been working for another two direct clients and have been in discussions with respect to potential work with a few more. I would like to say that this was down to my hard marketing efforts, but that would be untrue. In fact, the last few months were so busy that I didn’t have the chance to work on contacting new leads as I had planned. The new clients I picked up actually found me though contacts of mine (former colleagues and former contacts from my teaching days) who recommended my services. Although I do intend to put more feelers out for direct clients this year, my experience goes to show that it is important to network, stay in touch with people and generally do a good job so people will remember you.

Now that I have been freelancing for almost a year, and have determined that I can pay my rent, feed myself and go out and enjoy life, my next step will be to make some time to grow my business and expand my customer base. Watch this space!




Monday, 31 August 2015

WORKING WITH AGENCIES

I have now been working as a freelance translator for over 5 months.

Recently I started working with my first direct client and I intend to start marketing to more direct clients from now on.

However, as a newcomer to freelancing (after more than 3 years working as an in-house translator), my first few months have mostly been spent working with agencies.

The advantage to working with agencies is that they find the work for you. This is great for generating an initial regular income. You can then build your translation businesses on this base.

The main disadvantage to working with agencies is that, as for any industry when you are working through an intermediary, the agency will take their cut. This means that your rates for agencies will usually be lower than your rates for direct clients.

I have been very lucky in finding agencies that treat me well and provide me with plenty of work in my specialist areas (aerospace and engineering). I have also been able to gain experience in other fields, because my best agencies revise my work and provide feedback. This provides a safety net for gaining experience in subjects that are slightly outside my specialist area.

Based on my experience working with agencies, here is some advice:

1. Concentrate on building a good relationship with your project managers (PMs). As for anybody, PMs generally enjoy working with people they like. PMs are more likely to want to work with you again if you create a good rapport and prove yourself to be friendly, as well as skilled and reliable.

2. Do not take on too much work. If you have already established a relationship with an agency, turning down work now and again because you are fully booked is not the end of the world. In fact, it shows that you are doing well and have other customers. If you take on too many projects because you are afraid of turning down work, you will just end up missing deadlines, which does not do wonders for your professional credibility.

3. Do not let agencies bully you into lowering your rates. They will try and it is tempting to accept lower rates in the beginning when you just want the work to come in. If you do start out with low rates, it is very difficult to subsequently raise them with agencies. It is hard to determine acceptable rates at the start of your freelance career, as it can be a bit of a taboo subject between translators. However, from experience, if you find yourself inundated with work, you should be asking for a higher rate. I eventually managed to negotiate better rates from my lowest paying agencies, but if you find yourself in this position, your best bet is to keep marketing until you find agencies that pay better, and gradually replace the low payers with high payers.

4. Remember that you are a supplier, not an employee. If agencies start asking you to do extra work for free (glossary building, DTP, etc.), do not be afraid to put your foot down and remind them that time is money for you. If extra work is involved, you should be paid for it. You are not on a salary!

5. If you are contacted by a new agency, check that they are legitimate before accepting any work from them. One way to do this is by checking the Proz blueboard to see if there are any complaints from other translators. There is always an element of risk working as a freelancer, but this way you are less likely to get stung!

Agency work is not for everyone, but it should not be shunned, as it can help set in train your career as a freelancer.