Friday, 12 October 2018


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


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!