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!

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