I was interviewed for a magazine yesterday and thought it might be interesting to post an edited version of some of my responses (link to follow when published). The target audience is teenagers/young people considering careers in different areas, which I think (hope?!) explains why I come across as being some kind of wise old owl who has already “made it” to the pinnacle of my profession 🙂 (I’m on my way, certainly, but not quite there yet 😉 ) It gives a bit more of a glimpse into how I got into translation and the challenges of being a freelancer, so links in nicely to the issues discussed here.
I answer the following:
- How did you get into the job you’re doing? (training, job experience etc)
- What led you to it/what excited you about this profession?
- Tell me about your day to day work.
- What’s the best things about your job?
- What’s your daily motivation?
- What do you find challenging about your job?
- Have there ever been times you wish you¹d picked a more “conventional” job? Or not a freelance one?
- What’s the best advice you’ ve ever been given?
- Is there anything you’ve learned during your career that you’d want to share with others?
- Plans for the future/ultimate goals?
It was a very interesting exercise for me. It made me take a step back and think about what I do day to day, and measure it up against what I thought I would be doing when I set out to go freelance almost 5 years ago. I think there are two kinds of people who might benefit from thinking about how they might answer these questions – those considering making a career out of freelance translation, and those who have been at it for a while but are getting dangerously close to forgetting why they ever thought it would be a good idea! As a freelance translator, you really do have a lot of control over the work you do and the way you spend your working day, sothere’s really no excuse for poor job satisfaction!
PS – I’ve broken the interview down into 2 posts to make it a bit more user friendly and would appreciate hearing what you think – does that make it easier to read??
1. How did you get into the job you’re doing? (training, job experience etc).
I did a 4 year BA in languages and was lucky enough to spend almost 3 full years of that time living and working in each of France, Germany and Spain, so I had already had some great international experience (and adventures!) by the time I’d graduated. I travelled and worked in a couple of different jobs for a few years after that, but it was an MA in translation that really set me up for becoming a fully-fledged freelance translator. It was excellent, very hands-on with practical work placements modules, and also gave me access to practicing translators already working in the industry. These contacts proved invaluable when it came to setting out on my own.
They say the ideal career path for a translator is to get a degree in something completely unrelated to languages, say medicine or engineering, work for 15 years in this area while becoming fluent in another language, then marry someone who speaks your second language and go live and work in that country for another 10 years or so. Finally, you need to move back to the country of your source language… and you are you are ready to become a freelance translator!
Needless to say I didn’t follow this path (I’m didn’t have the patience… or the non-English speaking boyfriend!). It’s true that many translators tend to get into it via a career change in their later years, but it’s certainly not the only way in. Many people start off working as an in-house translator for a few years, but there’s a real shortage of good translators who have the business skills to manage themselves as freelancers. I guess the most important things are a thorough understanding of your target language(s) gained through in-country experience, combined with competence in a field other than languages – after all, languages are only useful if you have something to say.
Also, many people don’t realise this, but professional translators work only into their mother tongue, no matter how fluent they are in their other languages, so your written English has to be top notch too!
2. What led you to it/what excited you about this profession?
Despite doing a first degree in languages, translation wasn’t something I was at all interested in initially. I was more interested in interpreting actually, as I thought it seemed a lot more glamorous (translation is working with the written word, interpreting the spoken word). But I have some friends who worked for big institutions like the UN and the Council of Ministers at the EU, and I could see that it wasn’t for me. I always knew I wanted to work for myself, and so after graduating from my first degree I spent quite a lot of time thinking about how I could have the kind of flexibility and work-life balance that I wanted, while also doing a satisfying job. Once I’d decided on freelance translation, I went about finding the best training course I could, and the rest is history. I suppose I went about it in a very analytical way, but that doesn’t make me any less excited by it!
The fantastic thing about translation is that you really never stop learning. It’s such a diverse profession – you can work with anything from scientific research, to reports on human rights abuses to automotive manuals… and it’s your job to convince the reader of each documents that you are the author, the expert in that particular field and not just someone who speaks a foreign language.
It’s essential to specialise if you want to make a living from translation these days. Sometimes I find myself reading something in French, German or Spanish that I wouldn’t even understand in English, say the details of how an engine part works, or complex information about market shares and stocks for example. So I have to go away and make sure I have a full understanding of it (in English!) before I can even begin to think about translating it. And unlike interpreting, where the spoken words often go in one ear and out the other, your words are there in black and white for everyone to see, so they have to be exactly right – no waffling when you’re not sure of a meaning! Every day there’s a new word, phrase or concept that you have to carefully research and then quickly master, as dictionaries don’t have the answers you need at this level. And as a freelancer you can really steer your career too, and work in the areas that genuinely interest you.
3. Tell me about your day to day work.
It’s such a cliché, but every day really is as different as the job I’m working on. My jobs tend t
o last an average of two weeks, but a reasonably typical working day involves getting up about 8.30am, wandering into my little home office and responding to a few emails while I wait for the kettle to boil. I’ll have a quick breakfast, then return to my email where I’ll invariably get sucked into something for another hour or so. I’m lucky in that I’m always booked up for work about 6 weeks ahead at any time, but it’s important that I keep on top of my admin – chasing overdue payments, keeping my accounts up to date, issuing invoices, paying bills, responding to queries from potential and existing clients, and so on. Plus, the reality is that I never know if the work will stop coming in, so I have to have a contingency plan for if that ever happens.
About 11am I’ll take a break for a couple of hours and go to the gym, take a walk, do some shopping or watch some trashy daytime TV (if I’m feeling really lazy!). Then I’ll work solidly on whatever translation I’m working on until from about 1pm until 7pm, when my husband comes home. I try to have weekends off, but I usually end up spending at least 6 – 7 hours either catching up on my never-ending admin, or attending training events. It’s really important that I stay up-to-date with developments in the industry and training tends to be organised at weekends to prevent us losing out on earnings.
4. What’s the best things about your job?
Being able to do my shopping and go to the gym when it’s nice and quiet, no Saturday or 5.30pm queues for me! I also love that I never clock watch. My days fly by so fast but if I’m not feeling productive, I don’t have to try and look busy for the benefit of my boss. I can go out and do something else, I know what my deadlines are and I’ll get the work done when I need to.
I also love the mix of pure translation work and the completely different job of running a business. I get to do a little bit of everything – admin, sales, accounting, IT and so on (not forgetting office cleaning!)
5. What’s your daily motivation?
Being able to pay my bills without having to work hours that suit somebody else! I love translation, but let’s just say I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it all in and travel the world if I won the lotto 🙂