Originally published in December 2007
When I first started freelancing, it took me a long time before I felt like a Proper Translator. This was not because I lacked the confidence or even the workload to use the title (I was lucky enough to have a full book of well paid, satisfying work after about 3 months). It was because I just wasn’t doing the kind of work I thought I *should* be doing.
Looking back, my expectations were as realistic as they could have been at that point. I had spent two years carefully preparing for my freelance career. I had spoken to lots of supportive professionals, completed work placements in two different translation companies and dabbled in a reasonable number of small, paid translation jobs. I certainly didn’t have a pie-in-the-sky ideal of sitting around sucking on the end of a quill, or dashing through the corridors of the UN à la a translator-version of the film The Interpreter. But where were the translation jobs I was expecting? Where were the texts, the documents, the written words awaiting my careful rendering?
I eventually realised that that’s just a tiny part of how the translation world works these days. A whole raft of ancillary work has sprung up around the field of translation. Experienced translator Hugh Morgan summed it up perfectly in his paper at the 2007 Portsmouth Conference when he referred to these “other” kinds of work as near-neighbours of translation – neighbours that get looked down upon often and very unfairly. Proofreading, editing and revising are the usual suspects, but there’s so much more out there, including summary writing, semantic audits, analyses and a whole raft of other things that I probably haven’t heard of yet.
So here’s my list of top 5 things I think all new translators should know about Near Neighbours Of Translation (or NNOTrans):
1. By looking down on NNOTrans, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face.
NNOTrans don’t get the air-time they deserve because too many translators think that anything less than “pure” translation is a waste of their skills. As an eager newcomer to the profession, I found this difficult to get my head around at first. I was embarrassed and didn’t know if I could call myself a translator, when I wasn’t doing what many translators seem to mean when they refer to translation. I’m glad I got over myself and got on with it, and I’d advise other newcomers to do the same. If you like what you do and you’re drawing on your translation skills, no matter how remotely, where’s the problem? Instead, feel excited about being at the forefront of industry changes.
2. NNOTrans are the way to go to ensure career longevity.
I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want to spend my whole career looking over my shoulder, afraid of being replaced by a machine or another professional working in a country where the cost of living is lower than the UK (i.e. most countries, then). Two ways to avoid this are be fussy about the kind of work you take on, and specialise. Translators are skilled at pulling together different threads of communication from a range of specialist fields, and that’s even before they bring a second language into the mix. There aren’t many professionals who can lay claim to these kind of skills, so let’s forget about restrictive job titles and use this to our advantage.
3. NNOTrans often pay better than per-word translation.
Hugh put it beautifully when he said this kind of work has “a more generous margin”. I say, unless you translate in a highly specialised field and/or are lucky enough to have a portfolio of top-dollar direct clients, you’ll probably find you earn more per hour for a NNOTrans project than a traditional “source-word in, target-word out” translation. There’s more to consider than “just” the money, of course, as few of us go freelance for the fame and fortune. But think about how these other sources of work can give you the breathing space you need in those heady first days of freelancing, to enable you to hold out for the kind of translation work you really want to spend your time on.
4. NNOTrans can be more more enjoyable than “pure” translation.
When I first started out, I saw NNOTrans as a good way to pay my bills, while also getting my foot in the door with work providers. I thought once the “real” translation work started rolling in, I’d drop them and move on to greener pastures. The real translation work did start coming in, but in the meantime I’d found my NNOTrans projects had evolved. My professional expertise was being requested on a range of projects and I was booked well in advance, so my time was respected and I was well compensated. No stressful deadlines, unreasonable demands or lowly rates. What’s not to love about that? I love translating, but I enjoy jobs which involve near-neighbours of translation too.
5. Use NNOTrans to make you a better translator
NNOTrans projects can be a great source of cross-fertilisation, a way to gain new perspectives, skills and ideas. You could even use them as a way to hone some of the sub-skills of translation – writing, analysis, proofreading, listening skills, applied linguistics, etc. Look at the bigger picture of how this kind of work can get you to where you want to be.
So check out those translation neighbours – you may surprise yourself and make friends for life.