When it comes to freelancing it’s always worth considering a range of opinions, because each freelance experience is as different as the person who has it. So, as it’s basically the polar opposite to mine, I was really interested to read The Masked Translator’s advice to start-up translators regarding professional associations recently. We’ve clearly had very different experiences here and I don’t agree with all the views expressed in this post. In particular, the following point stood out for me:
If you’re just starting out and you want to be a translator, be sure you don’t take peoples’ advice too seriously without analyzing their motives in giving you the advice. [my emphasis]
Now, I’m all for assessing the value of advice and weighing things up to suit your own particular circumstances. And there’s no doubt that it would be pretty foolish to accept all claims made by vendors, for example, without digging a little deeper (caveat emptor applies to B2B too). However, I’m not (yet?) quite as cynical as the MT, so would probably modify this statement slightly: instead of getting hung up why someone is giving you advice, accept their advice and try to analyse the translation profession from their perspective instead – what is the reasoning behind their beliefs? Why might they feel the way they do? Taking this tack might mean you gain a better understanding of the industry overall and maybe even feel less bitter about it too.
For example, when I first started mixing with translators with a view to going freelance, at first it felt like a lot of translators I spoke to were trying to put me off. Many said there was little or no work due to globalisation and a flood of “bad” translators, that it was no longer possible to earn a decent living because of new translation technologies, or that you had to have many years of inhouse experience under your belt before going freelance. It would have been easy to draw a range of conclusions based on all of this – translation is a bad area to go into, translators are unsupportive, translators don’t want more translators in the profession, I won’t be able to earn an living, and so on.
But I didn’t really believe that any of these conclusions were true – partly because of my own sense of cynicism, but also partly because it just didn’t make sense to me. Surely globalisation would mean there were more opportunities for translators, not fewer? If there were so many “bad” translators out there, couldn’t I differentiate myself by being “good”? Couldn’t translation technologies benefit me as a translator too, as well as agencies and clients? and so on.
So I started to think about what must be happening to make them say and apparently genuinely believe these things, and this helped me get something from even the most negative of advice. Like this:
Yes, new technologies have meant a massive change in the way translators work on a daily basis – but as a newcomer to the profession, I don’t know how it was before, so I can more easily accept these changes. Yes, it used to be that the only route to freelancing was via many years of inhouse experience – but the world of work is changing and there are no traditional routes or roadmaps into anything anymore. And yes, globalisation is having an impact on how translators work and interact with clients – but I’m comfortable with this kind of change and believe I can make it work for me… etc. You get the idea.
Because whether we like to admit it or not, the chances are that any person who helps you has something to gain from it. And why shouldn’t they? Maybe it’s money, or an inflated sense of self-importance, or just a warm fuzzy feeling or a sense of having paid it forward. You might never know the reason, so why beat yourself up about it? Why not accept the advice that’s being offered and, instead of wondering why someone has tried to help you, put your mind to trying to understand *why* that person believes what they do instead.
Putting aside our differences of opinion around professional associations, I think The Masked Translator raises some other very good points in this post. So I’m going to finish with these words of advice, which are worth bearing in mind the next time you get advice:
Being a translator isn’t a one-size-fits-all sort of profession. Some freelance translators work only half time, some work way more than full time. Some work from home, some work from rented office space, some work from the beach or the café. Some only translate big projects like novels or 300 page technical manuals. Some only do small projects like diplomas and certificates. Some work in-house for companies or translation agencies. Some work on a contractual basis, doing documents for the government or a research institution. Some just dabble in translating poetry from languages they don’t even really speak. There are as many ways to be a translator as you can think of.
Here’s to being the same, but different!