Starting out as a freelance translator

Hello everyone, hope you’re all well out there in translation land and have some exciting plans to round off the year!

Today’s post is something a little different. I recently gave a talk to the Translation Studies MA students at the University of Hull and thought I’d share my presentation with you here.

As the title of this post suggests, the seminar was all about getting started as a freelance translator, with me sharing tips and advice based on my own experiences within the wonderful world of freelancing.

Hopefully there will be plenty of useful information in there for those of you interested in a career in freelance translation and perhaps there will even be one or two handy snippets for more experienced freelancers.

The presentation touches upon everything from finding and completing your first translation job to a few different ways of developing an online presence using social media.

Public speaking and presentation skills aren’t my strongest areas but they are skills that I’m keen to develop, especially with conference papers, teaching and further presentations on the horizon. As such, any feedback or handy links for developing these areas would be greatly appreciated!

Anyway, here’s the recording of the presentation and the accompanying slides. (Click the images to get the full screen, slideshow version)

Enjoy!

 

P.S. If you’re having trouble with the SoundCloud player, here’s a direct link to the recording: https://soundcloud.com/jaltranslation/starting-out-as-a-freelance-translator

The Joys of Working From Home

Earlier today, during a spontaneous mid-morning break from my work, I found myself questioning whether or not, after several years of working almost exclusively from home as a freelance translator and researcher, I could go back to working in the ‘real world’ of offices, 9-5 and all that jazz.

While the obvious answer is yes, of course I could, it struck me that the longer I’ve been working from home, the more certain I’ve become that the transition back would be a slow, painful one.

From the freedom to take mid-morning breaks that lead to blog posts like this to the increased productivity associated with working in such a tailored environment, working from home has played a huge part in my personal development.

With that in mind, here are ten conclusions that I’ve drawn based on my adventure so far (with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

  • Family members / friends will never quite understand that ‘at home’ does not equate to ‘doing nothing and likely to be grateful for a call/surprise visit’.
  • Lengthy conversations with pets are entirely normal.
  • My clothing habits have gone beyond the point of no return and I’m OK with that.

  • Caffeine can be used to solve most work-related issues.
  • At this point, my own personal schedule has become so deeply engrained that having to adhere to anybody else’s timekeeping rules would most probably cause my brain to cease functioning.
  • The degradation of social skills is a very real thing.

  • With the vast majority of communication revolving around email conversations, it is essential to become adept at utilising subtle variations in tone, from the ‘I’m really not happy’ staccato sentences to the all-powerful smiley face.
  • These days, anyone complaining about their dreaded commute is automatically met with a smug inward grin as I picture my five-second saunter from bed to office.

comics-invisible-bread-home-work-625699

  • Internet connection issues are always cause for unmitigated panic.
  • My boss is pretty awesome.

Translating: Is there method in the madness?

How do translators work? How do I work? Are the two the same? Earlier today, I got on to thinking about these exact questions and almost instantly decided to write a post looking at how I actually translate.

However, rather than getting into discussions over personal preferences for certain terminology resources or how to set up an ideal translation workspace, I want to look at the more general process of gradually transforming a source text into a target text that is common to all translators.

With this in mind, it struck me that I’ve developed something of a ‘stock’ procedure over the years and I thought I’d try to break it down here.

Beyond providing a brief exploration of the inner workings of my own translation universe, meanwhile, I also want this post to act as a call for other translators out there to share their methods, which will no doubt vary considerably based on language pairs, specialist areas, clients, CAT tools used and so much more.

I’m genuinely interested to find out if there’s a general path that most translators follow or whether each individual niche brings about a unique method (the reality, I imagine, will lie somewhere between the two).


For me, this purely text-oriented analysis of my translation method can be loosely outlined by three different sections. These sections overlap and vary considerably according to the text/deadline etc. but I think that they offer a reasonable reflection of the way that I gradually go about handling the transformation from source to target text while also keeping this post relatively brief.

  • Drafting

First of all, as I usually work with fairly short texts, I like to produce a rough draft as soon as possible after receiving a new job. This draft follows the sentence structure and paragraphing of the source text closely and allows me to spot any unfamiliar terminology or tricky phrases nice and early, giving my brain something of a head start (no pun intended…) on coming up with suitable renderings.

During this stage, I focus on capturing all of the source text information while flowing English remains a side concern. Although the translation is a long way from completion, I find that having a complete target language template to build upon smooths the transition to that final text.

  • Reworking

After initially running through the text, this section involves moulding the draft into something resembling a coherent piece of English writing. Rather than seeing each phrase as an isolated unit where style gives way to substance, this is where the bigger picture has to come into focus and sentences and paragraphs can be reworked to find a fitting target language balance.

I still refer heavily to the source text during this stage, often double-checking certain renderings or trying to conjure up more economical phrasings, but my attention is firmly shifted towards that final text.

With so much going on in terms of accurately relaying the source text message and developing the readability of the target text output, this section is probably where you’d say the ‘real’ translation takes place and tends to take the most time and effort.

  • Polishing

Now comes the time to turn that emerging text into the highly-polished final product. While I will still refer back to the source text occasionally if I need to double-check any facts, figures or phrasings, the focus now lies squarely on refining the target text.

Time permitting, this process usually goes on until fairly close to the deadline as I like to allow as much time as possible to elapse before my final check to help me spot any unnatural phrases or grammatical mishaps that eluded me during earlier read-throughs.

As a further aid to overcoming the kind of ‘immunity’ that you develop to your own writing style, where mistakes can slip by unnoticed, I also find that reading through the text out loud is a great help.

Finally, as a general rule of thumb, I like to have three error-free read-throughs before submitting a text. The number of times through is almost arbitrary but I feel that it’s important to set a limit to avoid endless agonising over mistakes that aren’t there.


Of course, despite the concrete stages that this post suggests, the actual process of translation is a more natural, fluid activity (apart from those instances where the deadline is so tight that it turns into a frenzy of stress, swearing and fleeting inspiration).

Indeed, as I’ve gained experience, I’ve found that an increasing proportion of the initial ‘draft’ is perfectly in-tact by the time the text is delivered, particularly when faced with stock phrases that have cropped up many times before.

That said, however, there will always be certain linguistic conundrums that keep you switching things up until the very last minute.

Now it’s over to you. How do you work? Do you draft or look for a ‘final’ translation from the outset? Is proofing a major part of your work or do things naturally fall into place? Let me know!

Seven Super Skills: Progressing in Translation

Today’s post sees us move from the power of translation to the process of translation and, more specifically, to a look at the demands of this process.

There are a number of vital skills required to produce high quality translations and here I put forward a selection of what I believe to be the most important of them alongside suggested methods of developing each one. Having previously touched upon a couple of the skills on my blog, I’ve also included links to relevant posts where possible.

My specific focus on the act of translation means that skills relating to freelancing or developing a translation company are not included. For example, while the ability to deal with tight deadlines is an important element of professional translation, it is not a prerequisite for the act of translation in itself.

Finally, my thoughts and suggestions are by no means exhaustive (I’ve had to overlook and merge a lot of ideas for the sake of brevity) so feel free to share your own skills and tips in the comments section.

 

LINGUISTIC MAGIC IN YOUR SOURCE LANGUAGE:

To start off with we have the most obvious – and perhaps most misunderstood – of all the skills.

Yes, being able to understand the meaning of the source text you’re working on is of vital importance and without this necessary level of competence there is no translation. However, linguistic proficiency alone does not automatically equate to good translation despite the widely held misconceptions that a translator is just a walking dictionary or someone who simply picks ready, one-to-one equivalents between languages.

Ultimately, there is much more to translation than simply knowing a language but that’s no excuse to ignore those tricky grammar points.

How to develop:

  • Combine language courses and immersion in the source culture (time in the country, interaction with native speakers…) to develop both linguistic and cultural knowledge on a general level.
  • Pay close attention to reading skills (as opposed to speaking or writing, for example) in the source language as this is where a translator’s primary focus lies. Read books, articles, magazines – anything and everything you can in your source language(s).

 

SUPERHUMAN SUBJECT KNOWLEDGE:

As mentioned above, total command of a language and culture alone isn’t enough to make a good translator and part of the reason is that translators generally work in very specific subject areas that require specialist knowledge.

Reading technical jargon in your mother tongue alone is challenging enough and therefore it is vital that translators are intimately familiar with the inner workings of their specific areas of expertise. Contracts, patents, or medical journal entries all require specific linguistic and cultural knowledge that goes well beyond that given in general language classes.

How to develop:

  • Read anything you can relating to your specialist area to expand your knowledge and stay up to date with new developments.
  • Develop specialisms in areas that you genuinely enjoy to easily integrate research into your daily routine.
  • Sign up for MOOCs or other courses to greatly boost your subject knowledge in a comprehensive, structured fashion.

Getting to the Heart of Medical Texts

SONIC SPEED RESEARCH & PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS:

No matter how much work you put in, there are always going to be words, phrases, or concepts with which you are unfamiliar popping up in source texts and this where another key translation ability lies. I’ve said it before but it’s definitely a point worth repeating: one of the most important attributes in a translator is not what they know, but how quickly and efficiently they are able to fill the gaps in what they don’t know.

Using the vast array of resources out there, it is amazing how quickly you can become well-versed in a previously unknown area and, while the widespread advice that you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew in terms of tackling alien projects is very valid, I say that you shouldn’t be afraid expand your horizons – know your limits but remain ambitious and embrace new projects.

How to develop:

  • Get to know which resources lead to the most effective results. (The links below cover a few different ways of tracking down that elusive word or phrase)
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new tools to further enhance your research process.

Where to go when lost for words?

Using Corpora in Your Translation Work

 

X-RAY SPECS – CLOSE READING & ANALYTICAL SKILLS:

As well as understanding the explicit meaning of a word or phrase, a translator must be able to appreciate its many possible functions in a specific context. Beyond surface-level meanings, the use of allusions, cultural references, linguistic or rhetorical devices such as repetition or alliteration, or elements such as register and sentence length all combine to make the text the powerful entity that it is and part of the translator’s job is to recreate their effects in another language and culture. The connotations of one innocuous-looking word can be central to the meaning of an entire text (as the first link below suggests).

How to develop:

  • Think beyond what is on the page.
  • Explore texts and analyses of texts in order to encounter the various ways in which language influences us and the ways in which we can employ language to harness those techniques.

The Power of Translation: The Fox and the Grapes

Selling Cars with Sex and Lies

 

FORMATTING SKILLS & COMPUTER WIZARDRY:

This little pairing accounts for so much of the translation process as it involves the manipulation of the very platform that holds our work.

It is essential that a translator becomes an expert in using whatever programs clients demand of them and, in a manner similar to terminology mining (see above), this requires the ability to efficiently develop the knowledge you lack.

The only thing more annoying than an elusive indent sneaking into your document and blighting an otherwise immaculate page is having to spend an eternity finding a solution to the problem.

How to develop:

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, be inquisitive in your usage of a program to learn all of its various shortcuts and quirks.
  • Read online tips or take a course in a program’s usage.

 

SUPERPOWERED PENMANSHIP / WRITING SKILLS:

So often overlooked when people are developing their translation prowess, the ability to write effectively is perhaps the most important skill there is. With the end product of the translation process taking the form of a text written in your native tongue, the overall success or failure of your work is often heavily based on your writing ability.

The key factor in producing a translation is for it to be fit-for-purpose and resemble an original target language document whether you like it or not (the translator’s power of invisibility). While equivalence between the source and target texts should be of utmost importance to the translator, clients or end users are not going to be able to compare the two texts and emphasis is therefore placed on producing a translation that stands on its own.

How to develop:

  • Learn target language conventions for producing specific texts.
  • Take the time to read style guides from various sources.
  • Practice writing! Write for sites focusing on your specialist areas or write a blog and employ different writing styles of your own choosing.
  • Get feedback on your writing.

One year down: What blogging has to offer

 

ENHANCED VISION:

The reason that the vast majority of translators offer editing or proofreading services on top of their translation work is that the move is such a natural one. Editing and proofreading your own work is a vital cog in the translation process and learning how to do it as effectively as possible is of utmost importance.

The difficulty when going through your own work is that your proximity to the text makes it more difficult to spot errors – you unconsciously read what you intended to write and your intimate knowledge of the source text’s subtleties offers you a privileged reading position that won’t be shared by your target audience. As such, the key concept to work on is distancing yourself from the text to the point of reaching an objective, uninformed position from which to assess its suitability (or as close to that as possible).

There are many different suggestions on how to best achieve this distance and to efficiently correct your own writing (examples include changing the font and size of the text you’re working on, printing the text out and working from a hard copy or reading the text back-to-front) but ultimately the best method is different for everybody. Personally I like reading out loud, taking breaks between readings, and using different levels of zoom when spotting errors and consider three consecutive error-free readings to be the benchmark for a completed text.

How to develop:

  • Experiment with a range of methods to find what works for you.
  • Get a colleague to correct your work and incorporate their advice into your own corrections.

One year down: What blogging has to offer

After being spoiled with a brilliant guest post on LinkedIn last time out, this post is something a little different.

I was recently made aware (by the fairies at WordPress) that my blog had turned one and thought that now would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what has been an exciting year and consider how valuable a tool blogging has proven to be in the process.

So what does a blog offer you? Why should you consider making the leap if you’re not already among the league of bloggers? Maintaining a blog is certainly a considerable commitment but I believe that the rewards far outweigh the potential drawbacks and here are a few of my own thoughts on the merits of translation blogging:

1) Developing relevant skills

When I started out with my blog, I had little idea of the direction I wanted to head in and it was primarily a place to write about something I love. I was full to the brim with translation-y goodness and needed somewhere to share it. Beyond this, however, it was also a means through which I could work on my writing ability within a context of my choosing and has allowed me to increase my familiarity with different styles of content and work on different way of making topics more dynamic and appealing. While it may not seem instantly relevant, all of these skills are key aspects of a translators’ continuing development.

2) Demonstrating your know-how to potential clients and contacts

While not all of my posts are technical essays on complicated subject matter, far from it, I hope that they at least demonstrate that I know my subject well and this is one of the most valuable tools that a blog can offer. If you’re an expert in your field, then why not show it? With so many translators out there – many of them sharing the same specialist areas as you – a blog provides a platform to show off your knowledge and show that you know how to get that information across. What’s more, while you can’t encapsulate all of your knowledge into the few pages deemed acceptable in an application, a link to and a mention of your blog in your CV allows you to direct potential clients to a wealth of additional information and clients will certainly be interested in having a look at what you’ve been writing about.

3) Expanding your horizons

While at first it may prove difficult to get your content out there and get noticed, you’ll quickly find that there’s always an appetite for interesting/informative/different content. I’m a strong believer in the value of social media for freelancers and it is here that you will find the best paths to expansion. Sharing content has really helped me to integrate and interact with the Twitter translation community and this in turn has led to the development of strong ties with new contacts and clients alike. Furthermore, as your content finds its way further afield, you will see improved visibility on other platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, even without a concerted personal effort, and this can only be a good thing for your business.

4) Letting people know a little bit about yourself

While my blog is by no means a personal sound board, the very topics that I choose, the way that I try to get information across and the manner in which information is presented all serve to give a strong representation of the person that I am. In an industry where people want to work with people, and not nameless machines, this is a valuable asset. As Sara discussed in her guest post last time out, this is vital to your growth as a business and blogging represents an invaluable means of demonstrating that personal touch.

5) Giving something back

Ultimately, one of the main things that I want to achieve when writing a post is for people to enjoy the content and take something (however little) away from it. The translation community is filled with excellent blogs and articles that help no end in your professional endeavours and it is great to be a small part of that and give a little something back.

Finally, I just want to thank everyone who has read and shared content during this exciting first year and I hope that there will be plenty more for you to enjoy in the coming years. Ciao!