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

Key Translation Skills: Write Right

Translators as professional writers

When it comes to improving your translation skills, the natural reaction is often to devote additional hours to that all-important source language savvy.

However, despite the undoubted centrality of this skill set, there remains another area that is often inexplicably relegated to an afterthought in translator training in spite of its overwhelming importance: the ability to write well in your target language.

Indeed, given the widespread nature of the misguided assumption that bilingualism equates to good translation, newcomers to the industry could almost be forgiven for thinking that foreign language skills are the Holy Grail of translation excellence. But it’s not that simple.

Translation is a product-oriented activity and, as such, your hours of hard work take the form of a target language text that is often used as the sole indicator of your ability. Quite simply, it doesn’t matter if you understood the source text perfectly if you can’t convey that mastery into your target language.

Of course, the unfortunate stereotypes work both ways: just as somebody who can speak two languages isn’t automatically a good translator, simply being able to write doesn’t make you a good writer.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips drawn from my own continuous efforts to improve that will (hopefully) help you up the level of your writing . If you have any further suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below!


 

Read ABOUT WRITING

An obvious place to start is by tackling texts that directly address the issue. There are millions of words out there devoted to the subject and we all need a few tips on grammar, punctuation, spelling and the like from time to time. Newspaper articles, blogs, infographics and even style guides are all valuable sources of information that can give you a quick boost.

Write a blog

How could I leave this little gem out? One of the main reasons for starting my blog was to provide myself with a space to hone my writing skills, focusing on my ability to share information with a specific audience in mind. Reading early posts, it is striking how much my writing has changed over the years (hopefully for the better) and this body of texts is both a sign of my ongoing commitment to improvement and a useful way of gauging progress. Give it a try.

Write for friends/FAMILY

For those of you who don’t fancy writing a blog, whether due to the hassle of committing to a regular output, shyness about sharing your posts or a desire to experiment with a new style of writing in private, why not write for friends, colleagues or family members who are willing to cast a critical eye over your efforts instead?

Of course, it’s important to find somebody with the necessary expertise and a willingness to openly offer criticism and alternative solutions rather than unconditionally praising everything you write, but feedback from a trusted source can be an excellent way to progress.

Write for websites/Publications

One thing that I’ve found to be extremely helpful over the years is writing for various websites. This provides you with the opportunity to write in a different context to the comfortable surroundings of a blog post or personal practice run, for which you can set your own flexible style guide, and also allows you to get honest feedback from experienced editors.

There are hundreds of sites out there looking for contributors and, best of all, you can target subject areas that correspond to your translation specialisms. In order to focus on my specialist area of sports translation, for instance, I worked with a number of sites writing about Italian or French football in English. Subsequently, I made several new contacts in the field who have introduced me to clients on the back of my translation and writing work for their sites.

Read Your work aloud

While feedback from a professional editor is the ideal, critically assessing your own writing remains an important skill. Self-proofing can be a tricky business as it is all too easy to become immune to the peculiarities of your own style, but I’ve always found that reading aloud makes a big difference (check out this article for some more excellent tips on self-proofreading).

If you find yourself tripping over a particular phrase when you read your writing, chances are that it is not merely a slip of the tongue but rather something in the text that is restricting the flow. Furthermore, while more elusive elements such as excessively long sentences are easily glossed over when reading your work silently, you’ll soon spot them when you’re gasping for breath after struggling past the umpteenth clause of a never-ending phrase.

READ ACTUAL WRITING

My final tip is an important one. Beyond simply writing, read texts by famous authors or professionals in your specialist area that were written in your target language. Examine their language usage, question what it is that is unique to that particular style of writing and try to pinpoint what it is that makes one text more engaging than another.


 

Ultimately, developing your writing skills is an ongoing process that will never reach a final destination. Perfection is not required but be sure to avoid complacency, there is always room for improvement.

One final caveat: please bear in mind that while the tips above will help your writing skills, it is important that they are considered with the practical application of translation in mind. Writing as a translator is a different beast to producing original texts as, rather than having an infinite selection of words and phrases at your beck and call, you are tied to the message in front of you. As such, it is more than just a case of writing well, it is about writing well within the strictest of confines.

One excellent way to hone in on writing as a translation-specific activity is to analyse existing translations alongside the source text. Beyond buying two versions of the same book, many sites/articles etc. are published in several languages, allowing you to examine what it is that the translator has done:

  • Where is the line between fidelity to the source text and the importance of conveying the core message to the target audience?
  • What is it that you like or dislike and why?
  • How does the target language version read?

Remember, there are a lot of bad translations out there so don’t blindly assume that because somebody else has opted for one rendering you must do the same, think critically and offer your own solutions.

A few thoughts, tips and tidbits on translation

A far cry from my previous post on board games, this entry revolves around several bits and pieces that I have been mulling over in my translation work during recent months. I don’t claim to be offering any concrete answers and comments and feedback would be much appreciated to hear your take on the areas discussed. Ultimately, however, I hope you will find the points interesting and practical.

Is your CAT tool really adding to your work?

First up is something that has come under close scrutiny in my working practice of late. While I readily accept that CAT tools offer so much to the professional translator, in certain contexts this is a particularly pertinent question to ask yourself.

When dealing with fairly short texts that require a substantial amount of restructuring and adaptation to be rendered fit for publication, I realised that my standard working method involving a CAT tool simply wasn’t efficient. With a mode of working based around translating sentence by sentence, I would subsequently have to completely re-work the entire draft – a process I could’ve incorporated into my initial translation process. Factor in the tight deadlines and I simply couldn’t continue using such an inefficient process.

In this case, working directly from Word has proven to be a much better alternative and it is certainly a question worth considering on future projects.

CAT Tool

How can you maximise critical reading?

By critical reading I essentially mean the process of proofreading your own work here and this was something that I really wanted to get to the heart of recently as I looked to further improve my working efficiency.

While most experienced translators will tell you to take a break from your work before going over it with ‘fresh eyes’ or, better still, sleep on it before re-reading your text in the morning, what about projects with a deadline such that a method like this is simply impossible?

One method I find to be quite useful in this situation is to walk away and have a snack before going over a text again while another that I’ve seen mentioned a few times recently is to print off the text and read a physical copy.

These two methods are far from ideal, however – the former is best avoided long-term for health reasons and the latter suffers due to cost/practicality – and therefore my suggested route is to read the text in a digital form that cannot be edited. Personally, I have found that this makes a huge difference as previewing a seemingly final Word document or watching a Powerpoint presentation in full-screen mode where no changes can be made forces you into giving the text a fresh look. Give it a try.

Practice makes perfect

I’ve said it before but it is definitely a point worth repeating: one of the most important attributes in a translator is not what they know, but how quickly 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 prevously 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.

Know how to use theory sparingly

While I am a huge translation theory geek, I’m still among the first to admit that it has very obvious limitations. No matter how well you know your stuff and how much sense the ideas may seem to make, you always have to bear in mind that 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

While Venuti’s ‘foreignising’ strategy may have an undoubted allure, the realities of professional translation dictate that textual experimentation is simply impossible while stylistic choices are based on parallel texts and style guides rather than your sense of duty to a text/culture – preserving foreignness is not the way to impress a client.

Good translation paradoxically damages the profession

As a kind of continuation of the previous thought, this point explores the idea that translation as a profession is still woefully misunderstood. The aim of theories such as those mentioned above is to address that very trend of invisibility in translation that sees texts produced to appear as if they have not been translated.

The point which then stems from this is that good translation actually reinforces this illusion of invisibility and ensures that the translation process continues to go undetected. On the flip-side, this in turn leads to the fact that the only time that translation is noticed is when it is done badly, meaning that the general picture of translation outside of its own community is shaped by things going wrong… A kind of no-win situation for the profession and a pattern that is hard to break.

It’s great to work doing something you love

But enough of that doom and gloom! The heading here says it all and it is something that is always worth remembering. I love being in a situation where I look forward to receiving new projects, interacting with new clients and tackling texts that stretch my abilities. I don’t know about you but the translator’s life’s for me!