Why being a translator isn’t as easy as you think

being a translatorLots of people dream of being a translator. 

Perhaps this is because you need to be very, very good at another language in order to do the job!

But how certain are you that you’d actually enjoy it? In this fascinating guest post, written by Pauline Durant, of London-based translation agency Language Reach, you’ll get an inside look at exactly what being a professional translator involves on a day-to-day basis.

Enter Pauline…


 

The life of a translator encompasses a number of things. There’s one thing one day and then something totally different in another.

As the saying goes, no two days are the same. I mean there are days where I am swamped with work and some days where I sit glued to my computer, hoping for a project to magically appear.

Why this career?

Well I’ve always been interested in languages and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in teaching languages. My native language is French, however I also speak Italian and German.

My initial vision was to teach French, but when that vision subsided I decided to find the next best formula, which for me, happened to be the translations industry.

Today I work as a certified translator and carry out regular work for a London based Translation Agency called Language Reach.

But irrespective of my unpredictable schedule and the prolonged hours spent in my own company, there’s just something that I enjoy about the challenges of working in the languages industry.

Starting my day

A strong cup of coffee, check, a 10 minute, some days 15 minute shower, check, an hour long morning run in the park, check, I’m ready to begin.

Okay, I may have made it appear as though I set myself up to do the impossible, but I’ve always believed that a good start, will help me get through any day… well hopefully for the most part.

And as I begin devising this particular article, I can’t help but reflect on my career and where I stand today. Because while this profession isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I’m glad that I’m not one of millions of Londoners that journey through the capitals transport system, on an average of five times a week. Instead, a small walking distance of approximately seven steps are equivalent before I’ve made it into work.

Challenges of being a freelance translator

Each job carries with it, good elements and not so good elements. And while the good compensate for the bad, there is no denying that challenges come with working in the translation industry.

In my previous working month, I only completed three very small projects which took me two or three hours each to complete. In these instances, I find myself worrying about my income and question how I will manage my wallet for the upcoming month.

But I knew that this would be a normal part of working as a freelancer when I chose this career, and I was ready for an unpredictable pattern in my working schedule.

Still, in a bizarre way, my working schedule is a juxtaposition of some sort, it’s one of the best elements of being a freelance translator and yet at times, a daunting factor.

Not knowing what my timetable may look like in the following week, let alone the following month is something that I’ve learnt to juggle.

And although a challenge, one of the main objectives in becoming a freelance translator was to have control of my working calendar. I guess I can’t have it all!

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Dealing with unhappy clients

Any freelance translator knows that a good reputation multiplies the likelihood of getting a job, and which in turns creates fewer challenges.

And irrespective of how thorough you are about your work as a translator, let’s put it out there. There isn’t a single translator who hasn’t dealt with a challenging client.

Yes, I’ve been there are will probably come across this type of client in the future. These sorts of affairs are guaranteed to happen, but more than anything, it’s really important to remember that your reputation is on the line, so it’s best to avoid complicating an already tricky situation.

I’ve always been steadfast in maintaining a reputable name for myself as a translator, which is why I typically steer clear of problematic circumstances.

Nonetheless, like any other translator out there, I’ve had an occasion or two during my decade long career that haven’t been so pleasant. And while I would prefer to brush this specific episode out of memory, I will re-live these steps that make me wince every time I remember them!

A trip down memory lane

Tthis particular dilemma occurred in the first year and a half of my career. Before this particular event, I had been working with another client for a couple of months. As a result of my good work, I was referred to a new client. So naturally, I was delighted about the opportunity.

The actual project itself took me two days to complete. I can just remember being really adamant on wanting to provide an excellent service because I really wanted to impress the new client. I meticulously translated and proofed the document over and over again and sent it three hours before deadline.

That should have been the end of it, unfortunately for me, it wasn’t! Not too long after sending the document, I received an unexpected phone call from a not to happy client saying that I had sent the wrong document.

“This can’t be happening” was the thought circulating my head before quickly running home to check the document that I had sent over. To my horror, I had sent the wrong project. I immediately got back to the client, apologised and sent the correct document. I almost felt like a school child being told off after really wanting to show off.

Remembering this particular incident makes me anxious. Some may call it luck or misfortune but for me, that was the first and last time working for that particular client. You can look at this situation positively or negatively or in both aspects which I do. Thankfully, my reputation wasn’t ruined which was the most important aspect of the situation, obviously aside from sending the wrong file.

My example shows that mistakes do happen, it also shows that importance should be placed on how to deal with the situation rather than just focusing on its immediate implication.

How to get the job done…my way

I carry out all my translation work in my not so big office, or more specifically my busy desk filled with paper, snacks and more paper.

And as busy as it may sound, I’ve carefully structured a system…Let’s call it my own Dexter’s Laboratory that only I know of.

My working hours are typically dictated by the amount of workload I have. Yesterday for example, I finished a translation project that I had been working on for over ten days.

Today, I sit here ready to work on a much smaller project; the translation of a conversation.

And unsurprisingly, with any job there are challenges that are thrown your way with, and for me, deadlines always linger in the back of my mind, especially when I’m working on a big project.

I’ve worked on a number of large projects and understand that they require dedication and shouldn’t be rushed. Hence why, I usually spend a number of nights tucked behind a dimmed computer screen racing against time!

A golden rule that I stick to for the most part, is to always begin a project with the intention of completing it before schedule. This isn’t to say that you should finish an assignment the day you are given it, but perhaps a day before the due date.

And from my experience of working with clients and especially those in the legal sector, they strongly live by the motto that time is money. And being the good translator that I like to think I am, I stick to that motto. Time is money! Nonetheless, as important as this element is, an error free translation is equally important.

In the early days of my career, which seem like decades ago, I was really adamant on getting all my assignments on time, I mean all I heard was “Never miss a deadline.”

And among other essential guidelines that I picked up during my studies and on the job, this golden rule has remained an integral part of how I conduct my work.

And around that time, I met a good friend of mine, who would ever so often, share some words of wisdom, he once told me: “You have to be an equally accurate translator and turnaround an equally fast service.” In other words no one will work with a translator who doesn’t complete a project on time, or precisely.

How I manage deadlines

Over the last 10 years, I have put together a structure where I have effectively managed all my deadlines. Below is a list my do’s and don’ts

  • Do create a weekly calendar highlighting all deadlines
  • Do push the deadline one day back on the calendar, e.g. if you have a deadline on 12th October, write it down as 11th October
  • If you are in the middle of an assignment (or coming to a deadline) and you are proposed with another project, don’t be tempted to take it. Think about the service you are providing and focus on completing each assignment thoroughly
  • Do have an intention to complete each translation according to deadline and not capacity
  • I’ve learnt the hard way, that it’s not all about getting a big job done first or vice versa, but it’s about allocating each project a specified time
  • And more than anything, do give yourself enough time to complete each task to an excellent standard.

I hope this blog post has been able to enlighten just some of the challenges I and my fellow translators are faced with. There’s a lot more to it than just words on the page!


 

Thanks Pauline!

So what do you think? Is the life of a professional translator for you?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

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This article was written by Olly Richards.

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  • Red/

    Hi, I heard talk about cat (computer assisted translation) software. I’d like to ask how much useful this program is on the overall work of a translator and if this depend by the kind of specialization in which prevalently a translator work in.
    Which are the resources that you consult for translating opaque passages of text? Do you relate mainly on online resources, pc programs, or researching issues on specific subjects?
    I ask all this because while reading in a foreign language I meet sometime weird turn of words, and apart from finding out if these are idiomatic or simply words and expression unknown to me, not in all cases I can manage to pull out a correct translation, maybe I understand the meaning, but not the perfect correspondence in another language.

    • Pauline

      Hi thank you for the question…CAT tools are very useful for keeping consistency in your translation project and also speed up the translation process. You can build TMs (Translation Memories) that will automatically suggest the preferred translation option used for the translation of previous segments. To put it in a nutshell, the more you translate with CAT tools, the bigger your Translation Memories will be and so you will get faster and faster with your project and at the same time more accurate and consistent.

      Nowadays on-line resources play a very important role as the web is the place where translator communities can share their knowledge, doubts and experience (Eg. Proz.com or Wordreference.com)

      There are also different online resources according to the area of expertise (Legal, Medical, Finance etc…)

      It goes without saying that it is vital for a translator to use the specialized dictionaries according to the type of contents needed for a translation. For instance, if you are translating some medical documents about intensive care medicine from French into English, you’d better have a specialized medical FR>EN dictionary and additionally do some research in your target language on the specific topic.

      The more technical the topic is, the more the translation implies research in depth. Sometimes “THE CORRECT TRANSLATION” might not exist. Translation is not like maths and most of the time 2 different translators will translate a word or an expression in 2 different ways.

      If you think that some passages are opaque, you could raise the question on translation communities and hopefully find an expert of that topic. The only thing to be sure of rendering a good translation is to be confident that the source text has been understood perfectly. Then, it is just a matter to pick up your professional tools! Hope this helps answer your question.

      • Red/

        Thanks for your accurate answer.
        Just another question. What if one chooses to become skilled in a language that is not one of the most widely used in the world: are language resources less, and consequently translate is more problematic?

  • I am a translator myself and very much agree with what you said Pauline!