A successful and eventful 12 months
This is my last new blog post this year, so I thought it would be a good idea to review 2014, a very eventful year for me.
The first significant event of the year was my Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation exam at the end of January. This was something I’d been planning to do for several years and the culmination of year’s preparation course with International House in Barcelona. Despite my many years in translation, it was a formidable test, and I tried to prepare as best I could, although seeing fellow candidates turn up for the exam with suitcases literally crammed with dictionaries was a little intimidating. More than anything I had placed my trust in a thesaurus, because, as the exam allows no use of the Internet, I calculated that, although a standard dictionary could give me the meaning of most Spanish words, the real challenge would be finding exactly the right way to say it in the target language. The semi-specialised subject papers were a particular concern, but I found, perhaps with a large slice of luck, that where one door closed another one opened. So, while the social sciences translation was a tricky piece full of unfamiliar Latin Americanisms, what was supposed to be the legal translation was in fact a historical text almost designed for me to show what I could do. And I must have shown somebody something because more than three months later, when I received my results, I was delighted to find I’d obtained two merits and a distinction in the three papers. Not having taken an exam since my journalism proficiency test, the best part of thirty years before, I would have been more than satisfied just to pass, let alone doing so well. Later in the year, on the strength of my results, I was admitted to the CIoL as a full member for Spanish and Catalan and an associate member for French.
One of the other activities I got involved in at the beginning of the year was a regular meeting of entrepreneurs in Barcelona called AfterBLE. At the beginning of the year, with everything so quiet, I felt the need to get out and do a bit of marketing, and I went ot one of the AfterBLE meetings in bar in the city intended for entrepreneurs. I spoke to a few people and made one or two contacts, but I quickly realised that the only way of making the most of these meetings was to take the opportunity they offered of speaking to the whole group for two or three minutes. The problem was that at the first meeting I went to I wasn’t prepared. Although at the time it felt a bit like chickening out, I decided to resist the temptation to have a go and wait until next time, in February.
I prepared some material – material that would also form the basis for my website copy later in the year – and went to the next meeting. There, I stood up and spoke to the group, something I would never have believed myself capable of, as I’ve never felt comfortable speaking in public. So I was very pleased when a member of the audience actually approached me afterwards and told me my presentation was the best one of the night. Despite the sense of achievement, though, I don’t believe my efforts have brought me a single customer. The lesson is two-fold: on one hand, it is possible to overcome your fears and achieve things you thought were impossible. And yet, on the reverse side, doing that guarantees you precisely nothing. Marketing is all very well, but the results can be slow or non-existent.
For the early months of the year, I was also preparing what was to become this website, choosing a designer and writing my copy, which I then had translated into Catalan, Spanish and French. It was far more work than I had realised, and it was not fully operational until July. Despite the delays, all this was very exciting and I was delighted to have a proper, professional online presence at last. But there are parallels with my public speaking experience, because I have to confess that my website hasn’t brought me the customers I had hoped. Hardly anyone comes to me saying they’ve found me that way, although it is useful as an online calling card. After all, it’s much more impressive to direct would-be customers there for information instead of sending them a CV. The much-vaunted SEO, meanwhile, is like Father Christmas – it’s a seductive idea but you don’t always get what you expect, and there’s more than a little suspicion that it may not even exist at all.
After the summer, in September, I went on a day-long course organised by Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET) to learn about corpora, and particularly about an online gadget called WebBootCat that can help you build your own. Corpora are collections of texts on a particular subject that help you with the eternal question “But how do we say that in English?”. The beauty of WebBootCat is that it can build you a corpus from scratch in a very short time – all you need to do is enter “seed words” and it goes about its business. So, for example, if you were translating a text about Formula 1 racing you might enter “Formula 1” “Grand Prix” “World Championship” “motor racing” and “car”. The program would then search the Internet for sites containing combinations of these words and process them to build a corpus, which you would then be able to search to see if a phrase you’d chosen for your translationranslate was actually used in texts about Formula 1. You can build a corpus in the background on your computer in less than the time it takes to finish even quite a short translation. So, by the time you reach the point where you want to edit your work, you will have a useful tool ready to help you find exactly the right words and phrases. WebBootCat forms part of a paid-for set of online tools called the Sketch Engine, although a free trial is offered. I decided to buy it and I’ve had no regrets, as I am now the proud owner of corpora covering all kinds of subjects ranging from electronic music to hair styling appliances.
The excellent training offered this year by MET didn’t end there. At the end of October I decided to attend its annual conference at El Escorial, near Madrid. It was the first real translation conference I’d been to and I was impressed by the organisation and the calibre of many of the speakers. Perhaps most useful of all, in a practical sense, was a session on another interesting tool: IntelliWebSearch. This is a way of launching Internet searches directly from your translation, whether you’re working directly in Word or from a CAT tool – in my case MemoQ, without having to go through the tedious intermediate steps of opening your browser and finding the search engine or dictionary of your choice. This might not sound like much of a saving, but if you think of the number of times you do it in even a simple translation you will start to see the time-saving possibilities. And IntelliWebSearch is so flexible, you can even personalise your searches if you like. All it requires is a few minutes to set it up as you want it. The device, which is completely free, has already saved me a great deal time and I would recommend it to anyone.
In terms of actual work, I began the year with a very quiet period, worried that I might have made a mistake in putting up my rates. I’m ending it having had my most successful year ever in terms of earnings, and, exactly as I was this time last year, on the point of putting up my rates again in the hope of reducing demand for my services to just the point I can cope with. I made the final decision to do this, just as I did last year, in the course of the Christmas party organised by the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia (APTIC). And a splendid evening it was too, just as it was last year: an excellent opportunity to have fun and chat with colleagues and friends. So, in twelve months things change, but in a way they stay exactly the same.
It only remains for me to wish all readers of my blog over the past few months a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May 2015 bring you everything you’d wish for yourself! I’ll be back in January and, if you’re missing the blog in the meantime, please feel free to dip into the archive.