Better together

Better together

Working with colleagues brings rewards

Until a few years ago, I worked in something of a vacuum. I knew other translators existed, of course, but I had very little to do with them. Then I decided to end my isolation, I joined some translators associations, began going to the occasional conference, and my working life changed. I became much more concerned about the way I was working, I began learning from other people, and I’m sure my work and my business were better for it.

Now, I’m beginning another change. Last year, I wrote a blog about quality, expressing my concern about the quality of my own work and the difficulty I was having in improving it. One aspect of this was the difficulty of charging rates that would allow me to have my work reviewed by a colleague before it is delivered to the client. I have to say, that this limitation still applies. I have, as yet, been unable to secure the clients I am looking for who will pay a good enough rate for this to be financially feasible. However much I would like to improve the quality of my work, I can’t afford to see my income affected.

But other things are possible, and in my case all of them involve working more closely than ever with colleagues. Shortly after I wrote my post about quality, I was contacted by Victoria Patience, a British translator living in Argentina who suggested a mutual revision arrangement. She brought in a contact of hers, Tim Gutteridge, from Edinburgh, who also works from Spanish to English. The three of us form what we call the “Revision Club”.


The arrangement is a simple one. Every Friday one of us (we take it in turns) submits a piece of work for review by the others. Those on reviewing duty look at it critically, make our comments and send them back. The person whose work is being reviewed looks at the comments and takes whatever lessons they feel appropriate from them. We have now been through two full rounds of revision each, and I’ve learned a series of things.

  • Tim and Victoria are fine translators. I was particularly impressed when Tim sent us what he said was a “rough draft” of a translation which I would honestly have been happy with as a final version.
  • They are also splendid reviewers. Victoria is particularly thorough and Tim, although I don’t always agree with his suggestions, is capable of strokes of sheer brilliance.
  • My translations are nowhere near as bad as I sometimes fear and still not as good as I’d like. My aim on my final read-through of any job is zero tolerance of anything that doesn’t sound like English. I’m probably still tolerating 5%.
  • This is a particularly good exercise to do with people you don’t know, just as I didn’t know either of these two translators befire we started, beyond an occasional comment by Victoria on my blog. The fresh, unbiased view of someone who has no relationship to jeopardise with their comments is very welcome.
  • Friendships based on mutual respect do form, however. We have already learned a considerable amount about one another, such as the fact that we share a love of single malt scotch whisky (very hard to get in Argentina, I’m told).
  • There are other very positive spin-offs. I have already had work and potential work from recommendations by Tim, and I would be happy to recommend either of my Revision Club partners.

The Revision Club isn’t the only initiative I’ve become involved in. I’ve also started mutual reviews, although on a much more casual basis, with another colleague, and begun a different kind of cooperation, dreamed up under the influence of large quantities of wine after the METM16 dinner in Tarragona last autumn but none the worse an idea for that. This is more along the lines of what is know as an accountability partnership with the legal translator Rob Lunn, who happens to live a ten-minute train ride from my home. Once a month we meet for lunch and talk about all aspects of work, particularly things we’re trying to achieve but perhaps haven’t quite managed, in our case especially in terms of quality and marketing. The idea is that the following month we talk again about these same things and have to explain to the other person what we’ve done in the meantime to work towards our aims. Having to account to a respected colleague for the efforts we have (or haven’t) made certainly proves a powerful incentive to actually make some progress.

These are all things any translator can do that cost next to nothing. A little bit of time and the price of an occasional lunch (even that’s not necessary, what Rob and I do when we meet could perfectly well be achieved with a Skype chat) are all that I’m spending on these initiatives, and the rewards are well worth the effort. They work because they speak directly to and from our own experiences, working with real texts and real situations. They work because we are dealing with equals and giving as much as we take. So there’s really no need for expensive courses or instagurus to tell anyone what to do. Give the right colleagues a chance and you can learn an awful lot merely by connecting with them in the right way.

If you would like to find out more about Victoria Patience, Tim Gutteridge or Rob Lunn, click on their names to go to their website or online profile.



  1. Hi Simon,
    What a lovely write-up! I’m really pleased we started Revisions Club. In the flurry of deadlines and interruptions that often seem to define freelance translating, it’s a wonderful thing to have an excuse to pause and reflect on word choices, question knee-jerk translations and ask myself "Is this actually English?" Here’s to many more rounds (of revisions and Lagavulin.

    • Thanks, Victoria. I’m also very glad we started it. It’s helped me put the emphasis in developing my business more where I wanted it to be, on trying to improve as a translator.

  2. Good tips, Simon. If I might add my 2 cents, sometimes it’s even better to buddy up with someone not related to your industry. I’m doing a sort of consulting exchange with a friend of mine working in a totally different industry, and his insights and remarks really opened my eyes more than once.

    • That’s a great idea that hadn’t occurred to me, Marco. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thanks for the write-up, Simon! For me, being involved in this is worth a 1000 hours of ‘official’ CPD. Apart from the obvious benefits (getting feedback on your work and breaking out of isolation), I think the process of reading other people’s translations and giving feedback on it is really valuable as well. And I like your intriguing comment about the suggestions that one may not agree with. Thinking about why a (respected?) colleague’s suggestions are off target is often just as helpful as incorporating the good ones.

    • Yes, Tim. I think in some ways you and I have quite different approaches in some ways but that also gives us a lot to contribute to one another.

  4. Hi Simon,

    Good to see you started a revision club. I have toyed with the idea before but have been concerned that tight deadlines would get in the way. Do you work on ‘live’ projects (i.e. that haven’t been handed in yet) and do you work on the whole file or just parts?

    Your accountability partnership is a nice idea too.

    • Thanks for your comment, Richard. In answer to your questions, we don’t normally work on live projects, although we have worked on some which may be updated at some point. And normally we work on extracts, because you can’t really expect a colleague to review a very long piece without earning anything from it.

  5. Great post, Simon! I get heaps out of our lunches. They’re both useful and fun.

    • Thanks, Rob. Me too. See you later this month!


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