Only Human Translators

Life after lockdown

Life after lockdown

In my last post I talked about coping with the coronavirus lockdown we’ve almost all been living with in one form or another for several weeks. This time, although the confinement seems to be continually extended, I want to look forward. What’s our professional world going to look like when all this is over? How can we face up to the future? I mentioned last time that I had been quite busy in the first two weeks of lockdown, and I’ve continued to have a good amount of work since. I’m under no illusions, though. I am very fortunate and this state is unlikely to continue. A colleague, Andreea Sepi, who lives in Germany, wrote to me after my last post confirming that I am a lucky exception. “My income has plummeted, since I was also teaching, and that’s all closed now, as lots of older language students are not fond of Skype,” she said. Most of us have seen online references to colleagues applying for the various government assistance programmes that are available in different countries, although often the conditions attached make this money difficult for self-employed people like us to claim. There is certainly no doubt that the pandemic is going to cause, and is already causing, the biggest recession any of us has ever seen. We just don’t know how many of our clients are going to survive the pandemic, or what kind of a world we will emerge into. Will people still travel and go on holiday? Will we do the same things we always used to or will our priorities change? In terms of...
The spring that never was

The spring that never was

Three weeks ago we were just beginning to get an idea that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary spring. Since then, the world has fallen in very quickly and, as I write this, it’s not at all clear how or when we’re going to come out of the coronavirus crisis. I want to look forward to what happens next, but I’m going to save that for another post. For now I would just like to document how this has been affecting my life and work and maybe draw one or two conclusions. Before the lockdown The crisis caught me just as business was picking up after one of slowest months I have ever had. After that disastrous February, March was looking good and I’d picked up one or two big projects. About the time it became clear that we were all going to end up confined to our homes, I was offered another piece of work it looked as if it would be difficult to fit in and I decided to work over the weekend to make sure I could take it on. It was already obvious that the shut-down was going to lead to a recession and I thought it was wise to take all the work I could, while it was available. That week was probably the strangest of my life. Things that, on the Monday seemed perfectly normal, like having coffee with a friend or going to the swimming pool, by the Friday seemed unthinkably dangerous. I spent the weekend between work and taking the chance to go for a couple of walks by the...
A language love affair

A language love affair

Last week, I was invited to a language awards ceremony by a good client of mine. As I’d never met any of the many people I deal with at the organisation, I thought it might be a good idea to go along and get to know them a little. So it was that I found myself at the presentation of the 7th Martí Gasull i Roig award, organised by my client, Plataforma per la Llengua, an organisation promoting the use of the Catalan language. In most countries, a language award would be a literary matter, given to a writer, or perhaps a publisher. Here, the finalists were a group of Wikipedia enthusiasts, some computer game fans and a bookshop. Because the Martí Gasull i Roig award is about services to Catalan, not use of it. In fact, it is given for defence of the language, or a notable contribution to improving its situation. For speakers of one of the world’s dominant languages, like English, this is hard to grasp. Why would a language need defending? What would be the point? But our language hasn’t been banned within living memory. And people are not, even now, commonly discriminated against or humiliated for using it. If you think I’m exaggerating, you should read some of the reports I’m asked to translate. Perhaps in order to understand you need to be in the situation I was in when I first arrived in Catalonia. I had met Marta, who is now my wife, some months earlier and I had almost immediately decided to learn her language – the one she spoke most often...
Tuning the machine

Tuning the machine

In my last post, as well as looking back at 2019, I described the changes I want to make this year in the way I work. This has led me to thinking about freelancing, and about what we can and can’t change in our businesses. I see freelancing as a series of inputs and outputs. At its simplest, we put in time and we want to take out money, but, of course, it’s all rather more complicated than that. We also invest money, paying for training courses and computer hardware and software, for example, with the idea of being able to take out more money at the end of the day. Most of us also want a little more than just money out of our work, and, to some degree, we’re looking for job satisfaction as well. Nor can we convert time directly into money. We also need have to have clients giving us work, and the need to find work means that we can’t spend all our work time earning, because we also have to sell ourselves. As well as marketing activities, we might also choose to go on training courses and do other kinds of CPD not only to improve our skills but also to look more attractive to clients. The reason rates are such a hot topic with translators is that they provide the mechanism to alter the amount of money we can make with our time. They might almost be a magical solution to all our problems except for the associated risk. If we raise them too high, we will lose work until or unless...
Out with the old

Out with the old

What kind of a year have you had? My 2019’s been strange. As I identified in a previous post, I put my basic agency rates up at the beginning of the year without properly combining this with a marketing effort to ensure I would have enough new direct clients to compensate for the inevitable drop-off in agency work. I paid for this mistake by having more slack periods, when I felt obliged to take on jobs bristling with red flags, and the predictable result has been a year of nightmare projects, some of which I have also described in another post. But the year has also had its upsides. At the beginning of the year, I took another wine course to improve my expertise in one of my specialist areas. Apart from enjoying it greatly and learning a tremendous amount about wine, I ended up with a Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET to its friends) level 3 certificate. Beyond expert knowledge that you can feed into your translations, another beneficial aspect about doing specialist CPD is the confidence it gives you when dealing with clients. Recently, for example, I went to a wine event where about 100 producers – all potential clients – had samples for tasting. Being able to go up to them, try their wine and know enough to chat to them about it with a reasonable degree of knowledge was something I couldn’t have contemplated without doing the two wine courses I’ve taken (the first one was WSET level 2). The same would apply to any specialist area you could name. In May I went...
Remember: the expert is you

Remember: the expert is you

I’m going to remember 2019 as the year of nightmare jobs. I’ve already written earlier this year about taking work I might have known I shouldn’t have accepted. This is a tale of two jobs that have more than qualified for the nightmare category, but which have ended up in very different ways. The first was just a simple-looking job involving translating a few certificates. There were no red flags or warning signs; the only complication was that the translation itself needed to be certified. Now, unlike many countries, the UK doesn’t have an established system for certifying translations. The Spanish system, for example, is well-established and the procedures are absolutely clear for those who have passed the exams to be “sworn translators”. The British system, on the other hand, is vague, with single set of proper guidelines. What filters through to translators and clients is that translations made by members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and the Chartered Institute of Linguists are accepted by official bodies if they include a certificate giving the translators’ details and confirming that their work is a complete and accurate rendering of the original. I am a member of both organisations and I’ve done a good many of these translations, so this particular job didn’t seem any kind of risk. I quoted a price, did the translation and the client – a colleague who runs a small agency – came to pick it up. Her question to me was: what if it’s not accepted? And, based on my experience with similar translations I’d done before, I made what turned out to...