Process and pragmatism: the story of my year

Process and pragmatism: the story of my year

It’s probably significant that 12 months ago I took a conscious decision not to look back on 2020. The first year of COVID didn’t seem like something I wanted to spend too much time dwelling on and I broke with my habit of writing a review of the year. Despite the continuing menace from the disease, though, this year seems a little more worthy of consideration.

Overall, it’s been a reasonable year, workwise, just as 2020 was in fact. There’s still plenty of work to be done and there is still a living to be earned from translation. I have found new clients and I have been particularly delighted to recover old ones who’d disappeared during the worst of the pandemic, notably a company that runs several live music venues in Barcelona which I was especially pleased to see return because it meant that restrictions were finally lifting and concerts were returning to the city. Sadly, the latest wave of the pandemic has closed its venues again, but we can only hope that it won’t be for too long.

If there were two themes to the year for me, they were process and pragmatism. For some time, I’d been unhappy with my translation process, as I discussed in a post written in June. And the solution I found, and which I’m still applying, came from an unlikely source: machine translation. As I discussed in another post, I decided to use MT to provide me with a rough first draft after realising that the quality obtained was actually very similar to the first drafts I was already producing myself. My idea is to use automatic translation not to work more quickly but to do a better job, as it gives me time to add an extra round of revision with the aim of getting my final translation further away from the source than ever. So far, the results seem to be good and I’m much happier with the work I’m producing these days.

Anyone who has read these blogs before will know that until my recent change of heart I was firmly opposed to MT. As with all tools, though, it’s a question of how you use it. Rushing to clear up the mess made by a machine, which is the only possible approach under poorly paid PEMT or post-editing, is never going to be satisfying or worthwhile. But I use the machine’s output merely as a basis for creating a better translation – better because I can use all the time I save not having to spend hours creating a rough draft on working hard on the areas of the text that really need my attention. Instead of hacking my way through the jungle of words to reach the meaning, I’m soaring above them, dipping down when necessary to resolve a knotty problem but in general able to take a much broader view of what the text is about and how to structure the translation. I’m convinced it’s a step forward and not a defeat.

Considering the use of machine translation would have been impossible without a new pragmatic approach which I adopted in direct response to the reality of working in pandemic times, as I discussed in a post at the beginning of the year. I was worried that I’d lost my balance and that perhaps I’d been thinking too much about improving my translation for its own sake and not enough about attracting, keeping and satifying clients. In my new approach, I’ve been trying to price a little less ambitiously and offer the quality clients actually want, rather than what I believe they ought to have.

Part of this is an acceptance of where I am in my career. If I were younger and unattached, I still believe that dropping most of my existing customers, doubling my rates and spending the next two years earning very little but looking for new high-paying clients, as I know some others have done, would be a valid and probably a successful strategy. But I am nearer to the end of my career than to the beginning. My aim is not to break new markets at all costs, it is to continue to earn as much as I can for as long as I can. And with that in mind what I need to do is to keep the clients I have while still attracting new ones at reasonable rates. In these circumstances, deliberately sacrificing what I have in the hope of making potential gains in the long run simply isn’t cost effective.

Pragmatism has also meant accepting that in COVID times translator conferences have to be online. I’ve never been a great fan of this format, but in April I was asked by MET to host a medley of talks about specialisation, something I’d already presented on. Not only was it a great deal more enjoyable than I’d expected, but it seemed to go very well and everyone appeared happy with my contribution, so much so that I was asked to host a track on one of the days of the METM21 Online conference in October, which I wrote about here. Despite the relative success of the online format, though, I’m hoping that next year’s MET conference, due to be held in San Sebastián, and the various other translator conferences planned for 2022, will confirm the return of the in-person format.

During 2021 my blogging has become a little irregular as I’ve suffered from what I described in this post as blogger’s block. I even considered dropping the blog altogether if I couldn’t keep it up. But in the end, as the post describes, I found a solution in the form of recording voice notes to make the most of all the ideas I have and I’m hoping to continue into 2022 and beyond. Thank you very much for reading me for what’s been more than seven years now and a very happy New Year to you!

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