Freelance Translating, Starting Out, Translation, Uncategorized, Work

When I was starting out, I wondered a lot on how long it took people to get to where I want to be. How did they start? What were the logistics? Many translators do it part time, or have another job, or rely on a spouse for most of their household income, which are all perfectly fine ways to be a translator. My point is that as a career, I think it’s important for me to share how long it took for me to rely on translating as my main income, and how I got there. This may be helpful for others who are in a similar situation and seeking to get where I am. So here’s a little timeline to let you know my particular path (which again, was not the only way, or the best way, to pursue a career in translation. It is just my own and I hope that being transparent may give others some honest insight on the logistics of pursuing this path).flowers-desk-office-vintage

May 2009: Graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison with a BA in French and a Certificate in African Studies. When I started the program, I thought I wanted to work in Francophone Africa for an international development organization, using my language in some way. By the time I graduated, I decided I didn’t want to work abroad full time anymore. And I didn’t want to teach French (nor had I pursued the French Education degree anyway). I really didn’t know what I would do, so I just focused on getting any job I could to pay the bills.

2009 – 2010: Stayed in Madison, working in restaurants and teaching dance.

August 2010: Volunteered in Haiti with All Hands Volunteers for 3 months in Leogane, Haiti. Got to use some language skills while working with Haitians.

January 2011: Needed a change after the tremendous experience of working in Haiti. Picked a place on a map, and moved to Charleston, SC. Worked at restaurants and lived by the beach.

December 2011: Wanted to do something using French, so found a volunteer translator opportunity on Idealist. Started translating PR and website information from French to English for Humanium. Started researching professional translation.

January 2012: Took online course through NYU professional studies: Introduction to French to English Translation. Started building a resume and creating profiles on translation job sites. Started looking into CAT tools and learned to use Wordfast Anywhere.

June 2012: Moved back to Madison, WI. Got job speaking to Quebecois customers in tech support for a fitness equipment company. Loved speaking to Frenchies and learning about the Quebecois dialiect; hated working in tech support.

November 2012: Got my first regular paying client (agency) and did sporadic translations part time around working full time. Quit tech support and got a job as a project manager at a local translation agency.

February 2013: Realized that translators had it way better than the PMs. Quit job as PM to go back to working part time at a restaurant and hoping I’d get enough part time translation work. Got a few new clients, but wasn’t getting that much translation work (very sporadic). Kept reaching out to new clients periodically and getting some work here and there, but not a solid income. Started working at the restaurant full time.

May 2013: Realized I was going to get booted off my parents insurance soon, so I needed to find a full time job with benefits. Got full time job working for a Fair Trade organization in Madison, WI. Loved the job: combined my interests in international development with my skills in customer service. Still did some translations part time on the side, and did a few translations from organizations we worked with in Mali. Traveled to Haiti for work in 2014, and thought about starting my own fair trade business. Started it, it didn’t work.

January 2015: After receiving a promotion that I didn’t enjoy, I quit the Fair Trade organization and got a job working as an assistant for a public interest law firm. My job had nothing to do with language, but it was a good job with great benefits, and I enjoyed the people I worked with. I still was doing some translations in addition to working full time. My list of agencies was growing, but still wasn’t getting enough work offered to be substantial income.

April 2015: Sick of working the 9-5, put all my energy into becoming a freelance translator. Took proficiency tests through ACTFL and received Advanced and Superior scores (qualifying me to take the ATA exam). Updated my profiles on Translators Cafe and ProZ and started to check it every day and apply to every job offer that was in French to English. Started googling “Translation Agency” and sending my resume to multiple agencies a day. Set up a profile on LinkedIn. Joined translation Facebook groups, which has been an amazing and valuable connection. Got business cards. Created a web page. Started getting more regular job offers from different agencies. Some were low paying, but they gave me a lot of regular work, so I took it and kept working a lot around working full time at the law firm.

November 2015: After getting so much translation, told my job I wanted to go down to half time. Was able to keep my benefits while paying more for them. Kept getting new clients and more work. Applied to an online MA in translation through University of Portsmouth.

January 2016: After feeling like I finally was a “real translator,” I joined MATI (Midwest Association of Translators and Interpreters) and met other translators (and interpreters) in person for the first time in my life (prior to that, all my connections had been online). Kept receiving solid amounts of translation to keep me busy for half time. Didn’t like the Portsmouth program when it started, decided to not pursue the MA.

June 2016: Was receiving more and more regular work from different agencies. Successfully started raising my rates and earning more. Quit my other job completely to focus on translating and consulting. Got offered job to do consulting work a few hours per week for Haiti Medical Education Project. Got first direct translation client and signed on to do 20+ hours per week translating for them. Signed up for health insurance on the Marketplace. Decided to get a job serving at a restaurant 1 – 2 nights per week to get me out of the house and interacting with people, plus some extra cash.

IMG_2030Today: Translating and consulting full time, working at a restaurant part time.  Writing a blog and staying active on social media. Working from home with my dog laying in “his” chair next to me all day. I finally got there!

As you can see, my path was all over the place. I always was pursuing new things, as I would usually get bored doing one thing after a while. And I do have some sort of entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to work for myself. I also can’t stop doing more things, and although it makes my life unpredictable, it also makes it exciting.

So that was my path! I’m sure you’ll make your own, as there’s so many different trails up the same mountain.

 

 

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Life, Uncategorized, Work

102_0979As my website states under the “Public Service” Section, I hold a strong interest in Haiti stemming from me spending three months there in 2010. I have since traveled there and work to promote Haiti as a destination for adventure tourism. I am always interested in researching the current issues with international development, aid and charity in Haiti. I am also specifically interested in learning more about the linguistic complexity in Haiti, based on its complications of French and Kreyol, and how that has affected society, education, and economic advancement.

How does this fit into translation? Well, the two together helped me find some additional work. While searching for additional translation opportunities (as I consistently do in my downtime), I found a job posting for a US coordinator for the Haiti Medical Education Project. This organization focuses not on medical practice in Haiti, but solely on fostering teaching connections and developing educational materials for medical and nursing studies in Haitian universities. This method for development is much more sustainable and detracts from the “us and them” mentality and dependency of handouts and charity. Part of the position involves translating documents from English to French (which I would coordinate, but not perform myself), but also general administration, funding, and potential travel. This all fits in to my experience and knowledge of Haiti and NGOs, as well as my experience in the translation world and working remotely. So, I got hired to work in this role as a consultant, in addition to my freelance translating work that I’m already doing. It’s great for me to have a variety of work to do from home, all of which I have a tremendous interest in.

The point of this post is to show that sometimes jobs come from where you may least expect it. Keep both your eyes and your mind open to new possibilities that can coincide, supplement, and/or compliment work you’re already performing. It’s great when you find a way to combine your passions along with your professional career.

 

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Freelance Translating, Language, Translation

Book review: Lost in Translation

For my birthday, last February, I received this wonderful gift from my friend and former coworker, Eleanor. I’m just getting around to writing a review to say that it may be the perfect gift for any fellow translators (or language professionals) in your life!

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Toted as “an illustrated compendium of untranslatable words from around the world,” it features examples of many untranslatable words, along with illustrations, their origin, and definitions and explanations of their meanings in English.

As a translator, I’ve always been delighted with untranslatable words. Our job is tough, and sometimes it is really difficult to find the exact right word to make sure the translation is culturally appropriate and, often times, representative of the meaning, but not a direct translation. However, as you will see in the book, there are words in other languages that can only be defined by a paragraph explanation in English.

I find this concept of untranslatable words so riveting. Language is so complex, and it is not always equivalent. These examples are proof of why translating goes beyond bilingualism, and why it is such a complicated venture to pursue. In cases of these words, I would think a translator would have no choice but to keep the word in its original form, and insert a note containing the definition. If not, you risk losing the cultural idea behind the word and its cultural/regional application.

One of my favorite untranslatable words, which is not in the book, is “hygge.” It’s a Danish word that has many explanations. The Visit Denmark website explains it as:

Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are the happiest people in the world?

I just love this idea, probably because I live in Wisconsin where it can be cold to freezing for about 9 months out of the year. It brings such a wonderful feeling to my soul, and I want to emulate the idea of hygge throughout my life.

I’ll post one snippet from Lost in Translation.  Here are photos of the word ubuntu. I posted this because after spending a summer in Senegal in college (which, to note, is no where near where Nguni Bantu is spoken, but I was inspired by this trip anyway), I got ubuntu tattooed on my foot. A foot tat – how college, right?!

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Learn more about the book and author Ella Frances Sanders’ other work here. It’s published by Crown Publishing and also available on Amazon.

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downtime, Freelance Translating, Life, Starting Out, Translation, Uncategorized, Work

Last week I was elated. I had been receiving steady work for weeks. Mostly small projects, but I like that: I get to see the finished product sooner and it seems more tangible. On Friday, my mood went from elation…to despair. I heard crickets. I woke up Friday morning to find no request in my inbox. I came crashing down.love.hate2

To be clear, my freelance translation has been growing steadily since early 2015 (although I had been translating sporadically since 2011). In November 2015, I went down to half time at my job as an assistant at a law firm. Last month, I was getting so much translation work sent my way, and also an opportunity to start working as a freelance consultant for an NGO in Haiti (more on that later…), I decided to quit my half time job completely. This was SO exciting – it was what I’d been working so hard for! But there were prices to pay: no more 401k contributions, I had to sign up on the Marketplace for health insurance, no more paid vacation/sick days. I knew, though, that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks: this was a growing career, and I make more per hour than any job I’ve ever had even comes close to. Despite the lack of constant work and benefits,  I still think it evens out to be a far better financial situation for me, in addition to the increased benefits of me loving what I do and working from home.

So that’s the background of what’s been going on with my journey into the translation world (and why I haven’t posted in 3 months).  So now my goal has happened – I’m full time freelance! OK, well, I’m a workaholic, so I did decide to waitress again 2 nights per week at a restaurant downtown. It’s gets me out of the house, is my workout for the week, and gets me some additional spending money. So I’m now full time freelance plus serving part time. To be honest, I think it’s the perfect balance (and I would recommend working at a restaurant or something similar to any new translator because of the flexibility and because you don’t take your work home). There’s SO many benefits to having the typical 1 full time 9 – 5 job. I always knew my schedule, always knew when I was available, and could rely on a steady, consistent pay stream. Now, I don’t have any of that. But it’s because I made it that way: I’m not a 9 – 5er. I’ve never been. I’m too impulsive and just get so BORED doing one thing all the time. So now I’m full time into the hustle. Can’t stop, won’t stop!

The hustle has been going great. I had a ton of translation work even before I  quit my half time job completely. Then, I had steady work ever since. I had to turn jobs down. I negotiated higher rates because I was available for rush jobs that I wouldn’t have been able to do when I was working elsewhere half time. Things were going great, although I knew that in this business there would be downtime. But a little part of me wanted to think, “well maybe not?! maybe when you get to a certain point in your business, you don’t have to deal with downtime, but are in demand all the time?”

I’m sure that’s the case for many translators out there who are uber-experienced and have in-demand language pairs. But not for me (yet). Friday (and today, Monday), are the first days I woke up to no job requests in my inbox. I usually wake up to multiple, since I work mainly for European companies who are ahead of me. Nothing throughout the day either. I was so deflated and bummed.

I started to question myself (did I mention I’m impulsive?). Should I go back to school? Should I get an MA in translation? Maybe I should pursue something else I’m interested in as a different career instead? Should I look for other part time jobs? Should I add another language? But is my French even good enough? My mind races when it’s not busy…

I went from loving this line of work to hating and questioning it within a day. But this is the nature of the beast. And although I can definitely keep working to improve myself as a linguist (take courses, get an MA, etc.), I realized that this is what I want to do and I can’t let myself get discouraged. This lull has got to be normal, I just think it’s more pronounced to me since I don’t have a spouse or any other financial support. But financially, I’m still doing well. As I said, I make so much more per hour than before, that it makes up for any quiet times.

So here I am. Now I have time to get back to this blog, reach out to other translation companies, and do more research on other training I can do to improve my skills. It’s not so bad, it’s what I signed up for. I’d like to post again with happy news that this lull didn’t last long after all. Until then, I guess me and my career will have to just remain frenemies.

 

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Freelance Translating, Language, Translation

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  1. Translators are not interpreters. Interpreters communicate verbally between languages. Translators work with texts. Interpreters work in hospitals, for courts, at conferences, and various other capacities. Translators work solely translating a written document from one language to another, which could be used in the same settings. Documents could be of any subject and any format (word doc, pdf, powerpoint, excel, webpage, etc). Some translators are also interpreters, others are not.
  2. Translators only translate into their native language. Some people may translate texts out of their native language, but anyone in the professional translation world knows that it is standard to only translate into your native language. There are nuances that are easier to develop from a non-native language into a native language that just can’t be replicated the other direction. The goal of a translation is for it to seem like it was originally written in the target language, which can be difficult to master if you’re not translating into your native language. So, if you are looking for a French/English translator, make sure you are specifying whether you are looking for them to translate a French text into English or vice versa, as this would differentiate between two completely different people.
  3. Most translators are freelancers. There are many in-house positions for translators at various companies and translation agencies throughout the world. But, the majority are self-employed as freelancers. That means we work from home, have to buy our own health insurance, and don’t get any paid sick or vacation time. So even though we may charge a much higher hourly rate than what you would get from a “normal job,” it has to make up for all these benefits lost. And although there’s plenty of work out there, we have to constantly hustle, market ourselves, and negotiate to find it.
  4. Translators use technology as aids. There is something called a CAT (computer assisted translation) tool. There are many different brands of these tools that many of us use enhance our skills and make our work more efficient. The software saves terminology that we have already translated, allowing us to stay consistent with the terminology we choose. It also does all the formatting for us, so we are able to focus on just translating the words (which saves an incredible amount of time). CAT tools also can assist by supplying machine translations (think Google translator), which then is edited to make actual sense.
  5. Fluent is a relative term. Fluent means “spoken or written with ease.” Many people translate texts from languages that they can’t speak well. With the available technology, resources, and specific training, translators can effectively provide an accurate translation even if they are only at an intermediate level in that language. Due to the similar structures many languages, translators can easily learn and add on additional languages to translate into their native language. As we develop our translation skills, we may lose the other language skills that aren’t used every day anymore. If this is the case, however, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t proficient (or fluent) in a language. It only means that they are proficient  in using that language in one very specific way more so than other ways.
  6. Being bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate. Being a translator is like being a kicker on a football team. The kicker and the quarterback are both football players. The kicker maybe in a time of need could throw the ball in desperation, but he is by no means skilled as a quarterback. But, they are both football players. Just because someone is bilingual, it doesn’t mean they can translate well. On the other hand, just because someone translates between two languages perfectly, that doesn’t mean that they would be able to interpret or use both languages in a business setting. Translating, like being a kicker or a quarterback, is a very specific skill (have I said that enough yet?).
  7. Translators have subject specializations. Just because I am a French to English translator, that doesn’t mean I can translate any texts from French. A medical study, an engineering document, or a scientific patent would probably include too many terms that I don’t even understand in English. This is why many translators have specializations. They could have gone to school for certain subjects or have professional experience in other fields. Sometimes it’s just what a translator has translated the most of over the years, so they get very familiar with the terminology and texts that way. Going back to the football reference, there are even different kickers for punting and kicking field goals. Translation is just as specialized! Some specializations include: financial, legal, literary, medical, and engineering. But they can be as specific as specializing in organic cosmetics or oil and gas.
  8. There are many processes to translating. When documents need to be translated, it is a multi-step process that is done by multiple translators in the same language pair, and often with the same specialization. First, a document is translated by a translator. Then, it should be edited by a second translator, who reviews the translation and terminology, corrects any errors, and enhances the translation in terms of style or word choice. Third, and this could be done by anyone who is native in the target language, someone proofreads the final text without paying attention to the translation from the source text. This is purely to ensure proper grammar, spelling, fluidity of word order, etc. Some translators do all of these steps, others only do certain ones.
  9. Translators can get paid per word, per hour, per page, or per project. The payment format depends on which step in the process you are doing (see #8). Usually translations get paid per word, usually anywhere from $0.06 – $0.20 per word. This range is huge and can depend on the demand of the language pair, the amount of translators working in that language pair, the degree of specialization, and the translator’s years of experience. Editing and proofreading can be paid per word at a reduced rate, but often are paid per hour. Some other arrangements can be made such as per page or a lump some for an entire project, sometimes even including royalties (sometimes done for literary translations). In translation, like most professional fields, you get what you pay for.
  10. Being a translator is awesome, but it can be hard. If you love languages and want to use your skills to earn a living, translating may be just for you. It’s a specialized and sometimes tough profession, and it can be difficult to break into. But when you get there and keep working at it, it can be glorious. Read my post here about the main benefits and drawbacks of being a freelance translator.
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Freelance Translating, Starting Out, Translation, Work

I love being a translator for many reasons. However, when I talk to students who are interested in translating, I can’t emphasize enough that it’s hard. I’ve seen a corrected image of the quote “Good things come to those who wait” to “Good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up.” That’s the truth! Here, I’ll outline the top three benefits and drawbacks I’ve experienced that you should really consider if you are interested in freelance translating:

Benefits

  1. Working from home. I love working from home. I get to spend more time with my dog, and my future children. I can listen to any music if I
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    Working from home means I get to spend my working hours in the company of my furry coworker – which means he always wants to be on my lap!

    want to. I can work in my pajamas! I don’t have to waste time/money on getting to and from work, and worry about parking. Working from home for me is very motivating. My biggest motivator is myself, which possibly comes from working as a waitress for so long where the harder I was willing to work, the more money I would generally make. However, some people hate working from home. They cannot stay motivated. They need to get out, have that time to and from work in the car, and be in a place where people keep them accountable. This isn’t true for me, but it may be for you. Really think about how motivated you are at home: in college, could you get work done at your apartment, or did you need to go to the library to stay motivated? Try volunteering to do a translation for an organization; are you able to meet the deadline despite all the other priorities in your life?

  2. Working as much as I want, when I want. This goes along with working from home, but it has more to do with time and earnings. I have the freedom to go to the dog park in the afternoons instead of after work when it’s already dark. When I have a doctor’s appointment, I don’t have to take off work for it. Freelancing allows me to easily volunteer at local organizations that I care about. I don’t have to take off work to have a handyman come fix something in my home. Sometimes I just want to watch the Ellen show at 3 pm, so I’ll watch that then work later into the night. As a freelancer, you can also work as much or as little as you want. If I want to take a vacation, I just don’t accept work at that time. Granted, I won’t get paid, but then when I come back I can work overtime if I want to make up for it. Not to say you can’t do any of these things with a normal job, it’s just a whole lot easier when you are self-employed and you are the master of your own schedule.
  3. Using what I studied and doing what I care about. For me, this is big. My major in college was French. I worked for a bit in technical support answering calls from Quebec, but that was not an ideal job (I hated working in a call center), even though I got to use my language skills. Since I didn’t want to teach and didn’t see myself going into academia, I never thought I would ever be able to earn a living off of what I spent all that money and time to study. Translating allows me to use my language skills every day. Using the skills that you (and/or your family) invested so much time and money in developing? And also using skills that you really enjoy? That’s a blessing. It’s also wonderful to be able to prove people wrong who thought I wasted my college by being a French major. 🙂
  4. Job security. It’s been said that translation and interpreting is the fastest-growing career in the country. This article sites a recent report by Career Builder to put this growth into numbers: “According to the report (which collects data from 90 government sources), the industry is expected to add about 12,400 jobs between 2014 and 2019, or a 36 percent increase.” Another statistic from the same article states: “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also predicts a 46 percent increase in translation job opportunities between 2012 and 2022—much higher than the 11 percent average growth for all careers.” The only other occupation with a higher growth rate, according to this report, is home health care aides (due to aging baby boomers). Why is our field growing so incredibly fast? Immigration into the US is growing; there is an increased number of residents in the US whose first language is other than English. Schools, public service agencies, governments, hospitals, even professional sports teams are required to have interpreters on staff to serve these immigrants. The other reasons is that globalization is growing exponentially, due to technology that is rapidly connecting the world more and more. Businesses are expanding to other countries, and need their communications to do so as well. Translators and interpreters are needed more and more across our country, even despite advances in machine translation.

Drawbacks

  1. Inconsistent. As a benefit, I said there is a joy to working as much or as little as you want. But, I cannot lie and say that you always will have just as much work as you want, especially when starting out. Sometimes, you may not even have as much work as you need to pay the bills. That’s just the reality for those starting out as freelancers. There will be bad weeks or months. Then there really be really fricken good weeks or months where you have more work offered to you than you can handle. The Savvy Newcomer blog recently had a good post about what to do in your downtime (read it here). Slow times can be especially hard to manage, however, if you’re single. Because even though it’s good and necessary to spend time marketing yourself and looking for the big fish clients for the future, we all have bills that need to be paid right now. Stay tuned for a future post about my recommendations on how to manage this when starting out.
  2. Constant hustle. Being a freelancer is a constant hustle. It may not be so further down in your career when you have decades of experience and marketing under your belt. But I hear of people who have been translating for 10+ years who still come to a point where they need to find new clients. For a normal job, you go in, do your work, and leave. As a freelancer, it’s a constant hustle. A hustle to market yourself. A hustle to find clients. Even after you’ve got a good client list, it doesn’t stop there. Because then you hustle to find better paying clients. You area constantly having to learn – both about your language pair(s) and the industry. You have to update you CAT tool to the newest version. You are constantly updating your website/social media accounts/translator website profiles. The hustle is real, but it can be wonderful. For me, the hustle keeps me interested and motivated. Because it’s completely self-reliant: how much I want to put into my freelancing and earn. If you don’t feel like you can constantly be improving your skills, online presence, and client list (by finding new clients or better clients) in addition to the actual translation work you do have, this business may not be for you. There’s a funny image that says “JUST a translator? I’m an accountant, IT support, marketer, manager, director, personal assistant, account manager, and translator.” So true sometimes.
  3. Working long, inconvenient hours. One of the biggest benefits of working as a freelancer translator is the freedom of your schedule. One of the biggest drawbacks of being a translator is the freedom of your schedule. Sometimes, because of all the other activities I have going on, and I know I can work whenever I want to, I’ll be working well into the night. Sometimes, when I am really in need of more work, I have to work all weekend. That means that when most people are having coffee in their pj’s and watching netflix, I am up at 7 am on a Sunday at my computer doing work (although I am definitely also in my pj’s in this scenario) and thinking about lazing about drinking coffee and watching netflix. This is especially true when you are starting out. Sometimes you need the job, and that job is due in 24 hours. So I have to cancel plans sometimes. You may not be working more than full time hours every week, but the hours you do work sometimes are inconvenient due to on tight deadlines, desperation for jobs, and time zone differences.
  4. No benefits, especially if you’re American. This may be the most important drawback, particularly if you’re single. As a self-employed freelancer, you don’t get the benefits normally offered by full time work: sick pay, vacation pay, and health insurance. Granted, these days in the US there are many people who work at full time jobs that aren’t offering benefits to them either (service industry, etc.). But thankfully, the Marketplace has given freelancers the ability to buy affordable health insurance. It may not be as affordable as when an employer pays for some or most of your premium. But this is one of the reasons why freelancers often are said to ask for 2 – 3 times more in pay than they would make per hour at a normal job, to offset these costs. Think about how much you would need to make per year to offset the time you don’t get for paid sick or vacation leave. These are important aspects to consider when thinking about pursuing freelancing.

These are many other benefits and drawbacks, but I wanted to focus on the actual day-to-day working environment of being a freelance translator.  Being a freelance translator can be difficult. But for me, the struggles are well worth the benefits I get out of it. But that all depends on your lifestyle, values, and personal situation.

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Freelance Translating, Language, Translation, Work

One of the main questions I get asked when I say I’m a translator is something along the lines of “why don’t companies just use Google to translate things?” or “are you worried that technology is going to replace your job?”

Well the answer is because machine translation will never be good enough. There are too many nuances, false cognates, slang, and expressions that Google will never be able to understand the context for. However, machine translators are good. I mean, sometimes I’m impressed with how good they are (although I cannot attest to how good it is for any other language combinations)!

Am I worried that my job will be replaced with technology? Absolutely not. First of all, see the previous paragraph. Second of all, increasing technology means increasing global communication. It means companies are expanding more easily into international markets with technological advances. This will lead to an increased need for international communication, and, you guessed it, real human translators.

Example: I did a text for an event planner’s website that had the phrase “une scénographie aux petits oignons.” Literal, machine translation translates this to “setting the scene with little onions.” However, “aux petits oignons” is a French saying that means “with great care.” Thankfully, because I’m a real human being, I was able to translate this correctly as “setting the scene very carefully.” Translating slang and common phrases like these can be very hard to do in a second language, which is why us translators do extensive research on our texts. For example, a friend of mine used the phrase “that dog won’t hunt” in a discussion. I had no idea what this phrase meant, which I then learned means “that idea isn’t going to work.” It made me realize how we are constantly learning language, even our mother tongue and even when we don’t realize it!

This post was inspired by a hilariously weird video posted on Time’s website today. It features a women who put the lyrics from Adele’s “Hello” into Google translate from language to language, and then finally back into English. The results are amusing and make no sense, again solidifying the fact that machine translators will never replace us! I get such a good laugh from bad translations that were either done by machine translators and/or people who really have no translation skills. These bad translations give me job security, and also remind me how valuable the skills that I have to offer and have worked so hard for are. In a nutshell, seeing these failures just makes me feel good about myself!

For a good laugh, see the Hello translation video here.

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Freelance Translating, Language, Translation, Work

So what is a linguist? Should us translators call ourselves linguists? I had this debate recently on one of my online networks, Standing Out, which resulted in some mixed feelings. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary,  a linguist has two definitions:

  1.  a person accomplished in languages; especially :  one who speaks several languages

  2.  a person who specializes in linguistics

So can I call myself a linguist? I believe so and I do in a way. My business cards say “French to English linguist” because I do more than just translating, although that is my main focal point. But I also edit and proofread other French to English translations, as well as proofreading English texts translated from any source language. Additionally, I speak to students about careers in languages and blog about the translation industry, language learning, and my lifestyle as a freelancer. It’s pretty hard to encompass all of this into one title. So in a general sense, I put “linguist” on my business card with my basic contact information, then would proceed to explain the variety of services I offer in person to whoever may be interested. Because they may be interested in just one or all of these services I provide.

people-apple-iphone-writing-largeSome people said they would never call themselves a linguist, as that is a person who has a degree and/or studied linguistics. I disagree with this sentiment, first of all because I concur with the definition that a linguist can also be someone who speaks or works in multiple languages. Secondly, because my major in college was French; I do not have a degree in translation. I still am a translator because that it exactly what I do. Just like people who major in music aren’t necessarily “musicians,” they may teach, administer music programs, etc.

For me, describing what my title is depends on the audience. When I am meeting people in the general world and through small talk we get to the “so what do you do?” phase, I say that I am a translator, and that I translate documents from French to English to make it clear that I’m not a hospital interpreter (which is always the first assumption and next question after I say I’m a translator). Saying I’m a linguist in this situation would be too vague, and I don’t really enjoy talking about myself so much in the small talk way. So, I try to explain what I do as succinctly as possible.

When I am meeting people who work in the industry and/or could be potential clients, that’s a completely different story. Listing myself as a linguist on my business cards, in my opinion, is a way to symbolize all the things I do that wouldn’t all fit on one card otherwise. And unlike the previous situation of general small talk, if I am giving someone my business card, that means I do want to talk more. I do want them to ask questions about all the things I do. I do want to pursue a conversation about the industry and my specific skills and experience.

I call myself a linguist because the world of language encompasses my life: I’ve always been interested in languages; it was my major in college; I currently translate and proofread translations; I am always seeking opportunities to continue to use my second language; I speak to students about language careers; I follow news about language and language-related technology; I have an affinity for words that are untranslatable between languages; the list goes on.

So, I feel a linguist can refer to someone who specifically studies the field of linguistics. However, I also am in the party that believes that being a linguist is also a way of life, the life of someone who works with/is interested in/researches languages. And that’s certainly who I am today, and I think kind of who I’ve always been. I just didn’t know what to do with it until recently.

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Freelance Translating, French, Language, Life, Translation, Uncategorized

In honor of Valentine’s Day, and inspired by this Huffington Post Article relating learning a language to being in love, I thought I would write a little about how I strive to keep the LDR with my source language, French, alive.

sunset-hands-love-woman

So, “what is an LDR?” you may ask. It’s millennial speak for “long distance relationship.” I personally cannot attest to the experience of an LDR between two humans. However, I can attest to having an LDR with French. I was lucky enough to gain some immersion experiences in Francophone countries in 2007 and 2010. My current life situation is such that I have commitments that are keeping me in my home town in Wisconsin.

If I were to live in a French-speaking country, I would get continuous knowledge and practice in my source language, allowing me to consistently improve and increase my understanding of the language I am translating from. By living in the US, I will always maintain and develop the most up-to-date nuances of the English language, allowing my target text to be as fluid and current as possible. Both have benefits and drawbacks. I love my current living situation; it allows a connection to my roots, family, and community, and the appealing local lifestyle that goes along with that. However, this has forever been in combat with my alternative desires to be in foreign and uncomfortable situations by traveling.

So, my situation is such that I need to constantly maintain my LDR with my source language. How do I keep the romance with the language of love alive? Although they may seem obvious, here are some tips and how they help me with my LDR woes:

1. Subscribe to news in your source language

My interests in French have always been more focused on the Francophone world compared to France itself, particularly Haiti. I subscribe to newsletters from French news sources and follow many Facebook feeds related to Haitian government and news, all of which are posted in French. I don’t often dive into reading lengthy texts in French (being that I already do that enough as a translator), but getting quick snippets fed to me in the same way as all my other English feeds is beneficial. It allows me to use my language skills quickly and easily in a way that isn’t translating and so doesn’t feel like work. Beyond using language skills, it also allows me to keep up with the current culture of the Francophone world, and gives me more insight from locally written sources, instead of those coming from an American (or other English speaking) news source.

2. Join a language group in your area
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Speaking French at a cajun dinner to celebrate Mardi Gras!

Although I live in a pretty small city, I am lucky that it’s a college town and our University has a strong French program. This affords me the opportunity to participate in activities for French speakers, many of whom are not native but are wanting to continue using their French for whatever reason. OK, to be honest I haven’t been very motivated with this due to all the other very important stuff I have going on my life (such as wanting to sit home snuggling with my dog and making fun of the Bachelor). BUT, I did just attend my first event last week at my University’s French House (French speaking residence hall). They have weekly Wednesday dinners and Friday lunches that are open to the public, and you must speak French while you’re there. What I confirmed: speaking French is very different than translating it. It’s all under the umbrella of linguistic skills, but translating is such a refined skill which is pretty much all I do. Suffice it to say, I felt that my speaking skills were sub-par (although others told me it was fine), but that’s what the experience is all about – practicing with others who are in the same boat as you. See if your city has an Alliance Français, which is active in many cities (not in mine unfortunately) or look for a French Meetup group in your area that you can join. Dive in with other speakers even if, like me, your speaking skills are out of practice.

3. Take a language class as a special student

This is something I always consider, to the point where I sign up and then dis-enroll because I have too much translation work to keep up with. As I stated before, my local University and alma mater has a wonderful French program. Look into options to enroll as a “special student” at your local University or technical college. Taking a 3 credit course would be an excellent way to practice speaking and be engulfed in your source language, if only for a few hours per week. You can’t often audit language classes since they are based on participation, but when it’s relatively affordable to enroll in a class as a special student. This also would give me the opportunity to pretend like I’m in college again, before all the worries of real adulthood began, sigh…

4. Watch movies or listen to music in your source language

We have so much access to media from all over the world. Netflix carries tons of foreign films. If you’re really good or dedicated, you could rent some movies and not put the subtitles on. But even if you keep them on, watching a movie in French gives me the opportunity to just hear the language again, which organically feeds into the development or maintaining of my language skills, in my opinion. Listening to music is another option to stay connected to your source language. Again, I may not understand all the words (but how often does that happen anyway when listening to English songs?), but regardless, it’s an opportunity to hear the language that I don’t get anywhere else.

5. Do short term immersion experiences

This is also something I always look into. There are so many short term immersion experiences, particularly in the summer, at colleges or language schools throughout the world. There’s so much variety: you could do a structured, academic university program, or you could volunteer in your source language country for a few weeks (please make sure it is a sustainable and locally-supporting volunteer project!). If you’re on a budget, sign up on Work Away or WWOOF to combine language immersion with working, for which you get your room and board paid for. How about planning a road trip using the Roadtrippers app (or better yet, use Go Pet Friendly to bring your furry friend too!) through an area that speaks your source language? I loved my experiences traveling solo, but maybe go with a friend or family member that doesn’t have any linguistic skills so you can do the interpreting!

6. Embrace the culture of your source language

For me, I often find that drinking French wine really connects me to my source language when translating. Maybe you should only eat bratwurst while working if you’re a German translator. Or drink a Corona if you’re a Spanish translator. OK, I’m totally kidding (and I wouldn’t recommend anyone drink a Corona unless they had to). BUT I do think there is value to finding casual ways to connect with the culture of your source language without actually doing anything language specific. We generally choose to study a language not just based on the words, but also because of the culture it represents. You are gravitated toward the food, authors, art, history, etc. Keep those interests alive in whatever ways you can! For me, I’m throwing a French-themed birthday party just because I want a theme to guide the party food and decor, so why not? See a home decoration item that relates to your language? Get it! Gift yourself with other fun language items, like these any of these ideas. Do a day trip to an art museum that showcases an artist from your source country, and do some research about them first. Blow up photos from your travels in your source language country, find some nice frames at Goodwill, and hang them in your home and/or work space to remind you of past experiences.

These are just some ways to keep the LDR alive when you are working as a translator in your target language country. LDR’s aren’t always fun, but with dedication they can be worth it in the end. After all, you can’t let a little distance get in the way of your true love, right?

What other opportunities do you have where you live that help you with your LDR?

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Freelance Translating, Starting Out, Translation, Uncategorized, Work

The results are in! OK, it’s only a small pool (52 respondents), and bear in mind that this was a quick, informal survey. But it’s still a decent idea of some translator demographics!

I’m giving a presentation to my alma mater’s language students about translating as a career choice. To give them an idea of what the freelance translator world looks like, I posted 10 basic questions to my largest social media network, Standing Out. Here are the results!

1.

chart1

I was a little surprised that most who answered were aged 25 – 34. It seems in most of my experience networking, both locally and remotely through social media, most translators seem to be older. Although, my impression was that most translators are 35 – 55, and that is shown here if you put those two groups together.

2.

chart 2

I find it particularly interesting (but not surprising) that 75% of translators live in Europe. In my opinion, this is for a few reasons: 1. Europeans are just more lingual that Americans are because they have to be; 2. Access to healthcare is much different in Europe than it is here; it’s harder for Americans to go freelance due to needing full time jobs with benefits (health insurance); and 3. Secondary education is also much cheaper in Europe than in the US; people can get multiple degrees and change careers without as much financial risk.

3.

chart 3

This coincides about my point in the second question. Most translators are in Europe, and most European secondary education is much more affordable than in the US. Although, thankfully, many university translation programs are done via distance, due to the nature of the business. This means that even us Americans can benefit from their affordable educational offerings sometimes! I’m always considering my options for possibly continuing my education, and thankfully due to the growth in the field of translation, new programs seem to be sprouting up all over the world.

4.

chart4

This surprised me! I was under the impression that many other translators had another part time job in addition to translating. The large majority translate full time with no other income (although this doesn’t take into consideration if they rely on a spouse or any other person to contribute to their household income) – good news for newbs! Until I can mooch off of a spouse’s insurance, I need to keep my part time job to retain health care coverage. It also offers me a little more comfort by getting a consistent paycheck (even if small), and makes me get out of the house instead of just sitting around in my pajamas…although being “full freelance” is certainly my long-term goal!

5.

chart 5

This is probably what those interested in translating want to know the most. And – wow – the answers are encouraging! I am happy to see that most translators are making a very good income. Even though it’s a hustle and it takes time to build into a career, you can see that it certainly pays off for many translators!

6.

chart6

I was also surprised by this – I thought most translators would be certified based on many job postings that I see on various job forums that request it. It makes me feel more comfortable since I am not certified yet, although I am also in the bulk of translators that hope to someday (planning on taking the exam this year!). I want to point out though, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that in the US the ATA is not a legal or government “certification,” although it is a valuable credential.

7.

chart7

I think there is value to being able to show you are a member of an association to clients. Membership also provides you with the opportunity to attend networking events that may not directly lead to clients, but can offer you the personal connections and sense of community that lacks when you’re self employed. I’ve come to learn that across countries, membership eligibility requirements for translation associations varies dramatically. In some countries you need to have high credentials, in others it seems any linguist with an interest in translation can join by paying the membership dues. Do you own research and see if being a part of one might benefit you!

8.

chart8

I was surprised that the large majority of translators started so young. I was thinking that many transitioned into translating after working in other fields for a while. However, this probably takes into account people like me who did paid translations for about 5 years before I REALLY started calling myself a translator (getting consistent work and not just a few jobs throughout the year). Either way, this emphasizes the point to start as soon as you can, despite how little work you may find – just keep doing as much as you can!

9.

chart9

This supports my opinion that you NEED to learn about CAT tools if you want to pursue being a professional translator these days. Thankfully, there’s free editions you can try before you commit to buying any one.

10.

chart10

I was surprised that most translators started translating so recently! I recognize that since I posted this survey on social media, generally younger professionals use social media more than older ones. However, it is enlightening to know that there are plenty of other translators out there who have 6 or less years of experience and still seem to be doing very well based on the answers to the other questions!

So there you have it! Are you surprised by anything?

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