Conference Myth Busting

This month, I had the pleasure of attending my first professional conference in the form of the 2019 ITI Conference. Before hand, I was pretty nervous and a little intimidated. Deciding to go to conference was big consideration both in terms of finance and time. Would the benefits really offset the costs? Would I be the weird outsider lurking on the edges of a well-established club? Would anyone want to talk to a new translator when they’re far more distinguished and experienced? Am I finally going to be called out as an imposter and banished from the community?

You’ll be delighted to know that my experience was far from these rhetorical questions. As a result, I’ve decided to explore some of the myths or unhelpful thoughts that can hold us back from professional conferences and counter them with the benefits.

Myth Number 1: No one will talk to me

Before you go to a conference it’s easy to panic and think no one will talk to you. Everyone have their friends and be in a cosy little bubble and you’ll be an outsider looking in. This is the complete opposite of my conference experience. I was delighted to find a warm and welcoming community who were happy to engage with anyone on any subject. Yes, sometimes you have to be brave and make those introductions yourself and start those conversations but isn’t that part of running your own business and networking anyway? And yes, there is a solid core of people who know each other and have genuine friendships with each other but rather than seeing this as a negative, it can be a really positive aspect. Firstly, because it highlights the fact people can and do form real friendships which is encouraging if you struggle with isolation and working alone and secondly, it also means these people can introduce you to their friends and contacts, thus expanding your own circle. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the number of people I “knew” from Twitter and it was such a delight to make those connections in person and gives you a starting point to work from.


Myth Number 2: I absolutely have to do everything


In one of my first conversations I had at conference, someone helpfully said you don’t have to do everything. It was really useful to hear this advice from someone older, more experienced and with multiple conferences under their belt. Conference is amazing – there’s a buzz of ideas, a wealth of information, hundreds of conversations to be had – but that can also make it overwhelming. A week on and I still feel like my brain is in overdrive and it will take me a long time to untangle everything I’ve absorbed and figure out when to apply it. With this advice in mind, I often popped out at lunch to have a little time to myself, digest the day so far and go back recharged and ready for action. It would be easy to feel guilty about “missing out” but hearing this advice early on was incredibly freeing and lead to a more productive conference for me.

Myth Number 3: Conference success is based on how many people you talk to

If you can talk to over 370 delegates and have a meaningful conversation with each one in approximately 20 hours congratulations – that’s a real skill! However, the reality is that it’s an impossibility for most of us. It can be really tempting to try though and run around like a headless chicken, dashing from one conversation to the next. I learned to slow down. I tried to focus on having one meaningful conversation in each break time and to actually get to know someone and find out a bit more about them. Anything else was a bonus. Cynically, you could say that this is a far better tactic in terms of finding people you want to collaborate with, which could lead to profitable work. Arguably, it is a much better tactic than having a quick two-minute conversation, chucking a business card at someone and moving on to the next person. However, it’s also a better way to build real relationships with people, to building up friendships where you can discuss the reality of your job with people who get it and people who you can have a laugh with. For me, that’s the priority with any work as a result of these connections being a lovely bonus.

Myth Number 4: No one will care what I think I’m too...

Young, old, inexperienced, weird, unconventional… fill in the blank. Sometimes it’s easy to cut yourself out of the conversation. I would encourage you not to. What I found that ITI was a vibrant community where each person had a different viewpoint which was celebrated. The programme itself reflected this, with seminars specifically aimed at a range of career stages – from newcomers, to those looking to diversify, to those wanting to give back or to explore a new field. The other interesting and encouraging thing is the variety of routes people have taken to the translation/interpretation industry. Very often, this isn’t people’s first career which leads to a whole range of opinions and backgrounds which are celebrated and add to the debate, rather than being ignored.

Myth Number 5: Everything will be too highbrow and theoretical and won’t be applicable to my daily life

It’s easy to assume that a conference will all be focused on theory and not be applicable to actual practitioners who are working at the coal face. This simply wasn’t the case. Yes, some talks were more researched focused but virtually all the speakers were practitioners themselves. To me, it appears to be a dynamic community of people wanting to share and exchange ideas and best practices. I was also so encouraged by the generosity of speakers who were happy to share their resources or take time to discuss points further. Furthermore, it provides a forum where you can learn about new developments in the industry, such as machine translation and the implications, and figure out how that looks practically in collaboration with others.

Myth Number 6: Translators and interpreters are super boring and introverted

Safe to say this one is easy to disprove! The lovely thing about the ITI Conference is the range of fringe events which show there really is something for everyone! From sake tasting, to running, to singing, to yoga, to hiking… it’s all covered! Once again, it goes to show how varied and interesting the whole community is. It’s also a lovely opportunity to get to know people personally which is essential to combat isolation and loneliness.

Myth Number 7: I can’t take time off my work, it’s far too important

It would be easy to argue that taking time off work is a luxury, that clients will suffer and that the cost will never outweigh the benefits. I’d like to suggest to you that this isn’t true. Firstly, it’s absolutely key to take time off work – whether for holiday or CPD. As a freelancer, it’s easy to feel guilty, especially as a newcomer, but one of the joys of freelancing is that freedom. Secondly, taking time off can be exceedingly beneficial. It can help get you out of a rut, it can be energising and restful and ultimately, lead to you being more productive. Thirdly, there’s the issue of expense. Yes, conferences can be expensive. However, this cost is justifiable for a number of reasons. Investing in CPD distinguishes you as a professional, it shows you take your job seriously which can be very attractive to clients. The benefits from attending conference in terms of career progression, client acquisition, diversification and networking also hugely outweigh the costs.

Ultimately, I had a fantastic, energising and stimulating time at my first conference experience. I hope that if you’re considering investing in a conference that this helps ease some of your worries and encourages you to take the plunge!



How do you keep the black dog away?

Being a freelancer can have its ups and downs and this can take a toll on our mental health. The challenges are numerous: isolation, distressing content, financial strains, long hours, short deadlines, loneliness, pressure from social media… so how can we manage all of this and keep ourselves well?

This question is particularly pertinent to me and one I spend a lot of time thinking about. During my time at university, I struggled with depression and anxiety, cumulating in having to take a year out of my studies in order to get my head back on track. Throughout this year, I also questioned whether I wanted to continue with my studies, the idea of a year abroad was terrifying. But ultimately, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It took a lot of hard work, courage and support to return to university but ultimately, it was the right decision. When graduation was fast approaching, I had the same choice again. Do I choose something safe, low risk, secure? Or do I pursue my ideal job, doing the thing I love with the freedom and flexibility of freelancing?

You can guess what I decided.

So how do we keep ourselves well and how do we make sure we value ourselves and our mental health above our jobs?

1.      Talk to people

Let people in. Talk. Share. Listen.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved. So, let’s reach out to our colleagues and ask for their opinion. They may well have dealt with a similar situation and have incredible insight to offer. Talking breaks the silence and shatters loneliness. It reminds us that we don’t have to have all the answers and shares the burden.

This is particularly crucial if we’ve dealt with distressing subject matter. I once had a pro bono job looking at the impact of Boko Harem on local communities. It was eye opening and harrowing and possibly the most important text I’ve translated to date. But it was hard. It was draining. It was relentless. For me, it was essential to have this conversation with others, to be able to feel it, acknowledge it, discuss it and move on.


2.      Give yourself safety nets

One of the best things I’ve done is to be kind to myself and put things in place to take the pressure off. I’m outgoing and can have a tendency to push myself to the limit. To stop myself crashing and burning, I’ve incorporated safety nets into my business structure. I have a month’s salary set aside so that should I ever want to leave the industry, or it didn’t work out for me, I had enough to cover my essentials. I set money aside so that I never run my accounts down completely and give myself a buffer for late payments. Wherever possible, I build a buffer into my deadlines, meaning I’m not working to the last possible minute and that I can usually deliver jobs earlier than expected.


3.      Give yourself perspective

It’s important to take a step back and reflect on what you’ve achieved: where you started and where you are now. It’s also important to remember that social media is a double-edged sword. We all present the best versions of ourselves on it and gloss over some of the challenges and set backs we face. It’s easy to compare our worst points with everyone else’s best points. Part of the skill is being able to recognise when we do this so that we can stop these unhelpful thought patterns.

As a perfectionist, I can often get wrapped up in the minor details and stress about the insignificant things. However, it’s essential to see the bigger picture. I often use the 10 rule: Will it still matter in 10 minutes? 10 hours? 10 days? 10 weeks? 10 years?

4.      Value yourself

In the immortal words of my mother, you only have one set of health. As a freelancer, you are your most important resource. Nobody can replace you. We need to make sure that we recognise this and act accordingly. Part of this, is figuring out what matters to us most and acting accordingly. Another part for me, has been learning to say no. To recognise my limits and also to ensure that work doesn’t consume every waking hour. After all, there’s far much more to life than simply work.


5.      Do what you love

As freelancers, we are so lucky that we have more freedom than most in terms of work. We should capitalise on it wherever possible. Pursue the jobs you love. Turn down the ones you find soul-destroying. Ditch the clients which give you a headache. Appreciate the clients who make your life easier. Schedule your day so that you can incorporate the things which make your day brighter: yoga, going out for lunch, picking the kids up from school, reading…

Self-care is a phenomenon sweeping the nation but the concept is simple: look after yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Get out. See people. Journal. Drink more water. Take a break from the news and social media. Read great books. Travel. Take time off. And above, be kind to yourself.


What are your top tips for looking after yourself and keeping your mental health intact? What are the biggest challenges you face?

International Translation Day - FAQs

In celebration of International Translation Day, I’ve collated a range of Frequently Asked Questions I’ve been asked over the course of the last year and a half. It’s a slightly tongue and cheek list which is light hearted but also hopefully explains what I do to some extent.

Q: Ah, a translator. Do you work for Google?

A: No. Google provides machine translation and last time I checked, I am a real human. Machine translation can be really useful for getting the gist of something or for very formulaic texts such as technical texts. However, ultimately, texts should always be checked and adapted by a human who understands both languages. If the translation is anyway creative, you definitely want a human and not a literal translation of the words. As is so often stated in the industry, we translate ideas not words.

Q: So, you can translate every language?

A: No. Sadly I don’t understand every language in the world and so can’t translate them. I work from French and Spanish to English. I would love to be able to offer more services and would love nothing more to understand every language in the world, but sadly, that seems an unrealistic goal!

Q: Why do you work into English? Surely there’s no demand?

A: Well, firstly I translate into English because it’s my native language and I understand all the nuances and connotations which only a native can understand. I don’t have this level of understanding in my source languages, so I don’t work into them.

Is there any demand? Yes. Firstly, for the reasons I spoke about for translating into English, some people may choose to write something in their native tongue and have it translated. Secondly, we live in a shrinking world where everything is closer so there are more and more opportunities for translation as people move about and also as countries and businesses work together more.

Q: You work from home. Is that a real job?

A: Amazingly yes, it is. The joy of my job is that all I need is a laptop and internet and I can work anywhere: at home, in a café, abroad. It can be hard, you need to be disciplined but I also have a freedom which you don’t get in a 9 to 5 job.

Q: With Brexit, will you still have a job?

A: Yes! Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty and no one knows how it’s going to look. However, I believe that there will always be a need for translation into English as it’s a global language and we’ll also (hopefully!) continue to be close allies with EU member countries. Perhaps I’m just an optimist, but there’s also a possibility of more work as the EU may have to outsource more work to freelancers. This is because to work for the EU currently, you have to be a citizen of an EU country which, if they keep this rule, will take out a lot of native English translators.

Q: Isn’t using a CAT tool cheating?

A: In a word, no. It helps make you work more efficiently and quickly. Basically, all it does is remember how you translated segments and words and offer those suggestions if those segments or words reappear. The work still needs to be done initially and adapted and checked but it just means repetitive or formulaic documents are quicker to translate.

Q: Aren’t you going to get a real job?

A: This is my real job! I’ve also tutored part time to help support myself, but this job is about as real as it gets. Not only do you do the translation, proofreading and editing but you also run all the business aspects. You are the marketing, sales, recruitment, customer service and accounting department. You’re the CEO but you’re also the workforce. In many ways, working in house would be a lot less challenging as there would be less to think about but personally, I enjoy the challenge and problem-solving aspects of running a business.

Q: Why do I need a human translator? Can’t I just use google or a dictionary?

A: As I said earlier, a translator translates more than just words. They convey ideas and messages. They translate in units of sense. Machines can make mistakes, you need humans to check them. Machines don’t understand cultural elements, or jokes, or word play. Machines don’t think about the context of where a word is being used and whether it makes sense. Machines try to make communication into a science: you must in a set of words and letters and that equals a set of words and letters you get back. However, language isn’t that simple so if you want an accurate and faithful translation which conveys your ideas to a target language, use a human. You may get a different result if you google translate it, but that’s maybe no bad thing!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this read, had a laugh and understood a little more as to what translators do. Happy International Translation Day!

May and June - Months Eleven and Twelve

Apologises for the radio silence – it’s been a crazy few months so I thought I’d try and get my head together to attempt to write something coherent for the two months combined. This will also be the last “Things I’ve Learnt” blog in terms of being a start up as I’m about to celebrate my first birthday!

But do not despair – I’ll be continuing to blog, ideally monthly, and be focusing on business issues, geeky language and cultural posts and looking at how language interacts with society. Anyway, here’s what I learnt over the last few months.

1.      Rest is good

It can be really hard to take time off. I often feel guilty and like I should be doing something. That it’s not acceptable to have a relaxed day off and read a book or go out despite the fact I’ve worked on numerous weekends. However, having booked a holiday and intentionally switching on my out of office was one of the most rewarding and refreshing things. It’s still a tough learning curve and I still feel guilty if I’m not doing anything but I can most certainly see the benefits of rest and working to get better at it! This also leads me on to the second point…

2.      It’s hard not to count the pennies

But it’s not helpful to. Sometimes it’s hard not to see a job and immediately think of it in terms of money: how many bills it will cover, how far will that get me to my next target, how much security it provides… However, it often leads to quite a shallow and greedy point of view. Obviously, it’s important to be making enough but it can be in danger of taking over and sapping away the enjoyment of it all. I’m learning to take a step back and reassess things, weigh up if I need or want to take a job but it’s a steep learning curve.

3.      Proofreading is everything

And I want to get better at it. I find I can easily proofread a stranger’s work and spot the mistakes no problem. I can proofread my own, short, pieces of work and improve them. However, where I really struggle, is proofreading my own 50 000 word document I’ve translated. I find I quickly become blind to my mistakes. I’m trying a few different methods: printing out (costly), having the computer read it aloud (time consuming), giving myself a few days before I proof (deadline dependent) but any tricks or suggestions would be much appreciated!

4.      Being selective matters

Life has been a lot better since I’ve allowed myself the freedom to be more selective! It makes a huge difference to my pace of work and more importantly, to my enjoyment. It’s been really nice to take a step back from more technical texts which require a lot of background reading for me to understand and to move more into humanities type texts or more customer facing texts. Having done this for almost a year now(!), I now have a lot more confidence to say no to jobs and ultimately, that’s going to be better for both me and the client.

5.      Context is key

Talking of customer facing texts, I got quite the scare the other day when a text for a coffee machine and products website and it used the word ‘connard’. I associate this as being quite a rude word and couldn’t quite believe that the translation in my head was what the customer wanted to communicate to their own clients. I looked it up and found ‘idiot’ as a much more mild alternative! It certainly served as a reminder that context is always essential, and that translation is so much more than knowing what the words mean – you always have to think about who’s going to read the final product!

6.      The client isn’t always right

This may seem odd and it’s one of the things I find hardest to admit. Maybe it’s being British and being overly polite, maybe it’s to do with still being quite new to the job, maybe it’s my people pleasing tendencies, but I find it really hard to tell the client that they’re wrong. However, recently I received a source text which had so many errors I couldn’t leave it. Indeed, the client was unimpressed at the unfinished sentences in some segments… until I pointed out that this was because the source text was unfinished. There were also various spelling and grammar mistakes and inconsistencies. I’ve also had times a client wanted a word translated as a completely wrong meaning. Eventually, you sometimes have to put your foot down and say that it’s not a faithful or true translation. It’s difficult but I’m quickly learning to be authoritative when needed!

7.      Community matters

I feel like I write about this every time, but community is so, so, so important. To me, this was particularly apparent when preparing for GDPR. It made life so much easier to have a community to ask questions of, share resources with and vent to. Without the translation community, I’m 100% sure I still wouldn’t understand GDPR and the implications for me. It’s also been really nice to begin to be in position where I can refer friends to agencies and it’s nice to share the ample work and give something back.

8.      You never truly switch off from translation

Recently I was watching a news story about the awful floods in Japan. As part of the story, they had the Japanese Prime Minister speaking which had been interpreted simultaneously. In a very geeky confession, this is my favourite part of the news, I love it. Granted, less exciting when I don’t understand the source but still great. I was surprised when the interpreter referred to an ‘inondation’ instead of a flood and found myself mentally correcting him, despite not knowing the source. This is just a small example but one thing which amazes me is how my brain is always looking out for errors like that and never truly switches off.

Thanks for being on the journey for the last 12 months! Keep checking back for regular updates on a whole range of topics.

April - Month Ten

Apologises this is so late, May has been crazy busy and this is in fact, a quick entry before I escape for a few days. Here’s what I learnt in April.

1.      Always make the most of feedback when you get it

I have a complete love/hate relationship with feedback. The fact I’m a perfectionist means that sometimes criticism is hard because you’re frustrated that you didn’t nail it. However, being a perfectionist also means I’m hungry for feedback, to know how to do even better and what to work on. After all, I’ve only being doing this for ten months so I know there’s things to work on. After fourth year and the intense amount of feedback you receive, I never thought I’d miss it. Now, I’m incredibly grateful and appreciative of any constructive feedback – it helps me hone my skills and improve to be the best translator I can be. All this being said, make the most of feedback you get – you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

2.      Tax returns aren’t as bad as you think

I was dreading doing my tax return. I also had an irrational fear that I was going to accidentally commit tax fraud. I’m happy to confirm that as far as I’m aware I haven’t done this. I was actually amazed at how smoothly it went and how straight forward it was to gather all the information. It definitely proved to me how important it is to have everything in order and easily accessible – it certainly saves time later on.

3.      Time management is everything

Time management is not my friend. I’m very good at underestimating how long something takes. I’m very good at procrastinating. These are not the best traits when working as a translator. I am slowly but surely learning how to get better at this or else suffer a late night as a result. However, what’s tricky is knowing when to say no to a job. I hate it. You feel like you’re letting a client down. Also, having had quiet periods, I also want to avoid this at all costs. It’s tough but it’s also about learning to look after myself and to not commit to something I can’t give 100% to.

4.      Separating yourself from you work is hard

It’s incredibly hard to pull back from work and see it with fresh eyes. I find this particularly challenging when proofreading after working on a job for a while – you find yourself reading what you think you’ve written and not necessarily what you’ve actually written. I’m slowly finding techniques to combat this – better time management, reading aloud, printing work out to avoid reading it on a screen, etc. However, any tips or tricks for how to separate yourself from your work and see it afresh would be much appreciated.

5.      Pro-bono work is super rewarding

This month I completed my first job for Translators Without Borders. What a delight it was. Pro-bono work is a field I’ve wanted to get into for a while so it’s very exciting to begin this journey. At first, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to switch off as I’m so used to evaluating documents at a per word cost. However, it was super freeing to do pro-bono work, really enjoy the translation and know that ultimately, this translation will help someone. It’s also great practice and will be a good way to keep my skills up in any quiet spots. If you ever have a chance to do pro-bono work in your field, I highly recommend it.


That’s it for this month – apologises for the delay. I’m off on holiday and will update you on my May progress once I’m back!

March - Month Nine

Three quarters of a way through my first-year freelancing and still learning lots. Here’s what happened in month nine.

1.      One big job can change everything

This never fails to surprise me. You think I would be used to it by now. However, the thrill of signing on for a nice 20k project rather than a few thousand words doesn’t get old. I guess the reasons for this are multiple. One, it’s nice to be able to map out a week or so worth of work rather than a 24/48 hour turn around and not knowing what (if anything) is coming next. Two, it’s nice to have something to get your teeth into. Especially if there’s lots of technical or specialist terms to dig into, it’s easier to motivate yourself to do the in-depth research when you know it’ll be repeated multiple times rather than used once. In a business sense, it’s also easier to see that time as profitable – even when using trados discounts. Three, it’s amazing how much calmer you feel when you know you’ll make a reasonable amount that month based on one job. Especially if it’s near the start of the month, it can take the worry out of the rest of the month and help you to enjoy the pluses of working for yourself more. This leads me onto my next point…

2.      Financial stability is always hard

It’s incredibly hard not knowing how much money you’ll take home at the end of the month. Mainly because you can’t budget a month with any certainty which is hard for future planning. This has become particularly apparent when trying to figure out holiday plans or moving out. In one sense, it’s easy to save at the moment as I have very few outgoings. However, the idea of not being sure whether I’ll make rent or not is not a fun one. As ever, it’s a bit of a mind game but for me, that insecurity is definitely one of the hardest things about freelancing.

3.      Connections are amazing and help keep you sane

So, I’ve written about the importance of networking before but I’m going to keep writing about it because, in all aspects of life, people need people. This is true whether it’s a friend who can recommend you as a freelancer to their company or whether it’s the opportunity to be able to chat things through with someone in a similar position – finding out you’re not the only person who made that mistake or felt that way. I’m so grateful to the people in my life who tell me I can do it when it’s tough or remind me of what I’ve done so far. I’ve got some potential co-working opportunities on the horizon which I’m super excited about as a way to self-improve and develop. I used to think we got a ridiculous amount of feedback and critique at uni… I definitely miss that now!

4.      You can’t stop thinking…ever

Maybe this says more about me as a person than anything else! However, I find that I’m always thinking about what’s next. This can take many forms: what project is next? How will I find new clients? How do I improve a particular practice? What’s the best way to market myself? I’ve also been thinking a lot about diversification and how to best use my skills while slightly branching out of strict translation to add more strings to my bow. This is one aspect which continues to surprise me! I never thought I’d be overly business-minded but I’m loving the challenge of finding solutions to problems, having the authority to make decisions and being able to decide ultimately what direction I go in. Problem solving was never my strong point in maths but I’m finally coming into my own in it!

5.      Pressure to specialise vs work available is a headache

One thing you constantly hear in the industry is that you have to specialise and find your USP – great advice. However, where I find the tension is knowing what I want to ultimately specialise in, figuring out my dream clients versus the work, and inevitably vital experience, of work available to me day-to-day. This can create a difficult tension as you want to pursue these “dream jobs” but also need the experience to have the credentials to approach clients and be able to offer something of worth. It’s hard to see how a highly technical piece will ultimately help me get a job in sports translation or translating for a museum but I know it hones my skills and that some aspects are applicable to all translation jobs. As with any career, you have to get to know the ropes first.


That’s the March round-up. Check back in to see what happened in April.

February - Month Eight

Month eight was a welcome relief after months six and seven and it feels amazing to be back on track and have a steady flow of business. Here’s what I learnt.

1.      Never stop learning

I find that I’m constantly learning new things and it’s one of my favourite things about my job. I can go from researching Spanish property law and the English equivalents to looking at clothing cuts. Both require equal amounts of attention and research and it’s a real privilege to tackle such varied texts and I love being able to challenge and stretch myself constantly. But it’s not just learning subject matter and content – it’s critical to stay on top of linguistic changes. The Académie Française have just announced changes to 2400 spellings and so it’s important to stay on top of both your source and target languages – even if the new spelling ‘ognon’ makes you say, ‘oh non!’

2.      Persistence pays off

Being determined is arguably one of my best and worst qualities but professionally, it is definitely a plus. This month, it’s paid off in a number of ways. My dream speciality is sports translation and I’ve managed to get my foot in the door with a company specialising in it which is a fantastically exciting step and often the first bit of experience is the hardest to come by. Persistence has also lead to the vast majority of unpaid invoices to be recovered. It also gives me the confidence to check in with clients I haven’t worked with in a while and see what the state of play is. If any of these situations are applicable to you right now, be encouraged – persistence does pay off!

3.      I’m actually good at my job

This may be the most arrogant thing I’ve ever written. However, it’s important to celebrate the victories as this often keeps me going during the tougher times. This month, I’ve received some lovely and generous feedback from clients which has been such an important mental boost. It’s easy to get knocked back my rejection or criticism and ignore the positives but that’s not a healthy mindset. So instead, I’m trying to celebrate the wins, learn from the criticisms and find ways to encourage other people – both professionally and personally.

4.      Admin is essential… and keeps me sane

Admin is the least favourite part of my job. It’s slow. It’s painful. It’s time consuming. But it’s hugely important. In fact, I’ve learnt if I don’t set aside time for admin regularly then I actually can’t focus and run any other part of the business. If the admin side is out of control, it stresses me out, makes me feel out of control and distracts me. I’ve also learnt there’s ways to make the process a lot quicker and keep me a lot saner. Having clean, easy to use, clear accounting software is one of the best investments I’ve made. It keeps me on track. It sends payment reminders. It displays all the information I need at the click of a button. All initial scepticism has been transformed into gratitude!

5.      Work always picks up

This never fails to surprise me. After a few quiet days I will automatically assume that everyone thinks I’m a fraud and I’ll never get work again. Thankfully, this is completely untrue. Imposter syndrome is alive and kicking but it’s reassuring to know I’m not only one and that it affects people in all walks of life and professions. It’s a constant battle but knowing I am good at my job and enquires from new clients or return business helps remind me that I can do it and that even when work is slow, it will pick up again. In fact, so far February and March have been pretty busy so no complaints!

That’s the Feb round-up, check back in to see what happens in March. As ever, comments are very welcome!

Gender, Politics and Language

Last month we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the first women in the UK getting the vote. This was obviously a momentous occasion after years of campaigning, but it wasn’t equality – under those conditions I still wouldn’t have the vote whereas I’ve had the privilege of voting 8 times in 6 years. (I think despite voting that frequently it’s still a privilege and not a burden!) Anyway, all this has made me reflect on gender equality and whether we’ve achieved it yet (spoiler alert – the answer is no). However, being a linguist, I’m also fascinated in were our language intersects with gender and whether our language is barrier or promotes equality. This is only becoming more pressing as more and more people identify as neither male or female. It also raises the question of whether our language reflects our thinking or whether our thinking is shaped by the words we use. Below, I’ve tried to categorise my thoughts in to some sort of logical order by splitting them into the following questions: whether gendered language still influences society today; whether there are tangible harms to male-biased language; what the possible solutions are.

1.      Does gendered language still influence society? Is it still a thing?

Sadly, it does still exist and still is a thing. Gendered language has probably been here since the dawn of time but 1827 was the first time ‘he’ appeared in UK legislation with the intention that ‘he’ would refer to all peoples of all genders. From here, the masculine form automatically became the norm and things rapidly went downhill in terms of equality. It led to the masculine form being viewed as normal and the feminine form being seen as a derivative and therefore less important. This is highlighted by the fact that the male form of a word is unmarked and the automatic form, implying that women and other genders are subspecies and denying them the language to tell their stories. Obviously, we’ve started to move away from this as generally ‘he’ is not seen as referring to any gender anymore and we try to use nouns to refer to both genders, for example, police officer instead of police man or woman. Language plays a key role in our decision-making processes, assessments and behaviours, as well as having the ability to shape our cognitive thinking. Therefore, when Trump dismisses his “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments as “locker room banter” and trivialises is sexist language, he not only diminishes the discriminated groups feelings but often makes them feel invisible, removes their voice and takes away their ability to explain their narrative. This makes the #metoo and #timesup campaigns particularly interesting as the language surrounding them is focused on reclaiming the narrative and speaking up, suggesting that previously their voices were lost or silenced. So, does gendered language still exist and influence our society? Yes. But why does it matter?

2.      Are there harms to male-biased language?

Maybe male-biased language is simply the by-product of archaic thinking which has no bearing on society today? Maybe not.

In the legal world, it has been found that writing legislation in gender-neutral language actually produces clearer and less ambiguous legislation which actually benefits both genders. Furthermore, a 1992 study by Hamilton, Hunter and Sharon found that if the pronoun ‘he’ is used in a text describing self-defence, the jury are far more likely to find the female defendant of being guilty of murder rather than acting in self-defence. This shows that gendered language can have real impacts on individual’s lives, and in this case, prison sentences.

Politically, when an existing political candidate uses derogatory or sexist language, it leads to less women standing for political office in the future as they feel isolated and unqualified to enter the political arena. If this is true of a candidate, I suspect it could be amplified when the candidate wins the highest office in the land. Therefore, the ripples of one candidate can continue long after them and not only effect female political involvement, but legitimise more fringe and extremist views, moving further away from civility in politics. This style of language, and indeed, the various allegations of inappropriate sexual advances, only perpetuate the view that Westminster is an old boys’ club, reinforcing existing power inequalities.

Finally, the unmarkedness of masculine words and the resulting invisibility can alienate women from more high-powered positions as if the pronoun ‘he’ is used to refer to positions like professors, judges and doctors, women struggle to visualise themselves in these roles. This is further highlighted by Bem and Bem’s study which showed only 5% of women applied for traditionally masculine jobs when male-biased language is used. This reinforces the glass ceiling for women and this is not only a negative thing for women, but society as a whole as No Ceilings report that when the gender gap closes, it increases the country’s GDP by 12%. So, evidently gender biased language not only negatively effects women and those who don’t identify as male or female, but holds back all of society, and prevents it from flourishing. So how do we combat it?

3.      Possible solutions...

One possible solution is to follow Sweden’s example and introduce a gender-neutral pronoun. Sweden introduced hen which is designed to be used when the gender of the speaker is unknown, irrelevant, or the speaker doesn’t identify as male or female. However, the use of hen isn’t mandatory and it’s currently too early to tell whether the introduction of a gender-neutral has been successful and reduced discrimination. For gender-neutral pronouns to be a success there must be strong public engagement and backing, which currently doesn’t seem to be the case. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether a new pronoun would actually solve all the problems surrounding gendered language. For example, the issue with Trump’s language isn’t the pronoun he uses, but his derogatory and sexist language.

Ultimately, the question comes down to the age-old debate in linguistics as to whether language shapes thought or vice versa. Personally, if there’s any chance language can be used to promote gender equality, I will use it accordingly. In terms of work, this means translating ambiguous pronouns as ‘they’ whenever possible and ensuring that my language doesn’t unintentionally reinforce gender stereotypes. Yes, we’ve come a long way since the first women got the vote but we’ve still got further to go and so does our language.

If you want any references of studies or research read which contributed to this then just shout - I have a very extensive list

P.S. shout out to anyone who thinks writing a dissertation isn't useful - getting to put mine into action!

January – Month Seven

The start of 2018 has been mixed with a mix of deadly quiet and tight turn arounds. Here’s what happened.

1.      Planning is everything

Anyone who knows me will know I’m not a natural planner. In fact, I’m the opposite of a natural planner. I take after my dad and have a tendency to do things a little last minute and wing it a bit. This is great when it comes to tight deadlines because I’m motivated by pressure and deadlines, but I’ve learnt the value of planning recently. A key activity for me has been learning o plan better and use time effectively. This can take a number of forms for me, whether it’s mapping out how long a job will take me or planning business development. Recently, I’ve been planning blog content and figuring out how to diversify the content. With it being the 100-year anniversary of the first women getting the vote in the UK, I’ve been reflecting on that and how language and gender intersect so you can look forward to a blog post on that soon… I knew my dissertation would come I handy one day!

2.      Marketing/looking for clients never stops (at least not yet!)

One of the hardest things was going from a relatively steady flow of work to that drying up and therefore forcing me to diversify and look for other sources when my other ones were current. It was actually a bit of a knock to my pride to go back to sending out numerous emails and CVs. However, it was well worth getting over myself and pursuing new leads. Realistically, I know I’m not going to have a regular client base for a while and it’s important to continue to pursue as many leads as possible, especially when trying to figure out what to specialise in. Although it can be demoralising at times, the rewards are well worth it.

3.      Writing scary emails is scary and I want to avoid doing so as much as possible

The reality of debt collection has been my least favourite experience to date. Sending out emails informing someone that you’ll be required to take legal action if payment isn’t received is not a nice feeling. It’s made me really reflect on my payment practices to try and find ways of avoiding this situation happening. It’s been a really tough learning curve and in future I definitely need to think about taking some upfront payment from new clients to avoid getting burnt again

4.      Always do your due diligence before accepting a job

This is very much linked to the previous point and avoiding clients not paying. I used to think due diligence was mainly focused on me: did I have the skills and expertise? Did I have the time? Was I good enough? While all these questions are good and relevant there’s also another set of questions which I’ve learnt to ask: what’s the company/client’s reputation? What’s their track record on payment? What are other translators saying about them? I used to think these questions were paranoid and unnecessary but now I can see the real benefit and necessity of them and would encourage any other service provider to do the same!

5.      Networking keeps me sane

One of the most reassuring things when work was quiet was knowing that other translators were facing the same struggles. This is particularly reassuring when it was much more experienced translators saying that they were finding work quiet and also struggled with the mental aspects of that. Sometimes it’s hard not to lose your head but it’s much easier when you have other people to discuss that with and share tips with.

That's the January round-up. Look forward to another special post on language and gender soon. Also, we recently used my blog as an example in the Succeeding in Secondary workshop we run as part of tutoring. Shout out to any of the kids who may be reading this!

December - Month Six

December marks half a year as a fulltime freelance translator and was challenging due to just how quiet it was. However, it was still productive in other ways. Here's what I learnt from a quiet month.

1. Enjoy the time off (as much as possible!)

This is easier said than done as some days it's hard not to wonder where you'll get work from/why all your regular clients are silent and sometimes you don't want to plan ahead so that you're available for any project which comes in. However, after months with ridiculously late nights and back to back deadlines, it's important to try and enjoy the quiet times - no doubt later on I'll be wanting more of a break!

2. Make contact with clients

It's easy to panic and think all your clients have decided never to work with you again for some inexplicable reason. With it being December, I used the opportunity to send customers a digital Christmas card and touch base. It was incredibly reassuring how many responded saying they'd love to work with me in 2018! The reassurance that clients genuinely don't have work and haven't replaced you allows you to keep your head in the game and not internally implode!

3. Use the time productively

With a lack of work, I've been able to do things which have previously been pushed further and further down the list! Rather than wondering what to do, I could finally catch up on marketing content, business set up, plan ahead for CPD and my finances which leads me on to my next point...

4. Invest when appropriate

I decided to invest in the accounting software Xero and I cannot recommend it highly enough! It's made the whole money side so much easier as I can track every account, create invoices and quotes and see exactly what's overdue or what money I've been spending. I could do it via my spreadsheets but this is so much easier. However, it did take me a while to get my head around and get all my accounts reconciled so if I'd been working flat out it would have got pushed down the list.

5. Know that work will come again

Although it's only the 5th day of 2018, I've already translated 15 000 words. Work will reappear. At least that's what I've found so far!

See you next month to discuss what I learn in month seven! As ever, comments are very welcome!