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!

November - Month Five

I feel like I'm increasingly struggle to remember what happened the month before... I think I'll have to start taking notes as I go along! However, here are the things I learnt this month (which I still remember!)

1.        Make hay while the sun's shining

Firstly, what a delightful idiom, I had great fun attempting to explain this to a child I was tutoring recently who kept trying to tell me that hay wasn't man made (we muddled through the confusion eventually!). However, the principle is so true. Maybe one day my life will be super organised, I'll have jobs booked for the month ahead, everything will run smoothly and life won't throw up any curveballs..... maybe. Until that day, I intend to make the most of my time working and off. It's very easy to hate the days you don't have "assigned work" and stress the days you do but this is not overly productive! As a result, I've found making a list of tasks to do for days where I don't have projects and allocating myself more time then I think I need for a project where possible to remove a little bit of pressure. You also never know when life will throw up another curveball - I'm learning it's important to give yourself grace and it's ok to reject jobs too (it's a work in progress!)

2.      Being an adult is hard

Sorting out accounting software and your finances is hard. Sending payment reminders for overdue payment is hard. Telling someone their rate is completely unreasonable (politely) is hard. But it part of being an adult. One thing I find helpful is knowing everyone hates these jobs and I'm not the only one. It also means there's always people you can ask for advice who have also struggled with it and found ways to overcome their problems. Having said that, a bit of free advice, Taylor Swift and gin make adult tasks easier!

3.     There will never be enough hours in the day/week/month/year

Sometimes it feels like you're going from one job to another and simply doing damage control on what absolutely needs to be done (like invoices!) and neglecting everything else. However, this is the nature of the beast. As discussed last month, there's always something which can be improved or changed so it's about prioritising what needs to be done and what can wait. And allowing yourself to switch off and be ok with leaving things until tomorrow!

4.     Find out what you love... and what you hate...

And build the services you offer around this! I quickly realised while I was accepting work as a student that I hate transcription. It doesn't matter whether it's from foreign language to English or simply English to English. I cannot stand it. It's time consuming and a huge faff and it takes me far too long for it to ever be profitable. So I point blank reject transcription jobs. I take on subtitling jobs but only if they have a written script which needs translated into English subtitles. I have a friend who loves proofreading but would never want to be a translator. This is my idea if a nightmare but it's about finding what works for you and not being afraid to refuse jobs/not offer services which will cause you more stress than satisfaction. In the end of the day, I partly decided to be freelance to give myself more freedom and create a job which works for me, it would be silly to restrict that!

5. Always keep an eye on ever-changing language guidelines

Recently I've been reading a lot of articles on gender neutral language which is particularly interesting to me. In fact, I wrote my final year dissertation on whether there's a need for a gender-neutral pronoun in English. However, accepted language and guidelines around this are constantly changing as our knowledge and understanding changes and it's even harder to explain this to clients. For instance, it's not acceptable to use 'he' generically in English to refer to both genders but some clients request this. 'Padres' in Spanish is an incredibly complex word to translate. The author could mean parents, mother and father, fathers, or (less likely) mothers. Therefore, it's incredibly important to keep your finger on the industry pulse in order to accurately reflect the text's meaning but also to make sure it's as inclusive to society as possible. Maybe I'll write more on the subject another day, but it's a thought for you to ponder for now!

Those are five things I learnt in November. I'll update my blog in 2018 (that's terrifying!) with what I learnt in December. Until then, have a fantastic Christmas and a wonderful New Year - and make sure you enjoy some well-earned time off!


October – Month Four

Another month and another summary of what I’ve learnt…

1.      There is always something which can be improved

Maybe I feel this particularly acutely as a slight perfectionist, but I find I’m never ever short of things to do or improve. Whether that’s updating my website, redesigning invoices so they’re more aesthetically pleasing, looking into bookkeeping software, working on terminology or finding new clients there’s always something I can be doing! I love this aspect of the job as it means that there are always challenges and areas to push myself in. However, it can also be daunting and feel insurmountable sometimes so I’m finding it increasingly more necessary to prioritise and approach my ever-growing to-do list one item at a time to avoid a minor meltdown!

2.      Getting paid on time is the bain of my life.

It’s great when you look at your spread sheet and you see how many billable hours you’ve done so far. It’s less fun when you compare this to the money in your account and realise how many outstanding invoices you have to chase up. I’m incredibly glad that the ITI SUFT course has a whole week dedicated to this as it is far and away the biggest challenge I face. I can now fully understand why so many small businesses struggle to survive! I’m also glad I don’t have the pressure of making rent right now as unfortunately I can’t default on payments just because someone has defaulted on me!

3.      A word log is the single best thing I’ve done.

This was another top tip from SUFT but applying it has made such a difference. It’s such a confidence boost to be able to say I’ve translated X thousand words on this subject when applying for jobs or negotiating with a client. It’s also a great way to track your progress, the types of jobs you’re getting and the sheer volume of words you’ve translated. I’m utterly amazed that I’ve translated over 240K words already since starting! However, even just knowing this helps me to be more confident in my ability (imposter syndrome is real!) and also gives me lots of material to look over and areas of terminology to improve based on how long each job took. Definitely easier to do as you go along rather than retrospectively though!

4.      A simple email of thanks can have a huge impact

There is nothing more encouraging than receiving an email to thank you for working on a job – particularly if it’s caused a lot of stress or taken up a lot of time. I know how much I appreciate it (although I am also very words orientated!) and this is definitely something I’m going to try and remember to do both within the industry and in my life in general. As ever, a little can go a long way.

5.      Curiosity is a translator’s greatest asset

Most children have that phase where they ask “why” to everything and I don’t think I’ve ever really grown out of this phase! While this may occasionally be irritating for my family and friends who have to put up with the many hypothetical questions, debates and verbal processing I’ve found it comes into its own in translation! It’s great for CPD, learning more about the industry, being motivated to find out the context of a translation or the perfect word or phrase depending on the subject matter. I’ve also found it incredibly helpful as a freelancer and making all my business decisions myself (being an adult is scary!) as I find even subconsciously I’ve asked myself multiple questions before every decision so if a client ever asks me “why?” I know the reason instantly.

6.      I hate when people say I don’t have a real job!

I genuinely didn’t think this would annoy me, but it really does! It’s particularly annoying if someone says this after you’ve been tutoring, stayed up late to finish a big job, spent hours proofreading, had formatting/technical issues, created and billed an invoice yourself and dealt with a particularly demanding client. If there’s a freelancer in your life, please show them some love instead of ribbing them for still being in their pjs (there has to be some advantages of working from home, right?!)

So those are the 6 things I’ve learnt in month 4, as ever, comments, questions, entertaining anecdotes are very welcome. See you in December for month 5!

September – Month Three

First of all, apologies for the late post. October has been crazy busy but we’ll get to that next month! The end of September marks the end of my first quarter trading as a freelancer which is utterly mad but very exciting. Here are the things I learnt in month three.

1.      People are the best

Last month I feel like I was super negative about people so this month I have a story to counteract that from September. I had the total joy of working with a client who paid me on the same day as I delivered the translation. If every client was like this life would be sweet.

2.      CPD is essential

CPD is often complained about throughout people’s careers. However, if you find the CPD it can be incredibly rewarding and invaluable instead of being a slog. I’m currently enrolled on ITI’s Starting Up as a Freelance Translator course and this is proving to be a goldmine of resources. The course covers all sorts of aspects from working from home to CVs to marketing to networking – if you’re considering setting up as a freelance translator I highly recommend this excellent course which is delivered by a whole range of experienced translators with a good mixture of seminars, discussions and practical tasks. The one downside is I now have an ever-growing list of things to do! My next point is also linked to the benefits of this course…

3.      Networking is key

Through the course, I’ve had a brilliant opportunity to get to know both the teachers, who are very experienced and have fantastic insight, and my fellow students. This is incredibly valuable as this group of people are at the same stage as me. Therefore, we can share triumphs and commiserate together as we all try and figure out this new venture together! Indeed, in such a solitary job, online networking becomes increasingly more important in terms of establishing relationships, a few of these have even lead to work which is amazing! Therefore, you can expect to see a brand-new work based Twitter account in the near future as I explore more avenues to connect and engage with the industry.

4.      Work/life balance is impossibly hard to find

There’s often a perception that freelancers are lazy as they can work when they want, where they want and laze about the rest of the time. Yes, this is partially true but in reality, running your own business and working for yourself results in an even poorer work/life balance. This is because I don’t always know when I’ll have a day off as this is work dependent. I also don’t work normal hours. This is great for me as I hate early starts but it can also lead to long nights and (even for me!) early starts in order to ensure a deadline. After all, as a client you wouldn’t be impressed if a business missed a deadline because they wanted a night off. The other main reason the work/life balance is hard to find is because…

5.      Being a freelancer means work is never done

As a freelance translator, I don’t just translate. I proof read, quality check, format, invoice, negotiate, do the marketing, am responsible for the brand’s reputation, time manage, am responsible for my own training, trouble shoot and handle the accounts. This means that inevitably there’s always something waiting to be done/updated/improved. Sometimes this can be overwhelming and feel as though everything is on top of you but I’ve quickly learnt to prioritise which jobs need done most urgently – for example, invoicing trumps marketing as I know I need to ensure I get paid! This last point may sound like a complaint but as much as it’s hard work, it’s taught me that

6.      I love my job

Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, this is super cheesy. However, everything is worth it for the message from a client saying that they’re pleased with your translation and knowing that you managed every step of the request from beginning to end.

Those are the 6 things I learnt in September. Check back to see what I learn in October and feel free to leave any witty/helpful comments/question.