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Life as a Freelance Translator

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Argos Multilingual

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25 Jun 2017

Have you ever wondered what is it like to be a translator? You always loved to read and learn languages but for some reason you were not sure if that line of work would suit you. So what it is actually like to be a translator? Find out in our interview with Freelance Translator, Ewa Dacko, who has cooperated with Argos Multilingual for many years. Today she shares with you her professional insights and experiences in the world of translations. 

What does a normal day in your shoes look like?

Ewa Dacko: I start my day with a coffee 🙂 Well, actually I start it with my medication, but a good, well-balanced breakfast with a coffee is a must. Only then do I feel ready for the tasks ahead.

I work mostly from home, but I’m not the stereotypical all-day-in-pyjamas-on-facebook-and-pulling-an-all-nighter-just-before-deadline translator. Instead, my working routine is pretty regular: breakfast before 9am, lunch at 12pm, dinner with my daughter at 4pm. I also try to plan my work so that the weekend (or at least one weekend day) is free — and this proves successful most of the time. I exercise three times a week, it helps me to relieve stress.

I do believe that work and leisure should be separated, so I hardly ever work where I rest and I don’t rest where I work. I’m lucky enough to a have a separate room for my work, with a proper desk, a large screen, a comfortable chair, good lighting, etc. After all, I spend several hours a day here, almost every day. When I finish work for the day and close my “office door” behind me, I virtually “come back home” and try not to think about translation until the next morning.

What are the daily challenges you experience?

ED: This is probably not very revealing, but there are two kinds of challenges in my work: the good and, of course, the bad ones. The former boils down to one sentence: Be organized and never stop learning. Whether it’s a new tool to master or new developments in technology to explore, I must always focused, open-minded, and willing to learn. I have to do comprehensive research, use different resources, read books, listen to webinars, cross-check the information, consult with others. This can be time-consuming, so good work organization is crucial.

I believe planning is a key to effectiveness, so I usually schedule my tasks well in advance and balance the workload. Being self-employed is a lot of work: translation aside, you have to be your own finance/QA/sale/marketing/you-name-it department. Of course, also you have to be flexible — short delivery times and urgent tasks that have to be done ASAP (or earlier) seem to be the standard in my job, so I do my best to manage it as best as I can. Fortunately, most of my clients understand that I’m not a miracle worker and that I can do the impossible only from time to time.

As for the “bad” challenges… well, my job is sometimes tough and stressful (which is probably the case with most people)! Deadlines are tight, competition is fierce, and clients’ demands can be crazy. As a translator, I’m practically left to my own devices with all this! So I had to learn how to manage these challenges: how not to take problems too personally, how to handle them professionally, and (most importantly) how to stay sane.

In this respect, I believe it is crucial to choose the right partners to work with. A good, professional translation agency, one that values quality over low rates, can be really helpful in sorting out all kinds of issues, whether it’s terminology queries, unfair feedback, unrealistic deadline or a badly-prepared file.

What advice would you give to beginner translators?

ED:

  1. Find your specialty. Be an expert on something. Remember, no one can be an expert on everything. Not even Elon Musk! Commanding both languages perfectly is not enough if you do not know what you are writing or speaking about.
  2. I have a technical degree (which gave me basic knowledge about science and technology in general) and a post-graduate degree in translation (which helped me grasp the techniques and resources used in my day-to-day work). In spite of all this, I still learn something new with almost every job I take. Which leads us to point two:
  3. Never stop learning. Especially in my area(s), the world changes rapidly. Read, listen, watch, use online resources, keep pace with changes in the industry. It’s absolutely essential and it pays off.
  4. Don’t fear technology. It’s not only tremendously helpful, it is simply necessary. Get to know (and master) commonly-used applications: CAT tools, editors, QA tools. Yes, even if you are not a technical translator.
  5. Use social media (wisely). Keywords: #Research, #Contacts, #ImageBuilding.
  6. Value yourself. When I started, someone gave me a very wise piece of advice: “Be expensive, you will have wealthy clients”. I do believe it’s better to compete with quality and reliability than with low rates.
  7. Find yourself a master (tutor). Mine was Magda Hannay and I’m sure I wouldn’t be in my place now if not for her help, advice and patience 20 years ago. Magda, if you are reading this: THANK YOU, I will always owe you!
  8. Listen to feedback, you can learn a lot from it. Also, learn how to professionally respond to the feedback. Ideally, the reviewer should be your partner; remember, you’re both on the same team. The revision/quality assurance process is not a competition — its goal is to make the final text as good as possible, not to prove who’s right and who’s wrong. Don’t be scared to stand by your decisions, if you’re sure.
  9. Learn to say “no” and do not bite off more than you can chew.I never take jobs outside of my expertise. They would cost me much more time and effort and I could not assure the quality expected. Remember the day has no more than 24 hours and your calendar is flexible only up to a certain point.

What type of person makes the perfect translator?

ED: There are many traits one could associate with being a good translator: subject matter expertise, mother tongue proficiency, research skills, planning skills, communication skills, patience, curiosity, willingness to learn… You should be able to work independently and remotely and to manage your working routine — there’s no boss telling you what to do (and when), so you have to watch your deadlines (and payments) yourself. If you like noisy team meetings and busy open spaces, and human interactions inspire you more than anything else, being a freelance translator is probably not for you.

I could go on and on, but I think the most important thing is keeping the right balance: of being meticulous and curious, assertive and flexible, independent and cooperative, of devoting yourself to your job and having a life outside of it.

What is the biggest misconception people have about working as a translator?

ED: I think it’s the idea that being a translator is a job that everyone speaking a foreign language could do. Certainly, knowing at least two languages is a must, but, as I said before, being a good translator requires much, much more. Translation is not a commodity; it’s a combination of an exact science and an art. The quality of the final product depends on many factors, such as the translator’s background, writing skills, knowledge, experience, and engagement.

On the other hand, people often believe a translator can translate pretty much anything. That’s just not true, every good translator has his or her area of expertise, be it law, IT, biology, history, fashion, or linguistics. Also, a translator is not a dictionary. No, I have no idea how you call “muchołówka żałobna” or “korbacz bojowy” in English. However, I can quickly find it for you or point you to the right resources.

Does the growing trend towards Machine Translations worry you as a translator?

ED: Not really. I tend to perceive new trends as an opportunity rather than a threat. There are some areas where MT can be tremendously useful already — it helps to deliver some jobs much faster and more consistently. Think technical documentation, application interfaces, repetitive texts with large corpora like legal acts… There are some texts that will always1 need a human translator because of their highly-sensitive/specific nature or strict requirements regarding quality.
I do use some MT tools from time to time and they prove really helpful, just like any other tool, if used wisely.
Someone once said that if AI becomes able to beat the quality of human translation, we, as translators shouldn’t be worried about our jobs, but the AI itself! I couldn’t agree more. 
 
1Well, at least for the next 20 or so years!
 
Have a look at further blog posts from our “Life as…” series:

Argos Multilingual – we provide a full range of language translation services that cover all our clients’ needs. Contact Us Today and find out how we can help you with your next translation project!

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