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Confessions of a freelance translator.*

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

I tried not to show it, but I really was proud, I really did care what people thought. For the first time in my life people seemed genuinely impressed by what I did for a living. God knows why. If only they knew the truth. I think it’s something to do with how generally terrible the British are at learning (and teaching) foreign languages. Anyhow, it certainly had a better ring to it than the list of my previous employment experience. Milk boy, ice cream man, delivery driver (curry and pizza), labourer, banana picker (1 day), courgette picker (1 day), gardener, barman, pot-washer… You get the idea. A freelance translator certainly sounded more illustrious. But should they really be that impressed? I mean, I got into it by accident for a start. Before that, and during my previous range of dreary, character-building jobs, I had of course been dreaming of changing the world. And so off I went to Guatemala, to become an international human rights observer. I was under no illusions, I knew it fell straight into the classic, middle-class, do-gooding gap year category of activities, but it was one which came with a real dash of third-world danger, as I would find out. But that’s another story. Well, back in Europe a year later I decided I wanted to continue my work in human rights (which my Spanish in-laws continued to confuse with, and call, human resources - and they seemed reasonably happy with my career choice), so while actually earning money to pay my rent by moonlighting in an Irish pub, by day I volunteered at a human rights NGO in Barcelona. After turning up and offering my fresh-from-the-front-line human rights expertise, I was fairly unimpressed to be put on website translation duty. There I was - a bilingual expert in the field with a degree from a world class university offering my services for free – “who did they think was doing whom the favour here?!” – I raged (in my head), as I quietly got on with translating commas to full stops and full stops to commas on the organisation’s annual budget figures. One thing led to another and after a while I had forgotten all about my distinguished and selfless future career in human rights, moved on from the volunteering, and realised that I might as well actually get paid for doing this kind of work. After a lot of time and effort sending out CVs and putting up Gumtree ads, I seemed to have become a professional freelance translator. And people were impressed. So, what did my day actually consist of? Sitting around the house in my pants/hat and scarf, depending on the time of year. Or not even getting out of bed at all, despite the toast crumbs, backache, and the vague sense of self-loathing. Then there was the fact that working on the internet meant that there were an infinite number of distractions just a mouse click away. Of course, this applies to most jobs these days, but people generally have to at least pretend they are working while their boss is around. Not me. As a freelancer with a severe lack of self-control and nobody to answer to, I was able to spend as long as I wanted reading newspapers, checking Facebook or navigating sites of a more dubious nature… Demonology porn anyone? By the hour of actual work done, I found that freelance translating was actually a well-paid job, but once I factored in the unavoidable time-wasting, I was actually spending far more time “working” than my friends, while at the same time earning less money. On top of this, the traditional leisure time of evenings and weekends were usually taken up getting the jobs done that I hadn’t completed during “work” hours – there’s nothing like a looming deadline to get you to pull your finger out! Speaking of which, what the hell am I doing lying here writing this rubbish?! *Disclaimer – the ideas expressed in this blog post are for entertainment purposes only and in no way reflect a cynical view of our profession nor any corresponding adverse quality in your certified translation product.

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