Rants and raves from the translation desk

aggravationDo you ever have one of those weeks that is filled with small setbacks whose power to aggravate is completely out of proportion to their significance? It’s been one of those for me.

One project was a series of transcripts for a nurse who wants to work in California. The translations had to be printed, certified, notarized and sent by registered mail. I had several deadlines looming over me and all these steps were eating up precious time, and of course every. single. time I printed out one page I would find a tiny error, or an inconsistency, or a better term I could have used. After about the fifth time I just about lost it and the only reason the printer didn’t go sailing out the window is because I didn’t want to pay for another one.

This one is kind of childish but it completely torqued me off this week: AT&T changed the entire look of their email page this week and I hate it, hate it, hate it. I realize I sound like a complete fogey, but why can’t they just leave well enough alone? I knew exactly what to click, where to look, and how to do what I need to do. Now everything is really hard to see, when I click on stuff inexplicable things happen, and I it takes way too long to find even the simplest functions. It feels exactly like wandering around in a fog and stumbling over garbage cans while trying to pull open locked doors. I know, in another week I’ll be used to this version and I’ll love it, but right now it’s just annoying. Seven in the morning when I’m dealing with piles of urgent emails while trying to get everyone out the door to school/work is not the time to try out your cool new stuff on me, is all I’m saying.

And then there were the common irritations I’m sure every translator can relate to:

Approaching the end of a long, tedious document and the last line contains a term you can’t find any reference for.

A snarky responses from an IT genius about my technical difficulties when, excuse me, I did follow all the directions.

You translation software suddenly gets a mind of its own and out of the blue makes bizarre formatting changes that are impossible to fix.

Looking back over my list, I notice the theme is feeling thwarted and powerless. Of course no one likes to feel that way, but I think for freelancers the frustration can be even more acute. We are used to relying on our own skills and resourcefulness to build our business and it’s a thrill when it works, but when things go wrong there is no one to fall back on. individualism

On top of that, there is a fine line between self-sufficiency and thinking you don’t need anyone else. Anyone who has ever had to proofread a colleague’s work knows how tricky that can be; and vice versa, how easy it is to get our hackles up when the shoe is on the other foot. How dare you suggest that my use of the subjunctive mood in this context is inappropriate! I bet if we’re honest most of us have discovered that little green pride monster lurking inside, which is eventually squashed, hopefully, by the realization that we better learn to listen to others if we want our business to succeed.

In my case, sure, I was able to start my business, learn the ropes and see some growth on my own, but after about 4 years I hit a plateau and I realized the only way to keep growing was to broaden my horizons and become part of a larger community.

So here are some highlights from recent months:

I did a consultation session with Judy Jenner from Twin Translations. Totally worth it. She knows of what she speaks and, just as important, how to apply it to your situation. Plus, she is really easy to talk to, so I had a great time over coffee while learning some incredibly useful stuff. If you feel like you’re stagnated and are not sure how to move to the next level, get thee to a consultation with Jenny or one of the many other experienced translators who offer consultations.

I went to my first meeting of the Northern California Translators Association. Like many translators I’m not a fan of walking into strange groups of people so this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I needn’t have worried. There was an immediate sense of “wow these are people I can talk to”; kind of like finding someone else from your country in a room full of foreigners. Instant connection.
Only downer: I didn’t win the book “101 Things a Translator Needs to Know” in the drawing.
Unexpected bonus: finding out that there are a handful of other NCTA members from the Fresno area, which is about 3.5 hours away from the Bay area where most meetings are held. Can you say “Fresno chapter”? I just sent emails to the other Fresno people, so we’ll see what happens.

I started this blog and a twitter account and began reading other people’s blogs. I have found some pretty interesting people this way. I love finding out what you are up to, what you’re thinking, and what is going on in the larger translation community. I’m discovering that many of my problems are far from unique and I happily benefit from your experience and your insights and feedback on different forums. I still love working for myself, but that enjoyment is intensified by the knowledge that I am also part of a pretty awesome community and I am definitely not alone.



3 thoughts on “Rants and raves from the translation desk

  1. I really enjoyed this entry, Marie. We all go through those frustrating times, but experiences with other translators can really turn things around. I’ve had similar experiences with my local organization and with the online community. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. You conclusion is right on spot. Translation need not confuse working alone (as with no physical colleagues in an arm reach) with isolation or solitude. There times in the day and week that being “alone” might even be preferable (like when actually translating), and there are also times to get out and meet people – even if only virtually sometimes.

    This confusion only makes it easier on others to use the divide and conquer tactic, thus increasing the information asymmetry even more.

    Also, one cannot do everything, both because one doesn’t have the time and/or one lacks the skills. One of the few biggest mistakes that independent service provider do is to think that doing and handling everything yourself is the best course or action, and even more wrong to think that this is the most cost-effective thing (because you don’t have to immediately pay someone). The core question to ask oneself is how much my time worth? If hiring someone to perform a task costs less than what one could earn (not just financially) in this time time span, this is a no brainer. If one finds oneself in a situation in which handling everything personally would be cheaper than hiring a specialist – then this should serve as a business and professional wake up call.

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