Some practical tips for Freelance translators

Translation industry in India , as I stated earlier, is in its nascent stage. There is a lot to be learned from our Western counterparts and also from our native senior professionals who have been, for last 30 years, running this industry. In order to learn from our experiences, we have to look back, we have to dig our past working experiences so that the mistakes once (or twice) made are not repeated.

Therefore, every now and then I come up with some easy practical tips which if used effectively, can work wonders:

1. Virtual and Physical presence: In general, advertising industry in India is growing at a rate of 12% every year and is expected to reach 1427 billion INR by 2016. That, in itself, clearly states that carving a niche for your brand has many long term benefits. The same applies to our business too. Making yourself known physically and virtually is very important. It allows potential clients to locate you easily and also helps you to showcase your talent on a global platform. Thankfully, it is not that costly for us freelance translators. A lot of “find a translator” directories are there (Proz, TranslatorsCafe, Traduguide, etc…) where you can get yourself registered for a minimal fee of less than 6000 INR per year (that means only 500 INR per month) and you are set. Now not only you can get in touch with all global clients, but also with many veteran professionals out there for constant tips regarding your career, software, associations, projects etc.

As for physical presence, there are a lot of conferences held by Proz (which mainly happens outside India) which can provide you with global exposure and make you realize that you are an actual, active part of a global economy. ITA (Indian Translators Association) also organizes conferences for its members as well as non-members.

2. Pro-bono translation: Pro-bono means public good. In other words, any professional work undertaken voluntarily without a fee or at a reduced fee. I know that it is somewhat against our motto for progress, but its like the phrase, “a great leap forward always requires two steps back”. Working pro-bono opens up wonderful opportunities, especially for beginners. There are several charitable organizations, NGOs, new start-up companies that requires interns working pro-bono. The experience one gets from working in this format is worth the effort. You get the chance to showcase your language talent for an actual client. It also enriches your whole working experience and is a great tool for contact-building. But working pro-bono does not mean that you extend this courtesy to dubious agencies who are giving you actual paid work to be translated for free.

3. Sharpening the saw – Freelance translation is a business with a feast and famine effect. Therefore, continuously updating you skill-set is not only beneficial but mandatory. Translation industry, like any other, is changing at a quick pace. Thus, we all have to go with the flow in order to remain active and working.


Translators are Superheroes

Isn’t it odd? In the last seven years,  I have heard a lot that we, translators, are invisible. A lot of people do not even know what is translation and what does a translator do? We are also made to believe that it is just a short-time hobby and not a recognized profession. But never once I heard that we are superheroes.

For all those skeptics and for my colleagues who love translation as much as I do, this post will be highly motivating – Translators are Superheroes.


“French Kiss” in French



For centuries, there’s been no official French word for the sloppy Gallic export “to French kiss” — though that certainly hasn’t stopped any citizen from doing so.

Now this oversight has been finally rectified. The one term verb “galocher” – is one of the new entries added into Le Petit Robert 2014 dictionary.

Laurence Laporte of the Robert Publishing house says “We always had many expressions to describe ‘French-kissing,’ like ‘kissing at length in the mouth,’ but it’s true, we’ve never had one single word”.

The term “French kiss” — once also called a “Florentine kiss” — is popularly considered to have been brought back to the English-speaking world by soldiers returning from Europe after World War I. At the time, the French had a reputation for more adventurous sexual practices.

The term “galoche” was a slang term that has been around for a while which means “ice skating boot /cheap old shoes”.

However Canadian French speaking people have been using the verb “frencher” for “to French kiss”. Also, many native people have stated that they have been using the verb “se rouler une pelle/un patin” for the same for ages.

Whatever be the verb, it still doesn’t change the intention behind the question: Voulez-vous galocher avec moi?

Managing life

I do not like the concept of time management. It is foolish to save precious minutes when we are wasting our life away doing many things we should not do. Time management is like damage control. It only solves  urgent problems which need quick-fix solutions, it does not alter anything in your life and does not even guarantee that you won’t get stuck in the same situation again.

That is why for the past few years I have been using a life management approach which I have found to be very useful and effective – especially for translators like us. As per my perception on the life of a translator is concerned, it is very unpredictable. When a project comes to an end, I do not know from where my next project would come, holidays are never planned; whenever I get time, I take the week-end (and some more days) off and head to a place where I am far away from my laptop, e-mails, etc. My only objective at that time is to just discover the place and enjoy. And when the project comes, my life revolves around it with an objective to complete it successfully.

Sometimes, I feel that our lives are more like those of “fire-fighters”. Whenever the alarm rings, we have to be there, no matter what. It becomes the most “urgent” and “important” thing at that time. Therefore, when this tug-of war between “urgency” and “importance” occurs (and it often occurs), I follow the approach read in a book by Dr. Stephen R Covey, A. Roger and Rebecca R. Merrill.

Every activity we do in our lives falls into one of the following four quadrants:

Q1: Urgent and Important: Important, significant activities which require our urgent and full attention. For e.g.:

  • Rush hour projects
  • Last minute changes in translation, suggested by the client
  • Sudden shift of deadline by the client
  • Urgent client meeting on site

Q2: Important but Not urgent: Important activities which, when carried out effectively, would help us stay out of problems 90% of the time. For e.g.:

  • Further studies for improving our mental abilities and skills
  • Terminology building
  • Lead creation
  • Network building
  • Taking backup of our work
  • Reading (in our Source and Target language)
  • Spending quality time with friends and family
  • Effective blogging

Q3: Urgent but Not Important: Activities which do not foster growth in our life, but still we are inclined to do them out of a sense of urgency. For e.g.:

  • Answering unwanted phone calls
  • Other distractions coming our way like unnecessary e-mails, going to a friends’ house to delivery a CD, etc.

Q4: Not Urgent and Not Important: As the name suggests, not a useful quadrant.

  • Unnecessary TV watching
  • Unproductive relaxation

As a translator, one should always try to strike a balance between Q1 and Q2, for living a quality of life.  I know that Q3 and Q4 cannot be completely avoided, but can be minimized to a great extent in order to achieve our goals.

I know that the above-mentioned matrix is not something I invented, but used and found really useful and life-saving. Although it would not completely prevent you from getting stuck into a new problem, but it would make you armed and ready so that you can tackle it immediately and solve it quickly and ensure that it never comes back to haunt you again.

Beyond language learning

“So you have learnt XXXX language. Wow! That’s great. You can become a translator now”  

“It’s so easy, learn XXXX language. Somebody told me that there is a two year diploma in XXX University, and then you will be a translator”

“You have a great job. You get XXXXX rupees for just typing 4000 words. That’s awesome. I should be a translator too”

These are some of the statements I have heard during my last seven years of translation (although there were many more, but they are not worth discussing). It is weird. People in general do not know the difference between translation and language acquisition. Sure, language learning is the first step towards building a career in translation but that is it. This is just the first step. There are several other steps to be taken, many concepts to be learnt before one can call himself/herself a translator. To name a few, here it goes:

  1. Specialization: “So you have completed a Masters in French from XXX University. Now you are a translator. You know everything about this language. Build a business.” …..No! This is not how it works. Language specialization is one aspect. Knowing French, for example, does not mean that you can translate all that is written in French. From my experience, I can tell you that a Rack and pinion linear gear specifications document (Automotive domain) is very different from a toy manual about Rattles and Cuddly toys (Toy manual), though both of these may have been written in the same language. You have to target those sectors in which your interests lie and learn about those sectors, how they function, their assembly lines, the terminology they use daily (for e.g.: If you want to specialize in Automotive sector, you should know at least the working knowledge of gears, clutch, steering wheel, hubcaps, fenders….etc.).
  2. Learning on the job: Translation is a very new industry in India. This is why it is often called as a sunrise industry. It has not reached its boom yet. Although hearing this gives me a great deal of satisfaction that the best has yet to come, but it also hits me that as we are new, we still have a lot to learn. Also, we have only a few mentors. As you will agree, there are not many courses in translation taught in universities in India. The Indian Translators Association has only 10 translators registered in French<>English domain. Mr Sandeep Nulkar, CMD, Bits Pilani Limited has said “Presently, the translation industry is quite disorganized in the sense that there are immense job opportunities in the corporate as well as government sectors but the supply of skilled and efficient manpower to fill the vacancies is lacking. The novice translators with inappropriate training and partial understanding of language do more harm than good in their field of work”. The term novice translators refers to those translators who have just come out from language schools and claim to have all the knowledge required for translating any document, without even having the slightest idea that what this entails. We must not forget that it is our responsibility to make this industry organized and to lay the groundwork for us and our future colleagues. A lot of work has to be done. But is a not a futile endeavor. As I have said earlier, the best is yet to come.
  3. Target Audience – Being a translator is more like being a writer. A writer writes his work keeping the audience in mind. It is the same for us. Translation does not mean we put the English (Target Language) sentence in place of a French (Source Language) sentence and the work is done. We have to keep our audience in mind. For e.g.; In case of manual of a washing machine, the target audience will be consumers; common men and women who are more likely to have no knowledge of the specifics of a washing machine, its parts, the connection between them, etc. So the language has to be very lucid along with clear diagrams explaining its working so that they can properly operate it themselves in compliance with the company’s standards. A document of a software program, which will most likely be read by fellow developers, must be in a language that is straight, simple, with less use of idioms and proverbs and more detail should be given to the translation of the coded language (in many cases the codes are not even translated).
  4. Sharpen the saw – Dr. Stephen Cover, in his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effectively People”, named his last habit sharpening the saw which serves as the base for all other habits to function properly. I think it is an important activity if you want to be best in your field. A translator’s learning never stops. He is continuously learning; about new software, new words and idioms in their respective source and target languages being added every year, new ways to market themselves…etc. In a nutshell, you always remain a student with your mind always active to grasp new concepts.

A competent translator is not only bilingual but bi-cultural. A language is not merely a collection of words and rules of grammar and syntax, but it is also an interconnecting system of cultural references whose mastery is almost a lifetime job. Hence it is a misconception that a person fluent in two or more languages can easily become a translator. Language is a road map to a new world, translation is the journey.

Journey to a new wor(l)d.

Fifteen years back, in a classroom with 35 students, having no idea whatsoever what my future had in store for me, just waiting for my French teacher, pondering over my books, flipping pages, understanding nothing but smiling at the cartoons and caricatures and color coded pages………the feeling was new, pure and different.

Nothing has changed in the last fifteen years though. I still feel the same whenever my Outlook icon pops up on my computer and wow…………a new project, the same excitement and the same curiosity engulfs me. I think this is the magic of words. The same 26 alphabets (in case of French), just written differently and pronounced vaguely and a new world comes right at your doorstep, waiting to be opened, explored (I am still exploring). The more you know, the more you realize you do not know and thus you want to know. This is why I named this blog as a journey, an exploration and an adventure, without any destination (as of now).

So, hop on… are in for an exhilarating ride.