The Freelance Box: Reaching out to direct clients


After a break from blogging and CPD to focus on completing my MA dissertation and setting up my business, I’m here to tell you about The Freelance Box, an excellent business master class for translators. I attended the workshop last Friday and my head has been buzzing with ideas ever since.

The Freelance Box is run by Valeria Aliperta and Marta Stelmaszak, and last week’s event at Friar Gate Studios in Derby was organised by the ITI East Midlands Regional Group as their first full-day CPD event. Each attendee is given a small cardboard box in which to place all their business ideas, which is a great physical reminder of what you’re aiming to accomplish and something which any small business owner could benefit from.


As a newcomer to professional translation, I was worried that the workshop would be a little advanced for my level. The message that stuck with me is that in order to be successful as translators, we should seek to avoid the competition by finding direct clients, maybe even clients who don’t translate currently or who don’t realise they could benefit from translation services.

Everyone was a little hesitant about the first activity, which required us to role-play giving our elevator speech to prospective clients at an imaginary trade fair. But actually it was surprisingly easy to have a conversation about your services if you focus on listening to the client’s needs. I realised that maybe this is something even I could do!

So far in my career, I’ve found the translation industry to be a really supportive and welcoming environment, and it’s great that so many translators take the time to blog, tweet and organise events about how to succeed. But having attended the Freelance Box, I’ve realised that many translators are reluctant to work mostly with direct clients, because it’s all too easy to remain within this cosy bubble the translation industry provides. We reach out to only a few direct clients, even though we may not be satisfied with our agency clients. It may seem obvious, but perhaps it’s important to get equally involved in the industries you specialise in- after all, that’s where the clients are.

As one door closes, another opens…

It’s been a busy month for everyone on the MA as we completed our final assessments. Now that the taught part of the course is over, I’ve been thinking about what lies ahead once the final dissertation is submitted in September, and two events held by the Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI) in the past few weeks have provided a great opportunity to refocus my energy.

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Starting Work as a Translator or Interpreter

Starting work as a translator or interpreter, a free event held by the ITI, University of Westminster, Routes into languages and National Networks, gave a thorough introduction to the issues affecting the industry. It was surprising but great to see such a variety of people considering translation or interpreting and reassuring to meet others in the same position as newcomers to the industry! We learnt about a variety of possible careers in the industry but the practical advice for aspiring freelancers on pricing and marketing provided by Joanna Waller and Anne de Freyman was particularly useful. It was also great to hear John Evans talk about all the languages he’s picked up working for the Directorate-General for Translation at the EU, and ever since, I’ve been thinking about which language I’d like to learn next. I may be coming to the end of my MA but it looks like the profession is going to give me lots of reasons to keep learning.

Meet the Client: Better Languages

Next up was a Meet the Client event held at the offices of translation agency Better Languages in Lenton, Nottingham, organised by the East Midlands regional group. Mike and Beatriz from Better Languages were great hosts and it was useful for me as a translation newcomer to find out about the translation process from an agency’s perspective. An interesting issue that arose during discussion was that when posting jobs on ProZ, an agency may understandably prefer to only send the advert to those translators who have uploaded their CV to the site, whilst some freelancers in attendance would not be willing to publish their CV online because of the high risk of CV fraud. We didn’t come to an agreement on how to avoid this problem but it was good to hear that Mike and Beatriz take the problem very seriously and work with their freelancers and project managers to protect translators’ CVs and avoid fraudsters. It was fascinating to learn about the agency’s interactions with direct clients and the extent to which good agencies can make life easier for translators by dealing with all the problems that arise during the translation process. Some inexperienced translators are tempted to undercut the competition and become caught in a downward spiral of decreasing rates, due to industry pressure. Speaking to the staff at Better Languages was a good opportunity to remind myself that there is an alternative and some agencies really are concerned with quality and operate a business model that can work for all concerned.

Thanks again to everyone involved in organising these two events. I’ve come away with lots of ideas to keep me motivated as I complete my dissertation this summer and prepare to enter the industry in September. And finally, good luck to everyone receiving their second semester results in June!

Never a dull day in translation

A few weeks ago, I published a post about the challenges of literary translation in general, and following a meeting with my dissertation supervisor, I now know exactly what the challenges of my text are going to be, and one in particular certainly took me by surprise…

To recap, I’m translating an extract from Allah Superstar, by Y.B. It’s a novel published in 2003 that follows a second-generation Algerian immigrant’s journey to becoming a stand-up comedian in Paris. What’s interesting from a translation point of view is that the novel is narrated in the first person, and what’s more, in the spoken style of a stand-up sketch.

As a starting point, I conducted a close-text analysis of a few hundred words and submitted it to my supervisor for review. Having identified the features that were examples of non-standard French, my (French-native) supervisor explained which features came from colloquial and slang French, and which were examples of the spoken French known as ‘français populaire’. For example, left-dislocation is a very common feature of spoken French across all of the more informal registers, and certain examples of apocope, the abbreviation of words by omitting the final syllables, are common in ‘français populaire’, whilst others are limited to argot and verlan. Up to this point, it seemed to be a question of identifying features of spoken English which have similar social connotations to those features we’d found in the French source text. And then…

Another aspect of the text I’d highlighted was the occasional use of rhyme. I suggested that this was another form of language play, as there’s a lot of creative language use throughout the novel, and that it made the text particularly appealing when read aloud (remember, the narration is supposed to mimic the entertaining language of a stand-up sketch, so this made sense). My supervisor had other ideas, however. The rhymes occurred most frequently in stretches of text which I’d understood at word-level, but had struggled to understand when taken together as a series of long sentences, divided by commas into very short clauses.

The reason being? These aren’t just examples of rhyme, they’re entire stretches of rap. Yes, rapping. A succession of rich imagery evoking seemingly disparate concepts and connotations linked by rhyme, and designed to be spoken.

On the one hand, yes, this is going to be a huge challenge to translate, and I’m beginning to see why this book is yet to be published in English! On the other hand, it certainly gives me something to get my teeth into, and will provide rich material for the commentary. I’ve done some preliminary research into translating songs, as I can’t find anything on the subject of rap, but seeing as rap is constrained by the beat more than music, and rap lyrics are generally less contrived than song lyrics, I have a feeling I’ll have to go with my gut to some extent.

I’m going to take a break from the issue for now, and concentrate on upcoming assessments and the other aspects of my dissertation. I’ll leave you with a little something I came across some time ago, that this episode has brought to mind. Hopefully when I return to tackle the issue, I won’t be thinking along the same lines as this poor subtitler!

subtitling song fail

(This is a scene from Ernest & Celestine, a Belgian film released in 2012. I assume these aren’t the official subtitles!)


Tweet in the Middle

Using social media for professional purposes: CPD workshop

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Following the success of previous Tweet Ups in Manchester and Leeds, Tweet Up North is coming to Nottingham!

Translation industry leaders often advocate social networking for professional purposes, and now the East Midlands Regional Group is presenting an opportunity to put this advice into practice.

On Saturday 26th April, a social media workshop will allow translators to get to grips with Twitter and make the most of LinkedIn through presentations, discussions and activities. This will be followed by a TweetUp where attendees will have the chance to practice what they’ve learnt. Don’t forget to bring a device capable of connecting to the venue’s Wi-Fi to get the most out of the TweetUp!

Whether you already have an established presence on Twitter and LinkedIn or you’ve yet to take the plunge, this event promises to be a great opportunity to share experiences and develop your professional network.

When: Sat 26th April from 1pm

Where: Upstairs dining room, Cross Keys pub, 15 Byard Lane, Nottingham, NG1 2GJ

Getting there: Ample parking is available locally and the venue is conveniently located for travel by train or bus.

To reserve a place: Please email Sarah at as soon as possible

Further details are available on the ITI website.

The challenges of literary translation


It’s been a busy few weeks as the assessment period begins. I completed my second voluntary translation and last week I had my first meeting with my dissertation supervisor. I’m going to be translating 3,000 words of the novel Allah Superstar, by YB. This represents a different challenge to the international development texts I’m used to translating but I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve recently come across two links that have simultaneously petrified me and increased my enthusiasm for the task ahead.

The first is a link to an excellent article by Daniel Hahn, ‘The curious condition of being a translator’, musing on the process of literary translation and the need to analyse each sentence in minute detail. Though daunting, it’s great inspiration for the quality of translation I should be aiming for.

Second is a very clever little French video, ‘Les traducteurs sont des inutiles’, disproving many of the arguments often put forward against paying translators higher rates, especially literary translators.

My first task is to conduct a close source text analysis in preparation for my next meeting with my supervisor. I’ll be posting regular updates on my progress from now on. I’d love to hear from anyone with tips or their own experience translating literature!

Getting to grips with note-taking

Coming to terms with an over-reliance on notes

When I first began studying consecutive interpreting, I clung to my notes for dear life. Not yet willing to trust my memory, I scribbled down everything I heard. Interpreting teaching materials always advise against this, but I found it really reassuring. Although, as I mentioned in my last post on interpreting, this did mean I had to leave out some of the details, it allowed me to focus on speaking the message clearly and confidently, which for me was the most daunting task.

After a few weeks, however, my progress slowed. My lengthy notes were causing me to pause mid-sentence, and after reading a few chapters of Roderick Jones’s Conference Interpreting Explained it became clear that I needed to start noting ideas, not words.

The path to better note-taking

The first step was to reduce my reliance on my notes by interpreting a French TED video from memory. I played the recording to my instructor and he said I sounded much more natural and confident than when reading a full page of notes.

So my next challenge was to practice note-taking using fewer words and more symbols. To do so, I took notes for English-language recordings so that I could focus on developing a comprehensible note-taking system rather than translating.

Finally, I took the plunge and interpreted a French speech using my new style of notes. It was nerve-wracking at first, but I soon realised that it was enabling me to capture so many more details than before.

The difference is clear:

           Original notes                         Improved notes

Before                                                                   After

One small caveat to my success was that there were a few instances when I failed to hear a key word or point when listening. Interpreting really does use so much brain power and requires almost constant multi-tasking. Just when you feel you’ve got one skill mastered, another that you’ve previously been comfortable with suddenly becomes an issue. I’m really enjoying the challenge that this presents even if it seems a bit never-ending at times.


The Highs and Lows of Bad Translations

This week I’ve come across three very different perspectives on bad translations that have given me pause for thought.

1. The key witness at the trial of Oscar Pistorius has been forced to testify in her non-native language because the interpreter struggled to translate from Afrikaans to English. It’s unacceptable that such a high-profile trial, being streamed live, has failed to meet basic interpreting standards. Even more so when we take into account that both Afrikaans and English are official languages in South Africa.

2. Corinne McKay has argued that bad translations present an opportunity for professional translators to acquire new clients. As a newcomer to translation, I was intrigued by the idea that by approaching businesses with poorly translated copy and offering to provide a better quality translation, translators can develop mutually beneficial relationships with direct clients. When living in France I came across poor English translations on a daily basis and it can really affect a customer’s trust in a brand, product or service.

McKay acknowledges that many businesses may not see the need to pay more for a better translation when they already have one that seems to do the trick. I think Ewa Erdmann’s blog post on translation rates does an excellent job in providing a clear explanation as to why paying low rates for language services will only result in poor quality translation that damages a company’s reputation.

3. Unless, of course, your name is Jamie Oliver. This week the chef has released a promotional video for his restaurant opening in Hong Kong, and his failed attempts at greeting his fans in Cantonese have provided much amusement among locals but also a warm welcome from native speakers on YouTube.

Clearly, while bad translations can be amusing in less serious situations, in some instances they are simply unacceptable and this is particularly the case in legal settings. What these examples show is that as translators and interpreters, we can use bad translations to our advantage by offering higher quality services.

12 Angry Men: an interpersonal perspective

From a viewer’s perspective, this film definitely exceeded my expectations. It held my attention throughout and I would happily watch it again. 12 Angry Men is a film about 12 jurors who must decide whether a man is guilty of murder, the punishment for which is execution. To begin with, 11 of the 12 are in favour of a guilty verdict, and must persuade the twelfth man to agree with them.

According to IMDb, the film is often used in business schools to demonstrate team dynamics, and I can see why- the entire plot is a character study that focuses on the way we can influence others’ decisions. It’s this aspect which is interesting from a subtitler’s perspective. As each man argues his case, the nuances of his tone, pace and word choice suggest the extent to which he is sure of his own decision.  Elements of doubt which are detectable in a speaker’s utterance must also be made available to the target audience, ideally without making it more or less obvious.

Watching 12 Angry Men has shown me how delicate a task subtitling can be, and I now understand the need for an awareness of interpersonal relationships when subtitling. I still don’t know exactly which techniques subtitlers use to overcome these issues, so that’s something I’m going to look into.

Subtitles and the foreign film experience

This week in audiovisual translation we looked at how subtitles can affect an audience’s interpretation of a film. We analysed extracts from three films: Diez Minutos, 8 Femmes and Oscar et la Dame Rose.

What became apparent was that subtitles aren’t just a straightforward translation of the film’s script. Subtitles need to be short enough to be read quickly, so that the audience focus on the action on screen, rather than missing out on the visual aspects of the film because they’re trying to follow complex subtitles. To achieve this, subtitles need to function as a summary of the script. How can they do this whilst also conveying all of the meaning available to viewers of the source-language film?

There are many examples of subtitling which are simply poor translations, but there are also other cases where subtitling choices are purely subjective and depend largely on personal interpretation of a given character. It’s at this level that decisions can really make a film successful with target-language audiences.

In each of the films we looked at, important elements of characterisation were encoded in the script and the tone and register of character’s lines affect how the audience perceive them. In Oscar et la Dame Rose, a sensitive subject is addressed through the use of non-standard register, as a terminally ill child befriends a straight-talking woman who, upon first meeting the boy, swears at him and calls him ‘un microbe’ – a germ. In the context of the film, their unusual relationship is refreshing and extremely moving, something which could easily become lost in translation if it were carelessly summarised. The subtitles avoid this by evoking defining elements of the character’s speech style through key words, such as slang terms, colloquial idioms and swear words. This compensates for cutting any of her longer lines which only serve to reinforce already established character traits. As a result, the use of language which could come across as insensitive or even offensive is successfully understood within the context of the film’s tone and broader message.

Until now I hadn’t reflected on the extent to which subtitles can affect the audience experience. Our next task is to watch the film Twelve Angry Men and consider how we would approach writing the subtitles. Having watched the trailer, it’s not a genre I’m acquainted with so it looks like it could provide some interesting challenges.