Life as a translator – Interview with Lucy

Hi! I’m Kitty, a full time languages student and an aspiring translator. I am in my final year (well, final month!) of my French and Italian degree at the University of York and, for the past four weeks, I have been lucky enough to get some work experience at LEaF Translations to find out more about life as a translator. As part of this, I did an interview with founder of LEaF and German-English translator, Lucy, to get some answers to the many questions I had about translation…

Did you do a Masters in translation?

No I didn’t, I had quite an unusual path into translation. I studied German and Philosophy at Edinburgh University and, after graduating, I still wanted to improve my German as I felt like it wasn’t good enough to have a degree in, I’m quite self-critical in that way. I decided to go and live in Germany to become fully fluent. There, I studied for a Masters degree in Intercultural Communication European Studies and, as part of that, I did an internship which I chose to do at a translation agency in Frankfurt and really enjoyed. After that, I carried on doing freelance work for the same agency and was also asked to translate the University’s website. I was studying at a really small university in Germany and I think I was the only British person there at the time so I kind of got the job by default, but it actually worked out really well. Then it just grew from there. I didn’t do the ‘normal’ path into translation, which is studying languages then doing a Masters in it, I very much took the practical route and fell into it, it was kind of a coincidence really.

Do you think doing a Masters in translation would have helped?

I think, for most people, if you do a degree in modern languages and you want to become a translator, doing a Masters would definitely be beneficial. I really enjoyed doing translation at university but I wasn’t really thinking of it as a career choice, not because I had anything against translation, I just hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do. So, for me, it didn’t really make sense at that point but if you know that you want to be a translator and you have finished your degree in languages, I think it is a good way of getting into translation.

What are the benefits of being a freelance translator compared to an in-house translator?

I think it is different at different times in your career. Initially, working in-house is probably a good way to get started. It gives you a lot of experience, you see how it works from the inside, you obviously have a steady income, and then if you decide to go on to become a freelancer you can get work from that agency so its a good way into it.

But I definitely prefer being a freelancer. Just because of the freedom it gives you. The fact that you can choose which jobs you take on, you can go out and find the clients you want to work with, you can work the hours you want to work, you can make as much or as little money as you want depending on how much time you want to spend working. I would say you can set your own rates but there is obviously pressure from certain agencies to have a specific rate. But I just like the freedom it gives you.

On the other hand, it is essentially running your own business so there is more to it than just translating if you are a freelancer, which is also something to bear in mind. It doesn’t suit everyone, but if you’re well-organised and you’ve got good time-management skills and discipline, I think it can be a really good career choice, definitely.  

To find out more about Lucy’s journey into translation, what it means to be a certified translator and more, here is the link to part 1 of the full interview. or you can watch the video below:

What is your favourite kind of text to translate?

Definitely marketing and website translations. I am very lucky in that with LEaF Translations we get to work with some really great businesses that I share values with. One example is a German chocolate company – I am a massive chocaholic which helps – called EcoFinia who sell Vivani and iChoc, which is a vegan chocolate brand. I do work for them and it’s nice working with a company that you really share the values of – their packaging is all biodegradable, they work directly with the producers to educate them and try to improve workers’ conditions. It’s a really good company and it’s really satisfying to be able to work with a company like that and know that the work you’re doing is helping them to improve their own marketing. That kind of client is brilliant. 

What is your favourite thing about translation?

As a job, I love the freedom it gives you – being a freelancer is brilliant. I find it really hard to understand how people manage to hold down 9-5 jobs and live their life as well because I have been a freelancer for so long. When do you go to the dentist? And when do you sort out your insurance? Being a freelancer gives you such freedom in that sense, I really love that.

I also find the act of translating super satisfying, knowing that you have done a good job. If you’re translating a text, especially with marketing or website translation, and you write something then read back on it the next day and think “I’ve done a really good job there”, there is a real sense of satisfaction in it. Even with more technical texts, it’s almost a bit like maths – I used to really like maths at school – there is just something almost logical and rational about it that really appeals to me as well. I think it ticks a lot of different boxes for me in terms of creativity, the more technical side of things and the sense of satisfaction you can get from doing a good job.

What is your least favourite thing about translation?

I guess if you’re doing a long, technical translation that lasts a few weeks and you feel like you’re stuck. You look at the percentage that you’ve done and the percentage that you’ve got left, only going up 1% a day, and you feel like its never going to end, you’re stuck in this horrible translation… that can be quite annoying and frustrating. That is why I try to break those projects down into smaller chunks, mainly for my own personal well-being and mental health!

I guess the other thing is the pressure on prices from agencies and the move towards post-editing. A lot of agencies now offer machine translations – they use machines to translate the text and then they get freelancers to do the post-editing, so you’re basically editing a text that has been translated by a machine. I just say no to those jobs, I really don’t like them, and I’m lucky that I’m in a position to be able to do that, not everyone is. But it is sadly the way the industry is going in some sectors.

What is your number 1 tip for new translators?

I would say, always ask for feedback. If it is good feedback, keep it as testimonials that you can then post on your social media and website. If it is bad feedback, you can use it to improve which is the key thing when you are starting out in translation. Some people think that if you speak a foreign language you can be a translator but it takes a lot of effort and work to be a translator, it is not just a case of knowing another language, it is a skill that you need to keep practicing. I think asking for constructive feedback is a really good way to keep improving and to know when something is good or needs more work. One of the issues with being a freelancer is that you’re often sitting by yourself at home, you often don’t get feedback if you don’t ask for it and if you’ve done a good job you won’t necessarily know because they won’t tell you unless you ask. Occasionally the client will say that they were really impressed and the project manager will pass that on to you but a lot of the time you won’t hear anything back, so I think asking for feedback is a really good way of making sure you’re on the right track. Then if there is something that you need to improve, you can go away and do that. So that is probably my number 1 tip.

I would also say, although working for direct clients is the dream, working for agencies means that you get to do a lot of different types of translation and I think it can be really beneficial as well, especially at the start so you know what you’re good at. You may think you hate the idea of doing technical translations but actually you’re really good at it. I think it is worth working with agencies initially to get a broad spectrum of different types of texts to identify what works best for you.  

To find out more about Lucy’s day-to-day life as a translator, improving her language skills and more, here is the link to part 2 of the full interview, or you can watch the video below.

Throughout my short, but very sweet, time with LEaF Translations I have gained so much knowledge about this career and the interview with Lucy confirmed for me that this is definitely something that I am excited to explore more. I related so much to many of Lucy’s responses and I hope that this is able to give other aspiring translators an idea of what to expect as well. I am very excited to begin my own journey in translation very soon!

About the Author

Kitty LEaF blog 2021

Kitty

Kitty Trewhitt is a full-time undergraduate student at the University of York, completing work experience with LEaF Translations. She is in her final year of studying French and Italian, recently having completed a year abroad with a short time spent in both countries. She is an aspiring translator, hoping to do a master’s in the subject in the coming year and begin a career in translation. Alongside her studies, she takes part in many extra-curricular activities such as cheerleading at her university, as well as running her own small e-commerce business.