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From teaching to translation
This is the article I looked for on the web as I prepared to move from teaching into translation… but never found! So, here is my version - and I hope someone out there contemplating the same move will find it useful.
I left secondary teaching in July 2008 with no ideas at all about pursuing a second career. Exhausted, jaded, and in need of some time for myself, I bought a stack of all the books I’d been meaning to read for years but never quite found the time for, and hunkered down for a few months. I emerged refreshed and ready to start thinking about ways in which I could continue to use my language skills, whilst at the same keeping stress to a minimum and increasing my quality of life by ensuring sufficient time to enjoy family and hobbies.
I started to look into translation as a possible route to go down and very soon discovered that ITI (the Institute for Translation and Interpreting) was the organisation to get involved with. Having sneaked a look at their CPD schedule, I contacted them to see if they minded me joining them for their Translation Workshop in Milton Keynes in October 2008 and I was welcomed wholeheartedly. I spent a fascinating day listening to various speakers and sitting in on workshop sessions. I found it very refreshing to be on the receiving end of CPD (instead of delivering it) and learned an awful lot just from eavesdropping on ‘real’ translators at work. By the end of the day, I was hooked.
The following January I was still sufficiently motivated to sign up for City University’s Diploma in Translation preparation course. After spending years assessing students’ work, now it was my efforts under scrutiny – very salutary! By April 2009, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and join ITI as a student associate. I next attended the joint ITI/Westminster University seminar ‘Starting Work as a Translator’ in London and I think it was at that point that I really got the bit between my teeth! The next obvious step was to enrol for ITI’s Orientation Course (Autumn 2009) – an extremely useful online course which was to stand me in good stead in so many ways. For someone who had no clue about such things as invoicing, the perils of tricky formatting and the potential pitfalls of OCR (which until then had only meant one thing – exams!), the OC was a real learning curve.
The next couple of years were spent working on various pro bono assignments (to gain those all-important first references), working towards gaining the Dip Trans (much tougher than any other exam I had ever sat), building a website, becoming a full member of the ProZ network (where I got my first big break - two agencies willing to give me a test, despite my obvious lack of experience, before adding me to their database). I am still working for them today and slowly edging my way towards my first half million words – a source of some satisfaction as it seems like only yesterday that I was settling down to Job 001!!
So, am I glad I made the move? Overwhelmingly, yes! I am using my language knowledge and skills every day. I have almost complete flexibility in when and where I do my work - if I have had a quiet week and work comes up for the weekend, I am more than happy to take it on. In teaching, I worked every weekend AS WELL AS Monday to Friday! If I need time away from my desk to help a family member, visit a friend – or see a film in the middle of the afternoon - I can do it.
Is there any crossover with teaching? In many ways, there are similarities between the two jobs. Research skills are all-important, particularly to a ‘generalist’ translator like myself – each new task presents me with new areas to explore and new conundrums to solve. Just as I would enjoy helping my A2 students to research their (often esoteric!) coursework topics, so now I love nothing better than getting ‘stuck into’ a new topic. No subject is too mundane – the many permutations of the orthopaedic shoe, the common or garden sticky label, screw-top bottle closures are now meat and drink to me! Another thing which pleasantly surprised me about translation is the amount of help and advice available from fellow translators. Having come from an environment where support from colleagues is an essential prerequisite for doing the job effectively, I was relieved to find that I was not alone in my new-found endeavours, especially in the first couple of years. Help in dealing with rogue demands from agencies, advice on money matters or just reassurance that that word in Bavarian dialect does in fact mean what you think it means – all of these are available pretty much round the clock via the various networks. It seems it’s not just teachers who have last-minute crises!! I have also found that translation allows me to use my creative skills much more than I thought would be the case. From being one of those teachers who actually enjoyed creating teaching materials (I was often still up late at night, tweaking my latest Powerpoint or visual aid), I can now channel those same creative energies into the marketing and tourism translations which I produce on a daily basis.
Are there things I miss? The honest answer to that must also be – yes. Moving into another career meant leaving behind a good position with responsibility and exchanging a role in which I had many years of experience to one where I was very much the ‘newbie’. At times I miss the general ‘rough ‘n tumble’ of a busy workplace and the constant interaction with students and other teachers. It is true to say that in teaching you are never alone. These days, a knock on the door (even if it’s only the postman or the window-cleaner!) provides a welcome respite from my enforced solitude. Getting paid on time can be an occasional source of stress, some agencies make unreasonable time demands and any mistakes I make are mine and nobody else’s (no team to hide behind!!). I also crave feedback. Teachers are subject to constant feedback on their performance –from their head teacher, department head, colleagues, parents, Ofsted and, on an almost minute-by-minute basis, the students themselves. My feedback now comes (all being well) in the form of my paid invoice at the end of the month and a (more or less) regular flow of work from my agencies. When an occasional positive comment does come my way, I snap it up greedily, store it away and bring it out to comfort myself when business is slow or I just need a bit of a boost!
The verdict? I have very soon realised that as a translator I pretty much stand or fall by my last translation – and, in a competitive business such as this, that is always how it is going to be. I am reconciled to the fact that without a ‘niche’ specialism, my earnings may never be sufficient to allow me to retire to South of France. The job has also forced me to make some lifestyle changes. Although the physical demands of teaching are considerable – standing for long periods, lugging heavy equipment around and turning in the kind of all-singing, all-dancing performances expected of a MFL teacher these days, all take their toll. But now I have physical challenges of a different kind. My body has not taken particularly well to the more sedentary lifestyle of a translator and my neck and back are starting to demand regular TLC. I have now had to learn a new drill - frequent breaks, regular exercise (a brisk walk or 30 lengths of my local pool) and (money well spent, I’ve discovered) a monthly massage. On the whole, though, I have no regrets about my decision five years ago.
And the future? Now, with a few years’ experience under my belt, and having now also achieved my long-held ambition of achieving MCIL status, I feel much more confident of my ability to hold my own in the translation world. My current challenge is to find ways to market myself more proactively with a view to expanding my direct client base. I hope to continue translating for many more years to come – long after my teacher colleagues have crashed and burned! Well, that’s the plan, anyway.