Mrs H Translates

The Tale of a Freelance Translator


March 2016

Onwards and upwards

Yesterday, I received my first rejection.

Now, as you may remember, I have previously lamented the fact that the majority of my application emails have gone unanswered. I naively thought that there was nothing worse than the anguish of not knowing whether or not my application had been accepted, of not knowing whether I was saying the right things or quoting the right prices. Turns out I was wrong. Actually, my fragile ego is much happier believing that one day my acceptance email will come.

Having never been a massive fan of rejection (who is, right?) I will generally go out of my way to avoid it. With that in mind, the agencies I have applied to so far have been the bigger ones that I have heard of, or ones where I know people who work there. Basically, I tried to play it safe. I applied to this particular agency safe in the knowledge that they provide a steady supply of work to many of my former colleagues. I was reassured by the fact that I know not one, but two project managers who work there. So yesterday, when I received an email informing me that ‘they were not looking for translators with my profile’, I will admit to being a little crushed.

With my beloved Mr H working away in London and unavailable for rejection crisis talks, I took to the Internet to make sure that I was not the first freelance translator that this had happened to. I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that I was not. I really was comforted by the number of blog posts that addressed rejection specifically within the freelance translation community, and the overriding message of all of them was the same: don’t take it personally. Now, sensitive creative souls that we are, I think that this is an easy thing to say (and honestly mean!) to other people, but a difficult thing to take on board ourselves.

Last weekend, I went to visit my best friend. A psychologist by trade, weekends with her tend to involve food, wine and free therapy. I come away with my troubles eased, if not ever so slightly hungover. On this visit, I told her I was struggling with the lack of control I had over the freelancing situation. I didn’t know when the next job was coming in, or which agencies were going to sign me up, or whether I would even be successful. This then spiralled into worrying about the lack of control I had over other things: when we’d finally be able to afford to get the car fixed, when the DVLA would return my updated driving licence and our marriage certificate, when Mr H’s bank would finally authorise the payment he has tried to make to me six times so I can pay my credit card (and tax the car that won’t start). Dr Beth poured me a glass of wine and said, sounding exactly like a psychologist, “without wanting to sound like a psychologist, you may not be able to control those things, but you can control how you feel about them”.

I realised then that I could take back the power. I couldn’t force this agency to want me on their books, but I could deal with the rejection in a professional and positive way. So I emailed them back and thanked them for at least taking the time to let me know. I then decided to change my approach towards applying to agencies. Rather than following the masses to the biggest agencies, I would actually back myself and seek out the ones that specialise in my languages and skills. Translation is my passion. I want this more than anything, and in order to get it, I’m going to have to put myself out there. And by putting myself out there, I am putting myself in the path of rejection.

So I’m going in. Cross your fingers for me, I’ll keep you posted.

Mrs H



Honesty is the best policy

So I’ve already mentioned my freelance mentor. For the sake of argument, we’ll call him John. Now, John has something that I don’t have. A magical quality that apparently translation agencies worldwide clamour for. But what could this core value, essential to any translator worth their salt, be? CAT skills? A keen eye for detail? A solid working knowledge of the grammatical quirks of the English language? Why no my friends, what makes John so highly-prized is that John speaks German.

If you detect a note of bitterness here, that may be because I spent three and a half years on a team made up entirely of German speakers. My friends spoke German, my bosses spoke German, heck, even our admin assistants spoke German. For three and a half years I listened to “oh, well there’s no point hiring him. He only speaks French!” or “why can’t this project be in French? We’re never short of French translators!” and “what do you mean you don’t know what a case is? Didn’t you study languages?” Even when I left, the general consensus was that I would be much easier to replace than, God forbid, a German speaker.

In all honesty, I think this may be what has cast a shadow of self-doubt over my striking out alone. I am fighting for work that hundreds of other people could do. I imagine stressed-out translation agency recruiters eagerly scanning my CV for the word “German” before it is slung onto a virtual pile of identical files and never seen again. “Sure, she has in-house experience but she only speaks French? We’ll talk when she can at least offer us a degree in another subject as well. Our list of French-speaking physicists is down to about 7000”. Then, when I try to put that negativity aside, I’ll remember applying to Amazon as a freelance translator when I was at university. My friend and I applied on the same day. We filled in the application forms together. I never heard a word from them, she was recruited within the week. Her secret? You guessed it, she speaks German.

Anyway, back to John. John, who worked in-house for a whole year less than I did, assured me that the work would be coming in steadily within six weeks. Ahem. Been six weeks, John. Not eaten for a while now. Now, another slight problem with John is that he tends to embellish the truth slightly in order to make himself feel better. Basically, John lied to me and I’m narked about it.

Exasperated at not having worked for two weeks straight, I turned to my friend Patience. I had recommended Patience, a French and Spanish speaker, to a company who needed some Spanish translation doing and she had emailed to say thanks and ask how freelancing was going. I was straight with her. Freelancing sucked. I had done three jobs in the entire time I’d been working and one of them was for my mum. Patience, rather than telling me that everything would be fine, told me that it was six months before she’d started working properly. Six months. Six whole months! I could have kissed her.

She told me how she’d sat at the kitchen table and cried – the bills mounting up on the one hand and a complete lack of income on the other. She told me that some of the agencies she’d applied to didn’t get back to her for two *years*. She told me that her own freelancing mentor had had to talk her down from the ledge a couple of times and it was only then that she told me that everything would be fine.

The sudden rush of joy that I felt at not being the only one was overwhelming. This was what I needed – the naked, ugly truth. I didn’t need people to lie to me about how great things were in the beginning. I didn’t need to hear how wonderful life was for anyone fortunate enough not to have dropped German at GCSE (all jokes aside, I really could kick myself). Patience may not have known it but that day she talked me down from the ledge. And now I promise to try and do the same for you – a no-holds-barred account of what it’s really like to start out as a freelancer. Warts and all.

And in the interests of full disclosure – I have had two jobs so far this week. Both legal, both horrendously difficult but both two of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Mrs H



The kindness of former employers

Today I hit my second, as it turns out relatively minor, bump in this twisty turny road towards freelancing.

Things were off to a great start this morning when I sent off an application to an agency and – pause for dramatic effect – actually received a reply. After getting over the shock of seeing a name pop up on my email app that did not belong to my husband, I eagerly opened the correspondence only to learn that the references I had provided were not acceptable. Following in the footsteps of my freelance mentor before me, I had only given the names of referees who worked at my former company. In retrospect, this may not have been the best idea; but the truth is that my confidence in having worked in-house for one of the biggest translation agencies in the world had clouded my judgement. Why on Earth would they care about any previous jobs? Surely dropping the name of this industry heavyweight was all it would take to get me onto anyone else’s books? Sadly not.

Now, I mentioned that this was the second bump in the freelancing road, the first bump being a request from an agency to see copies of my degree certificates. Cue panicked search of the house before realising that 1) I had absolutely no idea where said certificates were 2) The most likely place for said certificates to be was in a storage locker in my home town. Two hours’ drive away (our car hasn’t started for about three months now). On that occasion, my poor mother and stepfather saved the day; spending a Sunday morning pawing through black bags full of papers that spanned thirty years. Unfortunately, this time I’d probably have to sort the problem out without my mummy.

Just one further snag with regard to references. My former boss is on maternity leave. Oh, and the company that we worked for dissolved two years ago. Feeling justifiably foolish at having assumed my reference from the one company would be good enough, I wrote back to the agency and explained the situation in the overly explanatory, too-much-information way that I tend to slip into when panicked. Meanwhile, I emailed my former boss and hastily begged her for a reference. Then felt terrible on both counts.

Just as I was sinking into a spiral of self-loathing at interrupting my former employer’s wondrous first months with the brand-new life she had created, she got in touch to say she’d be happy to provide a reference. To her, it was nothing. To me, it was a resolution to always, always do whatever I could to help anyone feel the gratitude that I felt then.

If I’ve learned anything from the past few days it would be that it doesn’t cost the Earth to do a good deed. This weekend, I saw someone administer CPR to a half-marathon runner who had collapsed just past the finish line. Although the runner is sadly still in a critical condition, there is a very real chance that that person saved his life. Sometimes, amidst a media storm of hatred and gloom, remembering the good in people can go a really long way. Giving someone a reference is by no means a matter of life and death, but to me it made a difference. Things may be tricky on the job front right now, but if ever I can, I want to be the person who brightens someone’s day just that little bit. There’s nothing to stop me doing that.

Mrs H






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