Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th


Flippant comments on

freelance work can really bug

us translators right?


There are 13 letters between the words freelance and work.   Interesting thought on this Friday the 13th.

I thought I’d look at 13 things – of various degrees of annoying but in no particular order – people say to freelance translators (and in some cases people who do any kind of freelance work). You’d almost want to wish these folks bad luck.  Some have already been listed elsewhere but I wanted to add some of my own with my own personal commentary. A response of sorts to each one is in italics.

Here they are then:

  1. When are you going to get a (real) job?
    When are you going to get a (real) job? I haven’t said that to anyone yet but I’d really like to. I usually think of smart things to retort with after the fact.
  2. Why are you so defensive/sensitive when I try to give you work-seeking advice?
    I didn’t ask anyone’s advice and I like being a translator. That’s a fact and I can’t help it if the person takes it as a defensive /sensitive response. I don’t even like to respond to these comments but when I have, I have had some very unsettling reactions as if I was at fault.  Also, if I had a backup plan – maybe I do, maybe I don’t – I’d share it with more positive, like-minded people.  I think people who give unsolicited advice in any regard and are then offended if you don’t take it are often projecting an unhappy aspect of their own lives onto yours.
  3. Why would you want to work on your own? Do you not like people?
    I like most people, haha, and deal with quite a few during my day but sometimes I don’t deal with anyone from day to day.  Translators do meet each other occasionally as well (which you can say whether it’s true for you or not).
  4. Do you ever leave your house? How do you keep fit?
    I do leave the house to run errands and exercise and other things.  Thanks for your concern.  I stand up at my desk or get up from my desk a lot (which you can do without being accused by others of dossing or time wasting).  I can also do what I want at any time without having to ask permission from a boss. Then I might ask ‘how do you keep fit in your sedentary job?’
  5. Why are you not wearing your pyjamas?
    Despite the prolific number of translators who boast about wearing their pyjamas (shortened to pjs – peejays), and like to think that’s the status quo, not every freelance translator slobs around in their pjs or even a tracksuit (I never wear tracksuits anyway if I can avoid it) so don’t drag the rest of us down with you.  Why on earth would you not change out of your pjs? How can you be in a mindset to work wearing them?  And why would you want a client, who comes across your blog, or finds you on an online forum, finding out you work in your pjs?  Do you want people imagining you in your pjs, or ahem whatever else you wear at night, while you translate something important for them? I wouldn’t if I were a client.  Most clients would expect some professionalism in their translators in going about their work and that includes not wearing pyjamas.   Have some self-respect.  Working on your own in your house should not exclude you from looking decent.   Noone’s asking for a full face of make up or to be clean shaven or a full suit or anything. On the same note, most of us even have desks with proper chairs that we like to sit (or stand) at and don’t lie on the sofa all day with our laptops, coffee, and cats. Whatever about your choice of pet (never been a fan of cats), bad posture and too much coffee isn’t a great idea for your health and it’s very hard to get any work done that way.
  6. You must be on holidays all the time or work from wherever you like.
    Not really. I can’t afford to be on holidays all the time.  Plus working from wherever you like only works for some, not all.  Many translators have family or study commitments or whatever. So while some can travel abroad a lot, or might have access to a house abroad to use as a base from which they can travel to yet more countries, they’re probably more experienced and settled translators who are tax-registered at home or in some other country (very few agencies now accept translators who don’t have a tax number).  The less experienced who glamorise working from wherever the fancy takes them still need to pay for accommodation and travel costs (and visas in some cases) and may not be tax-registered and may be working for peanuts.  Good for them, sorta, if they can afford to get around but most of us like a bit of stability.
  7. ‘Can you translate this text?’ Or ‘What this mean?’
    Don’t ask me. I can’t translate every domain, and don’t necessarily want to, and I’m not a walking dictionary.  But here’s my dictionary if you want to look something up and tell me yourself.
  8. You can probably translate any language you take a fancy to right?
    No, well not right away. I’d really want to be studying a language for a few years before I decide to take it on as a language to work with.  And then I’d have my work cut out competing with more experienced translators in that pair (but I’d still try).
  9. Why do you have subtitles on for that tv drama/film? Don’t you understand what they’re saying?
    I’m watching this film for relaxation and don’t want to have to think about what everything means. Plus, they’re using a dialect I haven’t yet encountered. Not all translators are interested in subtitling, especially on the spot while relaxing.
  10. In another area of audiovisual translation, if you work in dubbing you might hear:  ‘Oh you do the voices?’
    No I just translate the dialogue. Actors do the rest. But it’s still difficult I imagine as you have to sync the dubbing voices to the original actor’s speech.  The only time I’ve seen a dubbing actor represented in a film is in Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown where the main protagonist is one of these actresses.   You just see her and her colleagues doing it, not the ins and outs of dubbing.
  11. So, you know and work with Japanese? You can switch to Chinese easily right? Isn’t Chinese more common these days because of the economy and so on?  I think you should switch.
    A. Again with the unsolicited advice.  Eye roll.
    B. You can’t just switch from Japanese to Chinese even if they have a script in common.   I don’t believe so anyway.
    C.  I quite like Japanese and took it on even when I knew Chinese was gaining in popularity.   It’s a ‘mistake’ I can live with.By the way, I’ve seen translators who work with Japanese, Chinese and Korean to English (and of course Korean has its own script again). More power to them but it wouldn’t be for me.
  12. Are you nervous about machine translation taking over your job? It’s bound to sooner or later.
    No, I’m not, but thanks for your concern (said very sarcastically).  See my previous post on one literary example of where Google, or anything else, is not going to do so. There is plenty other evidence of how it will never happen. Often people say this in a know-it-all tone of voice despite not knowing much at all. They just ‘heard it somewhere’ and want to test your reaction to it.
  13. How much do you earn? How much have you saved so far?
    Mind your own business!!! No, I’m not going to give you a rough figure.   That’s a crass question to ask, whatever a person does for a living, but people often assume they can ask you because you don’t seem to be working every day or even every week.  And even though some translators are guilty of asking each other this question as well, it’s mostly showing off (which is very annoying) and it’s still more annoying when it comes from non-translators who refuse to understand freelancing.  Yes, it can be unsteady but our income is not your business.Well, that’s it. I’m sure there are more but that’s my thirteen for this Friday the 13th.