I soon found that the calls to interpret in courtrooms, police stations and other public services weren’t regular enough to provide a viable income and that translation projects definitely could not be discounted. Having attended courses and events aimed at linguists, and particularly interpreters, I realised that it was a case of location, location, location. And really, it was something that I should have realised sooner but, as with many new ventures and as my first attempt to run a business, even as a freelancer, I started out optimistic and presumed I’d be all over the region, perhaps even all over the country interpreting here, there and everywhere.
Common sense of course says that the need for interpreters in any language pair or pairs will correspond to the volume of non-English speakers who come into contact with some authority or other and who have an insufficient level of the English language to navigate their way through the procedures, sector specific terminology or, and particularly the most difficult even for native English speakers, legal jargon and terms.
It was clear that qualified interpreters who live in or close to a city where many workers, individuals and families tend to settle receive more calls to interpret between the various public services and those citizens who are native speakers of other languages, and had a clear advantage. Living forty minutes away from one large UK city didn’t preclude me altogether from the odd interpreting assignment but a minimum of one hour away from the next closest large city meant I was seen as a last resort if no-one else suitably qualified was available.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it I discovered that being in my home office in front of my laptop wasn’t all that bad. It was nothing like the devastating hell I thought being office bound was going to be. After a while I got faster and was able to turn around translation projects pretty quickly and accurately, confident in my ability. I can even go so far as to say that I have come to view my translation work as a form of art in which I take great pride and from which I derive great satisfaction.
In the early days most of the translation work came from larger agencies. Some became regulars and were in regular contact while others hired me as a one-off or perhaps once a year for some project. The bigger agencies who received a lot of work began not only sending me translation projects but editing ones too. That is, editing and correcting translations performed by another translator.
So, what type of translation work was this? The great thing about translation work, and particularly for a legal document specialist, is that the field of law covers every area of personal, public and business life. With that comes variety and I found that I learnt a lot about sectors that I had never previously given a second thought to. The same applied to my time as an interpreter.
The translation of supply contracts and articles of association became bread and butter projects. Almost all of these with the odd exception contained the same or similar legal terminology but with individual business or sector specific differences. Court judgments (yes, judgments without an “e” for judicial decisions!) became commonplace as did certified translations of personal documents such as marriage certificates. Political texts, newspaper articles and public announcements were also typical.
Now, since the law applies to every industry and every business, and every one of those requires company documents and contracts, very often accompanying documents also required translation. This led to my translating product specifications or supply agreements with a lot of technical vocabulary, often containing as much technical terminology as legal language in some cases.
And this was great because it meant the legal aspect was there and was usually straightforward yet there was something new in there too which required a little research of the industry specific language, products, processes etc. I’d started out with only an interest in legal matters but became unbelievably familiar with the tobacco, telecoms, water processing and mining industries in particular!
Furthermore, a great thing about having working languages that are spoken and/or are the language of business across the globe rather than restricted to one single country is that I discovered new aspects to the languages from which I translated owing to some regional variations. For instance, having studied European Portuguese, there weren’t too many surprises when it came to translating Portuguese documents from African jurisdictions, and the same could be said of French ones. From this I learned a bit about political and commercial attitudes in several African countries.
Brazilian Portuguese documents are surprisingly refreshing to translate as they are “Portuguese” but they keep me on my toes because of the inverted verb-pronoun structure and the very frequent use of the gerundive in contrast to the very frequent use of the a + infinitive structure to indicate “-ing” in European Portuguese. See my post about the differences between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese.
Spanish is the language, however, that I found to have more differences in sector specific or sometimes official terminology between its Latin American and European variants. Having initially learnt European Spanish then subsequently spending time in a region where there were many Latino influences in the pronunciation and language used, I was confident of being a Spanish language specialist who could translate the language from any part of the world.
Very often there were just subtle differences in the meaning of a given term but there could be a lot of regional dialect that required slightly more extensive research. This was particularly the case in political and criminal law related texts from the Americas. Nonetheless it is these differences that make language so special and make the role of the translator so varied.
Having said all of the above, this does not mean that I have been restricted to translating purely legal, business or technical documents. It’s always quite pleasant to receive something a little different to translate and which presents a few challenges. Therefore, and as the reader has no doubt discovered by now, research is a huge part of the translation task.
The biggest challenge I have faced to date in my career must be the translation of several episodes of a French television entertainment programme. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that this was a relatively simple task for someone who is used to working on complex legal materials since a fair presumption would be that the transcript contains just “ordinary language”.
This is where it gets tricky because what is ordinary language? Jargon, regional, town, city, county specific expressions are often only ordinary in their home location! As part of a televised entertainment show contestants can come from all corners of the country. Sayings, slang and humour are often part of “ordinary” language too. One section of the show in question even included rhyming. Imagine having to find the English equivalent of all these aspects of speech in a single text!
Needless to say working out what the speakers really meant or what they were implying was a challenge but a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying one. Perhaps most challenging of all in this project was all the thought I put into finding the expressions in English that meant exactly the same thing as the French counterpart but used completely different analogies. Sometimes they make perfect sense and it is clear that they have the same meaning when you think about them. Other times they range from humorous or odd to bizarre or nonsensical.
So, let’s end this article about my story as a translator with a couple of those expressions.