Tag Archives: mindset

One too many tracked changes?

I’ll call him O for Offended.

O and I had volunteered our services at an NGO. His job was to translate an article and mine was to proofread it. And the NGO would get another English-language document for their website.

O’s work was good. In my mind, by suggesting about ten slight modifications, I made his translation even better.

For example, I changed

  • “June 9th” into “June 9”
  • “meet up with” into “meet”
  • “around the planet” into “around the world”
  • “numerous” into “many”

I also tinkered around with a sentence so that “sous la houlette” would not result in “under the primeship”; enter “under the primeship” in Google to see how obscure it is. Mystery expressions might be fine for an academic paper, but not for publicizing an event to the general public.

O protests

Each tracked change made O hostile.

He wrote back a page-long letter pitting His Word Choice against my word choice. He felt he had to defend all but one of my proposed changes.

I got a list:

Why did you take off the “th” from the date?

What’s wrong with “under the primeship”?

“Nombreux” means “numerous”!

The closing paragraph included a threat to never translate for the NGO again because he did not have time to correct the corrector.

Why would O spend an hour questioning every tracked change?

Maybe O is used to defending his work to project managers in face of The Overzealous Proofreader. But I was not proofreading for our employer and I did not go overboard.

A tracked change is not a personal affront.

Unlike O, I take editorial suggestions into account with little emotion. My own work is picked apart on a regular basis and these critiques are sometimes encouraging—and sometimes harsh, no holds barred. (Check out this post from The Cycling Translator if you want to get better at editing and proofing.)

Every time I get feedback, I get better at my job.

Thanks to feedback from other translators, I’ve been reminded that:

  • “Which” and “that” cannot be interchanged at will.
  • The spellcheck is better than me at Americanizing all instances of Canadian spelling (“fiber” not “fibre”).
  • Hyphens can be left out more often than I thought.
  • Short words are better than long ones.
  • Too much confidence in understanding the source text can lead to criminal linguistic activity.

I welcome feedback and read suggestions carefully. I take note of what I could have done better.

O should have done the same.

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Why having a day job makes me a better freelancer

Two years ago, Riccardo Schiaffino summarized the contents of a Colorado Translations Association seminar on About Translation and included this line:

NEVER sound desperate

(especially when you are).

This is why I work two days a week as an English teacher in Parisian companies.


For the first eleven months of my freelance career, translation provided my only source of income. Underemployment almost turned me into a monkey. I spent more time filling out agency forms and doing unpaid tests than actually translating.

I was starting to grow a tail when I came across this blog post on Intercultural Zone. Patricia Lane gives this advice to a struggling freelancer:

What I suggest […] is to split your time between getting yourself established as a translator (your career) and taking on any ol’ part-time job (unrelated to your career) to keep afloat financially.

I took this advice to heart. Why was it the right move for my freelance career?

Because it was liberating.

I do not need to be assigned every job I quote for.

I can count on two full days of work every week. If I have no translations one week, that makes no dent in my grocery budget.

Better quoting

My head is screwed on tighter when I submit quotes. My time has become even more valuable. I am not racing to the bottom.

If I land an interesting project, I am thrilled! If I don’t, I’m disappointed about not taking part, not about missing out on the income.

Other perks of having a day job

Not only am I less needy for work but

  1. I get out of the house. I talk to humans using my voice, not my keyboard.
  2. I brush my hair.  My shoes gets shined, my face gets powdered, my shirt gets ironed.
  3. I march. Few can keep up with my rapid pace as I head to and from the train station. My brain doesn’t get this much oxygen at home.
  4. I part from my computer. This gives my arms, back and eyes a rest. Anyone else translate using a font size of 20?
  5. I network. I got my current translation project, which is very exciting, after being referred by a fellow English teacher.
  6. I learn. I’ve given lessons to people in publishing, oil and gas, electricity, finance, in the automotive industry… I hold a backstage pass into the corporate world. This awareness of company challenges helps me translate business documents.


Having a part-time job is useful for me at this point in my career. What do you recommend for freelancers who are still building up their clientele? To take a walk on the wild side and put all their energy into freelancing? Or to make the transition into freelancing less financially stressful by keeping a day job?