#2 Taking Stock

There comes a time in a person’s life when they feel a need to sit down and take stock, celebrating their achievements, regretting their failures and generally assessing their contribution to the world. For most, this time probably doesn’t come at the age of 24, but I always did like to think ahead…

Almost one year ago, I created this blog along with a Facebook page. Since then, both tools have remained practically empty, forgotten at the back of the cupboard. Initially, the plan was to create them so that they would be ready once I a) had the time to use them and b) had something interesting to say. But today, I feel an overwhelming urge to put pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard, and share my thoughts. “Why now?” I hear you cry. Perhaps because I live alone in a foreign country with nobody to talk to or because I’ve managed to replace human contact with work and sugary treats, most likely explaining why I’m experiencing the fluctuating weight of a pregnant woman. While I could pretend that my lack of creative activity is down to a wonderfully deep-seated psychological barrier, the fact is, I’m just a bit lazy and not very good at time management unless it involves delivering a translation, in which case my timing is impeccable.

Somewhere along the way, I began writing a book. This was born from a genuine desire to help people avoid the obstacles that I encountered on my path, both from the point of view of a translator and from that of a self-employed professional working abroad. However, while my enthusiasm certainly hasn’t waned, I’m hard pressed to find the time to conquer the mammoth task of writing a book. The reams of documents to translate and proofread along with their hair-loss-inducing deadlines (for which I am grateful – after all, I do have a business to run) have made it somewhat difficult to make significant progress with that particular project. So, here I am, brimming with ideas, amazingly useful yet undoubtedly boring information and delightful anecdotes. This is what has led me to give this blog a go and uncage my more creative side.

As translators, we face a multitude of challenges that most people would never even have thought about. As self-employed translators, we face even more. When I started out, my plan certainly was not to become self-employed. Or, rather, I should say I simply hadn’t considered it because I wasn’t entirely aware of the opportunities available to me. I had my heart set on returning to France and my brain set on becoming an in-house translator. But, sometimes, life throws you a curve ball.

I’m not someone who can say they’ve always known what they wanted to be. Some people have a burning desire to become doctors, nurses, writers, teachers, police officers, rappers, dancers, forensic analysts, civil servants… I even had a friend who wanted to be a fire engine. But I never had that luxury. When I was about 6 years old, I spent a brief moment in the concrete belief that I wanted to be a librarian. I had been entrusted with the sacred blessing of keeping the juniors’ library in order for the week, a task that I found immensely satisfying with its Rules and its Logic. I was in my element – rules are my friend. However, apart from that fleeting glimpse of a potential future career, I never felt a calling to a particular profession. Until, of course, I discovered the joys of translation.

This leads me to deal with a question I was once asked about my choice of picture for this blog – the Eiffel Tower. “How come you have a picture of France when you live in Portugal?” Well, in practical terms, I was living in France when I uploaded it. As for why I haven’t changed it, that’s partly because I think it’s a nice picture and mainly because it represents the origin of my passion for translation. I spent my ERASMUS year of university working in the language centre of a prestigious engineering school in Paris. One might think that, at the time, with ten years of language studies already under my belt from secondary school to higher education, translation would be a fairly logical path to take. One might even be right to think so. But not in my case. Until that pivotal year in my life, I was simply aware that I had academic talent for French and German and that I enjoyed learning about languages and linguistics. Paris, however, along with my internship and the brilliant friends I made from all over the world, changed my view of…well, everything. It was there that I embarked upon an insane quest to learn all of the languages spoken by those around me. In the end, I settled for improving my French to such a level that I was able to convince French people I was one of them, learning Portuguese and Spanish to a highly advanced level in a very short amount of time and picking up the odd phrase in Bulgarian, Wolof, Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Cambodian. In part, this made me what’s known as a freak, but it also gave me a great deal of confidence and a sense of achievement that was bolstered by the overwhelming encouragement of my foreign friends. I began to see language as an encrypted code with grammar the master key to its morphological and syntactic locks, rather than simply a vaguely logical means to an otherwise average end.

With my new, personally devised method for learning languages and my renowned quasi-photographic memory, I began to master foreign linguistic structures and grammatical constructs at alarming speed with an evolutional map forming itself in the delightfully dark and complex place that is my mind. Think Rain Man, only not nearly as good at maths or quite as socially impaired. The feeling of grasping these elements, helping other people to understand texts in another language and the challenges involved in crashing through the language barrier to provide an idiomatic equivalent rather than an ill-adapted, literal translation that anyone could read out of a dictionary were instantly appealing. I joined a free online translation community and also began translating articles and studies for a medical library as a volunteer, as they had no budget for such work. Incidentally, I would later find that the practice of not budgeting for translation or leaving it until the last minute and wondering why the international expansion strategy isn’t quite going to plan is a mistake that many businesses make. However, being the translation junkie that I am, I was more than content at the time with the opportunity just to gain experience and hone my skill in a real-world environment.

I thus returned for my final year at Exeter University with a fresh approach and a fiery passion for translation. Much to my delight, the French Language core module of our course involved weekly translations and I was also able to take Advanced Translation, where I learnt a great deal about the theory side of things. I consistently received top marks in French<>English translation and was encouraged even further when one of my favourite language professors told me I had the makings of a true translator, rather than one who can simply pass the exams. Another opportunity also presented itself, in the form of a module called Language Contact. My fascination with the interweaving web of languages was able to develop further, looking at the relationships between them and how they evolve and co-exist.

This, together with my previous adventures in Paris, made me sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a professional translator. And so we come back to my desire to return to France, this time drawn to Grenoble, to try my hand at real life. However, the current length of this post leads me to fear that this may be a story for another time. While it may not be abundantly clear where I’m headed with all of this, I believe it is essential to understand the origins of something before we can even begin to understand its results.

My point for this post is this: I have taken stock of my life thus far and seen how each and every event has led me down this path. The inner workings of my otherwise overactive mind have found purpose and application. My views on life and my experiences seem to have translated perfectly into my views on how to conduct my work and run my business, thus making me a better and more efficient translator. With this post, I have merely scratched the surface, but I hope to continue in an effort to explain, encourage and inspire.

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