Str-e-e-e-tch yourself!

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2017 _2018 happy new year

Happy New Year, everyone, even though it is a week in.  No New Year’s resolutions for me this year, having failed dismally with most of last year’s. As friends who know me only too well pointed out last January, there was no chance of me keeping the one about going to bed earlier, and even less chance of me getting up earlier in the morning. No, I’m a committed night owl and I’ve decided I’m not going to beat myself up about it, although getting a more sensible amount of sleep overall would certainly be no bad thing…

I didn’t do too badly on the exercise front, with an average of 12.5 K steps a day over the year according to my trusty FitBit. It took me ages to find my average, by the way, but if anyone else is interested in working out an average step count for any given period, here’s where to go: https://www.fitbit.com/tools/personal/steps. You need to be logged in, of course, but otherwise it’s very easy once you know.

Getting a cleaner was a disaster: it took me ages to find someone, she came for about 4 weeks, then managed to break her foot, was off for 4 weeks, came back for a few more weeks (having not really rested her foot so it hadn’t healed properly) and finally gave up a couple of weeks later (although I suspect that was because she’d found a new man!). Sigh. It was nice while it lasted, but I suspect I’m also a bit of a control freak, as there were certain things like ironing, cleaning windows and cleaning the brasses (admittedly only a once-in-a-blue moon event) that I could definitely do much better myself. Never mind; it’s not too much of an issue at this time of year, but I will keep a lookout for someone else when the gardening and tennis season start again.

So, 1 out of 3 so far – not brilliant. Cutting down on social media hasn’t been much better either, especially as I’ve joined Instagram as well this year. I spend less time on Facebook, though, especially since Outlook decided to freeze on FB notifications, so I deactivated them and now only see them when I actively go to the site or look at my phone. I suppose I could give myself half marks for that one – and actually, I’d hate not to use it at all, as it’s so useful for us isolated, self-employed people. 1½ out of 4 then. Hmmm. What about the final resolution from last year: being more picky about the work I accept. I think that’s probably a yes, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself! 50% overall…. This year, then, I’m going far more general and just trying to do the best I can across the board. A copout? I don’t know, but at my age, I think this leopard is unlikely to change her spots fundamentally.

carrie yoga boat

My lovely yoga teacher Carrie*

One thing that is worthwhile, however, is to keep on stretching yourself and that’s definitely something I’m going to carry on doing wherever I can. Whether it’s accepting challenging assignments or projects at work or extending ourselves socially or on the tennis court, dance floor or yoga mat, it does us so much good to push ourselves, even just a little, outside our comfort zone. I’ve written about this before on several occasions, but it doesn’t hurt to revisit such an important aspect of the freelancer’s arsenal. Stretching yourself shows you just what you can achieve if you put your mind to it and gives you confidence and self-belief, which pass down into your work and into your exchanges with clients and colleagues.

In October I was invited to attend another of the language support assignments I’d enjoyed so much a year or so ago. This one was a slightly different proposition, as it was in Spain, not one of my source language countries and I would be with just one other language support colleague, not a team of interpreters like last time. As before, our brief was to help engineers, both native English speakers and non-native speakers, write their reports of exchanges with their Spanish counterparts in English. There was a team of Spanish <>English interpreters, but we saw very little of them as they were staying in a small village near the site, whereas we were with the engineers in a more prestigious hotel an hour away from site with the necessary conference facilities for evening report-writing sessions.

As before, the whole experience was challenging, hard work, yet thoroughly rewarding. My Spanish dates back to O’level in the late 1970s, although I had dutifully got the Spanish CDs out in the car before flying out, so I enjoyed practising when out and about in the town. As a specialist technical translator I loved the opportunity of talking to engineers face to face about aspects of my field, picking up lots of insights about terminology usage (“in” jargon) and technical concepts. Fascinating too to realise that even native English-speaking engineers who have been immersed in an international environment, even for just a couple of weeks, are prone to writing franglais or Denglish: equipments, anyone?! It’s obviously very catching if you’re not a linguist. (Mind you a family friend’s son who has been living in Vienna for some years now sounds more Austrian than English and says he finds himself saying things like “let’s make a photo” – aaagh!) Some useful pointers to remember when the source texts in our translations don’t make sense too: one engineer had written “evaluation”, which really didn’t work in context until I realised that he was thinking of the French word “évolution” (can mean change or development) – a real lightbulb moment!

It makes such a change to get instant feedback while you’re working and to know that you’re making a difference. Having that knowledge of the subject area means you can see beyond the strangled English and drill down to what they are really trying to say – especially if you can discuss it in French or German in the process, and then rewrite in your own words. The same errors came up time and time again, but it satisfied the teacher manqué in me when my “clients” started to get the nuances of English grammar or distinguish when we use an article and when not…. tricky! My proudest moment was when one young engineer told me I could do his job after we’d wrestled with one particularly tricky passage. I couldn’t, of course, but it was eminently satisfying to feel valued for once. So often, we sit in our offices at home and rarely hear what clients actually think of our work. Being on the front line may be challenging and exhausting for introverts like me, but it’s amazingly refreshing and good for us too.

I even ended up doing some liaison interpreting this time, between a German speaker (actually a Polish engineer, but he worked at a German plant) and English and French engineers. Surprisingly, I even rather enjoyed it, even if I did realise that my hearing, in one ear at least, has deteriorated to such an extent that I need to make sure I have any very quiet speakers on my good side!

Socialising with international clients was also very rewarding: one of our roles as the language support team is to oil the wheels of the social trip on the middle weekend. We visited the beautiful Unesco World Heritage site of Alcalá de Henares and, in return for our slap-up lunch at the famous parador, we were expected to keep the conversational ball going over lunch. My Japanese neighbour at the lunch table confessed that he found my “Queen’s” English much easier to understand than the accented international English of many of his colleagues, or even the Americans amongst the party.

Lunchtimes on site were also an opportunity for socialising and learning, as the plant had set up a pop-up restaurant for our VIP visit. We sat at long tables in order of arrival each day – hence how I came to discover that even sign language in Chinese is very different from English, and instead of holding up the requisite number of fingers to show numbers, they do something quite different! (Don’t ask me what; I should have made notes at the time!) Likewise the way we count by putting vertical strokes, then a diagonal stroke to signify five, isn’t the same – quite fascinating!

Can you tell I was buzzing?! Shattered too, because it’s so far removed from my normal work (which I love!), but it’s so good for us to do something different, in a new environment, and learn in the process. So next time a tempting opportunity comes your way, don’t dismiss it out of hand. It could be an international conference, or a high-level workshop – these can be daunting propositions if you haven’t been before, but they really do repay the effort and expense in spades. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about volunteering to give something back by joining a committee or your professional association, but haven’t been able to bring yourself to make that next big step. Just do it! You won’t know until you try, and chances are it will open up lots of new doors and reveal yourself in a completely different light. Which comes back to being the best version of you that you can be – perhaps that is a resolution after all?!

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