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Happy New Year 2020

Having spent yesterday taking down the Christmas decorations and giving the house a deep-clean before the first full working week of the year (Happy New Year, by the way!), it seemed as good a time as any to take a good look back at events of the past decade, not just in my own personal and professional life, but in the world of translation as a whole. There have certainly been a lot of changes since way back in 2010…

Back then, I still had both my sons at home – one at university, but ostensibly still under my roof for a good part of the year, and one doing A-levels, soon to go off to university in the autumn. Since then, they’ve both finished university, entered the world of work (and in one case started his own business), moved out into homes of their own and got married, almost a year to the day after one another. I’ve gained two delightful daughters-in-law and one adorable granddaughter, who arrived in April of last year. My younger son has also moved out to Boston (MA) with his American bride, so that’s a huge change for us all – but one that I’m determinedly embracing as quality time together when we do get to see each other, plus the opportunity to visit pastures new across the pond. I also said goodbye to two faithful hounds in the 2010s: Sally in 2010 and Poppy in February 2019 – always the hardest part of the wonderful relationship we have with our dogs. We also said hello to Leo, who arrived to cheer us all up back in 2011, when Poppy couldn’t cope wihout her big canine companion, and now seems to be enjoying life as an only dog.

Although I was notionally working full-time in 2010, with teenagers you inevitably find yourself as chauffeur, confidante, organiser and chief cook & bottlewasher, so my working hours have definitely increased since the start of the decade. I had only just dipped a toe into the world of CAT tools a couple of years earlier, starting out with Wordfast Classic, but in the intervening years I’ve also branched out into Trados, which I now use exclusively. After a steep initial learning curve, I found it offered a lot more than Wordfast and is also the CAT tool that most agency clients request. CAT tool usage is very much expected these days, of course, whereas it wasn’t necessarily ten years ago – and while there are still some colleagues who don’t use CAT tools nowadays, mainly literary and other “creative” translators, I suspect they are in the minority. I translate a mix of technical, business and more creative texts, but wouldn’t be without my translation memories, if only for ease of access to extensive glossaries, built up over thirty years, but also concordance searches from past translations and consistency, of course. Then there’s the fact that even if your computer crashes, your work is still saved in your memory, even if the document you are working on isn’t.

Machine translation has come on in leaps and bounds over the past ten years, but still has a long way to go to compete with human translators. As one of my direct clients commented when sending me a rush translation last year, ” We tried running it through Google Translate, but it didn’t make any sense!” Even more dangerous, of course, when it looks as though it’s OK at first glance, but isn’t and non-linguists don’t realise until it’s too late. I suspect we’ll all have to accept some element of PEMT (post-editing machine translation) in the future, though it’s not something I’ve done as yet. We certainly can’t blithely ignore it…

Since the turn of the last decade, social media has come increasingly to the fore and now plays a significant role in the world of translation. Many of us are freelancers working in isolation, so no wonder that sites that enable us to interact with colleagues and clients have become an important part of our day-to-day life. Back in 2010, I was a member of ProZ – my first web-based translation forum – and had not long since become a member of Facebook (initially to view photos from a Proz translation conference in Vienna!), but a presentation given by colleague Anne Diamantidis at the ITI Conference at Gatwick in 2013 persuaded me to join Twitter and LinkedIn. I had grave doubts about Twitter in the first instance, thinking it was mainly for celebrity show-offs, but time has proved it to be a very useful platform to connect with colleagues and learn about events in the translatorsphere, plus all sorts of other interesting information.

In fact, I was so impressed that I suggested to the ITI German Network that they should have their own Twitter feed and ended up setting it up and running it myself – something I’ve been doing ever since. That was my first foray onto the committee of a professional body, and I soon followed it up by setting up a GerNet Facebook page as well. While many members prefer to use the e-groups, the Facebook and Twitter pages offer the opportunity to publicise our existence to a much wider audience. Sticking my head above the parapet inevitably meant that my name became better known and led to me being invited to become a member of the ITI Professional Development Committee, promoting CPD among ITI members. This in turn led to the suggestion that I might like to run for the ITI Board, which I duly did and was elected in 2019 – not something I’d have anticipated doing at the start of the decade, but I’m very glad I did! I also became a Fellow of the ITI last year and have done a couple of stints of mentoring for colleagues, both in the German Network and as part of the ITI Orientation course.

Clearly, the ITI has played a huge part in my professional development over the past ten years and I managed to attend all the ITI conferences over that period: Birmingham in 2011, Gatwick in 2013, Newcastle in 2015, Cardiff in 2017 and of course Sheffield last year. I also attended the inaugural One Day In event at Gray’s Inn, London in 2018, and the ITI’s 30th anniversary celebrations at The Anthologist in London in 2016. Last but not least was the extremely worthwhile Translate In French translation workshop in Cambridge in the summer of 2016. These events are always a fantastic opportunity to get together with colleagues and learn more about our profession, as well as renewing or making useful contacts for the future.

Translation conferences took me to other parts of the world as well: to Rome in 2011 for a buzzy ProZ Conference, Berlin in 2014 for the FIT Conference, and again in 2018 for the excellent Translate Better German style workshop, Barcelona in early 2016 for the first ELIA Together conference, then San Francisco later that same year for my first ever ATA Conference (and my first ever trip outside Europe!) and Split in Croatia last year for my first METM event. Phew! Quite a list when I think back, but every one well worthwhile in its own way. Plus there have to be some perks for being your own boss!

Me and Golden Gate

This was also the decade in which I started writing a blog, or two in fact: my translation blog, Lines from a Linguist, and a food & gardening blog, Rhubarb & Raspberries, which has a much more niche audience, but also gives me a great deal of pleasure, recording my foodie and gardening adventures. I’d always yearned to write, from being a little girl, and I finally took the plunge at the very end of 2013. I’ve loved the chance to write my own content for a change, rather than merely translating the words of others – the fact that this introduced to me to a whole new set of colleagues was quite incidental! Looking back, my top 5 blog posts over the past 6 years were:

  1. Proz membership – a worthwhile investment for “serious” translators? (2014)
  2. My layman’s take on CAT tools: Wordfast Classic vs. Trados Studio 2014 (2015)
  3. Getting my head out of the sand (about GDPR) (2018)
  4. I’m a translator, not a machine: when it’s time to say goodbye to a client (about agency portals) (2018)
  5. Taming the Dragon (about speech recognition software) (2014)

I should add that my view of ProZ has undergone rather a step change since I wrote the first post. In 2016 I added an update entitled The Great ProZ Debate – Revisited, explaining that I’m no longer a paying member and have had limited requests via my profile on the site in recent years. The whole industry has changed in the interim: while ProZ used to be the main online forum for translators, there are now many other ports of call for translators to find support, clients and colleagues, not least the many and varied Facebook forums. The least said the better about the “instagurus” who surfaced during the past decade: so-called experts who claimed to know everything there is to know about the art of translation and gaining clients, but who often turned out to be merely in it for the money (see An apology).

Translation portals are another phenomenon that has surfaced over the latter half of the 2010s. When done well, these can make both agencies’ and translators’ lives run more smoothly, but all too often they merely serve the agencies, pushing down quality and prices as they encourage lowest cost, fastest finger respondents at the cost of the most appropriate translator for any given job. A retrograde step, in my view.

Finally, one of the achievements of which I’m particularly proud over the past decade has to be the Facebook group I set up in early 2016. As a passionate foodie, I’d long thought there was a link between food and translating, not least because food is a fundamental part of the culture of different countries and languages. Foodie Translators was the result of a random question I asked in another group and has become a delightful place to hang out online with fellow foodie linguists. It’s a rare online forum where disagreements are few and far between and you really feel you get to know your colleagues. We now have nearly 3,800 members from across the globe. Long may it continue!

January 2020

So that’s my take on the 2010s. Who knows what the 2020s have in store for us? This will be the decade in which I reach state retirement age (gulp), and while I’ve no intention of retiring from translation any time soon, I’m already looking forward to being more selective about what work I accept and taking more time to do the things I really want to do, such as travel and spending time with friends and family. Paying my mortgage off early last year was a great step in the right direction (thanks to an offset tracker mortgage). I certainly didn’t expect to still be on my own in 2020, having got divorced back in 2005, but then I haven’t really tried very hard to do anything about it either, and I’m pretty happy with my lot on the whole. Roll on the 2020s!