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2011 started for me in a professional sense when I returned to a hot, humid southeastern Brazil on 6th January having spent a month in near-constant sub-zero temperatures in the West Country of England, visiting the family, or rather hardly moving from a spot very close to my mother’s open fireplace.
My Brazilian-born seven-year old, Christopher, had had no such fear and was out building snowmen, sledging and snowball-fighting with his cousins while picking up as much Forest-of-Dean English and, seemingly, as many swearwords as possible. I had a conversation in a pub with an old farmer there once, and a cousin had to translate for me into a more “standard” English, while I, in turn, relay-translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian I was with. Maybe that’s where all this linguistic passion really began.
Anyway, back to the oppressive summer heat - four days of thawing out and I received my first job, via ProZ – urgent translation of a manual, for which I negotiated a higher rate than normal (New Years’ Resolution – stop saying no to myself and yes to everyone else), and 7 hours, 40 pages of glorious PDF and 3,133 words later it was five in the morning. Welcome back to the world of translation.
This year I had decided to keep detailed records of all jobs, word and page counts, words per hour produced, payment dates, even the percentage difference in total word between source Portuguese and target English, going from one extreme to the other – 2010 had been a blur of scraps of paper, scribbled wordcounts and a generally busy but extremely disorganised professional life.
To this end, poised to accept another job and fill in all my little data tables, compile detailed records, make calculations and even project financial plans, I waited. And waited. I lasted two days in my extremely compact and bijou flat, literally sitting on the end of my bed and typing bids for jobs - any jobs - before gloriously hot, sunny weather and a palm-fringed, golden-sanded, tourist-filled beach got the better of me and I just had to go with the flow.
Eight days later, fully thawed, brown as a berry and raring to go, I decided to switch on the computer again, and can quite safely say that it hasn’t stopped since.
For a person who is by nature compulsive, but neither smokes nor drinks, translation, for me, very nicely fills any such addiction gap – social life, sporting activities, sometimes even the eating of food is forgotten as I enthusiastically, almost obsessively, install myself at the word face, fingers fairly flying over the keys, delighting in the quest for solutions, for that slick turn of phrase, for that difficult challenge overcome. Sleep, nay, rest becomes secondary; translation becomes all-consuming, an objective to be achieved quickly and efficiently; no distractions allowed, literally shut in my little box for days on end without human contact, striving for that glittering prize; an accurate, polished, stand-alone piece fit for native-speaker consumption – once proofread, checked, edited, polished, re-polished and finally submitted, there is brief relief, followed by joyous running into the sea, and catching-up on food, contact with my boy and other human beings, and massage to ease those poor shoulders, arms and hands.
And that’s just January. I also found time in that month to get myself to the British Council in São Paulo and re-sit part 3 of the CIOL Diploma in Translation – I had made a poor choice of paper the previous year, and despite a distinction in the General and pass in the Business papers, Social Sciences had beaten me. This time it seemed to flow better, a factor I attribute to a recently-acquired fountain pen which transformed hand-writing from arduous task into pleasurable, even therapeutic activity. The subject matter helped as well I suppose, actually being interesting this time instead of mind-numbing and soul-destroying. Of course, the inevitable and horrible nagging doubts were born in the post-exam comments exchanged with my two fellow victims, but what to do? Get back to Vitória and get translating, forget the exam - the result would be with me in just 14 weeks! The rest of January and February passed in a blur of typing.
March was interesting – I received a Purchase Order for a 23-word job which, my records show, took me two minutes to complete, and rendered me €1.38. Do you know what the beauty of that was though? I still learned from it!
I also learned from contracts, lawyer letters, addenda, data sheets, criminal records, certificates declaring the four inevitables in life: birth, marriage, divorce and death (with profuse apologies to the happily-married few),marketing survey responses, film dialogue, technical specifications and data sheets, health and safety standards, professional guides, corporate reports and so much more. I love it – a steady stream of opportunities to learn!
It was also in March that I invoiced a translation agency with the word “Portuguese” in its company name, and was promptly asked to “provide clearer invoices” because the accounts people couldn’t deal with the Portuguese instructions to open them....go figure. The words “internal communication” crossed my mind here, but I counted to ten, breathed deeply, sent a nice e-mail and then growled at the screen, because, well, that’s what we do isn’t it?
Right at the end of this same month I opened a veritable can of worms after submitting what I thought had been a run-of-the-mill KudoZ question to ProZ on a word I had doubts about – trust me to turn a simple process into a Bun Fight at the OK Corral – it was positively handbags at dawn. I myself was quite happy, I got the answer I had been half-expecting very quickly and moved on, leaving our distinguished, career question-answerers to agree, disagree, make comments and generally battle it out between themselves. I haven’t checked but I think they might still be exchanging “punches” even now, actually...
April was a bit less surreal, but the work continued apace. No national holidays for me – I had worked over Carnaval, Easter and all the other little ones in between. Arms and hands increasingly felt as if they were about to fall off. Considered looking into Voice Recognition Software. Dropped the idea when I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing that delightful and very professional young masseuse every week.
There comes a time when one has to acknowledge that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; that some human contact for more than 5 minutes in the baker’s would actually be healthy – that there is life away from the screen(s).
A very good old friend/flame of mine from the UK was having a few troubles in her life, and I had invited her to come over, have a change of scenery. When she e-mailed to say she’d booked her flights, suddenly translation was no longer the way, the truth and the life, but rather a means of paying bills, providing a roof, and any pleasant little extras. There was no way she could stay in my tiny hovel – I had to rent a bigger place, and all the furious linguistic activity since January had stood me in good stead – by the time she arrived on May 8th I managed to rent a good sized flat, even dedicating a room as my office – no more plodding through texts at 3 a.m. on the end of my bed – and even equipped the rooms with items of furniture, and the fridge with that stuff you buy at the supermarket or at street stalls, called food –things were looking up!
Clients suitably advised, I managed to shut the computer down and had the most wonderful week, acting as tour guide, translator/interpreter and perfect host for my special visitor. Another thing I love about this game is that, with no exceptions, everything we do/see/experience in life can be linked in some way with, or used to enhance our work – in addition to written work I do interpretation at events, meetings, seminars and lectures – and what an opportunity to impress a girl I’ve fancied for over twenty years with my language prowess!
Alas the week flew by, my (now even closer) friend returned to Blighty and reality reigned once again, although translation was somehow secondary now – a vocation yes, requiring dedication, of course – but I think at this stage it ceased to be all-consuming for me, took its place as a part of my life rather than my slave-master. Much healthier in the long run, both for me and for the quality of the work, I’d say.
In June I was happy to receive news of a Merit in Part 3 of Diploma in Translation (and a free copy of 2006 edition of “The Linguist”! Wow!), albeit second time around, so that’s now a full credential to put on the CV, and letters to put after my name – DipTransIoLET – actually, I think I prefer plain old Mark Thompson – don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a diploma, but I have always measured my success on client and, more importantly, end-reader satisfaction-when you can get it, that kind of feedback makes it all worthwhile.
So, as I prepare to return to the UK for a couple of weeks to see my country in all its spring/summer glory, and, of course, a certain old friend, I’ll leave you with a few figures:
96 documents of all types, shapes and sizes translated, giving a total of 1664 pages and 347,152 source Portuguese words lovingly converted into 284,351 target English ones. I’m afraid that’s the extent of my record-keeping – I got bored with counting my hours and minutes at the word face, and all the other fiddly little calculations. Life’s just too short.
Action plan for the second semester? Well, Voice Recognition Software is a strong possibility, now my wonderful masseuse has convinced me that a weekly manipulation session can be preventive as well....
Thanks for reading my friends - happy translating!