The (Dis)Comfort Zone II

In an earlier post I talked about how, if you want to produce optimal work or push yourself to be that bit better, faster, sharper, the optimal place to be is outside your comfort zone. It’s where the zingy ideas happen.

But I also know how hard it is to leave the comfort zone, especially if you’re not the most daring person. But the only difference between you, and the slouch on the couch, is that one of you just gets up and does it anyway.

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One of the things that I used to be uncomfortable with was travelling. The absence of control over where you are going to get food, or a decent night’s sleep, or whether the Muezzin is going to lead his call to prayers at 6am, just freaked me out. But having forced myself to do it, and realising I was actually OK, I now also know that it helps me to prioritise better, to value my work, my free time, my friends. Travelling has direct knock-on effects on so many aspects of your life, as I mentioned in my last post, which make it an absolute must for anyone wanting to remain open to the world, especially for us translators.

So, without further ado, my travel tips on turning the fear into the fearless.

  1. Buddha nature

Cultivating your sense of childish wonder at each new situation is a great way of calming yourself. Instead of thinking “What if I miss my flight/train/don’t find my hotel…” take a look around and ground yourself in the details. It also helps to check out what children near you are doing. (Well, if they’re not in the middle of a tantrum or staring into a “device”.) Years ago, my children would be so busy figuring out and marvelling at the fold-down tables in the plane (or the ones stowed in the armrest), they didn’t have time to worry about “What if the plane crashes?” At least for the first five minutes…

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(This was taken by my ten-year-old daughter, proving that her experience of Barcelona was utterly different from mine. Her photos were often shot from a worm’s eye view, and were often close-ups. They made me think about how everyone sees the world very differently.)

  1. Having a reason

I’m not very good at doing things that don’t have a palpable result. I’m a utilitarian kind of girl and perhaps I’m also a little scared of “free-form time”, worried it will swallow me up.

So when it comes to travel, one way of providing structure and results is going to language school or taking some kind of course. Not only does it mean you are learning something, it also means you have a daily rhythm and you’ll make friends without even trying. And if something better comes up, you can always pretend you’re 14 again and bunk off!

  1. Controlling the chaos

When I went abroad alone for the first time, my biggest fear was losing my key or having it stolen while I was wandering the streets. I didn’t know a soul in the city and preferred to leave my mobile phone at the apartment so that it wouldn’t get stolen. So I knew that if my key was stolen I would have absolutely no way of getting in touch with anyone (because the only phone number I knew off by heart was the one belonging to my best friend at primary school, Helen Bothleswick, and she might possibly have moved house since the seventies). Obviously, it is slightly irrational to worry about someone stealing a key (what would they do with it?) but regardless, my solution was to hide the second key in a plant pot on the roof. You will not believe how calm and safe this made me feel.

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  1. Associations

You know the best thing about being a translator? They are EVERYWHERE. I don’t know if people have this with every profession, you know, secret little car mechanic clubs dotted all over the globe, where you get to talk about carburettors and turtle wax, or European hairdressing clans where they exchange favourite scissor-sharpening secrets and discuss and compare tipping rates in different European cities….but wherever you go, yes, even in South Dakota, you will find there are meet ups for translators. I joined a gang of about twenty very welcoming translators in a lovely little bistro in Barcelona where I ate the best pastrami sandwich this side of New York and got to talk shop and find out what it was like to live and work in the beautiful city. It’s nice to know you are never truly a stranger, wherever you go in the world. Especially as a translator.screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-21-29-07

  1. Getting lost doesn’t mean you’re going to die

Another concern I had was getting lost. Especially in the first few days with my children where I realised that maybe I am just not a map person. Initially I tried to navigate by the street names and avoided getting lost by poring over the map and boring my kids to tears. But thanks to them, I discovered that sometimes it really isn’t that important to know which street you’re on. And once you let go, it’s so much more fun. Barcelona’s old town is perhaps one square kilometre, so we’re not exactly talking Welsh hills in November. In fact, now I actually relish wandering around without knowing exactly where I am, as long as there are enough tapas bars along the way.

  1. The internet can be your friend

If, after taking yourself out of the comfort zone, you feel the need for a bit of company, it’s nice to know you can meet like-minded people anywhere in the world if you want to.

Back in the day, the only way to make friends in a strange place was by simply sitting at a random bar, preferably the same one night after night, or striking up a conversation with a stranger on a park bench. But these things happen less these days because everyone is of the “bowed head tribe”, engrossed in their mobile phones. If it doesn’t strike you as pseudo-modernist to be using social media to actually meet people IRL, then this is for you. There are a bunch of mobile apps beyond social tinder and bumble, like MeetUp, peoplehunt, and ATLETO if you’re looking for people who share your passion for wine or food, or for some sports buddies to go for a run with when you’re a stranger in town.

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When it comes down to it, the desire for safety and security and instincts like fear are generally a good thing – they keep you from doing stupid things like jumping off cliffs and going home with strangers. But it’s knowing when the time has come to say “thank you primeval cavewoman brain, for worrying about me, but I think I’ll take it from here,” that keeps life special and exciting.

THE (DIS)COMFORT ZONE

There is lots of talk about the comfort zone and about how moving out of it is a good thing. Lying on my sofa with my laptop balanced on a pillow, my hot water bottle tucked under my knees, Berlin 2015, I knew I was in it. Deep in it. The comfort zone.

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Not many people know this about me and it’s slightly embarrassing to admit:
I am not that keen on travelling.

When people talk about their travel plans or experiences my first instinct is: “Blimey, I’m glad I didn’t have to do that!” (whether it’s standing on the side of a red road in the hot Colombian sun waiting for the bus to be repaired, or scuba-diving down potholes off the coast of Thailand) rather than “Wow, I wish I could try that.”

Maybe I can blame it on my parents, who travelled for a living, tucking me under one arm and their cameras under the other from Havana to Hamburg, from Lisbon to Rio, Berlin, Coventry and back again.

It was definitely more this:

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Than this:

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So once I had figured out where I wanted to be, I was staying put.

But there is a genuine reason why your comfort zone is not a good place to be if you want to keep growing and learning, if you want to stay open and engaged with the world.

It comes down to the brain and our wiring again…the comfort zone is a state that produces negligibly amazing results. That means: your work is ok…but not great. Your creative capacities are fair to middling, your innovations are on hold.

Our cortisol levels (stress) need to be slightly elevated to maximize performance.

This is called the “optimal anxiety zone”. Too much anxiety and we’re stressed out and making bad decisions, or none at all, too hyped to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply. But a slight shaking up of our preconceptions, a new way of seeing things, new smells, tastes, colours…now we’re talking.

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I know that if I stay in my cosy flat, door shut, curtains drawn, temperature regulated, onesie on…I will stagnate and my brain will shrivel and die (to be slightly melodramatic about it). And after all, how can I not love travel while being a translator? How can I continue to be open to the world and different cultures if I just stick to my William Morris wallpaper and Biedermeier sofa?

As translators we virtually have an obligation to travel, to connect with other cultures to help us solve the all-consuming problems of communication.

So that rainy afternoon in Berlin, I sent out a few emails, enquiries to language schools, flat rentals etc., and before I knew it,  I had committed to moving out…of my comfort zone.

After all, ours is that amazing unique wonderful career choice that your college career advisor says doesn’t exist…YOU CAN WORK ANYWHERE (that has WiFi).

But how do you deal with moving out of your comfort zone when the idea of just randomly travelling completely freaks you out?

I’ve figured out ways of creating structured environments wherever I go and schedules that help me to be “brave” while also being a chicken.

More on that next week…

 

Embrace your Evolution

There was a time, I am told, when you trained in a trade or studied for a career and you worked in the same job till your first retirement cheque was in the post.

But that concept died for us when Maggie closed down the entire industrial base of Great Britain back in the late seventies. The whole concept of “career” and “job” was dramatically transformed. 46% of the workforce now retrains completely at some point in their lives; 45% are made redundant and on average every worker has six different jobs or roles during their lifetime. (They also make an estimated 29,328 cups of tea at work over the same period apparently, so if you were looking for a safe job, I reckon teabag distribution would be a sure thing!)*

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We learn to adapt. I am certainly no slouch when it comes to embracing different jobs and careers. From sculpting astrologically themed goddesses to sell at the Manchester Corn Exchange as a student (before it burnt down, nothing to do with me) to soul-destroying stints at call centres, painting pottery in Kreuzberg and teaching English to German toddlers (“woof woof, says the dog”) I have done it all to get by.

We are complex beings. Our life trajectories sometimes resemble bowls of spaghetti rather than a Roman road. Every aspect of our past informs our future. Every new experience, even if it ends up being a major fail, contributes to the richness of our lives, our levels of empathy, our points of view.

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I started a personal blog a few years ago which aimed to cover everything I cared about: my career as a translator, my eclectic tastes in politics and art, having fun as a single woman beyond the age of forty (a state that remains largely undocumented), raising children while being a working mum. I think quite a few people were taken aback, a few friends temporarily withheld or suspended friendship but mostly it went unnoticed. In hindsight it was probably a bit much for one blog to cover in terms of material though.

Nevertheless, for me it was an incredibly useful exercise in honing my writing skills (rather important if you are translating and copywriting for a living) as well as a way to express myself and clarify my thoughts. It helped me to figure out what I wanted to write about, where my priorities lay, and what powerful reactions my written thoughts could sometimes elicit.

I learnt a lot. About myself, about the people around me.

And isn’t that the great thing about life? You get to grow, evolve, change your mind. You get to learn from mistakes, faux pas and experiences.

My “jeu d’esprit”, the BritBitchBerlin blog, now has a new name: Trendslators.com, to reflect the greater focus on my work, and because, really, I never was that bitchy, just rather honest.

But I believe we should wear our evolutionary past — our vestigial tails — with pride. (Unless you are a certain breed of politician, in which case, run and delete those tweets now!) We may still have quite a few career changes ahead of us, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the next project. Come 50, I may finally get round to my career as an artist, Paula Rego-style. Watch this space!

Sources *https://www.aat.org.uk/about-aat/press-releases/britains-workers-value-companionship-recognition-over-big-salary

Translation Blues

Yes, we all have bad days. Even translators. We may well have the best job in the world, helping people to communicate across the globe using the tools we love, words. And if we are good, after a few years, we can work wherever we want, whenever we want, experiencing the digital nomad life that everyone seems to covet.

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But the truth is, we often work alone, sometimes completely isolated from the outside world. Some days, my only face to face contact is with the DHL delivery guy who drops off packages for the whole neighbourhood with me because he knows I’m always home. He gives me updates on the weather, as clearly I am not in touch with how warm or cold it is outside, either swaddled in thick jumpers on a summer’s day, or wearing a T-shirt when it’s snowing out.

So, without the constant camaraderie of office colleagues, after-work drinks in the pub or morning breaks spent gossiping around the coffee machine, it’s not really surprising that, as freelancers, we sometimes find ourselves in the doldrums.

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There are so many things that can kick it off: a random remark by a frenemy, bad feedback on a job, no feedback on a job, that sickly feeling in your stomach that you might have sent that document to the wrong person late at night, or a misunderstanding with a client…

I’ve been at the terminological coalface for a long time now, but I still get wordsmith burnout every once in a while. Days where you doubt your own skills, and wonder if it is even worth it. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work that – how can I put it – ain’t exactly saving any lives. After translating brochure after brochure on how to look younger and banish wrinkles or keep fit with the help of various expensive items of sports equipment and makeup, I have had a few “put a paper bag over my head” moments.

And then, to top it all off, I had the frenemy experience: while out for a drinks I was discussing the debts being racked up by a mutual friend. I hated the fact that despite being a trained engineer our friend couldn’t get out of his cycle of debt because he simply wasn’t earning enough. Unprompted, a snarky comment followed about “people like me” (read freelancers in creative industries) earning “shedloads” translating “stuff no one needs or reads”.

I know I should have just walked away, and I generally don’t feel the need to explain or defend my work to anyone, but some days your bitch-shield isn’t as impervious as you’d like. And I suspect all translators have these days too sometimes. So here are my tips on how to deal with the translator blues.

1. Watch the world go by

Venture out into the world again for a couple of hours. Even if it’s just to sit on the next street corner, watching people bustling by, going about their daily business. Last week I observed some road workers from a café window and I found it strangely soothing to see them painting white stripes on the road and worrying about which sign to put where, ensuring our road safety. I wonder if they also sometimes keep themselves up at night, worrying they put that “Give Way” sign up upside down …

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  1. Get in touch with nature

If I’m feeling really out of sorts, the only cure is to head out to the countryside and rustle up a good fire by the lake. I like to do this alone, crack open a beer and chew the cud for a while. Plants, animals, lakes, rivers and sky all have a way of tweaking everything back into perspective. Suddenly that press release doesn’t seem as “pressing”. After all, if the woodpecker is still pecking away and the ants are still busy, all will be well with the world.

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  1. Recheck your values

It’s not always a bad thing to have frenemies to “poke your bear”, so to speak. It often helps us question things we have taken for granted. In fact, everyone should have a bear poker in their lives. Maybe you’re a little bit too comfortable in your rut or perhaps it’s time to branch out and find a new client whose content challenges you more, or do some pro bono work.

4. Reach out to your peers

This, for me, is when social media comes into its own. Whether it’s through blogging or just taking part in online discussions, it’s nice to know you are not alone and that your experiences, whatever they may be, are often universal, or at least more widespread than you may think. Yes, even if you’re a plant-loving, budgerigar-breeding translator, you too have your tribe!*

For me, the Facebook forum Standing Out has been a game-changer, as a place I can go for advice, support or mostly just a little virtual chat over coffee. It’s like having your very own gang at work.

But basically, what I’m saying is – a bad day can also lead to a productive rethink. In the middle of such a day last week I got a lovely comment on my blog from someone who had noticed I hadn’t written for a while, which, apart from comforting me and cheering me up, led to me writing this post! Someone took time out of their busy day to let me know that, in my own small way, I do make a difference.

So instead of hating yourself for being weak and having a bad day, despite having the best job in the universe, see it as a much-needed break, pull the blankets back over your head and go wallow. And as for tomorrow: them words ain’t gonna translate themselves!
Happy translating to you all!

 

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*Shout out to a translator colleague in Syria who I “met” on Standing Out, a wonderfully upbeat, generous-hearted Facebook forum for translators all over the world, who gave me invaluable advice about buying budgies for my daughter. You never know where you will find support and friendship.

 

 

The Short and Curlies

As translators, we all know that it isn’t exactly the easiest of tasks to transform words, along with their sentiment, feel and timbre, into a completely different language. But it complicates matters further when the actual tools we use (glyphs and punctuation marks) are different too. Luckily I work in languages where 95% of the alphabet is the same, and the punctuation is more or less similar. But there is one little mark that for some reason is so obstinate that it has a different look, use and name in almost every language.

Quotation marks, double inverted commas, speech marks, guillemets, goose feet, citation marks, duck feet, smart quotes, curly quotes, dumb quotes, whatever you want to call them, we really have to master them in the languages we work in – there’s no goose stepping around it. Oh and then there are the scare quotes and – my favourites – air quotes.

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Inverted commas are the kind of thing you just USE, you don’t really spend much time thinking about them, a bit like tin openers or toilet brushes. It’s only when you get up close to one that suddenly the details seem to matter.

Did you know that unicode offers twenty-nine ways to represent inverted commas: multilingual variants like the guillemet as well as minor visual differences including primes (to indicate feet and inches as well as measures of time) straight quotes (also known as dumb quotes) and curly quotes (which your computer does automatically if you have “smart quotes” enabled to save you the hassle).

I just spent a day checking the final proofs for a lengthy brochure for a global real estate company. The translation had been carried out by someone else – excellently, I should say – and all I had to do was look for typos and….wait, what’s that, those curly things, aren’t they kind of— the – wrong  – way  – round? “”„“”
Somehow the graphic designer had tried-and-tested his way through just about every variety of speech mark going, and three hours in I was questioning my sanity and had to print out this image to save myself from going mad:

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I was sorely tempted to use dumb quotes as an easy solution (come on, gimme a break, I was sitting next to a graphic designer who looked not a day over 12, in a sweltering office with no air conditioning). But I pulled myself together. Just for the record, the only place you should be using dumb quotes is when you’re coding. Which is probably never.)

So, in the process of explaining to the young whippersnapper why English inverted commas were used completely differently, I did a bit of research that I want to share with you word nerds and punctuation punks out there:

  • Inverted commas are different in pretty much every language:
    « » French/Spanish
    「 」Japanese
    ”A” Finnish/Swedish
    »A« Hungarian
    ― A Greek
    »A» Finnish/Swedish
    „A” Polish (known as split-level quotation marks)
    „A“ German/Icelandic (ditto above)
  • The French brackets are called guillemets (I always thought they were called guillemots, like the bird, because they look rather like flying birds…but apparently not. Colloquially they are called duck feet, so I was not too far off the mark.)
  • The German curlies are also called “Gänsefüsschen” or “little goosefeet”.
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A pair of guillemots

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A quartet of Guillemots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And a pair of guillemets en français.

  • The earliest record of inverted commas can be found in  “De Vitis Sophistarum” by Flavius Philostratus, which was printed in Strasbourg, Alsace (and, in 1516, was still part of Germany, so I am going to claim it for my gang.) There you see a pair of commas to the left of each line.

The book has been digitised by the MDZ (Münchener Digitale Bibliothek) and thanks to creative commons is available under this link (well worth a look for the interesting layout too).

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  •  Scholars generally agree that the method of marking out quoted text with quotation marks first gained traction with the invention of the printing press.
  • In Ancient Greece a “diple” (double) sign was used to attract attention to pretty much anything noteworthy in a text, and this mark was then developed in a wide variety of shapes, ranging from squiggles to arrow heads to bird’s wing Vs.
  • Apparently block quotation (indenting the quote) comes from the convention of putting quote marks to the left of every line in the Baroque and Renaissance periods. The marks were then omitted at some point, but the space remained.
  • For some reason Germans like to enclose all kinds of things in inverted commas (store names, foreign words, words with particular emphasis). Which is perhaps a throwback to the Ancient Greek habit of marking out noteworthy words and passages, also reflected in the modern-day “highlight” function on a Kindle.
    It is vital as DE>EN translators to reminded ourselves that, sure, we could just turn them round the right way. But we could also – just. leave. them. out.

 

MORE FUN STUFF

There is even a “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks! Well worth a visit:
http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

Commonplace Markers and Quotation Marks Laura Estill
Published March 7, 2014, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

https://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/quotation_marks.html

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3018353/be-smart-dont-use-dumb-quote-marks

http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/ausgaben/thumbnailseite.html?fip=193.174.98.30&id=00002081&seite=14

 

 

The Glamorous Life of a Fashion Translator Part II

(Boredom alert! For fashionista word nerds and wannabes only!)

IMG_20160603_124131Having established in Part One that translating fashion texts isn’t quite as glamorous as you might think and that fashion translators aren’t necessarily always sitting in the front row in Milano or being showered with gifts from designer labels, it’s time to run through the real nitty-gritty, the actual working process. Or at least the one that works for us, and by us I mean Trend Translations (www.trendtranslations.de), my long-standing partnership with my translation colleague and proofreading sidekick Paula Hedley.

We translate everything from press releases for designers and collection descriptions for websites to invitations to Fashion Week parties but one of our favourite fashion clients is a specialist magazine for the fashion biz. It’s an invaluable source for the latest in jeans and contemporary trends and is published four times a year. Here’s how we tackle this particular job:

  1. We start off by being sent a rundown of the coming issue (“Ausgabenplan” in German) from the editor-in-chief, stating the various deadlines for delivery of text for the journalists and our translations, and also the time slots allocated for the correction period, layout etc. For deadline read “Time from which the editor will start hassling everyone and getting frantic.” Inevitably the whole process is stretched out over a few weeks so it’s best not to book our holidays until the issue is flying off the printing press and our job is officially done. Sometimes the contributors send their texts directly, but mostly they are sent by the editor after being tweaked and fact-checked.
  1. It’s always a bit like Christmas when we start receiving the texts from the various editors and contributors because the magazines we work for are usually packed with interesting interviews and articles about leading designers and manufacturers and brands, which are a real pleasure to read and of course to translate. There are also some witty puff pieces or lengthier in-depth articles and essays, as well as a city guide in each issue.
  1. Paula or I compile an Excel chart of the texts to be translated, which we upload to OneDrive in a file we are both authorised to update and read. We update as we go along, sharing out the texts between us as equally as possible. Then basically we get on with translating, using whichever method suits us best. Until now we’ve been very old-school – not quite paper and plume, but without the whole CAT tool shebang. However, we’re currently working on sharing termbases and translation memories and dipping our toes in the ocean that is Memsource and memoQ. And we find that Dragon (speech-recognition software) is very useful when translating interviews as it helps to capture the laid-back flow of the speakers, and of course speeds things up immensely.
  1. We upload all documents to Google Drive or OneDrive to make sure everyone in the team has access to them, even if one of us is working at an airport or sitting in a kayak in the middle of a lake, the digital nomads that we are! We send each other everything for proofing, sometimes bouncing a particularly tricky piece back and forth four or five times.
  1. There’s always lots of research to be done, the names and spellings of every brand name, manufacturer and store as well as their website URLs have to be checked and double checked, and I try not to get side-tracked by browsing Drykorn’s website or held up reading interviews with designers I admire. You have to be au fait with the latest terminology: what used to be a jumpsuit or a boiler suit is now referred to as “onesie” and what was known as a leotard in my day is now a “body”, for example. Heels are now sometimes referred to as “pumps” which reminds me more of stinky black rubber plimsolls from school sports than sexy stiletto heels.

Although major German newspapers have their own style guides, of course no German-produced magazine has a dedicated English style guide, so it’s up to us to be consistent, even if only galão-sipping transatlantic Parisians are reading us. So if we spell Cracow without an accent once we have to make sure we do it throughout the entire issue. That’s Paula’s specialty. And of course it helps that we both enjoy leafing through the latest issue of British Vogue and The Business of Fashion and checking out the reviews of Fashion Weeks in the New York Times and Harpers Bazaar, for a feel of the kind of language used.

  1. Once we’ve sent all our finished translations off to the graphic designer for layout, the editorial team will often come back at us with last-minute changes, urgent new texts or headings that might need translating etc. That might mean a phone call while we’re navigating the supermarket aisles with our trolley or a late-night one-liner on WhatsApp. We often work evenings when the deadline is nearing. It’s simply part of the job, and one we both take in our stride, trying to make sure we balance things out with a Thai massage, enough sport and some digital detoxing when the magazine is hot off the press. But you do need nerves of steel sometimes when fielding the increasingly plaintive demands of the graphic designer waiting to be “fed” with new texts and the in-transit messages from the editor who is already halfway around the globe at her next destination or interview for the next issue and doesn’t have the foggiest where the final version of the intro for the fashion tradeshow text might be.
  2. Paula, who is geographically nearer to the editorial team for our main magazine client, has the highly responsible and difficult job of checking the final proofs by hand with the graphic designer at his office. That’s why she is always a real stickler about removing any unnecessary mistakes ahead of time and has a pet hate of stray “straight” apostrophes that Dragon sneaks in. She’s the one who saves the magazine the embarrassment of printing the wrong year on the cover and can always be relied upon when it comes to spelling difficult designer names like Proenza Schouler and Walter Van Beirendonck.vogue_pool_2

Now for the pros and cons…

Pros:

  1. Freebies: I’m really bad at this, but I have streetwise colleagues who are always bagging themselves freebies and goodie bags like the cute monthly My Little Box subscriptions – as well as commanding top rates!
  2. Decent pay: Working for PR companies, as well as agencies who cater to big brands means they are willing to pay higher rates for your additional skills, which will include excellent copywriting, as well as ensuring you’re clued-up on all the terminology. They sometimes simply pass the cost on to their clients so they are looking for quality rather than a cheap rush job. I love these clients because they really value your language skills and know that one spelling faux pas (Columbia instead of Colombia for example) can ruin a whole advertising campaign. Fashion magazines and tradeshow guides generally pay less, but the upside is that it’s regular work and a large chunk in one go. So although it’s stressful, you can allow yourself a luxury break afterwards.
  3. Second-hand glamour: You can certainly ask your clients to get you into fashion shows, and some may even offer you clothing in lieu of payment. A colleague I know receives cool streetwear in return for proofreading texts for the label’s catalogues. Obviously that’s not going to pay the rent but it’s a very nice bonus.
  4. Being in the know: You will be one of the first people in town to know about new trends and upcoming collections. If you want to be an “early adopter” and wear culottes and blousons before they hit the high street, then this is the job for you!IMG_1969
    Another day at the office…

Cons:

  1. Online distractions: When researching whether that buckskin waistcoat has a vertical or a horizontal mid-seam, it is easy to suddenly find yourself filling up your shopping cart on ASOS or, heaven forbid, Maison Margiela, and spending every cent you earned that day in the process.
  2. Raison d’être: It’s hard to convince yourself you are truly making a difference when you translate fashion. If you are planning to bag a Nobel Peace Prize you need to look elsewhere, and translation-wise you should probably also find a balance by doing stuff that makes the grey matter cry ouch every once in a while. But we shouldn’t have to live under a bridge just to translate or write that world-shattering opus. Personally I love writing my own stuff, translating texts for documentary film narration or the odd stint for an art book or museum catalogue. But I also love the airy lightness and joy of fashion work.
  3. You will be asked to work for free a lot…whether it’s “just three Instagram hashtags” or “two Facebook posts, daahhling!” So you need to practice saying no and choose carefully when to say yes.
  4. Stress: Magazine deadlines, tradeshows, Press Days and the week preceding Fashion Week. Basically your yearly calendar has its stress curves already drawn in for you. That’s when everyone is scrambling to get their press releases written and sent out. Even if I am not planning any visits to fashion events I make sure I keep the week beforehand light in terms of social activities as that’s usually when emergency work comes flooding in. In the commercial world in general, where time is money, fast turnarounds are often a must. But especially in the fashion industry, where the large chain stores are taking inspiration from the catwalks and transforming them into off-the-peg cheap fashion within six weeks, every second counts.

So, if all this sounds like it would float your boat, and you are already an experienced translator with a penchant for creative texts, you will need to get out there and network with people from the fashion sector, meet young up-and-coming designers (offer to translate their “About us” page for free, for example,) attend tradeshows, or even study a particular aspect of the trade you find interesting (design, marketing, textiles etc.). Glass of champagne at Berlin Fashion Week anyone?vogue pool

*Photo credits Paula Hedley.

 

The Glamorous Life of a Fashion Translator

Part One:
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I’d like to begin by telling you I am writing this from a sleek office in the same block in Lower Manhattan as Vogue HQ, wearing a Sessun wrap dress and leather espadrilles (high heels are so eighties). But as you can probably tell by the title, this blog post is slightly tongue-in-cheek.
I’m actually sporting denim shorts (Boden) and a fair-trade, organic red and black striped T-shirt (ThokkThokk) as I sit typing this by a lake (digital nomad, bien sûr) around 30 km east of anywhere fashion-relevant. Since you asked.

You don’t need to be a fashion obsessive, mulling over whether Martin Margiela or Ann Demeulemeester is the better designer, to do good fashion translations, but it certainly helps if you can understand how people can splash out £2500 on a Chanel handbag or £900 on a Kaviar Gauche wedding dress.

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Fashionista bookshelf

And even though the translation of a 3000-word interview with the CEO of a major denim brand or a press release showcasing the latest shoe trends might sound glam, the truth is that we’re usually at our desks in jeans and sweatshirt, with sweat bands on our wrists and only our latest caffeine boost to keep us going. Someone call the fashion police!

This post is more about describing the nitty gritty of the job of a freelance fashion translator, how we ended up here and what to expect if you feel like going down the same route.

As every British-born person living in mainland Europe knows, Europeans tend to be disconcertingly good at speaking English. To the point that it is actually quite hard for us to even master a foreign language the “au naturel” way, because everyone speaks English better than we do French/Spanish/German.

The positive side effect for us translators, however, is that, in a healthy economic climate, it makes sense for European companies and brands to want to access a larger market by supplying articulately-written English language content.

So during the economically robust late-nineties in Germany, most internationally-minded magazines chose to publish in both languages. Others switched to English only, but still wrote the content in German, simply because the German editors and people in the know were the ones creating the content.

I have always had a love of languages as well as art and design, and sidestepped into my specialty by studying textile design in Germany (my source language) and learning all about weaving techniques, different fabrics and manufacturing technology. This knowledge has stood me in good stead when having to tell the difference between a standard twill or herringbone or when spelling fashion terminology like jacquard and plissé.

My partner-in-crime Paula Hedley studied German with business and marketing at Northumbria University, but came to fashion through a genuine love of new trends and a stint working at a PR agency for fashion and advertising photography in Cologne. She’s in the know about the latest labels taking the fashion world by storm and can help me out with fashion merchandising abbreviations like NOS and QR or if I need an idea for a snappy hashtag or title. And of course it’s also great having an enthusiastic, like-minded plus one for Fashion Week parties. Mixing business with pleasure at its best!

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Paula’s beautiful office

Early on in our translation careers we were asked if we could collaborate on a new specialist fashion magazine (J’N’C Magazine) that was launched back in the early 2000s. The rest, as they say, is history: the magazine was a success, and on the back of that we worked for tradeshows like Bread & Butter and Bright and other magazine editors who liked our style of writing.

But our day to day is usually dotted with small jobs for PR agencies who come to us for their daily needs. That covers everything from short but urgent emails to clients (“Where is the collection we wanted shipped last week?”) to press releases for the foreign press that have to be word perfect and strike a chord with the target group. We also often translate press clippings for international brands so they know what the German press is writing about them.

So obviously it’s important to keep bang up to date with trends and designers.

The best way to make sure you know what’s going on is to visit some of the major tradeshows (which, of course, applies to you whatever your speciality subject is). Berlin, where I’m based, has two Fashion Weeks a year, where all of the major shows play host to an incredibly wide range of labels and brands. Each trade fair has its own particular emphasis, and over the years I have found my favourites. I always enjoy the ethical trade fair “Green Showroom” because it’s small and you get to talk to the designers in an intimate setting. The first few years it was hosted at the luxurious Hotel Adlon Kempinski and each designer had their own suite where they welcomed the buyers, sitting on the Egyptian-cotton-clad beds, which was slightly odd, but in a good way.

The Ethical Fashion Show at the city’s Postbahnhof venue is also laid-back and enjoyable. And the now infamous Bread & Butter (recently bought by Zalando), which was enormous in its scope, was held in the dramatic Tempelhof Airport. They really knew how to throw a great opening party. I vividly remember Paula and I enjoying a balmy summer evening of hard toil, involving bumper cars, DJ sets and caipirinhas on the hot tarmac of the former airport as we mingled, I mean networked, with the fashion crowd. So yes, it does get glamorous occasionally…

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The front rowers or “frowers” as we call them in the trade

Working for PR agencies, it’s important to keep abreast of their clients’ latest work, because that’s what you’ll be translating. They will all have Facebook pages and Twitter and Instagram accounts so that’s the best way to follow and like what’s going on, although it can be very distracting! After all, you’re not getting paid for reading stuff on Facebook, but it helps if you know when your clients are planning a major event, launching a new product or taking part in the Press Days or Fashion Week.

If we ever feel like visiting fashion shows, then our clients, mostly PR agencies, are happy to provide us with a seat in the third row (!) But don’t expect champagne treatment. You’re not Chloë Sevigny, you’re just there to inform yourself and keep up to date, not to hobnob with the models and designers. Part of our job description is to be the invisible link in the chain that ensures the language of fabric and colour used by designers can be translated into words that convey the vision behind their creations.

If we’re lucky, we can take our raw material – well-written copy – and transform it into something that will be worthy of the flowing garments and intricate flounces of Germany’s best designers.
And if we’re luckier still, we’ll be holding the glossy fruits of our labours in our hands two weeks later, and not even find a typo!*
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*Actually, I try not to look too closely, because there is ALWAYS something I feel we could have improved on, but with tight deadlines and a busy schedule, at some point you need to let go.

Next week: I give you a run down of the scheduling and the working process of translating for magazines and working with editors and graphic designers.