freelance translators

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.


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.



There is even a “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks! Well worth a visit:

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




Putting the “Free” Back into Freelancing

Most people know that the term “freelancer” dates back to the days of chivalry and knights, when the “free” lances were basically guns for hire, medieval mercenaries with no allegiance to any king or queen. Sounds pretty romantic doesn’t it? A bit Lancelot and Lady Guinevere. But of course guns for hire are also lances to be broken. “To break a lance for someone” is now a little-used idiom, expressing a willingness to go all in for a person or a cause. In German we have the same idiom “Eine Lanze brechen für…”.Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 10.38.13

I am certainly willing to break a lance for self-determination aka freelancing. For the idea of being able to decide for yourself where you draw the line. When to say yes, and when to say no.

We get to set the terms, and as long as we are supplying something that is in demand (freelance whingers are out of luck) we can (within the confines of market forces) set down our rules. So, if you are an urban nomad or want to work out of a backpack (with good hotspot facilities nearby) or in a wooden hut (ditto) or only at night, or only for Russian poets, or automobile PR companies, then go ahead. You got the skills, then you get the thrills.

But I had a few years where I forgot about the free in freelance. And I am pretty sure many of you will recognise yourselves in this scenario:

It was going to be a short break with the kids and friends. I had planned to hang out in the hammock, drink beer and shoot the breeze every evening, with days spent lazily watching the kids jump around in the lake. What actually happened was that I ended up bent over my computer in a shady corner of the garden (sometimes with a towel over my head to aid visibility!) where the internet was just about viable (I needed half an hour sweating bullets to send one document) for the entire three days of the “break” because I got a last-minute job that paid enough to cover my entire month of living costs. I almost got a stomach ulcer from the stress of it (it was also a field I wasn’t completely au fait with but when I had voiced doubts they were brushed away by the company, who were simply desperate to get the job done) and spent much of my free time apologising to my hosts (who possibly didn’t care that much, and certainly didn’t understand, because they all had regular nine-fives.) I would say the word “freelancer”, shrugging, as if that magical word was reason enough for me to forgo my holiday, because after all, I did get to drink coffees in the sun at random times of the day and pick my kids up from school myself.

It was less this:

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And more this: Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.40.47

It was that moment: where anxiety gnaws at your stomach, you realise you bit off more than you can chew, and yeah, the money is great, but this voice in your head is asking “When does it stop being worth it?”

I delivered the final docs to the client (who, when I spoke to him on the phone to clarify some terminology, was on a mountaintop in Oregon, skiing with his two children, and spent half the conversation shouting at them to be quiet. He didn’t really seem to care which words I used anyway) and I remember thinking, “So this guy is rich enough to go skiing with his kids in June, but isn’t rich enough to be able to switch off his phone?” So, a week later, when he confirmed everything was fine, I said “And by the way, please do not plan me in for any future jobs. The job is more suited to someone using CAT tools and would work out much cheaper for you that way too.” A consternated silence at the other end, and then “Really?” To his credit, he never called again.

And I remembered then, that the whole point about being a freelancer are the four letters at the front of the word.


When did the world of work get to be so omnipotent that getting a couple of days’ worth of work or winning a new client makes us want to break out the champagne? It’s great to love your job, and I mostly do, but nevertheless it is something I do mainly to pay the rent. Otherwise I would spend my time translating biographies for free. As freelancers we pay for our own healthcare, we forgo many benefits and safety nets that your classic employee enjoys (calling in sick anyone?) and for me the trade-off is clear. It means we should at least get to decide when and how. Of course nothing is going to protect you if you are not good at your job. But that holds true for any line of work. (Well, unless you’re a banker or a politician…sorry, couldn’t resist.) You need to get training, get qualified, go get. But for all others:

We need to RELAX!

We paid our rent, we will most probably continue to do so. And if we have a dry spell, we will figure things out. Which we have been doing all our lives. Barring major health issues, are our kids actively inhaling illicit substances as we speak? No? OK then.

No client is going to ask you if you are nearing breakdown when they request a quote. And they aren’t ever going to ask you when your last free weekend was. Why should they? That, as a freelancer, is your job too!

And because you shoulder all these extra responsibilities, it is also OK to charge more than your local barista. But above all, it’s about claiming the freedom that only you can claim. Going on proper holidays, writing an automatic reply that says “I won’t be in my office during this period. In the case of urgent translations feel free to contact Wilbur Wordsmith or Anna Apostrophe, my trusty colleagues.”

So….I am currently renting a pretty flat in the old town of Barcelona for a month. I have no phone and am only available via email or whatsapp. It is scary and new. But until now, my clients are still with me. I told them I was taking a holiday, and that I’d be back to work for the last two weeks, but Catalan-chola style. I want to wander around a strange town with my daughters without having to raise my forefinger at them when the phone rings, signaling that I need to concentrate on the call for a minute, even if one of them is about to do “the best handstand evah!”

It feels thrilling, exhilarating. And yes, I am grateful to be FREElance!

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Conflict… Negotiation… Resolution: Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and every one of us has at least toyed with the idea of making a New Year’s resolution at one time or another in our lives. My in-depth research down the local bar has revealed that there are two very clearly defined camps: those who resolve to do something and do… and those who don’t.

There are those who make a plan, and stick to it, building something patiently in increments. And there are those who have taken out a gym membership, determined to go twice a week, yet not made it past February, or tried to kick a filthy habit or two and not even made it through next Saturday night on the tiles.

It’s disappointing for everyone, but most of all for the resolutionists themselves. Some people keep their resolutions secret for fear of appearing a loser, some shout them from the rooftops, forgetting them later anyway.

But why do we even feel the need to self improve? In the animal kingdom, beasts of any ilk are happy to keep on living the way they do, year after year. Aside from the occasional antler-clattering challenge to determine who is top of the pile for the next few seasons, stags seem quite happy to keep eating grass to the end of their days, and monkeys seem quite content, swinging from the same tree, eating fruit.
So why do we always strive toward perceived perfection, to be fitter, richer, more successful?

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There are people who claim to have never made a resolution in their lives and are perfectly happy that way, but chances are, even if they are not aware of it, they have been consistently working towards a goal, honed a skill over a longer period or accepted some form of hardship in exchange for a long-term reward.
Whether it happens tonight, or in the middle of March, setting and realising goals and ambitions, no matter how small, does contribute to a happier fulfilled life, and, most importantly, to the feeling that you are master of your own destiny. Self determination: my favourite thing in the whole world, second only to cycling no-hands down a tree-lined boulevard in autumn.

According to some advice columns, writing resolutions down helps to cement them and make you more likely to succeed. Anecdotal evidence from my life and those of my peers, however, suggests this might be completely irrelevant. I remember getting together with my three best friends a few years ago to write down our resolutions together.
Mine was to write a cookbook, an idea that had been brewing in scribbled recipe form for years.


One of us resolved to be married before the year was out; another wanted to retrain as a midwife; and the last wanted to start her own business. Suffice it to say you will have to do without my amazing secret cookie recipes for a few more years while I get on with the million-and-one other things that somehow seem more important to me now. The bride-to-be decided she didn’t want to be married to that guy after all, and babies yet unborn are still waiting on some hands to catch them. Life happens. So don’t forget to be prepared for the fact that those things that seem so important now, might be just a giggle away from irrelevant this time next year. (But, champagne-cork-pop, the girlfriend who wanted to start a business actually did so, and has a whole set of new challenges to negotiate and resolve.)

We are told that multiple resolutions are also a surefire way of failing, so best stick to one, or two if they apply to different areas of your life (say, running twice a week and reading three pages of War & Peace a day).
Of course it’s also easier to stick to your goals if you formulate them positively: “I will send one friendly introductory email to a new company every week,” rather than “I will stop being crap about acquisitions”.

There can be no resolution without a prior conflict, so it is often when you are conflicted in life that you are going to be looking to change things. I have the luxurious problem of having so many things I would love to be doing, some of which pay the rent and others which emphatically do not. So I have to negotiate terms by which I can allow each pursuit a certain space in my life without a) risking the roof over our heads and b) without leaving out something that I consider to be essential to my well-being (writing or running).
Being a curmudgeon in general when it comes to NYE parties, for me New Year’s Eve is a time to take stock, to review what worked and felt good in the past year and what I would like to do differently in the future.
I’d like to spend more time writing and being creative so I need to have a game plan for how I can make that happen, else the day to day stuff will just happen and before I know it another year will have slipped by. Hence sitting here and writing this!

Naturally, I’d also like to read more, paint again, learn Spanish, lose some weight and do more sports. But as the Germans so charmingly put it “Wir sind hier nicht bei wünsch-dir-was” (roughly translated as: “If wishes were horses…beggars would ride).
I think staying realistic is a key factor here: there are only 24 hours in a day, and if your goals number more than the days of the week you may not have time to do the shopping or shower in the mornings.
So when you sit down to write your New Year’s resolutions (or alternatively drunkenly shout them across the bar counter tonight), remember to congratulate yourself on how far you have come (preferably in good health, with a decent career you enjoy and some genuine friends who make you laugh). That is a rich harvest indeed, and more than any stag or cheeky monkey can hope for.

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Happy New Year! Guten Rutsch!

Trading in the Female Economy: How Much is Enough?

When people talk about the “female economy” they are usually talking about women as a passive market: consumers with a vagina who (in the US) apparently make 85% of consumer decisions! It seems capitalism has finally caught on to the fact that women also earn big money, and that after they earn it, they also do most of the food and clothes shopping in their spare time. Then corporations try to comfort them with the fact they have no quality of life and no time left, by introducing the idea that women can BUY happiness. (Thank you Ms. Kinsella!)

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But there is a different kind of female economy I wanted to talk about.

As a translator I work in a female-dominated sector. At least 70% of freelance translators in the EU are women. So it’s no surprise that the main complaint you hear when trawling the online translators’ fora is about low to very low pay. If a woman can do it, the price seems to automatically default to sub par.

Of course the high profile translators, the ones who are visible on the stage, commanding big bucks, tend to be men. Nothing unusual there.


But chew on this: roughly 70% of translators in the EU (depending on the country and sector) are women (rising to as high as 90% in some countries and specialties), and yet over the last twenty years only three women have won the PEN Translation Prize.

There’s no point in whinging about it, because, being largely freelancers and entrepreneurs, it is in our hands alone.

Look around: if your job is being done predominantly by women (childcare professional, nurse, checkout operator, waiting tables, cleaning, geriatric care), you can bet your bottom dollar that you’ll be earning at most 77 cents on the male euro.

Add to that the fact that being a translator is highly attractive to many women who have small kids because of the flexibility it brings in terms of working hours and location, and it makes even more sense.

But this isn’t going to be a blog post about how to raise your prices, or how to gain more respect. There is plenty of advice out there already, and if you are skilled and professional at what you do, you will earn good money within a few years of starting out. End of.

I want to talk about the parallel economy that seems to be present in “women’s work”. OUR mode of economics, one that ripples like waves underneath the classic binary transactions of: “I give you X money you give me Y service”.

It isn’t visible, and it’s hard to quantify. You can’t make a statistic out of it either. Which is why I can’t give you hard proof, at least not the kind that has currency in our business world.

As a freelancer, running a brand that consists of “you”, often being responsible not only for earning your own money, but also for providing other people with work on a regular basis, you will probably also get a lot of unsolicited advice if you are a woman. Usually from men. Sometimes I will ask a guy something arcane about a billing issue or how to round up or down to two comma points in excel (I freely admit I am not so great with numbers), and somehow, the guy will wind up explaining to me how I need to earn more, or charge more, or pay people less and later. It’s quite bizarre.


I usually nod gratefully, and then wander off to do exactly what the heck I want. Which is: charge fair prices while still paying translators further down the food chain fairly and promptly. And happily spending my money on “invisible” things like sushi home deliveries and bubble bath, rather than ostentatious shows of fiscal prowess like polished cars or lavish holidays.

But I used to spend an awful lot of time worrying that I “ought” to be doing things differently, and that I couldn’t run with the big guns and was somehow less professional because I was also empathetic and nice to people I did business with. And because I didn’t always hit the high notes when it came to pricing.

Before working as a translator, I spent ten years running a busy ice cream parlour with my female business partner, and we lost count of the times that “new boys on the block” (men who had opened new bijou cafés in our up-and-coming gentrified corner of Berlin) would drop by to introduce themselves and, within ten minutes of downing their double-shot espresso, drawn by my own fair hand, they were busy doling out advice on how to run OUR business and what we should sell or charge. Invariably the advice involved small-batch, single-origin, dark-roast coffee beans (traded exclusively by a friend of theirs) and massive price hikes. They spent more on their interior design than our entire starting inventory costs. Do I need to tell you that these guys barely made it through their first season, before the next gang tried their luck? They also usually managed to have business related breakdowns with their partners involving debt and recriminations.

We weren’t perfect businesswomen by any means, and it was a damn hard slog for little money (which is why I am here, and not handing you your coffee with a smile, right now) but our friendship remained intact, and our relationships with our employees did too. We always paid fair, and when our profits rose the wages did too.


My translation business organically segued into my life, thanks to the “soft skills” I had automatically honed as a woman: a regular customer drank his morning coffee in the sun in front of my café every day, and I would chat politely with him if I had the time. One day he asked me to translate a film script for him and I have never looked back. After some initial jobs I regretted having taken on, I soon wised up to billing and pricing, and avoided the confrontational phone-bargaining sessions of some clients, elegantly side stepping, and using my kids as a human shield when necessary: “Oh yes, 10 ct a word sounds lovely, let me just re-attach my sick child’s catheter while I mull that over and get back to you after her meds have kicked in…” (When I called back with “the 18 ct a word we agreed on…” there wasn’t a whimper to be heard).*

I also tried listening to all the coaching gurus (have you noticed that the ones aimed at women all seem to wear pearls and viscose and have impossible hair) who seemed to be telling me that everyone has a unique gift, which the world is just holding it’s breath and waiting for.

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The male gurus sang a slightly different tune and told me to change the market, change myself, or change my attitude. It was all quite exhausting and I found myself torn in two. There was the person who nodded and took in the advice in an abstract kind of “hmm, that sounds like sense” kinda way, and there was the working mother who just went and got on with her work, while charging fair prices and raising them when she felt she had to.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a poverty-cult addict. I am not poor, nor do I feel I deserve to be. But there is another kind of currency that counts just as much as euros and dollars:

It seems to me that women trade not only in products, in results, but also in goodwill, support, friendliness, advice and humour. We have been taught that these things are “soft skills” which makes them sound like they are the opposite of “hard” right? As in easy. But any woman will tell you, these are not simple skills and they certainly don’t come easy.

There are infinitesimal modulations. When do you move from the formal “Sie” to the “casual “Du” with a client? How do you respond if the client signs off “herzlichst” or asks you personal questions about your weekend? (male or female) Do you add amusing little comments when you proof stuff for them, or explain their mistakes and inconsistencies, and how do you respond to their critical comments or corrections? With humour, or a stout business-only attitude? One of the most important “soft skill” lessons women have learnt is the fact that, usually, being kind pays off so much more than being right.

Of course money counts. We are notoriously bad at gauging our own worth in financial terms. And we also automatically think that just because we enjoy something, we shouldn’t be paid for it. Sure, we are probably working for less than we could, sure, we could be charging more. I’m not saying don’t charge more. I am just saying “Know WHY you are charging more”.

Let’s not forget that higher prices also bring more responsibility, more pressure. Not everyone wants that. I recently charged a quite extortionate amount for a job, mainly because I had to pay the person who had “introduced” us a 20% commission, and I wanted to pay the translators working for me decently, whilst also earning enough to make it worth my while coordinating everyone and compiling all the boring spreadsheets etc. and, to be frank: it felt like shit. I was stressed, I wasn’t doing what I love (translating) and the responsibility was simply too heavy for my narrow shoulders. The client was completely happy with the results (and fine with the price) but I felt drained and exhausted by it all.

Some people (women and men alike) love the adrenaline rush or the power of coordinating large projects, or being the boss of someone. But it’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking the only way is bigger, better, more.

I was recently at a very enjoyable networking event for women, and there was a smart and wonderful woman there talking about how she had got to where she was. I admired her. She was also witty and obviously on top of her game, and I found myself thinking “I want to do that”. The next moment, I realised that just because something (like running your own agency) is a “great opportunity” it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. I liked her, admired her, but I didn’t want to BE her.


Which is great, because, seriously, we can’t ALL run our own agencies and earn six figures.

I don’t want to be earning six figures. Living in Berlin I can completely honestly state that as a fact. I want to be earning low five figures so that I don’t have to pay so much tax my eyes water and so that I have time to curl up with a book and a coffee some afternoons. Yes, I want to feed my kids, but I don’t need to fly them to a Paris restaurant to do it.

So a lot of my “payment” if you like, is also the gratitude and humour of colleagues and people who take on work for me and the fact that, if I am in a pinch, or need a few days off, I have several friends and colleagues who can step into the breach. That is the female economy I am talking about.

Which is why I am grateful to be working in an industry studded with inspirational women like Corinne McKay (whose calming voice can always soothe me) and Worker Bee (aka Chris Durban) whose book had untold influence on me at the beginning of my career, as well as the handful of men who understand that the female-oriented soft skills economy (networking, communicating, and dare I say it, humour) is an untapped source of energy, like Andrew Morris of Standing Out® and Paul Urwin of “Money Monday” who provide us with food for thought and great places to exchange experiences and trade expert advice.

As long as money is our sole currency, it is something that will inherently lead to women having less of it than men (unless someone finally introduces pay for all the unpaid stuff we do every day!). So, it’s time we sat up and took notice of our other currency. It may not be accepted at banks, or restaurants, but it is a currency that will get you through hard phases of your life, your lost moments, your childcare crises and a whole lot more.

Sometimes, instead of higher, bigger and better, I think I will stick with just right, right here and right now.


*This is a fantasy conversation with a fantasy outcome. Yes, feminists are allowed to have fantasies too. Like most translator-women, I tended to hide my childbearing skills from any and every potential client until I was too tired to care.

**More great reading by all those fine translation bloggers out there:

Corinne McKay

Jane Eggers

Chris Durban http://

Nikki Graham

Jayne Fox

Claire Cox

Lucy Renner-Jones /Jenny Piening
http:// (interesting current article on Amazon’s literary ambitions)

The interesting “Great women in translation” interview series:

Katarzyna E. Slobodzian-Taylor

Christelle Maignan


The Status of the Translation Profession in the European Union
by Anthony Pym, François Grin, Claudio Sfreddo, Andy L. J. Chan

Cooperation not Competition: Finding the perfect translation partner

In this fast and competitive world it isn’t easy being a freelancer, and it isn’t easy to get your foot in the door as a translator, especially when you are young and inexperienced.

I was very lucky in that I got to “learn on the job” when Berlin’s alternative magazine culture was exploding in the mid-90s and you could still count the number of English native speakers on one hand. I soon became the “go-to” girl in my network of friends and literally learned where to put apostrophes as I went…No, my local comprehensive school education didn’t even stretch to explaining what a relative clause or a collective noun is.TTR_postkarte

When asked to take on the translations for a new fashion magazine back in 2006, I was told that the workload would be split 50/50 (which was fine with me, as it was always deadline-life-on-hold kind of work, racing to that all important print date) and they added, by the by, that all my work would be proofed by another translator, based in Cologne, Paula Hedley. My blood ran cold as I envisaged an older dame, with scraped-back hair and commas for eyebrows slashing away at my flawed work with her lethal red pen.


Every translator is fearful of having their work criticised (I imagine), and let’s face it, no one is perfect. And we translators are not exactly a bunch of team players either, very much used to working alone, and relying on no one: we often work without backup; if the schedule is tight, we often toil late into the night, with no one to offload on. If we’re lucky, we might have understanding partners who bring us cups of tea, or older children who pat us on the back on their way out, saying “Oh mum, don’t worry, you’ll get it done in time.”

So I was overjoyed to find out that my new compulsory partner in crime was a svelte but cheeky Newcastle lass with a great sense of humour and an ability to give and take criticism or corrections in the loveliest way possible. It was a match made in heaven. She has the down-to-earth language of a true Northerner, with the humour to go with it, and is a dab hand at creating catchy, punchy headlines that make us a hit in the corporate/commercial world when it comes to selling or making an impact, while I sometimes have the la-di-dah vocab of a professor emeritus and can dissect the most slithery of nested German sentences with the exactitude and grace of a skilled chef wielding a sharp knife. She talks me down per WhatsApp if I want to use the word “excoriate” too often, and I adjust her “made of’s” and “made from’s” with a motherly stroke.images

In 2011 we founded Trend Translations together, with the aim of appealing to a wider commercial spectrum, enabling us to take on larger contracts and expand our business as well as giving our fruitful cooperation a face and a professional corporate design. We are now in a position to turn down jobs, or pass them on to others. One key to our success, I am sure, is the fact that we both proof pretty much all of each other’s work. Instead of translating, it is easy to transmogrify instead, producing a babbling stream of verbiage, losing perspective with complex academic sentences (do you see where I am going with this…?) or overcomplicating what should be a punchy title for a watch ad or fashion article. And that’s when it is worth its weight in gold to have an honest supportive business partner on hand via Skype, email or WhatsApp to let you know when you are overthinking something, or using jargon no one but Stephen Hawking will understand.


It is probably the savviest decision both of us made, reciprocally proofing each other’s work (whenever possible) and finding someone to confide in when a particular project is proving difficult, or some nightmare client hits you with some negative feedback. (Yes, this happens to us all at some stage!) Not only is it nice to be able to send someone your evening’s efforts and exchange a few words over your morning coffee, but it will improve your work immeasurably.

So here are my tips on how and where to find that person and how to deal with translation partnerships:


    Online platforms like, or Facebook groups like Standing Out and Parents Who Are Freelance Translators, or Watercooler are a great way to meet people online and exchange thoughts. It’s nice to have some business banter, and an excellent source of information for CAT tools, but often these people are based far away in other countries and time zones.
    Ideally it’s nice to meet people IRL, especially if you are looking for a long- term working partnership. Somehow it is always easier to get a feel for someone and their working methods face to face. Having said that, I only met Paula after we’d been working well together for a few years. She lives in Cologne and I live in Berlin. The old-school Translators’ Stammtisch (based in Berlin), or groups aimed at expat writers and translators like those organised by The Reader or Transfiction, or bookstores like Curious Fox or Another Country, are all great places to find like-minded folk if you can pluck up the courage to get out from behind your screen and go out into the big, wide world. (I know, I know, it’s really hard…)
    It’s no good trying to team up with someone who loves to sleep in till eleven and thinks deadlines are for fun rather than a must, if you are at your desk by eight every morning and like to hand work in a day early. Someone who translates only part time and spends most of their day out dog sledding somewhere without phone reception or Wi-Fi is not going to make a good emergency backup. If you are a bit of a workaholic, then find someone equally committed. I know with Paula, that in a pinch we can see things through over a tough weekend, powered by nothing but caffeine and amusing comments on each other’s proofed documents, and she won’t leave me in the lurch. And we can always cover for each other when we’re on holiday.
  4. TRUST
    is a must. Especially when you are earning money together or sharing clients. You need to know that you are on the same page when it comes to pricing and make decisions about how to divvy up work if too much comes in. We both have our own personal clients, people we were recommended to directly, but when our agency is approached in a more general way, we share the work, or figure out who is the best fit. Luckily, we tend more toward the “No, you do it if you want to, no you, no YOU!!” style of cooperation than being greedy about it.
    It’s probably advisable to find someone with similar or at least overlapping areas of expertise. Beware those who say they can work across the board! We have a good network of people specialising in areas we don’t have a clue about (legal or medical texts) and Paula and I overlap on fashion, our main focus, with me specialising more in the direction of textiles, architecture and history, and her veering more toward marketing, tourism and lifestyle.
    It’s important to communicate clearly, especially when business is on the line. Telling someone exactly when you expect a piece of work back is so much better for all concerned instead of saying “Some time next week would be good,” and assuming they have the same “I’ll-do-it-right-now” work ethic as you, and then getting pissed off when they send it to you Friday night at 9pm. Paula usually writes something like “Please send back by 2pm” in the header so that I can keep track of her requests during a busy day doing other work. I am often quite random in my “desk time” being a mother of two and fond of heading out to the country, so I try to check in with her regularly and let her know roughly when she can expect me to be around.
    Sometimes you have to be nudged into being a little more assertive on the market. I was toddling along quite nicely on our tiny prices, living in Berlin with cheap rent and low expectations, so it took Paula’s cool business nous to suggest (gently) that we could start charging more. I almost fell off my chair when she suggested the new pricing, but now I am enthusiastically charging healthy prices that make me even happier to be working in such a fun job, and our clients still get a good deal because being a small agency we don’t have high overheads or a large bureaucracy to feed.
    It’s important to appreciate the person you are working with, even if you don’t see them. Being Brits a long way from home, we share a love of British food, a good pie and chips, or a chicken jalfrezi (living in Berlin that counts as British food!) and so on our birthdays or after a particularly hard slog Paula sends me little care packages filled with goodies from Marks & Sparks like biscuits and tea bags. Just another reason why having a partner makes working more fun.Now, who could ask for more from a business partner?! What are you waiting for?


Useful Addresses

Parents who are Freelancers

Standing Out



Another Country Berlin

Curious Fox:

The Reader