That Old Freelance Magic

Does this ever happen to you? While learning a new language, you come across a word you’ve never seen before.  No sooner have you entered it into your internal glossary than it suddenly seems to start popping up everywhere, forcing you to wonder whether it was there all along and you just didn’t notice, or whether there is some maleficent force in the universe playing games with your head by strategically placing newly learned terminology right where you’d least expect it.

Something similar has been happening to me over the past few weeks, ever since I wrote that post on the freelance interpreter’s summer. It seems that everywhere I turn these days, I see blog posts about freelancing. The most likely explanation for this is that the blogosphere has always been full of this sort of thing, and that only now that I have started making my own contributions am I noticing others’. Another possibility is that these other freelance bloggers, like myself, find the freelance lifestyle to be highly appropriate subject matter for summer posts. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.

Be it as it may, I’d like to share some of the more interesting posts on freelancing that I’ve come across this summer.

First there was a post by The Liaison Interpreter where he explained that there is virtually no such thing as a freelancer in Japan (Trust, freelancing and the Financial Dpt., July 22). As someone who lives in the land of autónomos, pymes and the S.L.U., I found this a very interesting read.

A few days later, Translation Times posted information on a freelance survey and encouraged readers to participate (Changing the Perception of Freelancers, August 1). Proof of just how slow off the mark I am this summer is that I didn’t read the full post until the survey deadline (August 9) had passed, so I can’t even do the same and encourage those of you reading this to contribute your replies. However, I do look forward to hearing about the results when they come out this fall.

The translation blog Want Words had Twitter all a-flutter in late July and early August, with the publication of two posts on freelancing that struck a chord in some readers and raised hackles in others (8 Reasons to hate freelance translation, July 29; When not to go into freelance translation, August 2). I won’t say which of these it did in me, but I will say that the author certainly appears to subscribe (like yours truly) to the school of thought that blogs are meant to provoke debate.

And finally, the author of Dolmetscher-Berlin posted a lovely photo of herself enjoying the good life and then proceeded to explain why being a freelancer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially in the summertime (Süsses Leben, August 9). I enjoyed this post, not just for the photo and the freelance talk, but also for the up-to-date insights it offered into the workings of an industry I was briefly involved in many years ago: script translation.

Crisis? What Crisis?

Usually, I take my freelance status pretty much as a given, and the above posts also seem to follow the line that a language service provider’s life is, practically by definition, that of the self-employed. But an innocent question asked by a curious friend at dinner last night reminded me that for a conference interpreter with my profile, there is, at least theoretically, another option.

“Why have you never applied to be a staff interpreter for the EU?” was the question. The one reason that trumps all others, and which basically makes the decision a no-brainer for me, is that I wouldn’t want to uproot my family of isleños and cart them off to Brussels. The long answer, the bulk of which I’ll spare readers but which my friend received in full last night, also includes the fact that I’ve never had a “proper job” in my life and I’m not entirely sure I have the personality type for it.

This brings me to a very useful checklist that AIIC has put together for young people thinking about becoming interpreters. It’s a short quiz entitled “Will a professional conference interpreter’s lifestyle suit me?”, and if you have been asking yourself this question, then I highly recommend you go through it and see how you fare. As the quiz itself indicates, there are no wrong answers.

At some point, The Interpreter Diaries will be looking in more detail at the relative merits of freelance vs. staff interpreting (and how one usually goes about trying to become one or the other). Personally, I reckon that as long as I have more boxes ticked off under the “freelance” column than under the “staff” one, then I am still doing all right. Of course, the big brother of the “mid-summer crisis” is the mid-life crisis, and one never really knows when that one might strike …