Letter from the Editor: freelance interpreting
Freelance interpreting: Career move or temporary fix for hard times? Gateway to participation in the major debates of our age or a permanent seat on the sidelines? Dream or nightmare? Right for you or not?
I've been a freelance interpreter all my working life. I've examined what it means to and demands of me, and listened to what others think. I've observed changes in the language professions (or industry if you prefer; I don't but more on that later).
I've also watched the reactions of others when they hear what I do. The more frequent comments include: "You must have an interesting life!", "Wow! You get to travel", and "Huh?" Then there is the ubiquitous "Oh, so you're a translator" that irks many a colleague but is a relatively benign epithet by today's standards. Since I consider translation to be the more demanding discipline in many ways, I take it as a compliment.
Over the next few issues I'll be taking a personal look at what freelance interpreting entails, from breaking in to breaking down, from the need to plan to the need to improvise, from self-perception to social conceptions, from craving to be a part of it to saving to depart from it. Perhaps I'll find answers to some of the questions I still have after all these years.
You're neurotic, you worry and fret, and you're not much of a schmoozer. It sounds like a freelance career would be the last thing you need. Your best friend is easy-going, knows how to network, and seems well organised. Most would think he would be a much better candidate.
Think again - nothing is preordained. Many an interpreter could put his face on the body of neurotic tendencies mentioned above; freelancing may actually provide antidotes to many of the associated ills. Some familiar with the color of anxiety don't need the stability of a steady job, but enough freedom of movement within the t-shirt of time to feel comfortable. It may be as simple as knowing which you find more frightening: living in the same office for 40+ hours per week, or not knowing how much you'll be making next month.
It's a question of balance, not stereotypes or blood types. And it may well be that the seemingly well-adjusted best friend actually needs imposed structure to channel his equanimity.
I knew I wanted to freelance before I ever knew I wanted to be a translator or interpreter; the possibility to do so was one of the attractions of the profession. I've never regretted the choice. It's not easy to break in (more on that later too), but one can find ways to survive while the effort continues. In fact, the beginning of your career is the best time to pursue studies and other interests (they may come in handy), as you may never again have as much free time.
I was attracted to interpreting because I saw it as a generalist's dream. I would actually be expected to know a little about a lot of things. My unconventional education stressing learning-how-to-learn would come in handy.
Learning implies continual involvement with the world around us - it unifies; translating and interpreting offered me a bridge over the modern divorce between work and personal life. Choose your pieces knowing that they will inevitably fit together - 19th century literature, a Wenders retrospective, new software, a social-networking website, Buddhist philosophy, the state of the environment, studying yet another language, travel, or shopping for fruit. They are all relevant to a generalist. For me interpreting has been an open invitation to nourish and exercise the channels of knowledge.
Something so simple as reading the newspaper becomes part of life rather than a break in it. Imagine: You're quietly scanning you local daily over a café con leche when a sneaky but brawny intellectual colleague hits you with a sucker punch.
"You actually read the sports page?" he jabs.
"Damn right... you never know when a sporting analogy might come up," you parry.
(To be continued in our next issue)
Having doubts about the marvels of interpreting described above? Feeling tired and stale? You wouldn't be the first. "I wanted to make changes to my life, and had some coaching. Immediately, I was a believer!" says Kathryn Smart. Read more in "Life Coaching: An interpreter's experience."
We are pleased to offer two articles that contribute to the historical record of our profession. First Masaomi Kondo describes the Genesis of the Japan Association for Interpretation Studies (while offering some insight into how interpreting is perceived in Japan). Then we move to Europe for an account of AIIC in Spain: A Conversation With Teresa Oyarzun.
Phil Smith is back with his Off Mic column and some reflections on grooming in Skin Deep.
Mary Fons i Fleming reports on what newcomers admire, dislike and expect of their professional association in A further talk with new members.
And to wrap up this issue, Phil Hill reviews the film The Linguists and tells us where to view it online.
Articles reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.
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Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.