Thursday, 5 March 2015

A new qualification – I’m now an MITI!

It’s been a few months since I last posted – I’ve been hibernating! But even though the mornings are still frosty, spring is definitely on its way and I can feel my creative juices starting to flow again, a bit like the sap starting to rise in the trees.

A new qualification – I’m now an MITI!

When I finished my Ph.D., I swore I would never take another exam in my life. Then I started lecturing and was required to take a teaching qualification – cue more assessments and exams. Then came the switch into self-employment: surely now I would just be left to my own devices? Far from it! When I first set up my translation business, I joined the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) as an “Associate Member” to benefit from the organisation’s networking and professional development opportunities. However, you can only be an Associate for a certain time before you are required to become a “Qualified Member” or MITI. This full level of membership is awarded following - what else! – an examination.

For me, the process started when I was contacted by ITI’s Membership Officer in 2013; she encouraged me to think about taking the examination (for full details of the requirements that need to be met before you can apply for full membership, see the ITI website here). The exam process itself is quite straightforward: you are sent a text of around 1000 words in your area of specialism. This is then to be translated within a few days within the comfort of your own home (or wherever you prefer to work), thus mirroring your usual working conditions, and returned along with a critical commentary on aspects of the translation you found particularly interesting. Both translation and commentary are assessed by two examiners, who will then decide whether your work meets the standards required for full professional membership. The text is supposed to be more or less the same standard as the day-to-day work you undertake.

I must admit I had been procrastinating on the issue of the exam for some time; I knew it was something I would need to take if I wanted to remain a member of the ITI (which I did), and I also knew that having those extra letters “MITI” after my name would be an outward sign that I was a good translator. But I hated the idea of being assessed yet again, and if I’m completely honest I also worried about having the quality of my work reviewed by fellow professionals – what if I wasn’t good enough? Forget all of those happy clients – what would other real translators say? I am grateful that the Membership Officer actually went to the effort of phoning me, as otherwise I would probably have skirted around the issue for another year or so.

As it was, it still took a long time before I was able to take the exam. I sent in a list of preferred specialisms, stating that I worked on academic texts. This caused some confusion as to what was actually meant by “academic”. Eventually this was resolved and I was informed – several months after applying – that a suitable text had been found for me. A domestic crisis meant I had to postpone the exam date further; luckily the ITI Office were very understanding of the fact that a flood in your house meant less than optimal exam conditions!

Finally the day I was to be sent my exam text rolled around. I was sent the text via email, and the ITI Office checked in with me via the phone to ensure I had received everything. I had four days – Tuesday to Friday – to complete the translation and commentary. Because of ITI regulations I am not permitted to say what the text was, but suffice it to say that it was very challenging, dealing with literary theory, much of which had originally been written in French, so that I not only had to translate the German words into English, I also had to research the standard English translations of some French texts! Luckily, I had faced these kinds of challenges in my work before so it wasn’t completely overwhelming. After I had completed the translation, I wrote my commentary; I felt rather nervous about this, as I had never had to produce a text of this kind before, but the information provided by ITI gave me several pointers and possible aspects to comment upon. On Friday morning, I returned everything to ITI along with various signed forms and declarations.

I had been informed that there would be a wait of around six weeks for my results, so I was very excited to receive an email titled “ITI Exam result” after only three weeks. I clicked on it with some trepidation – and was greatly relieved to read that I had passed the exam! I was even happier once I read my feedback sheet: both examiners were extremely happy with my translation and commended its quality. Although I had been told that examiners’ comments would be brief, I received two sheets of feedback, which I thought was pretty extensive and was certainly more than I had expected.

As someone who did not come to translation through a standard route (such as studying translation), what passing this examination has given me first and foremost is confidence in my own ability. Of course receiving positive feedback from satisfied clients is great, but receiving positive feedback from other experienced professionals is hugely satisfying and reassuring. Passing the exam has confirmed to me, once again, that my decision to switch from lecturing into translation was the right one. I’m grateful to ITI for the effort they put into organising the examination, and to my examiners for their comments. While the charge of around £350 for the exam was quite high, I feel it has been a good investment in my future career. I am now able to provide certified translations and will be listed in ITI’s database of professionals – I feel like a “real” translator!

Wishing all of you a very pleasant spring (or autumn, if you’re in the southern hemisphere!) as we move towards the equinox,

Here are some other translators’ experiences of becoming an MITI:

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

In Love and Remembrance

December – Christmas lights in the towns, carols on the radio…here in Exton we have a beautiful “Tree of Love and Remembrance”, covered in lights donated in memory of our loved ones. Remembrance has been much in my mind throughout the month of November, too, as this is the month we celebrate Remembrance Day. I am lucky not to have lived through a war (yet) myself, but I often think we underestimate how much our lives here in Europe are shaped even today by the experience of the World Wars, and the Second World War in particular. Stories of trauma, loss and displacement still shape many German families I know (including my family by marriage), and I certainly know some British families for whom this is the case also.

In Love and Remembrance

Most of the personal stories about active service in the Second World War that I know come from my grandfather, Henry Hiley. I want to write about him here as I firmly believe that without him, my family would never have moved to Germany, I would never have learned German and thus would never have become a translator.

My family’s connection with Germany goes back to the day that my grandfather, then a student at Rochdale Grammar School, decided to study German – encouraged by the headmaster, who “said how German must be considered the language of the future, spoken as it was across Europe and in South America; the language of Science.” Henry went on to study German as part of a degree in “Modern Subjects” at Oxford, and was able to put his language skills to use during a long holiday in 1938, when he cycled from his home in Littleborough across Germany and down the Danube to Vienna and Budapest, sometimes sleeping in youth hostels, sometimes in barns on the hay. On one occasion he witnessed a Nazi rally, noting the “great jubilation” and “hysterical confidence” of Hitler’s supporters. In 1939 he took another trip to Germany, this time noting the newspaper headlines on von Ribbentrop’s agreement with Molotov and correctly deducing that war must be imminent.

During the War (which in his memoirs he often refers to as “Hitler’s war”) Henry was in the navy. Following Germany’s surrender, he was sent to Hamburg as a member of the British occupying forces. Travelling there by train from Ostend, he witnessed the terrible destruction of many towns and cities he had visited himself before the War – “a succession of sadly mutilated cities…the devastation impossible to imagine.” His own wartime experiences had not inured him to the misery and want that many Germans were experiencing that first year after the War, and he did his best to help – assisting families who had become separated in the chaos that accompanied the end of the War to become reunited, passing on correspondence from German POWs to their loved ones, and giving away his rations of coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and cigarettes and even his naval greatcoat. One gift, a Christmas pudding, caused great confusion among the recipients, who didn’t know “whether to slice it and eat it like cake, bake it, or whatever”! Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was soon accused of being too “deutschfreundlich” and was transferred to Husum on the Danish border, where he remained until demobbed in 1946.

Some of the friendships he made with Germans during this time lasted his entire life. After the War Henry became a schoolteacher (teaching German among other subjects), and after one of his German friends became headmaster of a boys’ Gymnasium, the two initiated an exchange programme of kinds long before such things became popular. Several German boys visited the family home, and my father and his brother were sent off to join the German schoolboys on a trip to the Allgäu, no doubt greatly improving their German and instilling a love of the wonderful German walking songs the group would sing as they hiked around the beautiful countryside. When my father was older, he visited his German exchange friends and travelled around Germany with them. Trips to Germany became a regular occurrence, and I well remember visiting the same families as a little girl and playing with the third generation of family friends. What a difference there will have been between the affluence of the 1980s and the misery of 1945/46 – something only my grandfather and his German contemporaries would have been able to appreciate fully.

Given these family connections, it did not seem too much of a shock when my parents decided to move to Germany in 1986; my father already spoke fluent German and knew a lot about the country and, for example, its education system (the availability of high-quality state education was a major factor in my parents’ decision). And so my grandfather ended up visiting Germany even more frequently – usually once or twice a year until the last years of his life, when it became too difficult. His German remained virtually flawless (as a child, I remember it being better than my parents’, even though they were the ones living in Germany!), and he greatly enjoyed conversing with new German friends and acquaintances – as well as his two “German” granddaughters.

My grandfather died in 2007. He remains greatly missed and is lovingly remembered by family and friends in Britain and Germany. I like to think that one of his greatest legacies was his awareness of the universal humanity of all people, who share the same needs and desires and in times of conflict may find themselves on opposite sides through no fault of their own. He always responded to others’ needs with compassion, regardless of their nationality. Last but not least, he valued the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. Without his love of German and Germany, which persisted despite those years of fighting, I don’t think my family would have ended up there: I would never have grown up in Germany, learned the language, met my German husband, and become a German translator. I can’t quite imagine what my life would be like without my “deutschfreundlicher” grandfather. And so each year the Exton Tree of Love and Remembrance has one light dedicated to his memory. Thank you – or danke! - , Grandpa!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and happy new year with your loved ones,

Friday, 24 October 2014

When you’re suddenly the one who doesn’t speak the language

We enjoyed a lovely Indian summer here in England, but now it has come to an end with a vengeance – plummeting temperatures and pouring rain! Time for that finest of English institutions: a hot cuppa!

When you’re suddenly the one who doesn’t speak the language

I work from home and really love doing so – the quiet, the lack of commute, having my cat share my office! But now and again a change is welcome, and when I was asked this year to work on site for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, I jumped at the chance. I thus spent nearly two weeks in Switzerland at the beginning of July, working in a team with three other translators in my language combination (there were twelve translators in the WCC language service altogether). There were quite a few eye-openers for me – what a pain it is to try and catch a bus for work during the morning rush hour, for example, or how nice it is to be able to turn around and just ask a colleague for a second opinion instead of having to post an enquiry on a forum – but perhaps the most interesting wasn’t actually directly to do with my translation work. Geneva is, of course, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I don’t speak French. Well, I can order food, ask for directions, and thanks to my musical training can spout various operatic phrases (“Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle dans cette mirroir!”), but I cannot have a proper conversation with a French speaker, nor indeed understand a lot of what is spoken around me.

This was an unusual situation for me. When I travel, for various reasons I usually go to countries where one of my languages is spoken – Germany, Austria, German Switzerland, Canada, the U.S., Italy. I’m used to being able to understand what people around me are saying and being able to speak to them. Not being able to do so produced a number of instructive, albeit unpleasant reactions:

  • I felt helpless. Not being able to communicate what I wanted or needed made me feel powerless. Suddenly I was dependent on other people’s ability to speak one of “my” languages.
  • I felt stupid. There’s nothing like stuttering, trying to find the right word (no, make that any word), being reduced to pointing and saying “Cette…si vous plait…” to make you feel like a complete idiot – especially when everyone around you is speaking French with such ease.
  • I felt isolated. When all of us translators went off to the canteen at lunchtime, despite everyone’s best efforts to speak English so as to include me, conversation would inevitably drift into French. While I could often work out more or less what everyone was talking about, I was completely unable to join in.
All of this was very interesting for me. In theory, of course, I knew that not being able to communicate makes you feel powerless, but experiencing it full-on first hand was a completely different matter. It gave me a new understanding of the service we translators (and interpreters) provide: while on the surface we are helping clients to get a message written in language A across in language B, on a deeper level we are helping them not to feel helpless, stupid or isolated. An awareness of this will give us both new respect for our own work and greater empathy with our clients. This in turn can spur us on to produce work of an even higher standard.

So all in all, I feel the benefits of my embarrassing lack of French skills probably outweighed the drawbacks – even though I may invest in a “Beginners’ French” audio course before I visit Geneva next time!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Keeping your business going when things go wrong

September – harvest time! Here in Rutland, most of the fields are now stubble, dotted with bales of straw. The village gardens are full of fruit and vegetables – it’s impossible to go for a stroll without being given a marrow, a bag of apples, some raspberries or tomatoes by a neighbour eager to offload their extra produce. Our own apple trees are doing well, and I will be busy making lots of apple compote, jelly, crumbles and so on over the coming weeks!

Keeping your business going when things go wrong

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a blog post. This year has been a fairly turbulent one, and for the past few months I’ve been dealing with quite a lot on the domestic front. This has, of course, had a knock-on effect on what I’ve been doing professionally. So in this post I want to take a look at what we can do to keep our businesses going smoothly when “life happens”.
  • Know there is a right and a wrong time for growth: Recently, my self-employment guru Corrina Gordon-Barnes wrote that businesses go through phases of growth and phases in which we need to focus on maintenance. When big changes or crises occur – which they inevitably do – it is key to remember that your business does not have to be constantly expanding. This is not the time to be doing lots of marketing or to be redeveloping our website; instead, it may be more useful and sustainable to just focus on looking after the clients we have.
  • Remember your colleagues: If we are unable to take on new clients, this is the time to refer enquiries to trusted colleagues – they will be glad of the favour and may well return it when they find themselves with more work than they can handle. Seen this way, referring clients on can be seen not as losing business but as a longer-term investment!
  • Take a break from social media: Depending on what feels nourishing or not, this may also be a time to take a break from social media. I for one find it easy to get overwhelmed by Twitter and Facebook and have hardly used them at all for the last few months. It’s always possible to return to social media when you feel you have more time to spend profitably using them. (However, others find staying connected via social media a great help in times of crisis.)
  • Trust your clients to understand: If you’ve got a reasonably good working relationship with your clients, you will be able to let them know you are dealing with a challenging situation and explain your availability or ability to respond to enquiries may be limited for a while. We often feel a need to present a perfect façade to our clients and fear losing their respect (and custom) if we admit to sometimes having problems – as if professionalism equated to invulnerability. But my experience has actually been that opening up to clients creates a stronger relationship and does not mean they are any less likely to use my services in future.
  • Automate: Times of crisis are when having automated systems really pays off. I’m no specialist where automation is concerned, but anything like an efficient software that deals with invoicing, bookkeeping and even sends automated reminders for you (like FreeAgent, for example) can help free up time and allow you to concentrate on more essential things. I was full of admiration for the way that Leonie Dawson  not only kept her business going but managed to grow it during nine months in which she was incapacitated through hyperemesis gravidarum – through having really robust automated systems and some reliable assistants. 
What are your tips for keeping your business going in times of crisis? How do you ensure your professional life remains on an even keel when everything else is going topsy-turvy? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

How a mentor can help your business

This late spring / early summer is one of my favourite times of year – as it gets warmer, greenery starts bursting out everywhere and the air is filled with energy. I’ve been tapping into this energy, attending a number of work-related workshops and social events with ITI’s German Network and East Midlands Regional Network – from transcreation (translating promotional and marketing copy) to Twitter, we’ve covered it all!

How a mentor can help your business

Another thing that’s been keeping me busy over the past month is the work I’ve been doing on my business with my current business mentor, Jez Allman of What and How. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I worked with a coach (the lovely Corrina Gordon-Barnes) while setting up my business and through my first year of self-employment, and now decided I needed the input of another professional to keep my business moving forward. 

Often when I mention I’m working with a business coach, I get reactions like “Isn’t that a really expensive luxury? Can it really be worth it?” or “Oh, I’d love to do that, but I can’t afford it.” However, personally I believe that working with professional business coaches has greatly benefited my business and that the input and support I’ve received has paid for itself – probably many times over – in additional business gained. This is why I was really happy to pay for coaching even at a time when my business was not generating much income. 

So here are, to my mind, the main benefits of working with a coach:

  • Running a business can be quite scary, especially if you’re comparatively new to it. A coach or business mentor provides you with the support you need to move through that fear and come out the other side.
  • You are paying someone to listen to those worries and fears – and dreams! – and offer helpful, qualified advice. This means you don’t feel the need to vent at family and friends, who may not understand what you are going through. Nor do you need to feel embarrassed telling your coach – after all, they’re being paid to provide you with this service.
  • A coach helps you develop longer-term targets and plans, so you don’t get bogged down in the day-to-day running of your business (this is my particular problem!). Even better, they will hold you accountable for the tasks and goals you have set!
  •  A coach can help you to “dream big”. Coaching sessions provide you with a space in which to develop new ideas and encourage you to aim for your wildest dreams rather than small things you can definitely achieve but won’t gain much satisfaction (or money) from.
  • As business owners, we are so involved in our business that we often can’t see the wood for the trees. A business coach can give you a fresh, outside perspective on your business, and they possess the experience to recognise what can work and what can’t, saving you time and money lost in making mistakes.

If you don’t want to work one-to-one with a coach, there are other ways of getting similar input – for example, you might want to form a Mastermind group with some of your peers (I did this when I was starting out on my self-employment journey). Some coaches actually run online “circles” or “academies” (I particularly like the unabashedly hippie but extremely business-savvy Leonie Dawson). 

Here’s to all of us finding the support we need!

Any stories to share about coaching, mentoring or helpful support? Do leave a comment below!

Friday, 25 April 2014

A rare skill: Sütterlin script

Exciting news here – Margaret Hiley Translations has moved! Not very far, however: my husband and I have bought a cottage about five minutes’ walk from Pudding Bag Lane, so are still happily based in Exton and enjoying the beautiful spring flowers here in the village.

A rare skill: Sütterlin script

Over the past months, I’ve been making use of a skill I acquired as an undergraduate for one very specific university module, thinking afterwards that I would probably never need it again. This is the ability to read (and write, if necessary) a special kind of German handwriting called Sütterlinschrift that was widely used in the late 19th and early 20th century, eventually falling out of use following the Second World War.

I first re-used my Sütterlin skills shortly after I set up my translation business, when I was asked to translate some letters written to and by a German prisoner of war who was interned in a camp in Lincolnshire after the War. These letters provided a fascinating insight both into the POW’s life – his experiences, hopes and dreams for the future after his release – and into life in post-war Germany. The POW’s family had been forced to move from formerly German territory in what then became Czechoslovakia, and the letters included some very telling comments to the effect that the Czechs were now treating the Germans “like Jews”! (Germans were subject to a curfew and had to wear symbols on their clothing.) One wonders to what extent this treatment opened some people’s eyes to the dreadful injustices of Nazi Germany.

Last year, I started to work on a longer ongoing project that involves transcribing and translating the correspondence between the Austrian modernist composers Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. These letters are publically available in PDF format in the database of the Vienna Schoenberg Center. Once again, they provide fascinating insights, this time into a slightly earlier period. Some of the statements I found most intriguing (besides the information on musical compositions and performances) concerned the outbreak of the First World War – for example, on 11 August 1914 Webern writes: “What terrible events. There is no way of understanding it all. [..] Where has all of this terrible hatred been up till now? And what will happen? […] I pray to heaven for the victory of the Austrian and the German army. It cannot be that the German Reich will perish, and we with it. A steadfast belief in the German spirit, which created the culture of mankind nearly on its own, has awakened within me.” Little did he know what was to come!

Last month I got to use Sütterlin again for some more personal correspondence, this time written by a family who found themselves on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain following the Second World War: the son, taken prisoner during the War, in England, and the rest of his family in the GDR. The letters revealed the difficulties faced by these individuals in simply trying to stay in touch under these adverse circumstances; this made particularly poignant by the information supplied by my client that they in fact never saw each another again.

Working on personal historical documents such as these always gives me a particular thrill; it is almost like being there at a given moment in time, seeing it through the eyes of those who experienced it. At the same time, it always also feels a little bit like eavesdropping; after all, these are intimate letters written for the eyes of one or two people, certainly not for mine. This makes the whole translating experience a particularly intense – and often moving – one.

Wishing you all a wonderful blossom-y May!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Self-employment Stories: Part Two

We have been spared the worst of the wind and rain that have buffeted other parts of the UK here in Rutland, though it has not been the pleasantest of months in terms of weather! I was lucky enough to be able to distract myself from the wet by attending a few choice events: a Society of Authors event with two of my favourite childhood authors, Judith Kerr and Shirley Hughes, and the 2014 Sebald lecture held by the British Centre for Literary Translation, which this year was given by another one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood. I was delighted to hear all three of them, learning that Shirley Hughes started to draw and make up stories “because there simply was nothing else to do” in wartime Merseyside, that Judith Kerr’s Mog was actually based on her real cats, and that Margaret Atwood regarded herself as “a nightmare for my translators”!

Self-employment Stories: Part Two

In my last blog post, I wrote about the story of my own path into self-employment, and promised to continue the theme this month by sharing the stories of some other self-employed professionals from a range of different businesses. These kind individuals told me about their experiences in a short survey I designed to gather some interesting anecdotes and advice for a presentation on self-employment I gave at the University of Exeter last year, and I’m really pleased to be able to share them with you here as well.

Setting up a business – why and how
So why do people become self-employed? Among the things that “pushed” people into self-employment were the end of university, redundancy, they were fed up of working for others, they were unhappy with their jobs or simply unable to find employment; and among the things “pulling” them were the desire to achieve a better work-life balance (working with young children), a passion for specific field or industry, and their desire to be their own boss. They used a range of means to fund their start-ups; among those mentioned were redundancy packages, savings, bank loans, remortgages, family support, government grants and even credit cards! They found their first clients through telesales, leaflet drops, by buying an existing business, networking, through their website, newspaper ads, agencies, social media, word of mouth, referrals, university tutors, local events, and online profiles – once again showing a range of different strategies.

Things people value about self-employment
What is it that people value most about self-employment? The answers speak for themselves:
  • “Time and Money are what I wanted from it and have achieved, but the other key benefit is developing a culture within the company that stems from my own business management views and style.” (Quality Water & Fruit Distribution Company)
  • “It creates far greater potential to generate real 'wealth' than virtually any employed position.” (Consultant)
  • “Being able to decide what I want to take on or not, choose when I want to be on holiday, the flexibility.” (Subtitling and translation provider)
  • “No limitations to what I can take on or what direction I go in next - no one says no other than me!” (Interior and garden design specialist)
  • “Not being badgered by management or having to put up with colleagues talking behind my back.” (Translator)
The challenges of self-employment
However, of course there are downsides to self-employment too! Here are some of the things that respondents struggled with the most:
  • “Sometimes feeling a bit isolated. Uncertainty about where the next job will one from. “ (Freelance editor and writer)
  • “Growing through a recession. Confronting my fears.” (Accountant)
  • “There are no employer benefits (i.e.: sick pay) unless you pay for them yourself.” (Independent Financial Adviser)
  • “It is an emotional roller-coaster.” (Language agency)
  • “Never being able to shut down.” (Nutrition consultant)
  • “Realising that every time you finish a job you’re technically out of work until the next one starts.” (Document management expert)
  • “Actually buckling down and doing the work! I enjoy being out talking to people, doing presentations and training courses, but I often lack the discipline to get on with the preparation.” (Welfare Benefits Consultant)
Advice from business owners
I also asked respondents what advice they would give to a young person (or indeed any person!) thinking of setting up their own business. Their responses certainly gave me food for thought!
  • “Turnover is vanity, profit is reality and cashflow is sanity - it's too easy to underestimate the importance of financial planning.” (Property developer)
  • “Don't undercharge or accept dumping prices.” (Translator & editor)
  • “Put by one third of everything you earn as soon as someone pays you to pay tax bill with surplus used to cover any extra investment needed, e.g. a new computer.” (Writer and editor)
  • “Don't fear failure (learn and bounce back from it) and have a mentor.” (Career turnaround coach)
  • “Get some employment experience first. That way you will learn your trade and make contacts.” (Translator)
  • “Do your market research before you start. Too many businesses fail because they thought their business was a good idea but there was no market for their products and services.” (Business mentor & coach)
  • “Determine if you have the self-discipline and drive to continue and make difficult decisions without a safety net.” (IT consultant)
  • “Your working life is a marathon, not a sprint and so you can build on a range of skills, not just what you learn at college/uni.” (Language service provider)

For me, reading others’ thoughts, experiences and advice was really enlightening; I found it fascinating how peoples’ experiences across so many different sectors and professions were similar, and how the best advice was applicable to any kind of self-employment. Perhaps my favourite piece of advice came from a people development consultant, whose message to those considering self-employment was: “Don't let anyone tell you you can't make it work! YOU CAN!”
Have you got any advice you’d like to add to this list and share with other readers? Any comments on the issues raised here or things that you would do differently? Do leave a post below – I’d love to read what you have to say!