Reflections on theWords to Deed Conference #W2D2017


“Not JUST translators” was a key phrase for the Words to Deeds Conference held at the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn last Saturday (4 February 2017). A prestigious location, a top class array of speakers, a horseshoe arrangement of round tables covered in crisp white cloths and an elegant programme complete with tasselled cord, this conference was clearly intended to be something out of the ordinary. A conference just for legal translators, it’s purpose was to “Roar to the World.

Advocate General Sharpston and Susan Belgrave spoke about the importance of translators being involved in the drafting phase, while Juliette Scott emphasised the importance of insisting on a full translation brief. Sahar Bhaimia explained that plain language was a requirement for consumer protection and data protection. She reminded us that children download apps and therefore consumer protection documents need to be written in a way that a child could understand. Finally she indicated that the future would be to move away from words towards icons. Henry Liu put the case against plain language. He also pointed out that the hardest thing to master was the smallest words.

Juliette Scott asked us to think about our use of words. Were we “freelancers” or “legal translation practitioners”. Is translation an “industry”?

This conference had some novel ideas which added real value to the experience. Having a table arrangement rather than rows made it easier to engage in conversation with other delegates. After lunch we were encouraged to walk and talk in the gardens. In groups of three to five we set off with a question to discuss. Fortune smiled on us and provided an interlude of blue sky. My group discussed how we could prepare for the future of the profession. We managed several turns of the garden and discussed many other matters in addition to our allocated topic. On our return to the hall we separated into other groups for table workshops where we could discuss a variety of topics relevant to the interests of our table.

This combination of formal talks and less formal discussion was a very successful format. In addition to avoiding that drowsy afternoon session, it provided an opportunity to network meaningfully with colleagues.

The plantable name tag was another original idea. Take it home, add water and wild flowers will grow. The intended metaphor is clear enough.

After the conference there was an opportunity to visit Dennis Severs House. What a treat! Bundled into taxis we headed off to Spitalfields. Standing outside the house on the cobbled street, with its Georgian facades and Victorian pub, if you squinted out the shadow of the 21st century glass office towers and the passing cars, you might just sense the past. Inside, was all past. Up four flights of stairs, with two rooms on each floor, crammed full of C18 and C19 furnishings, heated by coal fires and lit solely by candle light you left the modern era at the door. The cup of tea and half-eaten cake, the bonnet on the wing of the chair, the unmade bed, were designed to give the impression that the owner had just popped into another room and would be back at any moment. The whole visit was conducted in silence so all the senses could take in the experience. My attention was caught by a child’s chair with a child-size walking stick hanging over the back.

An excellent day.

Life without F


Last week I spilled tea on my laptop. It wasn’t much, just a few drops on the number pad side of the keyboard. I mopped it up immediately and left it turned upside down like a tent for 48 hours. Two days later we tried it out. Fortunately, everything seemed to be working perfectly, but with one exception, the ‘f’ key did not work.

It was only an ’f’, luckily, not an ‘e’, the commonest letter in the English language. Scrabble considers ‘f’ rare enough to merit 4 points. Nevertheless you don’t get very far without it. It’s in my name for a start. In my work its amazing how many times the words France and French appear. One of the most frequent words is ‘of’, closely followed by ‘for’ and ‘from’. And life without ‘f’ is lie, which won’t do at all.

Once the initial panic had worn off it was time to come up with solutions. The first work around was to open an old Word document and cut and past ‘f’s from it. A bit slow but it was fine for a rushed job. The next step was to open up Dragon Naturally Speaking. No problem with ‘f’s with Dragon, so for good measure I created a document containing lots of ‘f’ words, which I called “The ‘F’ word”. I could forget the keypad and just use dragon but for things like editing and other things such as passwords, should they happen to contain an ‘f’ it might be awkward. Also, as I gave up my office when my grandson came along I no longer have the privacy to chat to my computer all day long.

Without even looking at the computer a PC repair shop recommended a new keyboard. When I asked if I should get it cleaned they said they would look at the machine before ordering a new keyboard. I had my concerns. Firstly, I did not really want to be without it for two or three days and secondly and more importantly, I was terrified they might wipe the hard drive. Back in the early days of the current millennium whenever I took a PC or laptop in for repair they routinely wiped the hard drive. It isn’t so much the data, which is backed up but reloading all the software, finding the software keys, relocating downloads, etc. It used to take all day to restore the thing to something like what it was before. I resented the time wasted and the whole idea of it fills me with dread. When I bought this laptop five years ago the young man in the shop transferred everything from the old laptop to the new laptop for me and I was delighted with the result. So if there was any danger of the hard drive being wiped I was going to get a new laptop first.

No need to do that, said a geeky colleague of my husband, get yourself a wireless keyboard. So that’s what I have done. I have used it to write this blog. It is taking some getting used to as the mouse pad is annoyingly sensitive but I can revert to my old keyboard whenever I need to. I am going to have to do something about the height of the new keyboard and find suitable support for my wrists. I have a tendency to suffer from RSI and the whole point of a laptop is that it is better for my wrists. This device is not currently providing the right level of comfort, but at least we have all the letters of the alphabet.

Taking a holiday


If you don’t work you don’t get paid. It’s a dilemma of being self-employed. With the famine and feast nature of our work there is the added worry that just as you set off on your holiday, after weeks of small jobs, the large job you’ve been waiting for lands in your in-box. Worse still, is the fear of missing out on lucrative or interesting jobs while you are sitting by the pool.
I remember people saying that the best times to pick up new clients were holiday times, when their regular translators were not available. I know I have acquired work that way myself. The regular translator might then worry about losing the client while they are away.
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We need holidays. Our family need holidays. We cannot be so tied to our computers that we deprive ourselves and our families of a break. No doubt our translations will be better for the rest.
In the early days of my freelancing career a business advisor helped me to deal with this problem by asking if I had noticed any periods when work was particularly slow. At that time I had noticed that when a major sporting event was on, such as the World Cup, work went remarkably quiet. In February and April work-loads were usually light, whereas March is usually busy. Armed with this knowledge I was able to make an informed decision on when to take my holiday.
For years I worried about not being able to take on every job I was offered. Colleagues reassured me that sometimes you just have to turn work down. I soon discovered that turning down one job did not mean I would not be offered other jobs. Gaining the confidence to turn work down because I was busy meant that I also had confidence to turn down work because I was on holiday.
Almost without exception my work has been delivered by email for many years. For clients who telephone there are a number of solutions that are worth looking into, such as a virtual PA service, and having your phone calls forwarded to your mobile. When I am away from home my mobile phone is either on all the time or else I check it at regular times. I can then accept work any where and any time.
You may decide to tell your clients that you are going away, but the important thing is to reply to the client, keep the dialogue open. Even if you are on holiday and not accepting work, clients will still contact you, so it is important to be contactable, so you can reply quickly, even if its just to say you are not available.
Agencies are used to their translators sometimes being unavailable. They understand that we do not work exclusively for them. If you are one of their regular translators they are not going to stop using you just because you are unavailable once in a while.
In November 2014 I informed my clients that I was taking 5 months off and would not be available until 1st April 2015. I had been working for some of them for ten years or so. I returned to work in April 2015 as planned and I still have the same clients. I did not even have to remind them I was back.
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Know your business, build up a good relationship with your clients and take your holiday.

Music to work by


One of my pet hates is the music they play when they put you on hold. Once I was quick enough to ask them to not to play the “hold” music. There was a range of pieces of music to choose from I was told, but I replied that I did not want any music. The next question was more interesting: “what would you like to listen to?” Poetry, a play, the sea, birdsong were some of the possibilities that came to mind. Hopefully I would not have to wait long enough to hear a whole play and my contact said regretfully that they could not connect me to Radio 4.
Usually I am not quick enough to request that no music be played but it would make little difference. I presume the music is to remind you that you are connected and that someone is dealing with your call. Perhaps the background hubbub of a busy office would do the trick, but then you might hear something you were not intended to hear.
I have often come back to the question of what I would prefer to listen to and I wonder why I object so much to the music. I do not have music on in the background when I am working. I never even think about it. If someone is watching television in the next room it does not disturb me but if they start playing loud music I get really irritated. Why is it I can blot one out but not the other?
As a child I used to do my homework in front of the television. On Sunday afternoons my brother would be transfixed in front of some football match or other, while I wrestled with a Latin unseen or some appalling Physics question. Homework seemed to take an age but I was never persuaded by suggestions that it would be done more quickly in the dining room. I shunned the idea of retreating to the cold dining room to work while the rest of the family congregated together, because it seemed like punishment.
I know a lot of people feel the need to have music on in the background. I never have. I never play music for pleasure. It’s not so much that I don’t like music, but I often find it intrusive. I find loud music painful. When I find myself shouting to hear myself speak over the sound of someone else’s music, I give up and walk away. Music at an acceptable volume plays upon the emotions, requiring attention, demanding a response. Whenever I choose to play a piece of music I feel compelled to stop what I am doing and listen to it. I cannot just have it on in the background.
I live in a quiet rural town, where every sound has its place. Through an open window I hear children and their teacher on the playing field of the nearby school. The school bell occasionally punctuates the quiet. The rhythmical rumble and clatter as the boy across the road practices on his skateboard ramp is somewhere between tedious and sleep inducing. About a mile away the thud from the car crusher reverberates across the streets once or twice a day. Once in a while the magpies kick up a fuss when something disturbs them. At 3.15 the muted voices of the school children strolling down the street, subdued at the end of a long day, are sometimes enlivened by shouts and shrieks.
The cat on the cushion makes noises in her sleep. The hamster chews at the bars of the cage. The washing machine rumbles and the kettle roars encouragingly. Somewhere a tap is dripping, The dog barks frantically at the man with a delivery for next door that will surely be coming my way as she is out. The sycamore outside the window groans like a ship and the gate creaks, warning of visitors. Next door’s phone rings. Upstairs, the soft cries of my new grandson warm my heart. The percussion section of this domestic orchestra is provided by the relentless clack-clack of my fingers on the keyboard of my laptop.
I am aware of this discordant symphony, but it does not disturb me. I feel connected to my family, my community and my environment. It is all the music I need.
So, what would I like to listen to when you put me on hold? A recording of the sounds in the local park perhaps, but from a distance: a sense of open space, muted voices, perhaps there’s a cricket match going on, some people are playing tennis, behind a row of trees a train rumbles past, a bird is singing and a swan lands on the pond with a loud slap, all in balance, no one sound out-doing the others. That’s what I would like to hear.

Something about books


A year ago I identified the books on my bookshelves that I had not read and set myself the task of reading them. To help keep track of my reading I kept a list on my iPad. In total I read 31 books in 2015, which is pretty good going for me as I am a slow reader. However, the books already on the bookshelf awaiting reading accounted for only 8 of the books read over the year. 17 were books I had bought new during the year and a further 3 were from my son’s bookshelves. He has more books than I do and we share some common interests, specifically ancient history.

Only 7 books were fiction and of the 24 non-fiction books 17 were on historical subjects. 5 books were in French and 3 in Spanish.

When people kept diaries and journals in previous centuries, alongside comments about the weather and accounts of local events, it was not uncommon for them to also record what they were reading. Usually these would have been uplifting and educational material of a moral or religious nature. I have read books about the history of Castille, Magna Carta, Richard III, the Spartans, Ancient Egyptian religion, the English language and Australian history. Novels were generally crime fiction.

I have read two books on Kindle. This is quite a departure because I do love the feel of a book. The advantages of Kindle are that it is about the same size as a book, you do not have to carry heavy books around when you are travelling and you can make the print size larger. In the whole two months I was travelling around Australia and New Zealand I carried around physical books which I bought while I was there. I did buy one book on Kindle when I came back, but that was because it was too expensive and too heavy to buy in Australia.

Alongside the desire to read the unread books is a compulsion to thin out the shelves. Fiction I have managed to dispatch to the local charity shop without as much as a second glance, except for my collection of foreign language fiction. Some of my French novels have been on the shelves since the 80s or even the 70s. While I don’t think I will read them again, I don’t think anyone else will want them either. They are not worth anything but putting them in the recycling bin seems a bit like book burning, so I think they will have to go to the charity shop too.

In my copy of Bonjour Tristesse, dating from the early 80s, every page with a significant amount of white space was embellished with round pencil scribble, thanks to one of my children. Several questions come to mind. Which child? Why that book? Did I know? Who put the book back on the shelf? Did they notice? Have any other books been similarly defaced?

When I was young the idea of marking a book, even in pencil, was anathema. It was years before I came to the conclusion that some of the language learning books, and especially, work books, were going to be used by no-one other than me and therefore it was OK to write in them.

Many of my son’s books are marked with coloured stickers. Unless the coloured markers are annotated I am not entirely sure how they help. I have never been disciplined enough to do mark references this way and have always relied on the index at the back of the book. Nevertheless I have often wasted time searching for a reference that I thought was in a certain book.

My great grandfather was a printer’s reader for one of the national papers. He was an avid book collector and all his books were marked with his corrections, in small print, in indelible pencil. We only have a few of these books left but they are among my most treasured possessions.

Turning down the pages of a book, or bending the spine, were two habits that were disapproved of. I still have a bad habit of leaving a book face down, open at the page I was reading. While I have gave myself permission to turn down the pages of paperback fiction a niggling feeling of guilt is still there.

Nowadays I mostly use bookmarks. Bookshops often put a bookmark in the bag with your purchases but bookmarks can be anything: train and plane tickets are my personal favourites, along with business cards. It can be interesting to open an old book and discover a bus ticket, postcard, pressed flower or other memento. Such trivia could be the starting point for a novel. You can bookmark your Kindle book but you can’t leave a historical trace in the way a bus ticket from the 1950s can.

I was also in the habit of finishing one book before starting the next. This is one of the reasons for the build up of unread books. Last year for the first time I gave myself permission to read more than one book at a time; one on Kindle, one fiction and one non-fiction for example. I have also allowed myself to abandon a book without finishing it, or selecting chapters of interest. The only problem with this is that I cannot allow the book to go on the “read” list unless I have finished it, but I think this is an issue I am going to have to address.

New Apps


I have had some fun today dowloading some apps from the SDL App Store  and installing them into my brand new Studio 2015. How useful they are going to be remains to be seen but they were free so no harm done.

Last summer I spent 10 days working alongside 5 other translators, one of whom taught me a lot about Studio. One of the things I found most useful was the function keys for Find and Replace. I note that these functions are now accessible from the function ribbon at the top of Studio 2015.

I have had a little explore of Studio 2015 and on the whole it all looks familiar so I should be able to hit the ground running.

New Year Resolution


According to tradition today is the day for making New Year resolutions. By writing them down and posting them here, there may be more incentive to keep to at least some of them.

1. Write this blog more regularly. Last year I was abysmal at posting blogs, but this year I already have some ideas lined up so that should help.

2. Learn Danish. I have chosen Danish for the uTalk challenge. If I can complete all the essentials by the end of the month I will get another language to learn.

3. Read the unread books on the bookshelves. This was my project for last year but although I made some progress I also bought, and read, new ones. This year I think I have focused my reading more and I have identified my reading programme.

4. Improve my Chinese by getting to the end of a text book and reader.

5. Get my Italian up to a workable standard.

6. Make some inroads into the pile of unread magazines. 

7. Turn some of the stash of craft materials and kits into finished articles.

8. Stick to a healthy eating plan and exercise regime.