Kaizen, lightbulbs and Continuous Professional Development

Kaizen is a Japanese way of running a company by always trying to improve the way people work and what they do. It is a philosophy and practice of continuous improvement. This way of doing things is practiced at the Nissan car factory in the North East of England. Managers and workers are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel by coming up with better and faster methods to make their car manufacturing techniques even more efficient. Originally, the Japanese witnessed the groundbreaking work that was going on at Henry Ford’s production line in the United States and, through kaizen, sought ways of making it even more efficient when they started to mass-produce their own cars. They literally took an idea and made it better. It’s a bit like what happened with Thomas Edison. He had witnessed Joseph Swan’s attempt at making a lightbulb during a demonstration in Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society Library. However, he noted that it only stayed alight for 30 minutes so he looked at ways to improve it. Finally, by changing the filament inside it to one that took much longer to burn, he had created a lightbulb that stayed lit for a far greater duration, thus enabling him to market it effectively to the masses. This way of thinking and looking at ways to do things differently to improve productivity, has been practiced since Nissan chose to come to England and open its car plant in Sunderland and has seen it go from strength to strength. The hard work ethic of the North East, born from the traditional coal and shipbuilding industries in the area, together with the ideology of kaizen instilled in its workers has made it a winning combination for Nissan.

Lightbulb moments

Continuous Professional Development (CPD), which has much in common with the ethos of kaizen, is a programme of improvement that members of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) are committed to carrying out. As a proud member of the ITI, CPD enables me to offer the highest possible standards of work by maintaining and updating my language skills, subject knowledge, and any other skills or knowledge necessary for my work. As nothing stands still, from the technology I use to the developments in my specialist fields, it is essential to keep up with all these changes throughout my career. At the early stages of my career it will help me to learn how to run my business, decide what areas to specialise in and grow my knowledge in that sector. At a later stage, it may help me to branch out into project management or collaborate with other translators, if that is what I wish to do. What CPD will always do is keep my language and translation skills upto scratch and ideally I will need to plan, year on year, relevant training to keep myself on the cutting edge. My little workspace at home may be slightly different to the expansive production line at Nissan (and I may be spotted swanning about in my dressing gown rather than in their greasy blue overalls) but I can still use the kaizen mantra to ask myself what sort of CPD I can do to increase my efficiency, quality and profitability in a quest for perpetual improvement.

I was first introduced to CPD during my MA in Translation but I never took it particularly seriously as I was more focused on studying and passing the course. However, since completing the MA in January, CPD has become something of a priority as I attempt to piece together what skills and experience I still need to become a successful freelance translator. I have become a bit of a CPD junkie and it might sound a little sad but I really enjoy watching my completed hours increase as I log a new activity on the ITI website. As a minimum, we are required by the ITI to complete 30 hours of CPD in a year but this target can easily be smashed. Once you hit the magic 30 hours mark you receive a notification that you have reached the target level and you can then download a banner stating that you have achieved the required amount of CPD for the year. This can be added on your website or you can mention it in a LinkedIn post to receive multiple pats on the back and words of encouragement from colleagues in your network. One of the first things beginners can do to carry out some relevant CPD is to take advantage of the impressive array of resources on the ITI website. I have viewed a number of recorded webinars, the most beneficial for me being the ‘Starting Work As A Translator Or Interpreter’ course. It goes into detail about all aspects of setting up your business and includes sections on; marketing, pricing, specialising, working freelance or in-house, and contacting agencies and direct clients. There are also numerous articles and blog posts from experienced translators, together with a bi-monthly magazine to read which helps to inspire and give ideas on ways to improve.

Another important place for discovering valuable CPD material is LinkedIn. Not only does it allow you to connect and engage with fellow translators and make new friends, but it also gives you access to a melting pot of information, knowledge and inspiration. Learning new things from colleagues within your network is extremely beneficial for new freelancers who are caught in the headlights trying to figure out what in the name of sweet baby Jesus they should be doing next. Translators are such a lovely friendly bunch and are eager to give something back to the profession by offering help and advice. One of the resources that I have found helpful has been Clare Suttie’s Atlas Translations blog which offers a great insight into the world of translation. There is also a ‘top tips for linguistics’ resource which offers a wealth of valuable information for translators, especially for those just starting out. Clare’s name also stands out for me as she took the time to reply to me last year when I contacted a large number of translation agencies regarding employment. She offered advice on finding work and also gave some tips on how I could improve my CV. Nikki Graham’s website, Tranix Translation, which provides a whole host of articles and blog posts on many aspects of translation is also a really good resource. I’ve also really enjoyed reading Simon Berrill’s blogs at SJB Translations. They describe his experiences as a translator and I have taken a lot of encouragement from reading his thoughts. Dot Roberts’ ingenius podcast series ‘Meet the Translator‘ has also been a firm favourite of mine. Her interviews with different translators offer a great insight into the world of translation. Adrian Probst has a fantastic You Tube channel called Freelanceverse which offers helpful hints and tips for budding translators and those wishing to grow their business. These are only a few examples of the excellent resources that I have discovered through my LinkedIn contacts, and are really just the tip of the iceberg. LinkedIn is such a powerful tool and definitely worth investing some of your time in. It is also a great way of getting your voice and service out there but not in a pushy way.

Another thing I’ve been doing for my CPD is reading books on translation and in my specialised areas of travel, football and history. My favourite was a book about the history of Argentinian football, ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’, by Jonathan Wilson. It is so much more than just a book on football as it tells the story in the context of Argentina’s temultuous history over the past century or so. ‘Ghosts of Spain’, by Giles Tremlett, gives a marvellous insight into the history of Spain and is also relevant to my specialism in travel. ‘The History of Catalonia’, by Xavier Hernández, is an excellent account of Catalan history and culture but also relevant from a travel perspective. Isabella of Castile, also by Giles Tremlett, gives a tremendous insight into the life of the great monarch and what she achieved during Spain’s golden era of expansion and colonialism. Corinne McKay’s book, ‘How to succeed as a Freelance Translator’, is also very good and offers practical advice on the steps you should be taking to become a successful freelance translator.

Essential reading

Advances in technology have led to great changes in the translation industry in recent times and will continue to do so in the future. As a new translator I’ve been spending quite some time of late getting to grips with one of the translation industry’s favourite CAT tools, SDL Trados. After watching several online tutorials and reading blogs and articles on the subject, I began practicing with it by translating numerous texts including one on Spanish tourism in the Costa Brava. As it has so many functions I found it quite difficult and complicated to use at first, but I am now starting to master it. Ideally I just need to work on improving my speed and that will come with even more practice. I have also been looking at another popular CAT tool, MemoQ, but as yet I have not had the opportunity to practice with it.

The multitude of hours I spent studying for my MA in Translation does not, unfortunately, count as CPD. However, the research carried out to complete the final extended translation project does count and can be logged. The text I chose to translate was a 7500 word article about the Falklands War and focused on the terrible treatment faced by the Argentinian soldiers at the hands of their own military regime. To gain a greater understanding of the subject I read books and articles about various soldiers’ experiences during the conflict. Some of these were quite disturbing as they included accounts of torture and other forms of human rights abuse from their own officers. There was also an interview with the author where she discussed why she had written the article, who her audience were and what she hoped to achieve by publishing the story. This was highly beneficial as it helped to guide me with some of the most fundamental decisions I had to make in the translation process. I also watched a couple of films; ‘Iluminados por el Fuego’ (Blessed by Fire) which depicted some of the horrific ordeals faced by the soldiers during the war, and ‘El Secreto de sus Ojos’ (The Secret in their Eyes) which was very useful as it was set during the Dirty War period of the military dictatorship. This research was vital for context and furthering my knowledge in the subject area which was such an advantage whilst carrying out the translation.

Something that is not classed as CPD, but that is certainly linked to our ability to carry out our professional work, is health and wellbeing. Daily pressures arising from work and in our private lives, together with the negative effects and frustrations of the pandemic, can lead to severe mental health issues. As a one man band, if I am unwell and not firing on all cylinders, there is nobody else to pick up the workload so I need to try and look after myself. I discovered during the latter stages of my MA that the pressures involved in studying, especially during a pandemic where there is little fun in life, lead to increased anxiety and stress. To combat such mental health problems I try to clear my mind and stay positive by practicing meditation and hypnotherapy on a daily basis. Doing this really helps to relax the mind and, as a consequence, the body. I have also taken up yoga, an activity I regularly practiced until I did my neck in whilst performing a headstand in Costa Rica (but that’s a different story). It is another activity that has huge benefits for the body and mind (as long as you don’t do your neck in in Costa Rica). I also exercise regularly by going for a jog. As running helps to release endorphines into the brain it creates a natural high and is a great way to start the day. I also keep an eye on my diet and try to eat the right things to help me feel more energised. These collective activities all help to create the feelgood snowball effect that leads to better levels of productivity and quality.

So what are my plans for the forthcoming CPD year? Well, in all honesty I aim to continue doing similar things to what I am doing now. I will keep on using the resources provided by the ITI and, hopefully, if things get back to normal anytime soon, I will endeavour to attend some face-to-face seminars and group meetings as it would be lovely to meet people. I will continue expanding my network of connections on LinkedIn, interacting with colleagues and making use of the resources I find there. I will continue to read books in my areas of specialisation. I will continue practicing with SDL Trados and getting to grips with other CAT tools. Maintaining and improving my source language skills are also fundamental and in order to do this I will read articles and books in Spanish, often in the field of my specialised subjects. I will also watch films and TV programmes in Spanish and listen to Spanish music. I am in daily contact with my girlfriend, an Argentinian living in Spain, so this enables me to practice my conversation skills. I will be moving to the Catalan city of Girona to be with her later in the year (postponed from last year) so this will bring me even closer to the source language and culture. Unfortunately, the locals over there don’t seem to like speaking the same source language as me (bloody typical) so to combat this I have also recently started to learn Catalan. I have bought a Catalan book with accompanying CD for beginners and I have also signed up for an online Catalan course which is free from the Catalan government. In the future, once I have perfected the language, I would love to include it as a language that I can professionally translate.

CPD is fundamental to planning a successful career. Perhaps this applies even more so in a field such as translation which has seen its dynamics rapidly change in recent times. It helps us to identify an area of weakness and to take action. It also allows us to use our imagination and dream big. Edison dreamt big but he did not invent an efficient lightbulb overnight. He knew where he wanted to go though, and had to make many attempts and changes before he was successful. By looking at where we want to be in a few years time, we can break down the actions required to get there into smaller bitsized chunks. And, just like Edison, if something is not quite working, we can take the steps to change things a little until they do work. In an industry that is always changing, CPD helps us to think about things a little differently and is key to exploring new possibilities that, otherwise, may not have occurred to us. Regular CPD also demonstrates professionalism and commitment to colleagues and clients and shows we mean business and can be taken seriously. This can lead to referrals or future collaborations. I think it is always useful to spend some time thinking about what is required to be a successful translator, and which skills perhaps need to be developed a little further. This is not only true for a translator with limited experience, but also for a seasoned professional. There is always room for improvement. Just ask the kaizen ninjas at Nissan if you don’t believe me!

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10 thoughts on “Kaizen, lightbulbs and Continuous Professional Development

      1. We’ve both been fully vaccinated so we’re off to California in a few days – a trip with both desperately need (but I’m sure the entire population of Earth could use a trip like this as much as we can). We’re on the other side of a 4-month home construction project, so thank God that’s over. Other than that, just living life and trying not to count down the weeks until summer break. You?

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      2. I’m grand thanks. Having my second vaccination next month and then it’s a case of waiting to see when the government will lift the travel ban so I can visit my girlfriend in Spain. I bet you can’t wait to get away to California. It’ll be amazing!

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      3. We’re hoping the US and the UK ease their restrictions so we can go back and be with family this summer. We had an unexpected death a few months ago and had to attend the funeral by Zoom. It was tough. We really need to get back and give some hugs.

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      4. What a nightmare having to attend a funeral by Zoom. Hopefully restrictions will be eased soon so you can get back and see relatives. We’re moving in the right direction but we’re not out of the woods just yet!

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  1. Hi Chris Just read this. Very impressive and gives an idea of how hard you work! As General Field Marshal Rommel once said “the best preparation is training and plenty of it” Keep up the good work. I am going to drop some Easter goodies off to Bobby and Albie tomorrow and for mam. Will get a couple of Easter eggs and say they are off you and I . Take care bro and enjoy your weekend Cheers Jonny

    Sent from my iPhone


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