Trying to establish the nascent career of a freelance translator can be a bit of a slow burner. There are so many aspects of the business that need to be considered. You may wish to construct a website to help promote your business. It is a bit like having a digital CV and it tells people exactly what you do. You also need to build up a solid network of connections which, in today’s age, is largely done through interaction on social media. LinkedIn is particularly good for this but Instagram also seems to be becoming popular (find me at lucideyetranslations). You can join professional associations like the Institute of Translation and interpreting or the Chartered Institute of Linguists. Being a member of such organisations shows that you are serious about the profession and is also beneficial from a training and support perspective. You might want to create a blog to add value to the profession and direct traffic to your website. And then there is the thankless task of sending your CV to hundreds of translation agencies and prospective direct clients, both in the UK and abroad, in the hope that someone, somewhere might actually give you work.
There is no magic wand that makes the customers suddenly appear in what seems to be a saturated market. Sometimes it takes a little luck, sometimes it means thinking outside the box and trying to stand out from the crowd, and other times it is a simple case of who you know. However, if the flow of work isn’t consistent enough to make your business sustainable in the early stages, it is a good idea to have a backup plan. As I continue to work on growing my client base I am, therefore, going to be putting more emphasis on another service I provide, English teaching. It is a field I have experience in and, by not keeping all my eggs in the same basket, it will help to support my business. More pressingly, it will pay the bills whilst I wait for that positive shift in the amount of projects I receive to take place.
I got my first taste of teaching English during a year-long trip travelling round the world a number of years ago. I was in Vang Vieng in Laos, South East Asia, during the rainy season. I saw a notice in a bar asking for volunteers to teach English in the school of a nearby village. As I wasn’t doing much, well apart for eating noodles and drinking beer mainly, I decided to go along and say hello. It was such a magical experience when I saw all the little smiling faces of the children for the first time. I loved it there so much that I ended up staying for a month, renting a motorbike to make the short journey to the school every day. There were two classes. The first was for younger children upto about eight years old. We played a lot of games to help with the learning process and classes were very energetic. They were taught the basics like how to tell the time, say their name, parts of the body and counting. We also sang songs and there was quite often some dancing involved. ‘Heads and Shoulders Knees and Toes’ was a particular favourite, whilst ‘The Hokey Cokey’ was always absolute mayhem!
The other class was made up of older children upto around sixteen years old. Most of them worked in the rice paddy fields and they were eager to learn English to improve their future prospects. It was sad hearing their stories, learning that many of them carried out back-breaking work for hours at a time whilst knee-deep in the muddy water of the rice fields. The strange thing was that although life must have been hard they always seemed to walk around with a smile on their faces. Classes were much more advanced for the older children and included grammar, reading, writing, and conversation. I always tried to deliver classes in a fun and energetic way and made sure every child was included in the learning process. Both classes were an absolute joy to teach. The children were really lovely and so enthusiastic to learn. They were also thrilled that a native from Britain was teaching them English! It was sad to leave them but, as I was on a Phileas Fogg kind of mission at the time, I couldn’t really stay any longer!
A few years later I decided to go to Buenos Aires in Argentina to teach English. I was able to kill two birds with one stone; live in a city I had previously fallen in love with whilst travelling, and fulfill my ambition of teaching English again. After completing a month-long intensive TEFL course in the city, I soon found a job working for a language school. Finding employment wasn’t difficult as there was a huge demand for native English teachers, especially British ones. I taught English for business purposes and had many students all over the city. Many classes were individual and were largely conversational. As all my students used English in their working life it was fundamental that their command of the language was up to scratch. I would correct mistakes, go through grammar points and make suggestions on how their choice of phrase could be improved. Some of my students were bank managers, finance directors, lawyers and secretaries. I will always remember when the manager of one of Argentina’s largest banks explained to me what a ‘crack’ was using Lionel Messi as a perfect example!
I also taught group classes with numbers ranging from four to ten students. For the larger classes I was responsible for planning and helping to devise material used for group exercises. Classes generally involved grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing and business communication. As many were taking exams I was also tasked with helping them to prepare and revise. Students included call centre workers, IT staff and members of a consulting and outsourcing firm. English was regularly used in their working life so my classes were aimed at increasing their ability to communicate in a business context. Teaching English in such a beautiful city and country was hugely rewarding and I look back with very happy memories. I left part of my heart in Argentina and it was a sad day when I had to leave.
One of my funniest teaching experiences was during a group class in an office in Buenos Aires. Making reference to the road works outside on the street, a student was wondering how you might say ‘mano de obra’ in English. The answer would be something like ‘workforce’ or ‘manpower’ but, before I had a chance to answer, the same student chipped in with his own guess, ‘hand job’, which immediately brought a huge grin to my face. If literally translated, as he had, I suppose I could see his line of thinking; ‘mano’ means ‘hand’ and ‘obra’, in this context, means ‘work’ which he translated as ‘job’. Through poorly stifled giggles and a hand gesture mimmicking a ‘hand job’, I managed to convey to the group what his mistake was and why it was so funny. Of course everyone burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter which, unfortunately for the people working at the other end of the open-plan office, perpetuated for the rest of the lesson. Someone even pointed out the Spanish equivalent, ‘hacerse una paja’, so we were all linguistically enriched that day!
Looking back, I remember being a very enthusiastic teacher and made sure my classes were never monotonous. Whether studying for an exam or just needing that extra bit of guidance to take a student’s English ability to the next level, I always tried to teach in a fun and motivated way. I gained valuable experience teaching diverse age groups at all levels from beginner to advanced, and to both individuals and groups. Here in Girona where I live now, there is certainly that same demand for native English teachers as there was when I lived in Buenos Aires. It’s a shame that there doesn’t seem to be the same demand for wet behind the ears translators at present but hopefully that will change as the market improves and my experience grows. In the meantime I look forward to teaching the good people of Girona how to speak English the Geordie way!