From muddy trenches to working in corporate offices, my journey of becoming a freelance translator…
Everyone has a unique story. I have always been inspired by the stories of other translators I have met or read about, but this time I want to tell you my own story of becoming a freelance translator. I hope you find it interesting.
The translation industry has changed so much within the last 15 years – it’s certainly very different now to when I started out as a freelance translator. My journey started by coincidence. I was born and raised in Turkey and, had the pleasure of studying classical archaeology at the University of Istanbul, the biggest and most prestigious educational institution in the country. I really enjoyed my 5-year-course (undergraduate degrees last for 4 years in Turkey; in my case, I studied one additional year). During that time I went to digs, got involved in social organisations and became an activist to save our archaeological heritage that was under threat. Having to self-study Ancient Greek during that time without a tutor (unfortunately, the only available tutor was not very competent!) and passing my exams in the subject, laid the foundations for me to grasp the methodology of teaching myself English. This became necessary when I was offered a job in the UK by a company that was involved in the ancient site of Zeugma, where I worked right before my graduation.
For the first two years in the UK, I was based in Kent, at the Chatham Historic Dockyard; in a metal foundry that included a conservation lab and an open training area. There we delivered courses to children and adults in ancient crafts such as pottery making and coin striking. My working life was divided between the foundry and muddy archaeological sites in and around London. The biggest excavation I was involved with was the Channel Tunnel prior to the construction of link stations for the project. Our biggest discovery there was huge water well that was nicely preserved in the muddy grounds of Kent.
My life was changing so fast. After I met my partner, I moved in with her and her mother to live on a boat called Fisherman’s Wife in the Solent. We were there for four months until we moved to Portsmouth, to a brick and mortar house. If you live around here, you might have seen Fisherman’s Wife, as it lies beside the M275 motorway, having been dumped there by people who we officially sold it to. It is now a kind of local landmark, appearing in so many of the Instagram pictures of local photographers. After moving to Portsmouth at the end of 2003, I carried on working as an archaeologist for a while longer and my last job was working in the dark and damp vaults of the Bloomsbury Church, right near the British Museum, digging up coffins from the Victorian period, so the vault could be emptied and used for better purposes. Being an archaeologist required me to move around too often, so I decided to settle down and find a locally-based job.
There were no archaeology opportunities in Portsmouth, but I did come across a job advert for a Turkish tutor at a local language school and that was the start of my linguistic career! I did that role for a year and it ended just as our first child was born. He is now nearly 15 years old. I thought about my options and decided to do something else in the field of language rather than return to archaeology. I registered as an interpreter with Portsmouth City Council when it had its own translation and interpretation department. However, these facilities were closed due to lack of funding and I moved on to working at schools as a bilingual teaching assistant, supporting Turkish-speaking refugee children with their education and integration into British culture.
I was still indecisive as to what I wanted to do for a long-term career. I was interested in politics so I decided to apply for a Masters degree at the University of London, having acquired good enough scores in my English language proficiency test for higher education (IELTS). I was very pleased with this as I had only been in England for 3 years, and I’d spoken almost no English when I’d arrived. The fact that I initially worked with my British colleagues who I met in Zeugma, when I first arrived in the UK helped me graps the spoken language with ease. Coming back to my first formal studies in the UK, it was in History and Politics, mainly covering colonial history and discourse. I was so passionate about the subject that I would find myself in a frustrating situation during our seminars: I wanted to speak my mind so much, but I was sometimes slow at searching for the English words or would stop abruptly half way through speaking. I guess I was not quite ready for that level, but I tried so hard. Unfortunately, I had to cut short my studies when my mother suffered a stroke on the plane over to the UK. She had no insurance so we had to spend our entire savings on a special flight for her back to Turkey with a medical escort. At about the same time, I had a brief experience of working in a cosmetics factory in Portsmouth. To say the least, I would never want to work in a factory environment again, although I met some really lovely and funny people there as well as local people who had never been to London in their entire lives – London is only 80 miles away from Portsmouth!
I was ready for my next move. But maybe the speed of my personal development and the progress I was making hindered my ability to make the right decision for that next move because I suddenly decided to take the DPSI (Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) exam with no preparation. I assumed that if I had taught myself English and worked successfully for the Council as an interpreter, I could pass the exam easily enough. But my confidence was misplaced; I deceived myself. When I sat the exam I failed all the modules but one: a written module, I think. I remember that during one of the oral role-plays, the term “kerb-crawling” as well as “soliciting” came up and I was clueless as to what they meant! I had had a sheltered experience in the UK.
After this spectacular failure, I weighed my short-term options and decided to start working as a freelance translator. Although I had some knowledge of language and linguistics, I did not have a formal qualification as a translator. I undertook a few test translations for agencies and one of them took me on board. I was very lucky as they had plenty of work for me. I established a good relationship with this agency and, occasionally, I still work for them to this day. Using a service called Tripod I built my first free website. Amazingly it is still live, although it does look a bit “vintage”. You can see it here: http://bostrser.tripod.com/. During the first phase of my career as a translator, I had the pleasure of working for some large corporations such as Canon; I travelled to their HQ in Bracknell to proof-read and test their printer software and manuals. I also had a short-term job with a luxury sub-brand of Nokia called Vertu which manufactures gold-plated mobile phones for the exceptionally rich.
A few years later, I joined the ITI as an associate and prepared to take the Diploma in Translation Exam in 2010. In those days we were not allowed to bring computers into the exam, but hard copy dictionaries were permitted. I, therefore, bought lots of these from Turkey and a huge suitcase with which to transport them to the exam centre. I remember my wrists hurting as I was not used to writing with a pen that much anymore. I was disappointed with the first results, as I failed the “general” and “social sciences” sections of the exam but got a “distinction” in the “law” option. At least it was not all bad. I was frustrated though because I remember the text to translate in the “general” section was one of David Mitchell’s columns in the Observer. If you have ever read any of his articles you will know how relatively complex his language is. I decided to appeal the result, which is a lengthy process; if your appeal is rejected you can put another one in, but for each, you have to pay more money. Luckily, my instinct turned out to be correct and I was given a “pass” score following my first and only appeal. I did not have to pursue it any further or re-sit that part of the exam. In 2012, I sat the exam again for one of the semi-specialised sections and I chose “technology” and passed it with “a merit”. My Diploma in Translation was complete. I was now a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
My journey as a freelance translator continues with each day bringing more excitement, opportunities, networking possibilities and professional development. I will be writing more blog posts about various aspects of my experience as a freelance translator.