The Freelancer Interview – Today: John B.

John didn’t really set out to become a translator. As a child and teenager, he had other ideas… Bin man, bus driver, barman and spy were all careers that looked attractive to young John. Find out how he ended up getting into the translating business and how his work once involved him driving through the French countryside on the back of a van with chickens on his lap.

Middle-aged man sitting at a table in a restaurant with a glass of beer in front of him

John, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where did you grow up?

My name’s John and I’ve been living and working in Clermont-Ferrand for the past 27 years. I grew up in the North of England and spent a large part of my childhood and teenage years chasing a ball of one kind or another – football, rugby, basketball, cricket…

I never really thought of becoming a translator. My career plans changed drastically over time. I initially wanted to be a bin man, then switched to bus driver or lorry driver. When I was 15, I wrote to the cruise company Cologne-Düsseldorf — without telling my parents – to suggest they employ me as a barman, but that didn’t pan out. After flirting with the idea of working for the Government Communications Headquarters (halfway to becoming a spy), I was offered a job teaching English to high-level civil servants from developing countries at a research centre in Clermont as part of a programme funded by the World Bank. The researchers began asking me to proofread or translate their papers and that’s how I initially got into the business.

What languages do you work with and what are your areas of expertise? What kinds of texts do you translate for Apostroph?

I translate from French and German into English. I’m not sure I have a specialist domain – I’m kind of a jack of all trades. My degree is in the economics, politics and recent history of Western Europe, so I enjoy working on current affairs and economics. I have also developed a good knowledge of sustainability & environmental issues. For Apostroph, I handle a wide range of subjects but in particular I work with the team in Lausanne on all aspects of the City of Geneva.

How long have you been working for Apostroph as a freelance translator?

I’ve been working as a freelancer for Apostroph for more than 10 years now, probably even longer.

And how did you get to work for Apostroph?

I was initially introduced to Apostroph by my sister, Catherine, when I was just a young pup.

What do you enjoy about working with Apostroph?

I enjoy the relaxed relationship I have with the project managers, despite the sometimes stressful deadlines. There always seems to be a little wiggle room if necessary.

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Apostroph? Why?

Variety. For someone who never originally thought of becoming a translator, I genuinely enjoy the work and appreciate the wide variety of jobs I receive from the project managers in Lausanne, Bern, Zurich and Lucerne. I can honestly say that I never get bored.

Can you tell us about something cool or funny that happened to you in your translating career?

I’ve done some interpreting work for a European consortium of funding agencies for street arts and this involved attending meetings in Barcelona, Marseilles, Glasgow and other cities. Once, in Rouen, I had to stay behind after an all-day site visit to interpret for one of the delegates who had some extra questions for a group of artists. By the time he had finished, the bus had already taken all the other participants back to the hotel and we were left stranded in the middle of nowhere. Our phone batteries were dead as we’d been recording the meeting for subsequent discussions. In the end, we had to hitch a ride back to the hotel. A local farmer picked us up in his old Renault van, so three artists, the sponsor and myself were crammed in the back with crates of veg and a couple of hens. It all felt a bit like a Mr Bean sketch.

What does a typical day in your work life look like?

I’m not sure I have a typical day. Some days are calm, others are incredibly busy. I normally get a VERY early start as I work better in the middle of the night when I can be sure the phone won’t ring and I don’t have to cook or help my two daughters with homework.

If you could start all over again, would you still choose a career as a translator?

I have to admit I enjoy translating and playing with words. If I could start all over again, I’d have no regrets about going into the translation business. Having said that, I never set out to become a translator and have always been happy to go with the flow. So there are several other jobs I think I would have enjoyed – something in the travel business, as I really love travelling; maybe the diplomatic service, although I think I might lack the main prerequisite of diplomacy; and, oh yes, goalkeeper in the England football team.

Do you have any tips for aspiring linguists or for the other freelancers who translate for us?

I think you need to be flexible and be prepared to work some weird hours. I also think that having good general knowledge is an advantage.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, John!

Do you want to know more about other freelancers on our books? Did your route into translation look like John’s or was it completely different?

Please send an e-mail to

And stay tuned for more freelancer interviews to come in the following months!

Achieving goals together

  • A reliable partner

    It’s very easy to process jobs in our portal myFREELANCE and you can look forward to punctual, monthly payments.
  • Your link to Apostroph

    With Apostroph, you will have personal contact with our project management employees. They will answer your questions and help you process your orders.
  • The Apostroph community

    A lively exchange, exciting and entertaining contributions in the Language Lounge and continuing education opportunities are what make our community what it is.