Apostroph freelancers in the spotlight – Today: Michael B.

Michael originally wanted to be on the stage: in opera. Find out how he came to be a translator instead and why he once flooded a client with expletives.

Middle-aged man standing outside

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who are you? Where did you grow up? And how did you come to be a translator?

I’m Michael and I hail from Konstanz in southern Germany. I got into translating in a roundabout way, late on. I actually wanted to be an opera singer. But when I was approaching 30 I realised that my aspirations weren’t going to be fulfilled. So I looked for an alternative career.

Why did you opt for a career as a translator?

A career involving languages seemed the obvious choice: languages were my favourite subjects at school and at the time I was living in the French-speaking part of Belgium. I therefore had the opportunity to use my school French practically. In order to further improve my language skills, I enrolled on a translation course at the French-speaking Institut supérieur de traducteurs et interprètes in Brussels (part of the Free University of Brussels), graduating with distinction as a “Licencié Traducteur” in 2000.

Wow, congratulations! How did you then turn translating into your everyday work?

When I’d finished my studies I actually intended to work primarily as an interpreter, but a friend who had a translation agency deluged me with jobs. I also received enquiries from former classmates who were by then working for various different companies and needed translations into German. The volume of work continued to increase over time and I soon acquired a taste for my life as a translator and am still enjoying practising this profession to this day.

Which languages do you work with and which areas do you specialise in? What kind of texts do you translate for Apostroph?

I translate from English, French and Dutch into German. For Apostroph I mainly translate texts related to banking, IT, cycling and agriculture.

How long have you been working for Apostroph as a freelancer and how did the collaboration start?

I came across Apostroph in 2014 through a LinkedIn contact who worked there as a project manager and knew me through having previously worked together for another client. He messaged me and asked me whether I was interested in completing a test translation for his new employer.

What do you enjoy about working with Apostroph?

To be honest, almost everything! The project managers are communicative, professional and friendly. Their payment practices are exemplary, invoices are always paid punctually on the same day of the month. I also like the technical side, they work with a good CAT tool, and all TMs are available online. Sometimes you also have access to a client-specific terminology database.

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

Appreciation. Apostroph treats its translators very fairly and respectfully. We are not goods that can be swapped around at will, as some translation agencies seem to think. Each translator is consistently used for the same clients.

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

Eleven years ago I lived in a block of flats in Brussels. One day a new building was being constructed next to our flats. The ensuing noise made it impossible for me to work with my dictation software. At some point I snapped and started to share all manner of choice words. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that my speech recognition microphone was still switched on. My unpleasant expressions therefore slipped into the hidden text of my translation unfiltered. At that time I still worked with the Trados Word plugin where the original text was displayed as hidden text. This text was normally deleted during the clean‑up. Normally. Annoyingly the embarrassing words I had dictated came between two tags that Trados could not delete. The inevitable happened! I delivered the text, and the client ultimately saw the expletives at the end of the text.  Logically it appeared as though that was what I thought of the text. I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed in my whole life. I had to eat humble pie whether I liked it or not and explain what had happened – it went as well as it could. Fortunately the client saw the funny side.

What does your typical working day as a translator look like?

I always try to start as early as possible. For me a good day starts at 6 am. I usually take my dog to work with me as this forces me to down tools now and again and go for a walk in the fresh air. It’s also beneficial working in a coworking space with other freelancers. You can always have a nice chat if you fancy. A normal working day for me is around 10–12 hours. But I do try to keep the weekends free for spending with my family, and I take at least four weeks’ holiday a year.

Would you take the same professional path if you could start over again?

A difficult question that I’ve asked myself a lot recently. I’m sure I’m in the profession in which I can develop my intellectual potential and talents to the full. In the next 5–10 years we translators will certainly be kept busy and be able to continue to live comfortably from our profession. But after that there’s a big question mark over whether it will still be possible to feed a family from translating, due to digitalisation. The volume of material requiring translating will certainly not decrease, more likely increase. I would therefore have to answer this question, at least from today’s perspective, with a ‘No’ (unfortunately).

Do you have a couple of tips for prospective linguists or for the other freelancers who translate for us?

Time and again I notice that prospective (but also experienced!) colleagues only make very limited use of technical aids. Electronic dictionaries, speech recognition, a good alignment program and a decent CAT tool should be part of every translator’s standard equipment. I particularly don’t understand why speech recognition has still not become properly established among translators. There’s no way I could manage my daily output typing.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Michael!

Do you want to know more about the freelancers on our books? Do you have a similar path to translation as Michael’s or a completely different one?

Please send an e-mail to freelance@apostrophgroup.ch.

And stay tuned for more Freelancer Interviews in the coming months.

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