Reunion Island – the beginning of my translation journey

I know it seems like I’m taking advantage of Reunion being in the news but it was always going to feature on this blog. It’s just that now everyone knows where it is! I spent my third year of university in Reunion studying on the Erasmus programme. Fortunately for me, my university had just set up a partnership with theirs, and since I have family there, it was an ideal choice for my year abroad.


Before I left, I hadn’t done much translation at all. It seems strange to me now but my university course didn’t actually include any translation modules until final year, so my first proper introduction to translation was in Reunion. We had a class for translating into English (thème) and one for translation into French (version), so I didn’t realise then that professional translators only translate into their native language.

My thème classes stand out most in my memory. My teacher was all the way from Scotland; she’d been living in Reunion for many years and she had been one of the first (if not the first) English teachers on the island. I loved her classes because she was so passionate and I think some of her enthusiasm rubbed off on me. We mostly did literary translation – nothing like what I do now – such as excerpts from crime fiction by Fred Vargas or Georges Simenon.

In those days, I didn’t even know that translation software existed. I did all my homework by hand on that special ruled paper they use in France, and with a fountain pen no less. I’d find it hard to do a handwritten translation if I tried now, and I definitely wouldn’t have the time. What a luxury it was to have a whole week for a 250-word text. It makes me unbearably nostalgic thinking of those lessons, hot sun shining down outside and an ocean view not far off. A world away from my current work space!

Will I ever pick up a pen again?
Will I ever pick up a pen again?

I learnt in Reunion that translation skills are to some extent, innate. Speaking two languages is not enough to be a good translator; I am conscious of this more and more every day. Back then, I did very well in my translation exams and I could see I had a knack for it. More importantly, I absolutely loved translating. Of course, when I did my Masters two years afterwards, I met a whole bunch of other people with exceptional language and translation skills so I knew I still had so much to learn.

My Erasmus experience taught me a lot and it has marked my life in several ways. Even then, I instinctively knew I wanted to become a translator (and interpreter!) but I could never have imagined being where I am today. My experience even inspired my MA dissertation project, which was about translating from French into Creole, but that’s a topic for another day..

Arts & Humanities Building
Arts & Humanities Building
The ocean was never far away..
The ocean was never far away..

So you got a job offer – what next?

Before you start working as a translator, there are little practical details you won’t have even thought about yet. Project management is one of those things. At the beginning, you won’t be getting much work (unless you’re really lucky) so it won’t be hard to keep track of your jobs. As you start to get more work, it’s a good idea to have some sort of system in place, starting from the moment you get a job offer. Here’s my step-by-step guide:

1. Can you do this job? Check the deadline, the number of words, software requirements and the documents to be translated. You might not be able to read the text in full but have a skim to make sure you have the knowledge or at least the resources to tackle the topic. I’ve realised recently I should open the document with my CAT tool too in case there are any technical issues.

2. Accept the job offer. Do you have any questions for the Project Manager? Ask them now.

3. Save the document(s) to be translated. You will  figure out the best way to organise your folders. Mine are organised by client, then project.

Do you have a backup system in place to make sure you don’t lose your work?

4. Enter the job details into your project management tool.  I use Microsoft Excel to log my jobs and this is what it looks like:


At the beginning, you won’t know how much you can manage in a day or what your work rhythm is. This is why I added the Estimated Time and Average Output columns. The Estimated Time is the number of hours/days you plan to spend translating and proofreading. The Average Output is the word count divided by the number of hours/days you actually spend. Once you’ve finished a job, you can compare your expectations with reality.

Remember it’s not all about word count – a short technical piece might take the same time as a 2,000 word news article.

Once you know your own speed, it’ll be easier to decide whether to accept future job offers. Unfortunately that comes with experience and you will inevitably accept a job without realising how long it’ll take you. Your average output will also help to calculate how much you’re earning per hour so you can determine whether certain jobs are worth your time. The great thing about Excel is that it’s easy to make calculations and this will be useful when you’re invoicing too.

5. Make your intentions. This is a step I’ve thought about recently and I’d like to start implementing it. Most of us don’t translate just to earn money (although that is of course important), we do it because we love it. We have an overall goal or maybe we’re still thinking about what that goal is. Thinking about this before starting a translation can make the job more fulfilling. What do you hope to achieve by doing this translation? How will it help you to achieve your overall goals? Will this translation help another person? The great thing is, a translation will nearly always help someone else, if not many people.

6Start translating.

This is very basic project management but it’s a start. There are plenty of  apps available now to help you manage your projects but I haven’t tried any yet. I will at some point and let you know what I think.

Have you got any ideas to improve my system? Your comments are welcome!