Marek Pawelec on Being a Freelance Translator in Poland – INTERVIEW
Marek Pawelec graduated in Molecular Biology at the Jagiellonian University in 1992 and worked as researcher at faculties of Medicine and Chemistry of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. In 2001 he began working as a full time English to Polish freelance translator: started with literature, later added technical translations of medical, life sciences and chemistry texts. Translated close to 40 novels and millions words of medical texts, including medical equipment manuals, IVD, pharmacology and clinical trials-related materials. Experienced computer aided translation (CAT) software user and trainer, certified memoQ trainer. Presented on multiple translation conferences and teaches on practical aspects of freelance translation, CAT tools, regular expressions and translation related software. He is interested in technical communication, passionate about terminology and cats.
Years of experience: 20
Language combination: English-Polishî
Services performed: Translation, Review, memoQ training, preparing filter for XML and complex files, process consulting
Marek is an excellent linguist and tech-expert who probably needs no introduction to most language professionals. This is his perspective on being a freelance linguist in Poland. We hope you’ll enjoy this interview :).
TC: How and why did you become a freelance translator/interpreter?
(was this a deliberate choice or was it the only way for you to work as a translator in your country?)
MP: It was kind of an accident. I was working on a Ph.D. in chemistry as a doctoral student, but my experimental system wasn’t behaving as planned and became “interesting” instead. At some point my funding ended and I had to find some source of income. I was asking around and one of my translator friends offered me a translation of a novel someone was supposed to deliver, but didn’t. There was very little time to do that, but I managed, and the translation was well received, so I got another… I love translating, but balance shifted so much, that I ended up without that Ph.D.
TC: What is the main advantage of being a freelancer in your country?
MP: Hm. In my opinion the best thing is not having a boss and formal company structure to follow. Although this only works if you are established enough that you can refuse jobs. And not having a boss and defined working hours is sometimes a bad thing too – it would be nice to work nine to five and not ever think of work outside these hours. As for the income, it’s complex. Judging by Facebook discussions and I’m probably at the higher end of the market here since my income is definitely above the average for Poland. It took some years to get where I am today – these times I don’t mind having long payment periods, because I work for various clients and the income averages over the year, but I do remember lean times at the beginning where every payment delay was a disaster.
”Usually I exercise by chasing one of my cats when he’s pushing things off the shelves out of boredom (and that’s a fact).”
TC: What are your main fields of specialization and how did you choose them? Or maybe did they choose you?
MP: I’m definitely the case of specializations choosing me. I already told you that I started as a literary translator – I’m translating Fantasy and Science Fiction genre… because that’s my favourite. And I dare say I’m rather good at it. But I’m also a molecular biologist and chemist by education plus I have the laboratory experience (including clinical laboratory), so at some point I started working on life sciences / medicine / chemistry translations, which pays better than literature (but may be less fun). Now I split my time between these types of texts.
And my other specialization is teaching translation software, mainly memoQ. It’s something I do enjoy, in part because it’s something completely different from sitting alone at my desk all day.
TC: Can you tell us a few words about your working environment? Do you work at a desk or in a hammock?
MP: My working environment… well, I’m lucky enough to have a room dedicated for work, shared with my wife, who is a physics professor and used to work from home some days of the week, but now she does that almost all the time, given the current situation.
After I translated my first novel, I developed some CTS symptoms, so I learned the value of good ergonomics: I work almost exclusively on a desktop computer at a comfortable desk, with ergonomic keyboard, decent lighting and big screens. On occasion I do bring my laptop to a couch or a terrace, but that’s not something I could do for longer periods – looking down to a laptop screen is not comfortable in the long run and the size does matter when you do technical translations and need access to a lot of resources.
I must also confess, that I never understood the point of standing desks – I’ll take my chair, thank you. I prefer to stretch my legs by walking/running/cycling. And co-working is not for me either – I need quiet to concentrate on my work. I do listen to music (although not all the time), but conversations are very distracting for me.
TC: And while we’re at it, how many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer?
MP: Uhhh… A lot. I usually start working around 8.30 in the morning and finish around 7 in the evening, with various breaks in between. Morning is the most productive time for me – without distractions or errands I usually have 50 – 60% of my daily workload ready by noon, then it slows down. I can’t really work late, because at some point my brain just slows down to a crawl and something that would take 15 minutes in the morning stretches to an hour or longer in the evening. But I often stay in front of the computer way longer, not working, just wasting time. You know how it is.
TC: What about staying fit? How do you manage to squeeze in exercise in your busy life?
MP: Usually I exercise by chasing one of my cats when he’s pushing things off the shelves out of boredom (and that’s a fact).
But I do some scheduled fitness too. Depending on the season, I do some light running, biking or just walking, especially with a camera (given its weight, it counts as extra exercise). But I don’t like running when it’s too cold outside, so an alternative is a stepper or training bike in front of TV with Netflix (regretfully I don’t have enough space for a treadmill). I experimented with various activity times, like morning, lunch time or evening and I found out that taking a break during a day leads to improved productivity after the break, so I often have around a 1 hour break early afternoon (running, biking, stepper or just walk) and work afterwards until around 7 pm. Although to be honest there are periods when I know I should exercise, but…
TC: As for your eating habits, do you usually cook or order/dine out? 🙂
MP: It’s mostly eating at home. We have some family help with cooking, but we both cook with my wife – we do different things, complementing each other, although I do that more often.
TC: All right, let’s get back to the business side of things. Do you mostly work with agency clients or direct clients?
MP: Early on I had a direct client, but now I work exclusively for agencies. I guess I could get higher rates working for direct clients, but on the other hand given the type of content I specialize in (e.g. medical imaging, IVD, clinical trials) the end clients tend to deal with agencies handling multilingual translations. Sometimes they change the middle man, but the pool of experienced translators handling their type of content isn’t all that big, so changing the LSP doesn’t necessary mean changing translators 😉
TC: Do you feel your local language services market is the same or different from markets in, say, Western Europe or the Americas?
MP: I don’t think so – there are agencies and direct clients, different tiers of rates and constant pressure on lowering rates. There’s a big market for certified translations in Poland with an even stronger pressure on rates, but I’m not participating in that and I don’t ever plan to. Plus there’s a noticeable market share of translators and agencies working without CAT software (or even denouncing it), but I guess it’s like that everywhere, it’s just not a popular topic on translation conferences.
Although Poland may be different from Western European countries with the big gap between rates I get from Polish (paying in PLN) and international clients (paying in EUR). But I suspect it’s like that in all “Eastern” European countries.
TC: When you go to a conference and attend a presentation or workshop on marketing by a professional or trainer who is not familiar with the situation in your country, how useful is their advice? Do the principles or strategies presented apply to you?
MP: Marketing… what’s that? I attend conferences to learn technical stuff – new software, new methods, better approaches to various problems, to work more efficiently, get new ideas, meet new people and friends. I suck at self-promotion, but I do get by without it, so… maybe someday I’ll do something about it.
TC: How is the translation/interpretation profession regarded in your country? Are you happy with how local clients perceive language professionals? Do you feel that they are aware of the expertise and efforts required by this profession?
MP: Well… that depends who you ask. Literary translation is held in high regard, technical translation is still unnoticed and “general public” does not realize how much expertise is needed to perform that job correctly. Especially in the light of free MT engines available to everyone. And given that I work predominantly for LSPs, I can’t really answer the question about how clients perceive language professionals – my clients usually appreciate my skills 😉
TC: Do you mostly work with local or international clients?
MP: Mix: both Polish and international agencies. The same goes for trainings: both local, in Polish, and international, in English.
TC: Is there a strong community of linguists in your country? Do you have an active translators’ or interpreters’ association?
MP: There’s relatively strong association of sworn and legal translators (TEPIS) and some regional translators associations. I’m a member of literary translators association, which is quite active when it comes to events, education, legal help and representation of translators interests.
TC: We’re approaching the end of this interview and we would like to find out a couple of things about Poland. What is your favourite city or region in Poland? What should a tourist who has never been to Poland visit first?
MP: Hm. The country is quite diverse. I used to live in Kraków for many years and I do love that city: it has common vibes with Prague, Vienna and Budapest. If you want to see some Polish cities, then Kraków definitely should be on your list, together with Wrocław, Gdańsk and maybe Warsaw. My home region is Lower Silesia, south-western part of Poland, and you’ll find a lot of interesting places here. If you fancy lakes and Teutonic castles, visit north-east Warmia region… Poland has a lot of places worth seeing.
TC: And finally, if you had to give a single piece of advice to young language professionals, what would that be?
MP: Know stuff. Knowing a language and translation theory is not enough. Marketing and soft skills will get you only that far: you need to be able to deliver solid, reliable work on the subjects you decide to translate, and that’s not that easy without background knowledge on that topic. So invest and learn.