Sinéad Moore on Being a Freelance Translator in Romania — INTERVIEW
Years of experience: 7
Language combinations: French>English, Romanian>English
Services performed: Translation, Editing, Proofreading, Localization, Transcription and Simultaneous and Consecutive Conference Interpreting
This interview is rather special, not only because our guest is based in Romania, our home country, but also because Sinéad is a native English linguist who decided to move to Romania a while ago. It is always interesting to note an expat’s opinion about her adopting country, which is why we believe this interview is really exciting :).
TC: How and why did you become a freelance translator/interpreter?
SM: Pretty much by accident, I guess. I was working as an in-house translator in Paris when things started going a bit pear-shaped. My partner lost his job, I unexpectedly found out that I was pregnant and then I was made redundant, too. We eventually decided to move to Romania where we could both work for ourselves (we had lived in Romania before).
Although I trained as a conference interpreter and do occasionally take interpreting assignments, I call myself a translator. There are not a lot of events requiring simultaneous interpretation in my little Romanian village!
TC: What is the main advantage of being a freelancer in your country?
SM: For me, it’s the lower cost of living that means less stress about cashflow. With neither my partner nor I on a wage, it would have been very difficult for us to have stayed in France and do the jobs we wanted to do whilst bringing up a child. The recent lockdown has highlighted this fact for all of us. Even when your income is suddenly and drastically reduced, you’ve still got to make rent and feed yourself. There is still a considerable advantage in terms of price if you’re coming from Western Europe, though the difference is a lot less marked than when I first came to Romania in 2007.
TC: What are your main fields of specialization and how did you choose them? Or maybe did they choose you?
SM: Oh, my specializations definitely chose me. Many moons ago, I answered a request on ProZ (yes, really) for a company that specialised in technical translation. They liked my CV because, before being a translator/interpreter, I had worked for many years as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher, almost exclusively for companies in the automotive sector. But I didn’t have any formal training in the field. They sent me a test and I spent a miserable 1.5 hours struggling with it. I didn’t expect to pass. But I did and that company had such a high volume of work that I was able to tackle increasingly technical work with the support of their extensive glossaries, termbases and TMs, not to mention experienced editors. It was a steep learning curve, but I’m now confident in my skills, meaning I can tout my services.
I also specialise in translations about connected devices, as that was what I was translating when I worked in-house (another steep learning curve in the beginning!).
My other field of “expertise” is more personal. My father founded and ran a micro-brewery when I was growing up and the whole family was expected to chip in. I knew the processes and how that very particular industry works before I was old enough to order a pint. Years later, I’m living with a brewer again. You can’t escape your destiny.
”I’ve tried being a digital nomad and translated in airport lounges, up mountains, on the beach, etc. but I actually really need to be sitting at a desk with a full PC and well-appointed furniture to work well.”
TC: Can you tell us a few words about your working environment? Do you work at a desk or in a hammock?
SM: I currently have a home office on the landing. This is not conducive to working when you are in lockdown! But it allows me to keep an eye on my young son while I work. As soon as he is back at kindergarten, I’ll be moving into a home office with a door that closes.
I’ve tried being a digital nomad and translated in airport lounges, up mountains, on the beach, etc. but I actually really need to be sitting at a desk with a full PC and well-appointed furniture to work well. I usually have the radio on too. If it weren’t for the current situation, I think I might have moved to working in a co-working space at least some of the time, just for the company. People say that an “extrovert translator” is an oxymoron, but I think the stereotype of the hermit-like social misfit is very misleading. I don’t meet many translators who are like that in real life.
TC: And while we’re at it, how many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer?
SM: Too bloody many! Let’s leave it at that.
TC: What about staying fit? How do you manage to squeeze in exercise in your busy life?
SM: This is difficult for me, as I love swimming but it’s hard to schedule trips to the pool. In an ideal world, I’d have a pool downstairs and probably do a few laps every time I needed a break.
TC: As for your eating habits, do you usually cook or order/dine out?
SM: I live in a village in Romania. You learn to cook or you starve! (Though it has been known that I trade beer or even walnuts with neighbours for a pan of ciorba or some sarmale!)
I’m lucky to be able to eat with my family every day and in summer you get to enjoy lots of barbecues with salads made from locally grown produce. Winter Romanian food is very time-consuming to prepare, so I tend to make meals with a faster turnaround time 😉.
TC: All right, let’s get back to the business side of things. Do you mostly work with agency clients or direct clients?
SM: Agencies. The first few years of freelancing were just so busy with so many big changes in my life that I enjoyed the ease of being sent a Trados package, doing my thing and sending it back again. I still don’t have the time to court direct clients, though I’m sure that will change one day.
”Foreign language skills are very high and translation and connected services could be a great source of international jobs in Romania, but the industry is very inward looking and so many translators and agencies don’t even seek to work with non-Romanian clients.”
TC: Do you feel your local language services market is the same or different from markets in, say, Western Europe or the Americas?
Foreign language skills are very high and translation and connected services could be a great source of international jobs in Romania, but the industry is very inward looking and so many translators and agencies don’t even seek to work with non-Romanian clients. There is also a prevailing conception that in order to be a good translator, you must be a sworn translator and have a stamp. Clients demand sworn translation for non-legal texts and it is assumed that being a sworn translator is a mark of quality. This cannot be the case as there are literally tens of thousands of sworn translators on the list in Romania. And by signing up to be a sworn translator, you agree to be available to the state should it call upon your services [which it will pay peanuts for]. Sworn translators are also considered to be sworn interpreters, despite these competencies never being assessed before accreditation.
Domestic prices are very low and translators tend to favour self-employed status without being VAT registered to keep costs down. This precludes them from working with foreign clients. They become locked into a conveyor-belt system that pays poorly, does not encourage quality and actually limits the kind of texts that are translated. The whole industry is geared towards legal translation, without looking to the huge potential for translation across different topics.
As you can tell, I find it quite frustrating. Happily, not every translator/agency is stuck in the doldrums, and economic growth generally is making great inroads in translation too. But I don’t think many translators, unless they also translate into another language or have a very unusual language combination, are doing very well out of the current state of play in the country.
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?
SM: I don’t find many marketing presentations helpful to me. I don’t think it is specific to the country, per se. I just think it is hard to market translation services, full stop.
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?
SM: Respect for the profession is hard to come by in any country, I think. But we also have a responsibility to explain to our potential clients the added value that we bring.
TC: Do you mostly work with local or international clients?
SM: I mostly work with international clients and I have excluded myself from a section of the Romanian market by not pursuing the accreditation I talked about earlier. Luckily, I am still managing to build a portfolio of clients in Romania and all of them are great to work with. This is a country where money is not a taboo subject. Translation agencies and end clients will talk freely about their budget and we are able to negotiate. It is a lot easier than trying to glean from a UK company how much they are willing to pay. Also, I have a great USP here, as native speakers of English translating from Romanian are as rare as hens’ teeth. Things move quickly here. You have to be prepared to speak to clients on the phone (almost never happens in western Europe) and deadlines can be tight. Ultimately, it’s easier to find higher rates outside of the country still, but economic growth is palpable in Romania and this is an exciting period for all businesses here.
TC: Is there a strong community of linguists in your country? Do you have an active translators’ or interpreters’ association?
SM: In a word, no. There are Facebook groups, the odd meet-up and pow-wow and, of course, the great team in Cluj and the (now annual) XL8Cluj conference, but no active national body now. Sadly, too many translators are just focused on keeping the wolf from the door. It would be a huge amount of work to get one up and running. There is also some resistance in the national psyche about collaborating and pooling resources, which probably has not helped with the association status.
TC: We’re approaching the end of this interview and we would like to find out a couple of things about Romania. What is your favourite city or region in Romania? What should a tourist who has never been to Romania visit first?
SM: Visitors to Romania all tend to go to the same places. The international train brings backpackers on a boomerang-shaped arc from Cluj (Napoca), curving through the Carpathians to Bucharest, taking in the cities of Sibiu, Sighisoara, Brasov and Sinaia on the way (usually with a day at Bran visiting “Dracula’s” castle). But if you really want to experience Romania, you have to be prepared for it to take some time. There are some truly unique places to visit – like the Danube Delta or the mountainous Maramures region – but the lack of infrastructure to and in those places makes them off the beaten track. Close to where I live, there is a site called The Mud Volcanoes, where liquid mud erupts out of the ground and oozes down the sides of the little volcanoes it creates. The area around it looks a bit like the surface of the moon, with some fantastic views across the mountains. That part of the country is totally unspoiled and you could imagine you were there at any period of history.
TC: And finally, if you had to give a single piece of advice to young language professionals, what would that be?
SM: Be friendly! Very early on, a project manager sent me a request for a tiny job. In my reply, I was quite chatty (as if I were talking to someone I knew a bit better, rather than a stranger). That PM told me I’d made her laugh and then sent me jobs every day for weeks and also recommended me to her colleagues. It was a big agency, and it set me up with regular work really quickly. I have always maintained the same strategy and it really helps me feel that we are all on the same team. You might hear from other colleagues about how project managers are the devil incarnate, but I try to think of them as colleagues. Crack a joke, make a little small talk and spread a little happiness. What is the worst that can happen?