So, Andrew, I think you ‘stand out’ enough for most of my readers to be aware of you already! For the few who may not know you, could you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
I’m a translator and run a small agency of my own. I’m also a writer with an active presence on Facebook with a very dynamic group, of which more later!
How did you get started in the industry? Do you remember your first translation job?!
I came to translation after a long career in education, where I was a teacher, then a teacher trainer for about 20 years. I wish I could say it had always been my deepest desire to become a translator, but in fact it came about by chance after a big mid-life change. However, as a language learner, teacher, some-time journalist, translator and forum host, it’s clear that language and communication have been central threads running throughout my career. They’ve just taken on different forms over the years…
My first translation job came to me via Proz while I was still finishing off my last job at the Ministry of Education in Bangladesh. And what’s more, I had to struggle to get paid for it. It was an eye-opener, but also a valuable experience…
You run the popular ‘Standing Out’ Facebook group for translators (which, incidentally, has just been nominated for the ProZ.com Community Choice Award for Best Facebook Group!) What was it that made you decide to start the group?
I stumbled into the online world of translation again as a result of a chance event, when someone recommended I see for myself what was happening for translators on Facebook. I found two things: one that there were genuine communities, which was very positive, but also that there was an awful lot of negativity around. I began to post now and again and saw to my surprise and delight that my posts seemed to generate a fair amount of engagement. After a couple of months, I decided to ‘go solo’ and start my own page. That was now 18 months ago. And then after the solo page, I turned Standing Out into a group. It’s since become a very dynamic forum. When I started out I had no idea it would become this big. There was no real plan or vision behind my initial move… I just wanted to express what I felt. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. The fact that others seem interested is a huge bonus.
Could you briefly describe the ethos of the ‘Standing Out’ group? How is this different to other groups for translators?
First of all it’s a space that’s primarily dedicated to exploring values, beliefs and mindset issues, not just questions of rates, clients and software etc. That makes it relatively distinctive in an online world dominated by more ‘mechanical’ concerns. The group’s real focus is on the quest for fulfilment in the workplace. Second, it’s always set out to view things from a positive perspective, while acknowledging all the challenges and problems that go with being a professional. It’s a whinge-free zone. And it’s totally non-competitive. No rivalry, no one-upmanship, no hierarchies. We’re all in this together. And finally, and again this places us at the very least in a minority, there’s a very definite and strictly applied ethos in terms of the way we speak to each other. Rudeness and aggression are simply not tolerated. So we dialogue in an atmosphere of respect, even where we disagree with each other, and of mutual support. It’s the combination of those three things that makes the group different and extremely active.
You’ve also published a great book, “The Book of Standing Out: Travels through the Inner World of Freelance Translation”, based on posts from the group (also nominated for a ProZ.com award!) Could you tell us a little about how the book came about?
It was a collection of writing from when the Standing Out group was just my personal page. I organised, edited and published an anthology of pieces, complete with some of the best and most insightful comments from regular readers. It was fun to do, and certainly great to hold a real book in my hands at the end of it all. We also had a great launch party in Paris which brought many of the readers together from as far afield as California, Finland, Portugal and Germany!
Your group and book are a great source of inspiration for translators, and a refreshing change from the negativity which is often very prominent in the industry. Could you explain what it is that you love so much about being a translator?
I love being a freelancer full stop, for the way it gives me the chance to be free and to explore the various aspects of who I am. And then on top of that I love translation because it brings together my two passions, for language and for communication. I also enjoy this new role in the SO group because it allows me to bring in a writing and even a teaching element, so in a sense I feel I am expressing my whole being in the collection of roles I have carved out for myself.
What would you say has been your greatest career success so far?
I’ve had lots of great translation jobs and enjoy working with my regular clients, but to be honest, the group itself and this new role I described above has been the best thing that’s happened to me. I strongly believe that our working lives are for us to fashion in a way that truly reflects our individuality, which is what standing out is all about: not being better than other people but being fully yourself.
And your biggest challenge?
As a translator, there’s the daily challenge of getting it right, particularly when you come into contact with luminaries in the profession who are so far ahead of you and set the bar extremely high. So that’s an ongoing quest… to improve quality.
In my latter role, the biggest challenge has been to deal with criticism and occasional attacks from people who don’t get what it is I write about, for various reasons. That was a struggle at first, but one I’ve learned to accept. You can’t please everyone all of the time, and there are some people you can’t please any of the time. Understanding that intellectually is easy. Taking it on board and really living that insight is something different…
What's the most valuable piece of business advice you have ever received?
Only take advice from people whose professional success and emotional balance strike a chord with you. In other words, people who seem to have a certain quality which you’d like to embody, and not just at their desks but in their lives.
And finally, what’s the one tip you’d give to someone just getting started in the translation industry?
I’d say join online groups, read widely, learn as much as you can, but always remember that no-one else is the same as you and you have to forge your own path over time. Don’t be generic. Learn to stand out!