Saturday, 12 April 2014

Translators in the City: A Look Back

Translators in the City (#xl8city) has, sadly, come to an end. The series of articles focused on six of the metropolises that translators live and work in, and sought to find out why translators choose to set up in the cities that they do. 

It also juxtaposed the views of eighteen contributors who were born in the featured city where they have built their business and those who chose to move to the city. So what did we discover about each of the cities?

Berlin has a former airport right in the heart of the city that is now a vast green space, perfect to get away from the desk for a quick walk. History is a major selling point for translators, with the legacy of Prussia and Bismarck, the “Cabaret” era, the Third Reich, the Second World War, the division of Berlin, reunification and the creation of a modern, united city all in one place. There's also a monthly literary "translation lab" and an annual translation talent contest called Translation Idol. Thanks to Katy Derbyshire (@KatyDerbyshire), Sarah Fisher (@SarahWordNerd) and Susanne Schmidt-Wussow (@frenja).

London offers a good choice of cheap or even free CPD opportunities, seminars and networking events, which are great for translators who are just starting out and don’t have a lot of money to invest in paid-for seminars or conferences. There's the advantage of being in the same location as hundreds of multinational corporations, which can be great for a translator's business. Thanks to Natalie Pearlman (@Nat_translator), Sílvia Slocombe (@LanguageOwl), Ana Sánchez (@astratrans) and Valeria Aliperta (@rainylondon).

Madrid has an array of lush green parks dotted all over the city, which serve as opportunities for translators to relax, and even provide some inspiration for business ideas. Something quite unique to the city is its network of bibliometros: free mini-libraries situated in around a dozen Madrid Metro stations, perfect for the translator on the go. Thanks to Sara Bueno Carrero (@buenocarrero), Herminia Páez Prado(@traducinando), Ana Rubio (@meowTRAD) and Lourdes Yagüe (@LYMtraductora).

Brussels is the “Capital of Europe” and at the same time a village. It retains a cosy town feeling while actually being a cosmopolitan city and capital of a country with three official languages. Traditionally underrepresented in the translation industry, things are on the up with regular Tweet Ups held in Brussels. Not to mention the advantage of being in the same city as the EU's Directorate General for Translation.Thanks to Emeline Jamoul (@EmelineJamoul) and Raphaël Toussaint (@Muelleflupp).

California is technology heaven, and translators in San Diego can benefit from super-fast broadband and superb technical infrastructure. The city's location, right on the Mexican border means makes it a practically bilingual city and opens up a whole different world of CPD events. Thanks to Maryam Abdi (@Maryam_Abdi), Rafa Lombardino (@eWordNews) and Juan Dávila-Santiago (@jdavisan).


Barcelona is linguistically fascinating city because of its two languages in everyday use: Catalan and Spanish. The city also does well in terms of translation events, with two professional organisations APTIC and MET based there. St. George’s Day in Barcelona is a day when translators as well as authors can be seen on stalls around Barcelona, marking the festival of the patron saint of Catalonia and World Book Day. Thanks to Judit Izcara (@dramacanpatatas), Simon Berrill (FB: SJB Translations) and Maia Figueroa (@maia_figueroa).

And what have people been saying about Translators in the City?

I really hope that you have enjoyed this multilingual journey and that it has provided an insight into how our urban surroundings affect how we work as translators. There have been nominations for host cities should Translators in the City be back for another series. But keep your eyes open because if Translators in the City does return, it could be coming to a city near you!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Translators in the City: Part 6 - Barcelona

Translators in the City (#xl8city) is a series of articles that looks at why translators choose to work in a certain city. Since freelancers can essentially set up anywhere in the world, the series seeks to find out what individual cities can offer linguists, and features testimonies from a handful of translators about how their city can motivate and inspire them in their work.

In this final post of Translators in the City, where could be better to round off the series than Barcelona? It’s cool yet eccentric, and stylish yet down-to-earth. And with 1.5 million people, Barcelona is a sizeable city. In London and Paris, you feel as if you’re living in a city within a city. But in Barcelona, you feel as if you’re living in a village within a city.

Maia Figueroa (@maia_figueroa) has been translating books and novels, amongst other things, since 2008 after a variety of jobs in education and the chemical and tourism industries. Maia has a BA (Hons) in Media and MAs both in Scriptwriting and Translation. She jointly runs eCPD Webinars, a company that provides flexible training for professional translators.

Judit Izcara (@dramaconpatas) is new to the translation world and is even still studying. A native speaker of Spanish and Catalan, Judit is fluent in English and German, and also speaks French and Italian. Earlier this year, she began learning Finnish.

Simon Berrill (SJB Translations) has been translating since 2001, working from Spanish, Catalan and French into English. Born and brought up in the UK, Simon studied history at Bristol University and then worked as a journalist on English regional newspapers for almost 15 years before moving to Badalona, near Barcelona, where he has lived ever since.

In this post, Translators in the City is lucky to have a contributor born in Barcelona, another who moved to the city and now calls it home, and another somewhere in between. Let’s learn more about what made our hosts move to Barcelona or why they stayed.

Judit, a native of Barcelona, began her journey into translation two years ago. “I work in Barcelona, my city. I was born and raised here, in such a wonderful city. Although I did not choose to live here, I think it is the best thing that has happened to me. Here we have almost everything: sea and mountains, hot and cold, city and surroundings – yeah, in the same city, awesome, isn’t it? And, of course, we have languages, plural. We are part of Spain, but in my lovely nation we speak two languages. And this makes us bilingual by birth-right. I speak both, I think in both languages. And that is an incredible gift!”

Simon, a native of the UK, challenges whether it was him who chose Barcelona or the other way round. “My first visit to Barcelona was in January 1999 and the fact that within four months I was living here had more to do with being in love than anything else, although I was also captivated by a city that seemed to have everything: history, fascinating buildings, wonderful restaurants and beaches, to name just a few of its attractions.”

Maia’s arrival in Barcelona was the result of a series of coincidences, however. “I had been working as an in-house translator at Dow Chemical, in Tarragona. It motivated me to do an MA in translation and finally become a professional translator for good. Halfway through my masters, though, my job description changed radically and I ended up in a different department with little to do and lots of spare time to translate subtitles for DVDs and my first novel —a period romance— during working hours. Around that time I met my partner, who lived in Barcelona. Soon after, we started to make plans to get married and the choice was obvious: I wanted to pursue a career in translation, which I could do from practically anywhere. So, after the wedding I moved here and became a freelancer.”

The dramatic Sagrada Família towers over Barcelona
and can be seen from practically anywhere in the city.
Let’s compare Barcelona with other cities. You can’t deny that it has fierce competition in attracting a translator’s attention. In Europe alone, we’ve had London, Berlin and Madrid all making a solid case for why translators would be happiest there. Why is Barcelona the best city for a translator to work from?

“Translation is such a portable job nowadays that I’m not certain any one city is any better than another as a place to do it,” says Simon. “One thing I love about Barcelona though is that you can always see out of the city, whether it’s looking out to sea or up to the hills inland. For me, that’s an essential quality, as I always find cities oppressive if I can’t see beyond their edges when I’m in them. I love Bristol, where I went to university, but I hate London, for example. Having the sea close at hand is also a big attraction and a walk along the beach can be very relaxing.”

So Barcelona’s better than London, Simon thinks. What if we compared Barcelona to the Spanish capital? “Madrid is bigger, but from my point of view Barcelona is better indeed,” argues Judit. “We are smaller, true, but we are warmer. And the city is, too! It could be that we are between two rivers, the mountains and sea, so we need to maximise our space – and our time, too! And that make us hard-working people, with almost no time to waste, because our lack of long space. But you must think: if Barcelona is so small, what are you doing there? Barcelona is big, do not get me wrong. But if we compare ourselves with Madrid, we are smaller. But as we say in Catalan, ‘in the little pot you’ll find the good jam!’”

And where can you find the best jam? “When I come out to play,” Maia explains, “I like to go to some of the parks, especially Parc de l'Oreneta, which is on the outskirts of the city, up a hill, but I mostly visit the nice neighbourhoods where there are fewer tourists. I avoid the Ramblas as much as possible.”

One thing that translators who prefer the countryside would ask is how you can work in such bustling surroundings. What would be the argument to live and work as a translator in busy Barcelona instead of rural northern Catalonia for example?

For Maia, Barcelona offers the perfect mix of personal and professional aspects. “I like living surrounded by the things I need, having everything handy, and that includes publishing houses as well as bars, restaurants, the markets, libraries, fibre optics internet access and all the rest. By being here I have everything I need to be a successful translator, including my clients. In my case, being close to the publishing houses that I work with is crucial. You'd be surprised how useful it is to pay regular visits to the people you work with, talk to them in person, make yourself available to them; it makes them remember you. So I guess the same applies to people who work with dubbing studios, the videogames industry or even with manufacturers, and so on.”

But as cool and sexy as Barcelona is, it’s still a big city, so would it still be hard to chill out there? “Yes, it is true we have a lot of stress,” says Judit, “but when I need to relax I just need to go outside. My balcony is an awesome place to relax (above all in summer). But if I really need to relax, I just have a walk through my neighbourhood. I don’t live in the city centre, but not as far from it as you might imagine. If you leave the city centre, you will find that each neighbourhood is like a little village.”

And where does Judit think the best place to work in Barcelona is? “The University Campus. I do not know if it has something to do with my habit of studying or working there, but in the middle of my old neighbourhood I find peace. I only need to go upstairs until the third floor of the University library and it is like heaven: silence, good views and always the perfect atmosphere.”

Christopher Columbus watches over the harbour,
pointing out to sea towards the New World
So far in the Translators in the City series, we’ve featured metropolises like London and Madrid. But only Brussels has been the other city in the series that speaks more than one language on an official level. Does living in a city that is officially multilingual make for a better environment for translators?

“For a linguist, Barcelona is a fascinating city because of the two languages in everyday use: everyone can speak Spanish and most people speak Catalan as well,” Simon states. “Having two languages to learn can be daunting at first, but it’s very rewarding and I’m now used to the bilingual conversations that often develop. Someone who doesn’t live here might wonder what’s the point of learning Catalan when Spanish will get you by. But that is to ignore the fact that Catalan is the first language of most people here and if you don’t understand it, you are the one who misses out.”

For expats like Simon, this must be a lot of hard work. As a translator, though, surely this is a worthwhile challenge, and one which might pay off in business terms. “If, as a foreigner, you speak Catalan as well, your effort is recognised and rewarded,” Simon continues. “As a freelance translator, I’m sure I have secured and built relationships with many customers here partly by being willing to communicate with them in Catalan.”

Judit relishes the city’s wider linguistic diversity. “Barcelona, besides its universities, is a special place: it is a mixture of cultures, languages and habits. And it is the best place to be translator indeed. There are a lot of foreign people studying or working here, so you only need to search a little to find somebody native of your working languages. Moreover, we have a high awareness of languages, so it is common to find people who speak more than our two mother tongues.”

So, we’ve heard how much of a linguistic haven Barcelona is. But what I’d like to know is whether this is reflected in the local translation industry. In our Brussels post, we learned that the industry has been traditionally underrepresented there. Is this the case in Barcelona?

“Like most big cities,” Simon supposes, “Barcelona has quite a large and active translation community. I am a member of the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia (APTIC). Most of its members are Catalans, but they are very welcoming to foreign translators and the association organises many professional short courses and social events. I have also joined Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET), based in Barcelona too, which has a membership largely of English-speaking translators.”

“There are lots of libraries,” adds Maia, “and plenty of continuous professional development in terms of conferences such as Fun4All, TraduEmprende, some of the most important trade fairs and industry events, and, naturally, courses organised by the universities, by the translator associations — APTIC and MET, for example— and by various other companies. Luckily, continuous development is no longer tied exclusively to given places and now translators from all over the place can access training from virtually anywhere —I should know, I co-own a successful online training enterprise, eCPD Webinars (shameless plug!)— but nothing beats being right where things are happening.”

Are there many chances for Barcelona’s translators to get together on a more casual basis, though? “As for informal networking,” Maia continues, “we have the MET APTIC meetings, but I'm not aware of any tweetups in Barcelona. I shan't be the one starting one. Too shy for the job.”
The sun setting over Barcelona's beachfront

So, that’s Barcelona for translators. The professional side and the personal side. Before our contributors leave us, what are their favourite sides to the city?

Simon enjoys the strong literary tradition in the city. “This really comes out on my favourite day of the year, St. George’s Day, when translators as well as authors can be seen on stalls all around the centre marking the festival of the patron saint of Catalonia, which also happens to be World Book Day. I always encourage people to visit Barcelona on 23 April because it really is a unique celebration: a city full of the books and roses traditionally given as presents for the occasion.”

What about Maia? “I'd say that all of the above, plus great food, nice wine, the nice weather and lots of concerts and music festivals. We are also a train ride away from other fantastic places such as Tarragona, the Delta, the Costa Brava, Madrid, etc. But when I am in the city I love exploring the bars and restaurants of Barcelona with our friends.”

That concludes the Translators in the City series. Have you read the other posts in the series: Berlin, London, Madrid, Brussels and San DiegoMaybe the future will bring new installments - who knows?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Translators in the City: Part 5 - San Diego


Translators in the City (#xl8city) is a series of articles that looks at why translators choose to work in a certain city. Since freelancers can essentially set up anywhere in the world, the series seeks to find out what individual cities can offer linguists, and features testimonies from a handful of translators about how their city can motivate and inspire them in their work.

Maryam Kosar Abdi (@Maryam_Abdi) is a Court registered Somali interpreter, freelance translator, and founder of Translators Academy. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego. Maryam is a recipient of the State Bar of California Wiley W. Manuel award for pro bono legal services.

Juan Dávila-Santiago (@jdavisan) is a court interpreter certified by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and an ATA-certified translator from English into Spanish. A native of Puerto Rico, Juan has worked as a court, conference, and live broadcast interpreter. After obtaining a master’s degree in bilingual legal interpreting, he became a staff interpreter in Phoenix, Arizona, before accepting a similar position in San Diego.

Rafa Lombardino (@eWordNews) is a certified translator working with English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian since 1997. Originally from Santos in São Paulo, Brazil, Rafa moved to Santee, in San Diego County, in 2002.

Translators in the City seeks to uncover the core reasons why freelance linguists would choose to settle in a certain place. To my mind, it would have to take something really special, especially in a country as diverse as the United States, to attract freelancers to a specific city.

Maryam went to the University of California in San Diego, and stayed in the city after graduation. San Diego isn’t her only base, though. “I also work in Los Angeles and Orange County, but I chose to stay in San Diego because of the quality of life. Although it’s a big city, it’s not as busy as Los Angeles.”

Rafa moved to San Diego to live with her husband, who is from the city. “I had already been working as a translator to support myself through journalism school, so it was easy to continue my activities in a new place. That's the magic of this occupation; if you're a translator, you can work anywhere with a computer and internet connection.”

As for Juan, it was his job as a staff interpreter that brought him to San Diego. But he wonders whether it was more than work that lured him to the city. “Is it the nearly perfect weather we get to enjoy year-round or is it the vast array of educational and entertainment options we have right on our doorstep? Maybe it is because we can venture up the mountains to play in the snow on a cold winter morning, and then drive back to catch a wave before hitting a hip restaurant for dinner—all on the same day!”

As someone who has never been to California, I imagine it would be an ideal place for a translator to set up in. But what else apart from the weather entices translators and interpreters?

Parkland in West Hills, suburban San Diego.
Not a bad place to escape to from the office,
Rafa loves the technological benefits of living where she does. “I enjoy working in California because of the infrastructure, as far as computers are concerned. It's easy to find parts to fix your computer and be up and running in no time. There's always a technology company nearby, especially in Silicon Valley. We also have access to a high-speed, business-grade internet connection. High-speed internet should be a given for translators these days, but it seems connections in California are a cut above the rest.”

As much as Juan loves the city he has called home for five years, there are some downsides, he says. “San Diego is no stranger to wildfires, droughts, and earthquakes. More importantly, if you are familiar with the infamous “sunshine tax,” you probably know that all that desirability comes at a price. At 31.9 percent more than the U.S. average, San Diego has the ninth highest cost of living in the United States. According to 2012 data, moderate-income families in San Diego County spend, on average, 63 percent of their income on housing and transportation, which is more than in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boston. Not surprisingly, recent surveys indicate that more people left San Diego in 2013 than moved in.”

But San Diego must be doing something right to keep freelancers there. What do its surroundings offer that inspire translators in their work?

The San Diego Hall of Justice,
with the city's tallest building,
One America Plaza, to the far left.
“Working in an urban city has motivated me to start and run a thriving freelance translation business,” says Maryam. “On a professional level, San Diego is a great city to work in because it inspires individuals to challenge themselves and keep up with fast pace of the city. On a personal level there are many activities and fulfilling things to do so boredom is not an issue. The weather in San Diego is warm throughout the year. I find it inspiring to work by the beach at one of the local coffee shops in Pacific Beach. I believe our surroundings influence our outlook on life and work, so I try to work outside of the house often.”

There is more to San Diego’s climate than the obvious advantage, as Juan explains. “Our forgiving weather also allows for increased peace of mind, like knowing that you are not likely to lose power to a severe thunderstorm right before a big deadline or that your cross-country flight is not likely to get cancelled the day before an interpreting assignment. Anyone who is regularly held hostage by severe weather systems knows that a predictable, hassle-free commute is priceless when your assignment is a two-hour drive away or when you spend a good part of your day driving or walking back and forth between court hearings and jail interviews.”

For Rafa, it’s San Diego’s offer of rest and relaxation that she appreciates. “Since this is truly a fast-paced and demanding industry, I believe language professionals deserve a break ever-so-often to recharge their batteries and give their brain a rest. The San Diego area has many beaches and parks to offer inspiration, and a nice stroll can sometimes help you come up with the word or expression you've been looking for and that no dictionary will really help you find in just a glance. Living in Santee, I get to enjoy a very nice park around the lakes, go for long runs in pedestrian-friendly roads and enjoy the view of the West Hills behind my house when I'm taking a break from work. Still, I'll always long for the beach in my hometown, and nowadays find myself working hard in Santee to enjoy those breaks back in Santos.”

With California being one of the most cosmopolitan states in the US, does this translate into a strong multilingual community in San Diego that translators and interpreters can benefit from?

“California is truly an international hub, and demand for language services is always high,” says Rafa. “Even though translators work mostly online, we do want to interact with colleagues once in a while and learn from their experiences face-to-face as well. The cultural diversity here allows you to do just that and get to know translators who have a different background and deal with segments and fields that you may virtually know nothing about.”

San Diego, USA and Tijuana, Mexico are often
talked about as a single urban area
For Juan, the city’s proximity to Mexico, with the border less than 20 miles from downtown San Diego, also expands the professional development options available to linguists. “This opens up a world of possibilities for providers interested in either receiving or offering continuing education south of the border. Being so close to a country where the overwhelming majority of the population speaks one of your working languages also allows for easier access to subject matter experts, trainers, professors, and fellow linguists.”

Indeed, it is not entirely surprising to hear some people talk about San Diego and Tijuana as a single metropolitan area, explains Juan. Unfortunately, it isn’t that straightforward. “In spite of this seemingly porous (yet heavily monitored) boundary line, there is no escaping the fact that border-related tensions shape multiple aspects of life in San Diego, including the work done by many language providers. The caseload handled by federal court interpreters in this region, for instance, is almost entirely composed of border crimes such as alien or drug smuggling and illegal re-entry by previously deported aliens [immigrants].”

This must be a fascinating situation in linguistic terms, though, and certainly incomparable to anywhere in Western Europe that I can think of.

Life along the border does have a direct impact on our city’s linguistic environment,” Juan continues. “The long-standing, dynamic influx of non-English speakers into San Diego has turned it into a veritable language lab. You will hear English coexist (and often collide) with Spanish and other languages nearly everywhere you go: from shopping malls, entertainment venues, and restaurants to buses, hospitals, and government agencies. Being exposed to language as used in this region is not only beneficial to translators and interpreters with limited knowledge of border culture, but also particularly important for Spanish interpreters who grew up in a country other than Mexico — as is my case: San Diego is an urban classroom where every outing becomes a learning experience.”

It isn’t just a fusion of English and Spanish that people in San Diego can enjoy. The city’s linguistic situation is much deeper than that.

“Not everybody is fully aware of the linguistic diversity that San Diegans get to enjoy,” Juan maintains. “While Spanish has been present in this area for centuries, many other languages also make their way into the United States through our city. Mexico alone is home to nearly 70 indigenous languages, some of which are the only language spoken by many immigrants who come across the border. Additionally, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) resettles more than 1,000 refugees per year in the San Diego area through a partnership with the U.S. Department of State. As these immigrants and refugees come into contact with health care providers, immigration authorities, and law enforcement, it becomes essential to have qualified language practitioners available in multiple settings.”
San Diego Courthouse, where many of the city's
public interpreters spend much of their working time
We would hope then that San Diego’s linguistic diversity would put it in good stead to offer a robust portfolio of translation and interpreting courses and events. Is this the case?

“There are many continuing education programs in San Diego,” Maryam clarifies. “The city has the University of California, San Diego Extension translation program for anyone interested in getting a certificate in translation or interpretation. Interpreters and translators can join professional associations such as the California Federation of Interpreters (CFI) and the Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area (ATISDA).”

Readers in the U.S. will remember that the annual American Translators Association conference was held in San Diego in 2012. Is this a one-off or does San Diego play host to translation events often? “There are many events and conferences held here since it’s an ideal location for many translators and interpreters. It’s a great place to mix business and pleasure and plan a vacation around work related events.”

Let’s wrap up with some final reflections from our contributors. Why do they think San Diego is simply a world-class city for translators?

“San Diego is a great city for translators to start their freelance translation business,” Maryam thinks. “The opportunities are limitless and the demand for translation services has increased over the years due to the growth of the limited English proficient population. There are over 150 languages spoken in the city and it has the busiest international border. The proximity to Los Angeles and Orange County also gives freelance translators the chance to get more business.”

Juan also paints San Diego in a good light for those thinking of starting up in the city. “In spite of the challenges that places like San Diego are bound to encounter, I believe this city offers a highly unique set of opportunities for language professionals. Even doing business here is appealing when you consider that Forbes magazine just picked San Diego as the best U.S. city to launch a startup in 2014, which should set the business-minded linguist at ease. Thanks to San Diego’s cultural diversity, multiple training options, and steady market for language services, working here as a translator and interpreter is truly a blessing. Oh, and the weather helps, too.”

Next week marks the final post of Translators in the City. The series reaches its climax and heads over to the eccentric city of Barcelona, with Judit Izcara (@dramacanpatatas), Simon Berrill (FB: SJB Translations) and Maia Figueroa (@maia_figueroa).

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Translators in the City: Part 4 - Brussels

Translators in the City (#xl8city) is a series of articles that looks at why translators choose to work in a certain city. Since freelancers can essentially set up anywhere in the world, the series seeks to find out what individual cities can offer linguists, and features testimonies from a handful of translators about how their city can motivate and inspire them in their work.

This article is all about Brussels, the capital of Belgium and indeed Europe. Historically Dutch-speaking, the city today mostly speaks French and is the seat of the European Commission, making Brussels a natural commune for linguists. But what does the city offer translators other than waffles, chocolate and beer?

Emeline Jamoul (@EmelineJamoul) is an English and Spanish into French translator, specialising in marketing, business, IT and medical, and is also familiar with Dutch and Arabic. Emeline has run In Touch Translations since 2013 and in the same year organised an International Translation Day 2013 project to raise awareness about the state of translation and to increase the pride of fellow translators in what they do.

Raphaël Toussaint (@Muelleflupp) works as a Linguistic Services Supervisor for an international communications company in Brussels. Starting out as a translator and language analyst, his role now includes organising linguistic support services, supervising a team of linguists, and managing translation memories and termbases. A native speaker of German, Raphaël’s other languages are French, English, Dutch, Luxembourgish and Bulgarian.

First of all, let’s get to know our contributors a bit better and meet the kind of people that Brussels has cast its spell over.

Despite its linguistic divides, Belgium is proud of unity.
This 2011 demonstration was in protest at the potential
separation of the country following a political stalemate
in 2007
Emeline has been living in Brussels for three years, but has been a freelance translator for six months. Born and raised in a small village in the Province of Liège, in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, Emeline says she has always had itchy feet. “While I have very fond memories of my childhood, I’ve always considered myself as a citizen of the world, which was a state of mind that was very different from the local mentality. I wanted to see more of what this world had to offer, to discover new horizons. I knew right from the start that I would leave at some point. When I entered the third year of my Bachelor, there was no question in my mind: my Erasmus trip to Leicester, in the United Kingdom, would mark the beginning of my journey.”

Raphaël, on the other hand, has been living in Brussels for eight years, but he is also from a small village in Belgium, albeit in the German speaking part. “I went to university in Louvain-la-Neuve which then had less than 10,000 inhabitants and some 30,000 students. Brussels was only 30 km away but I never really got to know the city, it was all a bit overwhelming at the time. After graduating in German and English philology, I worked for a few months as an in-house translator in a small translation agency back home before my career path led me into tourism. As representative of a Luxembourgish tour operator, my work brought me to Tunisia, Corfu (Greece), Egypt and Bulgaria.”

Now, even those who don’t know Brussels very well can tell that the city’s a hotspot for languages. For starters, it’s the capital of a country with three official languages. It can’t just be the linguistic community that attracts translators to Brussels, so how did it draw Emeline and Raphaël to it?

For Raphaël, it was love that brought him to Brussels. “My then-girlfriend and now-wife and I decided the job market was more promising in Belgium or Luxembourg than it was in Bulgaria (where she is from). After several months of job hunting, a New Year’s Eve celebration with some friends from university led to a job offer for the position of a technical translator at an international translation and communication agency.”

It must have been quite a shock for Raphaël, having grown up in small village and worked largely in holiday resorts. So how easy is it to assimilate in Brussels? “Although I had never before lived in a bigger city, adaptation was easy enough and I quickly discovered that I actually enjoy urban life a lot.

Something I really like is the fact that my work’s offices are on the outskirts of Brussels and partially surrounded by fields (although some people might even argue that Zaventem is not actually part of Brussels, but that’s surreal Belgium with its linguistic fights for you). This means that I can drive against the commuter traffic in the morning heading out and the same in the evening when getting back home. Additionally, when grabbing a sandwich at midday, you can go for a nice walk.”

As it goes, love played a factor in bringing Emeline to Bruxelles.Originally, what motivated me to leave la cité ardente (as my hometown, Liège, is sometimes called) was joining my husband (who is Brussels born and bred) and starting an MA at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Besides the two decisive aspects explained above, Brussels is a city that is so much more vibrant, dynamic and open-minded in terms of multiculturalism (which is something that is very important to me) than the city I originally come from. It offers many opportunities for those who are willing to take them and allows you to meet people coming from all horizons due to its massive migrant population.”

Now that they have their feet firmly planted in the hoofdstad, what do Emeline and Raphaël love best about living and working in Brussels?

“I’m lucky enough to live in a great part of Brussels – Forest,” says Emeline. “Its numerous parks make for refreshing strolls, it is minutes away from the centre or from Flanders and some more rural and isolated areas. But it is still urban enough to remind me that I live in a big city.”
The Atomium has been a futuristic
symbol of Brussels since the 1950s

Do Emeline’s urban surroundings have any effect on her work as a translator? “I love working in this urban environment because the fast-paced atmosphere of a capital city suits my state of mind. You always feel like something exciting is happening, and in fact, it’s true! There are many opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs to network (seminars, conferences, co-working spaces, etc.) and many cultural events are hosted each week.” 

And Raphaël – what does he think the best part about the city is? “The buzz, the come and go makes me feel alive in a way that is good for work, like my native rolling hills and green forests make me feel alive when breezing and relaxing. Brussels is the “Capital of Europe” and at the same time a village. It keeps this cosy town feeling while actually being a cosmopolitan city, even if it isn’t on the same level as London, Paris or Rome.”

Indeed, Brussels isn’t as large as you might think. The population of the Brussels Capital Region is just over a million people, eight times smaller than London. Does this make it anymore less diverse? No, says Raphaël. “Not only is it the capital of a country which has three *official* languages and quite some language related quarrels, it is also a place where you more often than not hear people in the street in another that one of these three official languages (and I’m being quite generous here because when you hear somebody speaking German in Brussels, chances are slim it is one of the +/- 75,000 rare specimen of German speaking Belgians). It is really easy to run into people speaking all imaginable languages and start a discussion – great opportunities to train one’s language skills.

So the city is a hotbed for linguists. Being the seat of the European Commission and home to the EU’s Directorate General for Translation, surely it’s a treasure chest for translators in particular.

Unfortunately not, according to Emeline. “I find that the translation industry is not very well represented here, and in Belgium in general. This is unfortunate because after all, Brussels IS the heart of Europe and is thus a hub for European organisations employing many translators. That’s why I try to make things change from my tiny perspective and position, along with colleague, Sara Colombo. We are hosting TweetUps (@BxlTweetUp) in the city each month, which allow often isolated translators to meet, have a cup of coffee or tea, share stories and experiences and have a good laugh. It’s a wonderful occasion to network within your industry and to see actual faces for a change!”

Brussels is home to many European Union institutions
But the Brussels TweetUp is now being taken to the next level, as Emeline explains. “We are also hosting the BxlTweetUpLab, a one-day event with presentations and a networking session. We realised the gap between studies and the profession was huge and that sadly, things are not really improving – students and new translators don't seem to be aware of the power of social media for small business owners, for example. This example can be seen as a detail, of course, but combined with other decisive aspects, they can be quite game-changing.”

And what’s on the agenda for the BxlTweetUpLab? “Sara will be speaking about blogging and social media, Raphaël will share some technology tips that will improve productivity and I will talk about the importance of networking. The topics are very diverse and might be considered as underestimated topics of discussion – but we hope that everyone will find what they're looking for and that they will discover new areas of interest. This event is designed to be highly interactive, meaning that we also want the attendees to take part in the presentations, sharing their experience and opinion with us and other participants. We want it to be personal and to be about them, not us.”

So Emeline, Sara and Raphaël are pulling out all stops to turn things around for translators in Belgium. Nevertheless, Raphaël still laments the lack of international industry presence in Brussels. “As far as events related to the translation and localisation business are concerned, there aren’t too many (if any) international events in Brussels I am aware of, but there is a lot of promising research happening on university level around machine translation for instance (TExSIS from Ghent University and SCATE from Leuven University and so on).”

Thinking of where Belgium is located, you have several neighbours where many different languages are spoken. Should this not put Brussels at an advantage? “It is quite useful to be in the centre of Europe, where Germany, France, Luxembourg, the UK or the Netherlands aren’t a lot further than a one hour drive away,” Raphaël continues. “It brings events like Localization World or Tekom almost to your doorstep. Another inspiring fact is that the world’s biggest translation service, the DGT (Directorate General for Translation) of the European Commission is located in Brussels. Members of the different European institutions are constantly on the move to share their knowledge and experience concerning the trade that matters so much to us. What better place could there be than next to the source?”

Brussels may not be the hub of freelance translation that I expected. But it must be doing something right to keep Emeline and Raphaël there. So, why wouldn’t our contributors give up the city for anywhere else?

“Because it has the most beautiful town square in the world,” says Raphaël. “Because its natives are constantly squabbling about language issues, but in the streets you will hear any imaginable language spoken. Because being bi- or multilingual is considered normal. Because one of its attractions is a little peeing boy (the Manneken Pis - right). Because it is home of the bar with the most beers in the world (Delirium Café, over 2000 different beers) and I like beer. And because it is where I live with my lovely wife and my beautiful daughter, so it’s just perfect.”

And what about you, Emeline?

"I would say that Brussels is the perfect city for people who like being active and who like living in a multicultural environment (which I’m sure, as translators, we all love, don’t we?)." In fact, Emeline recently shared about her 7 favourite facts about Brussels.

Next week, Translator in the City will be heading almost 6,000 miles west, across the Atlantic, to San Diego, featuring Maryam Abdi (@Maryam_Abdi), Rafa Lombardino (@eWordNews) and Juan Dávila-Santiago (@jdavisan).

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Translators in the City: Part 3 - Madrid

Translators in the City (#xl8city) is a series of articles that looks at why translators choose to work in a certain city. Since freelancers can essentially set up anywhere in the world, the series seeks to find out what individual cities can offer linguists, and features testimonies from a handful of translators about how their city can motivate and inspire them in their work.

This week, it’s Madrid, capital of Spain and third-largest city in the EU. Known for its abundance of public squares and architecture shaped by its monarchist history, Madrid’s translators can escape their desks for a stroll along the bustling Gran Vía or absorb the alternative culture in the Malasaña area, the city’s answer to London’s Camden Town. But what do our madrileño colleagues think of their city?

Sara Bueno Carrero (@buenocarrero) has been working as an English, French and Portuguese into Spanish translator since 2011, specialising in creative translation and localisation. To fund her book-buying addiction, she also specialises in not-so-lucrative legal and sworn translation. She writes a blog, La traductora en apuros, where she helps new graduates find their place in the world of freelance translation.

Herminia Páez Prado (@traducinando) is an English and French into Spanish audiovisual translator. Having studied in Barcelona, she moved back to Madrid to work as a freelancer. She is still starting out in the freelance world and recently discovered the joys of working in her PJs.

Lourdes Yagüe (@LYLtraductora) has been an English and French into Spanish translator since 2010. Starting out as an in-house translator, Lourdes went freelance in 2013. Since 2008, she has also been involved in a dance academy that organises festivals every year with the choreography learned during the year, as well as flash mobs to spice up the streets of Madrid.

Ana Rubio (@meowTRAD) is a translator and proofreader working on video games, mobile apps and web localisation. Born in Extremadura on the Portuguese border, she has been living in Madrid since 2008. In 2010, she started running meowTRAD. Ana loves The Simpsons and is interested in gamification, music, social networks and serious games.

Translators in the City aims to gather points of view from translators who were both born and have moved to a certain city. So, let’s first find out what connection our four translators have with Madrid.

Plaza Santa Cruz
Sara was born in Madrid and has been living there for her entire life. What’s kept her there? “With the current bad economy in Spain, most of my family and friends have asked me why I haven't moved abroad yet. My answer is always the same: I am a freelancer, I can work anywhere in the world and I choose to work in Madrid. It's true that the tax system for freelancers in Spain is unfair - we pay a lot of taxes and we get nothing - but every country has its pros and cons and I believe that living in Madrid is the best choice I can make.”

Herminia has a lot of love for the region too. “I work in a small city 15 minutes away until I take off as a freelancer and earn enough to live in the city centre. I have been living in Madrid on and off for the past 20 years, and I consider myself in love with the city, having also lived in Paris and Barcelona.”

As for Ana, who studied in Granada, it was Madrid’s industry opportunities that attracted her. “I wanted to continue studying video games, CAT tools and management. I found a postgraduate course in Madrid that I could easily take while working part-time.” Although she found it daunting being in the capital at first, things turned out better than expected. “Fortunately, adapting to Madrid was so easy; people were friendly and made me feel at home from the very beginning. I met many professional translators and realised we are not alone.”

Lourdes, a Madrid native, thought that staying in the city was down to pure laziness, but she’s realised why the city means so much to her. “It’s basically down to my loved ones, comfort and quality of life and, finally, the advantages of being in the nation's capital. Most of us at some point have felt the need to go abroad or to spread our wings. I was on Erasmus in Finland and also spent a year in France as a language assistant. And although I really enjoyed those experiences, I must admit that part of me has always had my mind set on Spain, longing to return. Because my family, my friends, my boyfriend – essentially my whole life – are here.”

What is it about Madrid that motivates a freelancer? How can they use their urban surroundings to power through the day?

Templo de Debod
 “In Madrid you can find the small town feel in some parts, the busyness of the business city in another one, and also the movement, youth and freshness of cities like Barcelona in others,” Herminia exclaims. “You can also find peace and calmness, either with great views like Debod temple, just 10 minutes away by foot from Gran Vía, or in parks like El Campo del Moro, a Versailles-like garden near Príncipe Pío station.”

Ana lives and works right in the heart of the city, near Atocha, Madrid’s principal railway station. “I can easily take a walk to El Retiro or Madrid Río parks. I take walks every day, I try to do sports, be active and go out. When it comes to traffic, I should say Madrid is a bit chaotic. Biking is not easy in the city centre and we don't have a public cycle hire service or 
Parque del Retiro in the snow
special routes for bikes.”

Sara lives just a touch outside of central Madrid, but right opposite the River Manzanares. Living in a 7th floor flat, she appreciates the views of the rooftops and domes of the city centre, but this life isn’t set too last long, though. “I'm planning to move soon to a flat somewhere in the Old Town - I love that area because it's so bohemian and cultural, traditional yet modern, home to actors, writers, musicians and artists. I feel that's where I belong - after all, translation is an art form.”

With Madrid being such a large city, you’d imagine that there are plenty of corners you can escape to, whether to work in different surroundings or for a change of scenery and some R&R. What kind of places in Madrid can serve as sources of inspiration?

“Madrid is a city of contrasts,” according to Lourdes, “and I have the good fortune to live in a privileged environment where you can enjoy the best of the city and the best of the country as well. I live next to Dehesa de la Villa, a beautiful park bordering the north-west of Madrid. It’s a place where I can find peace and quiet and that helps me through times of stress. What I like the most is how it inspires me; many of the ideas that came to me in 2013 were while running in the Dehesa.”

Parque Dehesa de la Villa
Does the city have any more hidden gems? Ana tells us, “There are a few special and inspiring places in Madrid that tourists normally don't visit: Cerro del Tío Pío (a park with seven slopes where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city), Templo de Debod (an Egyptian temple) and during spring and summer many roof terraces are open and you can have a drink or just relax a bit there.”

Madrid sounds like an urban paradise. But what does it offer for translators in particular?

“For starters, there are several universities where you can study for your degree: Universidad Complutense, Universidad Autónoma, Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, Alfonso X El Sabio, and so on, and there are many institutions offering specialised courses,” explains Lourdes.

La Biblioteca Nacional
“Universities are also very active when it comes to organising conferences and events on translation and linguistics,” Sara adds. “But my favourite event is the yearly Book Fair, which takes place every late May and early June (and which coincides with my birthday!) for two weeks in Retiro Park. How couldn't I love it?”

Even if you’re not a translator but just interested in languages, Herminia says that Madrid offers multiple possibilities to learn and practise different languages. “You can find language lessons even for rare languages, and even if you don't want to spend much on that, you can also visit one of the pubs where there are weekly free language exchanges, free music or shows in other languages.”

But Madrid also offers something rather unique, as Ana describes. “Public libraries work fine but there are a few bibliometros.” These are free mini-libraries situated in around a dozen Madrid Metro stations. What a fantastic idea – perfect for the translator on the go.

With so much to offer translators, Madrid must surely be a hub for translation events, no?

“There are national and international events every year in Madrid,” Ana points out. “Many of them are organised by companies, translation platforms, universities and learning centres. Networking is easy since we have quite a lot of bars, restaurants and dining options. A few years ago we started organising an open event for translators who use Twitter (#tratuimad).”

"Gris y feo" Madrid
“Last year we had (among others) the first edition of TraduEmprende, ProZ regional event and, the first edition of Lenguando,” Lourdes highlights. “All these meetings are really beneficial for everyone because they give us the opportunity to relate to each other and put faces and voices to so many people you only know on Twitter or by email.”

Herminia agrees. “When you talk about Madrid and translation events, you can't complain. If you want to improve in any of your areas of expertise, Madrid can also help you with that. There are plenty of different translation or linguistic-focused centres around the city where you can improve skills such as proofreading, writing, audiovisual translation, localisation and many others.”

“And when meet-ups like these are held in any other city in Spain, it wouldn’t be a big problem because Madrid is very well connected,” Lourdes goes on. “Connections from Madrid are very fast and comfortable because here we have more of a variety of public transport. It’s easy to get to any city and not only because it’s the capital, but because it’s the geographical centre of the country.”

To try and really bring out our contributors’ passion for their city, there is one question in particular that I’ve liked to ask them: what makes your city better than any other to work from as a translator?

Sara is very humble about Madrid. “I wouldn't dare to say that my city is the best for translators to set up - but indeed it's my ideal city. Also I believe that big cities, and that includes Madrid, are the best for translators of any field of expertise: they're home to publishing houses, international businesses, trade fairs, etc. And Madrid isn't lacking any of those.”

Like many capital's, Madrid has an
iconic metro system
Equally, Ana has good arguments against living somewhere a bit smaller. “Many people prefer to set up in smaller cities because they have a "biased" opinion about Madrid. Renting a flat is not as cheap as in a smaller town, but you have many neighbourhoods which are quite similar to smaller cities. They have farmer markets, little shops, restaurants, gyms and people are quite nice. Transport is a positive point as well since there are trains, buses and planes that connect you with many cities in the world.” Or a bit farther north. “The climate tends to be better than in northern countries and we have more sunny days and therefore can enjoy more outdoor activities.”

Puerta de Atocha station
And to tip the scales, Lourdes argues for Madrid’s leisure and entertainment opportunities. “It’s not all about work, right? Gran Vía is full of cinemas and theatres and I can’t go without mentioning the beer and tapas bars. Because here in Madrid (and Spain in general), we love to meet with other people over a beer to relieve tension after work or on the weekend.”

Next week, Translators in the City is hosted by Brussels, the ‘capital of Europe’. With Emeline Jamoul (@EmelineJamoul) and Raphaël Toussaint (@Muelleflupp).

All photos contained in this article are property of the respective contributor.