Translators in the City: Part 2 – London


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 post features London, cosmopolitan capital of the United Kingdom and a global mecca for culture. There are few other cities in the world that can compete for a translator’s attention, so how does London do it?

Natalie Pearlman (@Nat_translator) is from Hertfordshire, just outside of north-west London and studied French & Hispanic Studies. She has studied in Argentina and Brazil, preceded by a couple of months spent at a language school in Paris. Natalie also studied for the Technical and Specialised Translation Master’s at the University of Westminster. She now works full-time as Head of Translation and Localisation for a serviced offices company, based in north London.

Sílvia Slocombe (@LanguageOwl) is an English into Portuguese translator. Born near Lisbon, Portugal, she studied English and German Languages and Literature as well as translation at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, including a semester at the Universität zu Köln. After moving to London in 2007 and working as an in-house translator for three different companies, she obtained the IoL Diploma in Translation, finally taking the plunge into freelance translation in February 2012. A member of the CIoL, Sílvia now specialises in translations on gambling, sports and poker.

Ana Sánchez (@astratrans) is an English into Spanish translator from Vigo, in northwestern Spain, and has been living in London since 1997, now running Astra Translations. She has a Master’s in Bilingual Translation from the University of Westminster and specialises in Business, Finance and Public Services. She is a member of the IAPTI and an Associate member of ITI and the CIoL. She is married to an Australian and has two children.

Valeria Aliperta (@rainylondon) is an interpreter and translator working with Italian, Spanish, English and French, trading as Rainy London Translations. She has been working in London since 2011 on a regular basis. Val is a member of the CIoL, IAPTI and Asetrad, and an Associate of ITI. She also jointly runs The Freelance Box, which holds small workshops for translators.

London is full of translators. This is surprising in a way, because freelancers can set up anywhere they like, with some retreating to the rural Cumbria or the Scottish Highlands. Then again, translators may want to be in the middle of it all as much as anyone else. So, what is it that translators find so enticing about London?

“I’d wanted to live in Great Britain since I was twelve years old, when I read a book about British and Scottish culture,” says Sílvia. “After visiting as a tourist I completely fell in love with the culture, the romance and the history, and so when the time was right I moved to England. I come from Lisbon, a culturally rich city, but my heart was set on the UK. I love the open mentality and variety of London. Here you can dare to be whoever you want to be and there’s a place for everyone, regardless of your quirks, style, beliefs or opinions.”

For Ana too, it was Anglophone culture that attracted her. “Since I was little girl, I was always fascinated by the English language and I used to spend hours in my room listening to Bruce Springsteen, among others, and trying to translate his lyrics into Spanish. When I was 20, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a summer in New York with family who were living there at the time. From that moment I was hooked on living in an English-speaking country. I realised that moving to London would offer me similar opportunities but much closer to home if things didn’t work out.”

When it came to picking a city, Valeria found herself torn. How did London win her over? “When I first had a choice between going to Madrid or London for my Leonardo programme, I was torn. I loved Spain – I still think is my second home – but I was in need of detoxing a bit and improving my English, having never lived in the UK for a while before. So that was it, I moved there and I fell in love. When it came to moving for good, it was Devon that became my home for a whopping 4 years… but my heart had been set on the Big Smoke since 2005.”

A native of London, Natalie was after an in-house position, and found London the ideal place to look for one. She worked using her languages for a few companies in London before settling in her current position in the suburbs. “I became aware of the positions available within translation companies, as well as non-translation companies. So, while I do take on freelance translation and proofreading work when I can, I actually work full-time as Head of Translation and Localisation for a serviced offices company, based in north London.”

London has beaten some serious international competition in attracting our four freelance translators. Now after having enticed them to build their careers there, has London lived up to its promise and been a source of inspiration as expected?

Val loves her urban surroundings and paradoxically finds working solo very stressful. “I hate too much silence and quiet (not a countryside person, moi) so I need my hustle and bustle to feel alive. And in London, there’s so much variety: unlike other cities, that have a more definite style all over, London has a different corner every mile you go.

I love meeting for business in the small coffee shops in Covent Garden. In Bateel – a small coffee place around Bond street, which is dates heaven – the dry fruit! –  I even recorded a business promo video there. To get inspiration, I sometimes take a walk along the Thames, close to Festival Hall and the London Eye. Bustling with people and relaxing grand views. But my all-time favourite are Seven Dials and Soho because it feels like a small village.”

Does living in and working from the suburbs have the same attraction as in the centre? After all, the boroughs are like individual cities in their own right.

Not living in the heart of the city does have it pros and cons for Natalie. “This is the first role I’ve had since graduating that isn’t in either Central London or London City. While it is ideal for me from a commuting point of view, I do love the buzz of London’s busy streets and it certainly is a great place for ambitious individuals, as it’s a big business city. I certainly don’t miss having to take the Tube every day!”

As for Sílvia, she loves the suburban lifestyle.I live in Hither Green, not far from Greenwich and I’m spoiled for quirky, independent coffee shops, markets and wonderful parks. I love where I live and usually hang around tourist-free parts of Greater London. When I work, I prefer to do it in complete silence in the comfort of my own home, however in this line of work it’s easy to feel isolated. I find that going for a short walk in the park near my house really relieves those feelings of confinement and frustration, and it really gives me a fresh outlook and helps me to focus.”

But does Ana have second thoughts about London? “Sometimes I think that I would love to return to where I am from in Spain and live by the sea and just translate with the sound of the waves in the background but then I realise just how fortunate I am to live in such a dynamic, diverse city like London. I love getting out every now and then and work from a cosy coffee shop or any other corner of the city. Working on your own can be a bit (or a lot!) isolating so I think that this is good to break the routine and find inspiration.”

With a population of over 8 million people and such a strong base of translators, London must be fantastic for resources for translators, right?

Sílvia thinks so. “In London you can find quite a few free seminars, like the ones at the Language Show, which are great for people who are just starting out and don’t have a lot of money to invest in paid-for seminars or conferences. There are plenty of CPD opportunities, paid (and free) seminars and networking events. All you have to do is be proactive to find them. Most places have Wi-Fi so you can work on the move and there are plenty of libraries dotted around the city.”

Natalie brings up a good point. London is also home to a wide range of resources in human terms. “I think London is an ideal location for working translators, because not only are resources easily accessible, culture also plays a huge part in this city. There are so many people of different nationalities residing in London, that often if you get stuck, you can check something with a native speaker.”

Such a wealth of resources must make networking a breeze, then.

“There are regular networking events,” Ana points out. “The first one that springs to mind is Val’s TweetUp that takes place monthly, as well as the ones organised by ProZ or the regional networks of the ITI. Last year, London also hosted IATPI’s first international conference, which represented a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues from different countries.”

Sílvia goes into more detail. “As a translator you will find everything you need here regarding resources, events and most importantly, clients. The advantage of being in the same location as hundreds of multinational corporations and businesses means that I have regular work and a steady income and hopefully the more experience I get, the more I can expand my business. I find that being based in London really opened up some doors for me.”

It seems as if choosing a location like London can really help freelancers who are just starting out. Sílvia certainly thinks so. “In my first year I attended a couple of very helpful free seminars and I am now in the process of enrolling in a community interpretation course in order to diversify my business. There are definitely more opportunities here. London is home to business expositions (where you might find clients), courses, networking events, bookshops, libraries, universities, networking events and all kinds of interesting people. You just have to keep your eyes open.”

The nature of freelance translation means that translators are free to choose practically anywhere in the world to work from. Last week, we had quite a strong argument in favour of Berlin. Why should London win the fight?

“I think it’s just the endless opportunities and the fact that you’re close to the action,” argues Val. “When I was in Devon I may have been the only Italian sim-cons interpreter down there, but… chances were scarce. In London I’m one too many, but if you market yourself well… you can find your own space. And even a niche in your local area by liaising with business in your neighbourhood for example. It’s like living in villages within a bigger city.”

Swapping the tranquility of somewhere like Devon for the Big Smoke surely must have its drawbacks, though. Or are these outweighed by the bright lights of the big city?

“The only issue I can come up with is… space,” Val continues. “Flats are very small in the centre. The price to be central is well, high, but it works fine because mobility and being close to the Tube or where the companies are is everything in business these days.”

You don’t miss Italy then, Val? “When I lived in Genoa, it was a similar vibe – even if Genoa is much smaller but similarly busy. You do learn how to find your way around shortcuts and traffic when you need to be on time for lectures in at rush hour! In Elba, it was completely different: all could be done on foot or on a moped and the fantastically mild weather was simply perfect for a totally non-busy life. But that was waaaay back in my life and I was not working.”

Next week, Translators in the City will hop over to Iberia, with Sara Bueno Carrero (@buenocarrero), Herminia Páez Prado(@traducinando), Ana Rubio (@meowTRAD) and Lourdes Yagüe (@LYMtraductora) telling us what it’s like to be a translator in Madrid