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The freelance translator at home: instructions for use

by Catherine Jan on February 15, 2011


Céline, Ma Voisine Millionnaire Copyright Céline, Ma Voisine Millionnaire

This entry is my own translation of Céline’s Vivre avec un traducteur, mode d’emploi. I translated it and used the above image with Céline’s permission. Céline, an English to French translator, blogs at Ma Voisine Millionnaire.


Today’s post is for all the men and women out there who have crossed paths with a freelance translator—and have decided to live with him or her. Husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, civil union partners—this one is for you. This guide will help you understand the lifestyle and needs of your significant other.

But let me remind you that I’m referring to freelance translators­—not in-house ones. Self-employed translators are an entirely different breed, always on the prowl, ready to pounce on any possible lead … but we’ll get back to this later.


When you head out for work, the translator is sitting at the desk, staring at the computer. When you get back from work, the translator is sitting at the desk, staring at the computer.

While you’ve been going from meeting to business lunch to getting work done, time has stood still for the freelance translator.

No, this is not true. As a matter of fact, the freelance translator has a remarkable ability to hold the same posture for hours on end.

Look at his or her work area—the keyboard and mouse are designed for good ergonomics. The large monitor is set up to prevent eye fatigue. The armchair keeps the translator’s back straight. The computer is powerful and has endless features. The freelance translator has done everything to make the lair as cozy as possible.

So what does your freelance translator actually do all day?

Once you are out the door, your sweetheart executes the task that sets the workday in motion: make tea/coffee. (Check the appropriate box.) Next, the translator sits down, hot drink within arm’s reach, and proceeds to read email, RSS subscriptions, favourite newspapers, the Twitter timeline, and so forth. As paradoxical as it sounds, the work-at-home freelance translator is often very informed about the happenings of the outside world.

But do not make the mistake of thinking that just because the freelance translator can tell you about the latest UN resolution or the debate on new legislation, your better half has accomplished nothing.

Au contraire. The translator is an advanced multitasker who can listen to music, catch up on tweets, negotiate contracts, make progress on the current assignment, all while sipping on a caffeinated hot drink. All from doing that day-in and day-out!

Are translators workaholics? Fortunately, no. The freelance translator also has hobbies and a social life.

Leisure time

If you can only remember one characteristic of the freelance translator species, take this: this individual is hungry for culture. What could be more unsurprising for a person who spends all day doing work-related research? The translator often remains, even outside of working hours, a veritable geek.

Whether we’re talking about volleyball, oriental dance, backgammon or scrapbooking, the translator has done all the necessary research on the chosen activity. The amateur chef can tell you when the first Kenwood mixer came out. The hard-core skier can list names of world champions from the past five years. Just don’t get me started on the film buff!

The worst of it all: the freelance translator talks as though all these facts were common knowledge. “You did know that mascara come from antimony-based powder, didn’t you?” says the freelance translator who likes cosmetics, ready to talk history to the Sephora ladies.

Social life

Fortunately, the freelance translator has a social life. Correction: two of them. First come friends and family. Friends who go way back are surely aware of the translator’s odd behaviour and they already know of his or her ability, at a family Sunday lunch in January, to explain the history behind the galette des rois. Or this need to translate during the holidays while everyone else is taking a nap …

As for newer acquaintances, the translator is often all ears. Yes, the freelance translator is extremely curious about others and is especially interested upon meeting someone in a technical profession. Full of new terms! (I told you, the translator is a geek.) Sometimes the translator will go so far as to leave a business card. You never know …

Sometimes, the translator cannot help but share his or her knowledge. If you’re about to spend a relaxing evening with friends, don’t take out the Trivial Pursuit! After the linguist makes five straight wins, no one wants to play with him or her again.

The freelance translator’s true self really comes out when meeting individuals of the same breed. You are probably wondering why your partner happily spends Saturday morning (yes, Saturday morning) attending a talk about translation, Moldavian verb tenses or tax laws for the self-employed. Let me assure you: the translator is not insane.

While you have spent the whole week with co-workers—who you would not dream of running into on the weekend—the translator has not seen a living soul. Sure, he or she talked online all week. But you’ve got to understand that the translator needs to see others who share the same lifestyle, to talk about subjects all translators are interested in. It’s like going to Disneyland! The most awesome part is seeing how the translator lights up to explain the importance of the latest grammar rule reform or to get you to see a Czech film subtitled in German.

The freelance translator brims with enthusiasm. Isn’t that what you like most about the one you love?


Alexis W February 15, 2011 at 14:26

Fabulous translation of a great original. (And a lovely end to two days of sticky –but fun sticky!– projects.) It’s already in my better half’s inbox…

Luis February 15, 2011 at 16:24

For some reason I woke up in a bad mood, but this article brought a smile to my face! Especially when I realized I had a coffee at hand, and my Chrome tabs were the usual: twitter, rss reader, gmail. We translators are truly from the same species. :)

William Porto February 15, 2011 at 16:52

Forwarded immediately to all of my friends and family… luckily my better half understands already (she is also a translator… lucky me I guess!!)…

Jill February 16, 2011 at 03:07

As I was reading this I started asking myself if someone had placed a camera or bug in my office… this fits me to an absolute T :-) (“To a T” is a a late 17th century variation of the expression “to a tittle”, which was in use by the early 17th century, with the meaning “to the smallest detail.”… ;-))

sofia February 16, 2011 at 16:10

I’m a qualified translator without a job….the article is excellent…

Daria February 16, 2011 at 23:58

I started laughing at the beginning of the first paragraph and still haven’t stopped :) I must be a true professional, every word of that describes me to a tee!

Tess Whitty February 17, 2011 at 01:46

Excellent! It is nice to know I am not alone.

Riccardo February 17, 2011 at 07:58

“After the linguist makes five straight wins, no one wants to play with him or her again” yes, but worse than Trivial Pursuit is Scrabble: they are native speakers, they are supposed to know their own language better than you, right? I don’t understand their morose looks just because I bingoed on the first three moves and am 150 points ahead.

anatati February 17, 2011 at 08:30

Fabulous! I don’t know French, but the text and the translation are exceptional.

Now, may I also translate the English translation into Romanian indicating both original article and this translation?

catherinetranslates February 21, 2011 at 21:53

Hi, I’ve passed on your request to Céline. Thanks for your kind comments.

Olga February 17, 2011 at 12:08

Oh, this is excellent! Glad I’m moving in a right direction. Have to make a few more steps to become a REAL professional as I still lack some characteristics of a freelance translator =))

Amaia February 17, 2011 at 13:15

Great job on the translation! I truly enjoyed the original post, but my French is not that good yet, so it makes me really happy to be able to read it in English and understand the little things I missed the first time.

Craig Morris February 17, 2011 at 13:35

I plead guilty on all counts!

Joe February 17, 2011 at 20:02

Great article and a great translation. Describes my current lifestyle pretty well!

batu February 18, 2011 at 06:26

Hi, Catherine. I’m from I liked this article and posted it on my blog. I have just put your name and blog at the beginning of the post. Please check. Thank you for your great work.

Evy February 18, 2011 at 07:13

Not many understand how we freelance translators work, or should i say “live”? Our lifestyle is indeed interesting and I am enjoying every second of it.

Nelida February 18, 2011 at 16:02

Have just checked my office to see whether there is a hidden camera somewhere! :) No. There wasn’t. It just looked that way. Right down to the PC-staring thing, the low-resolution screen so that everything is BIG and easy on the eyes, the smart-marmish thing you tend to say on whatever when in company (an inclination you try, unsuccessfully, to clamp down on), etc. Wonderful post, thank you for being thoughtful enough to translate it and share. By the way, the translation doesn´t look like a translation at all. (If there is a higher praise than that, I’m sure my colleagues will let me know…).

Céline February 21, 2011 at 08:49

Hi everyone and thank you for all your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and Catherine’s translation!

catherinetranslates February 21, 2011 at 21:57

I’m really flattered by all your comments. Big thank you to everyone who has left comments or shared this post on Facebook, Twitter, blog or elsewhere. Another thank you to all my new subscribers.

Thank you Céline for creating this wonderful piece and allowing me to translate it. It was lots of fun to work on!

Mark Thompson March 1, 2011 at 18:04

Hit the nail on the head Céline! Excellent article, and congratulations to Catherine for a brilliant rendering – it reads like a stand-alone piece originally written in English, which is where we all want to be.
Loved the opportunity to sit back and laugh at myself – more light-hearted anecdotes please ProZ!!

Laureana March 2, 2011 at 23:03

Great article!
My husband (the spouse) and I (the freelance translator) were laughing out loud.
Céline has got every single detail right, thanks for your translation.

catherinetranslates March 5, 2011 at 21:31

Thank you Mark, thank you Laureana!

Louise March 7, 2011 at 16:39

Being a French native, I loved the original post when I read it. My other half is British and doesn’t read French, I am so excited to show him your translation so that he can see that us translators are all the same ;-)
Thank you Catherine !

cquadro March 11, 2011 at 10:36

Oh my God!! It’s so true!! Though I am still at the beginning of my career I am experiencing just the same thing!

Alexander Kupriyanchuk March 16, 2011 at 15:31

“When you head out for work, the translator is sitting at the desk, staring at the computer. When you get back from work, the translator is sitting at the desk, staring at the computer.”

The wife of the translator never goes to work. Mine does not.
If she does, what’s the point of “sitting at the desk, staring at the computer”?

Ermal March 17, 2011 at 13:08

Enjoyable to read.

Lucy April 19, 2011 at 12:23

“Or this need to translate a little during the holidays while everyone else is taking a nap…” Boy, isn’t that true! Loved the article, Catherine and Celine!

Danielle Gehrmann September 30, 2011 at 18:33

I laughed from go to woe – très witty!

Jérôme September 30, 2011 at 18:37

A deeper look into the day of a translator, great translation Catherine, and cool article (in both languages) !

Allison Wright September 30, 2011 at 19:24

Thank you Catherine for translating Céline’s article. Good job!
One minor thing:
“You are probably wondering why your partner happily spends Saturday morning (yes, Saturday morning) to attend a talk about translation…”
I would change to “… spends Saturday morning attending a talk on…”.
I am sure you will understand my need to point this out, being a compulsive translator yourself. :)
Best regards,

Catherine Jan September 30, 2011 at 20:27

Good eye, Allison! It’s been changed. Thank you :)

Luis Henrique Kubota January 13, 2012 at 03:48

Ha! Ha! Ha! Bull’s eye! Great article and beautiful translation. It describes us from head to toe.

Isabel Ligeiro March 16, 2012 at 11:21

Love it! Love it! There couldn’t be a better description of the translator’s way of life.

Patricia Worth January 3, 2013 at 23:15

I was hooked from the first lines. My husband said to me when he came home at 5pm yesterday, ‘You’re still sitting there. That’s where you were when I left this morning!’.
Thanks for translating this article for us.

Marcela Cultraro April 6, 2013 at 21:30

I knew it, I’m not alone! Great article! Thanks Catherine.

Soledad Blanco August 18, 2013 at 12:21

I have just read your translation and I think it’s great! I’d like to translate the article into Spanish and publish it in my blog. Could you let me know if you and Céline agree?

ANH CAO October 3, 2013 at 11:29

Catherine and Celine:

Great sense of humor! I love what you write about us as linguistics!
I often was accused as a workaholic but…NO WAY on the computer.
And, coffee as warm comfort? Yes, a cup of double expresso with all spices
and I am ready to go! lol..
Research in every subject from law, education to medicines? Yes, definitely.
You read my mind.

Have a wonderful day!

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