Living the dream!

By Felicity Pearce

Helen Barlow, founder of A World of Words Translations is literally living the dream. The dream that many of us (myself included) have when we think about being a freelance translator. She is as free as a bird, traveling the world, translating and learning new languages as she goes. For this week’s post, we’ve been asking her a few questions about her Utopian existence.

FP: Helen, can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a freelance and traveling translator, and any experience you think really helped?

HB: I’ve always had a serious case of itchy feet which led to me working for 6 years as an English teacher overseas a few years after completing my BA in French and Spanish. I worked in France, Thailand and Peru, improving my language skills while traveling and gaining valuable cultural insights. When I was in Peru, one of the teachers gave me her CV to translate into English, and I really enjoyed doing it. I then had the opportunity to translate a travel guide about Lima, which made me think I could combine my passion for language and travel and achieve the freedom I craved by translating for the travel and tourism industry. I took a two-year online translation course with City University. After that, I threw myself wholeheartedly into making my location-independent lifestyle a reality and took the excellent Masters in Technical and Specialised Translation at Westminster University. Then I was ready to go!

FP: Although a dream shared by many of us, being a traveling translator can still be a daunting prospect. What advice would you give to those considering hitting the road? Was it a leap of faith or did you make the change gradually?

HB: After completing the Master’s course, I was impatient to start my new lifestyle, so I booked a one-way ticket to Brazil. I planned to work while learning Portuguese. In hindsight, I suppose I should have saved up some more cash and established myself more with translation clients/agencies before hitting the road. It wasn’t exactly easy at first; work slowly trickled in and I spent more time filling out countless agency forms and sending off CVs than actually translating. Good job the beach and street parties are free! After about 3 months, work became more regular. So, my advice is to head off once you’ve got your regular jobs and contacts all set up; well, that’s the sensible option!

FP: Getting back to palm trees and breath-taking views, where are your favourite places in the world to set up shop? What are some of the best views you’ve had from your “office”?

HB: I love Asia. I go to India and combine translating with yoga courses, taking in views of the Kerala backwaters, the Himalayas or the tea plantations. Bali is also popular among freelancers with its laid-back cafés and homestays overlooking the rice paddies. Latin America is also a firm favourite. Living in the vibrant historic centre of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, was an amazing experience. Closer to “home”, I have lived in Lisbon which is really well set-up for freelancers and has excellent co-working spaces and a rich café culture. I loved taking my laptop along to one of the many miradouros where I had my morning coffee while gazing out over the mishmash of terracotta rooftops.


A day at the office

FP: And on a more practical note, we know that you travel with your laptop, but what contingency measures would you recommend, in case there are internet issues, etc.?

HB: A local SIM card for your smartphone. Also, I have a “mi-fi”, or personal hotspot, which is a great back-up in times of weak or no wi-fi. It just requires a local SIM card. That’s about it.

FP: Finally, what is the single best thing about your job?

HB: FREEDOM! Being able to work from absolutely anywhere is such a luxury. I do work full-time and it’s not a walk in the park, but I’m trying to make my life as much as possible like a permanent holiday.  And not having to physically GO to work, there’s no commute and your office can be a park bench, a beach, the airport. And your work attire can be your bathing suit!

FP: And the hardest?

HB: Time differences. I was recently in San Francisco which is 8/9 hours behind Europe. I had to sleep with the phone glued to my ear and often set my alarm for 3am to check my emails. However, it’s a different story in Asia as you have the whole day before the emails start flooding in!

And as all freelancers will agree, those occasional job droughts can be scary and the extremely tight delivery deadlines are downright stressful.  I also miss having colleagues, that Friday feeling (but not the Monday morning one…) and after-work drinks! Still, I wouldn’t change a thing!

Thank you so much Helen for sharing you experience and insight with us. Bon voyage!

Helen Barlow is a traveling translator, budding travel writer and yogi who calls the whole world home. Her translation specialisms include travel & tourism, fashion, beauty, gastronomy, magazine journalism and cultural events.


A Review of The Sound of Music: an ITI Conference masterclass by Ros Schwartz

by Katharine Mears

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle

At this year’s ITI conference in Newcastle, I attended the masterclass The Sound of Music, run by renowned literary translator Ros Schwartz. The aim was to explore the overlap between literary and commercial translation to give ‘non-literary’ translators (such as myself) the confidence to draw on their creative writing ability in their day-to-day work.

Ros began the session by talking about the difference between ‘source-orientated’ and ‘target-orientated’ texts, explaining that every translation falls somewhere different on this scale. One example of a source-orientated text is a book, where the author has given careful thought to every word. Target-orientated texts are those required to do a certain job such a selling something or getting certain information across.

We were then provided with some practical tips on how to improve our target translations, some of which I have highlighted below:

  • THINK ‘WRITE’ (as opposed to ‘TRANSLATE’): Highlight the key ideas to be expressed, put the source text aside and write the paragraph in your target language.
  • THINK AGAIN: Beware of complacency – don’t make do with the first solution that pops into your head. Lapses of attention result in “translationese”. E.g. don’t translate the French “produits que respectent l’environnement” as “products that respect the environment”. We have a specific word for this in English: “eco-products”.
  • PRUNE RUTHLESSLY: Beware of “padding words” that give rhythm to the source language but have no function in English, e.g. the French use of decided to. A literal translation of such a sentence might be “In 2013 the company decided to invest in…”, when what they actually mean is simply “In 2013 the company invested in…”
  • BREAK AWAY: Liberate the translation from the sentence structures of the source text.
  • LATIN vs ANGLO-SAXON: If you are translating from a Romance language, avoid using too many Latinate words, which can make a text feel awkward and be overly formal and academic. E.g. “consulter” should rarely be translated as “consult”, and such words can often be substituted.
  • DIFFERENT CONVENTIONS: Be aware of these, e.g. French uses significantly more exclamation marks; English tends to favour the imperative.
  • A FRESH LOOK: Take a break before doing the final read-through; always print out your translation, ideally in a different font, and check a hard copy; try working with a colleague and revising each other’s translations.
  • BE BOLD: It’s all about confidence. See yourself as a writer, not as a humble servant.

We then went on to look at three texts of varying quality that had been translated from French into English. In groups, we considered where and how we felt they could be improved, as well as any positive aspects, focusing in particular on the points outlined by Ros above and whether the rhythm and flow (music) of the text had been disrupted by their being overly meaning-orientated. This proved to be an extremely helpful exercise, which I have already started applying to my own translations.

The Sound of Music was an invaluable masterclass that has really made me reflect on my own translation work. I came away with a host of concrete tips that I have been able to put into practice immediately with the aim of injecting more ‘music’ into my translations. I would like to thank Ros Schwartz for such an interesting and practical session and hope these tips will be useful to you also.



Moving abroad with your business

By Sandra Young

Life in London could be exciting, stimulating and fun, but after five years there it was time for a change. Now I am here in Cáceres, forging a new life for myself in Spain.

I don’t know if many of you reading have thought about making the move to your source language country before. I have wanted to move to Spain for a long time, yet it took me until this year to take the plunge.

Before moving to Cáceres worries nagged at the back of my mind – the bureaucracy, the cumbersome self-employment contributions, the higher rates of tax in general. And then there was the fear that the business I had worked so hard to build would come crashing down around me as a result.

In the end, my desire exceeded my fears.

What I want to do is give you a step-by-step guide in setting up as self-employed in Spain, according to my experience. Hopefully this will provide some useful advice to anyone thinking of doing the same.

So, what do you need to do when you move to Spain?


  1. NIE number and EU citizen resident status in Spain

If you have never worked in Spain before then you will need to get an NIE (número de identidad de extranjero). To do this you have to go to either the Oficina de Extranjeros or in some cases directly to the National Police station in your town or city. You can find more information through this link.

Technically if you are coming to live in Spain you should request the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión (residence card for EU citizens in Spain) immediately. However, this requires you to either have private health insurance or to be registered with social security in Spain. Therefore, my advice is to explain this and request a temporary NIE (the one on white paper). You can use this document to complete all the following steps (including opening a bank account), and then return to the immigration office to request your residence card.

When applying for a NIE, you will need to bring your passport and the completed application form (with photocopies). They will give you a form to take to a suitable bank (ask which banks in your area accept these payments) to pay the fee (around €7), and then return to finish the application process.

  1. Open a bank account

In the UK you need utility bills as proof of address to open a bank account. In Spain you need the NIE. Really you need your residence card, but if you go to the bank with your temporary NIE, explaining that you will bring the permanent document once you are registered as self-employed, they will usually accept this.

  1. Register as self-employed

I arrived in Spain in February this year, two months before the end of the tax year in the UK. According to British legislation, as I had spent more than six months of the 2014-2015 tax year in the UK, then I was a UK tax resident for that year. This gave me some time to sort out a house and various other things before becoming self-employed in Spain.

It also had the added benefit of allowing me to become self-employed in Spain at the beginning of the second quarter, giving me three months before having to complete my first tax returns (which are done quarterly in Spain). It is worth thinking about this when making the move as it might make your life easier!

To register as self-employed you have to go to the AEAT (Agencia Tributaria). All the forms are now electronic – you fill them in online, print them and then hand them in at your nearest tax office. I couldn’t get the online form to work, so I went in, and one of the staff helped me to complete the form on a computer there. I want to mention that I have found the staff to be very helpful and friendly at every step of the way, and they have really eased what could have otherwise been quite a painful process.

You need to fill in a Modelo 036 if you are going to be working with any companies that are not based in Spain, and you need to register on the ROI (Registro de Operadores Intracomunitarios) as this will give you an EU-VAT number, which I would say is essential for anyone in our line of work.

  1. Register with Social Security

This was another step that was easier than I had feared. Spanish friends had warned me that at the INSS they can make your life difficult. The advice I had been given was to wear a low-cut top… however, without any provocative clothing, I found the person who attended me to be friendly and helpful. Follow this link for the application form.

If you have never been self-employed in Spain before you are now entitled to discounts on your self-employment contributions for different amounts of time, with varying discounts. Please follow the link for more information.

  1. Residence card

Now you have this, you will have to return to the Extranjería to apply for your residence card. As with the NIE, you will have to take photocopies of your passport and the signed application form, as well as the other documents as described here (your social security registration). You will have to pay a fee of around €10, in the same way as for the NIE.

If you are not an EU citizen, or have other particularities about your situation, this link should be useful.

  1. Health card

With your social security number, you can now go to any doctor’s surgery and ask for your health card, which will give you access to public health services in Spain.

  1. Empadronamiento (registration at the local Council for residence and voting purposes)

They may or may not request this for your residence card application. I had to have it as I had previously been on the EU citizens’ register at a different address. However, if you are going to spend more than 6 months in the country it is a legal requirement, and also gives you the right to vote in elections. It is a very simple process – just turn up and fill out a short form. Don’t forget to take your passport and NIE or residence card with you. They will take their own photocopies.

Do you have any experiences of moving abroad to share? Or any questions or doubts about moving your business abroad? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.