This is the second in our series of interviews with translators from all over the globe. Translation is a very diverse industry - we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This episode is an interview with Anna Lycett.

I’m an English-Polish freelance translator and web marketer. I was born and grew up in Warsaw, Poland; my father has been a translator almost all of my life and I remember him working long hours, always needing to meet deadlines. It didn’t put me off... Seven years ago I moved to the UK, first Wales, then England, where I am now.

I did my first degree in Philosophy at the University of York but wasn’t sure about what to do next. Then I decided to become a translator, which made sense: I’d already done a few small translations for dad, I’ve always had a knack for languages, an obsession about spelling, punctuation and grammar, and I’ve always felt that I wanted to do something I enjoyed. So, I completed a master’s degree in Applied Translation Studies at the University of Leeds in 2011, though I’ve been freelancing even before I finished my degree.

As KeyCheck Translation I offer business translations, from in-company communications and HR, marketing, SEO-content, to surveys and reports, though I’ve done a bit of subtitling, too.

I’ve also had the pleasure of working for several internet marketing agencies and now freelance for them too, providing them with research, SEO, PPC and content services. I have professional social media accounts (Twitter, Google+, email: [email protected]), on which I share links and thoughts that I find useful, fascinating or otherwise relevant to the freelance translation and marketing industry.

How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you passionate about languages?

Like I said, I’ve always had a thing for languages, especially in writing. I’ve always been good at spelling – I remember my primary school friend calling me her spelling dictionary. At school I learned French, English and German, though somehow I found English by far the easiest, and when my school decided to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, I didn’t think long before I signed up.

Whilst doing my MA, I also started Spanish. What makes me passionate about languages? Hmm… that’s a difficult question.Is it bridging gaps between wide-spread communities and cultures?Opening oneself to different ways of expressing oneself?Being able to travel easier?To talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise be able to talk to? I don’t think there is a single answer. But the point is: languages open you to the world and other people’s realities.

What have you done to improve your translation skills in the last year?

As always, social media – blog posts, discussions with people on several of my favourite Facebook groups etc. – help me immensely in terms of business skills, e.g. when to dump some clients or projects, or how to reply to tricky emails. In terms of pure translation and language skills, again, I became much more active on two or three of Polish translators’ Facebook groups, where we help each other with difficult phrases or sentence constructions.

I also attended several virtual and real-life workshops and events focusing on specific subject areas and problems, which was great both for improving my skills and networking. I also got myself several more books for my translation library, which are waiting in a queue for me to read them. Obviously, as I’m still in the first few years of freelancing, every project produces some hoops to jump through and thanks to this I’ve had to learn faster than ever. There is nothing like practical experience. 

Also, several of my 2013 projects involved working with other people – from just one person up to five, where we had to produce consistent, professional translations between ourselves and then check each other’s work. This was an experience that tested not only my writing skills but also my professional etiquette – highly recommended for all freelancers!

How do you prepare for a translation project?

This totally depends on the client: whether I worked for them before and, if so, what our relationship is like. For several of my repeat customers I must admit I don’t prepare myself much, because I know what the subject area is or that if something crops up, it will be easy to communicate with them quickly. For others, I always find out what the text is exactly for (publishing on/off-line? Newsletter?A survey?)and whether all of it requires translating.

I tend to also ask about how formal the language should be and any other questions that I come up with when having a first look at the source file. If there are any resource materials supplied by the client, I have a look at them and check whether I understand everything that is expected of me. Obviously, I always check the deadline, the source files (whether they are as long as they are said to be), and enter the project into my task overview together with the word count and rate. I’ll fill in other information, such as invoice number and date, upon completion. All my dictionaries and resources are ready to hand, so I don’t need any special preparations in this respect.

What aspects of your job are the most challenging?

Staying positive in times of famine and not letting work become my life in times of feast.

What excites you the most about the languages you work with?

Especially when working on subtitling, I love trying to come up with English/Polish equivalents of sayings or informal/slang expressions, and there are surprisingly many of them. I recently started saving them all in one place and just after one project I have over one hundred entries. I also love noticing “weird” words and researching their etymology – both in English and in Polish, or coming up with unexpected (but perfectly admissible) synonyms. 

I get all giddy when I notice that two words are somehow related to each other when I didn’t expect it and tend to discuss it with my husband, with whom I share our home office. Also, there are so many things that make sense in one language but not the other due to cultural references and finding ways of explaining them and making them intelligible is challenging but rewarding.

What is the funniest translation experience you can remember?

I guess this is more of a business experience than translation per se but since my business is a translation business… I once arranged for a business meeting with one of my Warsaw-based clients in the only place that I was confident was still open, having lived abroad for the past 7 years – the Warsaw ZOO! I went there with my husband (my proofreader) and daughter (my, no, not really), and met up with my client, her three children and a friend of one of her daughters.

It was stiflingly hot, so the smells were rather intense, and after about an hour one of my client’s children vanished, so we spent half an hour looking for him, having vaguely remembered what he actually looked like, and with the added excitement of my phone battery slowly dying. Later on, my client kindly agreed to take a photo of me, my husband and our daughter in one of those things with cut-outs for your face. As there were four cut-outs and there were only three of us, her son jumped into our picture and we now have a very funny picture with him and us all grinning away.

After a quick snack in a café above the elephant house we decided to call it a day but boy, I’ll never forget this business date! It was great, though, and we still have a very good working relationship.

What are good or bad things about freelancing?

The good thing is that, roughly, you decide your hours, your customers, your rates – you’re your own boss, and I love it. The bad thing is that sometimes, your clients sometimes decide your hours (with rush projects coming in, deadlines that are usually quite tight, changing versions of files or supplying updates at the last minute) and – something I often struggle with – if you’re working from home, like I do, you don’t get to speak to other people a lot. And of course, you have to be able to cope with times of feast and times of famine at random.

What are you wishes for 2014? What excites you, what are you sceptical about?

My answer to this is going to be very personal due to my current circumstances. I’m very excited to be going on maternity leave in February and my only wish for this year is for the health of everyone in my family, including myself, to be good. 

I’m really sceptical about what my professional life is going to look like at the end of 2014 with a very young baby and a 2-year-old. Luckily I have a very flexible and understanding child minder. Cheers, Elaine!

What would you pass on as personal advice to new translators?

If your heart is set on working as a freelance translator, prepare yourself for sending out lots of emails, many of which will never get a reply, and some of which may get a reply even a year after you’ve sent them. Keep a record of people and companies that you contacted and the rates you offered them.  And do not sell yourself too cheap.

Thanks to Anna for the answers!

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