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A Day in the Life of a Translator

Working from home as a self-employed professional seems a strange way of life to those who work away from home. The most common response is that others think they wouldn’t be able to motivate themselves or concentrate in my place.

Personally, I feel more comfortable knowing I can work when I’m able to focus and disappear to the gym or for a run when concentration drifts. I certainly wouldn’t be the first to say that, having led this life, I couldn’t go back to a “9 to 5”.

But something of a routine is still a key way to ensure productivity and prevent floundering. And of course, people around the world recently found themselves with no option but to face this strange WFH oblivion, for the most unfortunate of reasons.

So I have put together a little “day in the life”, including some tips that a few of my in-house colleagues have found particularly helpful recently.

6.30-7am – Rise and shine!

When not being awoken earlier by the seagulls (that’s a flat roof in summer in Aberdeen, for you), I get up fairly early.

The coffee goes on the hob, and I tend to get straight to work(ing up an appetite for my breakfast).

7.00-8am – to the desk

This is the first time I’ll switch on a time-tracking tool. I used to use Timecamp, which works really well, now I used my accounting software, FreeAgent.

Sometimes I need to keep track of my time for invoicing purposes, but it’s useful for wellbeing too – you might fear it’ll show you’re working less than you think, but it usually does the opposite! And it shows up projects that are taking up a disproportionate amount of your schedule.

It’s a rare occasion that any work requests have come in by this point, whereas I am likely to have an almost-finished project due by 11, 10 or even 9am. I conduct a final proofread and submit.

These are usually short marketing pieces, meaning at the first, second or third chime of my Break Timer, I’m already up for a short break and the most important one of the day – breakfast!

I’m (sometimes) an ergonomists’ model student: Break Timer forces me to have a break every 25 minutes. This one I use to take my porridge in front of BBC breakfast and the red-button news.

9-11.30am – Analysing a translation project

If I’m due to begin a project, this is roughly how I would go about it.

First I would need to look at the source files and make some initial considerations:

  1. Is the translation software a browser- or portal-based CAT tool, such as Memsource or do I need to open up my own desktop version of SDL Trados Studio (2019)?
  2. Does the project analysis show many repetitions or significant matches? These could allow me to complete the project more quickly, but I will also have to judge whether context differences will affect them. For example, sometimes it makes sense to use a specific noun in English where it isn’t used in Italian. It might be derived from the sentences or segments around a given segment – a TM or auto-propagation system can’t do that for me.
  3. The document itself! A full understanding of the text – its type, layout, style, and context – is vital. CAT tool presentation doesn’t always show clearly what is what. It’s important to understand what’s a heading, for example, and therefore how it fits into the flow of the piece. There might also be terms for which I need to make a translation decision from the outset, as the way it’s used later in the text might determine translation choices earlier on.

11.30-12 – Miscellaneous to-do list

It’s good to have something to aim for –

Translation work requires intense focus, so I’m beginning to get really hungry by this point (that’s my excuse, anyway).

To prevent making mistakes, I often make a switch to more general admin just before lunch, taking some time clear emails, new requests and so on.

It’s also a good time to do some Breathwrk – a friend of mine introduced me to this app and its regular reminders of breathing exercises help with staying cool, calm and collected, whatever the day thus far has thrown at you!

12 noon – Lunch!

I’ve been known to sit down to the ITI Bulletin over my lunch or watch something in Italian or Spanish, but more often than not I let my brain switch off with some (often mindless) TV.

1pm-EOD – Beginning the translation “proper”

Having spent the morning getting to grips with the project, it’s time to start transferring the meaning of the source text into English – crafting the target text. I’ve gained a pretty thorough understanding through my morning’s work and done the research on the terminology so I should be able to produce a decent draft.

In an ideal world, I would have uncovered all the terms I wasn’t sure of through my initial research and could create a “perfect” translation first time, but that’s rarely the case and previously unseen issues always arise.

Work on the first draft is typically punctuated by flicking between the CAT tool and conducting further research on the go.

Alternatively, I will drop notes to myself about things I need to return to: this happens regularly with marketing texts: an original text requires flow and I find a marketing translation can be better if you catch onto that and write more fluidly; it’s therefore more effective to come back to a sticking point later, with a fresh eye.

My next step is to do just that: go back over all the doubts I had and focus acutely on each issue, conducting further research where necessary.

Following this, but probably depending on the text type, I’m likely to do a thorough re-work. Again, this is common to marketing translations, as regardless of effort and attention, the first pass might have retained some of the source structure.

For me, the re-work is what can take it from an accurate translation to a natural text that reads as though it were originally written in the target language. The final proofread will follow whenever the deadline requires.

End the day – 4-6pm

It’s a wide bracket, but it really depends how much work I have. When I’m being good, I’ll clear my inbox and write tomorrow’s to-do list.

Then it’s off to do exercise, see friends, and make dinner.


The beauty of WFH is the flexibility of it all, so this varies: for example, sometimes I’ll exercise during the day – it pushes my working day back, but it can be just what I need to kickstart my brain into focus.

Similarly, no two jobs are the same! This is based on my typical translation job – they’re usually shorter. But sometimes I’ll have a larger one that lasts weeks or I’ll be focusing solely on my editing work – which is whole different kettle of fish!

Any tips?

I’m always open to changing up these methods. Have been working home for years and have the tried and tested mechanisms under your thumb to share? Or are you’re new to the game and you’re finding some speed bumps?

Share your thoughts! Contact me directly through my email address or contact page, or share this article on LinkedIn or Twitter with your suggestions.