A serendipitous milestone during lockdown: 8 million words (and counting)
by Angela Frawley
For many years and in many professions, we thought that our biggest career milestones were things like pay raises or promotions into management. We pegged our career success to other people’s decisions. Now as one era comes to an end and we embrace a new digital era, defining professional milestones is much less clear-cut. If to this we add the case of the independent freelance worker, with no boss or clearly defined professional ladder, defining milestones can indeed be a more haphazard affair.
Looking back, I could list a few milestones in my professional career such as my qualifications, certificates, Masters, first freelance job, first major project, first big budget, etc. But then last spring, during the first COVID-19 lockdown, I serendipitously stumbled across another rather humongous milestone. A milestone that really lifted my spirits during those interminable days in Barcelona when the highlight of my day was going to the supermarket or recycling bin. It prompted me to take a step back and re-evaluate my professional achievements.
One sunny spring morning in 2020, a new potential client approached me with a very interesting proposal involving the translation from Catalan to English of a large project that they were currently working on. The subject area was medical and pharmaceutical so it suited me perfectly. I responded promptly saying that yes, I would indeed be very interested in the project.
As to be expected, I was asked to complete the necessary paperwork, which seemed to be a bit more extensive than usual. I signed and faxed the contract and non-disclosure agreement. All pretty routine. Next, I began to fill out their in-house Curriculum Vitae that they would store on their database: educational background (degree, masters…) and work experience. The latter was what stopped me in my tracks. The two-page work experience section included a table where I was asked to insert the number of words I had translated broken down by my languages (Spanish, Catalan and French) and various fields of expertise (medical, pharmaceutical, scientific, etc.). Oh my goodness! I have been translating for 20 years… but how many words had I translated? I had absolutely no idea.
I know of other translators who keep track or who have counters on the websites that keep clocking up words every time you enter. But I have never had the need to do this before. Having paced up and down my corridor a few times (I did a lot of pacing during confinement), I came to the conclusion that this could indeed be a very interesting exercise. A time to stop and take stock, to look back and re-evaluate this vast experience I had gained over the last 20 years.
So for the next few days I set about trying to roughly calculate the number of words that I had translated, edited or proof-read during this period. Needless to say I had not kept a record of all the documents that I have ever handled. But I could use data on the invoices I had sent during those early years when I had no other way of calculating these figures–somewhere in that old laptop there is a list of the invoices issued each year. I must admit that this was somewhat laborious, but intriguing at the same time. It was like digging out that box of old family photos and reminiscing over each one, remembering each project, each client or collaborator, etc.
So during the first year as a freelance translator, in 2002, I translated only 16,922 words. Not a lot so fortunately I was combining this with part-time teaching at the university. In 2003, I translated, or at least collaborated in the translation of, over 300,000 words, and so forth until 2020 reaching an accumulated total of
What a staggering figure! This left me elated for days, clapping myself on the back for all that hard work.
I would estimate that over 90% of this has been in the scientific fields. I have learned so much in so many fields. And I keep on learning, and this is what keeps me passionate about my profession. I am still improving my writing skills in my mother tongue (English), still improving my other languages (Spanish, Catalan and French), still learning about new medicines, still learning about new medical advances, and still learning about new tools to improve my working processes.
Example of types of documents translated
●Common Technical Documents (CTDs)
●Hospital discharge reports
●Material safety data sheet (MSDS)
●Letter to Editors
Realising that I had so many words under my belt gave me a real sense of achievement. This would not have been possible without my many clients and colleagues. I would like to thank all of you and especially those who have been with me from the very beginning: Asphalion, for example, hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since we first started working together.
Looking forward to reaching the next milestone of 10,000,000 words (…if only they were €€€€ in the bank!).