Translator’s life


One of the photos below was taken in mid-November 5 years ago. The other was taken yesterday.

Two translators wearing warm autumn clothes are standing in front of an old residential buildingTwo translators are standing in front of an industrial machine. They are smiling gently and wearing warm autumn clothes.

5 years ago, Translatorion was born.

In fact, it’s hard to say when it all began exactly. We’ve known each other for 12 years. We got our first real (although rather irregular) translation commissions just after graduation. But we consider 14 of November 2016 as a special day for Translatorion, because this was when we registered our company and invented our brand (obviously, at that point, we wouldn’t even use the word ‘brand’).

These 5 years have passed extremely fast – and at the same time, they seem to have been quite a long period. In the meantime, we managed to get married (yes, indeed, the company came before that); adopt a third cat; walk thousands of kilometres in the mountains and beyond; and survive the pandemic.

Within this time, we have translated more than 12 000 pages.

After 5 years, we cooperate on a regular basis with corporations, start-ups, tech companies, design studios, universities, cultural institutions, festivals, NGOs, translation agencies, and individuals.

We translate, edit, and proofread texts; we review translations; we offer language-related counselling.

Like David Bowie used to sing, it ain’t easy. Running a small business in Poland is like an advanced obstacle course, and it will probably get even harder next year. Sometimes we feel like giving it all up to find another job, something that might bring us less joy but would also be less problematic and complicated. But then we remember that thanks to being translators, we can live the life we want to have, in a place we love.

And so we keep on keeping on.

To celebrate Translatorion’s birthday, we’ll tell you about 5 things that we’ve learnt in the past 5 years.

  1. Combining specialisation with openness to new areas

The translators’ community is usually unanimous as to one thing: the best you can do in this profession is to find your specialisation. Based on our experience, we can definitely confirm this view, but we also see the other side of this coin. In these 5 years, we have discovered and defined what we actually want to do, and – which is even more important – what we don’t want to do. As a result, Paweł has gradually become an expert in technical translation: he would never have thought that he would come to know so much about industrial boilers, pipelines, and nanomaterials. Martyna, on the other hand, chose the direction of art, design, and culture. By being aware of the fields in which we feel confident and informed, we know how we can develop further and what subjects need more exploration. Now for the other side of the coin: what we love about our work is the versatility and endless opportunities to discover new areas of knowledge, which is why we don’t lock ourselves in our themes and specialisations completely. We apply the same approach when it comes to the kind of services that we offer: translations are the priority, followed directly by proofreading and revising. But we also do other language-related things: for instance, Paweł is into machine translation post-editing, and Martyna occasionally turns into an interpreter or a language instructor.

  1. Running a business

The very act of opening a company in Poland is surprisingly easy and doesn’t require lots of procedures. It can be easily completed online. No fuss, really. The roller coaster begins afterwards: having all the documents under control; keeping up with the constantly changing regulations for entrepreneurs; hopelessly attempting to understand the what and why of the tax system in Poland; doing countless calculations; trying to save up for retirement on our account; being unsure whether we do all these things right, correctly, and properly. This also means having plenty of positions at the same time: we are our own lawyers, bookkeepers, office managers, project leaders, marketing specialists, sales executives, and secretaries. It’s not like we hadn’t expected that – but it’s still overwhelming. In fact, it’s rather easy to forget that we are primarily translators and linguists in all that. We’ve got one fun fact for you to wrap up this point: before we launched our company, we’d consulted a lawyer, who told us that for the business to be profitable and optimised, we shouldn’t get married at all. Yeah, cheers to the lovely nuances of Polish law.

  1. We’re not alone

This lesson is closely related to the previous one. With time, we got more understanding of how the business machinery worked and we realised we didn’t have to do everything on our own. We started immediately by placing all the accounting of our company in good hands (let us send a big thank you to all the employees of the accounting office in Cieszyn that helps us survive). Then, we started to leave more and more organisational tasks to other people, to be able to focus on what we know best – translation. After all, this whole business is supposed to allow us to earn a living as translators. So, we cooperate with other freelancers and specialists, who help us with, for example, the technical and conceptual aspects of our social media channels, graphic design, website design and maintenance – there are still some administrative jobs that we’d love to outsource to people who are better at them. This way, we don’t torment ourselves with things that we don’t really enjoy or know how to do – we’d rather use this time to work with texts. Living in Cieszyn makes it all easier, as there is some incredible synergy about this place, thanks to which we’re always able to find great and talented people, who understand our needs and come with a number of recommendations. Last but not least – we are not alone because there are two of us. And this is just invaluable: we help and complement each other to go through the harder days together.

  1. Weekends are sacred

That’s right, weekends are holy, sacred, and sacrosanct. What does this mean for us? That’s simple: we don’t work at weekends. We don’t think about work at weekends. Normally, we don’t even turn on our company social media then (which is why this post gets published a day after the actual anniversary). At weekends, we are just Martyna and Paweł. Translatorion is asleep. Well, things haven’t always been like this. Sometimes, we would get so lost in work that it continued through the whole week. Finally, we learnt to set boundaries – also to ourselves. At the same time, we value flexibility – what we mean to achieve is to have always at least two free days during a week, and they don’t necessarily fall on Saturday in Sunday. Of course, the latter is the most convenient case, because this way we can cooperate with our clients smoothly. What’s more, we often take a day off on a public holiday – technically, we don’t have to do this and this is just our own choice, because there’s no boss or business labour code to grant us a paid leave. Sometimes, this decision turns against us because we need to work faster and more intensively on weekdays to be able to let go later on. Generally, though, this is all about having healthy amounts of free time and self-time – time for our hobbies, walks, and chilling out.

  1. How to value and price our work

We began like most young and aspiring translators – with the conviction that if there’s anyone willing to pay us for our work, we must celebrate this and accept anything. We believed that if we expected too much, we would get nothing. We have a different way of seeing things now. We are more experienced; we know we provide good-quality translations; we are specialists in our disciplines; we’ve translated thousands of pages and millions of words; we realise how much it costs to run a business. We value ourselves and we value our work, which means we price it adequately. What’s more, we believe that even beginner translators shouldn’t work for free – work should always be appreciated and paid for. Besides, decent remuneration is a great motivation to get better. Even though we cannot seem to get rid of the impostor syndrome (boosted by the idealised world of social media), we perceive that we’re good and seasoned at our profession. Sadly, we also often see lots of terrible translations produced by non-professionals, especially when it comes to non-literary texts. We don’t understand how anyone can offer and sell something so botched-up – but at the same, this shows us that what we offer and sell is far above this. Of course – learning to speak well about ourselves is a lesson in itself, which also required at least 5 years of practice.

Obviously, we’ve learnt even more than this, but our major conclusion is that it’s great to be a translator! We are happy that we can do something we like; nurture our fascination with languages; meet other translators; live far from the hustle and bustle of big cities; and work with our cats sitting nearby. May the next 5 years be just as instructive and even more rewarding!

Martyna & Paweł – Translatorion