A Day in the Life: of a French to English Political Translator

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at your translator’s home office? Last Thursday I set out to document a day:

07:30 Wokalarm clocken by the alarm this morning and my trusty coffee machine switching on. I’m not much of a morning person, so I sit and read for a while to come round gently and get my brain in gear for the translation day.

08:00 Ten minutes of meditation with the Headspace app and then a shower.  Currently doing the Navigating Change series, which seems appropriate for the “new normal” (starting to hate that phrase already!).  This sets me off into the kind of mental dialogue that probably only translators have before breakfast.  What’s the French for “new normal”? Nouvelle normalité? Of course, I have to check… Yes! I’m right! ‘Little things’… as they say…

08:15 Once I’m dressed, I check my email.  Most of my customers are in France and they’re an hour ahead, so I’m aware that their working day has started. Nothing urgent for reply, so time for breakfast.

08:30 In the mood for a savoury breakfast today, so I have rice and miso soup for a change.  This time a year ago I was just back from a visit to Tokyo and inspired to have a healthy Japanese breakfast for a good few weeks.  It definitely takes a bit longer to prepare than a bowl of cereal, but today I have time.

09:00 At my desk with my second cup of coffee.  Receipt acknowledged for the translation I sent off last thing yesterday to one of my agencies in France.  Nothing new in yet, so I scan the news, particularly the headlines in Le Monde. Lots of my political translation deals with social partnership and I’m following the discussions between the French government and the social partners on the timeline for relaxing the lockdown there.  I note down a few key phrases to refer to later.

09:25 An emailed translation request – a company I sometimes work with in eastern France needs some updated policy material translated from French into English for the multilingual workforce. I confirm the job with them and they send through an updated terminology with the English equivalents that they like to use.  This is really useful in helping me keep my translations within their corporate style. They need this one tomorrow morning, so I’ll schedule it in straight away.

09:30 I translate until 11:15, by which time I have a first draft.  I often use the ‘pomodoro technique’ when I’m working, translating in 25-min concentrated chunks and then taking 5 mins to stretch, walk around, or stare out of the window.

cup of green tea11:15 Time for a cup of green tea. I definitely seem to be having a Japanese day today!

11:30 Back at my desk I get on with some admin tasks.  I invoice for a project that I sent yesterday and answer one or two general email queries about potential jobs.  I’m also coordinating a voluntary project to translate Covid-19 anti-anxiety resources into various languages and I reply to a message from one of the translators.

12:00 Time for Draft 2 of my translation. I check, polish, amend and correct.

13:00 I’ve been staring at a screen for most of the morning, so I go out to the nearby park for my daily ‘permitted’ exercise. It’s beautifully sunny, but much colder than it looks! Back home I warm up with soup and toast for lunch and then catch up on a couple of chores.

14:00 My second project of the day involves localizing a tourism app from US to UK English. I did the first part of this last week and the second batch has arrived.  The spelling and vocabulary tweaks are relatively straightforward and I change some of the grammar and idioms where they deviate from norms on ‘this side of the pond’.  The customer is very keen to develop a UK-centred version of their brand and we’re both enjoying getting it right and talking about the differences.

16:30 Now that I’ve had a break from it, I go back to the policy translation and make a few final changes and checks.  This one is going as a Word document for the in-house design team to produce, so there’s no formatting to finish.  I email the finalized version.  Work has finished for the day in France, but it will be there for them first thing tomorrow. I log the details in my database and add to the invoicing schedule for the end of the month.

17:00 My to-do for the day is complete! I’ve starting using Todoist, which syncs across all my devices and makes it easy to add in a quick note that I remember when I’m away from my desk.  Last week I read that the brain gets anxious if there are more than 5 or 6 items on your to-do list (in fact lots of articles recommend no more than three!).  I’ve been cutting down my to-do lists to prioritize better and I’m definitely feeling more focused as a result.

I check tomorrow’s calendar – so far a French to English political article to translate and the first draft of a piece that I’m writing about the voluntary project. I make a rough plan for the day – it helps me to clock off for the evening and then get back into things easily in the morning – and by 17:30 I’m finished for the working day.


The Pomodoro Technique (Wikipedia)


Covid-19 Anti-anxiety resource


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