Eleonora Joszko on being a freelance translator in Poland

Following the famous BP20 (Business and Practice) international translation conference, held online for the first time in its history due to the coronavirus, I gave an interview to fellow translator Thomas Tolnai from TranslateCluj, Romania. Thomas wishes to highlight what it is like to be a translator in Central and Eastern Europe and I was only the second person in the series to be interviewed! I am grateful for this opportunity to share my thoughts.

Thomas Tolnai, TranslateCluj: How and why did you become a freelance translator/interpreter? Was it a deliberate choice?

Eleonora Joszko: It was a deliberate choice, but it took some time. When I graduated in translation studies, I became an in-house translator in a local translation agency. A year later, I started my PhD studies in linguistics and was no longer able to work full time, so I translated at home. I spent a total of four years at the university doing my PhD and teaching and I finally decided that I did not want to teach anymore, so I quit and became a full-time freelance translator.

What is the main advantage of being a freelancer in your country? Do you feel that this advantage is different from other countries/markets?

I think this is similar in many countries: a freelancer can organize their work according to their needs and preferences. Moreover, they can usually earn more than employees in companies.

What are your main fields of specialization and how did you choose them? Or maybe did they choose you? 

My main fields of work are: construction, environmental protection, law, medicine and pharmacy. You could say they chose me because I worked on several huge projects in these fields in that first translation agency as a translator and proofreader. I was assigned jobs and had to learn on the go in a team. Those were hundreds of pages done throughout months and years! By the way, some of the people from those teams are now my close friends – my greatest benefit of working in that agency. The fields have also stayed with me because I enjoyed them from the start.

My special field is horse breeding and riding, but this is simply my lifelong passion. I ride horses, write articles for equestrian press, own a heap of equestrian books and even wrote my MA and PhD theses about equestrian terminology. Yes, this one was definitely chosen by me, not the other way round.

Can you tell us a few words about your working environment? Do you work at a desk or in a hammock?

Absolutely at a desk! I could not focus in a leisurely environment – work is work. My desk is in the living room, but I may consider having a separate small office room in the future. I bought an electric desk this very spring so that I can change positions (sit or stand). This is a great relief to the spine – I wish I had done that earlier

And while we’re at it, how many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer?

On average eight to nine hours, I think. On a busy day I reach ten or, very rarely, twelve hours, but I avoid this. Nights and Sundays are free. I feel it is fashionable nowadays to work overtime, even at night, but, unless I am forced by circumstances to do otherwise, I prefer to earn a little less and let my health deteriorate a bit slower.

What about staying fit? How do you manage to squeeze in exercise in your busy life?

First of all, I have always walked a lot. My parents have never had a car, so it is natural to me to go shopping or run errands on foot (or by bike) wherever practicable. Last year I started a swimming course – to overcome my old fear, but it still is another type of exercise. This spring I leased a horse and I try to visit the stable twice a week. Finally, I exercise at home every few days – I started this to replace swimming when the pools were closed due to the virus. I must admit my life has become even busier with those activities, but at least I was never bored during the lockdown.

As for your eating habits, do you usually cook or order/dine out?

My husband and I almost always eat at home because it is a lot cheaper. I prefer to save this money or spend it on swimming and horse riding. We eat out a few times a year when we wish to celebrate. I also go to a restaurant when I meet with my best friend who lives in another town. That is fine and sufficient. Cooking is all right – so much better than cleaning the house!

All right, let’s get back to the business side of things. Do you mostly work with agency clients or direct clients?

Those are mostly agencies, but I strive to acquire more direct clients because the rates I can get from them are much better. The BP20 online conference has provided me with lots of inspiration on how to do wise marketing as a sole proprietor.

Do you feel your local language services market is the same or different from markets in, say, Western Europe or the Americas?

I think it is different. A technical difference is that in Poland we mostly get paid for a standard page of source text (which is usually 1500 to 1800 characters with spaces), while foreign clients pay per word. While we are at it, the average rates in Poland are lower than in Western Europe, but I think this reflects the overall tendency: Poland is still a developing country, so we tend to earn less than our Western counterparts.

When you go to a conference and attend a presentation or workshop on marketing by a professional or trainer who is not familiar with the situation in your country, how useful is their advice? Do the principles or strategies presented apply to you?

As usual, it depends. Some do apply and some do not. Still, I think an inspiring speech always gives the listeners a couple of ideas to try out, even if they need to be modified first.

How is the translation/interpretation profession regarded in your country? Are you happy with how local clients perceive language professionals? Do you feel that they are aware of the expertise and efforts required by this profession?

Again, it depends. I feel agencies are aware of this but many of them still do not pay satisfactory rates because otherwise their customers would go away. Direct clients are sometimes unaware of the nature or amount of my work, but so far I have been lucky to meet polite clients who respect my effort and appreciate or at least accept explanations even if they do not understand every nuance of my work.

Do you mostly work with local or international clients?

Definitely local direct clients, mostly domestic translation agencies and a few international agencies which operate in Poland. However, the latter resemble big corporations from other industries, with their pressure on time and cost cutting.

Is there a strong community of linguists in your country? Do you have an active translators’ or interpreters’ association?

Yes, we have several associations. I know four. The Polish Translators and Interpreters’ Association (STP) is the oldest one, having been established in 1981. The most famous organization is the Association of Sworn and Specialized Translators and Interpreters (TEPIS), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. I am considering joining TEPIS because I now have ten years of experience as a specialized translator, which is required to join if you are not sworn. There are also two new organizations: the Polish Association of Conference Interpreters (PSTK), which is very active and organizes numerous events for members and non-members alike, and the Baltic Society of Translators and Interpreters (BST), which is a regional one, operating in northern Poland. There is also an annual conference for our profession. Thus, I think that our community is relatively active and this aspect is gradually improving.

We’re approaching the end of this interview and we would like to find out a couple of things about Poland. What is your favorite city or region in Poland? What should a tourist who has never been to Poland visit first?

It is difficult to give a short answer here because I love several places in Poland. Some of them are not the most famous ones though.

I recommend the Bieszczady Mountains in south-eastern Poland, a few quiet spots at the seaside and Mazury – a huge lake district with the biggest lake in my country. Tourists are often advised to visit Warsaw, our capital city, and I admit that its old town is impressive. I prefer it to the Cracow old town, although the latter is so famous.

In my region, Upper Silesia in southern Poland, I adore the Diocesan Sanctuary of Our Lady the Humble in Rudy Raciborskie. It is a basilica located in a historic former Cistercian abbey and surrounded by a beautiful park and huge forests. A bike trip there is a great way to calm down and spend time close to nature.

Naturally, I also like a dozen of studs and horse riding centers, but I will cut it short and just mention the world-famous Janów Podlaski stud which breeds Arabian horses and is 203 years old. It is beautifully situated by the Bug River, near the border with Belarus. I love those surroundings so much.

ELI-lang referencje
The Janów Podlaski Stud. Fot. Eleonora Joszko.

And finally, if you had to give a single piece of advice to young language professionals, what would that be?

Do not start with horribly low rates only because you feel you are not experienced enough and do not deserve or would not get more. Certainly, you need to assess your skills honestly and learn all the time, but do respect your work. Otherwise, your clients will get used to low prices and it will be very hard to raise your rates afterwards. We must all work to the benefit of our profession and ensure the right quality of translations. Therefore, do not make that mistake from the very beginning.