Wednesday, 24 August 2016

And a butterfly fluttered by ….

A butterfly fluttered by ....

I have often wondered how my life would have turned out if my grandmother hadn’t loved to swim in the sea. By the time she was eighty, the briny at Brighton was a tad chilly for her, so my mother whisked her off to a newish resort near Tarragona. I decided to join them for a week. That short holiday resulted in my returning to work at the resort the following year. I was hired to deal with English, French and German clients. My Spanish improved considerably and I later moved to the Balearic Islands where I met the father of my child. Years later, after we had returned to the UK, said father and I launched a word processing bureau on the south coast of England – at a time when the technology was new and exciting. From Granny’s swimming holiday to a thriving business in new technology!

The bagatelle effect
I sometimes ask myself whether my experience was unique. I believe - and almost feel guilty about it - that I allowed my career to ricochet chaotically back and forth like the steel ball in an old-fashioned bagatelle board, triggered by random events and random meetings. But perhaps my experience is not so unusual. I decided to ask a few colleagues in the translation industry whether they had made their life-changing decisions by design or simply through happenstance. The stories my colleagues told me illustrate the randomness of life and how chance events created new openings. But every one of these stories illustrates how a knowledge of other languages was the key to those new openings.

A visit to an Irish pub in France
After her degree British-born Vivienne was offered a chance to work as a lectrice in France. Not a pub regular, she nevertheless found herself one day with friends in an Irish pub in her French town. There, she spotted an ad for a trainee translator. She got the job, stayed in France, married and had children, and now works freelance from her home in France.

Girlfriend’s friend’s mum sees an ad
A newspaper advertisement spotted by the mother of one of Mark’s girlfriend’s friends saw the two girls setting off for Sweden to teach English, leaving Mark forlorn in England. But he visited frequently and found that he picked up Swedish quickly. Later, he learned the language formally. Mark pursued a non-language career in industry and technology but was able on many occasions to use his Swedish in his work. On early retirement, he set himself up as a technical translator. By the way, the girlfriend became his wife.

It’s whom you meet
When your plan is to become an interpreter between French and Dutch, your future partner can scupper the best-laid plans. French-born Denise really did not want to learn English, and was happy with her Dutch and German course at the Sorbonne. But she was financing her studies with a part-time teaching job and one day her future - English - husband bounced into her workplace. She eventually came to England and entered a career in teaching. Now – 30 years later – she is working as an interpreter and translator – but between English and French rather than Dutch.

When parents try to mould you
Marlene’s parents wanted her to become a lawyer and she went along with their plans. But she hated every day of her studies in the subject. Alongside her legal studies, she was able to study Indology and Islamic Sciences for a while. She eventually became a lawyer and worked unhappily, first as prosecuting counsel, and later in a large law firm. But her mother became ill and she left to look after her parents. Much later she met her husband and with him she was able to escape the mould her parents had forged for her. With him, she embarked on many business activities, including translation. They run a translation agency and a software business, and she was able to indulge her lifelong ambition to run a wool shop. She is currently studying for an MA in Buddhist studies with a view to translating more in that field. She never looks back on her legal career – except as background for tackling legal translations.

The paper boy delivered the wrong paper
Ryan was a teacher, but after six miserable years was looking for a change. But what? Fate took a hand. Ryan’s parents always took the Times. One day the Daily Mail was popped through the letter box by mistake. In the vacancies section was a recruitment ad for a solicitor in London. Despite not being qualified in law, Ryan applied for the job and got it – on the promise of hard work and fast learning! He stayed there for 20 years. During his time in the City, a translation agency he had dealt with asked him if he’d be interested in working with them. He was. He later took and passed the DipTrans exam – eventually setting up as a freelance translator and interpreter.

As for me: apart from my original language study, very little of my life was planned and my situation today is really the result of life and the people I met, buffeting me from one situation to another. After working in administrative positions for many years – along with the period running the word processing bureau, which meant that I was an early adopter of the technology translators now use, I became a freelance translator. I could do this because in 1991 when I remarried, I finally had the stability at home to risk a period without income. That period without income never actually materialised because I was earning reasonably from translation from the start.

What will you be when you grow up?
When we are children the entire world is open to us. An engine driver, a footballer, an opera singer, a doctor, a dancer: children base their dreams on what they see and hear around them. As we grow older we are shaped by our education, our family circumstances, our developing interests. Talents appear that may or not be nurtured. Parents and teachers set out life plans, sometimes ignoring the wishes of the child. But once adult life begins, the parameters start to multiply and the chaos that is life begins.

I am certain that most people – not just translators – find that their careers are shaped by other people:
parents, future partners, colleagues at work. Chance meetings, illnesses, events, marriage, and children are all factors that influence decisions.

You may be able to start out on life with a master plan. But flexibility in that plan is essential to allow it to bend and shape as life happens. And when that butterfly beats its wings (or in my case when Granny took a dip in the Med) it really does have an effect on other peoples’ lives.

(c) Lucy Brooks
Lucy Brooks is a translator and entrepreneur in the United Kingdom. She thrives on her work and enjoys keeping fit.
This Article first appeared in The Clearing in 2015

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