One rule of freelancing that few people recognize is that as a freelancer you’re often asked to do tasks outside your immediate comfort zone. In a traditional office job, you usually have a fairly specific job description that lists your duties, and while your boss can change your duties at any time (to a certain extent) it rarely happens without a lot of lead-up and discussion.
In the freelance world there’s a tendency on the part of clients to think of you as a resource instead of an employee. That usually means that any task within the broad outlines of your skill set may eventually be assigned to you. For my own example, working in translation is working with language and words, so I am often asked to write original things. Writing isn’t on my resume and while I think I’m pretty good at writing things like reports, it’s not what I was put on this earth to do. If it’s a long time translation services client asking, I’ll usually comply – and I’ll tell you, writing reports can be very beneficial to your translation skills.
Writing is Writing
Translation, after all, involves many of the same mental muscles as writing: You read a source or original, then you write it out in a different language. Writing a report is similar: You read some original sources, then write out the concepts as you understand them. In both cases you must organize your thoughts, bring ideas over from one setting to another, and be in complete control of the language you’re using to accomplish both tasks.
In fact, on an esoteric level you could argue that writing a report involves, in some sense, ‛translating’ someone else’s ideas into your own personal language. That’s a bit of a stretch – but it does scan in terms of skill set. Put bluntly, writing reports will build up the same mental muscles you’ll use when translating.
Kick it Up a Notch
If you find yourself being asked to write the occasional piece instead of doing your normal translation work for a freelance client (and trust me: It will happen!), you can make it really work for you in terms of developing your skills if you use original sources in your second language! This will accomplish two things: The writing task you’ve been asked to complete, and practice translation as you’ll have to read dense, technical or academic language and then translate it into your native language (presumably) so that it read coherently and naturally.
Freelancing can devolve into being a “jack of all trades” for clients. This isn’t a terrible thing as long as you’re getting paid; personally I find writing reports much easier than translation work, yet I get paid the same rate for both! Still, it’s something to monitor, because the power of freelancing really lies in your ability to say “no” to jobs.
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