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  • Laura Vuillemin

Freelance Translators and Anxiety

“Anxiety” is a term that is indiscriminately used nowadays. Many people will say they are feeling anxious when they have to face a stressful temporary situation, or when they are expecting important results (e.g., after an exam). Experiencing anxiety in such cases is normal, and sometimes even positive as it helps you surpass yourself.


“Anxiety” is actually referring to a psychiatric disorder which can have serious consequences. According to the United Kingdom National Health Service, “Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. […]”. Anxiety can even become generalized, in which case “it is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed” (ibid).


People dealing with extreme anxiety may have to seek help from a psychologist or a psychiatrist, or even require medical treatment as depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts are frequent corollaries. People suffering from anxiety disorders are not weaker than others, and anxiety can happen to anyone, depending on your background and other considerations.


I have noticed, by speaking with fellow translators, and also reading about it, that anxiety is a condition that tends to be more and more frequent in our industry. There are various reasons for that:


1. What I would call “normal” reasons, inherent to our professional status


When you become a translator, you know that you will, at some point, face the following situations:


🔸 Fear (and possibility) of losing clients, which can (understandably) exacerbate right now due to the pandemic


🔸 Irregular income


🔸 Feelings of loneliness


Many of us accommodate to this, and actually love this freedom we are so lucky to enjoy. That being said, there are days where we will be more preoccupied, or worried our clients might not be happy with our work, but these fears will quickly dissipate once we are told that our delivery was great, or once we receive a new project.


2. What I would call “abnormal” reasons, caused by practices in effect in the industry


Translators are all well aware of some agencies’ practices which can affect a linguist’s well-being and self-esteem and, thus, lead to anxiety. Here are some examples:


🔸First-come, first-served approach of assigning projects to linguists. This approach often requires you to react almost instantly, which not only makes you fear of missing requests because you didn’t click fast enough, but also creates an unhealthy competing atmosphere among linguists.


🔸Projects being assigned automatically, with only a standardized, often impersonalized, notification sent to your mailbox. More and more, no “human” interactions take place between agencies and linguists, which can make you feel like a number among hundreds of others.


🔸 No precise idea of how much you will get paid with clients who, in the case of MTPE* jobs, ask you to deduct, from your invoice, a certain amount they calculated based on your delivery and which, according to them, is not due because you haven’t changed the MT output (yes, I know a company doing this).**


🔸 Payment delays, which can sometimes be abnormally long, and will impact your ability to pay your rent or your bills.


Of course, plenty of clients are very nice to work with and value your services. Nevertheless, there are agencies which definitely prioritize profits and don’t treat translators like what they are: humans, and not commodities, who have feelings and deserve respect and fair treatment. After all, how would these agencies thrive without translators?


*Machine Translation Post-Editing.

**I usually don’t provide MT services for various reasons, but still wanted to denounce such unacceptable practice. The time linguists spend to do research, or share queries, is not taken into consideration: not updating a machine-translated segment does not mean that you did nothing and just hit Enter to go to the next segment!


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