A Freelancer’s Diary (Things you can’t find on a CV)

After the teaching experience in Kosovo, I felt like I was ready for entering the work force. But what is more, that experience set a standard for what I wanted a job to look like. It had to be fulfilling and challenging in all the right ways.

At that time, (I’ll be saying this a lot) TV stations had already started to pop up all over the country. There was so much content in foreign language, and suddenly there was a huge demand for translators.

I was in the second year of my studies and our school system was not very “job friendly”. Many students weren’t willing to put work before their studies. But I was. So when someone asked me if I was willing to work as a translator for Klan TV (already one of the best TV stations in Albania), I said YES.

My very first translation was a movie backstage mini-documentary. Millenium Cinema used those to promote the new upcoming movies on Klan TV. I don’t remember which movie it was, but I do remember the very first lesson I got in translating TV content.

It had to be translated in a voice over version, and after they explained to me the translation format needed (The text had to be divided into sections which corresponded with the pauses or the change of speakers. The sentences should have comas where the reader was supposed to pause, etc.), they gave me the most important piece of advice.

At the time, there were few people who lent their voice for voice overs. Their voices were so identifiable and they said that while translating, I had to always keep in mind how it sounded in the speaker’s voice (one of the most well-known news anchors in Albania at the time). That piece of advice made my job so much more appealing to me. I continued to translate documentaries for a while and I loved it, but then came “Pacific Blue” and that was it. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

At the time I’m talking about, few people could afford to have a PC in their home. I didn’t have one. So, the first thing I had to learn was TYPING. It was a two days’ work for me to translate a 10 min documentary (which is approximately 10 pages.) My colleagues know how slow that is. Also, I was still at school, so there weren’t enough hours in the day and TV deadlines are the toughest I know. But this kind of intensity wasn’t new for me (teaching in Kosovo). I put in the effort, and I managed to get to a good enough typing speed.

After a while, when they were satisfied with my work, they decided to give me a TV series to translate. It was called “Pacific Blue” and it was about cops in bikes.  This time I was given different instructions because the series was going to be subtitled. At the time, the subtitling process was so much different than now. My translation version had to be in a word document, already divided into two rows with a set number of characters, and then somebody would put it on video using a character generator.

It sounds easy, but actually, when you’re starting out, it’s more difficult to translate in a subtitling format. You have to make every sentence fit the format which is like a language puzzle. It had to stay on screen long enough for the viewer to read it all, so even if there was fast dialogue, you had to concentrate all that in a sentence.

Furthermore, the language in a TV show, or movie is much different than the language used in documentaries. I was introduced to slang, and that opened a whole new door for me when it came to language skills.

There was no Google Translation back then (When it comes to translating movies, there isn’t one even now), so I spent a lot of time using dictionaries. I finally managed to find a PC and a VCR (you had to watch the video on a VHS tape which you played back and forward a lot. You spent a lot of time doing that too.)

The biggest problem though, were the power shortages. There was a period of time when the government used cut the electricity during the day in order to save it. So I was working nights again.

I was working as a freelancer, so I had to learn time management as well in order for me to get a decent pay at the end of the month.

It will sound like bragging, but from the moment I started working on the first episode, all of this difficulties seemed like a breeze. Audiovisual translation and especially dialogue translation became my favorite forms of translation. It is so dynamic, ever-changing, and it gives you the most direct access to the evolution of language & society in general.

Needless to say I never stopped translating TV content since then. Freelancing remains my favorite working style, and slang has become one of my main professional interests. Even with all the learning I had to do, the lack of resources and time constraints, I’ve always felt like I was getting paid to watch movies. Who wouldn’t want that?

Fun Trivia: I realized early on that the job was very fulfilling to me personally because of all the reasons I mentioned, but one time I was visiting an Albanian village, and when someone there heard my name by chance, asked me if I was the one who translated all those great movies they watched on TV every night. I was getting paid to watch movies, and I was helping people enjoy those movies too. As I said. Dream Job.