“Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.”
– George Steiner
Good communication starts with a greeting!
Bonjour, привет and hello…
My name is Josephina Worrall and I am a freelance translator based in Leeds, UK.
After eight years of working as a translator, I am frequently asked by clients and
friends how I developed my skills and my business. What better way to help you get
to know me than by answering a few dreaded questions about myself?
What inspired you to forge a career in translation?
I first started taking French lessons with a family friend aged seven. I took to it straight away and always loved learning languages at school. I decided to study French and Russian at university and the parts of my undergraduate degree that I loved most were the translation modules. The natural progression was to then study for a Masters in translation and interpreting at the University of Bath. As soon as I started the course knew it was what I wanted to do professionally.
It sounds cheesy but understanding other languages is like a key to a whole other universe of knowledge, cultures and experiences that as a monolingual you cannot access. Translation launches so many possibilities for us all and has brought about so many encounters that I have been lucky enough to enjoy.
Have you spent time in France and Russia?
My experiences in France and Russia taught me to communicate in a way that learning in a classroom just wasn’t able to. My undergraduate degree included one year studying and working abroad, so I spent about five months studying at a university in Bordeaux in France and then five months at the University of Kuban within the Krasnodar region of Russia.
While in France I studied during the day and worked at a raclette (oozy, gooey cheese!) restaurant four evenings a week, doing these crazy long shifts until 2am. Everyone I met was so knowledgeable about food and wine. Having fascinating conversations with the customers every night was really special. I learnt so much about French cuisine while working in the restaurant and those memories (and cooking tips!) have stayed with me.
My studies in Russia were part of a far more regimented university life – four hours a day five days a week with plenty of homework – so it did feel a bit like going back to school! But the time spent visiting the local food markets in Russia was probably what helped my language proficiency the most.
The stallholders were all fascinated by me, this young non-native living in this strange industrial town, and it led to me speaking for hours on end to different people every day. There was a real sense of national pride in the food they were selling, and they were so generous with letting me sample their wares (I have never tasted such amazing tomatoes, radishes and cucumbers). A quick grocery shop would routinely take a whole morning!
Why did you choose the freelancer life?
When I first started out, I felt sure that I wanted to work for myself and not in-house. I wanted to be able to decide what kind of topics I worked on, which clients I worked with and how best to properly meet their needs.
Like many of my generation, I spent several years working in customer service roles. In fact, my first ever job was working in the hospitality industry. The focus there is on providing an outstanding customer experience and a top-notch service. These are working values I instilled in my business in 2012.
Working independently means I have the time to make the whole process a smooth one for the client. I am also aware that many businesses have never worked with a translator before, so I really try to make it an intuitive process, free from alienating jargon. After all, everything should be about making the client’s life a little bit easier.
Working in restaurants and bars and succeeding as a translator for over half a decade means that I am no stranger to fast-paced environments. Delivering copy to tight deadlines are my bread and butter (or should that be ‘gagne-pain’?), so I am very used to juggling projects.
What do you love most about your job?
I particularly love working directly with small businesses or individuals who have set up their own companies and are doing something for which they have a genuine passion. On a regular basis I talk to people who have innovative ideas and it is really exciting to be part of the process to bring their product, service or idea to a wider audience.
Translation also gives me plenty of opportunities to be creative too. I love developing marketing materials for clients that want something out of the ordinary to appeal to their target demographic – not just a word-for-word translation. I get a buzz from working on those projects and putting my writing skills to the test. Hitting exactly the right tone and engaging readers is a real joy.
Can you remember the first text you translated professionally?
Fresh out of university I worked for UEFA on behalf of a translation agency. It was EURO 2012 and I was part of the team that transcribed and translated the post-match press conferences and player interviews as quickly as possible. Some of my translations were used in the media in publications like The Guardian which was just wild to me, as a newly graduated translator.
So if you weren’t a translator, what would you be doing instead?
In a previous life while I was beginning to set my stall out as a freelancer, I had a bit of a side-hustle baking cakes and traybakes for local businesses which I really enjoyed. I absolutely love baking and I found it to be a really fulfilling diversion that helped me step away from my desk. But ultimately it wasn’t something I ever considered doing full-time.
I’d love to do something that involved introducing children to the natural world and encourage families to live sustainably. The places we can do the most good are in our local communities, so by working in outreach I am sure I could help make a difference in some small way.
You are based in Leeds. Why is this Yorkshire city ideal for you?
A lot of translators focus on the ‘digital nomad’ possibilities that being a freelancer offers, but having a local community is important to me. I love having a base in a region that reflects my personal ethics and interests.
What I particularly love about Leeds is just the unbelievable proliferation of forward-thinking and independent small businesses – you can truly live in Leeds and never visit a chain. You can socialise, eat and use services from plant shops, eco-refill shops to small breweries that are created by enterprising people all over the city. And with the Yorkshire Dales on your doorstep…what more could you want?
Essentials for getting your working day started?
I am definitely morning person, so my day starts quite simply: a hearty breakfast of Scott’s porridge and a big steaming mug of tea. If it isn’t raining (northern life), I’ll have a quick potter around the garden to check how the plants are doing and look longingly at the neighbour’s cat. Then it’s finally time to sit down at my desk, hit ‘play’ on a classical music playlist and I am good to go!
What was the last book you really enjoyed?
I have just finished reading Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, which is a memoir about a woman who leaves an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Williamsburg, New York. To read about her experiences moving into a secular society was absolutely captivating, as well as learning about the novels she secretly devoured as child. They were all stories that really inspired me as well, like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.
I then watched the recent Netflix adaptation. From a linguistic standpoint it was thrilling to hear the characters speak Yiddish – it’s an amazing amalgam of so many different dialects.
Describe your dream holiday…
I have clients in the sustainable travel or tourism and hotel industries so I always get intense travel lust. I think it would probably be a wine tasting holiday in France with friends complete with cycling, hiking and swimming…and of course, trying every local dish I could get my hands on!
What is your signature cocktail?
Everyone who knows me knows I love an Espresso Martini, so much so that I bought myself a cocktail kit and make them at home. It’s really not a Worrall family gathering without a few rounds of them!
Three phrases to describe Josephina Worrall Translation. Go!
Hmm, let’s see..
Striving to make a tangible difference for my customers.
Enabling communication across borders and cultural divides.
I think that covers it!