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I'm asking because I'd love to become a freelance interpreter - and I believe I have what it takes to get there - but at the same time I really couldn't imagine not having a family life, with a husband and children.

From this page it appears that about 3/4 of interpreters are female. How do they manage their time? How about what I imagine must be the constant travelling? Does it only work if you find a suitably flexible, stay-at-home, husband?

asked 19 Oct '11, 21:00

Maria's gravatar image


Fac ut vivas...!

(19 Oct '11, 21:18) Holger

Maria: If you understand German, I recommend the following song as leitmotiv:

There seem to be other professions where men/women have problems setting priorities.

(23 Oct '11, 09:19) Holger

The vast majority of female interpreters I know are like me - they travel a lot for their work AND they are raising children (actually, the vast majority of male interpreters I know also fit this description, but oddly enough nobody seems to think this is a problem ;) ).

We all find our way, as best we can. The answer you seek lies in your question, I think: you would love to be an interpreter, and you would love to raise a family. So that decides it - do both!

It definitely helps to have hubby on board as you pursue your dual goal, of course (and remember he will have goals of his own). But that doesn't mean he has to be stay-at-home dad. My own significant other travels quite a bit himself - we just have to arrange our trips so that they don't overlap.

If you want to read one interpreter's view of this, then read the post Being a travelling interpreter, mom, spouse and friend by the author of the blog In my words. I can subscribe to pretty much everything said there.

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answered 25 Oct '11, 16:48

Michelle's gravatar image


I wouldn't worry too much if I were you. Female interpreters seem to achieve a better balance between carreer and family life. Probably because we are better at setting priorities, that's the secret!

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answered 19 Oct '11, 21:29

Marta%20Piera%20Marin's gravatar image

Marta Piera ...

Reconciling work and family life is always a balancing act, no matter what you do. A lot depends also on your market. If you can live in the city that provides the majority of your contracts, finding work-life balance should not be excessively difficult. So constant travelling is not necessarily part and parcel of working as an interpreter, even freelance. If you have to travel often and your partner works irregular hours or travels too, get paid help.

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answered 23 Oct '11, 16:21

Sirpa's gravatar image


Hi Maria, I agree with everything that has been said above. Whether you will have to travel a lot also depends on your language combination and professional address. As an example: with English and German in Stuttgart, Germany, and with technical subjects you could probably reach part-time level locally when you are established in the market (50 assignment days plus preparation plus non-productive time) without having to travel a lot. The same is probably true for Munich, and when you do politics the same would apply to Berlin. However, I would think that, for example with more exotic working languages (say, in the case of Germany: Japanese), more travelling will necessarily be involved, you will work across Germany. There are other important factors: the higher the fee and the better the working conditions that you negotiate, the more satisfaction and less you will depend on "doing as many days as possible". So, one of your aims could be to develop a strategy to find the customers/the market that fit your desired work/life balance. Some additional translation work can add to the mix.

I feel a market like Brussels could be relatively predictable.

Still I have to admit that I have much benefitted from the fact that my husband is a teacher. In Germany kids are not allowed to be brought to kindergarten or the creche when they are sick. I understand this is different in other countries. When your kid has to stay home unexpectedly on a day where you have an assignment, you need a backup. As an employee you can call in sick if your kid is sick. Although absolutely legal, it is frowned upon in the case of fathers in many jobs, but it isn't in the case of teachers. So whenever my son fell sick and I had to go to an assignment, my husband called in sick (fortunately this doesn't happen more than 3 or 4 days a year, but of course the risk increases the more assignment days you have - better work fewer days for higher fees).

In any case you need regular external childcare (creche, kindergarten, school including lunch and childcare in the afternoon), and somebody who can help you out for exceptional cases where your jobs overlap with your partner's work (any grandparents around?!). Some nanny or student. If you both plan to work full-time, you might think of getting yourself an Au-Pair?

And don't be mislead: it won't be possible to do a decent preparation or other office work when your kids are around. You need to provide for childcare also for that part of your professional time, not only for when you are actually gone interpreting.

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answered 15 Dec '17, 05:25

Julia's gravatar image


You need to either have a supportive partner (this goes for men, too, by the way, for some reason no one ever asks them this), or else go it alone with help from family and shelling out a lot for babysitters/daycare. Attempting to do it with an unsupportive or resentful/jealous partner is going to end in utter disaster, there's no way around it.

It is hard. It is harder than with normal jobs with a schedule and in-office daycare and sick days. It depends on where you work and what languages you have. It is true that I turn down some travel assignments due to not wanting to be away from home for 3 weeks at a time. That is frustrating.

But when there's a will, there's a way. Being a freelancer also gives me flexibility to block off days for when there's no school, and when my child was very young and I was just starting out I mostly worked from home around naps, translating, as we did not have a creche and daycare in the US costs more than I was making at the time. I cobbled it together though with a roster of babysitters that I was operating much like interpreting clients handle their roster of interpreters- call them as needed, book them, and then pay them handsomely.

Something I like about this job- once you're established, it pays well. Well enough to afford all the things children need, and a degree flexibility if you plan right. It also pays enough to be financially independent.

I wouldn't want to have a full-time job with a young child (and staff interpreters also travel!) But I think the most important thing is to make sure your partner is supportive, and if you realize he's not, cut your losses and move somewhere relatively near your mom (you can always put your domicile elsewhere, but you'll be traveling there a lot so keep that in mind, too), or else go to Brussels.

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answered 15 Dec '17, 17:54

InesdC's gravatar image


edited 15 Dec '17, 20:06

Hello! My two cents worth as an interpreter (male), married to a busy academic, who has experienced life with small kids as a freelance domiciled and living in Geneva, then a UN staff interpreter, then back to freelancing domiciled in Geneva but living in Denmark and commuting: if you can get good childcare, there's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't work out. I totally endorse the point made already about ensuring that childcare also covers time outside the booth.

The work pays well enough and is often seasonal enough that you have plenty of time throughout the year when you can devote yourself entirely to home stuff if you so wish. Indeed, one of the frustrations of the time spent as a staffer was having to grovel for annual leave and cobble together childcare arrangements over the long French/Swiss summer holidays - never a problem as a freelance as August is generally dead as a dodo work-wise.

Living in one country and having my prof. dom. in another has forced us to think a lot harder about these issues and less than a year into the new life, it's still work in progress. My language combo is ACCC, which is very desirable on the UN market but utterly useless anywhere else so switching to a more local domicile would be career suicide. Sure, Denmark has brilliant childcare and built-in acceptance of work-life balance, which is a real luxury, but the busy Geneva autumn interpreting season was starting to take its toll on my other half by late November; it's tough having a demanding job and two kids to deal with solo on weekdays, even in Scandinavia. Hardest of all were the two-week stints away and I've now decided in principle to accept work in Geneva Monday-Thursday to allow me to get home for proper weekends and shoulder some of the sprog-wrangling burden. Similarly, when my wife is attending academic conferences, I'll block that time off and stay at home. I feel more comfortable about this sort of long-term organising of my schedule because I have been on the market a while and recruiters know me. I would be deeply hesitant about committing to international freelance commuting (paying your own travel, as I do) as a newcomer because a lot of the work days early on are last-minute and piecemeal, essentially requiring you to live locally.

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answered 14 Jan '18, 16:20

alex's gravatar image


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question asked: 19 Oct '11, 21:00

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