Practice Makes Perfect

Something that's very important to me is to always continue learning. For instance, I have been learning Korean for over two years now. I started at Sejong Institute in Preston (online), where I am now taking level 5 (intermediate) out of 8. I also have a tutor via Preply I speak to on an irregular basis and as of recently, I have started to take on more lessons, aimed at daily conversation, with a focus on speech.


Which is all great and I often realise I know more than I think I do, but I still struggle to actually use the language myself due to self-doubt. And then I can't help but look back on four-year-old me.


Back then I couldn't wait to start primary school, even though I knew I wouldn't learn what I truly wanted just yet. But it was a start! (What I wanted to learn so badly? Reading, writing and English.)


By the time I reached age six, I finally learned how to read and write and I used this knowledge to start learning English on my own. I would read subtitles and try to match them to the spoken words on TV, made use of my siblings' old textbooks (due to a large age difference, they had already finished secondary school by this point), and while listening to English-language music, I would try to recognise words.


Of course this was still flawed: subtitles don't cover every single word, but they did help. The textbooks were from secondary school and as I was still in primary school, their level remained quite high or even too high for quite some time. And recognising words in a song doesn't mean you understand them. But I was young, with no responsibilities and plenty of spare time, so I read those books again and again until I understood more and more, and I would include English while playing (most of the time none of it made any sense) or while writing. By the time I was around ten years old and English lessons started in school, my knowledge was already fairly high.


Did I make mistakes? You bet. Loads, in fact. And upon reviewing my pre-lessons writing, I found a large amount of errors in both grammar and spelling, but at least I had made an effort. I tried.


When I was 15, 16 years old, I spent a week at my cousin's. She was born in the Netherlands (and had been living there again for years and years by this point) but was raised in Australia. And because of her work, she had friends from all over the world, which meant that during that week, two of her friends/colleagues were there too, one from Portugal and the other from Russia. Both of them spoke English, but they understood enough Dutch that it wasn't necessary for me to speak English. This worked out well for me, because at the time I was a little scared to speak English and make lots of mistakes.


However, when my cousin had two more visitors in the form of a Canadian colleague and his new wife, I was left with no choice: they actually didn't understand Dutch but did want me to be part of the conversation, so I had no other option but to switch over to English. And what do you know: it went fine! Despite it only lasting a few hours, it greatly helped my confidence.


In the end, I went on to study English and by now I have been living in the UK for nine years with a fluency in English, which means my work was worth it.


And now it's Korean's turn. However, just like that teenager at my cousin's table, I fear making mistakes. Of course I also have less time than I did back in primary school and I encounter much less Korean on a daily basis than used to be the case for English, which means less exposure. 


That doesn't mean I can't look back on child me and learn from her. I have less time? Fair enough, there's not much I can do about that, but what I can do is to make time, which I'm now trying to do every day. Every little helps, right? I'm not exposed to Korean that much? Well, I can't force it while I'm out and about (although my trips to South Korea have helped), but I do listen to Korean music, read SOMETHING in Korean every day via apps, watch Korean TV (though not enough), and I have textbooks, workbooks and a book with Korean stories that come with an English translation for help. It might not be as organic, but it's not impossible.


Regarding errors… Well, that remains a problem. Writing provides a bit more time to think, though I remain unsure at times. Speaking, on the other hand, remains difficult outside of class, especially when it comes to full sentences. Yet, what I knew as a child and temporarily forgot as a teen, is that there's nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you learn from them. Oh, and as long as people understand, but that's possible even when making mistakes (a large error can still be salvaged with extra information).


I have another exam waiting for me in December and soon I'll have more lessons and tutoring in which I'm meant to converse solely in Korean - we'll see if I follow my own tips.


(Oh, and of course my statement about mistakes doesn't apply to my work - in that case errors ARE a problem and must be avoided! But they do play an important part when you're starting out with learning.)


Free translations?

The easiest answer to whether you should deliver free translations when you’re just starting out: it’s up to you.

I did start out with some free work for the sake of experience and possible future collaboration, but to be fair, I could afford this from a financial perspective at the time. If you can’t, that’s a different story. I didn’t deliver these free services to companies or translation agencies, by the way, but only to ‘smaller’ clients, for lack of a better term. People, in other words, who didn’t earn much or anything at all with their texts. It gave me some experience and a bit of work afterwards, but was it worth it? Some will say it wasn’t. It did help that I could choose to translate texts I found fun and interesting.

Of course, the downside is that freelancers are more often expected to work for free or at a discount, and the more people fulfil this expectation, the more the market will start to demand this from everyone else. This is why I’ve stopped doing it myself, with a few exceptions (for example: my nephew asked me to proofread his English dissertation – he did ask how much it would be, but I decided to gift it to him instead). These exceptions are rare, however, as I now have a better idea of my worth. In addition, I get enough paid work and no longer need that experience.

Ultimately, it is up to you, but ask yourself first why you choose to work for free. Do you simply decide to do something nice for someone, or might you be a volunteer for a non-profit organisation? Or is someone taking advantage of you? Because why would your work, even as a beginner, not be worth more?