Category Archives: Methods & Materials

Meditation mantra

Letting go is never easy. After working on a 200+ page project over the course of 4 weeks, you cannot help but get attached. Or should I say, I cannot help but get attached. Sending off the final version can be bittersweet.
Allow me to explain.

Recently, after handing in a project that had kept me busy for a full month, the client sent back an email to inform me of the changes he had made. The top of the list was his inexplicable decision to replace certain adverbs with the adjective form of the same word. When I looked at the final document he had sent with the changes, I realized that he had quite truly hit search and replace, turning at least half of the document into incomprehensible gobbledygook. When I told him that an adverb cannot simply be replaced with an adjective without rewriting the sentence, he assured me that a “native speaker” had been present when the changes were made and he was confident. “A native speaker of what?” is what I wanted to say but resisted. Luckily most translators don’t get any credit for their work. In this case, I hope that my name is nowhere near the text.

It can be so difficult to release a translation and send it out into the world. As soon as that text leaves your hands it is no longer yours – but then they say it was never really yours to begin with…


Tax Class

It is tax season again – though for freelancers in Germany, when is it not tax season? (Income tax returns are due by May 30 but Umsatzsteuer {VAT} has to be filed quarterly if not monthly.)

I took a tax class in Berlin last year and it proved to be a tremendous help. I learned all the ins and outs of what’s expected of freelancers in Germany in terms of taxes. And then I hired an accountant. At least now I know that it truly is worth the extra cost.

Upcoming tax seminars at Berlin’s Volkshochschulen (VHS):

  1. When: Friday March 25, 2010 6:00pm – 9:15pm
    and Saturday March 26, 2011 9:00am – 4:00pm
    Where: Frankfurterallee 37, Friedrichschain-Kreuzberg
    How much: 39 €
  2. When: Saturday May 14, 2011 9:00am – 4:00pm
    and Sunday May 15, 2011 9:00am – 4:00pm
    Where: Schulstraße 29, Pankow
    How much: 48.60 €

To charge VAT or not to charge VAT, that is the question

To charge VAT or not to charge VAT, that is the question. Many freelance translators I know in Germany have been asking themselves that very question lately. It is that time of year.

Of course, freelancers who earned more than 17,500 EUR in 2010 are required to tack the extra 19% onto their invoices in 2011 – known as VAT or Umsatzsteuer. Those who earned less or are just starting out have a choice.

Some people worry about scaring off clients when they make the change and start charging VAT. Your business clients won’t mind the extra charge though since they get the same amount refunded to them in their own tax return –  just like you get the VAT you pay for business expenses refunded to you. That is actually the single biggest advantage to taking the VAT leap. If you are planning any major business purchases (computer, software etc) this year, it is definitely worth your while to get that 19% back.

A major disadvantage, of course, is that the laws in Germany concerning VAT tax code are extremely confusing. I filed my own taxes in Germany for years until I was responsible for VAT. As a result, I had to hire an accountant. Unfortunately, the amount of money I had to pay my accountant was significantly more than the amount I was reimbursed from the tax authorities.

Back in 2009, I wrote about some of the exceptions concerning VAT and freelance translators. It is not all that well-known in Germany (even among the tax authorities themselves) that a law is in place that says services provided to business outside of Germany but within the European Union are exempt from VAT. And that includes translation services.

That means, if you – as a freelance translator in Germany – work exclusively for business clients outside of Germany, then you save yourself the trouble of having to charge, collect, and pass on the 19% VAT but you can still get all of the VAT you pay on business purchases refunded to you. And that can be very good for you freelance business.

Invoicing German-style

Writing invoices as a freelancer may seem straight forward enough. The German tax authorities, however, have quite a long list of things that freelancers are required to include on invoices – some of which is more logical than others. We’ll start with the basics:

  • Translator’s name and complete address
  • Client’s name and complete address
  • Invoice number (must be consecutive!)
  • Invoice date
  • Brief description of service (translation) provided
  • Date that service (translation) was rendered (separate from invoice date even if the dates are identical)

Freelancers in Germany who earn more than 17,500 € per year are no longer regarded as “small businesses” (Kleinunternehmer). As a result, the list of details to include on invoices is much longer starting with 19% VAT tax (Umsatzsteuer) as well as:

  • Translator’s VAT tax ID number
  • Client’s VAT tax ID number
  • Invoice amount before VAT tax (net)
  • Total invoice amount with VAT tax (gross)

For more information about who is responsible for paying VAT in Germany, see my post from last year: Tax nation.

Tax season may very well be behind us, but by including all of the necessary information on your invoices throughout the year will definitely help things run smoothly come next spring and the next tax season.

Words per minute

Words per minute? Most translators know their word count per day or per week, but per minute?

In a profession that pays by the word, it is definitely worth a translator’s while to increase her word count per minute, and the quickest way to do that is to learn (or relearn) touch typing.

After years of typing above all English texts on a German keyboard, I decided to revisit typing class and get my muscle memory back in shape. Luckily, I found just what I was looking for online.

The lessons are short and simple. A few minutes a day is all it takes. Progress is quick. Whether you use an English or German keyboard the online typewriter can help.

I for one noticed immediate improvement in my typing and, as we all know, every minute counts when you’re paid by the word.

In defence of the semicolon

I spent the afternoon defending a semicolon. My opponent asked if it were perhaps a typo. I assured him it was not. He reminded me that it was a colon in the original. “I am aware of that,” I replied. As many are prone to do, he assumed that my English translation would adopt the same punctuation as his original German text. Translating a text, however, is not “a matter of words only…a matter of making intelligible a whole culture” as Anthony Burgess once wrote; it is also a matter of punctuation.

The laws governing punctuation are not universal. Perhaps I was always drawn to German because the language is accepting of the comma splice, which is something I always got wrong on my English papers in high school. The German writer, on the other hand, seems to have a special affinity for the colon. These are just two opportunities where my own partiality for the semicolon is put to good use, which I am quite willing to defend if need be.

Here's How…

Looking to change your location, if only for a short time? Anyone can take a working vacation and here’s how…

This past week I have been writing about my recent working vacation to London. I’ve already covered the most important and realistic advantages and disadvantages to a working vacation. But don’t let the disadvantages discourage you. There are ways to work around them. It all starts with the planning. If you are prepared for a real working vacation you may never go home again.


The possibilities for a working vacation are only limited by your imagination. The first step is to make some decisions and narrow your scope. You need a location. It could be a beach get-a-way or a city adventure; it could be half away around the world or the next town over.

It is probably not a good idea to choose your dream location for a working vacation since you will actually be working a good amount of the time you are there. I prefer to take my working vacations in a place that I have been before, that way I’ve got the main tourists sights already out of the way and I can start delving deeper.

One way to ease your decision-making is to consider your lodging options. Instead of a hotel you’ll probably want to rent an apartment or a room, especially if this is going to be an extended stay (or longer than just a few days). In order to cut costs you may want to look into possibilities for house trades. Then there are your friends and family you may want to visit, which you can easily turn into a working vacation. Keep your ears perked and your mind open to unexpected opportunities. When my friend in London announced she was looking for a dog-sitter, I jumped at the opportunity. I spent 2.5 weeks in one of my favorite cities translating, all at the cost of a couple of outings to the park with my canine companion.


The seasons and weather certainly need to be taken into consideration in planning when to take your working vacation. Perhaps more important though is your work load. If you have a busy season you may want to be in your familiar surroundings for that. A slow time in your work schedule could be the perfect time for a working vacation and a chance to shop around for new clients. My experience tells me that I travel best when I have a long-term project on my plate. London was my chance to work on a large book translation, which will be occupying most of my time for the next few months.


Part of the planning phase needs to be who is taking this working vacation. Again the possibilities are endless. Don’t feel that partners and/or kids have to stay at home. They can come too, of course, as long as everyone understands from the beginning that you will be working full-time (or part-time if you choose). With kids it might be best to combine it with a visit to family or friends where other people can help with child care while you work.

Or leave the family at home. You could think of this as a business trip. Especially if you are planning on working on a long-term project, a break away from the distractions of family may be just what you need to boost your productivity or make some progress. I spent 2.5 weeks in London on my own. My husband had enough to do back in Berlin and it was a nice break from my routine in all respects.

Another option is to take a trip with fellow freelancers or friends. That way you can work and play together in your new location.


A freelance lifestyle requires quite a bit of self-discipline. Well, a working vacation may require more discipline than even a freelancer is used to. In order to maintain productivity and to resist all those temptations lurking right outside your door, make a work schedule and stick to it. But be sure to add some fun things to that schedule. You can set daily goals and only when those goals are met do you head out for some sightseeing or lounging.

To avoid hassles later, look for a copy shop and post office and other facilities you may need upon your arrival. Then when you do need those things you will know right where to find them. It will save you time in the long run when you find yourself in a pinch desperately in need of a print-out, a copy, fax or whatever else. I spent one full day in London trying to print out a contract for a client and get it mailed! I had been ill-prepared but learned an important lesson in the process.

Research your new location before you arrive. You can find out if there are any special exhibits, shops, businesses, clients and more that you would want to visit during your stay. Knowing a little bit about your location before your arrival will save you time and energy later.

As you can see planning ahead is a large part of a working vacation and being prepared could make all the difference. But don’t forget to leave room for the unexpected. As with any form of travel, a working vacation is often most enjoyable when you open your mind to new possibilities. So why not change locations, if only for a short time.

My next working vacation may just be over the Christmas holidays – I’ll let you know…

Some Vacations are for Working: Part 3

I apologize that this post is a few days late, which brings us to today’s topic: disadvantages of a working vacation.

I just returned from my working vacation. And of course, working vacations are ripe with advantages for the freelancer, as I covered in my last post. But there is also a host of disadvantages you should be aware of:

Countless new distractions. A new location comes complete with new sites to see, people to visit, and more. Finding focus and managing your time could be much more demanding than ever before.

Costs. Though it is possible to save money on travel by planning a working vacation, there are still costs to be considered like the cost of lodging, food, transport to name just a few.

Inconvenience. Taking leave of your normal working environment usually also means leaving behind some of the things you’ve come to rely on, including a printer, fax machine, car, and more. It means that some things may take longer when you need to seek out a copy shop or post office etc.

Communication. Time zone changes and/or long distance phone charges may mean that your clients will have trouble reaching you.

What about the family, your partner, the kids, the dog?

The good news is that there are ways to work around these disadvantages. Check back tomorrow for tips on how to plan your very own working vacation.

Some Vacations are for Working: Part 2

So many freelancer writers and translators rave about the freedom the lifestyle provides, including the freedom to work from anywhere – read anywhere with computer and Internet access. But how many of us actually take advantage of our freedom? And how many of us continue to sit in a home office at the same desk day in and day out?

As you may have read in yesterday’s post, Some Vacation are for Working, I am on a working vacation in London at the moment. I love working as a freelance translator and I love traveling; a working vacation is the perfect opportunity to combine the two.

Here are just some of the advantages of combining business and pleasure in one working vacation:

Save money. You do not need to take time off or sacrifice an income while traveling. Take your work with you and earn money wherever you may be.

Get to know a new place like a local. A working vacation usually means you can stay in a place longer than a traditional vacation allows. Instead of a few days why not spend a few weeks or even months in a new location? You’ll get to know your destination much better than any conventional tourist would.

Network. Why go some place where you can meet long-distance clients face to face or even secure new clients with a one-on-one meeting. Or you could meet up with colleagues you’ve met online or make new contacts along the way. A new location means new networking possibilities.

Brush up on your language skills. As translators we need to constantly work to hone our language skills, and one of the best ways to do that is through travel. A working vacation could be a great opportunity for translators to spend some time where their second or third languages are spoken.

Get motivated. Sometimes a new workspace in a new location means new-found motivation and inspiration. Traveling may just spark creative ideas or even business models for your freelance career.

A change of location, if only for a short time, brings with it countless advantages. But you also need to be prepared for the challenges you may face. Check back tomorrow for the disadvantages of a working vacation.

Some Vacations are for Working

Translating Berlin is on a working vacation in London. Now, a ‘working vacation’ should not be confused with ‘a vacation spent working’. Allow me to clarify: the latter is perhaps a planned family vacation in which mom brings her laptop. She does not leave the hotel room because she is too busy working. The little time spent with the family is spent arguing about how she is working the whole time and not on vacation at all. (You may as well have stayed at home.)

That would be a vacation spent working.

A working vacation, on the other hand, is designed for productivity. It means traveling in order to work, or moving your workspace to a new location for a short time. Imagine a writer renting a nice cottage in the countryside in order to get a bit of writing done.

I am currently in London and I am working full-time everyday just as I would at my home office. The difference is that for two weeks I get to spend my breaks, evenings and weekends exploring a new city – or I can bring my laptop with me and do some work while out and about.

A working vacation can be a very productive break from your routine but it does require a certain amount of discipline. The key is to plan your time – and plan it wisely.

Check back tomorrow for a list of the advantages and the disadvantages of a working vacation. And then some tips so you can make it happen too.