Editor, proofreader and translator Heather Sills (website: www.heathersills.com; LinkedIn: heathersills) joined SENSE in July 2023. I invited her to tell us about herself and her life in the city of Ghent in neighbouring Belgium. She accepted with enthusiasm and here is what she said.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and where you are from?
I was born and raised in Norfolk in the UK, before heading to Durham University to study Modern European Languages and Cultures. This included a year abroad, during which I was an intern for a translation agency and a hotel booking website in Berlin. After I graduated, I moved to London, where I got my first ‘real’ job as an editor for a tourism website, part of the renowned Frommer’s Travel Guides. From there, I moved to Thomas Cook, where I managed the hotel content. I then took a bit of a sidestep by becoming the product owner for an in-house content management system. Everything I’d learnt about how to create, edit, translate and maintain content went into being the business representative, working in IT, putting forward requirements, testing and giving feedback on new functionality, and managing projects end to end. This explains why a lot of the books and other texts I now translate and edit are on business and IT topics, as well as on tourism/travel and global development issues.
What brought you to Belgium?
When I was working in London, most of the software development team were based in Ghent. So, I was living out of a suitcase, travelling back and forth on the Eurostar. Eventually, I realized that after eight years in London it no longer felt like home. And I absolutely loved Ghent – it was the picture-perfect, café-strewn, cobblestoned town that I’d always dreamt of living in. It made me feel European again. So, I asked if I could be based in Ghent for a year. My boss agreed, I packed a slightly bigger suitcase, and – eight years later – I’m still here!
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Do you speak all of them? Do you translate all of them?
I spoke German fluently when I was in Berlin. So, when I started trying to pronounce Dutch, everyone thought I was German, which led to some fairly amusing conversations… But after studying it at Ghent University and throwing myself into the deep end by working at a software company with no other internationals (quite rare in Ghent these days), I’m now told I speak Flemish like the proud Gentenaar that I am!
The main language I translate from is Dutch, as a lot of my clients are based in Flanders or in the Netherlands. But I also translate from French (mainly for clients from Brussels who’ll send you a jumble of Flemish and French without even realizing it) and from German. A lot of the English-language texts I edit are written by native Dutch speakers. I think it helps to know the language they were thinking in when they wrote it. It makes it much easier to work out what they were trying to say and then you can rewrite it in a more natural way.
You’ve been working for different companies for a long time, but a few years ago decided to set up your own business. How is that working for you? Do you like freelancing?
Indeed, I’d been translating and editing in my spare time ever since I was a student, but as I climbed the ladder in my day job, I realized I was spending too much time in meetings and not enough time doing what I really enjoyed. It was actually the coronavirus pandemic that gave me the push I needed. I noticed that companies were much more open to using freelance staff working remotely. After all, everyone was working from home. So, I quit my job and started offering translation and editing to clients around the world. There have been plenty of ups and downs, but each one has taught me something new. I love that I get to work on some wildly different topics and for all kinds of companies, from start-ups to publishing houses to government institutions and universities. No two weeks are the same. Plus, there are far fewer meetings…
Do you have any preferred hobbies?
Unsurprisingly perhaps, I like anything to do with languages and for me a big part of that is travelling and experiencing the country of the language you’re learning. Languages aside, I also love cooking and I am very interested in nutrition, fitness and well-being.
How did you learn about SENSE?
A fellow translator posted a link to a SENSE event in one of the Facebook groups I’m in. Even though I don’t live in the Netherlands, I thought it would be a useful organization to join. As far as I’m aware, we don’t have an equivalent in Flanders or anywhere in Belgium.
Blog post by: Paula Arellano Geoffroy