Revving up for a better future


by Simon Berrill

Imagine there was a way of becoming a better translator that cost you nothing more than a little time. Imagine it also gave you access to help, advice and support with your freelance career. Imagine it even helped you make friends. Well now you can stop imagining, because this amazing system not only exists, it actually works!

I am talking about something that two other Spanish-English translators – Victoria Patience and Tim Gutteridge – and I call Revision Club, or RevClub for short. Since we started it nearly three years ago, it has not only improved our work, it has helped us with changes of career direction and provided us with all kinds of invaluable advice. And, although we rarely meet in person, we have become good friends.

RevClub started when I wrote a post on my blog called “The Quality Conundrum” ( wondering how I could ever improve the quality of my work when, at least in the Spanish-English market, it was rarely possible to charge high enough rates to pay a colleague to revise my translations before I delivered them. Victoria read this and it struck a chord with her. She felt she was at a plateau in her career. Her work was OK, her clients were OK, but she knew she needed to up her game. She had been talking to Tim about this on Twitter and she had an idea. Why didn’t the three of us get together and revise one another’s work on a regular basis to see if we could benefit from that? As she puts it, she decided to take the risk of coming across like a complete weirdo and wrote to Tim and to me to make the suggestion. To her amazement, we both agreed, and RevClub was born.

So how does it work? Every week one of us sends the other two a piece of our work. They then revise it and return it to us with feedback. We revise in a bit more detail that we would if it was a commercial job, raising issues as points for discussion rather than making “corrections”, and putting in lots of comments. Having your work dissected in such detail takes some getting used to. You need great determination not to shrug off the changes and comments your colleagues make because the idea is to take them in and learn from them. But if you can do it, there can be tremendous benefits for your work. One of the things we have discovered is what I call the phenomenon of the “Translator on my shoulder”, which usually happens when I’m working on a sentence that’s particularly tricky to translate. I end up imagining Victoria or Tim standing behind me and saying “No, you can’t write that. It won’t do” until I come up with an acceptable version that really sounds like English.

After doing these regular revisions for some months, we decided to add another element to RevClub. Once a month we do our own translation slam. That means taking it in turns to pick a text which we all translate. We then get together on Skype and discuss our different versions. Seeing the way a colleague handles a tricky problem is a fantastic way of learning and picking up new ideas.

RevClub has been through its ups and downs and there have been times when we have had to relax the four-week cycle of three revisions and a slam because of holidays and personal commitments. But the important thing is that we stay in touch and never give up trying to keep things going. In fact, we are now more connected than ever, with our own WhatsApp group, where we discuss what we are doing in our various bases – I live near Barcelona, Tim can be found either in Scotland or Andalusia and Victoria is in Argentina. Discussions can range over all sorts of issues – difficult clients, career plans, tricky translation problems or just our families.

It was not until about a year ago that we actually met in person, which came about when we started to take RevClub on the road to tell colleagues about what we do. I attend the Mediterranean Editors and Translators conference every year and we decided to present it there in the form of a workshop. MET agreed, provided that we tried out the workshop beforehand, in Barcelona. Tim came to do the trial run with me and then we repeated it at last year’s conference in Girona, this time with all three of us together. It was strange finally all being in the same room after getting to know each other so well online – perhaps this is a symptom of modern life. But before long everyone was talking about the chemistry the three of us seem to have together. Since then, Victoria and I have given a presentation at the ITI conference in Sheffield and Tim and I ran an all-day workshop for Scottish ITI members near Edinburgh.

Everywhere we have found great enthusiasm for our idea and lots of people saying they would like to follow our example. Strangely, though, we know of only a few other groups. This may be because of the difficulty in finding the right kind of colleagues to work with, or just the fact that some people let life get in the way of the RevClub commitment. If you are going to start one, it’s definitely a good idea to have at least one member of the group who is prepared to prod and poke the others to keep things going.

The benefits are enormous. A RevClub is high-quality, hands-on CPD, almost free of charge. The only cost is time, and even this is not a heavy commitment. The ordinary revisions take less than an hour a week and the slam a little longer because of the discussion. The total time taken up by RevClub over the four-week cycle would be around four hours, averaging out at around an hour a week. I think most people can spare that time. All three of us agree that our work has improved and that we think a lot more about our translations. We have also been encouraged to increase our rates, and to move in different directions with our work. And, although this wasn’t the original aim, we have all even had paid work out of it, hiring one another to revise translations for clients. All that is without mentioning the great fun we’ve had together since we started.

So how can you start a RevClub? If you know of two like-minded colleagues, just ask them, the way Victoria asked Tim and me. And if names don’t immediately spring to mind you could apply to join the Facebook group I set up as a way of matching translators to potential revision partners (
It could be the way to rev up your future!


About the author:

Simon Berrill is a translator working from Spanish, Catalan and French into English and specialising in cultural tourism and particularly wine. He has given presentations and workshops at the MET and ITI conferences and he writes a regular blog called Only Human Translations. Born in the UK, Simon lives near Barcelona with his wife and son. He loves travelling and hates narrow-minded people.

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