Why Work as a Proofreader Abroad?
Polishing Raw Stones Into Gemstones
in the Czech Republic
Summer view from the office of the author while working as a proofreader in the Czech Republic. Photo ©Pearl Harris.
Most English-speaking expats to the Czech Republic, without any knowledge of the impossibly difficult Czech language, find themselves teaching English. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is still — and always will be—in huge demand in this country.
This is what I found myself doing in 2002, on arrival from South Africa to settle permanently in this beautiful country — despite never having trained as a teacher, and with no teaching experience whatsoever. Armed only with a TEFL certificate obtained in my homeland, I left South Africa where I had spent most of my working life in the hospital environment as a radiographer. However, without any knowledge of Czech, there was no hope of employment in the paramedical field, for obvious reasons.
My first five years in the Czech Republic were spent teaching English, both at a language school and to private students at home. Having always communicated best in the written language, I longed to embark on a different career path from teaching. With Czech and English being such vastly differently structured languages, bearing not the slightest resemblance to each other, it is impossible for the golden rule of translation to be followed by local translators: always translate only into your native tongue! There simply are not sufficient English native-speakers who are fluent in Czech to assure adherence to this rule. So most of the Czech-English translations are done by Czechs, translating into their second language. Clearly, this is far from the ideal situation for obtaining quality translations.
Many websites, even those of prestigious companies, professionals, and services, were badly translated into English. The same applied to restaurant menus, public notices and travel brochures. However, the country underwent a dramatic change upon its entry into the European Union on May 1, 2004. British English is the official language of the EU, and most Czechs quickly realized that the current standard of English translations left much to be desired. The demand for perfect English language texts rapidly increased.
A whole new employment possibility opened up for me — that of proofreading and editing. The modern IT society and the universality of internet access made remote working feasible. I gave up teaching and embarked on the career of a self-employed proofreader.
Fall view from the office. Photo ©Pearl Harris.
PROS of Proofreading:
Flexitime — working at home is ideal, as one can fit in the household chores and shopping according to the work demands and without any rigid time schedules. One can work early in the morning, or late at night, just as one chooses. When it is snowing or raining outdoors, what a pleasure not to have to go out to work! My office overlooks a tranquil pond, with fields and forests beyond. Ducks swim on the pond, and occasionally a deer comes down to drink — truly an inspirational atmosphere which I challenge any city office to equal!
International clientele — the client base is not limited to one's immediate surroundings, but can virtually extend around the globe.
No transport costs — working at home eliminates all costs of getting to and from work each day.
Time to reflect — working with the written and not the spoken word is an obvious advantage. In a classroom atmosphere, the teacher is confronted with tricky questions of grammar and vocabulary by students, with no time to reflect on the correct answer. Correcting written texts allows the proofreader to check various sources, ultimately finding the best solution.
Getting to know a broad spectrum of the population — the work of a proofreader entails written contact with a vast range of people, of various ages, education, and professions. Proofreading is in demand by students in all faculties of universities for their Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral theses, authors of fiction and non-fiction, poets, musicians, pedagogues, artists, fashion designers, language school teachers, film producers, travel writers, scientists, businessmen, estate agents, IT and medical professionals, to name but a few.
In the past years of working solely as a proofreader, I have expanded my knowledge of the Czech culture and people in ways I would never have experienced in the classroom. Through my hugely varied and interesting clients, I have learned much about different topics, ranging from religion, education, history, music, business, politics, to modern technology, science, and the arts, with which I had never previously come into contact.
Humor — a proofreader encounters plenty of quirks in the language and translations which often cause much mirth. What is a job without a few laughs every day? It is extremely difficult and almost impossible to translate colloquial expressions and idiomatic phrases — usually the cause of either extreme puzzlement or hilarity to the proofreader when confronted with an ingeniously invented phrase!
Winter view from the office. Photo ©Pearl Harris.
CONS of Proofreading:
Lack of personal contact — for those who prefer the social interaction and immediate contact with students, sitting alone at home poring over a PC is probably not ideal. Teaching provides the opportunity to meet, speak, socialize with and personally get to know foreigners and their culture.
No work, no pay! — time taken off work means no income. There is no sick or vacation leave pay and no other employment benefits.
Being one's own Boss — this is proof that you can be your own harshest taskmaster. I often find myself going without tea, meals, or sleep if there is an urgent task to complete.
Proofreading Markets in the Czech Republic:
Magazines — there is a great demand for regular proofreading of articles in the business, travel, lifestyle and student magazines, which are published either monthly or quarterly in Czech and English, and sometimes in Russian and German as well.
Three students' English magazines published in Prague. Photo ©Pearl Harris.
Websites — these are another important source of work, as businesses increasingly realize the necessity for impeccable English on their websites. A poorly translated website does not create a good impression to clients.
Translators — a huge number of Czech-English translators of varying quality are actively operating in the Czech Republic. Translations differ from exceptionally good to extraordinarily bad. Such is the luck of the draw for a proofreader. Some texts obviously take much longer than others to proofread. The main source of proofreading arises from translators' texts — either from individual Czech freelance translators or translation agencies. A small proportion of Czechs write directly in English and then require proofreading of their texts.
In the Czech Republic, you can work as a freelancer on a sole proprietorship or Trade License — known as a živnostenský list. You have to file an application with the Trade License Office — known as the živnostenský úřad. Application forms are downloadable from the internet. The registration only takes a few days, after paying the appropriate one-off fee. It is necessary to provide a photo identification and a long-term visa or permanent residency. The type of work has to be clearly stated. One also has to indicate the place of business (i.e. your office or residence from which you operate your business), with either permission from the landlord or a property deed, if one is the owner of the premises. A criminal record extract is required from your home country, or any country in which you have resided for more than three years. Some embassies in Prague can provide an affidavit to this effect.
The entrepreneur is taxed and has to submit a tax return at the end of March every year. Health and social insurance returns also have to be completed annually. As a permanent resident, one can participate in the excellent public health scheme. If not a permanent resident, a foreign entrepreneur must take out health insurance known as "complex." An entrepreneur is obliged to pay into the Czech social insurance scheme.
As a freelance proofreader, you must issue invoices for each job done and keep a copy of all these for tax purposes, as well as bank statements to reflect the payments received.
Practical Tips for Proofreaders
It is advisable to find a good English-speaking tax advisor to deal with all the above-mentioned red tape and to advise you correctly on the recent laws. Some expat websites provide such lists.
It is essential to advertise, advertise, advertise! Set up a well-structured, clear and easy-to-navigate website. Doing so need not cost you anything, as many free templates are available.
Post a link to your website in the signature beneath all your e-mails.
Post a link to your website on social networks, e.g. Facebook.
Send a link to your website to all friends and acquaintances.
Advertise on locally read websites for expats.
Submit your website link to Google and other popular search engines.
Set up your home office with a printer and scanner and ensure reliable internet and cellphone access at all times.
Reply to all e-mails and phone calls on the same day as receiving them. Clients appreciate quick responses to their queries.
Working with clients:
Treat each document, no matter how long or short, how simple or complicated, with the same utmost care and attention to detail. Revise it two or more times when complete. Read the text aloud to get the feel of the language – a good text must read naturally to a native-speaker. Often, rewriting of awkward phrases is necessary, to get the text to flow naturally.
Never omit the final Spell Check — it is very easy to overlook mistakes or typos in a text.
Issue an invoice for every job done — it is usually sufficient to scan and e-mail the invoice to the client, together with the completed proofreading. Most people do not require an actual hard copy of the invoice, but it is polite to ask a new client what is preferred.
Before starting any job, count the words (MS Word Count)—divide the number of characters including spaces by 1800, which is regarded as 1 Standard Page — and quote your price per SP. Check with other proofreaders as to the current rate per SP.
Enquire, before commencing a job, whether the client wants American or British English — these are indeed "two nations divided by a common language"—as Oscar Wilde so rightly noted.
Keep to deadlines! Doing so is of utmost importance. It is better to deliver a text before the agreed deadline than late.
If you have completed several jobs for a satisfied client, ask him or her to write a brief recommendation of your work, with verifiable contact details, which you can add to your website. A growing list of glowing recommendations will ensure continuing work for you.
It will take 1–2 years to build up a regular client base. Be sure to provide each client with only the very best of your work at all times. Soon this will snowball, and you will find yourself inundated with work from all sides.
I have greatly expanded my general knowledge by all the fascinating articles, academic papers and theses I proofread daily. I realize more each day that the more one knows, the less one knows — just as is the case with travel!
Moreover, I have learned quite a bit about human nature — mostly positive. I have encountered incredible kindness from many Czech people — especially from translators and other clients who have promoted my work to others, resulting in being able to build up a successful home business. I have gained an insight into the very different Czech culture and language, through written communication with a diverse range of people and by assisting them in perfecting their English texts. I have come to recognize the most common errors in translation frequently made by foreigners and to correct them.
Last but not least, there is the added reward of assisting foreigners to perfect their English writing. No matter how good a translator, very often his or her work just needs that added touch of a native speaker to "polish" it. I am always gratified to receive thanks from a client. I sense that I have helped in some small way to promote the English language in a country which had essentially been isolated from the world for 40 years, during which time the population was forced to learn only Russian as a second language.
Today the Czechs are a forward-looking nation, eager to embrace the West and, going hand in hand with this, is the realization and enthusiasm to perfect their English language skills.
Maybe the greatest compliment a Czech translator ever paid me was that I had "polished" his "raw stones into gemstones."
Spring view from the office. Photo ©Pearl Harris.
Harris was born in South Africa where she spent
most of her life before emigrating to the Czech Republic
with her husband, Ian, in 2002. Besides travel, her
passions are writing, photography, reading, and animals.
She has a B.A. in English & Linguistics, post-graduate
Diploma in Translation and TEFL qualification. Formerly
an EFL teacher, Pearl now freelances and you can find more information on her website about her work proofreading & editing.
Pearl has been widely published in magazines
and on the web. Her travel memoirs, From
Africa to Buková, and the sequel Where
is my Home? are available on Amazon.com.