How and Why You Should Diversify Your Freelance Translation Business (COVID-19 Series)

This post was originally published on Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo’s blog. It is reposted with permission.

More and more translators are seeing the need to diversify their freelance businesses these days.

Entrepreneur defines diversification as “a risk-reduction strategy that involves adding product, services, location, customers and markets to your company’s portfolio.”

For many translators, the idea of diversifying their business may have never been a top priority. You may even be thinking, “I’m a translator. I translate. What else could I offer my clients?”

I get it. But being a professional translator doesn’t mean you have to fit into a box of only offering translation services. Yes, you should take the time to hone your craft as much as you can. But as you become more established, diversification is simply a smart business move.

Diversifying your freelance translation business can help you through those bouts of “famine” that so many freelancers talk about.

In fact, the current economic crisis has taught a lot of businesses the lesson of not putting all their eggs in one basket. Those who are thriving are the ones who either pivoted quickly—ƒor example, the businesses that started offering curbside pick-up or delivery or those that moved their in-person offerings to a virtual setting—or those who recognized the importance of diversification before the pandemic broke out and the economy was turned upside down.

Why you should diversify your freelance translation business

If you have not been affected financially by the economic crisis that resulted from COVID-19, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Maybe your specializations have allowed you to keep your usual workload mostly the same, or maybe you’ve already diversified your business.

I consider myself to fit squarely in both of these categories. And while I couldn’t have foreseen that my specializations (medicine and life sciences) would still be in high demand during all this—and I feel very much for my colleagues who have lost a large portion of their business as a result of this crisis—I did learn the tough lesson of having to diversify my business long before 2020.

Ready for a story?…

About five years ago, I took a bit of a chance (okay, a big one) by letting go of a client that was absolutely draining. I worked for them all. the. time. For many people, this might not seem like a problem. But the pay was not great, and the hours were long. They also didn’t respect boundaries related to weekends and vacation. I was left with no time to market my business to other clients who paid better and respected my work/life boundaries more.

After thinking about it for far longer that I’d like to admit, I made the decision to say “goodbye” to this client. I had a handful of other anchor clients who sent me steady work, and my husband and I were ready to expand our family. While letting go of this client meant that I was also saying “goodbye” to about $50,000 worth of my annual income (yes, you read that correctly), I was confident because I was making enough money at the time that I felt comfortable taking a financial hit for a several months while I looked for new clients to make up the difference in income.

Well, since life rarely works out the way we expect it to, I’ll cut this story short and tell you that my plan didn’t go as planned.

One of my other anchor clients ended up getting purchased by a larger company, and they completely stopped all of their vendor contracts that weren’t considered essential for close to a year while they reviewed their financial structure. Around the same time, I became pregnant with my daughter and my mother became very sick.

Over the course of the following year, I dealt with the challenges of new parenthood while mourning the loss of my mother.

It was a very rough year.

But it was during this time that I also learned to rebuild my business. I had never struggled financially as a freelancer like this until this point, so I felt some confidence in knowing I could find new clients. It would just take some time. I also promised myself that I would never again count on any one client or income stream to keep my business afloat.

Much like the circumstances I was experiencing (which I could not have foreseen), a global pandemic like COVID-19 and an economic crisis of this magnitude are also not something anyone any of us could have seen coming.

But what we can do is be proactive in preparing ourselves for what’s to come in the future (yes, another financial crisis will happen in our lifetimes… at least one more, depending on how much longer you plan to work).

So, instead of kicking ourselves for not diversifying our businesses sooner—trust me, it doesn’t work to keep this up and it isn’t good for your mental health either—we can turn that energy into something more productive by making a plan, even if we don’t know all the steps to make it work just yet.

The answer to the question, “Why should I diversify my translation business?” is simple.

Because it’s just smart business. Diversification doesn’t mean you’re “selling out” on what you’ve studied for years or the reason you became a translator in the first place.

Instead, you’re taking proactive steps to ensure the long-term stability of your business, both during a financial crisis and for the future.

How do you diversify your freelance translation business?

Consider, first, how you can position yourself now for the long term. You may have never thought about positioning yourself, but if you give it some thought and put some strategy behind this process, you can easily be seen and sought as an expert in your specialization/language pair or a complementary skill that you have.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to be known for?

  • What skills do you have that you can offer someone that would help them reach their goals?

Yes, translation can certainly help someone reach their goals, but what else do you have to offer in addition to being a translator?

Perhaps you’re an expert in patent translation. Your clients know it. Your colleagues know it. But you’re not just a translator. You’re an expert in a very complex field. What can you do with this?

Go back to the questions above and consider the challenges that others face with patent translation—both other translators and your clients. What challenges can you help them overcome? What can you offer, in addition to translation or to complement it, that will help them reach their goals?

Others in our professions are already diversifying their service offerings and taking advantage of their complementary knowledge and skills. I know many colleagues who offer editing, post-editing, transcreation, localization, and more. Even if you already offer several translation-related services, perhaps you’re just scratching the surface. Think bigger!

Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm ways to diversify your translation business

These ideas (in no particular order) are in addition to the typical translation/editing/proofreading services so many of us already offer. For all of these services, I suggest getting training and doing quite a bit of research before you begin offering them to clients.

  • Audio editing

  • Consulting for clients and/or colleagues (on a wide range of topics, depending on your expertise)

  • Content/editorial calendar creation and strategy, especially for businesses that need this in your target language

  • Content for language-learning apps (I did for a while, and I recommend training in teaching and—like most items on this list—truly advanced language skills to do this well.)

  • Copywriting and content marketing

  • Ghostwriting

  • Language teaching (I did this for several years at different universities, and it can help improve your language skills while you earn some additional cash. Like most on this list, I recommend training in pedagogy methods before you ever begin teaching, of course.)

  • Linguistic validation

  • Localization

  • Monolingual editing for academics and researchers, graduate students, professors, etc.

  • Multilingual design/DTP

  • Project Management

  • Social media or blog content creation in your target language

  • Subtitling and dubbing (there are loads of resources available through ATA’s Audiovisual Division)

  • Training and teaching (especially virtually right now)

  • Transcription

  • Tutoring and conversation partner services

  • Voice-over work

Almost all of these ideas require you to tap into your language skills in some way, but of course, you could diversify your business with additional services that complement language-related skills, like design, website creation, etc.

In addition to brainstorming additional services that could help you diversify your business, consider additional specializations for your translation offerings.

Research what specializations are experiencing an uptick in volume right now, and ask yourself:

  • Do any of these complement your current specialization(s)?

  • Can you start working in one of these areas right away, or will you need some additional training first?

Check out this tweet (and the comments) from Jost Zetzsche from early April for insights from colleagues.

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As you can see, there are many opportunities to be had.

While I would recommend looking at your current specialization(s) and skill set first, there’s no stopping you from branching out into a completely different area of translation that is unrelated to your normal flow of work.

Get creative!

The point of diversification is to open new doors and to allow your business to still flourish during times when client work may be lacking in any one area.

To figure out how you can best serve your current clients during an economic crisis while diversifying your business, you could ask yourself these additional questions:

  • What are their challenges and goals right now during the COVID-19 pandemic? What will they be in the future, and how can you be ready to help them?

  • Similar to the previous questions, how can you help position your clients for the future? They will be going back to work and will be working at full capacity at some point (hopefully sooner than later). Many will need to communicate differently or more often with customers or put new protocols in place that may require your skills.

  • How can you create additional opportunities to help your clients while diversifying your business? For example, perhaps you translate websites for your clients. Could you possibly learn more about SEO translation to add even more value for your clients? What about multilingual copywriting?

By diversifying your business, you are empowering yourself to handle future challenges. You also get the opportunity to see what else interests you and where you have additional (and marketable) strengths.

How have you diversified your translation business? Or if diversification is new for you, what are you excited to dive into? I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the end of this post.

Author bio

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions (ATS), a boutique translation company based in Southern California. She is also a Spanish and Portuguese to English translator, specializing in medicine and life sciences. Madalena’s interest in online marketing and copywriting has led her to write and teach about the benefits of using informational content online to attract and retain clients. After seeing the advantages of intentional and strategic marketing in her own business, Madalena now teaches those same skills to other freelance language professionals. She blogs and teaches courses on topics related to marketing your freelance translation business by deliberately building and shaping your online presence. For more information, visit


Found in translation. The invisible art of translation deserves wider recognition.

This post originally appeared on New Statesman, and it is republished with permission.

I once met a French translator of Shakespeare. My immediate reaction on being introduced to him was odd: I felt a stab of envy. This French translator, I felt, could get really close to Shakespeare; I myself, being neither an actor nor a producer, could only read him.

My reaction was, of course, perverse. Most people would think that, as a native speaker of English, I can understand Shakespeare more intimately than any foreigner. Nevertheless, I had some idea of how deeply this translator might have pondered every word of the plays he was translating. I know, after all, that few Russians have pondered each word of Andrey Platonov’s stories as I have myself. And my collaborator Olga Meerson has often pointed out that a scholar or critic can choose which passages to focus on, whereas a translator has to do justice to every word of the original; he has to think about everything.

So, translating a great writer is nearly always rewarding. And I am especially fortunate in that there are several great Russian writers, especially of the Soviet period, who are still little known in the west, and whom I have had the honour of translating for the first time. Over 25 years ago I spent the best part of four months living almost as a hermit on the north coast of Cornwall in order to complete my translation of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Yesterday Life and Fate was the number one best seller on Amazon. I feel I have achieved something.

And I know that other translators feel the same way. Here, for example, are a few lines from a recent blog by the poet and translator George Szirtes:

Translation has opened the door to new territories, new people, new understandings, new travel: a different field of recognition. It has felt good to offer new life to works in a language as little spoken as Hungarian. […]. I am glad that those I have translated have sometimes found opportunities to extend their readership to England and other English-speaking territories. So territory. I too live here. I live here with them and I like being with them.

In comparison with this sense of achievement, complaints about the invisibility of translators seem trivial. Nevertheless, if translators are, as a matter of course, undervalued, then it is hard for them to earn a living. And if it is hard for them to earn a living, then much good literature will either be translated badly or not translated at all. This matters; it is a loss to all of us.

A few days ago someone sent me an article about Life and Fate from The Economist. There is no mention of my name, but I was not intending to respond. I had, only a few days before, spent a lot of time and energy drawing attention to the BBC’s failure to mention my name in a press release for their dramatisation of the novel – and I was wanting to forget about all that and get on with my work. Then I caught sight of a review, on the preceeding page, of Is that a Fish in your Ear?, a book about translation by David Bellos. I wrote the following letter to The Economist:

Your review of David Bellos’s excellent book about translation refers to “the unrecognised importance of the craft”. Your review – on the following page – of the BBC dramatisation of Life and Fate illustrates this point very well. The review is titled “Vasily Grossman’s epic novel is transformed for the radi”‘. Nowhere, however, does it mention that Grossman’s novel has already undergone transformation from one language to another. From sentences like this you might even think that the novel was originally written in English: “The grittiness of Grossman’s dialogue becomes a little bland in the well-modulated voices of the British actors.” Yours, Robert Chandler (invisible translator of Life and Fate).

I enjoyed writing this; The Economist had presented me with an opportunity and I wanted to make the most of it. Nevertheless, what I wrote does not get to grips with this question of invisibility. Most people, after all, have some idea, if only from seeing a few bilingual restaurant menus, of how badly things can get mangled in translation; most people enjoy my story of a Petersburg restaurant that offered a starter called “beef language” – a dish more commonly known as ox tongue. Why then do so many people want to pretend that translators don’t exist?

One possible answer is that we are still in the grip of the Romantic ideal of individual creativity. We don’t like to think of great, serious works of art as being co-authored. We tend to forget about the librettists but for whom many great operas would never have been written. Scriptwriters probably get still more deeply forgotten. And even a famous writer, if he moonlights as a translator, can slip into the abyss; no less a figure than Christopher Hampton was recently omitted from the credits of a Polanski film based on a play by Yasmina Reza that Hampton had himself translated. Seamus Heaney, admittedly, was praised to the skies for his version of Beowulf – but this only reinforces my point. Beowulf is anonymous, and so there was no other author competing for the public’s attention. Only when a work of art does not demand to be taken too seriously are we willing to accept the idea of co-authorship. Gilbert and Sullivan are allowed to co-exist, and so are Laurel and Hardie. The two most popular satirists of twentieth-century Russia – Ilf and Petrov – also worked closely together, and their names – for Russians – are no less inseparable.

It is also worth adding that our Romantic view of creativity leads us to undervalue craft. After the omission of my name from the BBC press release, a colleague wrote that, “Sadly, the BBC display a lordly disdain for craftsmanship of all kinds – but especially the kind of skills which make things possible, and without which their stars and attendant orbiting egos could not shine.” This, of course, is probably equally true of most other branches of the media.

A Russian colleague said to me that translators are like rubbish collectors – only noticed when they don’t do their job. But the situation may actually be slightly worse: people often seem surprisingly eager to imagine that a translator is not doing his or her job. People who would trust a writer often do not trust a translator. Today, for example, I came across a largely enthusiastic customer review of Life and Fate on Amazon. After saying he had not found the novel difficult to read, the reviewer continued, “This is probably due in no small part to the excellent translation (at least my Russian speaking friends tell me so) although certain words or phrases do jar – would a “pike-perch” actually be what we call a sturgeon?” In reply I quoted the OED’s definition of a pike-perch: “pike-perch, a percoid fish of the genus Stizostedion, with jaws like those of a pike, species of which are found in European and N. American river”. What makes a reviewer single out one word in a book of several hundred thousand words? Why did he not first look the word up in a dictionary? The frequency of such criticisms makes many translators nervous about using language that is in the least out of the ordinary. This too is a loss.

I have, almost without exception, been fortunate as regards my publishers. My editors at Harvill, Harvill Secker, NYRB Classics, Penguin and the MacLehose Press have always made me feel that they value my work, and their editorial input has always been both sensitive and enormously helpful. But I have also been extremely fortunate in another respect: my wife – who is also my closest collaborator – has been able to support me through twenty years during which I have not once earned anything approaching an average income. Were it not for this support, I would never have been able to devote so much time to such an exceptionally difficult writer as Andrey Platonov.

In the past, I used not to speak of this; I felt ashamed. I mention it now because I think it is worth calling attention to the difficulties faced by literary translators in this country. I have sometimes joked that by the age of 70 I might at last – as the writers I translate become recognised – be earning a normal income. Most people, however, cannot afford to wait this long.

Author bio

Robert Chandler’s translations from Russian include works by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolay Leskov, Andrey Platonov and Vasily Grossman  (all NYRB Classics).  He is the editor and main translator of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida and Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov. Together with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, he has co-edited The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. He has also translated selections of Sappho and Apollinaire. As well as running regular translation workshops in London and teaching on an annual literary translation summer school, he has worked as a mentor for the U.K. National Centre for Writing.  His most recent publication is Other Worlds (NYRB Classics and Pushkin Press), a fourth collection of stories and memoirs by Teffi.

Savvy Diversification Series – Diversification into Machine Translation

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times. With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

Taking the pulse of the U.S. localization industry demonstrates what should be an economically prosperous period for qualified translators and editors. It’s true that it doesn’t sound great for the industry to be operating in what the Joint National Committee for Languages calls a period of “language crisis” in the United States. The materials distributed to U.S. lawmakers during the February 2021 Virtual Language Advocacy Days give alarming statistics: “9 out of 10 US employers rely on employees with world language skills[, and] 1 in 3 foreign language-dependent employers reports a language skills gap[ and] 1 in 4… lost business due to a lack of foreign language skills” (JNCL-NCLIS, Legislative Priorities). That is to say, at the same time that the U.S. market is feeling repercussions for its lacking investments in multilingual education over the years, qualified language professionals are in high demand, while the roles being demanded by the market are becoming ever more technological in nature. In article “Future Tense: Thriving Amid the Growing Tensions between Language Professionals and Intelligent Systems,” Jay Marciano points out, “The day-to-day work of the translator of today will be hardly recognizable to a language services professional in 2030.”

Newcomers to the industry are at a particular advantage within these circumstances. During Slator’s Briefing for their Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement, Anna Wyndham noted that experienced buyers of localization services are less likely to adopt new pricing models, while new buyers from the tech industry and beyond are more open to and indeed may expect “human-in-the-loop” pricing models based on full integration with machine translation. Likewise, savvy newcomers to the translation profession are more likely to adopt machine translation as a reality of the role, while more veteran translators may feel less incentivized to go through the disruptive change of integrating Machine Translation (MT) technology into their everyday workflows. Newcomers and veterans alike who are looking to diversify now and have their services remain relevant for decades to come would do well to incorporate machine translation before the learning curve has become so great as to effectively disqualify one from key markets.

This article outlines key MT-related services to include in your portfolio as 21st-century translators reinventing themselves as language technologists. As language technologists, your expertise in translation makes you an asset at MT-engine training, writing content for MT, and post-editing of machine translation (PEMT) stages. This article considers these services in reverse order, starting with the PEMT services that translators are most likely to perform, before shifting further and further upstream, first to writing for MT and then to training MT engines. The discussion of each service type addresses common misconceptions and key competencies so you can start developing the skills needed to add MT services to your field of expertise. Check out the additional resources section for further reading to continue your exploration of this dynamic service area.

Service #1 – Post Editing of Machine Translation (PEMT)

In Episode 49 of The ATA Podcast, “A Look into the Future of Post-Editing and Machine Translation,” Jay Marciano defines post-editing of machine translation as a “step that a professional translator takes to review and make corrections to machine translation output in the provisioning of… high quality translation[s]” (Baird and Marciano). By rights, Marciano believes that this terminology “post editor” adds specialized meaning to what is already a post editing role. To summarize, traditional translation denotes not only the invention of completely new copy, understood to be the translation of “new words,” but also the act of editing translation memory (TM) output at the segment level, the level of work involved depending on the quality of the contributors to shared, proprietary resources, and the level of match of the source segment for translation to existing segments within the TM, generally starting from 75% percent matches to above. Incorporating segments that have been pre-translated using MT adds another segment type for human post-editing, though the term “post-editing” itself is used exclusively to denote work reviewing machine translation output.

The belief that it takes less skill to post-edit machine translation than it does to produce traditional human translation is a misconception that has circulated in the translation field since the advent of MT. This misconception is tied to several factors. Among those is the outdated perception that MT produces poor quality output that is too repetitive to be interesting for humans to review. Older rules-based or statistical models indeed perform better for content that corresponds to lower levels of the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale for translation performance. The ILR scale is comprised of 5 levels, with level 2 and below indicating limited or minimal performance, and level 3 and above indicating levels of professional performance. Traditionally, rules-based and statistical models have been best geared for texts that correspond to level 2 of the ILR scale, or straightforward texts like sets of instructions produced using controlled language that leaves little room for creative interpretation. ATA certification is a mid-career certification that demonstrates that a translator performs at (at least) a Level 3 of the ILR scale, and older MT models could not at all compete with professional humans for content characterized by the abstract language, implication, and nuance that requires a human mind to be parsed. However, machine translation technology has evolved at light speed, and even if MT cannot surpass the quality produced by human translators, the levels of fluency and correspondence it is possible to achieve using artificial intelligence and neural machine translation is remarkable. The linguistic challenges encountered in this work are interesting for those who enjoy studying the intersection of human and machine-produced languages too.

No matter the complexity of the content that a machine translation engine is designed to pre-translate, MT engines are far from replacing humans. According to the ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation, this is because “Computers can be very sophisticated in calculating the likelihood of a certain translation, but they understand neither the source nor the target text, and language has not yet been captured by a set of calculations.” While the results of MT are getting better all the time, when confirmation of any degree of accuracy or polishing is needed, a professional post editor is the one to do that job. According to ISO 17100 Translation Services – Requirements for translation services of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the professional competences of translators are: translation, linguistic and textual competence in the source and target language, research, information acquisition and processing, and cultural, technical, and domain competences (3.1.3). Professionalism is a competence added to the translator competences indicated in ISO 17100 for MT post editors according to ISO 18587 – Translation services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements. That professionalism entails a knowledge of MT technology, common linguistic errors produced by MT, and Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, and the ability to carry out linguistic analysis, provide structured feedback to improve MT output over time, and interact with terminology management systems (“5 Competences and qualifications of post-editors” ISO 18587).

To undertake the linguistic challenges that post editing of machine translation presents requires a thorough understanding of key post-editing concepts and how those concepts relate to post-editing specifications. To review, specifications outline the requirements of buyers and expectations of target users that change how localization services are produced. With regards to machine translation, the value proposition of the content being produced will determine whether light post-editing or full-post editing is needed, that is, whether what the TAUS MT Post-Editing Guidelines refers to as “good enough” or “human translation” quality is needed. If light-post editing is called for, such as in circumstances in which speed of delivery takes priority over fluency and stylistics, the post editor will intervene minimally in the raw MT output to make corrections to inaccurately rendered meaning, grammar and spelling errors, and culturally offensive content. If full-post editing is called for, greater checks for consistency in terminology, product names, and mechanical aspects of the text are also employed.

Within either light or full post-editing models, discipline is key, and in post-editing, discipline is demonstrated by using the least number of keystrokes to make only the necessary corrections. Experienced post-editors can quickly distinguish among segments that are good enough, segments that require minor edits, and segments that need to be started from scratch.  Localization managers use post-editing distance – or the measure of the change between raw MT output and post-edited content – to gauge the overall quality of the MT engine and the post editor’s work and to identify instances of over-editing and under-editing. According to Silvio Picinini of eBay, low edit distances can be an indicator of both quality and productivity, since if both the MT engine and the post editor have been well trained, that should result in lower edit distances. For those who are interested in working as post editors or in training post editors, Sharon O’Brien recommends the following curriculum in the 2002 paper “Teaching Post-editing: a proposal for course content”; “Introduction to Post-editing, Introduction to Machine Translation Technology, Introduction to Controlled Language Authoring, Advanced Terminology Management, Advanced Text Linguistics, [and]Basic Programming Skills” (103).

Service #2 – Writing for Machine Translation

In a world in which more-and-more data is being authored on a daily basis than could ever possibly be translated by humans, the authors of a great percentage of that data may not be good writers at all, much less good writers of content intended for translation. Within workflows that incorporate MT, professional linguists have an opportunity to get involved before any content is even imported in the engines that produce the raw output for PEMT. Just like workflows built around human translation benefit if the source content is written for translation, workflows that incorporate machine translation benefit from increased efficiency and quality if the source content is written expressly for that purpose. Localization workflows for human translation already incorporate copy-editing of source content to promote smooth processing during translation, especially where multiple target languages are involved. This copy-editing stage decreases the need for clarification mid-workflow and prevents the extensive rework that results from misunderstandings and poor comprehensibility by identifying and correcting ambiguities and inconsistencies in source content prior to sending that content for translation.

Once post editors have a good sense for the errors that are common to a language pair, subject field, and text type, they will be more equipped to customize recommendations for how to best write for machine translation, and for certain text types and subject fields, the professional recommendation may just be that MT will not suffice. Ambiguities and inconsistencies that should be flagged prior to both human and machine translation include unclear referents, the use of synonyms, long compound nouns, and the misinterpretation of homonyms, among many other textual features. Examples of some common sources of translation errors are provided below.

  • Unclear referent: Group A and group B compared their results, and they [Group A, Group B, or Group A & B?] decided to make changes based on finding C.
  • Potential synonym use: The drying process should take so many days. Once the dehydration process is complete, do this next. [Are drying and dehydration separate processes, or do both refer to the same process?]
  • Misinterpretation of homonyms: Our earnings for this quarter are as follows. [Depending on the context, the best equivalent for “earnings” may be an equivalent that conveys one of these senses: pay, profits, returns, income, etc.]

When getting started with writing for MT, the principles from controlled language and plain language have good general rules that can be applied too. Uwe Muegge’s Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation, for instance, includes such guidelines as expressing only one idea per sentence, using simple yet complete grammatical structures, limiting the use of pronouns by restating nouns instead, and using articles so that nouns can be easily identified; and Plain Language Association International recommends that jargon be avoided and that simple words be employed (“What is plain language?”). The rules for controlled language and plain language may imply that these forms of communication are easy to use, but even identifying the myriad of textual features encompassed by these principles takes a great deal of study, practice, and experience. The Simplified Technical English, a controlled language of the AeroSpace and Defense Industries Association of Europe, for instance, consists of sixty-five writing rules in nine different categories and a dictionary of nearly 1000 approved words.

Service #3 – Training Customized MT Engines

The invention of machine translation has largely remained in the realm of programmers and engineers. Despite the noticeable lack of linguists involved in MT development, so much high-quality data is needed to train customized MT engines that getting corpus linguists involved before undertaking what can be expensive, manual data collection processes makes perfect sense. A corpus is a collection of texts that have been selected for a specific purpose. A general language corpus will include many millions of words, while a corpus of specialized texts written by experts from a specific subject field may include only hundreds of thousands of words to start. Parallel corpora of translated and aligned segments are most frequently sought when training MT engines, whether rules-based, statistical, or neural models. However, high-quality parallel corpora take a long time to build and are exceedingly hard to find in any off-the-shelf format. Because high quality parallel corpora are so hard to find, those training MT engines may turn to comparable corpora, or collections of similar texts in multiple languages, for languages with less resources.

When building monolingual corpora, linguists will be able to identify the characteristics of the most representative data to collect for each corpus upon which the MT engine will be trained. Corpora might include one technical corpus of general content written by subject matter experts in a specific subject field per language and one client-specific corpus of proprietary product documentation per language. Since MT is trained using human produced language, it therefore replicates human biases. Linguists can help identify and mitigate the race and gender biases that manifest in large data sets by identifying specific populations, geographical regions, or language dialects not adequately represented in a corpus. They can help by eliminating any content from the corpus that is not fit for use too. Thus, MT users will not be made to feel insulted by offensive language produced by an MT engine and MT developers can avoid alienating MT users. Salvador Ordorica gives several examples of high-profile manifestations of racial and gender bias in MT and how to overcome it in the article “Avoiding Bias and Discrimination in Machine Translation” published via Forbes.

Most would-be localizers need to look no further than the translation memories under their command to start getting practice managing parallel corpora. Translation memories that contain high-quality content are highly sought-after while being hard to find, and this makes quality TMs exceedingly valuable. When a single person is contributing to a TM, each segment should be tagged with anonymized client and project identifiers so that individual clients’ data can be later isolated as necessary, in keeping with any confidentiality agreements that govern the use of content produced. Linguistic patterns will emerge from overall TMs used to train MT engines if multiple clients’ content is mixed together, so producing distinguishable copy from that content is a challenge that needs to be taken into consideration as well. Linguists can help with the style and terminology guides that make producing distinguishable copy from MT possible. If multiple people are contributing to a TM, keep the number of people contained and their identifiers clearly documented with proper protections over copyrighted assets that include the ability to rate the contents according to the quality of the producer of the source and target segment and revoke access rights, as necessary. Again, take these precautions because high quality TMs make the training of MT engines much more efficient, and these TMs therefore fetch a very high price.

Pricing MT Services According to Skill

In summary, to diversify into the MT services that are already a nearly ubiquitous part of the provisioning of human translation services, translators should develop advanced skills in CAT tools, technology in general, and linguistic post editing, the ability to match services rendered with the quality expectations conveyed in specifications, and knowledge of controlled languages, corpus building and analysis, TM management at scale, terminology management, and data security. Regardless of the wide range of competencies necessary to work in MT, be aware that traditional buyers accustomed to per-word pricing models tend to see the incorporation of MT as an opportunity to purchase translation services at further discounts to TM-pricing models. As Slator emphasizes in the Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement, new buyers mean that new pricing models are possible. When working with new buyers, shift to value-based pricing models that more adequately compensate you for your rich expertise where you can. Above all, remember that in the design, implementation, and review of MT, teaching the parrot to talk is among the goals, but it is much more valuable if you can teach the parrot to say the correct thing.

Works Consulted & Recommended Resources for Further Reading

Aslan, Şölen. “9 Types of Data Bias in Machine Learning.” TAUS, 2021 Mar 22, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

“ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation: A Clear Approach to a Complex Topic.” American Translators Association, 2018 Aug. 13, Accessed 2021 Apr 1.

Baird, Matt and Jay Marciano. “E49: A Look into the Future of Post-Editing and Machine Translation.” The ATA Podcast, Episode 49, 2020 Sept 24,

Berger, Carola F. “An Introduction to Neural Machine Translation.” American Translators Association, ATA 59th Annual Conference, October 2018, Accessed, 2021 Apr 10.

“ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance.” Interagency Language Roundtable, (Links to an external site.). Accessed 2021 Mar. 30.

ISO 17100:2015(E), Translation Services – Requirements for translation services, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015,

ISO 18587:2017, Translation Services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2017,

Legislative Priorities of the Language Enterprise-177th Congress. Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), 2021 Feb, handout.

Marciano, Jay. “Future Tense: Thriving Amid the Growing Tension between Language Professionals and Intelligent Systems.” The Chronicle, American Translators Association, July/August 2020, 29-32, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Massardo, Isabella, et al. MT Post-Editing Guidelines. TAUS, 2016,

Muegge, Uwe. Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation (CLOUT). Bepress, 2002,

O’Brien, Sharon. “Teaching Post-editing: A Proposal for Course Content.” European Association for Machine Translation, 2002.

Ordorica, Salvador. “Avoiding Bias and Discrimination in Machine Translation.” Forbes, 2021 Mar 1, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Picinini, Silvio. “Going the Distance – Edit Distance 1.” eBay blog, eBay Inc., 2019 Aug 8, Accessed 2021 Mar 31. See also “Going the Distance – Edit Distance 2 & 3.”

Pro Guide Briefing: Pricing and Procurement. Slator, 2021 Apr 7, Webinar.

Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement. Slator, 2021 Mar 19, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Simplified Technical English Specification ASD-STE100. AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, Issue 7, 2017. PDF.

“What is plain language?” Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), 2021, Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Zetzsche, Jost, Lynne Bowker, Sharon O’Brien, and Vassilina Nikoulina. “Women and Machine Translation.” The ATA Chronicle, American Translators Association, Nov/Dec 2020, Volume XLIX, Number 6. Print. Also available via:

Author bio

Alaina Brandt is a Spanish>English translator with an MA in Language, Literature and Translation from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Her professional experience includes roles in terminology, vendor, quality, and localization project management. Alaina is currently an assistant professor of professional practices in the Translation and Localization Management program at the MIIS at Monterey. In 2017, she launched her own company Afterwards Translations to offer localization consulting and training services. Alaina is membership secretary of ASTM International Committee F43 on Language Services and Products and serves as an expert in Technical Committee 37 on Language and Terminology of the International Organization for Standardization. She has been the Assistant Administrator of ATA’s Translation Company Division since 2018.

How to Make Prospect Conversations Easier (and Land More Clients) with the ‘Selling Staircase’

This post originally appeared on High Income Business Writing, and it is republished with permission.

Many writers dread having discovery calls with new prospects.

Discovery calls are those first conversations you have with prospects where you discuss their need, their specific project … and hopefully, your fee.

Writers dread these conversations for two big reasons:

First, they don’t know what to say, and they worry they’ll say the wrong thing.

Second, they don’t know how to lead the conversation and increase the chances that the prospect will say yes.

In today’s podcast episode, I’m joined by Nikki Rausch. Nikki is a sales coach, author, speaker and founder of Sales Maven.

After 25 years of selling to such prestigious organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA, Nikki traded in her road warrior status to help entrepreneurs sell in a way that creates true connections and results in more closed deals.

Nikki’s approach to this discovery call is well aligned with my own, and I learned a lot from her ideas and insights.

Tell us about yourself and your business 

Nikki is founder and CEO of Sales Maven. She teaches people how to get comfortable with the sales conversation. Nikki has over 25 years of sales experience and a background in neuro-linguistic programming.

You say the selling process is often misunderstood. What do people get wrong about it? 

People often think that selling is something you do TO someone. It’s actually something you do WITH someone.

When you sell WITH someone, it doesn’t feel manipulative. It’s to their benefit.

When you sell WITH someone, instead of TO someone, the process doesn’t feel manipulative.

You don’t need to be pushy, aggressive or push on people’s pain points to make the sale. Trying to shame or convince people to buy is a waste of time and degrades the relationship.

You don’t have to be a charming, quick-witted extrovert to sell. Everyone can find a way to sell that works for them.

Many of my listeners are introverted or shy. How can they get comfortable with selling?

It helps if you have a pre-defined process that you can follow.

Nikki’s five-step framework for sales:

  1. Introduction
  2. Curiosity
  3. Discovery or consultation
  4. Proposal
  5. Close

Let’s look at a typical scenario: You get an inbound lead over email, and they ask for your rate for an ebook.

When a lead comes to you, you’re in the discovery phase of the process. Because they reached to you, you have their permission to get more information.

If all of your inbound leads start with the question, “What is your price…?” then it can help to put some pricing on your website.

Sales conversations should have a balance of power. The person who asks the questions has the power, so neither you nor the prospect should ask all the questions.

At the start of the call, you should pre-frame what is going to happen during that call.

It can go something like this:

“Thanks so much for your interest…. The goal of our call today is to find out what’s going on for you and see if we have a solution…. These calls usually take xx minutes, does that work with your schedule…? Is it okay if I ask you a couple of questions?”

Have your questions prepared so you can see if this would be a good client for you and if you have a solution that would work for them.

If someone asks for your price straight away, you can give a range. To give a more precise price, ask for a phone call.

“Ebooks can range from $xx to $xx. In order to give a custom quote, we’ll need to have a quick conversation. Would you be open to setting a time to chat?”

Nikki recommends giving three possible meeting times.

“If you like this idea, I’ve listed a few possible times below. Please pick one that works best with your schedule.

Monday, anytime between xx and xxx.

Tuesday, anytime between xx and xxx.

Thursday, anytime between xx and xxx.

If you prefer something else, please let me know what works for you and I’ll do my best to be available.”

Nikki prefers this method over having a calendar scheduling link because the language around scheduling links often make it all about you and your availability — and not the prospective client.

Once they select a time, you do the work of sending them a calendar link.

A lot of writers shy away from talking about money during the discovery call. What questions can they ask to get the information they need?

It’s hard to put together a proposal if you don’t have the money conversation.

You can ask in different ways:

“What is your budget?”

“What have you budgeted?”

“Ebooks tend to range between $xx and $xx. Do you already have an idea of what you’re looking to spend?”

You need to have this conversation before you put a lot of time into developing a quote.

Talk money with prospective clients before you put time into developing a proposal.

What can you do to make the close feel more organic?

Once you’ve completed the discovery phase, you can ask permission to move to the proposal step.

“Based on what you’ve shared, I have an idea of a project that would give you what you need. Are you interested in learning more about it?”

If they say yes, you can lay out the offer. You’ve gotten their permission.

When you put together the proposal, you can give them several options. As the expert, you need to recommend what you think they NEED, not what you think they can afford.

Present the most expensive package first, but recommend the one that fits the best.

People don’t want to be upsold to a more expensive option. But at the same time, they need to understand what they’re giving up with less expensive options.

When you get permission to send them a proposal, you HAVE to say:

“Great! I’ll have that proposal to you by xxxx. Let’s schedule a circle-back call to review the proposal and answer any additional questions you may have.”

Attempt to get that call on their calendar before you get off the phone. If you don’t, they may never make a decision.

What do we need to say during that circle back call?

  1. “Have you looked over the proposal?”
  1. “What questions do you have?”
  1. “Are you ready to move forward with this?” or “Should we move forward with this?”

Stop talking once you’ve asked that last question.

Where can listeners learn more about you? 

Nikki’s website:

Nikki’s book and ebook:

Nikki’s book The Selling Staircase teaches the five steps of the sales process. You can find it anywhere books are sold.

Nikki also has an ebook, Closing the Sale, which focuses on the last step of the selling process.

Listeners of this podcast can get a copy of the ebook for free at

Inclusive Language Resources

As professional translators, we are often called upon to produce content that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. Clients may look to us as key resources in getting their products, messages, and ideas into new markets. Upsetting target audiences by using language that is offensive or perpetuates stereotypes can be very problematic in most contexts.

Whether you’re a newcomer or veteran to the translation field, staying abreast of inclusive language best practices is a professional must. Below is a list of inclusive language resources that we have collected over time and continue to update. This list includes articles, style guides, term lists, webinars, and websites specializing in the areas of ability, age, appearance, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and religion. If there are other resources you would like to see added to this list, please reach out to us at

Please note that the content of each resource reflects the opinion and beliefs of its publishing organization.



Ethnicity & Race

Gender & Sexuality

Socioeconomic Status