Six International Language Associations to Join

Language associations are a great way to connect with people of different backgrounds who share a similar appreciation for learning foreign languages. By joining a language association, you have the opportunity to engage with speakers at various levels of proficiency and practice your language skills with native speakers. You’re probably already familiar with the American Translators Association since this blog is run by ATA volunteers, but what about other international associations for languages?

Learning a new language can be very difficult and it’s also a challenge to maintain proficiency. Language associations allow you to stay proficient in the languages you have worked so hard to master while also connecting with new people.

If you’re looking to improve and increase your foreign language skills, take a look at these six international language associations you should join!

  1. The International Language Association (ICC)

The International Certificate Conference (ICC) is a non-government organization that sets the standards for a transnational network of language learners. This international language association offers foreign language teaching and learning with exchange of ideas and culture.

This association provides the following to its learners:

  • Proven expertise in projects
  • Quality assurance
  • Networking
  • Theory and practice
  • Personal development
  • Independent voice

As a platform for ideas, projects, teachers, and courses, the ICC encourages research and development in language teaching by collaboration. In addition, the ICC has a local impact, representing the field of language learning and teaching, and promotes quality in both aspects.

  1. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is committed to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at varying levels of instruction. Established in 1967, this organization now has over 13,000 members including language educators and administrators ranging from elementary through graduate education, with some holding positions in government and industry.

The ACTFL strives to advance the value of world languages and empower learners to become linguistically and culturally competent through the following strategic priorities:

  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Outreach and advocacy
  • Teacher recruitment and retention
  • Professional development
  • Research

If you’re looking to make your mark on the language education field, become a member of the ACTFL today.

  1. Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL)

The Association of Departments of Foreign Language (ADFL) supports the language, literature, and cultural studies communities in the United States and Canada. This association has a broad range of members, with representatives of departments and programs in diverse languages at postsecondary institutions.

The ADFL membership base provides a network to review the issues faced by language-related humanities fields and works to develop solutions and fieldwide policies. Through seminars, journals, discussion lists, and their website, the ADFL provides a forum for collegial exchange about important issues and legislation that affects the field of work.

Looking to find out more information about the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages? Check out the ADFL website.

  1. The Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA)

The Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) is a professional body that represents educators of all languages in Australia. This association strives to provide vision, leadership, representation, advocacy, and support for promoting quality foreign language teaching and learning.

The AFMLTA strategic plan outlines actions they intend to complete in order to achieve their goals and support their members in the following key areas:

  • Member services
  • Governance and operations
  • Leadership and representation
  • Research and professional practice

For additional information on the AFMLTA and membership opportunities, contact the AFMLTA team.

  1. Association for Language Learning (ALL)

The Association for Language Learning (ALL) is an independent registered charity and the United Kingdom’s major subject association for individuals involved in the teaching of foreign language at varying levels of proficiency. It is their goal to represent and support language teachers and their ongoing professional development. The ALL supports their members by offering opportunities to access local, regional, and national training or networking events.

Founded in 1990, ALL is run by teachers for teachers and consists of thousands of members across the United Kingdom and further afield. To learn more about how the Association for Language Learning can help to improve your foreign language skills, check out the ALL website.

  1. Association of University Language Centers (AULC)

The Association of University Language Centers (AULC) is an organization for staff working in language departments and centers located in the United Kingdom and Ireland. With approximately 70 universities as current members, the AULC provides opportunities for networking for all staff involved in management, teaching, and resources.

The major goals of the association include:

  • To encourage and foster good practice and innovation in language learning and teaching
  • Effective resource management and administration
  • To conduct regular meetings to facilitate discussion and an exchange of information on the diverse activities hosted by the various language centers
  • To facilitate contacts with university departments internationally
  • To monitor emerging international and national language standards and work to develop quality assurance mechanisms

To learn more about their membership guidelines, check out the AULC site.

About the author

Molly Downey works with the Kent State Master of Arts in Translation program. This department provides a variety of courses in foreign languages, cultures, and literatures.  

Becoming a Legal Translator

This post originally appeared on Capital Translations and it is republished with permission.

Unless you have studied Law, it is rather tricky to know how to specialise in legal translation, let alone find relevant high-calibre training. Fortunately, Roehampton University’s symposium on Friday 9th January 2015 on becoming a legal translator addressed many of the issues concerning the best ways to acquire the wealth of knowledge and skills that are vital for this crucial sector of the industry. Here are some concise ideas from the programme highlights for those seeking to enter the specialism.

 Professionalising legal translation – do or die

The conference took place on a bright and crisp winter day, with the first seminar by Juliette Scott. Although the title of her talk might have been a tad dramatic, Juliette quite rightly highlighted the problem that legal translation is not viewed as a profession compared with an airline pilot or doctor, for example, based on criteria including public recognition, monopoly over work and a regulatory body, all of which are lacking in this case; threats to the occupation were identified, such as machine translation, press coverage and translators themselves.

A quote by Lanna Castellano (1988) nevertheless laid out the reality of a legal translator’s career: “Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator; not until fifty do you start to be in your prime.”

The decisive role of academia was brought up, in particular the fact that academics can contribute to improving practice, developing innovations, transmitting knowledge and providing theoretical and professional training.

Juliette’s seminar was not short of polemic questions: how do we regulate legal translation? Should CPD be mandatory and who would oversee it? But the presentation provided clarity over many aspects, namely that the best legal translators are lawyers who have become linguists or linguists who have gone on to study law. Regardless of one’s exact career path, legal translators are themselves responsible for making their profession a profession, one of Juliette’s recurring point being it is ‘us not them’. Specifically, we need to be outward-looking and be mindful of how we dress, how we position ourselves, how our workplace is arranged and how our websites and marketing materials come across.

Finally, Juliette provided a perfect 12-step plan to professionalising legal translation:

  1. Define our status: in person, online and in print
  2. Assuage our passion for CPD
  3. Make professional bodies work for us
  4. Use Codes of Conduct as support
  5. Acquire prestige and remuneration through our actions and reactions
  6. Turn fragmentation into a strong community
  7. If academia doesn’t address our needs, let’s go into academia
  8. Support regulation
  9. Get our faces out there
  10. Change terminology (from resource/freelancer to practitioner/professional)
  11. Make sure we get the proper brief from our clients
  12. Remember it’s about us not them

The reflective translator: planning and implementing a CPD programme for legal translation

If there was one seminar that delegates could come away from thinking ‘okay, now I know what I need to do to become a legal translator’, Karen Stokes was the one to provide it.

Starting by discussing the CPD cycle (right), Karen highlighted the prime resources for translators to utilise in their quest to specialise in legal translation, the first ports of call comprising the likes of Coursera, Open University OpenLearn and FutureLearn, with examples of more specialised sources being the Law Society Gazette, the Institute of Advance Legal Studies and Lexoligy.

Naturally, professional bodies often run specialised legal courses in association with solicitors or lawyer-linguists and it is always worth remembering to check those professional bodies in the countries of your source languages, such as the BDÜ for German.

A resource raised by a delegate was Counsel, the monthly Journal of the Bar of England and Wales. Largely written by and for barristers, the magazine is to solicitors what the ITI Bulletin is to translators, featuring items of relevance to all those with an interest in the law.

How functional can/should legal translation be? 

Legal translation is the “ultimate linguistic challenge […] combining the inventiveness of literary translation with the terminological precision of technical translation,” stated Łucja Biel of the University of Warsaw, opening with a quote from Harvey (2002), but it is nonetheless an ultimate intellectual reward.

Łucja’s workshop was a rollercoaster ride through the ups and downs, and ins and outs of the field. Firstly the challenges, which can be categorised as legal system-specific (e.g. incongruity of legal terms and difference between legal systems), language-specific (e.g. semantic differences between languages) and translation-specific (e.g. constraints of bilingual processing such as interference, simplification and explicitation). Thus, in the case of translation into or out of English, legal translation is often an operation between two languages as well as two legal systems (the judge-made common law in the England and Wales – which places importance on precedents – versus the code-made civil law on the European continent – which gives more weight to statutes), perhaps somewhat mitigated by the harmonisation of law within the European Union.

The debate of accuracy versus naturalness was broached, with delegates being introduced to clear references citing the importance of how accuracy should take precedence over style in legal translation, in other words substance over form.

The majority of legal translations are non-authoritative – merely informing about the content of the source text – but it is naturally vital for translators to know when a legal translation is intended to be authoritative, as such target texts are as equally authentic as source texts and vested with the force of law, as is the case in multilingual countries and organisations.

According to Šarčević, the ideal legal translator should have: thorough knowledge of legal terminology and legal reasoning between the source and target legal systems; the ability to solve legal problems, analyse legal texts and foresee text construal; and possess drafting skills and a basic knowledge of comparative law and methods. Alas such a translator does not, or at the very least is unlikely to, exist. Lifelong learning is therefore required.

“An acceptable legal translation is one that contains correctly translated terms, utterances that have been translated correctly according to their pragmatic function, and textual conventions that are familiar to the intended readers of target texts and conform with target-language genre conventions”

(Nielsen 2010: 33)

In terms of qualifications for legal translators, in the absence of a law degree, the IoLET’s Diploma in Translation was cited as an ideal example given that candidates can sit a legal module.

Łucja proceeded to tackle some of the facets within legal translation that we need to consider, such as the wide usage of synonyms (‘par/nominal/face value, for example), the legal vs. semi-legal nature of terms, variation in terminology for civil and criminal procedure, geographical variations (UK vs. US law or even English and Welsh law vs. Scots law), terms and their collates (such as to bring an action and to file a lawsuit). Delegates were introduced to examples of set legal formula (e.g. in witness whereof), a corresponding formula of which most likely exists in the target language and should be sought.

A more curious aspect of legal language in English is repetitions, such as ‘by and between’, ‘terms and conditions’ and ‘any and all’; translators into English should therefore be aware of such phenomena and use them accordingly. Translators out of English, on the other hand, need to recognise these and more than likely simplify them in their target language, as continental systems avoid synonymy and a redundant translation would be confusing to a continental lawyer. Elements of navigation in legal English were also raised and legal translators should understand the importance and correct usage of terms such as ‘hereinafter’ and ‘thereof’.

A further fundamental aspect of style in legal language is dealing with disjunctive syntax and ordering semantic units logically. This primarily concerns matching prepositional phrases with the nouns and verbs to which they refer, such as ‘receipt of the Order by the Contractor’ being more logical than ‘receipt by the Contractor of the Order’, the latter sounding as if the Contractor belongs to the Order of the Phoenix from the Harry Potter books.

The seminar then dealt with strategies and techniques of legal translation, namely the question of equivalence: functional, descriptive or literal?

Functional equivalence is appropriate where two legal concepts are identical or similar between the two legal systems (such as ‘homicide’) and can be resolved with the approximation of a source term by the corresponding legal term. This is regarded as the ideal solution by many scholars owing to its communicative value.

Descriptive equivalence takes a legal term in the target languages and modifies it to clarify the difference, thereby bridging the knowledge gap. An example would be translating the German ‘Prokurist’ as an ‘authorised signatory’ or a ‘registered holder of power of attorney’.

Literal equivalence is, as the name suggests, a word-for-word translation, calque or a loan translation. This technique is deemed acceptable when the meaning is sufficiently transparent, it coincides with a functional equivalent and when it is not a false friend, such as the Polish ‘użytkowanie wieczyste’ being translated as ‘perpetual usufruct’, an English-language term typically used only by Polish lawyers to describe the Polish version of public ground lease.

Finally we looked at trends in legal translation, notably the fact that demand is expected to increase significantly on account of the mobility of EU citizens and the implementation of an EU directive on the right to translation and interpreting in criminal proceedings. This is coupled with the development of memories, such as the DGT Translation Memory and terminology databases, such as IATE and UNTERM. To put any fears to bed, Łucja asserted that legal translators are unlikely to be replaced by machine translation and post-editors soon, not least because of confidentiality issues and the lack of parallel corpora to train software.

Much like the conclusion to Juliette’s talk, Łucja provide some action points for translators to work towards to specialise law: build up knowledge of the source and target legal systems, terminology, phraseology and style.

Translation for the EU: making the impossible possible

In her overview of legal translation within the context of the European Union, Vilelmini Sosoni presented the either loved or more likely hated phenomenon of Eurospeak in bridging the gap between cultures and expressing new and pan-European concepts through neologisms (newly coined lexical units such as ‘flexicurity’ or existing lexical units that are bestowed a new sense such as ‘cohabitation’) and borrowings (introduction of words from one language to another such as ‘stagiaire’, ‘comitology’ and ‘third country’, all derived from French).

Once again, awareness of principles of concepts in common and civil law was emphasised, but also in this context thorough knowledge of the EU’s Institutions, decision-making and legal framework is required.

Delegates were introduced to the concept of intertextuality, that is the idea that most EU texts are recognised in terms of their dependence on other relevant texts, hence many texts will refer to other decisions, directives, and so on.

One revelation came when Vilelmini explained how EU legislation does not mention the term translation; rather translations are referred to as language versions owing to the principle of linguistic equality, whereby all official EU languages are equal or equally authentic.

Thoughts from the legal translator’s desk

Lawyer-linguist Richard Delaney rounded off the day by delivering some overarching ideas with delightful wit on, above all, client care – namely don’t treat clients like idiots and moan about them on Facebook groups, rather be helpful and go the extra mile – and setting rates – not competing on price in legal translation especially.

Summary

It would not be fair to claim that in 2015 the quantity of CPD courses and training for translators is poor, however we can challenge the quality of it. This full-day symposium on legal translation was one of the highest-quality and best-value-for-money (at £95) professional events that I have ever attended.

Packed full of practical and concrete information, and lacking the theoretical fluff that dominates many CPD events nowadays, I have come away from the conference having satisfied the two objectives that I intended to: understand the primary techniques of tackling legal translations and identify the resources for long-term training to specialise in legal translation, and then some.

If you are thinking of specialising in legal translation and would like to know more about what was learnt from this event, or perhaps you are already a seasoned legal translation and concur with or contest some of the ideas above, please do leave a message below.

Author bio

Lloyd Bingham MITI runs Capital Translations in Cardiff, Wales. He works from Dutch, German, French and Spanish into English, specialising in business, marketing, technology and education.

Lloyd has spoken at various conferences on professional standards in translation and is a tutor on ITI’s Starting Up as a Freelance Translator course.

Translators and Interpreters: The True Influencers

In this article, I will define influencers as those who make change happen, who are catalysts of the developments they seek. In translation and interpreting, that is up to the professionals in the field. This is true of any other profession, since the professionals understand their field best. According to the authors of The General Theory of the Translation Company, we need a bit more debate to move forward as a profession.

The translation profession has advanced since the early days of Saint Jerome and Marco Polo, through the celebrated interpreters of the Nuremberg trials, and the legislative and certification accomplishments our colleagues have led us through in the United States since 1964. At this point, nurses assume healthcare interpreters will be certified, judges assume that interpreters are certified, and contracting officers expect translators to be certified or be able to demonstrate equivalent skills. We have shown that we are professionals.

What are the new challenges that lie ahead, as we work with clients in today’s world?

Due to the limited resources many companies have today, there is a new emphasis on leveraging all the skills employees bring, including their ability to write in languages other than English. That means that translation is not always outsourced to professional translators. We will be asked to review the text that is either translated or written directly in the non-English language by the employees. To be ready for this task, it helps to pick up some editing skills from our colleagues in editing associations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (for English) or the Spanish Editors Association (for Spanish). Being able to discuss the text from an editor’s point of view will help us in our conversations with clients.

Bilingual employees review our translations for suitability because they are in contact with the public who will use our translations. We need to learn how to respect their point of view and accept some of their input while defending some of our choices.

As interpreters, now that our work is remote, we have different scenarios than we were used to. For example, when we were trying to connect with the Spanish speaker in an attorney-client interview, we realized that the attorney would not be able to dial that specific number. I was able to solve the communication problem by translating a quick email, translating the email with the response, and so on for a couple of hours, the same time I had reserved for the appointment in the first place. I became a transterpreter.

When we are asked to rush through a translation, we need to help our clients understand the risks involved. Can we translate in our sleep? If we ask for help, and we work with a team, then we have to spend some time unifying the text. Partial deliveries of a project can mean that we have to go back and send updated translations. The more our clients understand these issues, the more they support us. I usually tell my clients I will charge them extra for worse quality. They limit the amount of rush translation.

When we interpret on a remote platform, do we ask how we will communicate that it is time for us to say something? Can we turn our cameras on to get their attention when we need to? Do we get the information we need ahead of time to prepare for our interpreting assignments? Even having the material that the attorney will read out loud during the appointment is helpful so we can sight translate and follow along.

How do we prepare to shine tomorrow? Do we watch our health and stamina level and make sure we don’t overextend ourselves? We do very poor work when we are overly tired, and our clients are the first to notice.

How do we manage to keep track of it all? When I studied to be a teacher, my professors told me I could delegate everything that would not have my imprint. Could someone else format our text so we can use a CAT tool? Can someone else do our bookkeeping? Can someone else help us with our website? Can someone else troubleshoot that computer problem we are having? Would that free up our time for translation and interpreting so we can make more money on what we do well?

Do we spend time interacting with our clients so we can know them better? That will help us serve them better and help us be the ones to define our role. By doing that we will learn about interesting learning opportunities at SCORE, at the Chamber of Commerce, at the Oregon Medical Association and other places that might not give us continuing education credits but will make us much better at serving our clients.

Clients are looking for professionals who are certified in what they do, continually improve their craft, and advocate for their profession. That is what accountants, engineers, attorneys and other professionals do. They love it when we tell them, “Sorry, that day I am meeting with some government officials to discuss the profession.” We, the practitioners, define our profession. We move it forward. We, the professionals, go to the halls of government and tell them how we do our work. The future of the profession is in our hands.

Strategies for translation providers in an uncertain world… a survival guide.

This post originally appeared on the blog The translation business and it is republished with permission.

Sometimes, how we translators run our professional lives and operate our businesses seem to be under threat.

Human translators, although usually skeptical, cannot avoid observing the growing influence of machine translation and perhaps wondering how long will it be before a piece of software will put them out of work.

Then there is the emerging spectre of crowd-sourced translation, a phenomenon which is most certainly not going to go away [1].

And what about the sneaking suspicion that perhaps English will ultimately end up as a global lingua franca (at least in commerce and science) making most of the translation work we translators currently do entirely redundant? Certainly many have predicted the ultimate triumph of a single universal world language – from Stalin in the 1950’s [2] to evolutionary biologists today [3].

That change is coming to our profession, I have to say, is not really news to me. In my professional life I’ve seen the profession emerge from a local cottage industry and became a global business. In the space of a few decades translators abandoned their manual typewriters and got plugged into highly connected networks of global proportions. We can be sure that this pace of change is not going to slow down anytime soon.

One of the most insightful commentators on the evolving role of technology in the translation industry, Kirti Vashee, states it point-blank: “It is likely that the professional translation world is going to see significant disruption in the coming years…” [1]

On the upside, however, there has never been a time history when the demand for translation was as great as it is now – and the most informed opinion suggests that demand is going to continue spiralling upwards. CSA puts it this way:

“… the amount of content grows faster than anyone can translate it […] Many organizations throw up their hands in despair, realizing that they don’t have the resources or money to deal with this explosion of content.” [4]

There are simply not enough human translators and clearly machine translation and crowd sourcing are going to play significant roles in an expanding market. But there is also a strong argument that human linguists will play an increasingly important role in the emerging, but differently shaped translation world.

Small to mid-sized translation companies and independent translators are the backbone of the industry – but they are fragmented and are vulnerable to the developing changes. Paying attention to “business survival skills” in a rapidly changing market will be a priority for many.

Chief amongst these skills is maintaining (or increasing) business profitability – whatever happens. There are a number of obvious strategies: adapting to the changes is one and optimising the return from existing resources is another. In this post, I look at one approach to the latter – making better use of the skills and resources translation providers already have.

Making your existing resources more profitable.

Let’s look at how a small, imaginary language service provider, XYZ Translate Ltd, could leverage off its existing resources and become more profitable.

Like most small businesses, XYZ Translate Ltd is subject to the Pareto principle – 80% of its meagre profits come from just 20% of the work it undertakes. That means 80% of the work is often done at a loss or at very low margin. The company is not short of work, but it is frequently so bogged down with work which returns little profit, that they often miss out on better paying work because they can’t deliver to the customer’s time frames.

One trick for XYZ Translate Ltd is to break out of this low-margin trap: this means reducing the volume of low-margin work in order to free up resources for more jobs which return a higher margin.

Easier said than done? And a bit scary?

So let’s imagine that this is what our imaginary LSP did:

Firstly they looked at the margin they made on all the jobs they handled over the past year. Let’s imagine that they discovered that the most profitable work came from a just a couple of clients in a particular sector – let’s say from the waste management industry.

Why was this work so profitable? They got the first job quite by chance, but they realised they really weren’t set up for the task. Knowing that they would have to make a really big effort, they quoted high – and were fortunate to get the job.

But to keep the customer coming

  • They needed to invest a lot of energy into developing the right sort of resources and finding a reliable pool of translators who were (or who would become) experts in the field;
  • They paid the translators well for the work – and in return these specialised translators became very loyal and made themselves (almost) always available for work. This means they could always deliver on time;
  • Because the translators became so familiar with the terminology and were always kept up-to-date with the issues in the waste management industry, the amount of time-consuming research required for each new job was relatively small, and they were able to turn the work around quickly;
  • The project managers knew exactly which translators and revisers were appropriate for these sorts of jobs; glossaries, terminology databases and translation memories were all up-to-date and the translators got to know the style guides backwards.

So the clients in this sector were happy and continued to pay well because there were few issues with the translations and the work is always delivered within deadline.

But while the production processes were highly efficient and the margin on each job was fantastic, the number of jobs they got per month in this sector was tiny!

Just imagine how XYZ Translate’s bottom line would look if they even got one more client in this sector? Or two, three or four?

Pretty much by chance or good fortune, XYZ Translate Ltd had developed a highly efficient process in a very narrow field. The company most certainly didn’t set out to be experts in waste management. They developed a great area of expertise, but they just didn’t have enough customers in the industry sector to make it really pay.

How could XYZ Translate leverage off this expertise?

We might think about XYZ Translate Ltd’s small number of very profitable customers in the waste management sector as reflecting the density of such customers in the area of their marketing reach. (Not all firms in the sector would be willing to pay the sort of premium that XYZ Translate charges for the work.) To find more customers who want just the sort of service that XYZ Translate Ltd can deliver, they need to expand the reach of their marketing…

… they just need a bigger market!

The laws of probability are such that there are most certainly more customers “out there somewhere” who will be willing to pay a premium for just the sort of excellent service XYZ Translate Ltd has to offer. But expanding the size of the catchment area to find those elusive “ideal customers” is a serious marketing problem – and that costs. Tracking them down and making the sale can be an expensive exercise – especially if those new potential customers are “somewhere out there” in a different city or a different country, or in a different time zone…

LSPs like XYZ Translate Ltd usually don’t have the financial or marketing resources to assess a global market in order to target a relatively small set of more profitable customers. Every LSP and freelancer has some unique strength, skill set or a combination of different factors that will attract customers who are looking precisely for what they have to offer – if the market is big enough. As localisation sales and marketing veteran, Jessica Rathke puts it:

“Each company has its own unique aspects, be it a vertical specialization such as life sciences or legal translation.  Each company has its own history (or not), unique set of employees and unique client base.  The uniqueness in any of these areas can be exploited and communicated that will give the target audience a feel for your organization, company ethos or methodology that distinguishes your company from another.” [5]

A clear and obvious survival strategy for translation providers like XYZ Translate is to differentiate from their competitors by leveraging off what they can already do well and most profitably.

Notes:

[1] Kirti Vashee (2011), Translation Crowdsourcing,  http://kv-emptypages.blogspot.com/2011/08/translation-crowdsourcing.html

[2]  Stalin “foresaw the merger of zonal languages, into a ‘common international language which naturally will not be either German or Russian or English, but a new language embodying in itself the best elements of national and zonal languages’”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2011/aug/02/archive-stalin-and-soviet-state

[3]  The Guardian: Biologist Mark Pagel argues that humanity’s destiny is to become one world with one language. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/aug/04/1

[4] Donald A. DePalma and Nataly Kelly (2009), The Business Case for Machine Translation, Common Sense Advisory, Inc., Lowell, Massachusetts, USA.

[5] Jessica Rathke, (2011), Is Differentiation in the Localization Industry Possible?http://l10nsalesandmarketing.blogspot.com/2011/02/is-differentiation-in-localization.html

Shipping Wars — a TV course for new entrepreneurs

One of the biggest problems for people entering the translation profession is a lack of hands-on, street level business experience. Many don’t understand the value of their time, and they may have no clue how to price their work — in fact, many beginners feel embarrassed and greedy when they ask to be paid respectably for what they do. Negotiating is also uncharted territory for many, and some don’t understand the difference between pricing their own services versus a corporation pricing a manufactured good.

There are books and seminars that help novices understand and implement good principles for running their businesses, but sometimes you can learn from unexpected sources. And as the famous baseball coach Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

One interesting source for watching the way experienced independent entrepreneurs operate is the “reality” TV show Shipping Wars. The program follows several seasoned independent truckers as they bid on contracts and haul unusual loads cross country. Novice and even experienced translators could learn a lot from the way these truckers operate.

Bidding. The first thing that’s worth watching closely is the way these truckers bid on contracts. The jobs come to them the same way they do for most of us translators, over the Internet, and they have to outbid each other. I would not recommend dealing with agencies or individual clients who send out a cattle call for translators and pit them against each other in bidding wars. (Watch out for that evil expression “your best rate”!) However, you may sometimes have to horse trade with good clients, so there are things to be learned from the way the truckers on Shipping Wars bid.

Truckers constantly keep their costs in mind when they bid. Their bids are always anchored to their time and expenses. They don’t get caught up in a race to the bottom in which the proposed prices are no longer tied to anything real. If they find that others are bidding below cost or are offering prices that don’t take their time into account, they never hesitate to pull out of the bidding and look elsewhere.

As a translator, whether you’re bidding or accepting a fixed rate, you need to keep your business and living expenses in mind. If you’re competing with people who are bidding below subsistence wages, walk away and let them have the job. Once you show a willingness to work for next to nothing, the same clients will keep coming back expecting you to work at sweatshop rates.

Among the costs you need to consider when pricing and bidding is opportunity cost. This is business lingo for how much money you could have made on another job if you hadn’t tied yourself up in a badly paid one. When these truckers quit bidding and slap their laptops shut, they don’t know what the next opportunity will be, but they know it’s coming from somewhere and that they shouldn’t commit themselves to a poorly paid job just because they’re afraid the good one won’t come.

People say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but this does not always apply to a translation business. If your hand is holding one bird, it’s awfully hard to catch two more, so you sometimes have to let one translation job go to someone else so that you can catch a better one.

The higher bidder really can win. When one of the older truckers won a job over a lower-bidding competitor, he shut his laptop, declared, “You can’t outbid experience!” and took off to pick up the load. He had stated during the bidding war that he would not go below the price he wanted no matter what. He won the job by convincing the customer of his experience and expertise.

When you have a bidding war going on, instead of letting yourself be dragged down into the crab bucket, it’s better to stick to a reasonable price that meets your costs. Instead of bidding lower and lower, convince the client of whatever makes you more fit for the job. Are you certified or very highly experienced in the CAT tool the client wants used? (Or for new, more naïve clients, can you convince them of the advantages of your using any CAT tool?) Have you actually worked on the types of machines the job is about? If the job is about art, for example, have you been to professional art school?

Believe it or not, truckers have specialties just like translators do. When one of them, nicknamed “The Cowgirl”, bids on certain contracts, she makes sure clients know she’s one of the highest-rated livestock transporters. Translators, too, should always highlight their actual experience. Have you been to a chicken farm and seen an automatic chicken feeding system? There are translation clients that need your knowledge, believe it or not. A friend of mine listed his scuba experience and by surprise became the go-to translator for a scuba equipment company.

Negotiation. Once the bidding is done and the contract has been awarded, that doesn’t mean all negotiations are over. Sometimes the client “forgot something”, or “something went wrong,” and “can you just help me a little?” There are cases where a good, regular client needs a little favor once in a while, but if someone asks for a favor that demands major time, you’d better ask for more compensation. As a client roared at me when I was a beginning translator in a small Czech town, “I TOOK YOUR TIME AND YOU DESERVE TO BE ADEQUATELY COMPENSATED!” Another one said, “You can give the charity rates to charity cases!” They were teaching me a professional, self-respecting approach to charging for my work.

One trucker on Shipping Wars had to pick up a truckload from a winery. Yet, when he got there, it wasn’t ready for shipment, and the owner was there by himself. Expecting an obedient response, the owner asked the trucker to help him pack the rest of the wine. He’s a blue-collar guy after all, right? An hour or so of packing wine was not part of the contract, so the trucker demanded compensation. He and the owner horse traded, and instead of more money, he got a couple cases of great wine, but he was satisfied.

This kind of thing can happen to translators also, and we can learn from those truckers. A client sends you a project and then asks you to do something extra for free. Maybe it’s to wrestle for a couple hours in Word with a converted PDF to make it look like the original. Or it could be one of those cases where the client sends you a “finalized” text, then, when you’re almost done translating, they send you a different “finalized” text with major rewriting, and maybe they’ll even come back a third time with still another “finalized” text to replace the one you’d already translated. That kind of client is also liable to say they’ve shelved the project and don’t want to pay you. You wouldn’t believe how many beginning translators let themselves be cheated in such situations. Like these truckers, you need to demand what your full time and effort are worth.

A pig in a poke. Sometimes the truckers accept a job and find it to be grossly misrepresented. This can happen to translators too. In one episode of Shipping Wars, a trucker bid on a job to haul a number of large duct tape sculptures made by art students from the university where they were built to the tape manufacturer who would judge them in a contest. Based on the way the job was represented, it seemed doable and well compensated. However, when the trucker arrived, the sculptures were much larger than they were claimed to be, and the art students’ professor told him he had to make two runs for the agreed price instead of just one, as the contract stated. This would double the labor, time, and fuel, and bring the trucker’s profit dangerously near zero. When the trucker said double the run would require double the compensation, the professor yelled at him: “You agreed to the contract, and we’re bound to the university budget!”

There are a few issues in that situation that are relevant to translators:

1. Clients should find out what things cost before they establish a budget! If a client or agency asks you to cut your price in half because, “That’s all we have in the budget,” that’s not your problem. The client put the cart before the horse, and you’re probably better off refusing and waiting for a better managed job.

2. When a client yells at you for demanding adequate payment, he surely knows he’s cheating you. This is an intimidation tactic. Don’t fall for it. (And as you save for your future, be aware that yelling and intimidation are also common tactics among investment scam artists. If you ask for clear information about an investment somebody is pushing, and he yells at you, hang up.)

Keeping the customer on the hook. One of the truckers on the show was just minutes away from delivering her freight – a bucking alligator ride – when her customer phoned her and said his customer couldn’t use the ride because it was raining that day. “If they don’t pay me, then I can’t pay you.” This is never acceptable customer behavior. If a customer agrees to pay you for work, and you adequately perform the work, then you have to demand compensation. It’s the customer’s problem to collect from his own client. Never work for a client who makes your fee contingent on his customer paying him.

Walking away. The truckers on Shipping Wars also know when to walk away from an offer. As one husband-wife team were bidding on a job, competitors’ bids kept sinking, and more details came up about the awkwardness and fragility of the cargo, the wife finally said, “Just because we can transport anything doesn’t mean we should,” and they dropped out of the bidding.

Just because you think you can translate something, and the price is right, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Does the potential client seem iffy? Is there something wrong with the document you’re given? Once I got a document that was photographed with a cellphone, and the clearest thing on photos was the breadcrumbs from the phone wielder’s continental breakfast. As I got into the document, I found that a lot of words were cut off at the edges of some of the photos, important words like “not”, for example. There is no use in saying yes and trying to make something like that work, because the results are sure to be imperfect, and that could come back to bite you. Even if the client seems understanding at the beginning, he may blame you later, so it’s best to let iffy jobs like that go. As former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina often said, it’s important to know when to walk away from the table.

Do what you have to and spend the money to do it. On Shipping Wars, the truckers often run into unexpected complications, so they do what they have to and spend the money necessary to tackle the situation. One trucker arrived for the cargo and was suddenly told it had to be transported under climate-controlled conditions. He gave up the idea of transporting it on his flatbed, and he spent the money to rent a refrigerated trailer. The job still paid off, and he had a satisfied customer. Another trucker was hired to carry a vintage TV camera boom – a big, hulking structure – across several states. At some point he could feel it wobbling in the wind, so he stopped by a lumber yard and built stabilizers for it. That also cost him money and effort, but he got the load to its destination and got paid.

If you’re a Trados user and a client offers you a $600 job that has to be done in MemoQ or Wordfast Pro, for example, is it worth buying and learning the second CAT tool for that? Probably not, because the price of the tool would eat up most of the revenue. But what if the job were for $10,000? Would it be worth buying the second CAT tool then? Hell, yeah! Not only will it get you the job, but it will probably create a lot of customer goodwill, and you’ll be able to take later jobs from that and other clients who require that tool. It’s shortsighted to be too cheap.

A long time ago, a prominent ATA member, who is a Windows user, got offered a huge job that had to be done on a Macintosh for some reason. Did he respond, “No, thanks, I use Windows”? Of course not. He calculated the financial benefit and bought the Mac. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

Shipping Wars is just one good resource to give you a feel for running an independent business. Other resources are all around you. Ask people questions. Get them talking. There might be a gas station owner nearby who’s been in business for 60 years, through all the changes in the economy and technology. Get an oil change and ask him about his business. Talk to the granny who does catering from her house. How about the guy who snakes your basement sewer? Then there are the freelance writers and engineers. Almost any independent businessperson knows things that a new translator can learn from!

Author bio

James Kirchner is a translator working from German, Czech, French and Slovak into English. Because he works in two “small languages,” he has had to develop a larger-than-normal number of specializations, but mainly does technical, marketing and fine arts translations. James is a past president of the Michigan Translators/Interpreters Network (MiTiN), which is the Michigan chapter of the ATA. He has a BFA in Fine Arts from the College for Creative Studies and an MA in Linguistics from Wayne State University, as well as a Czech Proficiency Certificate from the Státní Jazyková škola in Prague. He has a black belt in Aikido and Karate and is an avid intermediate student of Taekwondo and Iaido.