What Happens When Translators Go on Autopilot

Personally, I do not believe specialized human translators who actively use their brains will ever be replaced by machines. But if you put your brain on autopilot and work like a machine, then you could be at risk of becoming some kind of zombie cyborg competing with full-fledged machines! Here are some common problems I have seen in myself and other translators when we go on autopilot and do not think about what we are doing.

When you put your brain on autopilot in my favorite sport

Do you see the similarities in this hilarious video? This is what a translator who accidentally quoted too short a deadline while on autopilot looks like trying to catch up!

When I put my brain on autopilot and blindly trust the GPS

Have you ever done this? I feel so stupid when I show up late to a meeting or event because I blindly trusted my GPS and was too lazy to spend two minutes actively using my brain to think about where I was going! I type an address on the GPS, don’t look at the map at all, and press go, whether in the car or on foot. Sometimes something goes terribly wrong. I get confused. I have to pull over and frantically look at the map. Other times, if I just slow down, take a deep breath, and use my brain actively, I can study the route I will be taking for two minutes and I’m good to go. Even though the GPS is on, I know where I am and where I am going, and I am not as prone to getting lost.

This is exactly what I propose you do in your translation business to avoid going on autopilot: Stop yourself. Slow down for a moment. Don’t act without thinking. Take a deep breath. Use your brain actively. Examine the context, situation, and conditions around you more closely. And then, after you have all the information you need to make an informed decision, put in a conscious effort, know where you are, and know where you are going.

Quoting a price on autopilot

X number of words equals price Y—done.”

Hold the phone! Is the text within your grasp? Do you have the subject matter knowledge and expertise required to translate it? How complex is it? Is it a list of words or running text? Approximately how long has it taken you to complete similar projects? How long do you think it will take you this time? How much do you aim to make per hour? How important is the text to the client? What do you think it is worth to them and what do you think they are willing to pay for it?

Quoting a deadline on autopilot

“4,000 words? Delivery on Friday (two days)—done”

Hold your horses! What if the client doesn’t accept your quote until Thursday? Isn’t it better, then, to quote X number of business days following confirmation? Your daily output will not necessarily always be the same for all types of texts. Think about how long this specific project will take you. Double check your calendar to see if you will have enough time. Think about and find out how urgent it really is for the client before you bend over backwards unnecessarily.

Translating a term on autopilot

“Source language term X equals target language term Y—done.”

Wait a second! If you put yourself in the shoes of the specific target group, do you understand what this term means? Have you checked whether it corresponds to standard terminology used by native speakers in the relevant industry?

Translating a sentence on autopilot

“I translated the words—done.”

But is the sentence effective in communicating the intended meaning optimizing any calls to action? Is the information clear and easy to understand? Has the sentence structure been adapted to target language conventions?

Translating a document on autopilot

“I translated each sentence—done.”

Did you adapt the punctuation and check how the text flows as a whole? Did you check it in its final layout, beyond the CAT tool’s sentence-by-sentence structure? Examine it as a whole and see if there is any room for improvement once you get a better feel for the overall context and the role each part plays in the whole.

Sending and forgetting on autopilot

“I finished a project, now on to the next one.”

Hold up! How will you ever improve if you don’t know or care what happens to a text after you deliver it? And you could be missing out on opportunities to contribute to higher quality and a better reputation. Don’t just send and forget. Forward any questions and concerns you might have. Flag anything you aren’t sure about. Leave alternative suggestions where applicable. Ask to see edits, offer to review any in-house changes the client makes (I don’t mean for free, but be proactive). Ask the client if they are satisfied. Ask how the target group responded to it.

Running your business on autopilot

“When I receive a project, I take it. Then I rest until the next one comes. Done.”

Listen up! A business on autopilot is only focused on the present. A sustainable business model where you use your brain actively is focused on long-term improvement. If you want to command higher rates in the future, find better clients, and consistently grow your business over time, you have to set aside some time now to invest in the future. This works the same as the other points above: Stop. Take a deep breath. Analyze your current situation. Analyze the market. Figure out where you are and where you are going. Take action. Invest in strengthening your specialization. Invest in networking with potential clients within your area of specialization. Update your website. Be strategic about where, when, and how you do all this. That’s using your brain actively to run your business as opposed to running it on autopilot!

I hope you found this helpful. God knows I have done these things myself in the past and I kick myself every time! But awareness is the first step. One of the biggest problems is when you do these things unconsciously. And, of course, keep in mind that my comments about translating a term, sentence, and document, and on sending and forgetting, are largely based on my own experience with translations of corporate communications for direct clients. Nevertheless, I would venture to suggest that all of these points are highly relevant for translation agency projects as well. Sometimes it’s easier to spot autopilot behavior in others, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the bad guy. Colleagues collaborating on a project can benefit from reminding each other, playing a constructive role, and keeping each other on their toes.

What do you think? Have you kicked yourself after going into autopilot? Or facepalmed when you notice someone else doing it? Was there anything that helped you steer clear of cruise control? Please share in the comments!

Header image: Pixabay

Study resources for translation certification

Study resources for translation certificationOur team leader Helen has been a busy bee compiling a list of resources to help translators interested in taking the ATA certification exam. Even if you are not seeking certification, we felt there are many useful resources here we would like to share with you—from exam guidelines & translation tips to English & Spanish language, technology and copyediting resources. Use them to hone your craft and please let us know if you found them useful.

This list was reblogged with permission from Gaucha Translations blog.

From the ATA Certification program

From the WA DSHS Certification program

ATA Computerized exam

What is translation?

Articles on how to approach translation

English resources

Bilingual references

  • Word Reference
  • Linguee
  • Word Magic
  • Google Translate and Proz are not approved resources for the ATA computerized exam. No interactive resource (where you can ask a live question on a forum) is approved. The resources listed above are OK.
  • Click here to see the official ATA guidelines for computerized exams.

Plain Language

English copy editing training

Canada copy editing (includes certification)

Medical copy editing (AMWA has a certification program)

Resources from other translation certification programs

Copy editing tools to produce clean documents

Other training on translation, technology and other

Readers, would you add anything to this list of resources? Have you used any of these resources and found them useful?

Header image credit: tookapic

5 pitfalls to avoid in your freelance translator web copy

by David Friedman

5 pitfalls to avoid in your freelance translator web copyImagine you are your own ideal client and you stumble across your translation website. Would you be able to find out everything you need to know from the website quickly and easily? Are the benefits clear enough to answer questions like, “What’s in it for me?” or, “What makes this translator different from all the other translators out there?” I’d like to share some thoughts and insights about pitfalls I have sought to avoid while working on my own website which I hope can help you attract the interest of more clients with your website.

Please bear in mind that this advice may not be universally applicable depending on your language combination and market. My new website is still under construction, I am not a copywriter and I do not offer services to fellow translators.

Unclear specialization

Don’t: List 15 different fields in no particular order and don’t mix up text types (corporate communications, technical documentation, legal documents, etc.) and industries (real estate, IT, construction etc.)
Do: Pick something clear and concise people will remember you by. It should be short enough to fit into a tagline and clear enough for people to instantly know what you are good at. Combine text types and industries as well instead of one or the other, e.g. “I translate technical documentation for the automotive industry,” or, “I translate corporate communications for the IT industry.”
Get over: Being afraid you will miss out on work that does not fit 100% perfectly into the way you have formulated your specialization or for an industry you have not listed. If anything, you appear more credible, because people are more likely to believe you are among the best at one or two things than 15. This credibility also builds trust, making it more likely people will ask for your honest opinion on whether you can do a good job on another kind of text or make a referral. (In that case, it is important that you are honest and realistic about what you would in fact be well suited for and when the client would be better served by a referral!) Honing in on a specific industry also helps you decide which conferences to attend, which associations to join, which CPD activities to participate in and where to focus your marketing.

Failing to mention the benefits of your location

Don’t: Put yourself in competition with the whole world unnecessarily.
Do: Tell clients how your location benefits them, such as allowing overnight delivery from New Zealand, or availability to meet in person for a free consultation. It’s hard to be the first choice for your language combination and specialization in the whole world, but it’s not hard to be among the best locally, or use your location to stand out from the competition in other ways.
Get over: Assuming your location is a handicap if you don’t live in a big city in your source language country. Find benefits such as leveraging different time zones or being perfectly positioned for adaptation to the target market.

Failing to leverage your native variety of your target language

Don’t: Compete with everyone else in the world who translates into your language.
Do: Offer translations into your native language variety and texts adapted for international audiences. For example, you could offer translations into Argentine Spanish and into international Spanish. You have just positioned yourself ahead of and distinguished yourself from all the other Spanish translators in the world who translate into a different variety of Spanish for clients targeting the Argentine market, while simultaneously catering to clients who are more interested in a neutral variety not targeting one specific market.
Get over: Assuming you will lose out on projects that aren’t in your variety of your target language.
Hint: Don’t presume to master other varieties of your target language on your own! If you are American, collaborate with an editor from the UK if your clients want international English so you can work together to avoid both Americanisms and Briticisms and make the text as accessible as possible to a wide audience.

False assumptions about what clients care about

Don’t: Assume they care a whole a lot about your life story.
Do: Focus on how your services benefit them.
Get over: Yourself! You aren’t applying for a job. You’re showing clients how they can benefit from your services. Focus on benefits as opposed to features. People are naturally self-centered and want to know what’s in it for them.

Relying too little or too much on others for your website

Don’t: Write, translate and design your website all by yourself without any help whatsoever. And don’t hire professionals to do these things with too little input from you.
Do: Decide what you want to say, use your own voice and style. Then bring in as much professional help as is necessary depending on your own strengths and weaknesses.
Get over: Assuming the wording on your website is not important. People looking for translators are inclined to judge them by the quality of the writing and translations on their websites. After all, our way with words is our calling card.

I’m currently reading Ca$hvertising by Drew Eric Whitman, which has given me a lot of great ideas and inspiration. I especially enjoy his no-nonsense approach to advertising. He basically says that, if you have a truly useful product or service that benefits people, you should feel no shame in pulling out every trick in the consumer psychology book to sell it. It’s a whole different story if you are a fraud using tricks to peddle snake oil. Check it out for yourself if you are interested in getting better at advertising your translation services or translating marketing materials for clients.

Let me know in the comments if you found anything useful, have anything to add, or have a different opinion.

Header image credit: kaboompics

Book review: The Business Guide for Translators

By David Friedman

Book review The Business Guide for TranslatorsIt is widely recognized that there are several skills you need to be successful in translation. The fundamental skills include excellent source language comprehension, superb target language writing skills, and subject matter expertise. However, business skills are also essential, especially in today’s translation market where the majority of translators are self-employed freelancers. While reading, writing, and translation skills can be honed in language and translation degree programs, I think newcomers to the industry would be wise to work on their business skills at an early stage as well.

The Business Guide for Translators by Marta Stelmaszak provides an excellent starting point for shaping your translation business. The book is divided into five parts, each covering different business topics tailored for translators.

Part 1 introduces several fundamental business concepts, explains them simply, and shows how they are related to the language industry. Part 2 provides a diverse and powerful set of tools to analyze your business and create effective business strategies. Part 3 focuses on business management, including market research, planning, and goal setting. Part 4 starts off with several videos with hands-on tips for effectively communicating and negotiating with clients, which is followed by some additional key points in the quoting process. The final part rounds off the book with links for further reading on business practices.

One of the recurring themes of the book that resonated with me was “uniqueness”. Marta refers to uniqueness in several crucial contexts, such as in your unique selling point (USP) as a way to differentiate yourself from competitors. Uniqueness is also emphasized in the context of core competence, where you focus on creating a unique offering in what you excel at and outsource or don’t engage in weaker areas, thus adding value for clients. Uniqueness of service is mentioned as a key factor of supplier bargaining power in the section on Porter’s five forces. I personally feel that the way Marta employs uniqueness plays an interesting role in showing how we can get away from commoditization in the languages industry. Her strategies for identifying promising customer segments and selecting appropriate specializations in high demand play a key role in helping you find a USP that is profitable and well-rooted.

Another approach that intrigued me was the blue ocean strategy. As opposed to a red ocean strategy where you limit your focus to competing intensely for existing demand under existing conditions, a blue ocean strategy entails creating new demand, finding new clients, and making the competition irrelevant. Blue oceans are characterized as tranquil, uncharted territory, while read oceans have turned red from the bloody fighting of cutthroat competition. Marta also talks about shaping industry trends instead of following them in this section. All of this reminds me of the concept of reframing requirements so as to focus on showing clients what they need instead of selling yourself or catering to existing perceived needs, a point I heard in a webinar by John Niland. I’m looking forward to more consciously applying a blue ocean strategy in my business and seeing where that may lead.

I felt that The Business Guide for Translators will prove useful to translators at various stages in their careers and I certainly was given a useful reminder of some things I have read or thought about previously as well as some new tools and ways of thinking about my business.

In hindsight, I certainly wish that someone challenged me to think harder about my business the way Marta does when I was a newcomer, and I think this book can be especially useful to help newcomers to the languages industry make savvy business decisions and avoid getting off to as a rocky a start as some of us have.

The ATA Client Outreach Kit: A Hidden Gem

By David Friedman and Jamie Hartz

ATA's Client Outreach KitRecently, The Savvy Newcomer team was discussing what valuable ATA resources we could spotlight here on the blog. If you are an ATA member and are interested in growing your direct client business and/or are interested in client outreach and PR efforts to boost the whole association and profession, then at least consulting the Client Outreach Kit should be a no-brainer.

Even if you aren’t an ATA member, you can still read through some great advice and guidelines summarized on the web page without actually downloading the kit. However, you must be an ATA member to download the full kit (consisting of a customizable PowerPoint presentation for use at speaking engagements).

One of the points emphasized from the get-go if you click on the link above and read through the summary is that you need to take a completely different approach in your marketing tools for direct clients as opposed to for agencies. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that you may need to make some changes in order to take full advantage of the kit. You can check out the skills modules for more detailed guidelines on how to engage in client outreach and get the most out of the kit.

If you click on the “Getting invited to speak” skill module and scroll down to the bottom, you will find the example of a real story about an ATA member who decided to branch out and begin a series of workshops about translation and multilingual marketing in her local community. There is also a full article in the ATA Chronicle from 2009 about this story, which is a good read.

The customizable PowerPoint presentation available to ATA members contains some basic but fundamental information on the language industry, as well as talking points for speaking engagements, making it a great tool for anyone interested in reaching out to their local community to find potential direct clients and advance the status of the translation industry.

We are glad we volunteered to write this blog post to give ourselves a nudge to read through the kit again. If you have any thoughts or experiences in relation to the kit or client outreach, write a comment on this post!

We are confident that it would be highly beneficial for translators to discuss this topic. So what are you waiting for? Looking forward to hearing from you and we hope you enjoy using the kit.

Header image credit: Life of Pix
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