So You Want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Tech and Tools

This post is the fifth and final (first post, second post, third post, and fourth post) in a series of posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received. Sometimes these questions have come from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to start.

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So You Want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Tech and Tools

When an artist sits down to begin a new project, he collects his paints and paintbrushes, selects the right canvas, sets up an easel, and sits down at a chair that’s just the right height. He also chooses the right setting to work in. What about translators and interpreters? What tools do we need to be prepared for the task at hand?

Technology

If you’ve started researching technology for translators, you might think that the only software a language professional uses is a CAT, or “computer-assisted translation,” tool. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! While a CAT tool is an advisable purchase and a time-saver in the long run, a number of other software tools exist that can be useful and beneficial to translators and interpreters. However, we’ll start with translation-specific software and work our way to other types of software you may not think to consider when equipping yourself as a translator or interpreter. The links included for each category are a non-exhaustive list—I’ve selected a few ideas to suggest based on what I have used myself and options that my colleagues and other Savvy team members have used.

Hardware: First things first! You need a device or devices you can trust. I personally prefer my ultrabook laptop over a desktop computer for quick, quality performance and mobility—be sure to select a machine with a strong processor and plenty of ram to handle many applications at a time and still operate quickly (8 or 16 GB is ideal). Other translators may use desktops and store their files securely in cloud-based storage so they can access them anywhere (say, from a tablet while on the road). Multiple monitors are also a good idea for translators, since much of our work involves comparing two documents (the source and target) or doing research in a web browser while working in a CAT tool. Having additional monitors helps reduce eye strain and the time it takes to open and close documents repeatedly, among a host of other benefits.

CAT Tools: A variety of vendors sell CAT tools from open-source to thousand-dollar project management versions, but the three I see most often are SDL Trados, MemoQ, and Wordfast. It’s important for beginner translators to be aware that a CAT tool is different from machine translation—CAT software helps you translate more efficiently and consistently by offering suggestions based on previously translated text from a “translation memory”. It can also aid your work by breaking down large chunks of text into more manageable pieces or sentences called “segments”. The makers of the various CAT tools available on the market will also offer terminology and localization tools, either paired with their main products or at an additional price.

Editing or QA Software: Editing software isn’t only for copyeditors and reviewers—it’s great for helping to check your own translation work as well. PerfectIt and Xbench are two favorites for proofreading and QA.

Invoicing: Some translators use a basic Excel spreadsheet to track projects and invoices, but you can also consider paying for an invoicing tool like QuickBooks, Translation Office 3000, or Xero to record your financial information, send invoices, and run reports.

Speech-to-text: Translators often find it useful to use speech-to-text or text-to-speech in order to dictate translations or proofread their own writing. Free versions of text-to-speech tools exist on most word processors, and Dragon Naturally Speaking is a popular speech recognition software that can help save time during translation.

OCR Software/PDF Editor: Clients will sometimes provide files in flat PDF format, which can make it challenging to estimate a word count or use the source file in a CAT tool. Software tools like Adobe Acrobat and ABBYY FineReader can help translators edit PDFs or run optical character recognition (OCR) in the course of their work.

Security: In order to comply with independent contractor agreements and government regulations, translators and editors should secure their files against viruses, hackers, and hardware problems. See this post on antivirus software for some helpful ideas. As for a backup solution to restore your data in the event of loss, options include cloud storage services, cloud backup software, and network attached storage (NAS) systems. Last but not least, don’t forget about encryption software.

Other Tools

Office supplies: Don’t worry about going to Staples and buying the latest standing desk right away, but make sure that you are comfortable in your office environment. You may not be concerned about health problems now, but if you plan to make a full-time job of freelance translation, you’ll want to invest in equipment that’s good for your health at some point! An ergonomic computer mouse and keyboard is a great addition to your office repertoire, and even if you aren’t ready to purchase an adjustable desk or exercise ball chair, you should be sure to elevate your computer screen(s) so that you won’t have to crane your neck to view it. Some companies, like Contour Design, for instance, will even offer a free trial so you can see if their products are right for you.

Then there is the matter of desk organization preferences. If your desk is too cluttered, invest in a file organizer. If you edit best by reading printed materials, buy a printer and some paper so you can make hard copies when reviewing documents. If you expect to be translating a lot of official documents that need to be notarized and mailed to clients, get yourself some stamps and envelopes. The bottom line is to purchase what you think you’ll need. Many office expenses are tax-deductible, so don’t stress over buying these small-ticket items for your office that make your work life easier or more efficient.

Print resources: Dictionaries may seem a thing of the past to anyone outside our industry, but they can be of great value for specialized translators in certain language pairs. You don’t need to have a library-sized collection when you’re just getting started, but keep an eye out for online sales or conference bookshops that offer the types of print resources you may want to reference depending on your specialty area and language.

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So you want to be a translator or interpreter…what do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge? We hope this blog series has helped to answer some of your questions about getting started and put you on the path to a successful career in translation and interpreting. Here are a few more ideas of steps to take as you get started:

  • Join ATA and get involved by attending the annual conference, joining divisions, etc.
  • Join your local professional association and attend their events
  • Take a course or courses (see GALA’s Education and Training Directory, one of the courses offered in the ATA Member-to-Member Program list, etc.)
  • Read blogs or books by translators and interpreters (The Savvy Newcomer is a great start!)

As you take your first steps into translation and interpreting, keep in touch with us at The Savvy Newcomer. We would love to hear your advice for newbies to this profession.

Image source: Pixabay

ATA59 Conference Session Review: “Textspeak in the Courtroom,” Parts I and II

It can be a bit intimidating to attend a “Part I” session at conferences, knowing there is a lot of information to be absorbed. That said, “Textspeak in the Courtroom” was a two-part lecture I did not want to miss! As a Spanish translator and transcriber, I come in contact with textspeak and slang on a regular basis—not in the courtroom per se, but in transcripts, interviews, handwritten notes, and more. The speaker for this session was Ellen Wingo, a Spanish court interpreter, and her session abstract describing how slang can seem almost like Egyptian hieroglyphs drew me in. Her fascinating presentation had me captivated for over two hours as we learned about the various challenges linguists often face with slang and possible solutions.

The first half of the “Textspeak” session centered on abbreviations and slang, while the second half was on emojis. Both were very interesting topics that were made even more fascinating by the range of perspectives and experiences in the audience! We covered slang in both English and Spanish (and sometimes Spanglish) that court interpreters and transcribers see not only in text conversations (which may need to be sight-translated by interpreters) but also in handwritten notes, emails, and other forms of written media, since textspeak has permeated so many aspects of written language in today’s culture.

Ms. Wingo provided helpful glossaries of English and Spanish slang and offered ideas for equivalents. Though glossaries of slang, a rapidly evolving form of language, are only useful for so long before they become outdated, I found it really valuable to discuss the current gang, prison, and street slang and to connect with fellow linguists who experience some of the same challenges I do.

The emoji portion of this session was also of great interest to attendees. The speaker discussed how the more modern emojis (images a smartphone user selects and inserts within written text; like the ones in the image below) differ from an earlier iteration of textspeak wherein writers used “emoticons” (representations of objects or facial expressions using the regular keyboard and characters; e.g., “:)”) and addressed how modern emojis can pose challenges to interpreters and sight translation. Whether to even interpret or mention an emoji was discussed, since an interpreter’s understanding of the emoji may differ from the writer’s intention. Differences in smartphone platforms can also introduce confusion to the sight-translation process, since an Android device may portray a slightly different emoji than would an iPhone, leading to different interpretations of the message.

To me, the most enjoyable aspect of this session was the fact that the speaker used real-life examples of slang to demonstrate her points and involve the audience in the practice of decoding emojis and text messages. Several times throughout the two session blocks, she shared an example of either a cartoon with confusing language or an actual (redacted) text message and asked members of the audience to read the Spanish text—which was a challenge in itself since the textspeak was so strongly coded—and then offer a suggestion of how to sight-translate it into English.

These exercises brought out the wide variety of experiences and perspectives in the audience: some were acquainted with textspeak, meme language, and other aspects of pop culture, while others were seeing these new forms of speech and writing for the first time. I found it particularly interesting that some members of the audience were very familiar, for example, with pop culture references to the “I can has cheezburger” image below, while others were flummoxed by the popularity and widespread use of such an odd meme.

As far as audience involvement, attendees were invited to participate to the extent that we wanted to, and this was a perfect opportunity for us to ask questions and share our experiences without taking away from the speaker’s main points. I felt that Ms. Wingo struck an excellent balance of sharing her very useful knowledge and giving others the opportunity to share their own perspectives.

For my work in particular, the “Textspeak in the Courtroom” sessions were helpful in terms of understanding slang terms I’ve heard and read about on UrbanDictionary.com but never interacted with in real life, such as “chavala” (a rival gang member) or “palabrero” (a gang member who calls the shots). The session also provided me with new resources to check when I have questions, as the speaker provided handouts and websites for reference. Overall I really enjoyed attending this session and found the speaker’s wealth of knowledge and presentation style to be great assets to the ATA Conference.

Buddies Welcome Newbies 2018

This year Buddies Welcome Newbies will be celebrating its sixth year of welcoming newcomers to the American Translators Association annual conference!

After its debut in San Antonio in 2013, Buddies Welcome Newbies has grown to become a well-known event right before the Welcome Celebration of the ATA conference. Designed as an icebreaker for those attending the conference for the first – or even the second – time, it is the place to get your gears in motion, in a fun, comfortable way.

Buddies Welcome Newbies (BWN) is a part of The Savvy Newcomer, where we are constantly innovating and putting new ideas to the test. Just as last year, BWN is one of the event choices in the main conference registration form, so that instead of having a separate link, you can just check a box when you sign up for the conference itself. However, if you missed that one question during registration, and are interested in being a part of this event, do not despair! We will be happy to sign you up manually. Just send us an email at atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org and we will get back with you.

This year we will continue with our ATA Conference Newcomer Blog, packed with resources for newbies and buddies alike. We thought waiting until Wednesday the 24th to share the myriad of things we want to tell you was kind of mean, plus, we could not possibly do it in 45 minutes! So, check it out, if you have not done so already, and be sure to leave us a comment to let us know how we are doing.

And as an extra incentive for our certified Buddies is the opportunity to earn 2.0 ATA CEPs by participating as a Buddy!

What is Buddies Welcome Newbies, you ask? The answer is simple:

Newbie is anyone who is new to the American Translators Association, to translation or interpreting in general, or a new conference attendee.

Buddies are the life of this event – experienced conference attendees, many of them seasoned T&I professionals, who donate their time and expertise for the benefit of Newbies. All our planning, ideas, and enthusiasm would mean nothing if we did not have the support of our awesome Buddies to make all this a reality.

During our opening session, Buddies and Newbies are paired up (the final ratio of Buddies to Newbies will depend on the number of participants in attendance), and off they go to enjoy the conference with the following “assignments”:

  • Newbies and their Buddies make their own plans to attend a conference session together, have a meal together, etc. The number of activities and frequency is up to you.
  • Attend the wrap-up session on Saturday October 27, for even more great information on what to do next and to have your questions answered by guest speakers.

Pretty simple, huh? Yet it is very powerful, as this event can make a big difference in the life of new conference attendees, and who knows, maybe you’ll make a friend or two in the process. Be sure to come to both the opening session and the wrap-up to see the magic for yourself!

Buddies Welcome Newbies Introduction: Wednesday, October 24 @ 4:45-5:30pm

Buddies Welcome Newbies Debriefing: Saturday, October 27 @ 12:30-1:30pm

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Money Matters

This post is the fourth (first post, second post, and third post) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

In the first post in this series, I alluded to a question I’ve been asked several times since I began freelancing—sometimes more subtly than others: “Do people actually pay you to do that?” Some days it feels surreal that, yes, people really do pay me for this and I get to read in Spanish, write in English, and sometimes even correct other people’s spelling and grammatical mistakes (Grammar Police Alert!), but the underlying question is whether translation and interpreting are viable career options for bilinguals. The short answer is yes—if you have the right skill set.

If you’re just beginning to consider whether a career in T&I may be for you and are asking the same question, you are not alone. Some of the biggest questions many beginning translators and interpreters have about getting started also revolve around money: How much do I charge? What kinds of expenses will I have? How do I make sure my clients actually pay me (on time)? I’ll do my best to cover these tricky yet essential questions in the following lines.

What should I charge?

Translators often charge per word (source or target) or per hour, while interpreters may charge per hour, half day, or per diem rates. Rates can vary significantly in different segments of the market, while your specialization and language combination can also play a major role. Quoting too much relative to the importance and budget of a particular project may make it hard to secure enough work. However, quoting too little could put you in a vicious cycle where you work long hours at low rates. Long-term business prospects and finances can be affected by your choice of rates because it’s difficult to make time to find higher-paying projects and invest in the skills development and training needed to qualify for them if you are too busy with smaller or lower-paying projects and clients. And on top of all that, you could end up undercutting your colleagues.

While newer translators and interpreters may logically earn less than more experienced professionals—like in any other industry—you can earn fair compensation for your experience and education level, if you are putting the right amount of time and effort into your work and business development. But again, this begs the question: What should I charge? There are a few good ways to figure out what that means in terms of specific numbers.

First, the American Translators Association (ATA) has conducted and reported on a survey of professional translators and interpreters regarding their compensation and rates. The results of this ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition can be accessed for free in summary form or in full form (free to ATA members, $95 for non-members). The results cover information on rates, language pairs, and annual income.

Calpro is another resource you can use to determine what rate you should charge in order to bring in your target income, taking into account working hours, holidays, and other expenses. This spreadsheet was first developed by the Spanish association of translators, ASETRAD, and was adapted by ATA volunteers for use in the U.S.

Tracking the time you spend on each project is a great way to generate data that can help you figure out how much you actually are earning and which projects are more or less worthwhile for you. Start by using a time tracking tool like RescueTime or Timecamp and then use an Excel file or other method to compile your data and divide the total fee for a project by the number of hours spent on it to see how much you earned per hour. This will help you determine whether you might need to charge more next time for a similar type of text, or whether you would be better off rejecting a project that you will likely earn less on in favor of a project that would earn you more per hour, or even in favor of spending time on business development to grow your client base.

How do I make sure I get paid?

Two common issues when it comes to getting paid for freelance work are scams (where a fake client orders work from you and either never pays or scams money out of you by means of a fake check) and late payers. Several resources exist to help freelancers avoid these issues, including Payment Practices and WPPF (and check out this article on the topic).

How do freelance finances work?

I could write pages upon pages about freelance finances, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to understand that earning money as a freelancer (what we would refer to as “1099 income” in the U.S.) is vastly different from earning money as an employee of a company (“W2 income”). Freelancers need to send invoices to request payment from their clients, pay their own taxes (usually there is no withholding and you make estimated payments throughout the year), manage their own retirement savings, cover their own business expenses, and meet their own insurance needs. All of these are things that employers will often handle for their employees, while freelancers need to build them into their time and finances. I won’t go into detail about each of these topics, but I do want to provide a resource or two on each topic in case you need somewhere to start looking.

  1. Invoicing and Expenses

Some freelancers choose to create their own invoicing processes and others prefer to use software to help manage the process for them. The following are a few popular invoicing tools for freelance translators and interpreters: Xero, Translation Office 3000, Express Invoice.

  1. Taxes

Some freelancers choose to do their own taxes, but many prefer to outsource this service to a professional accountant or accounting firm. Since there are so many extra factors that go into freelance tax filings (e.g. multiple 1099’s, a Schedule C/1040, possibly other business filings depending on your setup and location, and deductions for business expenses), options like TurboTax and TaxAct would probably make for a stressful springtime… So unless you want to forego a lot of afternoons going crazy trying to decipher the tax code, I would suggest reaching out to other translators in your area to get recommendations for an accountant you can trust to take care of your tax needs.

  1. Retirement

Employers generally contribute to your retirement savings when you are a W2 employee, so it is extra important to start early if you’re a freelancer. Options for freelancers include traditional or Roth IRAs and SEPs, whether through financial planners or using online options like Vanguard and e-Trade.

  1. Insurance

Another expense that is often subsidized by employers for W2 employees is insurance (health, vision, dental, life, etc.) As a freelancer you’ll need to take care of this yourself, but you won’t be alone! Many options are available outside employer-sponsored health plans. For instance, Freelancers Union offers a private marketplace for members to connect with insurance companies (and Union membership is free!).

We hope this information has helped you get a better idea of what to expect as you consider a career as a freelance translator or interpreter! Stay tuned for the fifth and final installment in this series: Technology and Tools.

Image source: Pixabay

How to identify and avoid translation scammers

How to identify and avoid translation scammers

It is an unfortunate truth that translation scammers abound. Many of us receive dozens of emails per week that qualify as translation scams… some more convincing than others. How do we sort through the myriad of requests to determine which ones are legitimate and which are worth nothing more than a quick “Delete”?

Although much has been written on this topic, many freelancers in the translation and interpreting industry, often newcomers, struggle to find the answers and resources needed to distinguish a real request from a fake one. I’ve included links to similar articles at the end of this post with a wealth of information. I would recommend perusing them at your leisure.

This post will focus specifically on scammers claiming to be clients, who target freelance translators, and on how to avoid becoming their victims. I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of red flags to keep an eye out for (ordered by the level of concern they should generate), strategies to avoid scams, information about how the scams work, and resources to help translators make sure a request is genuine.

While I am under no illusion that translation scammers will ever disappear entirely, I do feel that the more we share about our common experiences and the more we warn others about the common frauds out there, the more likely we are to avoid them. Please feel free to use this list as you sort through your inbox, share the article with friends and colleagues, and contribute your own suggestions and experiences in the comments section.

Red Flags

What should I look for in emails from new or potential clients?

  • There are grammatical or spelling errors in the email.

Sometimes clients will make the occasional error in an email, but this is your first tip that something may be amiss.

  • The email has come from a free email address (@yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc.)

Beware of potential clients claiming to offer work from a company while their email address is from a free account. Legitimate individuals may contact you from these domains but businesses will not.

  • The email or website contains no additional contact information for the potential client (address, phone number, website, etc.)

Real clients want you to be able to get in touch with them; if they have no company affiliation listed or additional information in their signature line, this is a red flag.

  • The name given for the potential client and their email address do not match (e.g. signature line says John Doe and email address is jimmy_buffett@yahoo.com).

Ask yourself, “Is there any reason John would be emailing me from Jimmy’s email account?” If not, be wary of the sender.

  • The potential client offered to send you money before you deliver the translation, or overpaid you and has asked for money back.

Overpayment by fake check is one of the most common email scams; never send money back unless you are 100% certain that the money you received is legitimate.

  • The email is in regard to a specific project but asks what language pairs you work in or does not specify your language combination.

If your potential client really found you because they have work for you, then they will already know what language pair they need!

Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed

When you smell a rat, here’s where to start…

  • Search for information about the person online.

Do they have a website? Are they listed on any scammer directories? Can you find a phone number to call and verify that this is a real person sitting behind a real desk in a real office?

  • See if the document for translation can be found online.

If you copy and paste a sentence from the source text into your browser, are you able to find the entire document online? If so, the potential client may have just taken a document from the internet and are claiming to need it translated.

  • Ask for references.

References aren’t just for contractors—ask if the client has worked with any other translators and check with them to be sure the client is authentic (and check the authenticity of the translator, too).

  • Ask for a down payment or non-refundable deposit.

Especially for larger projects, request that the client pay you a percentage upfront (e.g. 25–50%), via a verified payment method (bank transfer, Western Union, Venmo, PayPal, etc.). If they balk at the idea, suggest using something like https://www.escrow.com/ to ensure that no one pays or gets paid before the job is completed.

  • Verify the authenticity of any payments you have received.

If you received a check as pre-payment for the job, take it to your bank and ask the banker to verify its authenticity. If you received payment via PayPal, go to http://www.paypal.com (don’t click the link in the email!) and make sure the money is listed as received in your account (if you aren’t sure, call PayPal’s customer service line).

The Scam

Scammers are getting better and better at targeting their victims, but most schemes involve one of a few different tactics involving a supposed overpayment and a request of immediate refund to the client.

  • Client asks for your bank account information to make a payment.

Note that some legitimate clients do request banking information like an account number and routing number in order to make transfers or ACH payments; they will usually send you a PDF form to complete and may even password protect it. Scammers may also ask for your banking information, so be sure to go through the verification strategies listed above and check the resources listed below before deciding whether to provide this information.

  • Client sends a fake PayPal/Venmo email to get you to provide your login details on a fake page.

Scammers can be very creative; you may receive a “payment” via an online source that notifies you by email of new funds. Beware of PayPal or Venmo emails that contain spelling errors or old/incorrect logos—some scammers will create very convincing emails claiming to be from these platforms but that actually link to a fake site that will ask for your login details so the scammers can log in using your credentials.

  • Client overpays by check and asks you to send some of the money back.

Overpayments are always a red flag; some scammers will send a check that is convincing enough that your bank will allow you to deposit it, and you may even see the money deposit after a few days (there are regulations as to how long a bank can put a hold on your funds before making them available in your account). What you can’t see behind the scenes is that the bank is still working to verify the authenticity of your check, and if it is not real (the payee bank does not exist, has no account with the check’s number, or does not have sufficient funds in said account to pay out the money), your bank will eventually reject the check, take the money back out of your account, and likely charge you a fee of some kind.

  • Client overpays by PayPal or other online payment platform and asks you to send some of the money back.

Fake emails stating that you have received PayPal funds may also be used to make you think you have received funds while no money has actually been deposited to your account; but how do they actually get the money? In these last two schemes, after they have “paid” you but before you have realized the money wasn’t real, the scammer will tell you something to the following effect:

“I accidentally sent more money than I intended to.”

“I have decided not to go through with part of the project.”

“My company/client has changed its mind and we will be cancelling the project.”

Then, the client will ask you to return the money—usually via a quick and verified payment method so they can make off with the funds before you realize it’s a scam. Usually they will ask you to return the money via a different method than the one by which they “paid” you—cash deposit to their bank account or wire transfer, for example. A few days or weeks later you will find out the payment was rejected or never went through in the first place, and the client will have disappeared with your funds.

Resources to help verify potential clients

Payment Practices
Proz.com Blue Board
Proz.Com Translator Scam Alert Reports
Translator-scammers.com
Proz.com Scam Forum
World Payment Practices Forum
Translation Agency Payment Forum
Translation Agencies Business Practices Forum (LinkedIn)

Other articles about avoiding scams

Translation Scams: Tips for Avoiding Them and Protecting Your Identity by Carola Berger
Red Flags for Avoiding Scams, reblogged from The ATA Chronicle
Resources to Help Ensure Translation Payment by Ted Wozniak (includes links to additional mailing lists)
Due Diligence Links by Paula Gordon (includes links to additional resources and a list of questions to ask yourself)
Scammers, I Got Your Number by Audrey Irias

And a funny story to lighten the mood…

Translation Scammers Beware by Una Dimitrijevic

Image souce: Pixabay