Book review: Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator

The translation and interpreting industries have been blessed with a plethora of new books in the last few years. The book I’m going to talk to you about is mostly for new translators and interpreters, curious to explore and eager to learn more about their communities. Let’s see the basics of the book first.

Title: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator
Authors: Oleg Semerikov, Simon Hodkinson
Published: March 25, 2017
237 pages
More details: Translators Book or Amazon

Chapters
1: Getting on your feet
2: Client relationships
3: Marketing yourself
4: Languages and you
5: Practical matters
6: The lighter side of translation

The author starts by listing some types of linguistic services, including a few less “traditional” ones, like copywriting and desktop publishing. That list briefly outlines all the exciting opportunities awaiting recently graduated linguists, seasoned translators looking to specialize in a new type of service, or even non-linguists looking for a career change.

In “Getting on your feet,” Oleg explains what being a freelance translator entails and what it takes to be a freelance translator (being fluent in two languages is not enough, sorry). I quite like that part; it’s useful for all those second cousins and my mum’s friends’ children who ask if they can be a translator like me. Instead of spending 20 minutes on the phone explaining why it doesn’t sound like a good idea (because not one of those people ever had anything to do with languages and no future whatsoever as a translator), I could have just recited the following list.

To be a freelance translator, the following is required: native speaker of target language, fluency in source language, specialist subject knowledge (you can’t just translate anything and everything), advanced training (university, classes, qualifications, accreditations), working experience, key skills (linguistic and others), professionalism (you’re a business after all).

In “Client relationships,” Oleg starts with explaining the difference between translation agencies and direct clients. The focus then stays on agencies: how to maintain a good relationship, how to research them to avoid non-payers, how to trust them. There’s also a part about rates with specific examples, which is quite rare to find in books about translation; however, it mostly covers translation agency rates and only translation, not the other types of linguistic services.

This chapter closes with a very interesting section: what to ask your client before starting a translation project. I remember creating a checklist like that already four or five years into my translation career, a standard template to include in emails or to ask over the phone during initial client enquiries. Apart from this first set of questions, Oleg also focuses on the importance of asking questions during translation projects and provides examples.

“Marketing yourself” starts with an important principle: being a freelance translator means running your own business. And believe me, this, along with knowing your own value, takes a while to sink in, especially at the beginning of a translator’s career. This part includes tips on building a translation portfolio, how to use social media for business, and how to find your USPs (unique selling points, which means the combination of features that make your business special).

In “Languages and you,” the author describes some of the different markets or niches a translator can specialize in: video games, technical (including tips for readable technical translations), marketing, literary. Then, he explores ways of keeping up with our source and target languages and mentions some reference tools for English.

“Practical matters” starts with a few tips from freelance translators. My favorite was Clara’s secret to a happy work life, the four Cs: composure, calm, caffeine and cake. Have you seen that image of a cityscape at night and an apartment building with only one light on? That’s probably a translator working! In the first three to four years of my translation career, I spent more nights and weekends working than I want to admit. Then, I finally learned how to say no and how to put family time and my health over work. Oleg calls this “capacity management” and offers helpful tips. Next comes a section on SEO (search engine optimization), another quite interesting niche for translators, especially for marketing translators and website localizers.

“The lighter side of translation” includes a brief history of translation, how to work from home away from home (digital nomads), and how we can beat the loneliness of freelancing (co-working is on the rise and the options are endless).

An important part of this book is the appendix, which includes useful resources for translators. I’m a big fan of lists; I love to explore resources and this section was like Christmas morning for me. Quick list of the resources mentioned: CAT and QA tools, online glossaries, thesauruses and encyclopedias, dictionaries and glossaries by subject, translation blogs (The Savvy Newcomer is there too; thanks Oleg!), podcasts for translators, popular LinkedIn and Facebook groups for translators, webinars and annual conferences, worldwide associations for translators and interpreters, and a list of the 100 largest translation companies according to the Common Sense Advisory 2016 report.

Overall, I liked the book. I think it’s a good read, especially for newbies in the translation industry. Nonacademic books that focus on the translation business can be overwhelming in some cases, because they cover so many aspects and you might think, “How am I supposed to do all that, fresh out of university?” The writing style in this book feels more personal, like reading a blog.

Have you read the book? Did it help or inspire you in any way? Any other similar books that you enjoyed reading and would like to recommend for our future book reviews?

Book review: Manual de traducción inglés-castellano

Translation Handbook – Spanish book review

Alert! This is a book review on a book written in Spanish. Therefore, the quotes will be in Spanish!

I’ve been having weekly discussions with people who want to become better translators. Some would call this “translation training.” As they ask questions, they drive me to read books. One of the gems I have encountered in my research is the Manual de traducción inglés-castellano by Juan Gabriel López Guix and Jacqueline Minett Wilkinson, published in 2014 by Editorial Edisa, in Barcelona, Spain.

The book covers many important subjects before getting into the practicalities of translation:

  • The role of translators
  • Language philosophy
  • What is meaning?
  • The differences between English and Spanish
  • Translation theory from many points of view (at least 10 theorists are discussed in depth)

After covering this background information, it gets into practical issues:

  • Text analysis
  • Translation techniques and processes
  • Reference material for translation

In a way, this seems extremely different from many presentations I have attended, where the goal appears to be to get to the point as quickly as possible so we can get the tips to be a good translator and become great in about an hour. The authors of the Manual de traducción understand that translation happens in a context, and first, we must know what we are doing. On page 18, it says, “lo que los lectores tienen en sus manos es un libro escrito por el traductor” (what readers hold in their hands is a book written by the translator.)

This statement is key. Translators are writers. The statement that follows is equally important: “Una obra está sujeta a múltiples interpretaciones en la medida en que varían los lectores o el contexto en que se lee.” (A work is subject to multiple interpretations based on who reads it and the context in which it is read.) Therefore, a translator must read carefully. The way we read will make a huge difference in our translation. We must hone our deep reading skills so we can become very accurate readers, since we are the last reader of the source text before the readers of the translation receive our translated text. What a tremendous responsibility!

Reading and writing. Understanding and expressing. This leads to the next issue in our role: Decision making.

El proceso de traducción es un proceso de toma de decisiones, con distintas interpretaciones del texto de partida y diversas posibilidades de expresión en el texto de llegada.” (p. 19) (The translation process is a decision-making process, with different interpretations of the source text and different ways to convey the message in the target text.)

The book continues with one of the best comparisons of English and Spanish I have seen, introduces us to a variety of translation theories, and starts to get to the nuts and bolts of translation on page 193. That is where the explanation of text analysis begins. “Cuando el texto llega al traductor, él hace una lectura que condicionará a todas las demás.” (p. 193) (When the translator reads the text, his reading will influence further readings.) It proceeds to list a number of issues translators should consider:

  • The setting in which the communication happens
  • Actors in the process of communication and their relationship
  • The role of the text in the act of communication

In chapter 9 we are given a series of techniques for translation, with their challenges and appropriate uses.

I encourage you to read the book for yourselves. There is so much to be gained from a thorough understanding of the foundational understanding of the theoretical underpinning of our work, besides the obvious list of techniques! Listing them here would probably lead to misunderstandings, since several techniques must be “handled with care.”

I read the whole book and wrote a 13-page summary for my own use, which I refer to constantly. There is simply no waste in this book! This is a must-read for those who want to hone their skills in English-Spanish translation.

The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting: A Multifaceted Resource

By Helen Eby

Routledge Handbook of InterpretingOne of my resources is The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, edited by Holly Mikkelson and Renée Jourdenais. Its twenty-seven chapters cover a remarkably broad spectrum of topics relating to interpreting, with the following sections: historical perspectives, modes of interpreting, interpreting settings, and issues and debates. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field, sometimes two, each of whom has devoted careful research to the work.

For this review, I chose the chapters which I had seen discussed objectively the least in other settings. The book is meant to be read one chapter here or there, as a reference book. The chapters I referenced for this review focus on non-professional interpreters and quality.

In the professional listservs I participate in, members discuss issues that affect our profession. The issues of non-professional interpreters and quality are discussed there, but the participants often only give one side of the story. The discussion in these chapters, however, provided a fresh, unbiased look at these issues.

Chapter 26: Non-professional interpreters
As interpreters, we believe that some uses of non-professional interpreters put patients at risk. Situations like the following, from my professional experience, come to mind:

A young mother came to a medical appointment with her seven-year-old son ready to fill in as interpreter because his baby brother had a broken elbow. He had interpreted before. He was visibly relieved to be able to be a little boy and make paper airplanes with blank pages from my notepad. The adult daughter of another patient almost didn’t allow me to interpret for her father at a dialysis appointment. I had to reassure her that I was properly certified and would allow her to correct me as needed. She enjoyed her role as a daughter for the first time in many appointments.

When people depend on untrained interpreters for high-stakes appointments, there can be significant negative consequences. Logistically, professional interpreters simply cannot be everywhere at all times. Because of that, many of us started as non-professional interpreters before we became professionals, providing important services to our communities. For example, from 1986 to 1988 I interpreted for customs and immigrations officers, as well as in church settings, in almost all countries in Latin America. That was before I was ever trained.

In the section on non-professional interpreters, Aída Martínez-Gómez acknowledges this fact. Non-professional interpreters are, she says, “individuals with a certain degree of bilingual competence who perform interpreting tasks on an ad hoc basis without economic compensation or prior specific training” (Martínez-Gómez 2007, em. original). Interpreting started as a non-professional endeavor, and she brings this to light.

An honest, unbiased discussion of this issue is refreshing. This chapter does not advocate for non-professionals to be assigned responsibilities in areas of high risk, but simply acknowledges that we simply wouldn’t be able to get along without them. As a matter of fact, most of my interpreting students got their start by interpreting for friends and neighbors before they decided they wanted to take a class to learn how to do it “the right way.” Those interpreters are often very well prepared to learn how to be professionals, and are highly dedicated to excellence!

Chapter 23: Quality
In their discussion of quality, Ángela Collados Aís and Olalla García Becerra argue that there are so many ways to evaluate quality that it is very difficult to come to a consensus. Most measures of quality are dependent on what interpreting ethics are applied to the situation. The court setting is adversarial and highly scripted, as well as being recorded, so all court interpreting codes of ethics emphasize accuracy and impartiality, because what the interpreter says in English is the record. The medical setting is cooperative, so the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) Code of Ethics includes advocacy, while accuracy is still extremely important.

While there is an ideal level of quality to which all interpreters should aspire, Collados Aís and García Becerra explain that there are factors preventing this level from being reached. We need to understand that. Quoting another study (Collados Aís et al. 2007, 215), they propose a categorization of quality, “establishing four blocks of priorities in expectations:

Block 1: sense consistency and cohesion
Block 2: completeness, terminology and fluency
Block 3: diction, style and grammatical usage
Block 4: intonation, voice and accent

“In other words, subjects attribute more a priori importance to factors related to content and message fidelity than those related to form.” (Collados Aís and García Becerra 2007, em. original)

Some barriers to quality are related to poor advance planning, such as not knowing what the appointment is about, not knowing how long it will last, or being in an environment in which the interpreter can’t see or hear clearly. Quality can’t be achieved unless interpreters know what is expected of them before the appointment. Unfortunately, this is often neglected.

In Summary
I reviewed these two chapters because they stood out to me with their fresh look at critical issues. If you read the book yourselves, you will find much more information. Additionally, at the end of each chapter there is a list of suggested reading and a substantial bibliography.

I carry the book on my Kindle and don’t expect to read it cover to cover. Then again, who knows? It is an excellent reference any time I have a question about an interpreting topic.

Thank you, Holly and Renée, for your excellent work putting this together! We, the interpreters, trainers, and policy makers of the interpreting world can’t thank you enough! Everyone should have this book on their shelf, in their Kindle, or somewhere.

References
Aída Martínez-Gómez. 2007. “Non-professional Interpreters.” In Mikkelson and Jourdenais, The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, chap. 26.
Collados Aís, Ángela, E. Macarena Pradas Macías, Elisabeth Stévaux, and Olalla García Becerra (eds). 2007. Evaluación de la calidad en interpretación simultánea: parámetros de incidencia. Granada: Comares. (Qtd. in Collados Aís and García Becerra 2007, “Quality”.)
Collados Aís, Ángela and Olalla García Becerra. 2007. “Quality.” In Mikkelson and Jourdenais, The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, chap. 23.
Mikkelson, Holly and Renée Jourdenais (eds). 2007. The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting. New York, NY: Routledge. Kindle edition.

Book Review: The Money Book

By Jamie Hartz

Book Review - The Money BookThe Money Book by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan had been on my reading list since I received it as a gift last year, and I’m excited to share with you what I learned—and what I will do differently—as a result of reading it.

The book is not geared specifically towards freelance linguists or translators (I am both), and I liked this fact. I thought it would be a good chance to branch out and see what other freelancers are saying. I also wanted to see what solutions others have found to the challenges that come along with this type of work. The authors of The Money Book are both independent workers who have found freelancing to be, indeed, freeing, and it was clear that they are excited to share this freedom with others.

I could sum up the book’s main mantra with this admonition: as a freelancer, treat yourself as a good employer would treat you. After all, as a freelancer you are your own best employee. Overall, the book helped to expand the topics I am thinking about as a freelancer and made me look farther into the future when it comes to my career. For instance, the authors discussed the benefits of starting an IRA early in life—a fact that I knew in the back of my head, but I needed a kick in the pants to start implementing it.

Throughout the book, the authors discuss some of the pros and cons to freelancing. Some of the pros to having an employer (at least in the U.S.) include 401(k) management and contributions, health/life/disability insurance, tax withholding, and payment of office/travel expenses. However, some of the benefits include: flexibility to set your own schedule, unlimited income potential, being your own boss, ability to work from anywhere in the world, and seeing a direct increase in your pay when you work harder or more. These advantages and disadvantages really come into play when managing your finances as a freelancer.

The book works off of the basic premise that readers should first figure out how much they make, then determine how much they spend, and then find a way to reconcile the two. One of the most interesting pieces of advice in the book was the authors’ recommendation of using percentages to determine how to allocate your freelance income. I especially like the idea of using percentages because it means that your own personal income and business expenditures will be directly proportional to your business income—which is also conveniently how taxes work.

For instance, say you were to put 20% of every check you receive aside for business expenses (conferences, office supplies, internet, smartphone) and 30% for taxes (including accountant fees). This would leave 50% of your total business revenue for your personal income (from which you would pay for health insurance, retirement savings, and the like). It would also potentially leave you a chunk of cash come April 15—depending on how much you can deduct from your taxable income—that you could pay to yourself as a bonus. The authors also have extensive recommendations about saving for emergencies and paying off credit card debt, for those who choose to combine their personal and business finances.

What I like most about the percentage system is that it has the ability to break a vicious financial cycle. Old habits—especially money-related ones—die hard, and once you get used to paying yourself a certain sum of cash from your business revenue, it can be hard to live without that same amount each month. With the percentage system that this book lays out, you know that your personal cash flow will be directly related to your business income and you can plan accordingly based on the influx of income you expect each month, adjusting percentages as time goes on and as you learn more about your business’s ebb and flow.

In summary, I would recommend The Money Book for individuals who aren’t at all certain how this freelance thing works, or who are looking for a basic system to help them get out of debt while working part-time or on a freelance basis. You’ll find great encouragement that will help you save and plan for your goals while freelancing. Be sure to let us know what you think!

Header image credit: tookapic
Header image edited with Canva

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.