Book Review: Never Split the Difference

Never Split the Difference is a book by former police officer and FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss that offers “a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations—whether in the boardroom or at home.” Well, it may be your home office, but the book has some helpful ideas and skills of great use to freelance translators and interpreters. These tactics are not always easy to implement in email or phone conversations, which tend to form the majority of a freelance translator’s conversations since we don’t often have face-to-face interaction with our clients, but they are absolutely worth considering when contacting new clients, negotiating rates and terms, or dealing with conflicts that may arise in a business relationship. Below I’ve compiled some thoughts about the author’s most salient points and some examples of how his tips could be used in our professions.

  • Use “no” to evoke more explanation.

When interacting with clients, we generally want to come across as knowledgeable. It may feel counter-intuitive to ask a question to which you know the answer will be “no,” but Voss suggests that we use questions like this to get more information. For instance, if you reach out to a potential direct client by email, you’ll probably research the company online and get an idea of what they do first. But instead of regurgitating what you’ve learned about the company from their website when you write to them, instead ask a question to draw out more information about their company or how they work. This will evoke further conversation and show you are interested in learning more about them. Voss says “no” can help the client feel more secure in their response and will allow them to clarify their position. “No” is not a failure, he says; it’s an opportunity. Here’s an example:

Translator: Hello, client. I read about your company in Article Y and am interested in connecting with you as an independent Spanish translator. Do you often work with companies in other countries?

 

Client: Yes, we do.

Translator: Hello, client. I read about your company in Article Y and am interested in connecting with you as an independent Spanish translator. Are your current translation solutions fulfilling your needs and meeting your expectations?

 

Client: No, we’ve struggled to complete all the translations we need in-house with our own bilingual employees and are finding that they don’t have the know-how to translate accurately and consistently. We’re also not sure how to manage translation projects and keep files organized. Is this something you can help us with?

Here’s another example of how I use “no” on a regular basis:

Translator: Hello, client. I’m checking in about the project you inquired about last week. Is this project still on hold?

 

Client: Yes, it is.

Translator: Hello, client. I’m checking in about the project you inquired about last week. Has this project been cancelled?

 

Client: No, we are actually waiting on another department to finalize the documents and expect to get back to you tomorrow with approval.

  • Listen and mirror the last few words the other person said. Empathize by labeling the other person’s emotions (or pain points).

When communicating with a client or colleague by phone or email, we aren’t able to see the other person’s emotions or reactions but can listen for cues to learn what they are thinking and feeling instead. Voss’s recommendation to mirror the last few words the other person said is emotionally resounding when used in person (“I’ve been feeling really sad lately.” “You’ve been feeling sad lately? Why is that?”), and it can also be very effective in writing. Everyone wants to know they are being heard, so repeating back what the other person has said can reaffirm to them that you’ve understood what they said and aren’t simply thinking about your own response. Voss calls this “tactical empathy.” Here’s an example of how this could work while speaking with a client over the phone:

Client: I have a project for you and it’s a bit urgent. The client just sent over three files and they want them back by tomorrow. We’re really short-staffed here and I didn’t have time to wait for an email response so I thought I’d call and see if you’re available. Can you take this job?

 

Translator: What’s the rate, and can you pay a rush fee?

Client: I have a project for you and it’s a bit urgent. The client just sent over three files and they want them back by tomorrow. We’re really short-staffed here and I didn’t have time to wait for an email response so I thought I’d call and see if you’re available. Can you take this job?

 

Translator: It sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate right now! Those three urgent files for tomorrow sound doable to me but I’d like to take a look before confirming. I’m at my computer now, so can you send over the files and I’ll reply right away to confirm availability and rates?

  • Don’t be afraid of silence.

Many of us are naturally uncomfortable in situations of silence when face-to-face with another person, and this can happen in writing too. When a client doesn’t get back to you about a project for several days and the project sits in your inbox as “pending approval,” does that make you a little uneasy? Voss says not to be afraid of silence; it can serve as an opportunity to put pressure on the person you’re speaking with, or it may allow them a chance to think harder on what you’ve discussed. Pestering your client more than once about a pending project won’t make them any more likely to approve it; it may just have the opposite effect! Give people time to think by scheduling your communications carefully.

  • Affirm the worst things they could say about you first.

I’ve saved this idea for last because I haven’t tried it yet but am intrigued by the concept! One of Voss’s recommendations is to confront your fellow negotiator head-on by affirming the worst right at the onset. He says that in business negotiations he will often come out of the gate saying, “My price is higher than the next guy’s,” and “We don’t skimp on quality for the sake of saving money,” so that the negotiator can only affirm what has already been said and can’t attack him with new criticism. For me, to open a negotiation with a new client by saying, “I know my rate isn’t cheap” would be very uncomfortable… but may be worth a try!

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Lots of other great advice from this book can be used in all kinds of scenarios that are common for professional translators and interpreters; I hope from this small taste of the author’s expertise and out-of-the-box thinking you get an idea of what you could learn from this book and are encouraged to pick up a copy. Whether or not my negotiations ever involve another person’s life hanging in the balance (I sure hope not), you can bet I’ll be taking a page out of this book to use in my own business communications.

Book review: The Subversive Copyeditor

I first became aware of the work Carol Fisher Saller does when she spoke at the American Copy Editors Society conference in Portland, Oregon, and presented on her book, The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago.

I finally read her book in January of 2018. I should have done so sooner. There are so many things we can learn from this book as translators. I am combining what I learned from her book with my own experience in the real world in this post. This post covers the highlights. I hope to give you a taste for more!

In the inside jacket, she is very straightforward about the purpose of this book. It is not for us to learn how to copy edit, but to give us some ideas as we negotiate good relationships with those we work with and ourselves. Many of the tips she gives apply to translators just as much as they do to copy editors.

Part One: Relationships with those who hire us.

Being correct about a particular turn of phrase is not worth a big argument. Instead of focusing on who is right, it is better to see what will reach the readers of the document most effectively. However, inaccuracies and inconsistencies are distracting and reflect poorly on the author. We should take care of those.

We should follow three guiding principles: carefulness, transparency, and flexibility. These remind me of the interpreting guidelines of transparency and accuracy. Interpreters convey everything that is said accurately, ask for clarifications and repetitions as needed, and are transparent so both parties know everything that is happening in the room. In the same way, as translators we should approach the text with utmost carefulness. We should also be very transparent when we make editorial decisions regarding the text by putting comments in so the requester can understand our choices. To be flexible with a translation, of course, we need to know exactly what the text is going to be used for, so it is important to ask questions.

Editing is a gift. Our translations should be edited, since most published material is edited. We should treat our editors with kindness, and learn from the comments our editor colleagues make.

Part Two: Practical issues.

Delegate or automate repetitive tasks, so we can focus on what we do best. For example, someone else might be able to set up a table in Word, check all the numbers in a set of tables, or do other repetitive chores that don’t require translation skills. That person can also check that the references are properly numbered, that the citation reference numbers match, etc. Delegating frees us up to do what we do best.

Though we may work with translation environment tools, our word processor is still our primary translation tool. It is where we do many of our final edits, write letters to clients, and do much of our work. We need to know our word processor inside and out. We should explore every feature it has, because they can help to automate certain tasks and improve our writing in many ways. Carol says having word processors and electronic tools for editing has not changed editing schedules in the last 25 years. It still takes just as long to edit a 10 page text as it did before. These tools do not make us deliver sooner. Instead, they enable us to do many things we were not able to do before, such as verifying consistency, checking for acronym use, checking double spaces, and searching for overuse of the term ‘that’.

We have to plan in order to keep our deadlines. We must organize our day, set aside distractions, set pad in our schedules, set priorities. When we have to slip a deadline, just say “something outside my control came up and I will be one day late.” It is much better to take the initiative instead of receiving an email from the client asking about it.

Sometimes we have to work quickly to meet a difficult deadline. However, that also means we will not be able to follow through with all of our quality assurance steps and we don’t produce very good quality when we are sleepy. I always let my clients know about these compromises and they are usually willing to extend the deadline or accept lower quality work knowingly. This happens in every profession. We shouldn’t make a habit of it.

We have to keep track of our income and send reminders to people who haven’t paid. In my experience, the accounting department is often missing some piece of information and they have forgotten to tell me. Other times, they had not realized the bill was due, and the check comes the next day! In all the years I have worked as a translator, I have had very few non-payers. How to sniff those out is a subject for another post.

Don’t forget to have a life away from work. Without a life, we won’t be able to give our work the best we could bring to it. We will be exhausted.

Carol Fisher Saller. The Subversive Copy Editor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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.