Savvy Diversification Series – How I Became a Translation Editor

The Savvy Newcomer team has been taking stock of the past year and finding that one key priority for many freelance translators and interpreters has been diversification. Offering multiple services in different sectors or to different clients can help steady us when storms come. Diversification can help us hedge against hard times.

With this in mind, we’ve invited a series of guest authors to write about the diversified service offerings that have helped their businesses to thrive, in the hopes of inspiring you to branch out into the new service offerings that may be right for you!

I was born and raised in Panama. My exposure to foreign languages began at an early age. From kindergarten through high school, I was taught in English, Spanish, and French. I went to university in the United States and graduated with a degree in Languages and Linguistics. My career as a translator began in Panama and continued overseas in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. I had just started working for an LSP in the United States when an unexpected move overseas threatened to derail my nascent career. It actually turned out to be quite the opposite and I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime! As it turned out, the LSP I had been working for in the U.S. reached out to offer me a job as Managing Director of its new translation division in São Paulo, Brazil. In hindsight, I have no idea what they were thinking when they hired an ill-prepared 29-year-old to run a startup operation… But somehow my boss in the US thought I was the right person for the job and it all worked out in the end. At the time, I had been contemplating the idea of returning to school but this seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next six years I would work for this LSP in Brazil, Canada, and the United States. I will always be a linguist at heart but working at an LSP taught me the hard lessons of running a translation business. It taught me to be efficient in producing simple as well as very complex multilingual projects. I remain incredibly grateful for this experience and to this day I feel that most translators starting out could benefit from a stint as in-house linguists.

Some life/work lessons I learned along the way that have served me well over the years.

  1. Understand the business, even if it’s difficult.
  2. Be a good communicator with your clients, your team, and your colleagues. You can never have enough patience!
  3. Mistakes happen. Own them, fix them, learn from them, and move on.
  4. Success takes flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

After six years, my company decided to sell its translation operations. I wanted to return to freelance work but I felt my experience no longer fit the role of a translator. I wanted to remain a linguist but in a different capacity. I wasn’t sure what exactly I would end up doing, so I needed to take stock of what I loved best about my job. I knew that I wanted to stay in the production side of the industry (as opposed to the business side). There were two production aspects that stood out: the quality assurance process we followed and training sales and production personnel. Could I turn these two aspects into a career? It took many years and many ups and downs to develop my niche specialty.

I currently work as a translation editor and a production consultant for small to mid-size LSPs.

Some of the tasks I perform as an editor are:

  1. Review translations to ensure they meet client specifications.
  2. Post edit MT output.
  3. Work with the client’s internal reviewers to make sure that their changes are appropriate.
  4. Website Language Testing (not functionality testing) that involves reviewing the target language screens in a static or live website and then either reporting or correcting errors.

As a consultant, I found my niche in production consulting for small to mid-size companies. I discovered that smaller companies often have difficulty growing because they don’t have production processes in place to handle larger projects without additional personnel. I help them in the following areas:

  1. Training in project management, costing, and editing techniques. I provide training for sales and production staff.
  2. Internal Process Manuals. I write procedure manuals for internal use by production staff.
  3. Preparing complex documents for translation, writing specs, style guides, and glossary mining and creation.

Developing a niche specialty as an editor

If you are thinking of developing a niche specialty in editing, first determine if this is something you truly enjoy and have a knack for. Good editors possess the following skills:

  1. The ability to analyze a text critically and efficiently and separate oneself from stylistic preferences one may have.
  2. Excellent language skills (grammar, style, punctuation, etc.)
  3. Good communication skills in order to work in collaborative environment (as part of a team).
  4. Superior organizational skills and a detail-oriented nature.
  5. Curiosity and eagerness to learn. Become a proficient researcher.

So where would you start?

  1. Research the current “need/market” for editing services among your established and potential clients.
  2. Trade editing services with a colleague to test your abilities. Compare your approaches.
  3. Sometimes it may be good to have a specialty within a specialty. In my case, about 80% of my editing work is in the field of Life Sciences. Research a few sub-specialty fields that might interest you and determine the demand in this particular domain.
  4. Identify your resources in those fields. They can be your colleagues, local, national or international associations. Attend trainings, webinars or courses to learn more about your new specialty and to network.
  5. Develop an editing methodology (step-by step process).
  6. Start by working on small assignments for the clients you already have.
  7. Make sure you understand the specifications and time involved.
  8. Certifications bring prestige and recognition. Get certified in translation, interpretation, project management, etc.
  9. Grow your network. Opportunities can come not only from your clients, but also from colleagues, joining your local ATA Chapter (or translation organization), attending industry conferences in your niche field and using social media.

Having a niche specialty does not guarantee smooth sailing!

Freelancing in a niche specialty has kept me humble at times.  The translation industry is dynamic, fascinating, and volatile. Clients can come and go through no fault of your own. Their needs change, they can be bought by other companies that have alternate language providers or they may decide to outsource cheaper translation providers overseas. These issues are all beyond our control. The onus is on us to be ready to face these challenges by keeping abreast of trends, technology, and anything that might affect our business.

Resources

Society for Editing (ACES)

Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

Center for Plain Language

Author bio

A native of Panama, Itzaris Weyman is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics and an ATA-certified translator from ENG>SPA. She served as Translation Production Director in São Paulo, Brazil and Multilingual Production Manager in Toronto, Canada for Berlitz Translation Services. Her most recent article “Preparing Documents for Translation” was the feature article in the Sept/Oct 2020 edition of the ATA Chronicle and was also reprinted on-line by the Colegio de Traductores de la Provincia de Santa Fe, Argentina.

Ms. Weyman has served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of FLATA (Florida Chapter of the American Translators Association – now ATIF) and on its Nominating and Bylaws Committees. Contact: itzarisweyman@americaslanguagebridge.com

So, You Want To Be A Translator?

This post originally appeared on The Detail Woman blog and it is republished with permission.

There are two main things I want to do on this page: first, I want to say a few things to people considering entering the translation profession. Mostly I want to clear up some misconceptions, but there are also some things I just plain think everyone who’s contemplating or practicing translation needs to hear. Second, for people interested in what kind of background you need or steps you can take to become a kickass translator, I want to talk a little bit about the skills needed and how to go about getting them.

I write this page not with the assumption that I am The Kickass Translator of All Time, but with the knowledge that I am still growing and that every single thing I say still applies to me and always will. In fact, I hope I’ll always be growing as a translator. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. But in my career I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of the process: on one side the translator being evaluated and working under supervision, and on the other side the person evaluating translators–both making recommendations on hires and quality checking other people’s work. It’s a somewhat unique set of experiences and it’s let me see a lot of things about the translating processes of myself and others, and about new translators I see entering the field.

Part 1: Opening Comments – On Translation

Over the last decade I’ve been asked a lot of questions about translating and being a translator. Some have come from aspiring translators, some from current translators, some from anime fans, and some from people who were just interested. I’ve seen remarks about translation in anime reviews, fan forums, and the like. I’ve also corresponded with people seeking translation jobs.

All these experiences have taught about some of the ideas people come into the translation field with–and some of the ideas they don’t. And I’m seeing some gaps between the expectation and the reality of translation that I’d like to address.

1. Your Work Is Not Your Work.

To translate means to deal in the borrowed or the stolen, never the owned. Everything that you are handling belongs to someone else. That show you are translating, that novel you are translating, it’s someone else’s work. This may seem almost insultingly obvious. But there are a lot of implications that you need to think about. The act of translation necessitates an extreme degree of respect. Surrender any impulses of “he should have.” Fight off any thoughts of “making it better” than the original. The greatest artist is great because of what you see testified in his work, but the greatest translator is great because of his invisibility. You must not insert your own ego. You must not change lightly. You don’t have the right to. It’s the same principle as the man assigned to guard another man’s wife: your job and your moral duty are to return her in the same condition you found her to the furthest extent possible. Because whether you love her, you hate her, or you find yourself indifferent to her–it’s your job, and she’s not your wife. You need to be thinking that seriously. If you’re not prepared to live with the constant moral responsibility that translating entails, you shouldn’t be a translator.

2. Some Types Of People Make Good Translators, Some Don’t.

Because translation carries such a high degree of ethical responsibility and there are so many cracks through which meaning can slip, a translator absolutely must be meticulous. The kind of person that makes a good translator is the same kind of person that makes a good librarian: someone who’s a little (or a lot) obsessive-compulsive. Now, of course you don’t need an OCD personality to be a translator. But if it’s not your personality, it’s got to be your attitude. Translating requires intense concentration for long periods of time and attention to the very tiniest of details. Either you need to get through on sheer meticulousness, or you need an all-absorbing passion for the work. What you’re like in your personal life, who cares (hell, my apartment looks like a nuclear disaster site). But if you’re a “don’t sweat the details” person about your work, if you skimp on research, if close is good enough for you, this is not the right career choice for you. I don’t say this out of the desire to lecture and I’m not trying to scare you off; I’m merely trying to lay out the truth so you can make an informed decision. I don’t sit in front of my computer every day shaking like a leaf under the burden of a soul-crushing responsibility and the effort of superhuman concentration, and you shouldn’t either. But we all need to understand the gravity of what we’re doing and be serious about it and honest in our evaluation of whether we can do it well.

3. Knowledge Is Less Important Than You Think.

Don’t think that just because you never remember what that one really common word you always forget means, you’re never going to be a good translator. In fact, don’t think that forgetting what those ten or twenty words mean will make you a bad translator. Translation is you in a room with your computer; you don’t have to talk to it in real time. Of course vocabulary is important. But what’s way more important is knowing what you know and what you don’t. In fact, that’s the most important thing. Because if you don’t know and you realize that, you can always find out. If you can research as appropriate and you can figure out how to find out what you don’t know, remembering the word for “farming” isn’t important. You can always look it up. ^_^

4. Knowledge Is More Important Than You Think.

Don’t think that you can translate TV shows with an A in first-year Japanese class and a dictionary. It just doesn’t work that way, for Japanese or for any language. Yes, a dictionary can–usually–define a word for you, but language isn’t just a bunch of definitions strung together with elementary grammar. You need to have both a good grounding in Japanese grammar and a good idea of how it’s actually spoken and written out there in the real world. There’s always going to be some weird sentence you need help figuring out no matter how good you get, but if you don’t have subtle and nuanced enough understanding of Japanese syntax to understand what the grammar of most every sentence you encounter is doing (it’s okay if you have to sit and ponder it for a while first or remind yourself somehow), you’re going to misinterpret and your dictionary cannot save you.

5. You Need Good English.

Whatever language you’re translating to, you need to be really damn good at that language. Say you’re translating from Japanese into English. If your English skills aren’t good enough and you can’t make appropriate choices for how to express something in English, it doesn’t matter how masterful your Japanese is.

6. “I Speak Both Languages” vs. “I’m a Good Translator.”

For some reason a lot of people seem to think that a native speaker of one language is going to be better at translating from that language (actually theorists agree that it’s best to be a native speaker of the language you’re translating into), or that someone who’s bilingual is going to be good at translating from one of their languages to another. That’s not true. Translation is a skill and an art. Speaking multiple languages doesn’t make you a good translator any more than being able to see multiple colors makes you a good painter. Just like with any craft, becoming good at translation is part talent, part attitude, part education, and part practice.

7. The Native Speaker Is Not An Oracle.

This is partly an extension of #6; as we’ve said, speaking a language doesn’t make you a good translator. So it follows that speaking a language doesn’t necessarily equate with being able to answer questions about that language well. Some native speakers are great resources for word meanings and other linguistic issues; some native speakers are horrible resources for those things. And many are somewhere in between: it depends on how good you are at asking the right questions. It’s important to have native speakers as resources if you’re not native in the language you’re translating from, but it’s equally important to choose your advisors wisely–and then use them wisely, respectfully, and kindly. Finally, keep in mind that no one is infallible. All of us make mistakes, and all of us have things we’ve got the wrong idea about or just don’t know. I’m a native speaker of English with a B.A. in linguistics, and there are certainly English words I don’t know or have wrong ideas about. ^_^

Part 2: What You Need – On Developing the Skills

The Monterey Institute of International Studies has a ten-point list of ways to prepare for being one of their translation and interpretation students. Highly-paraphrased (so much so it’s not even ten points anymore), it basically says:

-Read extensively in your native language and in the language(s) you translate from.
-Pay attention to the news in all your working languages.
-Take steps to make yourself a more knowledgeable and well-rounded person.
-Spend time abroad.
-Develop your writing, research, analysis, and (for interpreters) public speaking skills.
-Get computer savvy.
-Don’t stay up for days at a time and live on junk food.
-Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I think this is a great list that applies to any translator in any field–although in the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that as an anime translator I don’t generally feel compelled to read the newspapers in Japanese. However, that is something I feel is important to me, because I’m looking ahead to if/when I ultimately transition to working more on projects that aren’t pop-culture. At that point having that experience will become as critical as everything else on that list. So take MIIS to heart, but also know what your own goals are. There’s good solid reasoning behind everything on that list and everything will power you up. Now to flesh that out and add some things born of my personal experience, here’s my shot at a ten-point list:

Ten Ways to Become a Kickass Translator

1. Get good at the language you’re translating from.

This is the obvious one that everyone knows. But hey, it’s obvious because it’s true. To be a good translator of any language, you need to have strong skills in that language. I translate Japanese, so I need to have strong skills in it. There are many other webpages out there which can tell you better than I how to develop your skills in your chosen language. So I’ll just be short and sweet and say “use it.” Read, write, study, research, speak, listen. Also, one thing other places won’t necessarily tell you: I find my background in linguistics has allowed me to synthesize a lot of my language learning faster than my peers with other academic backgrounds.

2. Get good at the target language.

The “target” language is the language you’re translating into. So for me, my target language is generally English. You need to have intimate understanding of the language you’re translating into. I can’t stress that enough. To craft a truly fine translation you need to have truly fine skills in English (or whatever your target language may be). Otherwise you won’t be able to communicate your ideas as clearly and you won’t be able to make appropriate or inspired choices that capture the spirit and texture of a literary text. Your skill in the target language is even more important than your skill in the language you’re translating from.

If you don’t speak your target language natively: read, write, and study it extensively, become acquainted with its high literature and its use in pop culture, and make sure you have trustworthy people to advise you on language choices. Also see my tips to native speakers below.

If you’re a native speaker of your target language: good, because that’s ideal–but that alone isn’t enough. You also need to have skill in wielding the language. The best way to develop it is to read extensively and write different kinds of things (articles, essays, etc.). Also, if applicable to the kind of translation you want to do, practice poems and stories–they don’t have to be publish-me good; you just have to work with them enough to get a grip on what’s involved. It’s best if you can get some constructive criticism on them as well. If you’re still in high school or college, you’re in the best possible position to get your English (or whatever) skills up to snuff: take courses that have a heavy writing component. Try to take at least one literature-type course and at least one technical or scientific course that make you really exercise your writing, and really pay attention to the feedback from your professors and peers. (Often it helps to do a little asking around about instructors before you sign up for the courses; upperclassmen can usually tell you which instructors will be truly helpful and which won’t.)

3. Research, research, research.

Many kinds of translation, especially of books, movies, and TV shows, are about knowing a little bit about every single thing that’s ever happened everywhere. In the course of a typical week translating anime, I might have to search for information on rainforest spiders, Pakistani names, a 1960s Japanese TV drama, the Reformation, aerospace technology, and the daily habits of Tibetan monks. And then it’d be Tuesday. Obviously, you’re never going to know all that plus everything else (Norse mythology, the Koran, Italian…). So you need to get good at finding stuff out. Not only that, but the answers need to be from reliable sources where possible. So one of the most key things to develop as a translator is research skills. If you’re in high school or college, try taking courses that will help you in this, or attend a library orientation day. (In most colleges the main campus library will hold an orientation day, often including research tips, once a semester. The only trick is that you’re probably only going to find out when it is by going up to the librarian in charge and asking.) Hell, try to get a work-study job at the library; you’re bound to learn something (I did), and make money too. If you’re not in school and/or don’t work at a library, don’t worry. Many college and public libraries offer sporadic courses on research methods; you can find out and try to take one. If that’s not a possibility, you can go to a college or public library and find that mythical figure called the Reference Librarian. The Reference Librarian’s job is to know how to find out stuff. If you’re a student, your school/college Reference Librarian is fair game. If it’s a public library, try to go on a slow day or make an appointment. Then go up to him or her, introduce yourself, and ask for help learning good research skills both online and in print (if you think you’ll need to be doing most of your research online, let her know). TIP: It will help if you bring some sample questions/areas of research so that s/he can help you by example. You can kill two birds with one stone by bringing research questions that have come up in one of your translations. CAUTION: Remember, the Reference Librarian is not a research monkey. S/he is not a research assistant. S/he’s there to help you do your own research. There is nothing that will alienate a Reference Librarian faster than expecting him/her to know or find all your answers for you.

Now, it’s worth taking a step back and saying that if you’re an anime translator and you already have some experience researching things, even if you’re not the Research Queen you may still be okay. Most–but certainly not all–of your research needs can be met by developing a passionate love affair with Google (both Japanese and your home country’s). However, watch out! Do not think for one moment that Googling isn’t a skill. There are ways to utilize search engines to find out esoteric things or get helpful, reliable results. There are also ways to take three hours getting completely useless results. Maybe you want to get some tips, or maybe you just want to set yourself a long list of hard questions and try to get better and better at finding the answers. Maybe you’re the Google Queen already. No matter which it is, the fact is good research takes practice.

4. Make friends.

Remember how I said translation was about being an expert on everything ever? Well, knowing an expert on everything ever is the next best thing. Networking is the way to go for a translator. When I need to be an expert on Latin for five minutes, I call my friend who teaches Latin. When I need to be an expert on Buddhism, I call my friend who’s an expert on Buddhism. When I need to know something random about flesh, fowl, or good red herring I call my dad. There are some things where all the Googling in the world is not going to deliver the goods as well as a consultation with someone who really knows the stuff. And if you don’t have someone to call, you’re going to have to spend a day at the library. You don’t want that to happen if deadline is tomorrow! So keep the various expertises of your friends and family in the back of your mind. Remember people you’re introduced to and be nice to them. And remember, when you call one of your people in the middle of the day and say “I need to know all the Biblical implications of this Greek word right now,” ALWAYS thank them before you hang up. They save your life, so be sure to show your appreciation.

5. Have an idea of what your goal is.

It’s my belief that someone who’s thought about what her theory of translation is, what translation means to her, and what she’s really trying to do overall as a translator is going to be better at her craft. So I would read a little bit on translation theory, and then spend a little time pondering what you think and what your philosophy of translation is. As an added bonus, reading other people’s writing about translation can give you ideas for how to handle problems you encounter. I suggested some books to start with on the Translation Resources page.

6. Get in-depth knowledge of the relevant field(s).

This may sound like a no-brainer. If you’re going to spend your career translating court documents, duh, you need to learn about law. But in less cut-and-dried fields I find people don’t always think about this. For example, a literary translator needs to have a strong literary background, with in-depth knowledge of major literary works and schools of literary thought. And an anime translator absolutely must have good knowledge of anime. You need to actually study it in a disciplined way, because it’s your field. You need to learn about the animation process itself (it’ll come up in interviews and extras if not the actual show), and about anime and its history in general (to get started, see the Becoming an Anime Expert page). Finally, the cultures and histories of the relevant countries are necessary fields of knowledge for ALL translators. I don’t care if you’re translating a great work of literature or a restaurant menu, you absolutely must have some foundation in the cultures behind all the languages/locations you’re working with. Yes, that includes your own.

7. Get a little bit of knowledge about the irrelevant fields.

Hey, like we’ve said, we’re the five-minute experts on everything. So pretty much anything you learn about in any capacity will probably come in handy eventually. Take the opportunities to learn about things, and just generally pay attention to what’s going on around you (especially the way people are talking) and file it away for later.

8. Have awareness of popular culture.

If you’re like me you find keeping up with popular culture and current events kind of a pain. But the fact is, it’s going to come up. Anything the world is preoccupied with works its way into everything. So keep your eyes open. Listen to the radio on your drive to work. Just find some way to pay a little attention to what’s going on. I always end up failing to read the newspaper, so I read TIME magazine–cover-to-cover so I get the news and the random.

9. Get creativity (yes, it can be a skill).

Scientists have been telling us for a while that creativity is a learned behavior, and it’s true. The more you practice brainstorming new and different language-play ideas, the more creative you are in your translation work. What are the common problems for every translator? What are the common translation problems in your specific language? When you run across examples of them in your daily life, take a moment and try to brainstorm ways to deal with them. Sometimes you do even better in this daily-life brainstorming than on your actual work, because there’s no pressure. What I’ll do is, when I’m reading comics in Japanese and I come across a really thorny issue, I’ll ask myself how I would’ve handled it. If I think of a joke in Japanese, I ask myself how I could make a translation of it work in English. Another thing you can do is look at other translations to/from your languages. Maybe you always handle puns in the same way. Does another translator handle them differently? Maybe that can break you out of the box and get you thinking in new ways.

10. Put thought into your work setup.

Translation is inherently uncomfortable because it often involves sitting on your butt for long periods of time, crouched over your desk peering at text. It can also be extremely inefficient if there’s a problem with your workspace or your equipment. You need to futz around with various different setups physically, to make sure sitting in that chair isn’t killing you, or to find out that moving your computer monitor up a few inches saves your life. And for goodness’ sake, get up and take a walk once in a while. It’ll save your spine and reboot your brain. You also need to futz around until you find a comfortable mental setup on your computer–if you’re translating from video, maybe there’s a video playback program that fits your habits better, for example. Little changes like that will boost your efficiency. Whether you’re a religious computer user or you’re one of the few holdouts who translates with pen and paper, you need to become very proficient in computing in all the languages you use. Clients will expect that and demand it. And there will be times when it’s just the only way to be efficient. There are all kinds of complications in computing in other alphabets, especially Asian alphabets, and the issues vary from operating system to operating system, program to program. Make sure that if nothing else you figure all of that out in whatever internet browsers you’re likely to encounter and in Microsoft Word.

Well, that’s about the size of it. If I were to say anything else, I think it would be that you can’t go wrong to take a linguistics course. Any aspiring translator still in college can probably benefit from some background courses in ling. Learning about language as a general system has greatly helped me develop my skills in all areas of translation, from as basic as language learning to as advanced as finding the intersections and deviances between languages and everything in between.

Author bio

Sarah “Alys” Lindholm is a Japanese to English translator of audiovisual media, academic papers, and other fun things. In addition to her freelance business, she is currently the Translation Manager at Funimation, where she spends her days acquiring new gray hairs and making sure your anime launches on time.

Six International Language Associations to Join

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

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

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

  1. The International Language Association (ICC)

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

This association provides the following to its learners:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Association for Language Learning (ALL)

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

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

  1. Association of University Language Centers (AULC)

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

The major goals of the association include:

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

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

About the author

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

Shipping Wars — a TV course for new entrepreneurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author bio

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

Teacher’s Top Ten: Business Practices

One of the main reasons we encourage students to join ATA is to take advantage of the wellspring of knowledge surrounding best practices—the kind that make working for yourself a smooth ride rather than one riddled with potholes.

Over the years, I have assembled a collection of ATA materials that I share with students and mentees alike. Because when we present ourselves as professionals, we all benefit.

Here then are my top ten professional business practices resources:

10. Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Project This blog post gets you started building a checklist that you should consult when communicating with a client about a potential project. I had a checklist next to my phone for years until I committed it to memory.

09. Translation Certificate vs. Certification This one pairs nicely with What is a Certified Translation. If you’re still confused about the difference between a certificate, certification and a certified translation after reading this, go back and read them again.

08. “Hot” Specializations Past President Corinne McKay takes on the question of specializing in her ATA Chronicle column.

07. Transitioning from Classroom to Career in Translation A free ATA webinar from someone who made the transition herself, packed with practical information.

06. Tips For Navigating Your First ATA Conference A rite of passage for many students, the ATA Conference is a transformational experience that for many marks the beginning of their professional career. Because it’s an investment, it’s a good idea to come prepared, which is what this free ATA webinar does.

05. Preparing to take the ATA Certification Exam While it’s intended to be a mid-career exam, many talented students will sit for the exam after a few years. Watching this free ATA webinar will give you an idea of whether you are ready to take the exam, and how to prepare for it if you are ready to take the plunge.

04. ATA Compensation Survey (the Executive Summary is free, and the full report is available to members) One of the hardest issues T&I practitioners wrestle with is how much to charge. The ATA compensation survey provides a context for understanding what colleagues are charging. The full survey breaks things down by language and geography, and is also useful for influencing policy makers. Be sure to spend some quality time with it before you get to number 3:

03. Setting a Fair Price: It’s All About You A classic article by veteran translator Jonathan Hine that walks you through the full process of setting your rates. Bonus hint: look on the ATA website for the US CalPro Worksheet, a spreadsheet file that does the math for you.

02. ATA Guide to a Translation Services Agreement and ATA Guide to an Interpreting Services Agreement Free, editable downloads of modular contract language that you can include and customize to meet your own needs and situation.

And the number one resource I want every student of translation and interpreting to have:

01. The ATA Code of Ethics and Professional Practice and Commentary Far from being a dry, lifeless legal document, the ATA CEPP embodies our professionalism. The accompanying commentary is a living document that illustrates the concepts with easy-to-grasp situations. Since you signed on to uphold it when you joined ATA, you should probably be very familiar with it—and bookmark it.

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About the author: Caitilin Walsh is an ATA-Certified French-English translator who delights in producing publication-quality translations for the computer industry and food lovers alike. A graduate of Willamette University (OR) and the Université de Strasbourg (France), and a past-President of the American Translators Association, she currently chairs the ATA Education & Pedagogy Committee. She brings her strong opinions on professionalism as an instructor of Ethics and Business Practices at the Translation and Interpreting Institute at Bellevue College, Chair of the T&I Advisory Committee for the Puget Sound Skills Center (both in Washington State), the ALC Bridge Committee, and the Executive Board of the Joint National Committee for Language (JNCL-NCLIS). When not at her computer, she can be found pursuing creative endeavors from orchestra to the kitchen. She can be emailed at cwalsh@nwlink.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @caitilinwalsh.