How is the T&I industry laid out?

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


How is the T&I industry laid out?

As a preface, I can think of numerous times since I began working as a translator that friends and family have come to me with questions about my work. Do I actually have a job? Do people pay me to do it? Who do I work for? The questions are not always this blatant, but I can often sense the underlying question of how the translation and interpreting industry really works, and whether it is a viable career for someone who knows a second language. In short, the answer is yes!

The question of how our industry is laid out is usually one that people do not ask straight-out, but it is the first topic I address in my response. It is crucial to have this foundational knowledge before you consider becoming a translator or an interpreter so you can decide if you—your lifestyle, your skills, your background—will make a good fit for the industry, and vice versa.

Translation vs. interpreting

The first distinction to make is the difference between translation and interpreting. Check out the infographic below to get an idea (credit: Translation is written; when you translate, you receive a document in one language and translate it into another language—usually on a computer, but sometimes by hand. Interpreting is spoken; interpreters work in person, by phone, or by video, interpreting words spoken in real time by conveying the same message out loud in a second language so that another person or other people can understand what was said.

Translation and interpreting require very different skills; translators are strong writers with a good grasp of writing conventions in their target language. They need to be able to properly understand the source language to create a suitable translation. Interpreters, on the other hand, should have a strong command of speaking skills in both languages and must be able to produce coherent and accurate renditions of what is being said as it is said.

What is a language pair?

The combination of languages in which a translator or interpreter provides services is called their “language pair.” Translators usually work from one language into another; for example, I work from Spanish into English (Spanish>English), which means that my clients send me documents in Spanish and I deliver translated documents in English. It is a good rule of thumb to remember that translators usually work into their native language. This is because most of us are naturally better writers in our native tongue, so we work from our second language into our first. Interpreters, alternatively, may work with both languages at the same level; for example, if an interpreter is hired to help a doctor communicate with her patient, the interpreter will need to speak both languages so both parties are understood. In this case, we would say that the interpreter’s language pair is Spanish-English, since he is not working into one language or the other. As a side note, some interpreters offer their services at conferences where the speaker or presenter speaks in one language and some or all attendees need to hear the presentation in their own language (this is called conference interpreting). If, for example, a group of marine biologists from Mexico attends a conference in Miami, their interpreter would be working from Spanish>English, and would most likely provide the interpretation simultaneously through a headset while the speaker is speaking.

Who do you work for?

This is one of the questions I hear most often. A high percentage of translators and interpreters are freelancers, which means we work for ourselves! Our clients may be translation agencies or direct clients from other companies that require our services. Most T&I professionals work for clients all across the world, which makes for an interesting workday! Some full-time employment opportunities exist for translators and interpreters, but much of the industry is built on an independent contractor model. There are pros and cons to working for yourself:

Pros Cons
Flexible schedule Unstable income
The more you work, the more you earn Loneliness
Work varies and can be very interesting No employer benefits

What does it take?

To become a skilled and successful translator or interpreter, it is important to be self-motivated! Especially if you are going to become a freelancer, you want to be sure that you have the fortitude to set your own schedule, manage your time, and keep growing your business. It is also essential to have strong language skills in two or more languages. It is important to recognize that being bilingual does not automatically make someone a translator or interpreter! Knowing two languages is crucial, but it is important to have training or experience that teaches you the ins and outs of translating or interpreting: the pitfalls you may encounter, best practices, and the code of ethics by which you must live and work. Bilingual individuals who are not cut out to be translators or interpreters and want to use their bilingual skills in other capacities can find great career opportunities as language teachers, bilingual medical or legal providers, language project managers, and so forth. In fact, bilingual individuals can play a key role in just about any profession imaginable.

We hope this helps to answer some of the initial questions you may have about translation and interpreting! Stay tuned for the next installment: “Starting from Scratch.”

Header image: Pixabay

Interpreting 101: An Interview with Student Interpreters

By Kimberley Hunt

Interview with Student InterpretersI had a chance to catch up with three interpretation students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). As part of the T&I program at MIIS, interpretation classes are mandatory for the first semester to give students a taste of the profession. After that, students can continue pursuing interpretation as a career. Anna Bialostosky, Elizabeth Crowell and Michael Ross are bidirectional French-English interpreters about to graduate. They have all spoken French and other languages for many years, and have lived in Paris, Perpignan, Aix-en-Provence and Nîmes as teachers, students and travelers. They talked with me about the beginnings of their careers, some of their practical experience, and advice for prospective interpretation students.

How did you first become interested in interpretation?

MR: I hadn’t even really thought about interpretation. I didn’t know there was a difference between translation and interpretation until I looked at MIIS, and even at the very beginning, I still thought I just wanted to be a translator. It wasn’t until we were required to take interpretation classes that I thought maybe it would be a nice way to vary my career.

AB: Interpretation appealed to me because it’s a little bit more social, and I thought it would be lonely to be by myself all day long. I also liked the aspect of getting to work in a lot of different subject areas.

EC: There’s also a performative aspect to it, and being a musician, that appealed to me. It’s like being on stage, with the pressure but also the excitement of having to perform on the fly.

What do you find the most fulfilling about interpreting?

AB: I find it to be really exciting. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of getting up in front of people and doing consecutive interpretation. I also find it to be sort of like a puzzle, and it’s very satisfying when everything comes together.

MR: It’s nice to connect directly with your end user. For example, with translation, particularly if you’re working with an agency, you never come in contact with the person who’s actually going to use your work. With interpretation, however, you get to work directly with them.

How did you train your brain when you first started simultaneous interpretation?

MR: We started with shadowing, where someone speaks in English and you repeat everything that they say in English immediately afterwards.

EC: We also started with doing two things at once. We would listen to a speech while drawing a picture, and then we’d have to repeat the speech in the source language. Then we listened to speeches while counting forwards and backwards. We slowly worked our way up to listening and interpreting at the same time.

AB: When we began simultaneous interpreting, we started with personal stories, which have a narrative and are a little easier to follow, as well as fairy tales, since they’re familiar to most people.

EC: We also worked with postcards, which was a lot of fun, because you have the image in front of you and can follow along with what the person is saying to activate your memory.

What is your practice schedule like? Do you practice alone or with each other?

EC: Eight hours a week [of consecutive practice on class materials] is the goal. Some professors say four hours of practice for every two hours of class, others say four hours every day, including classes and real-life opportunities. We also practice with other people in other languages, since it’s very good practice for taking relay. For example, we have a German colleague and she’ll take a speech in German and simultaneously interpret it into English and then we’ll take the English and interpret into French.

AB: We also go vice versa into English so she can interpret into German, which is really great, since it puts extra pressure on you to be very clear and go straight for the meaning when you know that someone is depending on your interpretation.

Do you go back and listen to your practice interpretations?

MR: One of the most important things about listening to your practice interpretations is making sure to animate your voice. Sometimes I might stagger through an interpretation, with lots of pauses in the text, and it’s really unpleasant to listen to.

EC: You have to make sure your tone matches the tone of the original speaker. You can’t sound like someone just died when they’re saying they went to Disney.

AB: If I concentrate on making myself sound expressive and sound like I’m communicating, then I’ll be able to get the ideas better and be idiomatic instead of sounding like Eeyore. No one wants to listen to an Eeyore interpreter.

What sort of interpreting experience have you had outside of the classroom?

MR: Some of the more colorful things we’ve done include taking a trip to a waste management facility in Monterey. We went on a tour with one of the managers and had the experience of walking around while consecutively interpreting and making sure to stay close to the speaker so they don’t get 20 feet ahead of you.

EC: We dealt with some of the issues you can face in that context, like ambient noises, as there was a lot of big equipment and trucks driving by. It was also a windy day, so we had to make sure the pages of our notebooks weren’t flying everywhere and we knew where we were in our notes. Those are good things to practice dealing with.

What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in becoming an interpreter?

AB: Be flexible and creative and be ready and able to adapt to various types of information or incongruous information. I wish I had gone to mechanic school or law school, or I wish I had learned how to fix a car in French or English. Take every opportunity to learn something new and be really curious.

EC: It’s definitely a field where specializations pay off. If you happen to be in another profession and want a career change, interpretation and translation is a good choice because that type of specialized knowledge is rare and invaluable.

All in a day’s work for MIIS interpreters! Thank you Anna, Elizabeth and Michael for your valuable insight into the life of student interpreters. If you have any questions for them, please leave a comment below or email

Header image credit: Life of Pix
Header image edited with Canva

3 Ways to Enhance Your Medical Interpreter Training Experience

By Erin Rosales
Reblogged from Connecting Cultures with permission from the author (incl. the image)

Interpreter trainingYou finally did it! After months of consideration and endless prodding from family, friends, and even that guy at the supermarket, you finally enrolled in an interpreter training program. Woo hoo!

Your course work will prepare you to interpret in the medical field, but there will always be more to learn than can be covered in a 40-hour, 180-hour, or even degree-level interpreter training program. (If you’re wondering how long it will take to learn everything there is to know about medical interpreting, this might not be the right career path for you.)

Why not get a head start on learning beyond the essentials covered in your medical interpreter training program? Here are a few ways to do just that:

1. Do the required work, and then some. Study the required vocabulary, and then some. Practice interpreting using the exercises provided, and then some. Analyze common ethical scenarios, and then some. You get the idea. By all means, do prepare for your course exams, but don’t stop there. Your real exam will take place when you are on your own with a patient and a provider relying solely on your interpretation. Make sure you’ve done everything you can to prepare for this moment.

Chances are quite good that your instructor(s) will give you practical tools you can use for continued professional development and self-guided study. Take advantage of these resources early on.

2. Join an association for interpreters. Yes, believe it or not, such things do exist. And yes, thank heavens, students are welcome in many organizations – usually at a discounted membership rate! Not sure where to begin? Check out the International Medical Interpreters Association, the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, and the American Translators Association. Don’t forget to investigate local and regional associations, too. Many can be found on the ATA Chapter and Affiliate webpage:

Joining a professional organization, especially as a newcomer to the field, is a great way to connect with other colleagues, grow professionally, and ensure that you are engaged with current industry trends and happenings (and I’m not just talking hairstyles and hangouts!).

3. Grow your online network. Having professional business contacts is always a plus, but having an online network is about much more than just stuffing an electronic rolodex. You’ll need friends, sympathetic ears, sage advice, and a bit of inspiration to keep you thriving throughout your career. Of course, not everything posted in an online forum is good, correct, or valid (except for things I post, of course. That was a joke. But not really.), but even when faced with content that seems, well, bizarre, you’ll have an opportunity to consider and reflect on viewpoints that are new or contradictory to your own, and perhaps even learn from them. You’ll also have the chance to learn from the challenges that others have faced, and that, quite possibly, you’ll face yourself someday. Before long, you’ll even find that you have something to contribute to the online community, and you’ll have a place to do just that.

Getting online is easy and not at all expensive, provided you already have a computer-type device with Internet service. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, all offer free services. Upgrading for a fee is optional. Not sure where to start? You might try LinkedIn – create a profile, join a few relevant groups, and start learning from and with others.

What tips do you have for aspiring interpreters who want to enhance their formative training experience?

The Interpreter’s Voice(s) – 1

By Brian Harris
Reblogged from Unprofessional Translation blog with permission from the author (including the image)

The Interpreter’s Voice(s)The other day I was reading a comprehensive manual of interpreter training by a Spanish friend when I came upon a quotation that confirmed something I’ve long suspected. It’s from an article by the late Hildegund Bühler. She ranks the qualities of a ‘good’ interpretation. Most Expert Interpreters and interpretation teachers would put something like her “Sense consistency with the original message” in first rank. Bühler’s list, however, begins with “native accent” in first place. This is understandable if you know that her ranking is based not on what the experts think but on the preferences of listeners to the interpretations. As I used to say to my students, “You can get away with murder if you do it with a native accent.”

But a surprise came with her second-ranking quality, still well ahead of “sense consistency”, etc. It’s “pleasant voice“.

I like to believe this because of an incident that occurred to me when I was interpreting at a conference in Canada. A lady came up to me in one of the intervals and said shyly, “It doesn’t matter which language you’re speaking. I just love to sit and listen to your voice.” I have no illusions; I’m no Basil Rathbone. But it was a compliment I’ll never forget.

I take no credit for it. The germ of our speaking voices, like the germ of translating, is something natural that we’re born with. However, like other natural capabilities, it can be modified by culture and training. (For which reason Spaniards tend to have loud voices from childhood.)

Here, though, is a counter-story. We had a student come to us at the University of Ottawa for interpreting who was already an Expert Translator. In fact he was a staff translator for the Government of Canada who wanted to change career path. After several months in the programme, the time arrived for his final examination. He was the student we felt we had the least to worry about that year.

To our horror and astonishment, he failed.

I should explain that our juries were made up of external Professional Interpreters and not of teachers from the university. So as soon as possible, I asked one of the examiners what on earth had gone wrong. This is the reply I got:

“Oh, yes. He can translate all right and he’s fast enough. But can you imagine having to sit and listen to that dreary voice all day.”

Efforts to find a suitable voice coach for him in Ottawa failed. We turned to the university’s drama school and sent him for a course there; but it turned out to be focused on the loud voice needed for the theatre. However, there was a happy ending. With the help and criticism of colleagues, he improved and the following year he passed.

The ‘compleat’ Expert Interpreter needs to have mastered not one but several registers of voice. Here they are listed in order of increasing loudness:

1. Whispering
2. Microphone
3. Telephone
4. Dialogue
5. Court
6. Oratorical

Let’s go through them.

1. Whispering may be true whispering, ie, to speak very softly using one’s breath rather than one’s throat and devoicing the voiced sounds. Or it may be murmuring, ie, using normal articulation but very quietly. This is a natural mode but it has a common fault in practice, which is to let the volume rise to a point where it disturbs other people around who don’t want the interpretation.

2. Microphone voice. This is the register used in simultaneous interpreting, for an obvious reason, and hence in the stories told above. Since microphones aren’t natural, nor is this register. But it’s not only a matter of volume. If you’ve listened to your voice recorded through a mike you know – and may have heard with surprise – how the process changes its timbre and hence its character. Common faults are speaking too close to the mike, hissing on sibilants, speaking too loud. The last is made more likely by the headphones simultaneous interpreters have to wear. Today the register is needed as much for TV as for meetings or radio.

3. Telephone interpreting. Close to (2), but telephones have less fidelity than professional mikes and the context is complicated by the use of speakerphones. The rise of a telephone interpreting industry has made this register important almost overnight.

4. Dialogue interpreting. This is the register of much community/public service medical and diplomatic interpreting, where there are meetings with two or very few participants. Cecilia Wadensjö coined the term in connection with immigration and medical work. It is the register closest to everyday conversation, and is therefore natural. However, care must be taken to maintain a volume that enables all the participants to hear without straining.

5. Court interpreting. Here we take a big jump into the unnatural. It’s the register not only for the courts strictly speaking, but also for tribunals and public hearings, workshops, etc., that are still often conducted without microphones. In court it is a legal as well as a practical necessity that everything the interpreter says be heard by all present, even the people seated behind the interpreter, and this requires high volume and voice ‘projection’.

6. Oratorical. For large audiences. There should be a microphone for it but sometimes there isn’t. I’ve had to do it, for example, when the equipment for simultaneous had broken down. It requires conscious boosting of volume, projection and endurance equal to what is required for the traditional theatre. Indeed I got my training for it doing amateur theatricals at school.

To be continued.

María Gracia Torres Díaz. Enseñar y aprender a interpretar: curso de interpretación de lenguas Español/Inglés. Malaga: Encasa, 2004, p. 228.
Basil Rathbone: there are several recordings of his readings of Poe’s The Raven and The Red Death on YouTube. They are the best.
Hildegund Bühler. Linguistic (semantic) and extra-linguistic (pragmatic) criteria for the evaluation of conference interpretation and interpreters. Multilingua, vol. 5, no. 4, 1986, pp. 231-235.
Cecilia Wadensjö. Interpreting as Interaction: On dialogue-interpreting in immigration hearings and medical encounters. Linköping University, 1992.


Tips for an Interpreter-Friendly Presentation

By Ewandro Magalhães
Featured article from The ATA Chronicle, originally published in August 2012

As much as we hate to admit it, interpreters make mistakes. Yet, holding interpreters solely responsible for successful communication and betting on their infallibility is a utopian dream. Ultimately, speakers should be equally accountable for the clarity and translatability of the ideas and words that make up their discourse. In fact, interpreting quality will improve greatly if some basic precautions are taken and all parties involved are aware of the necessity for an interpreter. The following is a document I used to share with speakers prior to their conferences to help them focus on some important yet commonly overlooked details. Feel free to pass it along to prospective speakers in those circumstances where you have been cleared to approach them directly. Do not contact speakers unless you have permission, especially if you are interpreting meetings through an international organization or an agency.


Dear guest speaker:

Your presentation will be interpreted simultaneously for the benefit of participants who are not proficient in your language. The success of your presentation will depend greatly on the job done by the interpreters. While they have been trained to follow rather demanding and technically complex speeches, the quality of their rendering will be increased significantly if you care to follow some of the recommendations listed below. The idea is to enhance the impact of your communication while minimizing content loss.
Please take a minute to review the list of simple things that you can do before, during, and after your lecture to make sure your presentation is interpreted to the best of the interpreters’ ability.

Before the Conference
• E-mail the event organizers or one of the chief interpreters copies of all materials you intend to use (texts, PowerPoint files, etc.). It does not have to be the latest version.

• Ask your host to disclose your e-mail or contact information to the chief interpreter in charge of the conference.

• Try to reduce, or eliminate altogether, the use of acronyms and abbreviations in your presentation. Depending on the target language, they may not make sense or be nonexistent.

• When preparing your visual aids, make sure to use fonts, shapes, and colors that are legible and clear even for someone in the very back of the room. In most cases, this is where the interpreters will be.

• Make sure to take a hard copy of your presentation and biography with you to the event.

• Save the latest version of your presentation and reference material on a flash drive that you can share with the interpreters.

On the Day of the Conference
• Make yourself available to the interpreters before the event so you can cover the most important points of your presentation and update them on any last-minute changes. This meeting need not take more than a few minutes.

• Point out any terms that must be kept in the original language.

• Try to summarize, in a few simple words, the overall objective of your lecture and the conclusions you hope to reach.

• Leave any printed material you will be reading during your presentation with the interpreters. This is particularly important in the case of quotations and literary texts (poetry and/or prose), but please see the next item.

• Keep the amount of quotations to the absolute minimum. Poetry should be avoided altogether, unless the text has been submitted in advance.

• Let your interpreters preview any videos you plan to use in your presentation.

• Talk to the interpreters about any jokes or humorous remarks you plan to make. Jokes do not lend themselves very easily to interpretation, especially if they involve puns and regional sayings.

During the Presentation
• Speak clearly and audibly at all times. If possible, run a sound check to make sure the interpreters can hear you satisfactorily.

• Avoid overly long sentences.

• Be particularly careful when pronouncing Latin names or words in a language that is foreign to you. Have your interpreters proof in advance anything you may want to say in the audience’s language.

• Make sure to leave any slides or transparencies on-screen a few seconds longer than usual before moving on to the next. This should allow the interpreters time to finish reading any relevant information.

• Get used to a longer-than-usual delay in audience response. Interpreters are often a few words behind the speaker. Also note that those in the audience who do not need the services of an interpreter may react to your words earlier.

• Always speak into the microphone, even if you are addressing a specific person in the audience. Remember that this person may be relying on the interpreters and can only hear what you say through the interpreters.

• If somebody in the audience asks you a question or offers a comment in your own language, please make sure to allow enough time for the interpreters to interpret it for the rest of the audience. Do not bother to repeat questions or comments heard in your own language for the benefit of others in the audience. The interpreters will do this for you.

• Always turn off a lapel mic when you leave the room, especially if you plan to go to the restroom.

After the Conference
• Talk to the interpreters and give them your impressions of the job they performed. Pinpoint any difficulties encountered and call their attention to any misinterpretation of which you are aware.

• Invite the interpreters to provide feedback regarding your presentation. See what could be done to help improve the interpretation in the future.

• Write a brief statement on the quality of the interpreting provided. Your criticisms will help the interpreters identify and correct any shortcomings. Your praise will encourage them to keep up the good work.

Please keep in mind that these recommendations are mere reminders. Follow as many as you can without compromising your natural presenting style. The interpreters, and the audience, thank you for your cooperation.

Speakers may not always adhere to the above, in whole or in part. More experienced speakers may tend to look upon the above as an overkill or TMI (too much information). Some interpreters argue that the tips may sound a bit overzealous and risk making us look unnecessarily vulnerable. In my experience, however, these guidelines have been mostly welcomed by speakers. If anything, sharing them makes you stand out as a conscientious and professional interpreter with a true desire to serve. It may require you to push your ego aside for a moment, but it will make you a better interpreter, guaranteed.

About the Author: Ewandro Magalhães is an experienced conference interpreter with over 20 years of experience. He has a master’s degree in conference interpreting from the Monterey Institute of International Studies Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education, where he is an adjunct professor. He is the chief interpreter at the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva, Switzerland, and a former contractor with the U.S. Department of State, the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank, the Organization of American States, and several other international organizations. He is the author of Sua Majestade, o Intérprete – o fascinante mundo da tradução simultânea. He is a member of the American Association of Language Specialists. You can find his blog, Field Notes, at

Helen’s summer reading topic: Spanish linguistics

By Helen Eby

book-254048_1280I plan to teach a class on the formal aspects of Spanish for Hispanics who speak Spanish well and have a solid level of literacy in English and Spanish. I started thinking of this when I taught my first Medical Interpreter training program here in Oregon starting in January of this year.

There is a significant number of people who can be great interpreters but have not had access to formal teaching of Spanish. They are the linguistic equivalent of musicians who learn how to play by ear. So, I’m reading some books to help me think about these issues more deeply, so I can answer some of the questions that will come my way.

Why would I do this? I’m a practical person, not generally a theory-oriented person!

First of all: it’s fun. Really, languages are fun! I remember the grammar and phonetics classes in high school and college. I aced that stuff! The grammar was remarkably similar to what these books cover under “linguistics.” And I loved the phonetics class in college! Dealing with the IPA and all that was just cool.

Studying these aspects of the language helps us understand the messages we read a whole lot better, which makes us better translators and interpreters.

Languages naturally influence each other. As a culture develops a concept and other cultures come in contact with this particularly helpful concept, the word used is influenced many times by the original word. Think about “tomato” and “maíz” (maize) and “kindergarten”. Have some fun with the Online Etymology Dictionary!

Many English-to-Spanish translators have to translate new concepts, and inevitably new terms are coined. Those terms become used and accepted points of reference. The Microsoft Language Portal (aka the Microsoft Glossary) comes to mind… Coining terms too freely gets us in trouble (“She’s using Spanglish!”). Not using apparent “Anglicisms” that have become standard terms creates unnecessary complication in our writing.

As a Spanish medical and court interpreter, I need to be able to use some of these new terms appropriately in an interpreting session. I need to be able to use the same terms that the person for whom I interpret uses so I will avoid unnecessary distractions. In an interpreting session, I’m not there to teach the Spanish speaker how to speak Spanish. I’m there to help him or her communicate and solve a problem such as a health issue, a judicial issue, or an issue with a child’s education. (Now, here’s a topic for another polemic post!)

In biology, there is an equivalent for this: the intertidal zone. In this area, creatures are exposed to salt water and to the air and rain water. As interpreters and translators, we live in the “tidal zone” of languages, where we help people who are in contact with each other but who communicate in different languages to solve problems, learn from each other, serve each other, and even develop friendships. Living in what I would call the “language and culture intertidal zone” means we have to understand both languages at significant depth so the product of our work can stand on its own outside of the “intertidal zone”. We follow a long tradition, probably older than the Rosetta Stone (196 BC).

Here are two books that will help me refresh the basics and have a quick reference guide for a class on the written aspects of Spanish:

Nueva gramática básica de la lengua española: A 270-page or so compendium of the basics of Spanish grammar from a Spanish perspective – tremendously different from how it is taught in Spanish textbooks used in the United States. A great alternative to the two-volume (3885 page) set!

Ortografía escolar de la lengua española:  A 65-page book for students that covers Spanish spelling, capitalization and punctuation. It reminds me of the spelling rules I learned in elementary school in Argentina and I have since formally forgotten, but incorporated into my writing. The alternative: a 730 page tome. I use the tome for more in-depth research on specific topics.

Additionally, here are two books that will help me deal with the constant issues of language change:

Introducción a la lingüística hispánica: An overview of Spanish. This covers the sounds of the language, the structure of the words, the structure of the sentence, the history of the language, the study of meaning, and linguistic variation in Spanish. We studied a lot of this in school and just called it “grammar”. I’m particularly interested in chapter 7, since it deals with linguistic variation.

El español en contacto con otras lenguas: This digs right into the issue of languages in contact issue. It deals with the theory of languages influencing each other, and how some changes happen anyway and then digs into specific languages in contact with Spanish, starting in Spain and going through all the continents.

These books are helping me with Spanish language issues. What references do you use for your languages? It would be great to get a list of useful books in the comments!

Nice Interpreter!

dog in love with a red heart  balloon
By Judy and Dagmar Jenner
Reblogged from Translation Times with permission from the authors
Today’s post is about the importance of being, well, nice. It’s essential to be a great interpreter — that goes without saying — but there’s also much to be said about the importance of soft skills. In the interpreting world, these skills are especially relevant in conference interpreting settings, where you will interact with the client who hired you and the people for whom you will interpret. We’ve heard from many clients that if they have two interpreters who are equally qualified, but one is nicer and more approachable than the other, they would undoubtedly choose the former. It’s only natural that clients gravitate towards professionals who do what they promise to do, show up on time, well-dressed and well-prepared, make the client look good, and are pleasant to work with. So what makes a “nice” interpreter? There are many different definitions and schools of thought on this, and ours is only one of them, but here are some thoughts. Be prepared for something we rarely dispense: tough love.
  • Clients are queens and kings. Of course, this does not mean that you should blindly accepts your client’s terms, but it does mean that you should treat your client with the utmost respect at all times. After all, without clients, you don’t have a business and can’t make a living, so you would be well advised to make yourself popular with them. However, we can’t even tell you how many colleagues we’ve heard badmouth the client, even at the actual interpreting event. If there is a problem that the client can’t solve, refrain from commenting on it. As a matter of fact, refrain from saying anything negative at all. You are there as a professional to do a job, so do it without complaining (unless you the problems are preventing you from doing your job, of course).
  • Don’t hide insecurities behind a mask of studied arrogance. It’s not attractive, and no one expects you to know everything. In fact, some of the best interpreters and most well-known university instructors and interpreter trainers, think Holly Mikkelson and Esther Navarro-Hall, are the first to say that they don’t know and that they will have to do the research. Develop the self-confidence to say that you don’t know but that you will find the answer.
  • Don’t show off. Your client has hired you to do a job, so do it, and do it well. This is not the time for you to pontificate about your knowledge of ancient Greek, obscure grammatical tidbits or general irrelevant stuff. We’ve seen this quite a lot: many interpreters aren’t very good at making small talk with clients (a blog post on small talk will be forthcoming), and since they don’t know what to talk about, some opt to boast about their achievements or talk about themselves. Rather, ask the client what you can do for him/her: is everything set for the event? Do they need a restaurant recommendation, as they are probably in your city, which they don’t know well? Do they need anything from you? It’s essential to think a bit about the client’s needs. Go above and beyond what’s required and you might just make yourself popular with the client.
  • Be honest. At a recent interpreting event, one of the attendees, who was listening to Judy’s interpreting, came up to her and thanked her for a great job. He also pointed out that he wanted to be sure to have all the jokes interpreted as well. This was a difficult thing to do, as all the jokes were almost exclusively US-centric, thus making it difficult to get the humor if you haven’t lived in the US (think Gilligan’s Island, The Apprentice, Joan Rivers, etc.) Judy had indeed been struggling with trying to interpret these jokes in a way that made some sense, but the jokes were essentially lost in interpretation.  Judy thanked the attendee for his input, explained the challenges and admitted that some of the jokes might not indeed be funny in Spanish and told the client why that was the case. Of course, he’d never heard of Joan Rivers or The Apprentice, so he’s lacking the cultural knowledge for the joke to be funny. He fully understood and thanked Judy for her honesty.
  • Extreme examples. We recently overheard a conference interpreter ask the project manager for an illegal drug (really). In general, as a profession, we oftentimes complain that clients don’t take us seriously as professionals, but it goes both ways, and we still have a long way to go. In addition, we heard about a court interpreter who decided to change her shirt inside the booth and sat around in her bra while she located the shirt in her bag, treating the attendees to quite a show.

ATA Business Practices: Appropriate Prices for Services

Each month the ATA Business Practices Education Committee contributes a column entitled “Business Smarts” to The ATA Chronicle that discusses various management practices and business-related questions submitted by translators and interpreters. You can find this column online at; in fact, this article was taken from the column at  It addresses many factors involved in answering one of the questions most frequently asked by freelance translators and interpreters: what should I charge for my services?  The article also mentions the issue of why ATA members don’t discuss their specific prices.  We think these answers are crucial to any freelancer starting out in their career and may also benefit more seasoned freelancers brushing up on business practices, so we’ve included the article below.  Enjoy!

Appropriate Pricing for Servicesbank-note-209104_150

Finding appropriate pricing for a service is one of the first challenges of establishing a business. Many factors contribute to finding a price that is attractive to clients, includes room to grow, and appropriately reflects the level of service provided.

Dear Business Smarts:

I would like to supplement my income by doing translation work on the side. I called a few people listed on ATA’s website, but nobody would give me any information about the going rates. How much can I charge for translations?

— PRICING, by e-mail

Dear Pricing:

The American Translators Association does not itself issue price recommendations and, for legal reasons, discourages any such discussion by its members. This is why you were unable to gather specific information by phone. In addition, there is no such thing as standard “going rates,” since market prices vary by language combination and the technical difficulty of texts.

To arrive at an appropriate price for your translation services, you will need to analyze a number of factors. These include your professional qualifications, your expertise in specific fields, the market you would like to target, and, of course, your cost of doing business.

Starting with the latter: you will need, at a minimum, an up-to-date computer, a basic set of dictionaries, the fastest Internet connection you can afford, and possibly specific software such as a spellchecker program for your language combination. You will also pay a self-employment tax on your translation earnings.  Your translation price needs to include a sufficient allowance to cover all these fixed expenses, since you may end up losing money otherwise. Your overhead should also account for the time you spent marketing your services, communicating with clients, administrative tasks, and bookkeeping.

Regardless of your language combination, linguistic background, and expertise, you must be fully qualified to do translation work, even on a part-time basis, and be aware of the various expectations of translation buyers. It might be useful to “inventory” your qualifications, including degrees, other credentials (including ATA certification), language skills, expertise in specific subject fields, residence or other experience outside the U.S., and actual translation work performed. Take a look at the online profiles of colleagues with similar qualifications, for example, in ATA’s Directory of Translation and Interpreting Services or other translator portals, such as and Translators Café. These sites also include extensive discussion forums with helpful information. You can also browse past job offers in your language combination and area of specialization to view price offers. While prices may be on the low end on auction websites, they at least provide a guideline for price calculations.

The best mathematical approach to arriving at a suitable price would be to define a gross hourly income (including overhead and taxes) that would make it worthwhile for you to work as a translator rather than, say, at a part-time retail job. Seasoned professional translators can produce about 300-400 words of finished text in an hour, meaning that the text is thoroughly researched, correctly translated, and fully edited. Divide your desired hourly net income by this word count to arrive at the price you would need to charge per word.

Further Recommended Resources

ATA webinars ($35 member, $50 non-member)

The ATA Chronicle (unlocked free, open to all)

Other ATA Resources

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: May 2008, p. 42