Advice for Beginners: Specialization

By Judy Jenner
Post reblogged from Translation Times blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

Many beginning interpreters oftentimes ask us about specialization and whether it’s essential that they specialize. We get many of these questions from Judy’s students at the Spanish/English translation certificate program at University of San Diego-Extension and from Dagy’s mentees. We thought it might be helpful to give a short summary on translation specialization.

One project does not equal specialization. This is a classic mistake that we also made early in our careers. Just because you have done a project (or two or three) in a specific area doesn’t mean that’s a specialization. You should really have in-depth knowledge.

Choose wisely. A specialization is an area that you know very, very well and that you can confidently say you are an expert in. Remember that if you choose a specific area, say chemistry or finance, it’s best to have significant experience, including perhaps a graduate degree and work experience outside the T&I field, in that specific area. You will be competing with colleagues who have both experience and credentials, so it’s important that you are prepared. For instance, we have a dear friend and colleague who has a doctorate in chemistry. Naturally, Karen Tkaczyk’s area of specialization is chemistry.

Non-specializations. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything. It looks quite unprofessional to say that you specialize in everything, so we suggest staying away from that approach. Also be sure to put some thought into areas that you don’t want to work in at all because you are not qualified, interested, or both. For instance, we once got a call from a client who really wanted to hire us to translate a physics text. We don’t know anything about physics, even though we took eight years of it, and even though we were flattered, we politely declined and recommended a colleague. That project would have been a disaster. We also wisely stay away from in-depth medical translations.

It’s OK not to have one. It’s not a bad thing to not have a specialization or significant experience in any area at the beginning of your career. Everyone starts out without experience (we did, too), and we wouldn’t recommend lying about any experience you have. However, think about experience outside the T&I field: perhaps you were a Little League coach and thus know a lot about baseball or volunteered at your local Habitat for Humanity and thus know a bit about non-profits. The experience doesn’t have to be in both languages, but any background and educational credentials will come in handy. For instance, Judy’s graduate degree is in business management, so business translations were a natural fit for her. We had also done previous copywriting work (before we started our business, that is), so we felt that the advertising field might be a good specialization (and we were right).

Add one! It might also very well happen that you will add specializations throughout your career, which is a good thing. We recommend choosing closely related fields so you don’t have to invest too much time and resources.

Getting faster. As a general rule, the more specialized you are, the faster you will be able to translate because you will be very familiar with the terminology. For instance, we have colleagues who only translate clinical trials, real estate purchase contracts or patents. They have usually amassed large glossaries and translation memories and spent little time researching and lots of time translation, thus positively affecting their bottom line.

We think this is a good start, but would love to hear from both colleagues and newcomers. Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

Book review: Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies

Reblogged from the ATA’s Spanish Language Division blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

In order to set the context of what translation is, I will quote the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) description of translation performance:

Translation is the process of transferring text from one language into another. It is a complex skill requiring several abilities.

The term “translation” is normally reserved for written renditions of written materials. Translation is thereby distinct from interpretation, which produces a spoken equivalent in another language. While translation and interpretation skills overlap to some degree, the following applies only to document-to-document renderings.

A successful translation is one that conveys the explicit and implicit meaning of the source language into the target language as fully and accurately as possible. From the standpoint of the user, the translation must also meet the prescribed specifications and deadlines.

Competence in two languages is necessary but not sufficient for any translation task. Though the translator must be able to (1) read and comprehend the source language and (2) write comprehensibly in the target language, the translator must also be able to (3) choose the equivalent expression in the target language that both fully conveys and best matches the meaning intended in the source language (referred to as congruity judgment).

A weakness in any of these three abilities will influence performance adversely and have a negative impact on the utility of the product. Therefore, all three abilities must be considered when assessing translation skills.

Various non‑linguistic factors have an impact on performance, such as the time allotted to deliver the product, and familiarity with both the subject matter and the socio‑cultural aspects of the source and target languages. Given previous knowledge of these factors or appropriate training, an individual with limited skills may in certain instances be able to produce renditions of various texts that might be useful for specific purposes. On the other hand, an otherwise skilled translator who lacks subject matter knowledge or who is unfamiliar with certain socio-cultural aspects will often provide an erroneous translation.

“ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance,” Preface, Interagency Language Roundtable, http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/AdoptedILRTranslationGuidelines.htm.

On page 2, Moros says “all theory affects practice, and all practices produce theory” and indicates that it is almost impossible for historians to work in an unbiased manner. I will call this implicit bias.

As translators, we are constantly developing theories whether we realize it or not. The decisions we make today are often the same as the ones we made yesterday and the ones we will make tomorrow. Whether or not we go to the trouble to write them down so we can share them with others in a theoretical framework is another matter, but as we discuss our edits we often find we did in fact have reasons for translating the way we did! That is called theory. I have seen this in listserv discussions many times… Translators are practitioners who in fact produce theory.

Implicit bias: When I studied to be a teacher in Argentina, the Social Studies professor required that we study history from two books with opposite perspectives to make sure we were exposed to two opposite biases! As translators, we are expected to shed our implicit bias when we approach a translation and read the material we translate with the implicit bias of the author. That takes special skill. Then we must consider the implicit biases of our readers and the words that will speak to them, so that we can communicate our message to them in the proper way. Can a machine do that?

In order to translate without implicit bias, we must become visible. We must be able to ask questions. We make choices and generate thoughts on how to handle problems. We cannot develop theories about how to translate a text or develop a style sheet for an organization without consulting with our clients. This is how humans are different from machines.

Today, according to Moros, translators are trained in a mechanistic way, reminiscent of Taylorism. Taylor coined the phrase “task management.” This is assembly-line work theory, which has been applied to factory work. Taylor proposed that workers get paid by the piece (does this remind you of being paid by the word?). The unions were able to convince Congress that this “efficiency” was not effective and should not apply in government-run factories (page 24).

What are some of the problems with this piece-rate system? According to Moros, the piece-rate system is hurting translation rates. In a large translation project, for example, a company would ask a translator to provide a discount, yet charge the end client the same rate for every word. However, the translator is the one paying for the translation tool!  Translation quality suffers and so does the pay. (page 26) In my opinion, this generally also assumes the work will be done faster. The ILR description of translation quoted above says, “Various non‑linguistic factors have an impact on performance, such as the time allotted to deliver the product.”

Another problem with the Taylorist perspective on translation is viewing translators as interchangeable. For example, at times translators are required to interact with a translation memory program that a large organization has created; such organization put a document together ignoring sections that may or may not match the document in question. This trains translators to simply not be concerned with the quality of their work, since it is not a priority for the people who they interact with directly. In any event, this model is simply not one that can be applied many times.

Moros proposes some alternatives to Taylorist translation training, starting on page 61. He recommends that translators become visible, understanding that they are creating truth and knowledge, and that they understand the concepts of meaning, transfer of meaning, text, author, authorship responsibility, ideology, and colonialism.

Moros reminds us that reading is contextual, and understanding varies depending on the context. Therefore, translators must take responsibility for their text as authors of the translated text. In this process of becoming authors of the translated text, every decision must be justified. In an ideal world, translators must be able to communicate with the requester of the translation and, whenever possible, with the author. It is essential to know the purpose of the translation and who the readers will be in order to translate the document properly.

However, as Moros reminds us, the Toledo Translation School, in its second period, did things right. King Alfonso X of Castile, called the Wise, directed that translation would be done in groups. This is reminiscent of the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM International) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) translation standards, which include the role of a bilingual editor (another equally qualified translator), not doing a back translation, but as part of the quality improvement process.

These are just some highlights of what Moros shares in Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies: Two exemplary cases that challenge thinking regarding translation history and teaching translation, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing (2011-05-17). The full book is worth the read! The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is 978-3-8443-9565-5. Happy reading!

Summary of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission, incl. the image

The fifth edition of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey serves as a practical tool, revealing general trends in the translation and interpreting industry.

The recently released fifth edition of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey is an invaluable benchmarking tool for nearly everyone in or affiliated with the translation and interpreting industry. The study allows an individual or company to easily compare their compensation levels to their peers. Translators and interpreters are able to review rates across languages, specialties, and location. Companies involved in translation and interpreting are able to refer to this report when determining their competitiveness with respect to compensation. Students considering careers in the translation and interpreting industry can use this tool to steer their specific career decisions and to gain insight about potential compensation. In addition, the study serves as a practical tool for a broader audience—individuals and businesses in the market for translation and interpreting services.

The survey was compiled, tabulated, and prepared for ATA by Industry Insights, Inc., a professional research and consulting firm that provides management and marketing services to dealer organizations, individual membership organizations, and professional trade associations and their members. The company specializes in compensation and benefits studies, industry operating surveys, member needs studies, educational programs, and customized research activities.

Survey Design

Responses were received from translation and interpreting professionals worldwide. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents reside in the U.S., 15% in Europe, 6% in South America, 4% in Canada, and the remaining 6% in other locations.

Upon receipt, all data were checked both manually and by a custom software editing procedure. Strict confidence of survey responses was maintained throughout the course of the project.

The seven employment classifications analyzed in this report include:

  • Full-time independent contractors
  • Part-time independent contractors
  • Full-time in-house private sector personnel
  • Part-time in-house private sector personnel
  • Company owners
  • Educators
  • Government employees

For detailed analysis, responses were broken down by age, gender, years in translation and/or interpreting, education level, ATA membership, geographic region, and certification and interpreter certification/credential. This comprehensive data allows users to compare their own income, hourly rates, and rates per word to individuals in similar situations.

Some Key Findings

Respondent Demographics: Survey respondents had varying backgrounds and experience. As shown in Figure 1, more than two-thirds were female and nearly one-third were ATA-certified. More than 60% held a master’s degree or higher, and more than two-thirds had over 10 years of employment in translation and interpreting. The typical (median) respondent was 50 years old.

Summary-Fig-1

Income Varied by Employment Classification: As shown in Figure 2, translation and interpreting company owners reported the highest gross income at $55,630, which is slightly ahead of full-time private sector employees ($55,547) and full-time independent contractors ($52,323). The lowest income was reported by educators and part-time independent contractors: $17,344 and $17,746, respectively.

Certification and Credentials Matter: On average, ATA-certified translators earned 21% higher compensation than those who were not certified. Similarly, on average, certified and credentialed interpreters earned 27% higher compensation than those who were not certified or credentialed.

Trends: Nearly half of the respondents reported that their 2014 gross compensation from translation and interpreting increased compared to 2013. Nearly one-third reported no change in income, while 23% reported a decline.

Education and Experience: Thirty percent reported having a degree in translation, while 12% reported having a degree in interpreting. Half reported having a non-degree certificate in translation or interpreting. Other credentials reported include state court interpreter certification (8%) and the U.S. State Department exam (6%).

Translation Volume: Translators’ target output per day was reported at 2,855 words. On average, they translated approximately 380,000 words per year in 2014.

Translation Income: Responding translators reported three-quarters of their income was derived from translating, while 15% was earned by editing/proofreading.

Translation Services: A little more than 14% of translators reported offering editing/proofreading services, while more than 76% reported offering translation services. Only 1% of translators reported offering post-editing machine translation services.

Interpreting Income: Responding interpreters reported the bulk of their income was derived from the following settings: judiciary (27%), medicine/life sciences (22%), and business and conference (12% each).

Interpreting Services: The interpreting services offered most frequently were consecutive (96%), simultaneous (74%), sight (44%), and phone (42%).

Compensation: Thirty-two language combinations were surveyed. Translation rates were reported per word and hourly. Hourly rates were reported for editing/proofreading services. Hourly rates were reported for interpreting services.

Summary-Fig2
Summary-Fig3
Ordering Information

ATA’s 58-page Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition presents the survey results in much greater detail than is possible in this summary article. The complete report includes translation and interpreting hourly rates and rates per word for a wide range of language combinations. It’s important to remember that the statistics published by ATA should be regarded as guidelines rather than absolute standards. ATA intends the survey to reveal general trends in the industry, not exact amounts.

The full report is available to ATA members for free by logging into the Members Only area of ATA’s website. Non-members may purchase the complete report for $95. Please order from ATA’s Publications page or write ATA to order your copy: ATA, 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 590, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-683-6100; fax 703-683-6122, e-mail: ata@atanet.org.


Shawn E. Six is a principal at Industry Insights, Inc. His position includes marketing, design, and implementation of the company’s research efforts, with a focus on compensation and benefits studies for a wide variety of industries. He has conducted more than 200 studies during his 20+ years at Industry Insights, and the results of these projects have been cited in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and countless association journals. He has an MS in marketing from Westminster College and a master’s degree in predictive analytics from Northwestern University.

Branding Yourself – Create a Professional Portfolio

 Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission from the author

In today’s business world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make yourself competitive, especially as a translator. More and more freelancers are being added to the market, so what can you do to make yourself stand out in a sea of many? A great place to start your differentiating process is by creating a professional portfolio. A portfolio is an invaluable tool in more ways than one. But what exactly is it, and exactly how can it help you?

What Is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is simply a collection of your work that can be used to market your language services, apply for a job, highlight your professional experience, or document what you have learned. As a translator, you need a portfolio to create the link between what you can do and what the prospective client or organization wants from you. Your professional portfolio will distinguish you from the competition. It will clearly highlight your experience and demonstrate that you are serious about your career as a translator and your job search. It will show examples of your unique strengths and pique the interest of your potential clients or employers. In addition, it will help you build confidence in what you can do.

How Can Your Portfolio Help You?

What are your professional activities, and what are the outcomes of those activities? Are you documenting them adequately so others can see your contributions? Do your activities and the outcomes they produce match your profession? What do you need to change or enhance about what you do and the outcomes you document? A professional portfolio will be an immense help in answering these questions constructively. It helps you keep track of everything you have done in your career as a professional translator or interpreter and points out where you should go next. Most importantly for freelancers, it will definitely get you attention and help you stand out from the crowd.

The Importance of Your Unique Value Proposition

Before you embark on creating your professional portfolio, you must first identify your value proposition—a clear statement in line with the market’s challenges and your desires, communicating the unique contribution you and your services are providing that is different from your competitors. Try to answer the question, “Why should I do business with you and not someone else?” Your unique value proposition must appeal to the client’s strongest decision-making drivers. It should be believable, authentic, and specific. Once you have a statement that you are confident communicates your value, you have the basis on which to build your professional portfolio. Like a classic novel that has a specific theme or overall message, your unique value proposition should pervade your portfolio. Whoever is reading it should get an overall sense of your value without your having to state it explicitly.

What Goes Into a Portfolio?

The key point of your portfolio is that you want to give an employer cause to hire you or a prospective client reasons to retain your translation or interpreting services. You want to showcase your education and work experience by showing examples and evidence of your work, skills, and accomplishments. While your portfolio can be creative and contain an array of items based on the exact message you are conveying with your unique value proposition, there are some elements that are absolutely necessary. These are your career summary, bio, personal philosophy, and mission statement.

How to Make Your Career Summary Interesting and Relevant

Your career summary is simply a description of who you are through what you have done throughout your career as a linguist. It typically includes information not on your résumé, such as your work ethic, professional interests, and your philosophy about life and work. In your summary, aim to quantify your achievements by using varied adverbs and more descriptive detail. Instead of simply mentioning that you did X translating job for Y company, make a statement saying something along the lines of you consistently did X job, translating 3,000 words per day at Y company.

How to Define Your Personal Philosophy and Mission Statement

This is a personal statement about the principles that guide you, your purpose, and your value proposition. Consider this your personal executive summary. While it may be short, this is important for singling out your mission as a linguist and expressing your uniqueness.

Perfect Your Bio

In the business world we summarize our experience, qualifications, education, skill-sets, and any other important aspects of our professional life (and sometimes even our personal life). This is contained in what is typically known as the résumé or CV (curriculum vitae). The information presented, its style, format, length, etc., all vary among cultures. Nevertheless, it is an important component of your marketing kit, regardless of the culture you are targeting. However, this tool does not really highlight all of those personal characteristics that make you different from others. The biography is a highly underestimated, yet very powerful, tool that should be essential in any marketing kit. It is simply the story of your life.

A résumé lists your credentials. A biography presents them in a story, automatically making the content much more interesting. Stories are fascinating and have the ability to engage and connect us with our target market through purpose and passion. Let your human side shine through your story. Your audience wants to find that special connection with you, and there is no better way to connect than by sharing your story. Do not be bland. Personal hobbies and interests, while not necessary, may be helpful in letting your readers get a taste of who you are as a person.

When composing your bio, consider your audience—who exactly will be reading it? This is important, because what you include in your bio should and will vary depending on your target audience. While this may be difficult to achieve, a good bio is short—somewhere between 150-300 words. To keep the length to a minimum, it is important to focus only on the highlights or more significant moments. Use phrases such as among others or to name a few. These phrases keep lists short, but convey the notion that the list continues. Your bio should also be written in the third person in order to keep it formal and professional.

Some Other Items to Consider in Your Portfolio

While every one of the following items is not required in your portfolio, you should try to include what you feel is necessary to convey your unique value proposition. Consider the following:
• Career summary
• Goals
• Personal brand statement in a tagline form
• Mission statement
• Bio
• Résumé
• Accomplishments
• Work samples
• Research publications and reports
• Testimonials
• Letters of recommendation
• Awards and honors
• Conferences and workshops
• Transcripts
• Degrees
• Licenses and certifications
• Professional development activities
• Volunteer and community service
• References

One thing to keep out of your portfolio is your rates. Also, if you are targeting translation agencies, include the tools and technologies you use; however, when targeting direct clients, this information is not necessary and may even confuse your potential buyers.

Stylistic Tips to Keep Your Portfolio Professional

Use an assortment of syntax and vocabulary so that your portfolio does not become boring to the reader. Be careful to stay truthful. If you are caught lying or even stretching the truth, you will lose a lot of precious credibility—and likely a client as well. In addition, industry jargon should be kept to a minimum. What good is your portfolio if the reader does not understand what is being said? Monitor the length of your sentences so that the flow of your statements does not become choppy or confusing. Keep in mind that bulleted lists are easy to follow and show organization. Avoid words that are too “flowery”; that is, if you think your reader might have to go to a dictionary for it, do not include it. Definitely omit pronouns, as they make your portfolio look less professional. You should always keep your intended audience in mind when planning your approach. Perhaps your readers would prefer something a little more personal. Always remember that your portfolio should motivate the reader to take action.

Stand Out from the Crowd with Your Work Samples

Regarding samples, if you are a translator, make sure you include the source and target translation. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, you can simply include a hyperlink to the source document and the corresponding translation if they are available online (like a website). Instead of just including the source and target translation, focus on highlighting any outcomes that resulted from your translation. For example, if you translated a website, and that website is reaching out to X amount of people, point that out. If you are an interpreter, you can include a link to a short video clip of an actual interpreting assignment along with a brief description of what the gig was all about. A word of caution: if you are going to include hyperlinks to projects or assignments on which you worked, make sure you always get the proper permission from your client to do so. You do not want to infringe on any confidentiality agreement and jeopardize not just the relationship with your client but also your professional reputation.

Your Portfolio: Why It Should Be Online

Google is your biggest promoter. The Internet is the biggest gallery in the world, with millions of potential clients online. You need to make sure they can find you and your work. An online portfolio gives you the perfect opportunity to do this. With numerous social media outlets, you have the ability to showcase yourself and your work to thousands of people not available via traditional methods. Think about the implications of not popping up on someone’s online search for your name. Will you lose all trust or credibility since you are not in the results set? Are you hiding something? If others cannot find you online, you have done a poor job of letting people get the chance to know you and your services. Your online portfolio is available around the clock. You want your online portfolio to be like a website that is well designed, easy to use, and tells the reader exactly what is wanted quickly and without hassle. Not to mention, you want it to be instantly inspiring upon first glance. One of the most important aspects of your online portfolio is its appearance—easy to read, clean, and thorough. When you create easy-to-read application material that paints a detailed, well-matched picture of your professional self, you make recruiters, clients, and employers happy and interested.

Online Tools to Create Your Online Portfolio Find websites that can both stylize your portfolio with graphics and organize your information in a visual and compelling way. There are numerous free and inexpensive tools online that allow you to create graphical representations of your skills, working history, and professional achievements. If you do not already have your own personal website, consider investing in one. Make it easy for others to find and be impressed by you. Make them think, “Wow, I need those services, and now!” It is easier than you think to make yourself accessible. You will find that your professional portfolio (particularly one that is online) will do that for you. All the effort required is the initial creation of the portfolio. So, go out and self-promote. After that, your clients will come right to you!

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

Marcela Reyes is the chief branding officer for Latitudes | Training, Coaching and Consulting. She is an entrepreneurial marketing expert and business coach with over 20 years of experience. She partners with language services providers around the world to help them communicate their value to attract more clients, expand their services, and develop their own brand in local and international markets. She gives presentations around the world and is a published author. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and an MBA with an emphasis in marketing. Contact: marcela@latitudescoach.com.

To ask or not to ask – that is the question…

Reblogged from the blog ClaireCoxTranslations ~ Lines from a linguist, incl. the image, with permission from the author

It’s a familiar story: you’ve come to the end of a lengthy translation and there are a couple of points you’re not quite sure about. It might be in-house jargon, or indecipherable acronyms. Or then again the source text might not be very well written, or there may be ambiguities you need to resolve in order to convey the meaning accurately in your target language. So do you get back to the client and ask for clarification? Or just hope for the best and go with your instincts….?

I’m firmly in the “ask” camp myself. I don’t believe any agency or direct client worth their salt would think you any less professional for seeking clarification. Indeed, not asking is much more likely to leave you open to accusations of unprofessionalism! There may be any number of reasons why a source text might not be entirely clear: the author may have left a word or phrase out; there may be a typing or dictation error, the text may have been left deliberately ambiguous, but conveying that ambiguity in the target text might not be quite as straightforward…. You might just not have a enough context to go on to make an informed decision. Add these to the list of considerations I mentioned above and you’ll see that if you’re in any doubt about the true meaning of your source text, it really is best to ask.

I clearly recall Chris Durban, in her mystery shopper presentation at the ITI Conference in Birmingham in 2011, describing her experiences with outsourcing work to translators. She too was amazed how few translators bothered to ask questions, but she was actually far more concerned if translators DIDN’T ask! I only outsource a limited amount of work these days, but I feel the same way. I always try and make it quite clear that I’m happy to answer any queries, no matter how trivial. It shows me that the translator is thinking about what they’re translating and keen to get it spot on.

I tend to leave it until the end of my first draft before sending in my queries, but with a very long document, it might be a good idea to split the text into sections and send batches of queries after each section. I’m currently working on a very lengthy translation and sent my first list of questions when I reached the quarter mark, over a week ago. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting, despite gently nudging the agency a couple of times in the interim! This is frustrating as not only am I perpetuating any misunderstandings I might be making, but the longer it takes, the more potential adjustments I’ll have to make at the end, rather than after a shorter section, as I’d hoped. Many of my queries relate to acronyms, not to their meaning as such, but how the client would like them conveyed in the target file. In the particular field I’m working in, some of my clients like to use the equivalent English acronym, some prefer the French left as it is and others prefer the French followed by the English equivalent in square brackets afterwards – as you can see, it’s a potential minefield! This particular end client made it very clear at the outset of this project that they were happy to field questions and that the priority was for accuracy, yet I suspect project managers at the client’s end have changed in the meantime and I have on occasions been asked to highlight any queries when I return my final translation – never a satisfactory outcome for the translator!

I often find that working for direct clients leads to more successful question-answer sessions, as you are able to go straight to the horse’s mouth. I love it when you query a term and the client ‘phones or e-mails you back saying they’ve just spoken to the engineers and giving you a detailed description of what the widget in question actually does – brilliant! Then again, direct clients may not speak the source language at all, but merely discussing the issue with them shows them that you’re aware there’s a problem and if nothing else you can add a translator’s note with possible options. I translate an ongoing series of minutes and actions for one particular client and it’s gratifying to find, further down the line, that a particular piece of text that I’ve queried has been amended in the source text as not being sufficiently clear there either….

I have worked for clients in the past who have clearly been unwilling to “bother” the end client and have just said “Oh, put what you think….” – which I hate! Providing you’ve done the necessary research, using standard dictionaries in your subject field and a decent amount of online searching, it is most certainly not a sign of weakness or ignorance to check your understanding of a specific term or phrase. Patents in particular, with their very long and convoluted sentences, are often riddled with typing errors and omissions and I frequently send them back with a list of queries based on my assumptions. With patents, you are often asked not to correct errors in the text, but to note them separately for consideration by the patent attorney. Another agency client sends me two-column Word documents extracted from Déjà Vu with an extra Comments column, and I use this to note any niggles I might have about the text as I work, for easy reference by my agency contact at the end. Translator’s notes (footnotes or endnotes) are another option, but I’d rather avoid these unless specifically asked to use them as I feel it breaks the flow of the text.

Of course, there are lots of things you can do before resorting to sending that list of queries to the client: checking dictionaries, on and off-line and carrying out web searches. I find Linguee extremely useful these days, as it shows you words used in context – you have to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, obviously, but it can give you a nod in the right direction. Translation forums are also very valuable resources: professional associations such as the ITI have language and subject networks, often with associated e-groups, where you can post term queries for discussion by qualified translator colleagues. I find these particularly helpful for getting a native speaker’s take on a particular phrasing, less so for highly technical terms, but it’s always worth a try if you’re really stuck. Finally, I have a number of colleagues I can refer to in extremis, either by Skype messaging, e-mail or ‘phone: it’s amazing how often the act of writing down your concerns helps crystallise the problem in your mind! And if it doesn’t, two minds are better than one and, between you, you can arrive at a solution. It may be that you’re still not sure, even after all that, so that’s when you need to consult the client.

Often, if you’re unsure about something, but persuade yourself that you’ve instinctively worked it out, that will be the one term that will come back and bite you – in the form of a proofreader’s red pen, or at worst an angry reaction from the client. It just isn’t worth taking the risk – even if you have to badger the client to respond in the first place! At least that way, you’ve raised awareness, asked the question and tried to reach a solution. If you still don’t get an answer, you may have to reiterate your concerns when you send in your final text, but the ball is in the client’s court, unsatisfactory as that may be for you as a perfectionist translator…

So, yes: ask, ask, ask every time is the answer to my question – not to the extent that you make a nuisance of yourself, but so that you show yourself to be the diligent, professional translator we all aspire to be.

TM-76_The absence of context is to be lamentedWith grateful thanks to www.tina-and-mouse.com for the very apt cartoon!