Savvy Diversification Series – Diversification into Machine Translation

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!

Taking the pulse of the U.S. localization industry demonstrates what should be an economically prosperous period for qualified translators and editors. It’s true that it doesn’t sound great for the industry to be operating in what the Joint National Committee for Languages calls a period of “language crisis” in the United States. The materials distributed to U.S. lawmakers during the February 2021 Virtual Language Advocacy Days give alarming statistics: “9 out of 10 US employers rely on employees with world language skills[, and] 1 in 3 foreign language-dependent employers reports a language skills gap[ and] 1 in 4… lost business due to a lack of foreign language skills” (JNCL-NCLIS, Legislative Priorities). That is to say, at the same time that the U.S. market is feeling repercussions for its lacking investments in multilingual education over the years, qualified language professionals are in high demand, while the roles being demanded by the market are becoming ever more technological in nature. In article “Future Tense: Thriving Amid the Growing Tensions between Language Professionals and Intelligent Systems,” Jay Marciano points out, “The day-to-day work of the translator of today will be hardly recognizable to a language services professional in 2030.”

Newcomers to the industry are at a particular advantage within these circumstances. During Slator’s Briefing for their Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement, Anna Wyndham noted that experienced buyers of localization services are less likely to adopt new pricing models, while new buyers from the tech industry and beyond are more open to and indeed may expect “human-in-the-loop” pricing models based on full integration with machine translation. Likewise, savvy newcomers to the translation profession are more likely to adopt machine translation as a reality of the role, while more veteran translators may feel less incentivized to go through the disruptive change of integrating Machine Translation (MT) technology into their everyday workflows. Newcomers and veterans alike who are looking to diversify now and have their services remain relevant for decades to come would do well to incorporate machine translation before the learning curve has become so great as to effectively disqualify one from key markets.

This article outlines key MT-related services to include in your portfolio as 21st-century translators reinventing themselves as language technologists. As language technologists, your expertise in translation makes you an asset at MT-engine training, writing content for MT, and post-editing of machine translation (PEMT) stages. This article considers these services in reverse order, starting with the PEMT services that translators are most likely to perform, before shifting further and further upstream, first to writing for MT and then to training MT engines. The discussion of each service type addresses common misconceptions and key competencies so you can start developing the skills needed to add MT services to your field of expertise. Check out the additional resources section for further reading to continue your exploration of this dynamic service area.

Service #1 – Post Editing of Machine Translation (PEMT)

In Episode 49 of The ATA Podcast, “A Look into the Future of Post-Editing and Machine Translation,” Jay Marciano defines post-editing of machine translation as a “step that a professional translator takes to review and make corrections to machine translation output in the provisioning of… high quality translation[s]” (Baird and Marciano). By rights, Marciano believes that this terminology “post editor” adds specialized meaning to what is already a post editing role. To summarize, traditional translation denotes not only the invention of completely new copy, understood to be the translation of “new words,” but also the act of editing translation memory (TM) output at the segment level, the level of work involved depending on the quality of the contributors to shared, proprietary resources, and the level of match of the source segment for translation to existing segments within the TM, generally starting from 75% percent matches to above. Incorporating segments that have been pre-translated using MT adds another segment type for human post-editing, though the term “post-editing” itself is used exclusively to denote work reviewing machine translation output.

The belief that it takes less skill to post-edit machine translation than it does to produce traditional human translation is a misconception that has circulated in the translation field since the advent of MT. This misconception is tied to several factors. Among those is the outdated perception that MT produces poor quality output that is too repetitive to be interesting for humans to review. Older rules-based or statistical models indeed perform better for content that corresponds to lower levels of the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale for translation performance. The ILR scale is comprised of 5 levels, with level 2 and below indicating limited or minimal performance, and level 3 and above indicating levels of professional performance. Traditionally, rules-based and statistical models have been best geared for texts that correspond to level 2 of the ILR scale, or straightforward texts like sets of instructions produced using controlled language that leaves little room for creative interpretation. ATA certification is a mid-career certification that demonstrates that a translator performs at (at least) a Level 3 of the ILR scale, and older MT models could not at all compete with professional humans for content characterized by the abstract language, implication, and nuance that requires a human mind to be parsed. However, machine translation technology has evolved at light speed, and even if MT cannot surpass the quality produced by human translators, the levels of fluency and correspondence it is possible to achieve using artificial intelligence and neural machine translation is remarkable. The linguistic challenges encountered in this work are interesting for those who enjoy studying the intersection of human and machine-produced languages too.

No matter the complexity of the content that a machine translation engine is designed to pre-translate, MT engines are far from replacing humans. According to the ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation, this is because “Computers can be very sophisticated in calculating the likelihood of a certain translation, but they understand neither the source nor the target text, and language has not yet been captured by a set of calculations.” While the results of MT are getting better all the time, when confirmation of any degree of accuracy or polishing is needed, a professional post editor is the one to do that job. According to ISO 17100 Translation Services – Requirements for translation services of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the professional competences of translators are: translation, linguistic and textual competence in the source and target language, research, information acquisition and processing, and cultural, technical, and domain competences (3.1.3). Professionalism is a competence added to the translator competences indicated in ISO 17100 for MT post editors according to ISO 18587 – Translation services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements. That professionalism entails a knowledge of MT technology, common linguistic errors produced by MT, and Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT) tools, and the ability to carry out linguistic analysis, provide structured feedback to improve MT output over time, and interact with terminology management systems (“5 Competences and qualifications of post-editors” ISO 18587).

To undertake the linguistic challenges that post editing of machine translation presents requires a thorough understanding of key post-editing concepts and how those concepts relate to post-editing specifications. To review, specifications outline the requirements of buyers and expectations of target users that change how localization services are produced. With regards to machine translation, the value proposition of the content being produced will determine whether light post-editing or full-post editing is needed, that is, whether what the TAUS MT Post-Editing Guidelines refers to as “good enough” or “human translation” quality is needed. If light-post editing is called for, such as in circumstances in which speed of delivery takes priority over fluency and stylistics, the post editor will intervene minimally in the raw MT output to make corrections to inaccurately rendered meaning, grammar and spelling errors, and culturally offensive content. If full-post editing is called for, greater checks for consistency in terminology, product names, and mechanical aspects of the text are also employed.

Within either light or full post-editing models, discipline is key, and in post-editing, discipline is demonstrated by using the least number of keystrokes to make only the necessary corrections. Experienced post-editors can quickly distinguish among segments that are good enough, segments that require minor edits, and segments that need to be started from scratch.  Localization managers use post-editing distance – or the measure of the change between raw MT output and post-edited content – to gauge the overall quality of the MT engine and the post editor’s work and to identify instances of over-editing and under-editing. According to Silvio Picinini of eBay, low edit distances can be an indicator of both quality and productivity, since if both the MT engine and the post editor have been well trained, that should result in lower edit distances. For those who are interested in working as post editors or in training post editors, Sharon O’Brien recommends the following curriculum in the 2002 paper “Teaching Post-editing: a proposal for course content”; “Introduction to Post-editing, Introduction to Machine Translation Technology, Introduction to Controlled Language Authoring, Advanced Terminology Management, Advanced Text Linguistics, [and]Basic Programming Skills” (103).

Service #2 – Writing for Machine Translation

In a world in which more-and-more data is being authored on a daily basis than could ever possibly be translated by humans, the authors of a great percentage of that data may not be good writers at all, much less good writers of content intended for translation. Within workflows that incorporate MT, professional linguists have an opportunity to get involved before any content is even imported in the engines that produce the raw output for PEMT. Just like workflows built around human translation benefit if the source content is written for translation, workflows that incorporate machine translation benefit from increased efficiency and quality if the source content is written expressly for that purpose. Localization workflows for human translation already incorporate copy-editing of source content to promote smooth processing during translation, especially where multiple target languages are involved. This copy-editing stage decreases the need for clarification mid-workflow and prevents the extensive rework that results from misunderstandings and poor comprehensibility by identifying and correcting ambiguities and inconsistencies in source content prior to sending that content for translation.

Once post editors have a good sense for the errors that are common to a language pair, subject field, and text type, they will be more equipped to customize recommendations for how to best write for machine translation, and for certain text types and subject fields, the professional recommendation may just be that MT will not suffice. Ambiguities and inconsistencies that should be flagged prior to both human and machine translation include unclear referents, the use of synonyms, long compound nouns, and the misinterpretation of homonyms, among many other textual features. Examples of some common sources of translation errors are provided below.

  • Unclear referent: Group A and group B compared their results, and they [Group A, Group B, or Group A & B?] decided to make changes based on finding C.
  • Potential synonym use: The drying process should take so many days. Once the dehydration process is complete, do this next. [Are drying and dehydration separate processes, or do both refer to the same process?]
  • Misinterpretation of homonyms: Our earnings for this quarter are as follows. [Depending on the context, the best equivalent for “earnings” may be an equivalent that conveys one of these senses: pay, profits, returns, income, etc.]

When getting started with writing for MT, the principles from controlled language and plain language have good general rules that can be applied too. Uwe Muegge’s Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation, for instance, includes such guidelines as expressing only one idea per sentence, using simple yet complete grammatical structures, limiting the use of pronouns by restating nouns instead, and using articles so that nouns can be easily identified; and Plain Language Association International recommends that jargon be avoided and that simple words be employed (“What is plain language?”). The rules for controlled language and plain language may imply that these forms of communication are easy to use, but even identifying the myriad of textual features encompassed by these principles takes a great deal of study, practice, and experience. The Simplified Technical English, a controlled language of the AeroSpace and Defense Industries Association of Europe, for instance, consists of sixty-five writing rules in nine different categories and a dictionary of nearly 1000 approved words.

Service #3 – Training Customized MT Engines

The invention of machine translation has largely remained in the realm of programmers and engineers. Despite the noticeable lack of linguists involved in MT development, so much high-quality data is needed to train customized MT engines that getting corpus linguists involved before undertaking what can be expensive, manual data collection processes makes perfect sense. A corpus is a collection of texts that have been selected for a specific purpose. A general language corpus will include many millions of words, while a corpus of specialized texts written by experts from a specific subject field may include only hundreds of thousands of words to start. Parallel corpora of translated and aligned segments are most frequently sought when training MT engines, whether rules-based, statistical, or neural models. However, high-quality parallel corpora take a long time to build and are exceedingly hard to find in any off-the-shelf format. Because high quality parallel corpora are so hard to find, those training MT engines may turn to comparable corpora, or collections of similar texts in multiple languages, for languages with less resources.

When building monolingual corpora, linguists will be able to identify the characteristics of the most representative data to collect for each corpus upon which the MT engine will be trained. Corpora might include one technical corpus of general content written by subject matter experts in a specific subject field per language and one client-specific corpus of proprietary product documentation per language. Since MT is trained using human produced language, it therefore replicates human biases. Linguists can help identify and mitigate the race and gender biases that manifest in large data sets by identifying specific populations, geographical regions, or language dialects not adequately represented in a corpus. They can help by eliminating any content from the corpus that is not fit for use too. Thus, MT users will not be made to feel insulted by offensive language produced by an MT engine and MT developers can avoid alienating MT users. Salvador Ordorica gives several examples of high-profile manifestations of racial and gender bias in MT and how to overcome it in the article “Avoiding Bias and Discrimination in Machine Translation” published via Forbes.

Most would-be localizers need to look no further than the translation memories under their command to start getting practice managing parallel corpora. Translation memories that contain high-quality content are highly sought-after while being hard to find, and this makes quality TMs exceedingly valuable. When a single person is contributing to a TM, each segment should be tagged with anonymized client and project identifiers so that individual clients’ data can be later isolated as necessary, in keeping with any confidentiality agreements that govern the use of content produced. Linguistic patterns will emerge from overall TMs used to train MT engines if multiple clients’ content is mixed together, so producing distinguishable copy from that content is a challenge that needs to be taken into consideration as well. Linguists can help with the style and terminology guides that make producing distinguishable copy from MT possible. If multiple people are contributing to a TM, keep the number of people contained and their identifiers clearly documented with proper protections over copyrighted assets that include the ability to rate the contents according to the quality of the producer of the source and target segment and revoke access rights, as necessary. Again, take these precautions because high quality TMs make the training of MT engines much more efficient, and these TMs therefore fetch a very high price.

Pricing MT Services According to Skill

In summary, to diversify into the MT services that are already a nearly ubiquitous part of the provisioning of human translation services, translators should develop advanced skills in CAT tools, technology in general, and linguistic post editing, the ability to match services rendered with the quality expectations conveyed in specifications, and knowledge of controlled languages, corpus building and analysis, TM management at scale, terminology management, and data security. Regardless of the wide range of competencies necessary to work in MT, be aware that traditional buyers accustomed to per-word pricing models tend to see the incorporation of MT as an opportunity to purchase translation services at further discounts to TM-pricing models. As Slator emphasizes in the Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement, new buyers mean that new pricing models are possible. When working with new buyers, shift to value-based pricing models that more adequately compensate you for your rich expertise where you can. Above all, remember that in the design, implementation, and review of MT, teaching the parrot to talk is among the goals, but it is much more valuable if you can teach the parrot to say the correct thing.

Works Consulted & Recommended Resources for Further Reading

Aslan, Şölen. “9 Types of Data Bias in Machine Learning.” TAUS, 2021 Mar 22, https://blog.taus.net/9-types-of-data-bias-in-machine-learning. Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

“ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation: A Clear Approach to a Complex Topic.” American Translators Association, 2018 Aug. 13, https://www.atanet.org/client-assistance/machine-translation/. Accessed 2021 Apr 1.

Baird, Matt and Jay Marciano. “E49: A Look into the Future of Post-Editing and Machine Translation.” The ATA Podcast, Episode 49, 2020 Sept 24, https://www.atanet.org/podcast/e49-a-look-into-the-future-of-post-editing-and-machine-translation/.

Berger, Carola F. “An Introduction to Neural Machine Translation.” American Translators Association, ATA 59th Annual Conference, October 2018, https://ata-divisions.org/S_TD/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/ATA59_An_Introduction_to_Neural_Machine_Translation.pdf. Accessed, 2021 Apr 10.

“ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance.” Interagency Language Roundtable, https://www.govtilr.org/Skills/AdoptedILRTranslationGuidelines.htm (Links to an external site.). Accessed 2021 Mar. 30.

ISO 17100:2015(E), Translation Services – Requirements for translation services, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015, www.iso.org.

ISO 18587:2017, Translation Services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2017, http://www.iso.org.

Legislative Priorities of the Language Enterprise-177th Congress. Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), 2021 Feb, handout.

Marciano, Jay. “Future Tense: Thriving Amid the Growing Tension between Language Professionals and Intelligent Systems.” The Chronicle, American Translators Association, July/August 2020, 29-32, https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/chronicle/20200708/index.php. Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Massardo, Isabella, et al. MT Post-Editing Guidelines. TAUS, 2016, https://info.taus.net/mt-post-editing-guidelines.

Muegge, Uwe. Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation (CLOUT). Bepress, 2002, https://works.bepress.com/uwe_muegge/88/.

O’Brien, Sharon. “Teaching Post-editing: A Proposal for Course Content.” European Association for Machine Translation, 2002.

Ordorica, Salvador. “Avoiding Bias and Discrimination in Machine Translation.” Forbes, 2021 Mar 1, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/03/01/avoiding-bias-and-discrimination-in-machine-translation/. Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Picinini, Silvio. “Going the Distance – Edit Distance 1.” eBay blog, eBay Inc., 2019 Aug 8, https://tech.ebayinc.com/research/going-the-distance-edit-distance-1/. Accessed 2021 Mar 31. See also “Going the Distance – Edit Distance 2 & 3.”

Pro Guide Briefing: Pricing and Procurement. Slator, 2021 Apr 7, Webinar.

Pro Guide: Translation Pricing and Procurement. Slator, 2021 Mar 19, https://slator.com/data-research/pro-guide-translation-pricing-and-procurement/. Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Simplified Technical English Specification ASD-STE100. AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, Issue 7, 2017. PDF.

“What is plain language?” Plain Language Association International (PLAIN), 2021, https://plainlanguagenetwork.org/plain-language/what-is-plain-language/. Accessed 2021 Apr 12.

Zetzsche, Jost, Lynne Bowker, Sharon O’Brien, and Vassilina Nikoulina. “Women and Machine Translation.” The ATA Chronicle, American Translators Association, Nov/Dec 2020, Volume XLIX, Number 6. Print. Also available via: https://www.atanet.org/tools-and-technology/women-and-machine-translation/.

Author bio

Alaina Brandt is a Spanish>English translator with an MA in Language, Literature and Translation from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Her professional experience includes roles in terminology, vendor, quality, and localization project management. Alaina is currently an assistant professor of professional practices in the Translation and Localization Management program at the MIIS at Monterey. In 2017, she launched her own company Afterwards Translations to offer localization consulting and training services. Alaina is membership secretary of ASTM International Committee F43 on Language Services and Products and serves as an expert in Technical Committee 37 on Language and Terminology of the International Organization for Standardization. She has been the Assistant Administrator of ATA’s Translation Company Division since 2018.

Savvy Diversification Series – Don’t be scared! How to Add Ghostwriting to Your Portfolio of Services

“It was a dark and stormy night. A strange figure appeared in the window of the haunted house on the hill as a bloodcurdling scream echoed in the distance…”

Let me start with the bad news: today’s blog post is not about how to craft a spooky story to tell around the campfire. Instead, we are going to look at the other kind of ghostwriting. And there’s plenty of good news to go around.

Behind the Scenes

Put simply, ghostwriting is where one person writes a piece of copy that is published under another person’s name. It’s long been standard practice in the world of celebrity memoirs. But more managers and thought leaders are also outsourcing their writing to professionals, commissioning anything from press releases and blog posts to opinion pieces and speeches. These extremely busy executives might not have the time, the writing skills, or the inclination to put pen to paper. And that’s where ghostwriters come in.

Perks and Pitfalls

As a type of copywriting, ghostwriting is an attractive field for translators looking to diversify their business. Before we dive deeper into the skills that successful ghostwriters need to master, it’s essential to know some of the benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s get the biggest downside out of the way first: You do all the work but get none of the credit. Not only does your name not appear on the final copy, but you also generally cannot use this work in your portfolio or to build your business. Many clients will have you sign non-disclosure agreements so you cannot claim any connection to your brilliant piece of writing, either. Like translation projects, ghostwriting assignments often require quick turnaround, and time is of the essence.

On the upside, though, ghostwriting is usually better paid to compensate for the fact that you don’t get any of the glory. Ghostwriting projects help you forge close relationships with executives. If they are happy with your work, they might well refer you (discreetly) to other big names in the industry. And you will also build soft skills, such as asking good questions, listening with empathy, and understanding different viewpoints.

Write Like a Chameleon

Beyond crafting outstanding prose, good ghostwriters master two main skills: They fully understand the topic they are writing about and can nail the client’s voice. Specialized translators with subject-matter expertise are ideally positioned to work as ghostwriters. If you spend your days translating about contract law, you probably know enough about recent landmark rulings to write an opinion piece for a legal expert. If logistics is your niche, you could likely knock out a blog post about the latest trends for a shipping company’s CEO in no time.

Capturing the client’s voice is a different cup of tea, though. To be a good ghostwriter, you have to have empathy, put yourself in the client’s metaphorical shoes and walk around in them for a while. Just like a chameleon changes color to blend in, you need to take on the client’s persona and perspective. The bottom line is that whatever you are writing, it must sound like something that could have come from their mouth or keyboard.

Get (and Craft) the Message

Executives who use ghostwriters are busy people. Nonetheless, it is important to arrange a phone or video call to learn their voice. Email just doesn’t cut it. Ahead of the meeting, you should have received information about the brief: what will you be writing, what is the topic, how long should the piece be, and when is the deadline?

The call is the time to listen and ask questions. If possible, ask to record the meeting. If that’s not an option, make sure that you take copious notes and sum up what they have said before the call ends to make sure you have understood properly. Be curious and dig deep to learn more about their opinions and outlooks. Ask if there are any words or phrases that the client does not want you to use.

After the call, you can identify themes and consider how to structure the piece. And then it’s time to write. Think about the wording the client might use. Would they use longer or shorter sentences? Would they inject humor or keep things prim and proper? If it’s a speech or narrative piece, you should also read the copy aloud to see if it ‘sounds’ like the client. Once you have submitted your work, it is not unusual for the client to change things here and there. That is part of the process of creating copy that the client can literally put their name to.

Next Steps

If this sounds fun, you might be wondering how to land your first project. As with translation, it’s all about building your brand. An excellent way to begin is to author well-written articles in your specialist field (for the above examples, perhaps an essay on the impact of a ruling on contractual law or a blog post on the top 10 logistics trends in 2021). Nowadays, anybody can showcase their writing on LinkedIn and platforms like Medium, but you should also consider pitching to magazines in your area of specialization.

Don’t forget the importance of word of mouth, either: add the phrase ‘ghostwriter’ to your social media profiles and consider creating a separate page on your website dedicated to ghostwriting.

If this sounds interesting, try and take one small step today. I’m sure it won’t come back to haunt you later.

Author bio

Abigail Dahlberg is a German-English translator and writer specializing in environmental issues, primarily recycling and waste management. She has completed a number of ghostwriting projects (but she can’t tell you who for!). After completing an MA in Translation in 2001, she worked as a staff translator in Germany before relocating to Kansas City and launching a freelance business in 2005.

Over the past 15 years, she has helped dozens of direct clients in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland communicate with an English-speaking audience via her business, Greener Words. You can reach Abigail by emailing her at hello@greenerwords.com or visiting http://www.greenerwords.com.

Savvy Diversification Series – Online Language Teaching

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!

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, my translation workload plummeted abruptly. With no way of knowing if and when my clients would return, I had to act fast to find more work that was compatible with my lifestyle as a freelance translator. One year of teaching online English classes in China in 2019 had opened my eyes to the world of online teaching and I was sure this sector was rapidly expanding with lockdowns in place around the world. It turned out to be the perfect industry to carry my business through the pandemic. Linguistic and cultural skills such as those cultivated by most translators are in high demand in education and are difficult to duplicate. There is clearly a shortage of good teachers, so I am constantly turning down requests to take on teaching projects outside of my already packed regular teaching schedule. This industry is likely to remain active even after the pandemic and is a stable option for translators looking to diversify. In this article, I will offer an introduction to the online teaching industry, discuss the necessary qualifications, tell you where you can find work, and go over some of the equipment you will need to get started.

What is online teaching and cultural experience hosting?

Online teaching consists of video conferencing online with one or more students for a predetermined amount of time in order to teach them something. The role of the teacher is similar to that of a traditional classroom teacher, but with everything online. One great advantage of online teaching is that teachers can work in the country of their choice. The key is to figure out which clients are frequenting the online teaching platform you choose and cater to their needs. Most of my clients are in the United States, so I offer courses on how to speak German.

With everyone stuck at home and yearning for a taste of international travel, online cultural experiences have grown in popularity over the past year. Cultural experience hosting is similar to online teaching. Instead of teaching a skill, however, cultural experience hosts strive to give attendees the experience of doing something in a different country or a foreign language. Cultural experiences can consist of courses where attendees engage in enjoyable hobbies while speaking a foreign language with other participants or courses where participants engage in an activity specific to a certain culture. Cultural experiences I have hosted include origami folding in German, German gingerbread cookie baking, art class in German, and a virtual shopping trip to a German Christmas market.

For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to both online teaching and cultural experience hosting as “online teaching” in this article.

What qualifications are required?

The most essential qualifications are life experience, valuable expertise that you are willing to share with others, and the ability to effectively sell that expertise to others. Although not absolutely necessary, an academic degree related to what you are teaching may help build credibility. You will need to have or develop teaching skills, so a teaching certificate of some sort can be enormously helpful.

Translators are generally fluent in multiple languages, have very valuable life experience from living around the world, and are highly familiar with the corresponding cultural environs. This in and of itself makes translators perfect online teachers and cultural experience hosts. Overcoming a natural tendency toward introversion has been the biggest challenge I have faced while teaching online.

Where do I find work?

There are a great many ways to teach online. Before you choose one, you should decide how much time you want to invest in finding clients, what kinds of students you want to teach, how much you want to be paid, and how willing you are to develop your own curriculum. Some platforms offer extra support with marketing and some will provide you with fully-formed curriculum. You will be able to earn considerably more if you are willing to write your own curriculum.

Create Your Own Online Language School

This is the highest-paying and most flexible option, but requires the most work. Not only will you have to write all of your own curriculum, but you will also have to bring in students yourself. In addition to collecting payments for you, online platforms in this category offer the technology required to set up your classes and offer them to the masses. The rest is up to you.

Pro Con
Pay Unlimited! You can charge what you want per student per live class. You can also create self-guided classes that bring in passive income. None.
Curriculum You teach whatever you want. It is a lot of work to make everything up from scratch.
Scheduling Work when you want. It is more time-consuming.
Prep Time Once you have taught the same class several times, there is no prep time. There is a tremendous amount of prep in the beginning.
Equipment Use what you have or buy more. None.
Students Teach whoever you want. Adults or children. You are responsible for finding the students.

Platforms to check out:
Learnworlds
Teachable
Thinkific
Udemy
Kajabi
Mighty Networks

Teach for a Flexible Online Company

If finding your own students is too much for you, teaching for a flexible online company is a good option. They will advertise your classes and enroll students, so you can focus on the nuts and bolts of teaching. You will be expected to create your own curriculum and content on these platforms. Content is subject to review and will be advertised on the site once approved. You will generally also be allowed to set prices as you see fit. Platforms in this category are often free to use, but will collect payment for you and keep a small percentage of the proceeds.

Pro Con
Pay You choose how much to charge. You are slightly limited by what others are charging. If you price yourself out of the market, no one will take your class.
Curriculum You teach whatever you want! It is a lot of work to make everything up from scratch.
Scheduling You are in charge. Work when you want. None.
Prep Time Once you have taught the same class several times, there is no prep time. There is a tremendous amount of prep in the beginning.
Equipment If you have the basics, you can create classes that don’t require additional equipment. None.
Students You may be teaching children or adults, depending on the platform. None.

Platforms to check out:

Outschool
Amazon
Airbnb
Viator
Meetup

Teach English in China

There are quite a few online English schools in China, all of which you can work for from the comfort of your own home. They usually provide you with a set of slides to use for each lesson and train you on their teaching method. These companies can have policies that are hard to fathom at times and will sometimes subtract pay for seemingly minor offenses. Demand for English teachers in China is high, making it an easy way to gain experience in online teaching.

Pro Con
Pay You always get paid what is promised. The pay is much higher than minimum wage, but relatively low.

 

Some companies subtract from your pay for silly things like being one minute late to class or having a single dissatisfied student.

Curriculum Just use what they give you. Very little work required. Sometimes the curriculum isn’t all that great and there is nothing you can do about it.
Scheduling Some companies are very flexible with scheduling.

 

Always early in the morning, so you will have plenty of time for translating during the day.

Time zone. You are usually teaching from 4 am to 8 am EST.

 

They tend to overhire, so it may be a while before you start getting students.

Prep Time Almost none! None.
Equipment None. They may require you to have some toys and physical props.
Students Usually children ages 3-12. Very cute! If you don’t get along with kids, it won’t work.

Companies to check out:
Bling ABC
Zebra English
Magic Ears
QKids

What resources do I need to get started?

No matter how good you think your built-in computer camera, microphone, and room lighting are, you are probably going to have to upgrade to be successful as an online teacher and cultural experience host. Here is what I consider the most essential equipment for online teaching:

  1. Professional Lighting

In order to cultivate a professional presence online, it is essential to be well-lit on camera. Buy a ring light or a set of those umbrella lights you see professional photographers using.

  1. High-Resolution Camera

Built-in computer cameras are generally very low-resolution and will negatively impact student experience. Low-quality cameras will also make you and your environment appear much darker on-screen than you really are. You will need a high-quality external web camera to ensure that students can see you clearly.

  1. Headset with Microphone

Students need to hear exactly how you are pronouncing things in order to learn a language well. You will also have to hear them in order to correct their mistakes. Having a good headset with a microphone is vital to ensuring that students can learn effectively. Make sure it is comfortable to wear as well, so your head doesn’t hurt after a day of work.

  1. Software

If you are working with direct clients, you may need a paid subscription to your favorite video conferencing software. You may also want to invest in teaching software that allows you to display pictures, words, numbers, and special effects directly on your camera screen.

I hope you can take this information and use it to diversify successfully with online teaching and cultural experience hosting. Translators possess a wealth of linguistic and cultural knowledge that is highly valued by learners, so it makes sense to share it.

Author bio

Carlie Sitzman is an ATA-certified German to English translator with over ten years of experience translating documents for the automotive and manufacturing industries.

She is currently learning French and enjoys painting landscapes in her free time. Read more about Carlie’s professional endeavors at: http://www.sitzmanaetranslations.com

Savvy Diversification Series – From text translator to film subtitler in just a few months

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!

A step-by-step guide

I’ll resist the urge to start this article by saying how 2020 was a huge mess for us all, because we’ve heard it one too many times, so I’ll get straight to the point. COVID-19 took my translation business from a surging one to a flatlining one in a matter of days. I’m a Spanish-to-English translator specialized in tourism, hospitality, destination events, and official documents. I also do some copywriting for my clients in these sectors.

For the last few years, my stream of work has been steady enough that I never stopped to think about what would happen if people stopped traveling, eating out, and immigrating to other countries all at the same time. (Well, to be fair, who ever would have thought that would happen?). But, the thing is, it did. The pandemic took away my livelihood in the blink of an eye.

So, I moved quickly. I decided to dive headfirst into a specialization I had been dreaming about for ages, but never had the time to study, research, and actually specialize in: subtitling. I love watching movies and TV, and I love watching them with subtitles on (even in English!). I always thought it’d be the coolest gig around town, but never had the time to make it happen.

The pandemic gave me something I desperately needed: A large chunk of time and a good reason to diversify my offerings. Here are the steps I followed to save my business and quickly transition from translator to subtitler:

1) I signed up for the ATA Audiovisual Division’s mentoring program

I was lucky enough to be paired up with Mara Campbell, a seasoned expert in the field. She gave me tons of great advice on how to get started and what to expect from the audiovisual industry. She also got me really excited about the profession. She’s so passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm made me realize that this type of work could also be a great fit for me. With her help and guidance, I was prepared to take the leap into audiovisual translation.

2) I took a specialized course

At the end of February 2020, with two months of government-imposed apartment lockdown ahead of me in Spain, I decided to take an online course recommended by Mara called GoSub Subtitle. The course is designed to take beginners from “zero” to “subtitler” in just a few weeks. And it did just that. I learned the ins and outs of subtitle translation: industry lingo, timing technicalities, reading-speed and character-per-line rules… By the end of the course I felt fully prepared and confident to present myself as a subtitler to the world.

3) I set up a rigorous marketing plan

The second I finished the course, I added a subtitling page to my website and started marketing like crazy. I created a list of dream agencies I wanted to work with and aimed high from the beginning (why not?). I started by reaching out to all Netflix Official Vendors within the first week after finishing the course. After that, I reached out to handfuls of subtitling agencies and post-production studios.

My marketing plan included a rigorous follow-up schedule which consisted of sending four follow-up emails to each agency, once a week, for one month. My final email had “This is my last follow-up attempt!” in the subject line, and that’s when I got the most responses.

4) I started working almost full time as a subtitler

Thanks to my new skill set and clear marketing plan, within just one month of finishing the course, I had almost full-time work as a subtitler. By the time September rolled around, I was invited to test to subtitle for the world’s largest streaming service… and passed. My first subtitled film was released on the platform at the end of February.

What my business looks like now

I’m currently subtitling about 80% of the time and translating 20% of the time. The pandemic taught me a tough lesson. While specialization is key, it’s important to have your eggs in more than one basket. I realize almost all my eggs are currently in my subtitling basket (which isn’t ideal either), but I plan to incorporate translation back into my business as the tourism and travel industry picks up again.

I’m passionate about all the services I provide, found a niche I love working in, and also feel more sturdy and confident in my business than ever before. And I guess I have the pandemic to thank for that.

About the author

Molly Yurick is a Spanish-to-English translator, subtitler, and copywriter based in northern Spain. She specializes in tourism and hospitality translations and her subtitles can be found on the world’s largest streaming service. She serves as Deputy Chair of ATA’s PR Committee and is also a member of ATA’s School Outreach Program and PR Writer’s Group. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

Savvy Diversification Series – Translator Training

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.

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!

Why did I diversify into translator training?

When I was asked to write about my diversification into translator training, I had to take a step back and really think about how it all came about. The short answer is that it was not a conscious decision and ended up being a natural development of my career.

Before I became a translator, long ago, I studied and worked with international marketing. After moving to the US with small children, I understood that I needed a career change. When launching and growing my career as a freelance translator, I took advantage of the marketing skills I had learned during my studies and my previous marketing career. These skills provided me with useful tools and a strategic outlook on how to market my services.

How did I diversify into translator training?

I started attending the American Translators Association’s conference every year from the beginning as soon as I began my career as a translator. I did this to learn new skills and to network with colleagues and clients. After a few years, I was encouraged to submit a presentation and share my marketing skills, so I did. That led to several more presentations at translators’ conferences, with a lot of good feedback. I also took several courses held by other colleagues on building my freelance translation career and saw a niche in sharing my marketing skills.

After pondering this idea for a while and talking to colleagues, I decided to write a book. I chose a unique format for the book – the recipe format. The book is divided into starters for beginning translators, main dishes for more experienced translators, the building blocks of a successful translation career, and lastly, desserts, the little extras that you can choose from to enhance your business. Each recipe was a specific marketing strategy, or tactic for translators, with ingredients and step-by-step instructions. That is how the Marketing Cookbook for Translators was born.

The book was well-received. Many people started to ask for my help and advice in marketing their translation services. After a while, I decided to distill my experience as a translator, my marketing skills and background, the tips in the book, and the various presentations and workshops I gave into a marketing course for translators. I have given marketing courses and workshops for translators for more than five years and genuinely enjoy helping other translators to create a system to market their translation services based on their situation.

Around the same time I started writing the book, I began to listen to marketing podcasts. There were not many podcasts for translators at that time, especially not focused on marketing and business skills. I enjoyed bite-size tips in audio format and the convenience of listening to marketing tips while driving the car or walking the dog. I decided that I could try sharing marketing tips in a podcast format, and the idea for the Marketing Tips for Translators podcast was born. In the beginning, I set a goal of 100 episodes. Now I have published over 260 episodes and have no plans to stop any time soon. Even if it is a lot of work, I love interviewing colleagues and other experts, sharing new and old marketing tips.

The courses and the podcast have increased my motivation for the translation industry. I learn a lot from the interviews and my students, which provides a nice counterbalance to just doing translations. It brings variety to my working days. However, translation is still my primary source of income, and I hope it will remain so for a long time to come. The marketing courses and workshops bring in a nice additional income, but it is more of a passion project than a business. The podcast and courses motivate me to try the new marketing strategies I learn about myself, plus I must make an effort always to practice what I preach.

How do I find clients or students?

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but despite having a marketing background and sharing marketing tips to other translators, I wouldn’t say I like the selling part of marketing. Some say that selling is the end goal or marketing result, but I tend to focus on the marketing part and let the selling be a natural result. This means that I share my tips wherever I can and consciously try to find avenues to share my marketing training, podcast, and books.

I offer many tips and advice “for free” in the form of podcast episodes, an email newsletter, blog posts, checklists, and small guides. The people who find these resources useful and see results from them tend to be interested in taking it further, sometimes as a student in one of my courses. I also continue to share marketing tips in presentations and workshops at translation industry conferences, and as an invited speaker for different translator associations. Translators learn about my services through all these venues.

How has translator training helped my business?

The courses and paid workshops have added an extra buffer of income for my business. This was particularly helpful in 2020 when I lost a couple of direct clients due to the pandemic cut-downs, and the work from agencies slowed down dramatically during the first months of the pandemic.

But above all, the courses and workshops have kept me in touch with the marketing of my translation services and the translation industry, and have motivated me to learn new things. They have also provided an outlet for me to be more creative, satisfy my passion for helping people (I once thought of becoming a nurse), and give variety to my workdays.

Tips for other translators thinking of diversifying into training

If you have a skill that you have noticed has helped colleagues or friends, you could start teaching it to others. Look at things you have helped others with. Could your knowledge or skills be shared in the form of presentations, workshops, or a course? Do you have an “audience” interested in learning more from you about these things? Then you could diversify into training. I know many colleagues that I admire who share their specific knowledge this way. If you want to try it out, my best tip is to focus on a niche or target market that you know well, just like you do for your translation business.

I am optimistic about the future for freelance translators and believe that we will continue to be successful if we are open-minded and embrace change. This includes exploring options to diversify our businesses to have secure income streams in any situation.

Author bio

Tess Whitty is a certified English into Swedish translator, specializing in digital marketing and localization. With a degree in International Marketing and background as marketing manager, she also shares her marketing knowledge and translator experience with other freelance translators as an award-winning speaker, trainer, consultant, author, and podcaster. She is involved in several translator associations as a committee chair, language chair, trainer and mentor. For more information, or to connect, go to www.marketingtipsfortranslators.com, or www.swedishtranslationservices.com.