What Exactly Is a Technical Freelance Translator?

by Jost Zetzsche

I was asked some time back to write a book chapter about freelance translators and translation technology. Not surprisingly, I started by defining a “freelance translator” in this context. Here’s what I came up with:

“According to Wikipedia, a ‘freelancer’ is ‘a person who is self-employed and is not necessarily committed to a particular employer long-term. (…) The term freelancing is most common in culture and creative industries [such as] music, writing, acting, computer programming, web design, translating and illustrating, film and video production, and other forms of piece work which some cultural theorists consider as central to the cognitive-cultural economy.’

“With translators listed directly in the middle of groups identified as typical freelancers, we need to further narrow the distinction between literary and technical translators. ‘Technical translation’ is defined according to Sofer (The Global Translator’s Handbook. Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2012, 20) ‘by asking, does the subject being translated require a specialized vocabulary, or is the language non-specialized?’ A sampling of areas in which technical translators are active includes aerospace, automotive, business/finance, chemistry, civil engineering, computers, electrical/electronic engineering, environment, law, medicine, military, nautical, patents, social sciences, and telecommunications (ibid., 67f.).

“The diversity of fields for technical freelance translators is reflected in other areas of diversity as well.

“First, there is a wide array of commitment to the task of technical translation, ranging from voluntary, occasional (paid), and full-time translators. In the context of this contribution, we will consider only technical translators who make a substantial part or all of their livelihood by performing translation for one or — more typically — many clients. These clients could be translation agencies that subcontract to individual freelance translators or direct clients who hire freelance translators without a mediating actor. End clients may range from large international organizations to individuals who need to have personal documents translated.

“Second, the most natural area of diversity originates in the many different language combinations. Both source and target languages differ greatly in how they are supported by technologies. This includes

    • access to dictionaries and/or corpora
    • spell- and grammar-checking
    • input methods (including voice recognition)
    • morphology recognition
    • machine translation
    • the applicability of technologies that rely on parameters such as space-based word delimiters or fuzzy term recognition in languages with no traditional word boundaries or no inflection

“Third, there tends to be a correlation between the translated languages and the location of the translator. In turn, the location has an impact on the access to various kinds of technologies, from limitations to online resources applied by service providers or political control or simply prohibitive costs.

“And finally, the nature of each translator’s specialization also results in differing technology requirements, including potential limitations of using certain technologies that may not match security protocols or regulations or a particular high (or low) appreciation of very specific terminology with its corresponding technology requirements.

“Given all this, the following observations are by necessity generalizations about the members of this diverse community.”

Is that how you would define (professional, technical) freelance translator? I’d be eager to hear some feedback.

Reblogged (including the image) from The Tool Box Journal, Issue 18-4-286

My personal style guide for the ATA translation exam into Spanish

Reblogged from Gaucha Translations blog, with permission by the author

Based on the comments from a failed exam. I am writing this to help others not fail the same way!

  1. Include necessary clarifying information to reduce ambiguity. (register former inmates/registrar para votar a los que habían sido…) (spread the word to thousands… /informarles la decisión a decenas de miles…) Keep it to a minimum. The translation should stand on its own. Sometimes a cultural point needs to be made or an explanation given, but the passages are carefully selected so that does NOT have to be done.
  2. Make sure caps and punctuation follow Spanish rules. Double check RAE resources in case of doubt. (el partido demócrata: capitalize. Es nombre propio. Partido Demócrata)
  3. Get your quote marks in the Spanish order! Dijo, “Esto no me gusta un comino”. (las comillas van antes de las comas y los puntos en castellano, al revés que en inglés.
  4. Words in the RAE dictionary count for sure. Word creation counts, even using Spanish morphology rules, but they have to follow accepted Spanish morphology rules, and words shouldn’t be created when other words already exist in the dictionaries of reference. (former prisoners/excarcelados: corrected to exreclusos, antiguos reos).
  5. Maintain the register.
  6. Use proper Spanish syntax. (reconoce es posible: reconoce que es posible)
  7. Word Reference is a good starting terminology resource. Verify its terms with a second source.
  8. Don’t get more creative than necessary. Often a literal translation is the best. (might soften their image/que posiblemente matice su imagen:corrected to suavice)
  9. Check the monolingual dictionary, but not just for the meaning of a word. Check it for usage: is it transitive? How does it fit in a sentence? (spread the word to thousands… /informarles a miles… : informarles la decisión a decenas de miles…) informar is a transitive verb.
  10. Don’t stutter! (presos en las prisiones)
  11. Spelling! (libertado condicional: libertad condicional)
  12. Faux ami (non violent drug offenses/ofensas no violentas: delitos no violentos) Las ofensas son algo totalmente distinto en castellano.
  13. Printed resources are another reliable choice. Having printed resources also keeps you from going back and forth from your document to another screen, which is hard with the laptop. My favorites:
    1. Alcaraz-Varó legal and business (those are two separate dictionaries), but the Merl Bilingual Law Dictionary by Cuauthemoc Gallegos actually had the best answers in all cases and was easier to sort through the answers. The Business Spanish Dictionary, by Peter Collin Publishing is equivalent to the Merl in my opinion. For the general texts, we shouldn’t need anything in greater depth than these dictionaries. Cabanellas is great, but they are unidirectional volumes, so you have to buy both volumes to have both directions.
    2. CLAVE (monolingual Spanish), DELE (Diccionario de la Lengua Española – latest version of the RAE dictionary): take them both.
    3. Webster’s New World International Spanish Dictionary. I like this dictionary because it includes a lot of technical terminology, so most technical terms we run into are likely to be here.
    4. El buen uso del español. This book has a two-page spread on the main issues of Spanish grammar and spelling. It was published by RAE in 2013, after all the new Gramática and Ortografía works of 2010 were completed, with the intention of being a quick reference.
    5. Ortografía escolar de la lengua española. Published by RAE for students in 2013 as a quick reference.
    6. The American Heritage College Dictionary (English monolingual)
  14. Remember, the general text can have a lot of specialist content in it. Don’t count on general texts not including technical vocabulary. Be ready for basic technical vocabulary. What you won’t have to do is deal with formulaic technical texts.
  15. Good book for learning Spanish writing: Curso de Redacción – Teoría y Practica, by Gonzalo Martín Vivaldi
  16. Now, go and beat it! May this experience help you!

Image source: Pixabay

How to identify and avoid translation scammers

How to identify and avoid translation scammers

It is an unfortunate truth that translation scammers abound. Many of us receive dozens of emails per week that qualify as translation scams… some more convincing than others. How do we sort through the myriad of requests to determine which ones are legitimate and which are worth nothing more than a quick “Delete”?

Although much has been written on this topic, many freelancers in the translation and interpreting industry, often newcomers, struggle to find the answers and resources needed to distinguish a real request from a fake one. I’ve included links to similar articles at the end of this post with a wealth of information. I would recommend perusing them at your leisure.

This post will focus specifically on scammers claiming to be clients, who target freelance translators, and on how to avoid becoming their victims. I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of red flags to keep an eye out for (ordered by the level of concern they should generate), strategies to avoid scams, information about how the scams work, and resources to help translators make sure a request is genuine.

While I am under no illusion that translation scammers will ever disappear entirely, I do feel that the more we share about our common experiences and the more we warn others about the common frauds out there, the more likely we are to avoid them. Please feel free to use this list as you sort through your inbox, share the article with friends and colleagues, and contribute your own suggestions and experiences in the comments section.

Red Flags

What should I look for in emails from new or potential clients?

  • There are grammatical or spelling errors in the email.

Sometimes clients will make the occasional error in an email, but this is your first tip that something may be amiss.

  • The email has come from a free email address (@yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc.)

Beware of potential clients claiming to offer work from a company while their email address is from a free account. Legitimate individuals may contact you from these domains but businesses will not.

  • The email or website contains no additional contact information for the potential client (address, phone number, website, etc.)

Real clients want you to be able to get in touch with them; if they have no company affiliation listed or additional information in their signature line, this is a red flag.

  • The name given for the potential client and their email address do not match (e.g. signature line says John Doe and email address is jimmy_buffett@yahoo.com).

Ask yourself, “Is there any reason John would be emailing me from Jimmy’s email account?” If not, be wary of the sender.

  • The potential client offered to send you money before you deliver the translation, or overpaid you and has asked for money back.

Overpayment by fake check is one of the most common email scams; never send money back unless you are 100% certain that the money you received is legitimate.

  • The email is in regard to a specific project but asks what language pairs you work in or does not specify your language combination.

If your potential client really found you because they have work for you, then they will already know what language pair they need!

Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed

When you smell a rat, here’s where to start…

  • Search for information about the person online.

Do they have a website? Are they listed on any scammer directories? Can you find a phone number to call and verify that this is a real person sitting behind a real desk in a real office?

  • See if the document for translation can be found online.

If you copy and paste a sentence from the source text into your browser, are you able to find the entire document online? If so, the potential client may have just taken a document from the internet and are claiming to need it translated.

  • Ask for references.

References aren’t just for contractors—ask if the client has worked with any other translators and check with them to be sure the client is authentic (and check the authenticity of the translator, too).

  • Ask for a down payment or non-refundable deposit.

Especially for larger projects, request that the client pay you a percentage upfront (e.g. 25–50%), via a verified payment method (bank transfer, Western Union, Venmo, PayPal, etc.). If they balk at the idea, suggest using something like https://www.escrow.com/ to ensure that no one pays or gets paid before the job is completed.

  • Verify the authenticity of any payments you have received.

If you received a check as pre-payment for the job, take it to your bank and ask the banker to verify its authenticity. If you received payment via PayPal, go to http://www.paypal.com (don’t click the link in the email!) and make sure the money is listed as received in your account (if you aren’t sure, call PayPal’s customer service line).

The Scam

Scammers are getting better and better at targeting their victims, but most schemes involve one of a few different tactics involving a supposed overpayment and a request of immediate refund to the client.

  • Client asks for your bank account information to make a payment.

Note that some legitimate clients do request banking information like an account number and routing number in order to make transfers or ACH payments; they will usually send you a PDF form to complete and may even password protect it. Scammers may also ask for your banking information, so be sure to go through the verification strategies listed above and check the resources listed below before deciding whether to provide this information.

  • Client sends a fake PayPal/Venmo email to get you to provide your login details on a fake page.

Scammers can be very creative; you may receive a “payment” via an online source that notifies you by email of new funds. Beware of PayPal or Venmo emails that contain spelling errors or old/incorrect logos—some scammers will create very convincing emails claiming to be from these platforms but that actually link to a fake site that will ask for your login details so the scammers can log in using your credentials.

  • Client overpays by check and asks you to send some of the money back.

Overpayments are always a red flag; some scammers will send a check that is convincing enough that your bank will allow you to deposit it, and you may even see the money deposit after a few days (there are regulations as to how long a bank can put a hold on your funds before making them available in your account). What you can’t see behind the scenes is that the bank is still working to verify the authenticity of your check, and if it is not real (the payee bank does not exist, has no account with the check’s number, or does not have sufficient funds in said account to pay out the money), your bank will eventually reject the check, take the money back out of your account, and likely charge you a fee of some kind.

  • Client overpays by PayPal or other online payment platform and asks you to send some of the money back.

Fake emails stating that you have received PayPal funds may also be used to make you think you have received funds while no money has actually been deposited to your account; but how do they actually get the money? In these last two schemes, after they have “paid” you but before you have realized the money wasn’t real, the scammer will tell you something to the following effect:

“I accidentally sent more money than I intended to.”

“I have decided not to go through with part of the project.”

“My company/client has changed its mind and we will be cancelling the project.”

Then, the client will ask you to return the money—usually via a quick and verified payment method so they can make off with the funds before you realize it’s a scam. Usually they will ask you to return the money via a different method than the one by which they “paid” you—cash deposit to their bank account or wire transfer, for example. A few days or weeks later you will find out the payment was rejected or never went through in the first place, and the client will have disappeared with your funds.

Resources to help verify potential clients

Payment Practices
Proz.com Blue Board
Proz.Com Translator Scam Alert Reports
Translator-scammers.com
Proz.com Scam Forum
World Payment Practices Forum
Translation Agency Payment Forum
Translation Agencies Business Practices Forum (LinkedIn)

Other articles about avoiding scams

Translation Scams: Tips for Avoiding Them and Protecting Your Identity by Carola Berger
Red Flags for Avoiding Scams, reblogged from The ATA Chronicle
Resources to Help Ensure Translation Payment by Ted Wozniak (includes links to additional mailing lists)
Due Diligence Links by Paula Gordon (includes links to additional resources and a list of questions to ask yourself)
Scammers, I Got Your Number by Audrey Irias

And a funny story to lighten the mood…

Translation Scammers Beware by Una Dimitrijevic

Image souce: Pixabay

Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know After the Phone Rings

As a new translator, you have prepared yourself long and hard to take on clients, and now the phone is ringing—metaphorically speaking. So, how do you respond?

This post is part two of a five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by the ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators.

If you have not already, check out the first post on what all translators should know before the phone rings. We also encourage you to explore the ATA questionnaire itself—you can fill it out on the computer to determine which areas you are already strong in and which you might consider working on.

In each post in this series, we delve into several questions from the questionnaire and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore section 2: “Professional Product and Services (What I need to know after the phone rings).”

This section includes several cardinal rules for independent contractors, no matter the profession: Honor deadlines without fail (or notify the client as soon as possible of your inability to do so), confirm receipt of materials, follow instructions, know how to collect overdue payments, and invest time, effort, and funds to broaden your knowledge and skillset.

In this post, we will focus on some of the meatier questions the questionnaire encourages new translators to consider:

Do I discuss fees and terms with potential clients confidently, without hesitation or cumbersome excuses and apologies?

Confidence is key for independent contractors, who exist in a sea of other options. Being confident can be as simple as having the conviction that your work and time are valuable, and making this apparent to clients by how you communicate with them.

So, when exactly does confidence come into play for a translator? When it comes to negotiating fees or contracts, sending a simple and factual message without beating around the bush or sounding apologetic will make you stand out as a professional who recognizes his or her abilities and worth.

Of course, there are times when being apologetic is appropriate (e.g., a deadline completely slips your mind until the client notifies you the project is overdue), but beware of behaving sheepishly when you have nothing to be sorry for.

If you do not know where to start, pay attention to examples of tasteful confidence in others and take a cue. As one of my professors used to say, “Fake it ’til you become it.” If you demonstrate confidence, soon enough you will not only be showing it; you will start to truly feel it, especially when others begin to respond.

Do I secure a written agreement for the work before I start the job? (If not, am I aware of the risks? Which risks am I willing to accept?)

If you do not use a contract when offering translation services, you are not alone. Half of the translators surveyed by lawyer-linguist Paula Arturo do not use one at all, and 64.1% do not use their own, leaving both groups vulnerable to disputes involving issues such as project scope and nonpayment. The absence of a contract—or the use of a poor one—can even result in litigation.

Not only will having a contract help protect your business and set expectations for the work to be done, which means peace of mind for both you and the client, but, as Paula writes in her recent post on translation contracts, it can also help cover potential attorney’s fees and combat deprofessionalization.

A great resource when drafting your own contract is the ATA Translation Job Model Contract. This template is a helpful starting point, but keep in mind that it may need customization. When you are ready, consider seeking legal advice to maximize the effectiveness of your contract. Personally, I have used a local university’s legal clinic that offers discounted services to small businesses when I have needed to consult with an attorney, including to draft service agreements. Research resources that may be available in your area.

Am I aware of my limitations? (Do I decline projects which I cannot do well?)

Especially when you are just starting out, you may feel pressured to accept any work that comes your way. It can be tempting, but taking work beyond your limits is not only ethically dubious; it is also likely to cause anxiety and cost you more time and effort. You may hear from the client after the fact if they have been embarrassed by a poor translation. In a worst-case scenario, a poor translation could even cause real harm to a company or an individual.

In the end, it is not worth risking your reputation and your pride to accept work beyond your current skillset. The wisest course of action is to review the source document as thoroughly as possible before accepting the assignment and to turn it down if you are in doubt. Do not feel guilty—the client will thank you, and you can rest easy knowing you did the right thing.

So, what should you do when you see yourself obliged to turn down a job? Clients will appreciate a referral to a better suited translator, if you happen to know one. If you are asking yourself, “Well, how do I find work suited to me?”, Corinne McKay offers some helpful tips in this post.

Do I have convenient access to translation tools, state-of-the-art software, and high-speed Internet service?

Let me begin with an example of inconvenient access: Until recently, my favorite CAT tool was only installed on my desktop computer. Most of my translation memories (TMs) and glossaries were also stored only on that one immobile machine, limiting my ability to work efficiently on projects when traveling. I decided this had to change before the recent holidays, when I had travel plans, and lo and behold—not only was migrating all of my data and software easier than I had imagined, I was able to accept work over the holidays without thinking twice.

It can be hard to ditch old habits, but taking stock of areas where you could benefit from convenience, a better tool (whether a faster computer, a second screen, a higher-end CAT tool, or a CAT tool, period), you may be surprised at how much more productive you will be once you break out of your comfort zone. So, reconsider that tiny screen, the ergonomics of your current equipment, and the repetitive research you may be doing instead of using a TM or glossary. Have no idea where to begin when it comes to CAT tools? Check out this digest that explains the ABCs of CAT tools and tips for investing in one.

Do I keep an electronic copy for potential future corrections, revisions, or additions? For how long? (Do I inquire about returning background materials to the client upon completion of the job?)

When possible, most translators maintain copies of their work. There are a variety of reasons for this: You may be asked to make changes after the fact, or come across a similar translation in the future that would benefit from past work. If you do choose to reference previous translations, just be certain that your contract allows you to store them, and avoid including any confidential or proprietary information in the new translation if it is for a different end client.

In another scenario altogether, you may find that the client has introduced errors into your translation after the fact, in which case you could be faced with having to confirm that the errors were not your own—another good reason to have old work on hand.

Now it is your turn to try out some of these tips on how to “answer the phone” before the next post, where we will discuss how to nurture existing professional relationships and “keep the phone ringing.” Let me know how it goes in a comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

So you want to be a Freelance Translator (or Interpreter): Services and Specialization

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

What services should I offer?

Many translators provide more than just translation services. Since many are self-employed, it can be helpful to offer related services in order to differentiate yourself, serve customers’ needs, and bring in extra income.

Here are some of the many ancillary services translators may offer:

  • Bilingual editing: Reviewing another translator’s work by comparing the source and target texts for accuracy and consistency, and checking the target text itself for precision, structure, and flow.
  • Monolingual editing: Reviewing a non-translated document for all of the above-mentioned characteristics.
  • Transcreation: Translation of a text that involves recreating part or all of the document for use in the target language and culture.
  • Proofreading: Reviewing a monolingual or translated document for proper writing conventions, including grammar, spelling, sentence structure, agreement, and punctuation.
  • Transcription: Creating a written transcript from a spoken audio or video file (may be mono- or multilingual).
  • Interpreting: Orally rendering communication from one language to another (https://najit.org/resources/the-profession/).
  • Content/copywriting: Writing text (creating new content) for advertising or marketing purposes.
  • Localization: Adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market (https://www.gala-global.org/industry/intro-language-industry/what-localization).
  • Copyediting: Reviewing raw text for issues such as errors and ambiguities to prepare it for publication in print or online (https://www.sfep.org.uk/about/faqs/what-is-copy-editing/.
  • DTP (Desktop Publishing): Formatting and adjusting the layout of a document for publication in print or online.

When deciding what services to offer, you may want to consider tasks you have performed in the past—perhaps a previous employer had you interpret, or colleagues and friends have asked you to provide summary translations of newspaper articles or other documents. You may have been the go-to proofreader for your office or done some desktop publishing as a side job or for other purposes. Along with your past experience, think about particular strengths you may have that could pair with certain services: If you are a good creative writer, then transcreation may be up your alley. If you have a keen eye for mechanical errors and grammar, perhaps you are well suited to proofreading and copyediting services. If you prefer to work with the spoken word, then interpreting is more likely to be for you.

You may also want to consider your current software and hardware setup when deciding what services to offer. Translators often use an array of software tools to assist them as they work. These will be addressed at length in a later post, but translators often use CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, editors may use computerized proofreading assistants, and transcribers often use audio editing software and transcription applications to aid in their work.

What should I specialize in?

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to specialization is, “What area do I know a lot about?” Many translators focus on just one or a limited number of areas of expertise rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades. Having and stating specialization(s) gives your clients confidence that you are knowledgeable about the material you are translating, and it can even help you command higher rates as a result.

Specializing can be as simple as having had a previous career in the legal field or volunteering as a candy striper in the hospital for many years. Some ways to develop your specializations or continue to learn about them include attending university classes (online or in person), following journals on the subject matter, and reading in order to develop specialized glossaries.

A few common specializations in the translation industry include:

  • Medical (e.g., clinical trials)
  • Legal (e.g., partnership agreements)
  • Business (e.g., sales proposals)
  • Marketing (e.g., brochures)
  • Software (e.g., computer programs)
  • Tourism/hospitality (e.g., guidebooks)

When you are just getting started, you can choose to indicate your preferred subject areas by listing specializations on your business card, résumé, and/or LinkedIn profile, or you can choose to work with more general topics until you have gained more experience and feel comfortable stating a specialization.

Readers, do you have any other services or specializations you offer that weren’t mentioned here, or tips on how to decide when you’re just getting started? We’d love to hear them!

Image source: Pixabay