5 pitfalls to avoid in your freelance translator web copy

by David Friedman

5 pitfalls to avoid in your freelance translator web copyImagine you are your own ideal client and you stumble across your translation website. Would you be able to find out everything you need to know from the website quickly and easily? Are the benefits clear enough to answer questions like, “What’s in it for me?” or, “What makes this translator different from all the other translators out there?” I’d like to share some thoughts and insights about pitfalls I have sought to avoid while working on my own website which I hope can help you attract the interest of more clients with your website.

Please bear in mind that this advice may not be universally applicable depending on your language combination and market. My new website is still under construction, I am not a copywriter and I do not offer services to fellow translators.

Unclear specialization

Don’t: List 15 different fields in no particular order and don’t mix up text types (corporate communications, technical documentation, legal documents, etc.) and industries (real estate, IT, construction etc.)
Do: Pick something clear and concise people will remember you by. It should be short enough to fit into a tagline and clear enough for people to instantly know what you are good at. Combine text types and industries as well instead of one or the other, e.g. “I translate technical documentation for the automotive industry,” or, “I translate corporate communications for the IT industry.”
Get over: Being afraid you will miss out on work that does not fit 100% perfectly into the way you have formulated your specialization or for an industry you have not listed. If anything, you appear more credible, because people are more likely to believe you are among the best at one or two things than 15. This credibility also builds trust, making it more likely people will ask for your honest opinion on whether you can do a good job on another kind of text or make a referral. (In that case, it is important that you are honest and realistic about what you would in fact be well suited for and when the client would be better served by a referral!) Honing in on a specific industry also helps you decide which conferences to attend, which associations to join, which CPD activities to participate in and where to focus your marketing.

Failing to mention the benefits of your location

Don’t: Put yourself in competition with the whole world unnecessarily.
Do: Tell clients how your location benefits them, such as allowing overnight delivery from New Zealand, or availability to meet in person for a free consultation. It’s hard to be the first choice for your language combination and specialization in the whole world, but it’s not hard to be among the best locally, or use your location to stand out from the competition in other ways.
Get over: Assuming your location is a handicap if you don’t live in a big city in your source language country. Find benefits such as leveraging different time zones or being perfectly positioned for adaptation to the target market.

Failing to leverage your native variety of your target language

Don’t: Compete with everyone else in the world who translates into your language.
Do: Offer translations into your native language variety and texts adapted for international audiences. For example, you could offer translations into Argentine Spanish and into international Spanish. You have just positioned yourself ahead of and distinguished yourself from all the other Spanish translators in the world who translate into a different variety of Spanish for clients targeting the Argentine market, while simultaneously catering to clients who are more interested in a neutral variety not targeting one specific market.
Get over: Assuming you will lose out on projects that aren’t in your variety of your target language.
Hint: Don’t presume to master other varieties of your target language on your own! If you are American, collaborate with an editor from the UK if your clients want international English so you can work together to avoid both Americanisms and Briticisms and make the text as accessible as possible to a wide audience.

False assumptions about what clients care about

Don’t: Assume they care a whole a lot about your life story.
Do: Focus on how your services benefit them.
Get over: Yourself! You aren’t applying for a job. You’re showing clients how they can benefit from your services. Focus on benefits as opposed to features. People are naturally self-centered and want to know what’s in it for them.

Relying too little or too much on others for your website

Don’t: Write, translate and design your website all by yourself without any help whatsoever. And don’t hire professionals to do these things with too little input from you.
Do: Decide what you want to say, use your own voice and style. Then bring in as much professional help as is necessary depending on your own strengths and weaknesses.
Get over: Assuming the wording on your website is not important. People looking for translators are inclined to judge them by the quality of the writing and translations on their websites. After all, our way with words is our calling card.

I’m currently reading Ca$hvertising by Drew Eric Whitman, which has given me a lot of great ideas and inspiration. I especially enjoy his no-nonsense approach to advertising. He basically says that, if you have a truly useful product or service that benefits people, you should feel no shame in pulling out every trick in the consumer psychology book to sell it. It’s a whole different story if you are a fraud using tricks to peddle snake oil. Check it out for yourself if you are interested in getting better at advertising your translation services or translating marketing materials for clients.

Let me know in the comments if you found anything useful, have anything to add, or have a different opinion.

Header image credit: kaboompics

How to Have a Super First Year in the ATA: Small Resources that Add Up to Big Benefits

Welcome to the third article in the series How to Have a Super First Year in the ATA. This time, I’ll be talking about all the small resources offered by the ATA that add up to big benefits towards the end of your first year.

List Yourself in the ATA Directory

Make yourself findable! Direct clients and agencies alike use the online ATA directory to find professional translators like you. Take the time to complete your profile fully. Include your language combinations, specializations, CAT tools, where you live… even the currencies you accept! Write a descriptive summary and upload your updated résumé. The best way to differentiate yourself is by becoming certified, but if that’s not on your to-do list, becoming a Voting Member is another way to make your profile stand out among the list of translators. (https://www.atanet.org/membership/membershipdirectory.php)

Become a Voting Member

Voting membership opens doors to your participation in the association—from voting in elections to serving as a member of a committee. ATA active or corresponding membership, that is, voting membership, is available to associate members who either pass the ATA certification exam or go through Active Membership Review. For readers who are not ATA certified, the application form to become a voting member is available here: (http://www.atanet.org/membership/memb_review_online.php)

Join a Division

There are currently 20 ATA divisions ranging from language to specialization divisions. Your ATA dues include membership in any or all of its divisions, so you can join as many as you’d like. Many have their own newsletter and/or listserv and host a networking event at the ATA conference. (http://www.atanet.org/divisions/about_divisions.php)

Business Practices Listserv

This listserv is all about creating community, networking and getting advice from your colleagues. You can ask questions, post answers, make suggestions and recommendations, or simply read the digest of what everyone else is talking about. From tax regulations to tips on how to deal with an abusive agency, the listserv is a great resource for any translator. Become a member of the business practices listserv here: (http://www.atanet.org/business_practices/bp_listserv.php)

Attend Your First ATA Conference

ATA 57This year’s annual conference, ATA57, will be held in San Francisco, California from November 2-5, 2016. Over 1,800 translators and interpreters will attend the conference, so your chances of networking and creating meaningful connections are pretty high! Not only that, but you’ll have the option to attend over 160 educational sessions. I went to my first conference last year and have nothing but good things to say about it. My next article in this series will be all about the ATA conference, so be sure to check back for a full recap of my first-timer experience in a couple of months. You can learn more about ATA57 here: (https://www.atanet.org/conf/2016/)

ATA provides you with a number of opportunities to make the most of your membership. All I can do is encourage you to invest some time and take advantage of every single one of these great resources. It’s what helped me feel like I form a part of a larger community of like-minded professionals.

About the author

Molly YurickMolly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality and airline industries. In the past she has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a B.A. in Spanish and Global Studies and a Certificate in Medical Interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

Savvy Technical Translators: What do They Have that You Need?

Savvy Technical TranslatorsWhen you come into the translation business, you usually know deep down if you have what it takes to be a technical translator. As a basic starting point, you need good technical instincts in the field you are interested in. That may come from a prior career, a course of study, a family business, or a hobby that you are managing to turn into a money-maker.

Hearing tales of the often amazing series of events that bring us to the point of beginning a career in translation are part of what makes us such a fun bunch of people. But once you are here, ready to begin, know your limits. Don’t translate chemistry if you don’t know silicon from silicone. Don’t translate automotive texts if you don’t know how an internal combustion engine works. You will fall flat on your face. Ask anyone who’s been doing this for a while. We all have a story about “that job we should never have accepted.”

Good technical translation produces precise, concise, and clear texts

“Precise” is usually covered by the terms you choose, so that takes us to two of the skills that you need to make it as a top-notch technical translator. One of those is subject-matter expertise: the other is strong terminology research skills. “Concise” and “clear” texts are produced from superb technical writing. When you combine these three skills, you can be a great technical translator.

New technical translators usually come in two “varieties.” The first is translators with credentials in translation, perhaps including technical translation, but with little hands-on work experience in any technical field. They usually come with a “Desperately Seeking Specialization” vibe. The second will usually have had a career in commerce or industry and come to translation later in life.

The former group often has stronger terminology research and writing skills. The latter group usually has strong subject matter expertise but can’t necessarily write well in their target language, or, and here I speak from personal experience, their proofreading skills might not be where they need to be.

Subject matter expertise

What really defines it? At the high end, you’ll hear people refer to the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule made popular by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which says that no one can be an expert until they have spent 10 years working in a field. That’s a somewhat depressing concept for many technical translators wishing to build up expertise in a new field.

At the other extreme, you’ll find people who consider themselves an expert after they have translated 10,000 words on some subject or other. That’s a recipe for disaster (well, at the very least, quality complaints). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I think the answer lies somewhere in-between. Yes, if you have 10 years’ experience you’ll have a head start and many customers will view you favorably.

But that doesn’t mean you are a brilliant translator and don’t have a great deal to learn. You should work on your writing. And people without hands-on experience can build up a body of expertise in a field over time. A long time, mind you, not a few weeks’ worth of work. The best and fastest way I know to build up this expertise is to have your work edited by somebody who knows what they’re talking about. Shake off your pride and ask people to track changes in your work. Feedback produces growth.

What about terminology?

Being able to research and pin down terminology in context successfully is the only way to produce reliable technical translations. Doing that quickly helps productivity and increases your hourly gross income. Over time you’ll know the key resources for your field and know how to use collocations to find out how people actually say it today. But any translator with Internet access and decent dictionaries can look up translations for technical terms. There’s nothing that can help you properly parse concepts that you do not truly understand. That brings us back to subject matter expertise. Sorry to harp on, but that’s the strongest prerequisite for success, in my mind.

The third skill, technical writing style, is less talked about routinely, but I have written and spoken about it, for instance here. Technical writing is a skill that can be learned and a fundamental part of the technical translator’s skill set. Don’t think that only commercial and marketing translators need to write well.

Make clarity a point of pride. Do one proofreading pass for numbers and units of measure alone, so that no errors of that nature ever creep in to your work. Use a suitable style guide so that you always format units of measure correctly and know whether to hyphenate a term of the art. Use document-specific style sheets to help you be consistent.

So start with good instincts, but don’t be that technical translator who “just translates what’s there.” Make the product a better piece of writing than the original, unless the purpose precludes that. Invest in yourself. Learn about cars or colloids, computer chips or contact lenses. Don’t leave great writing for artsy translations.

Be savvy: Know that your career will be much more successful if you treat technical translation with the respect it deserves, you start with high standards and you raise them with every new customer. May you prosper!

Header image credit: Picjumbo
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

Karen M. Tkaczyk

Karen Tkaczyk was the 2011-2015 Administrator of ATA’s Science and Technology Division. She is an ATA-certified French>English freelance translator. Her translation work is focused on chemistry and its industrial applications. She has an MChem in chemistry with French from the University of Manchester, UK, and a diploma in French, a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Cambridge, UK. Initially, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry in Europe. After relocating to the U.S. in 1999, she worked in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. She established her translation practice in 2005. She lives in Colorado with her family. Contact: karen@mcmillantranslation.com, @ChemXlator.

Collaborating with Other Translators

Lund Translation Team by David Friedman

hand-523231_1280I wanted to find a way to collaborate closely with other translators ever since the early days of my translation career, because I thought it would open up more opportunities and would be more fun than going it alone.  This is the reason I have experimented with different forms of collaboration, strategies, methods and groups of people since 2011.

At first all we had was a group of four independent freelance translators with a joint website and monthly meetings to try to find a way to appeal to direct clients together. But we struggled to figure out where we should focus our efforts. This went on for a little while as an experiment with different people joining and leaving the team until I heard about an incubator program called LIFT at Lunds Nyföretagarcentrum (Lund Center for New Businesses) at Ideon Science Park in Lund, Sweden. The program was aimed at services companies with unique ideas aiming for rapid growth within two years. I was accepted into the program and that was the turning point when Lund Translation Team in its current form was born.

We were given access to regular business counseling, a free crash course in entrepreneurship, quarterly meetings with an advisory board consisting of hand-picked professionals volunteering their time to give us advice, and subsidized office space with affordable rent. Instead of just sharing one-time costs for our business expenses such as website and business cards as before, we set fixed monthly membership fees to cover the recurring rent of the office and leave a small surplus for our joint marketing activities. Setting this fixed fee separated the wheat from the chaff, and resulted in only those of us who were serious about investing money, time, and energy into building a successful translation business with direct clients remaining.

So what is Lund Translation Team today? Lund Translation Team is not a separate legal entity, but a joint brand shared by multiple freelance translators, each with their own sole proprietorships and accounting. We share joint marketing costs, spread the brand name by using it in our marketing  and market each other’s services together as a whole. Everyone still invoices separately and charges clients for the work they do individually. We have one office in Lund and one in Ängelholm, about an hour apart in the same region of southern Sweden. The whole team meets in person twice a month, once in each location, and is in daily electronic contact. The monthly fees are paid to the treasurer who then pays for all the team’s joint expenses.

Within the team we cover about six major European languages into Swedish, as well as English and Swedish to Chinese and Swedish and German to English. We work with a few select external partners as well, mainly to cover more European languages. We decided to put a clearer focus on the specialization of each of our members recently to show what makes each of us unique (e.g. I now call myself the team’s financial communications translation expert).

We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel we are really going in the right direction now and our networking is slowly paying off and bringing in more direct clients. I have found an amazing group of people to collaborate with and I find it very rewarding. From sharing tips on quoting, pitching and other business practices to helping each other with terms, sentences, CAT tools and all kinds of work-related issues. It is very rewarding socially too, with a steady stream of laughter coming from our office on meeting days.

I don’t think there is a single right or wrong form of collaboration between translators, but I am convinced that there is a lot to gain by working together in some way. Here are some ways translators can collaborate:

–          A pair of translators revising each other’s work on a regular basis

–          Translators referring jobs they don’t have time for or languages and fields they don’t do

–          Translators in different countries partnering up to reach each other’s markets

–          Local translators partnering up to share office space and/or to target local clients together

And here are some of the benefits of working together:

–          Make office space and marketing materials more affordable through cost-sharing

–          Expand your networking reach

–          Attract direct clients who need more than one language

–          Get advice and feedback on all kinds of translation and business challenges

–          Forge strong professional and social relationships

–          Have someone to cover for you when you are sick, on vacation or underestimated a job

How would you like to collaborate with other translators? Or what experiences do you already have? Don’t forget that the ATA and the other national translator associations are very valuable resources for getting to know potential collaborators. The more involved you get, the more people you meet and the better you get to know them. So what are you waiting for? Reach out to a fellow translator today!

Adaptation versus Translation

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

Adaptation versus TranslationA book I’ve been delving into (see Sources) and an article I’m composing myself both use the terms translation and adaptation. This obliges me to consider what the differences are between the two terms.

Amongst academics, the old study of translation has now been joined by a new branch, adaptation studies:

“In recent years, adaptation studies has established itself as a discipline in its own right, separate from translation studies. [But though] the bulk of its activity to date has been restricted to literature and film departments… it is, however, much more interdisciplinary.”

At a superficial level, it can be treated as a matter of English collocation. We generally see, for example, stage adaptation (or version, which is a synonym of adaptation) or screen adaptation, often without a change of language, rather than stage translation or screen translation. (I myself once acted in a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice!) But of course there’s more behind the words.

To start with, adaptation certainly is the appropriate word when there’s a change of medium or genre, irrespective of language. Thus a screen adaptation is

“a cinematographic interpretation of a work from another art form – prose, drama, poetry, song or opera or ballet libretto.”

Whereas translation requires a change of language. So the final product can be both a translation and an adaptation: a tradaptation (yes, the word exists!). There are examples of it my article.

An enduring example of genre adaptation is Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, written in 1807 and still in print in several editions (see Sources).

“The book reduced the archaic English and complicated storyline of Shakespeare to a level that children could read and understand.”

It came to be regarded as a work of literature in itself, but of children’s literature.

However there’s still more that’s important, and the most important of all is that the concept of adaptation allows for changes in the content and style of the original that would be unacceptable in a translation; in other words for a much wider difference between the two that goes beyond the wording, and hence for a far more radical and unchained intervention by the translator/adapters. A glaring example of this is the adaptation of Aladdin for the British Christmas theatre For over two hundred years now, since 1788, Antoine Galland’s original French text (itself a translation from Arabic) has been variously translated and adapted for the stage, modern music and topical jokes added, transgender dressing introduced, etc. The pantomime is a mishmash parody of the original Middle Eastern folk tale.

In any case the boundary between translation and adaptation has shifted over the centuries. Chaucer recognised both of them in his famous 14th-century retraction at the end of The Canterbury Tales, where translacions contrasts with enditynges:

“Wherfore I biseke yow mekely, for the mercy Of God, that ye preye for me that crist have Mercy on me and foryeve me my giltes; and Namely of my translacions and enditynges of Worldly vanitees.”

Yet all his many borrowings from French, Italian, etc. are adaptations in the modern sense. Indeed Chaucer often combined several sources in his re-tellings. Not that the concept of close translation didn’t exist; but in Bible translation or legal documents, not literature. For his sake and for the sake of other adapters, we hope God forgave him.

Translation, Adaptation and Transformation. A collection of papers edited by Laurence Raw of Baskent University, Ankara. 240 pages. New York, etc.: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012. Paperback US$43.
Charles and Mary Lamb. Tales from Shakespeare. London, 1807. Still in print.
Brunilda Reichmann Lemos (Universidade Federal do Paraná). Some differences between Boccaccio’s and Chaucer’s Tales of Griselda. No date.
Aladdin. Wikipedia. 2014.
My own article, Translation and Adaptation for the British Christmas Theatre, will be available shortly on my academia.edu page.

A stage adaptation from Orwell. Source: http://www.exurbe.com.

Take the Message and Jump!

By Christiane Nord
Abstract by Jamie Hartz and Cynthia Eby

horse-721136_640A common, but dangerous, tendency in translation is to adhere too closely to the source text and miss the mark in the target culture. In this article, Dr. Christiane Nord explains the concept of “taking the message and jumping” into the target linguaculture—which is a combination of culture and language which determines appropriate ways to communicate. She suggests a process where the translator first leaps the barrier separating the source linguaculture from the target linguaculture and then takes a look back to ensure that no meaning or sense has been lost from the source text.

All too often, Nord states, beginning translators start with a quick and dirty version of a translation and then hope to mold it into an acceptable finished product through successive revisions. This process ignores the cultural differences in language use, however, and makes the larger shifts necessary for true communication in the target culture difficult to make. The final result produced by this method does not communicate the message clearly to the target audience and includes “translationese”—vestiges of the source text which are not appropriate to the target linguaculture.

A better method for creating high-quality translations is to first jump the barrier that separates Linguaculture A from Linguaculture B (target). Like with horses jumping, this cannot be done from standing directly in front of the culture barrier; you must have momentum. Gaining the momentum needed to leap across the barrier requires, among other skills and abilities, complete mastery of the target language, so that as a translator you are keenly aware of constructions that fit in the source but not in the target. It is also important, Nord writes, to relate the translation to other texts in the target culture repertoire so that it can be fully accepted as a text in its own right rather than an inadequate version written in “translationese”.

However, this leap into the target linguaculture may sometimes cause us to leave out important aspects of the source text that should not be forgotten, and so one final and critical step of the Figure 4_editedprocess should be to look back at the source and ensure that no key elements have been neglected that would cause your translation to fail to meet the requirements set forth in your brief. Further revision thereafter will help to refine your text into a translation that is practically useful and of high linguistic quality.

The entire process is well summarized in an image given in Nord’s article and reproduced above. First, the arrows from the source text towards the culture hurdle show an attempt to make a crude translation and then fix it. After that, the arrow arching across the figure shows the translator taking the message and jumping across the culture hurdle with it. Finally, arrows work back towards the hurdle in an attempt to look back and regain what was lost in the jump.

While it may seem risky, jumping the hurdle from the source to target will allow your translation to thrive in the target linguaculture. It will have the chance to relate to the textual models that are already in place in the target linguaculture, rather than getting stuck in the mud, too closely bound to the source when your real goal is to produce a functional and fully adequate target text.

Please scroll down to read the full article by Christiane Nord. Click here to download the full article in PDF format.

About the author: Dr. Christiane Nord trained as a translator for Spanish and English at Heidelberg University (B.A. Honours), obtained a PhD in Romance Studies and a post-doc qualification for a full professorship (“Habilitation”) in Applied Translation Studies and Translation Pedagogy. From 1967 she was involved in translator training at the universities of Heidelberg, Vienna, Hildesheim, Innsbruck and Magdeburg. She has been invited for short-time teaching appointments by universities and translator training institutions in Europe, Middle East, America, Asia and Africa. She has about 200 publications about theoretical, methodological and pedagogical aspects of “functionalism” in translation. Since 2007, she has been a research associate and professor extraordinary of the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. For more details see www.christiane-nord.de

About Cynthia Eby: Cynthia Eby is a recent graduate of Seattle Pacific University (Class of 2015) with a major in linguistics and cultural studies and a minor in Spanish. She currently works as Gaucha TI’s assistant and lives in Portland, OR.

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Revision and its Kin

by Jonathan Hine

notebook+mugIf you have been translating professionally for a little while, a project manager (PM) has or will ask you to revise a text that someone has translated. The PM probably will not call it “revision.” This is part of our professional practice which has more misnomers than almost anything we do.

What is revision? Why isn’t it editing, proofreading or something else?

In our industry, “revision” is a technical term, a cognate from the French révision. “Revision” in English implies modification of the text, but révision denotes a series of specific activities, which may or may not require modifying the text.

Specifically, the French have a connotation for révision that refers to a verification against standards, which is absent in the English. When you verify a text against standards, and it meets the standards, there is no need to modify it.

For what it is worth, editing, proofreading, revising, and copyediting are monolingual activities, which may take place downstream from the translation and revision work – or not. They belong to the world of monolingual publishing.

Different Types of Revision

Pragmatic revision is what we do: checking a target text against a source text. The revisor needs both texts, and should be at least as qualified as the translator in both language pair and subject matter. Peer backup.

Didactic revision is what a teacher does when correcting papers. It is also what we do as professionals when teaching or mentoring. For example, if a colleague were to ask me to revise a translation not for client delivery, but because she is trying to learn how to translate something new, I might mark it up more than a client delivery, and I would leave the corrections there, with comments. Then we could discuss it.

Evaluation usually means an up/down judgment, as when a Language Service Provider (LSP) retains a revisor to evaluate a new translator’s work. This is not properly revision, because correcting the text is not the purpose. However, a good evaluation may require a revisor. This is what Certification graders do.

Quality control is why LSP’s hire revisors. It is also why the PM must read the work, and why there are proof-readers and editors.

Monolingual Revision

Basically, revision without the source document. This cannot be done without compromising quality and possibly making things worse. A well-written text can contain mistranslations that appear coherent with the rest of the text. A monolingual reviser could also repair a clumsy sentence, and inadvertently change the meaning.

However, there are forms of monolingual review that translators are sometimes asked to perform. For example, in technical communications, a subject matter expert (SME) works closely with technical writers and translators. If the SME sees something that does not square with their understanding of the subject, they can send it back to find out what was really meant. A bilingual SME would be ideal, and I am often asked to revise translations as much for my technical background as for my language pairs.

We may also be asked to review the writing of non-native writers. Professional translators add value to this task, because we can hear the authors thinking in their native language as they write, and imagine a “source text” behind the strange phrases. This kind of monolingual editing applies only to material originally written by the non-native author, not translations. When asked to repair translations, I always insist on working with the source text.

Tips on Revising

We simply cannot edit own work perfectly. Small errors become part of the page, and we no longer see them. It takes a second set of eyes to catch those mistakes. Nothing personal here: the revisor is actually helping the translator deliver a perfect product. Working as a revisor has the added advantage of improving our own self-revising.

Here are some pointers from revisors with many years of experience.

  1. Know beforehand whether you are expected to revise for style as well as substance. If you don’t get this guidance, ask for it. You can waste a lot of time and your client’s money improving the coherence and style of a document when no one needs it.
  2. Know how closely the client wants you to revise. For example, if the end-user needs to know what the document means for an internal meeting, it does not have to be elegant as long as it is clear. Weird (but correct) spellings, unusual syntax (that is not misleading), even omissions (that have no impact on the meaning) can be accepted. On the other hand, an annual report for big investors is a kind of sales document. It has to be very accurate, and it has to read well, to place the company in a good light. A scientific journal article has to be precise, even at the expense of easy readability in some cases (fewer than you might think. Many scientists are excellent writers.).
  3. Don’t take it personally. Remember always that you are revising a translation, not a translator. It takes special effort to set aside the human tendency to imagine the translator working on the document. Even if we do not know the name of the translator, we should have a special empathy for that individual. Anyone can have a bad day; there could be many reasons why the translation in front of you is a mess.
  4. Stay in touch with the PM. One common reason that the translation is a mess may be that you have the wrong file in front of you. If something is way off or if you see that the revision will take more time than you estimated, contact the PM right away.
  5. Avoid “happy-to-glad” revision. This is the habit of replacing a word with its exact synonym. It is both unnecessary, and insulting to the translator. In a way, it is cheating the client, too, because they should not have to pay for wasted action.
  6. Closely related to “happy-to-glad” revision is “I would not have done it that way.” If the meaning is carried correctly, leave the translation alone. One way of policing ourselves is to be sure that we can use external reference(s) to justify every change we make. These could include client guidelines, reference books, checklists, style guides, or glossaries. Anything we cannot justify may simply be personal preference, and that is not a reason to change someone’s work.

How to charge for revision

Revision should be priced by the hour. Revision is affected, more than any other activity in translation, by the quality of the text we are given to work with. If the revisor is not wasting time (see the six tips above), a good translation will take less time to revise, and a poor one will cost more. It’s that simple.

Do not be shy about turning down revision work if the text may be over your head. However, it is an indication that your client has a high regard for your work. Take it as a compliment.

Our “Mother Tongue”: Keeping it Fresh in a Foreign Land

By Helen Eby

Estemed friends,

Old LettersIt seems to make much time that I don’t write to you.—Ramón, in “Ramón Writes,” an Argentine column published by the Buenos Aires Herald every two weeks, as a humorous take on Argentine Spanglish. Ramón had trouble saying such simple things as “It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you.” Today, we laugh at Google Translate instead.

Keeping our mother tongue fresh is a complex issue. My mother is Argentine and spoke Spanish to me as a child. Then, I moved to Argentina when I was eight. Even in Argentina, when I was graduating from college, my teachers sometimes told me that my English had a subtle effect on my Spanish writing!

Those of us who speak more than one language live in an intertidal zone where languages meet. We live where languages are constantly in contact. Sometimes new terms are created because we can’t find a term for something that is hard to say in the other language. When that happens, how do we avoid becoming “Ramón”?

Everyone grows up with a mother tongue. It is an accident of birth. We love it. We speak it at home. We read it, go to school in it, study it, sing in it, live in it. Some people pick up a second language. Then we move. Sometimes our moves are planned, and sometimes they are for reasons beyond our control.. Regardless, we are uprooted and transplanted into another culture. We move into the land of our second language.

I have two mother tongues, and as a translator and interpreter I use them both constantly. With two languages in constant contact, how do I keep them from “corrupting” each other?


If you are uprooted from the land of your mother tongue, take your books! I have met so many people who miss their books! My favorite? Don Segundo Sombra, by Ricardo Güiraldes. It takes me right back to my uncle’s estancia, where I learned how to ride a horse.

Read the newspaper: The paper talks about all kinds of things: politics, science, life, the comics, letters to the editors. In Argentina, it even includes foul language. But I’m using too much Argentine Spanish for a Mexican audience, so I’d better start reading a Mexican paper! Excelsior is on my list.

Read literature: Novels, short stories, poems. Every time I travel I load a small suitcase with books. I can’t find them in the US, so I buy them wherever I go. Literature talks about life. Reading keeps me using the language well. It spills into my conversation and my writing.

Read about the language: There are articles about language in the newspaper. Read them, think about them. Share and discuss them with colleagues. Argue about the use of certain words. Fight about it! It’s OK, it’s a topic about which you both care! And right now, I’m reading grammar books! Gramática didáctica del español, by Leonardo Gómez Torrego. You can’t find my favorites on Amazon. I shop on Iberlibro.com.


I love interpreting! I get to experience both my languages in action! As a medical interpreter who also translates documents for a local hospital, I interpret for patients who read the same documents I translate! This helps me know exactly who my audience is and what will help them understand the material better. The words they are confused by in an interpreting session will confuse them in a translation. It makes my translations come alive in many ways.

Working with a colleague

I work with a partner and we review each other’s work. Just recently I learned that “reintegro,” which I thought meant “reimbursement”, actually has a different meaning in Mexico: it is a “lottery payment for the exact money you paid for your ticket!” My word for reimbursement is now “reembolso.”

I am an interpreter and a translator. I can’t afford to lose my edge on the spoken or the written front in either of my two languages. Then again, these languages are too close to my soul to be able to bear it.

As interpreters and translators, we are expressing a message. We can be like mechanical musicians, like the ones who get all the notes just right, with the right rhythm, and the right intonation, but somehow are just boring. As my daughter’s viola teacher would sometimes tell her, while she played a scale, “You couldn’t pay me enough to listen to that!”

Our goal, however, is to be “real” musicians, like the orchestras people line up to hear because their ensemble is so amazing that they can play the most difficult pieces in a way that speaks to our souls. These orchestras, as they play, transport you to a place of joy, of rest, of discord, of whatever the music is.

What makes these musicians special? They certainly work on their technique! However, they haven’t lost their love for music. They listen to other people’s performances, they play with friends for fun. We should be this way with languages. We should be very particular about our technique, without losing our love for our languages. So, here are my closing tips:

  • Write letters to your friends in both languages.
  • Call your friends on the phone, and just chat with them in both languages.
  • Join a book club. You don’t all have to read the same book. You can even start one!
  • Join a Toastmasters club in the language you don’t get to speak every day.
  • Start a local “language sharpening group” where you critique each other’s writing in each language.

As Ramón might say, “Until Miami, I salute you, hoping always that the things will go well with you.”

“I look forward to seeing you at the ATA conference in November, and trust that all will be well with you.” Translated from “Ramón” to English by David Eby, whose English is uninfluenced by any other language.

Go National or Stay Local?

by Giovanna Lester
in collaboration with The Savvy Newcomer Team

Full disclosure: I am one of the co-founders and currently the president of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF), an ATA Chapter. I am also a teacher, a mother and a grandmother. I am starting to see a pattern…

office-331738_1280Joining a professional organization is an investment in one’s career and must be properly assessed. Take a look at the benefits package and the group’s reach. If it is a local entity, is it affiliated with a larger entity that will give you national or international exposure? Don’t forget to check what is expected of you as a member and what your rights are. The answers to the latter questions can sometimes be found in the entity’s bylaws, which groups often make available on their websites. When reading the bylaws, make sure to have your questions ready, and search for the specific answers. This will focus and expedite your reading.

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Happy Birthday to The Savvy Newcomer!

birthday-303583_640This Friday, August 15, marks the first anniversary of The Savvy Newcomer blog – still very young, but, boy has its presence been felt!  Now that you have come to know The Savvy Newcomer, we thought it would be nice to hear the experience of all involved in this project, because, in a way, we were all newcomers (again), and this fits perfectly with the spirit of our blog: No matter how seasoned you might be in your area of specialization, as soon as you step out of your comfort zone, you become a newcomer.

So this anniversary post is a celebration to all of you who – like us – have been brave enough to venture into a completely new field. Cheers!

A few words from ATA President, Ms. Caitilin Walsh

Just a year ago, this blog, brainchild of Helen Eby and Dorothee Racette, then-ATA President, and others hoping to create a virtual gathering place for students and newcomers to professional translating and interpreting, was launched. Since then, we’ve had visits from hundreds of students, educators and trainers, as well as the curious. And the numbers are growing exponentially—clearly it’s meeting a need.

Back when I was just starting out, (when the internet was nascent and dinosaurs roamed the planet), it was the efforts of various individuals imparting tidbits of knowledge and encouragement on an individual basis that made the difference for me. But without a central repository or gathering place, my professional formation was scattershot at best. I am thrilled that this platform is here to provide a comprehensive overview for those interested in knowing more; and offering pointers to those wanting to dig deeper and make those individual connections that make all the difference, even in these thoroughly modern times.

After just one year, we have assembled a collection of useful posts on a number of subjects. Not content to rest on our laurels, there’s a new series of posts about various T&I programs in this country (and further afield), with perspectives on the programs from both students and teachers. I’m delighted to be able to offer a post of my own to the collection in a future post —I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a party attended by newcomers and those who welcome them!

Helen’s perspective: a year of learning.

At first sight, The Savvy Newcomer was “just a blog.” It was just an undeveloped idea, a place where we could provide information for newcomers to the profession. “Sure, we’ll do it!” we said. Then we learned what was involved. Many people provided support, advice, and encouragement. I’ve learned that amazing things can be done with a team where members have total trust in each other, when nobody cares who gets the credit. We’ve filled in for each other at times and had fun at our meetings. We’ve become friends.

As we have done our best to help others, we have learned a lot from the posts others have written! There have been good reminders, new ideas, and fresh perspectives every week.

My dreams for the future? Connecting students from translation and interpreting programs all over the world, so they can talk to each other. Schools would have an ATA/The Savvy Newcomer rep, and the reps would meet by GoTo Meeting to talk, brainstorm, be encouraged, every month or so. We’d learn what they need right away, and be able to offer support that fits the needs of the moment. That would be matched with a team of generous “old-timers” who are happy to write articles to answer the questions that come our way.

When we started, I remember Dorothee asking, “OK, Helen, are you going to do this for just a year, or are you going to stick with it? We like this, but it really needs someone to have a long term commitment.” I told her I’d stick around. Hey, this team is too much fun to walk away from it!

Jamie’s story

I became involved with The Savvy Newcomer team when I met Helen Eby at the ATA conference in San Diego. After we introduced ourselves and she found out that I was a student, Helen immediately told me about a vision she had. Her dream was of a student involvement effort within the ATA that would start with just a few volunteers and would grow to become an organization-wide effort to support newcomers to the profession and the conference. Since beginning to work with Helen on this initiative in 2012, I have grown personally and professionally from learning to work as part of this team, increasing my knowledge of the ATA as an organization through close contact with so many of its members and leaders, and also simply through reading and implementing the wonderful advice from articles that have been contributed to The Savvy Newcomer.

Along came Daniela

I could have never imagined the incredible experience that awaited me when the President of ATIF, my local chapter, suggested my name to become a part of ATA’s Leadership Council. Much like when one arrives at a meeting not knowing anybody, I was guided by kind colleagues to my final destination: The Student Involvement Committee. I remember receiving a phone call from Helen to talk about my interests, strengths, and sharing her ideas, and her vision. She is so passionate and energetic about what she does that it is contagious and one cannot help but get in the same wave and ride along! I immediately said “Yes! I want to be a part of this.” So I officially took over the practical and technical side of creating the blog. Jamie, Helen and I would meet on a regular basis until all the details of the blog were finalized… and then, before our very eyes, The Savvy Newcomer was alive! This blog has taken a life of its own and it is the result of the sunny disposition of all of those involved with it. We have had so much encouragement from different sources, but especially from Mary David, who believed in us from the beginning, and has continued to support our efforts.

During this year, not only have I learned through the awesome collection of posts, but also about the ATA itself, its structure, and all the effort that goes on behind the scenes to keep it as the vibrant organization we all know.

I feel honored to be a part of this team of great professionals who, although I have never met in person, I now consider my friends and I look forward to many more years to come!

Samantha, our current editor

Though I don’t remember exactly how I first stumbled upon The Savvy Newcomer—I suspect it was through a translation-related rabbit trail—I do remember being very excited when I did find it. I had recently begun a very similar blog directed at students for my local ATA chapter, the Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters (CATI), and as a student myself at the time I thought that the Newcomer would be a great way to connect with students on a broader national and even international level. I was right. I have learned a great deal about the T&I professions from the articles posted on the Newcomer, but of just as great an impact has been the opportunity to meet and get to know my colleagues. I’ve learned just as much from discussions with them as from the blog posts, and I look forward to continuing to do so in the future.

From our back-up editor, Lisa

It was a year ago when Daniela Guanipa asked if I would be interested in editing posts for a new blog to be called The Savvy Newcomer. Sure! I said. I love editing. I love helping the ATA. And I love learning. Now, I’m no newcomer to the field of translation, but absolutely every article contained information or a perspective I hadn’t necessarily considered before. Each reminded me what talented members ATA has and how, by giving to our professional associations, we often get just as much—or more—in return. This was true, too, of the relationships I’ve formed with the rest of the team. I’ve met almost everyone in person, corresponded with each of them about more than just translation, formed personal and professional connections I know will last. Though I’ve slipped into the role as back-up editor for now, I’m still so pleased to be a part of this team and this project. Happy first anniversary to The Savvy Newcomer! Here’s to many more.

We would like to open the floor to you, dear readers, to tell us about your own experience during the first year of life of The Savvy Newcomer, or just to say “Happy Birthday!”