#ATA59 Session & Book Review: The Business of Translation

When I attended the ATA59 conference in NOLA, many colleagues encouraged me to attend a session about a topic outside my specialty. So, I browsed the booklet trying to choose a session about a topic that I’d like to know more about. I chose the Business of Translation” session listed under Language Services Companies and Independent Contractors, and I’m glad I did. The speakers, Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson, were informative and funny. Renato told his story of going from freelance translator to project manager, to finally owning his own business. So, in a presentation on the business of translation, he was speaking from experience.

At the end of the session, the colleague who was sitting next to me asked the first question: “How can I get a copy of your book?” The presenters immediately said, “We’ll give you a free copy. Here it is, it’s yours!” The audience didn’t expect the response, so we laughed and told our colleague to get it signed, which he eventually did. I took the book from my lucky colleague and quickly skimmed it, then decided to get myself a copy. I ended up reading it on the plane back to New York after the conference. After finishing it, I’ve decided to write a summary so I can encourage others to read it.

The General Theory of the Translation Company provides information on the business of translation. It addresses a few main elements that are market influencers within the field of translation, as well as seven support activities and core functions such as providing accurate translations in a timely manner (terms defined below). It touches on the enduring factors and changing elements that will impact the field of translation. Market influencers are basically the forces within the translation business that bring risk and opportunity. One example of a market influencer is the number of translators who open a business with minimum costs. Support activities are activities that create a framework to minimize risks and maximize opportunities to empower core functions. Core functions are the functions that add value to a translation business. Adding value here refers to creating economic value that customers are willing to pay for.

The book then talks about five forces that were introduced by Michael E. Porter to analyze competition within any business market. The five forces are competitive rivalry, the bargaining power of suppliers, the bargaining power of customers, the threat of new entrants and the threat of substitutes, products, and sources (reading material, documents, or paperwork). One advantage within the translation business is that it does not require much cost and is not tied to many government regulations. Anyone can start a translation business by having a computer, a website, and a PayPal account. Most people do own a laptop or a computer today, and creating websites and accounts is no longer a huge challenge. The field of translation grows proportionately to the growth of content.

The book elaborates on how translation businesses face competition due to the simple requirements needed to start up. How, then, do clients differentiate between a good service and an average one? Here, the book highlights the need to have an advantage that will drive one’s business to the forefront over competitors. This angle, which addresses service quality, goes under the competitive rivalry for a translation business.

Next, there’s the bargaining power of suppliers, which needs to be addressed by anyone planning to excel in the field. One needs to know how cheaply they are willing to offer their services without compromising quality. At the same time, one needs to ensure that there is breakeven or profit within the business that will allow it to thrive. Thus, it is crucial for those who want to start a translation business to understand the dynamics within conducting a translation business itself. If they are going to be employed with a translation company, then they might want to consider the benefits of working independently compared to being employed.

Also, there is the threat of new entrants: new businesses and new experts appear in the translation business on an almost daily basis. The book discusses how such challenges can be addressed and how one can stay in the translation industry despite the competition.

The reality for each translation expert may be different based on the country or city where they are located. Thus, the book serves as a framework that offers translators important tips for conducting business. New entrants may have trouble securing business offers without a track record. Hence, they must work hard to gain clients, who may prefer to go to translation experts, who are well established. However, if new entrants can offer additional perks, such as lower prices or faster turnover, then they can gain clients quickly. Here, the need to balance the various factors, such as quality, time, and service offered, will determine whether a translator will be successful in a competitive environment.

The book then proceeds to detail the seven support activities that are important for any translation business. These consist of management, structure, finance, culture, human resources, technology, and quality assurance. Of course, individuals are free to arrange their business as they see fit, but the guidance in this book serves as a helpful framework. The book stresses the importance of financial margins, and focuses on net margin. Just like any other business, the goal in the translation business is to make a profit. This means making a surplus after charging clients and paying suppliers. The book also addresses how changing technology will impact the translation process. Translators need to realize the importance of continuously updating their businesses and knowledge with the latest technology so that they can provide their clients with the best services.

In conclusion, the book focuses on how one can conduct a successful translation business by considering factors that can impact the business in both the short and long term. It may not be relatable to every single translator out there, but the book serves as a good guide for translators around the globe regardless of their business environment. In the end, a business is a business, and one needs to be familiar with challenges and obstacles before venturing into the business of translation.

Author bio

Amal Alaboud is a PhD candidate in the Translation Research and Instruction Program at the State University of New York at Binghamton. She holds an MA in Arabic/English Translation from the University of Salford in the UK. Her research interests include literary translation, translation project management, and volunteer translation. Currently, she is a project coordinator at TransPerfect in New York.

Book review: Revising and Editing for Translators

Reblogged from Amper Translation Service blog, with permission, incl. the image

Recently I came across a reference to a book on editing that caught my attention, partly because I hadn’t encountered many comprehensive guides on editing at that point and partly because this one was specifically aimed at translators. It turned out that the work had been around since 2001 and was now in its third edition (issued by Routledge in early 2014), so it was obviously popular and had been updated, too).

“Revising and Editing for Translators” is written by Brian Mossop, a Canadian who worked for the Canadian Government’s Translation Bureau for many years and now teaches editing/revision and translation at university level. The author’s considerable experience of revising translations and teaching students and teachers alike about revising and editing is reflected in the clear structure, real-life examples and broad scope of this work.

Routledge’s edition of the book is 244 pages long and divided into 14 chapters. These are followed by six appendices (e.g. on assessing quality and grading texts) and a list of bibliographical references and other books and articles for further reading, plus a helpful index. There are a number of practical exercises and tips for further reading at the end of each chapter, which relate to the subject matter covered. This way of presenting material makes the book suitable for self-study as well as classroom use.

What I like about this work is its clarity: the language the author uses is straightforward and lucid (not academic and dense), the chapters are structured well and he employs plenty of examples to make his points understood. He also illustrates different kinds of attitudes and approaches to editing/revising, i.e. proscriptive v. liberal, without dictating the stance the reader should actually take.

I also like the amount of differentiation Mossop uses, which makes it clear how many different levels there are to editing and how many factors play a role in the choices editors make (cf. chapter 2, “The work of an editor”, chapter 3, “Copyediting” and chapter 4, “Stylistic editing”, for example); basically, chapters 2 to 7 all make this point.

Chapter 8 is particularly interesting in my view as it’s concerned with software tools that editors and revisers can employ:

– internet searches to check terms and phraseology using search engines like Google
– looking for definitions of terms online
– using bilingual databases like Linguee and WeBiText and online translation-memory programs
– using editing features that word-processing programs offer (spelling and grammar checks, find & replace, displaying changes, adding reviewer’s comments, comparing different versions of documents, etc.)

Mossop also makes a clear (albeit personal) distinction between editing and revising at the beginning of the book and consequently divides the work into two sections on each area. Chapters 2 to 7 are on editing, while 9 to 14 are on revising. In a nutshell, he takes editing to mean “reading a text which is not a translation in order to spot problematic passages, and making any needed corrections or improvements” (p. 29). As for revising, he regards this as a task “in which [translators] find features of the draft translation that fall short of what is acceptable, as determined by some concept of quality” (p. 115).

In chapter 10, he discusses 12 parameters that play a role in revision, including accuracy, completeness, logic, facts, page layout and even typography (i.e. the use of bold, italicised or underlined text, capitalisation and colouring). Chapter 11 covers degrees of revision (from “intelligible” to “polished”), whether or not full or partial checks should be done and the risks inherent in spot checking. Chapter 12 is about the actual revision procedure (e.g. which steps to take and in which order) and what you can do about any unsolved issues.

There’s a lot more to the book than I can write about here. In short, I’d say it’s essential reading for any translator, not just for editors and copywriters, since every translator has to read their own work through and edit (or “revise”) it themselves before sending it off to the customer. I’m surprised I only discovered the book by chance, but that may be because it used to be published by a very small specialist publisher (St. Jerome Publishing); perhaps word will spread faster now that Routledge is backing it. (Click here for details about the book.)

Book review: Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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