Translators and Interpreters: The True Influencers

In this article, I will define influencers as those who make change happen, who are catalysts of the developments they seek. In translation and interpreting, that is up to the professionals in the field. This is true of any other profession, since the professionals understand their field best. According to the authors of The General Theory of the Translation Company, we need a bit more debate to move forward as a profession.

The translation profession has advanced since the early days of Saint Jerome and Marco Polo, through the celebrated interpreters of the Nuremberg trials, and the legislative and certification accomplishments our colleagues have led us through in the United States since 1964. At this point, nurses assume healthcare interpreters will be certified, judges assume that interpreters are certified, and contracting officers expect translators to be certified or be able to demonstrate equivalent skills. We have shown that we are professionals.

What are the new challenges that lie ahead, as we work with clients in today’s world?

Due to the limited resources many companies have today, there is a new emphasis on leveraging all the skills employees bring, including their ability to write in languages other than English. That means that translation is not always outsourced to professional translators. We will be asked to review the text that is either translated or written directly in the non-English language by the employees. To be ready for this task, it helps to pick up some editing skills from our colleagues in editing associations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (for English) or the Spanish Editors Association (for Spanish). Being able to discuss the text from an editor’s point of view will help us in our conversations with clients.

Bilingual employees review our translations for suitability because they are in contact with the public who will use our translations. We need to learn how to respect their point of view and accept some of their input while defending some of our choices.

As interpreters, now that our work is remote, we have different scenarios than we were used to. For example, when we were trying to connect with the Spanish speaker in an attorney-client interview, we realized that the attorney would not be able to dial that specific number. I was able to solve the communication problem by translating a quick email, translating the email with the response, and so on for a couple of hours, the same time I had reserved for the appointment in the first place. I became a transterpreter.

When we are asked to rush through a translation, we need to help our clients understand the risks involved. Can we translate in our sleep? If we ask for help, and we work with a team, then we have to spend some time unifying the text. Partial deliveries of a project can mean that we have to go back and send updated translations. The more our clients understand these issues, the more they support us. I usually tell my clients I will charge them extra for worse quality. They limit the amount of rush translation.

When we interpret on a remote platform, do we ask how we will communicate that it is time for us to say something? Can we turn our cameras on to get their attention when we need to? Do we get the information we need ahead of time to prepare for our interpreting assignments? Even having the material that the attorney will read out loud during the appointment is helpful so we can sight translate and follow along.

How do we prepare to shine tomorrow? Do we watch our health and stamina level and make sure we don’t overextend ourselves? We do very poor work when we are overly tired, and our clients are the first to notice.

How do we manage to keep track of it all? When I studied to be a teacher, my professors told me I could delegate everything that would not have my imprint. Could someone else format our text so we can use a CAT tool? Can someone else do our bookkeeping? Can someone else help us with our website? Can someone else troubleshoot that computer problem we are having? Would that free up our time for translation and interpreting so we can make more money on what we do well?

Do we spend time interacting with our clients so we can know them better? That will help us serve them better and help us be the ones to define our role. By doing that we will learn about interesting learning opportunities at SCORE, at the Chamber of Commerce, at the Oregon Medical Association and other places that might not give us continuing education credits but will make us much better at serving our clients.

Clients are looking for professionals who are certified in what they do, continually improve their craft, and advocate for their profession. That is what accountants, engineers, attorneys and other professionals do. They love it when we tell them, “Sorry, that day I am meeting with some government officials to discuss the profession.” We, the practitioners, define our profession. We move it forward. We, the professionals, go to the halls of government and tell them how we do our work. The future of the profession is in our hands.

#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.