Starting at square one as a translator or interpreter: What does it take?

From time to time we at The Savvy Newcomer receive questions from our readers that make for great blog post topics. This is one of them! Here’s a question from one of our readers who’s just starting to pursue an interest in languages and wants to know how to get started.

Q: Is there any advice you could give for someone who is starting out at square one, wanting to learn another language, with the end goal of interpreting? This may be a wild question, but I have always had an interest in other languages, and cultures, so interpreting and translation work are very attractive vocations to me. How would you recommend someone starting to make that career shift?  And do you happen to know what languages are in demand, or the most useful to know?  Are there any language schools you would recommend?

A: Thanks for asking! The Savvy Newcomer has a couple of posts that may be of interest (How to become a translator or interpreter, Translation/interpreting schools, Interview with student interpreters) but it sounds like you need a bit more direction on the front end as you consider learning a language and go about getting started.

One of the key requirements is a very strong language background. Interpreting and translation, based on quite a few testing results I have seen, require skills beyond the minimum requirements of Advanced High on the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) scale.

To reach that level, people usually have to get far beyond what can be accomplished in the institutional setting in the US. It generally involves at least a year in a foreign country, immersed in the language, not spending their time with the other US students who are there doing immersion programs but going to local choirs, doing some kind of local volunteer work, etc. beyond their academic work to get into the community.

However, even a very high ACTFL score is not a guarantee of translational action skills (the ability to convert the message from one language to another, whether orally or in writing). Interpreting and translation both require congruency judgment, which is an extra skill on top of that. It goes beyond being a walking dictionary. Asking any of us translators what a word means would leave us flummoxed. However, when we are given a problem to solve in context, our brains start clicking and we can be helpful.

Language proficiency is an essential prerequisite. Without language proficiency, there is not much basis for cultural understanding, according to the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) guidelines, and culture is part of the written code. For example, Americans have a tendency to sign a business letter “Pete”, but that would never fly in Argentina. It would be “Mr. Peter Brown,” and the letter would be in the formal usted (you). Anything else would just not go. So you need to understand the culture it is going to as well.

Interpreting and translating, though they purport to leave the person who does the language transfer invisible and not change the message at all, by necessity have to make these minimal adjustments so the message reaches the audience the way the original speaker or writer intended it to get there. Otherwise, it is disrespectful to the speaker or writer. We understand that and generally are doing what I would call “transcreation very light” invisibly. Clients do not like translations where this does not happen.

For example, if a client were to accidentally write “the ocean is full of fresh water,” they would call me out if I translated it that way. They would say I made a mistake in my translation. So I translate it as “the ocean is full of salt water.” I also send them a note, saying I translated it this way, and if they want it to say “fresh water” I can put it back but I would like them to be aware of the issue in the source text.

Of course, this does not apply to some translations submitted to the court as evidence. But even then, we translate so the courts can understand the writing. We typically do not reproduce grammatical mistakes to make the text illegible. It’s very hard to do, and we run the risk of overdoing it and making it a caricature… and getting sued.

So translation is more complicated than it looks. We have to consider a lot of things when you look under the hood, and we carry a lot of responsibility in the language transfer. We take it seriously. These are the opinions I’ve formed from years of experience and from conversations about these topics with my clients.

Readers, what questions do you have about getting started?

Image source: Pixabay

Glossaries for Translators: Why You Need Them

Photo Credit: Alex Read via Unsplash

This post was originally published on the Ben Translates blog. It is reposted with permission from the author.

If you are a translator and you haven’t made your own translation glossaries yet, you need to create one right now. You are not just missing out; you are doing yourself a disservice. The benefits of creating and maintaining your own glossary(ies) cannot be understated, from increased productivity to better translation quality. They are essential tools for all translators that should be put to use on every single project. Need a little convincing? Below are five reasons you shouldn’t spend another minute without creating your own glossary (or glossaries!).

Glossaries are worth their weight in gold

Conservatively, let’s say your first glossary has about 100 terms in it and that you spent an average of five minutes researching each term. If your hourly rate is $50, that glossary is “worth” just over $400. Now, picture this: my personal Chinese to English glossary, which I use for every project that crosses my desk, currently has 1,258 terms. One SAP glossary that I accessed had 16,383 terms in five languages. Imagine how much a glossary like that is worth! By maintaining a glossary, you are capturing value, like a bank account whose balance never decreases.

Glossaries help you work better and faster

Now imagine how much more quickly and accurately you could work with the help of an impeccably-researched 16,000-term glossary. As we all know, time is money. If you never have to research the same term twice, you will be able to work faster, more consistently, and ensure higher quality. Translators who want to stand a chance of competing effectively in our ever more discerning market must compete on quality, not price, and glossaries are an effective way to work both better and faster.

Glossaries are not difficult to create

Actually creating the glossary is the easy part. If you use a CAT tool, it will have an integrated feature for adding terms and their equivalents. Some products, like SDL MultiTerm Extract, will identify and extract terms from a corpus of texts for you (at a cost) while tools like memoQ QTerm, as one reader pointed out, have a free integrated term extraction feature. Don’t use a CAT tool? That’s OK! A glossary can easily be made in Excel or in a free version of an Excel-type software, such as those published by OpenOffice or Google. A glossary can be made with just three columns: source language, target language, and notes, in which you can include an explanation of one or both terms, definitions, etc. If you like, you can add any number of additional columns for context, definition, where you found the term, and the date that you added the term. You can then alphabetize the column by either the source or target language column and search for specific terms as needed.

Glossary creation can be monetized

In addition to being a great resource for yourself, glossaries are a great product that you can sell to new or existing clients. Glossaries provide you with a host of benefits, and you should be able to sell your clients on those same benefits: increased accuracy, better consistency, and the creation of a valuable asset that they own and can control (with your help, of course). Want more help convincing a client to purchase terminology management services from you? Have them read my post on glossaries for translation buyers.

Glossaries evolve

Glossaries, like languages, are living things. You will never be able to take your glossary, put a bow on it, and call it done. As you, your clients, your areas of expertise, and your knowledge evolve, your glossary will undoubtedly grow, change, and improve, too. New realities will become new glossary terms. You very well may find a better term for that entry you added last week or even last year, and that’s OK (in fact, it’s great!). As time passes, it will become an increasingly valuable asset for you and for your clients.

Have I convinced you yet? The bottom line is that glossaries are invaluable resources for all language professionals. If you don’t have one yet, make creating one the first thing you do after you are done reading this. The effort you put in will pay you back ten times over, guaranteed.

Please consider subscribing to this blog for more content like this. If you absolutely love your glossary(ies), please like this post and tell me about it by tweeting me at @Bentranslates.

Arugula—Rehashed: The Mean Streets of Culinary Translation

After 35 years as a translator, these two things I know: we translators love words, and we love a good meal. The more exotic the meal (or the words), the better. Need a good Burmese take-out in Oklahoma City? Ask a translator! A colleague and I recently had a discussion on the taxonomy of the world’s dumplings, from Russian pel’meni to Japanese gyoza. I had to own up that I had never sampled a Filipino siopao. Horrified, he explained the Chinese origins of the term, then procured a sample for me straightaway. Terminology management can be a delicious undertaking!

When I asked my translation students what market niches they wanted to study, it came as no surprise when they suggested culinary translation. What translator is not a subject-matter expert in this field? In preparing my first lecture on the topic—which grew into a presentation at ATA’s 2016 Annual Conference—I did, however, have to put the past behind me. I eventually called the ATA talk “Arugula by Any Other Name.” The choice of title was part of my professional therapy.

You see, a trauma had befallen me years ago, late one Friday afternoon, at my day job. After years of dealing with texts about pandemics and weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the finer points of tariff nomenclature, nothing should have fazed me. But that afternoon it happened: the career buster, in the form of an innocent menu translation for a VIP dinner, naturally a rush job. An outstanding colleague translated the menu swiftly into flawless Spanish, and since the office was clearing out for the weekend, he asked me to do the review. “But I don’t translate into Spanish,” I protested. We decided that the risks of having me step into the breach were minimal, so I proceeded to review. I could find nothing wrong. Perhaps to justify my newfound reviewer’s hat, I ventured that the translator might have found something “more Spanish-sounding” than “arúgula” for the salad green featured on the menu. Armed with my stack of dictionaries in that pre-Internet age, I hazarded a suggestion: use “oruga.”

The translator’s lips and eyelids tensed. He drew a deep breath, then explained that he was aware of the venerable term “oruga,” but that to the native ear, this first and foremost meant “caterpillar.” “Which, of course, would be unappetizing to most people in a salad,” he exclaimed. I will never forget how his tone dropped when he slowed to say, “Of course.” I wilted like a plate of baby mesclun under a restaurant heat lamp.

And—of course—I knew about the caterpillar thing, at some level of my brain. But in the zeal of the moment, I had forgotten it. I never reviewed into Spanish again! And I learned a valuable lesson: in culinary translation, being accurate is important, but being appetizing is perhaps even more so.

You have seen the botched menu translations as you travel the world. My favorite was the comical rendering of the emblematic Peruvian dish lomo saltado at an otherwise very decent restaurant in Arequipa. On a bilingual menu, the translator has some choices:

  • Sautéed loin: short and to-the-point, but very literal, and with no indication of what critter is being cooked. Is it pork, beef, or something else?
  • Stir-fried sirloin, with onions and tomatoes: this gives a nod to the dish’s East Asian origins, and a bit more information on its ingredients. And now at least we sense it is beef.
  • Stir-fry of sirloin, onions, and tomatoes, served with French fries and rice: gotta love English, where “stir-fry” can exist as a noun. Carb-conscious diners will appreciate this translation, which is almost a recipe, though it might not fit on a narrow menu column!

Unfortunately, whoever translated the menu I read that evening had neglected to ask for my sage advice. The menu listed the dish as “jumped loin.” Enough said. Culinary translation clearly merits serious study . . . and sensitivity training.

When I gave that ATA talk in 2016, I was surprised how many attendees mentioned that they work in this niche. Together, we explored the mean streets of culinary translation. What makes it so hard to translate innocent-looking menus, not to mention restaurant reviews, or other gastronomic prose? I came up with five reasons:

  1. Ornate Names: A century ago, the dining room at the Hotel Marlborough, one of the finest in New York City, featured a dish it labeled simply as “Broiled sweetbread on toast, with mushrooms and peas.” However rarefied the dish, it wore a fairly plain moniker. One century later, the Inn at Little Washington, one of the best restaurants in the DC area, proudly served sweetbreads in a dish it dubbed “Bourbon-glazed crispy veal sweetbreads with pappardelle pasta and Blenheim apricots.” We describe the hell out of our food today, and naming dishes becomes as much of an art as plating them. Imagine translating the name of the latter-day dish into French or Spanish. Then imagine translating it into Urdu, or Korean!
  2. Concern for Freshness, Health, and the Environment: I dine out enough to be unfazed by phrases such as “heirloom tomatoes,” “pole-caught tuna,” and “locally sourced radishes.” But when I dine with visitors from other countries, I see how these labels—which remind us how far from the land and the sea we can be in the US—can actually be a turnoff for my guests. I have seen them read the words “fresh-cracked eggs” on a menu and swear they would never eat an egg in the US again, disconcerted as they were by the reminder that any other kind of egg could possibly be served. These competing food concerns make the translator’s job a lot more difficult. How would you translate this menu announcement: “Game may contain shot”? Is this a case of TMI—one that might cause you to pass on the medallions of the venison, in any language?
  3. The Transnational Palate: It struck me, as I was recently offered a dollop of “sriracha aïoli,” that we live in an odd and fascinating world—one in which Thai and Provençal condiments commingle on our plates, and menus assume we are prepared for this. The name of a single dish these days can send the translator scurrying through three or more languages and cultures, with forays into botany, zoology, geography, and history.
  4. Culinary Culture Clashes (or C3 as the cognoscenti say): I once worked at an Inter-American conference at which the US hosts vowed to serve chili con carne—a proud dish that I enjoy—to their Latin American visitors. The organizer handed me the menu in English and assured me that “chili con carne” was one term that would certainly need no translation into Spanish. How could he know that for much of South America, a chile (note final vowel!) is an ají? And that the dish is virtually unknown to most Dominicans, Argentines, Colombians, and even Mexicans! How about this translation: Guiso picante de carne de res? Is it accurate? Appetizing? One translator said, “Don’t they know?—one should always serve chicken.”
  5. Exotic Ingredients: A leading restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gastón, now serves dishes featuring a trendy herb called “sacha culantro.” The name reflects Peru’s Quechua-speaking heritage. Few diners are aware that what is often called “cilantro” can either be an old-world plant (Coriandrum sativum), or a new-world plant (Erygium foetidum). Sacha culantro belongs to the latter strain. Again, the translator becomes a botanist, and is left to find a space-conscious way to reconcile accuracy and appetite.

I grew up in 1960s US suburbia. Exotic dishes (mostly from my Polish and Italian grandparents) were generally limited to weekends and holidays. Most weekdays, plainer fare prevailed. Indeed, a typical midweek menu item at my house would have read: “Meat and potatoes, with overcooked hybrid vegetables, indifferently sourced, un-sauced, seasoned with salt and pepper.” My father had a different name, somewhat more exotic: “yeiayli” (“You’ll eat it and you’ll like it”). What a happy life we grown-up translators lead, ambling down the mean streets of culinary translation, able to explore the taxonomy and etymology of every dish we encounter. And filling our hungry termbases along the way.

Image source: Pixabay

Author bio

Joe Mazza (mazzajp2@state.gov), a 1984 graduate of the George Washington University (BA in International Affairs), joined the State Department’s Office of Language Services (LS) in 1989 as a translator of Romance languages, following five years as a translator of Russian and Romance languages with the Navy Department. In 2006, he became Chief of LS’s Translating Division, with responsibility for most State Department translations. In 2015, he began teaching Spanish/English translation at the University of Maryland’s Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation (GSIT) program. He currently serves as Administrator of the ATA Government Division. Joe’s first job was washing dishes at La Bonne Auberge in New Hope, PA, where his boss smoothed out his high-school French and taught him to appreciate a good plate of coquilles Saint-Jacques à l’armoricaine.

Book review: Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator

The translation and interpreting industries have been blessed with a plethora of new books in the last few years. The book I’m going to talk to you about is mostly for new translators and interpreters, curious to explore and eager to learn more about their communities. Let’s see the basics of the book first.

Title: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator
Authors: Oleg Semerikov, Simon Hodkinson
Published: March 25, 2017
237 pages
More details: Translators Book or Amazon

Chapters
1: Getting on your feet
2: Client relationships
3: Marketing yourself
4: Languages and you
5: Practical matters
6: The lighter side of translation

The author starts by listing some types of linguistic services, including a few less “traditional” ones, like copywriting and desktop publishing. That list briefly outlines all the exciting opportunities awaiting recently graduated linguists, seasoned translators looking to specialize in a new type of service, or even non-linguists looking for a career change.

In “Getting on your feet,” Oleg explains what being a freelance translator entails and what it takes to be a freelance translator (being fluent in two languages is not enough, sorry). I quite like that part; it’s useful for all those second cousins and my mum’s friends’ children who ask if they can be a translator like me. Instead of spending 20 minutes on the phone explaining why it doesn’t sound like a good idea (because not one of those people ever had anything to do with languages and no future whatsoever as a translator), I could have just recited the following list.

To be a freelance translator, the following is required: native speaker of target language, fluency in source language, specialist subject knowledge (you can’t just translate anything and everything), advanced training (university, classes, qualifications, accreditations), working experience, key skills (linguistic and others), professionalism (you’re a business after all).

In “Client relationships,” Oleg starts with explaining the difference between translation agencies and direct clients. The focus then stays on agencies: how to maintain a good relationship, how to research them to avoid non-payers, how to trust them. There’s also a part about rates with specific examples, which is quite rare to find in books about translation; however, it mostly covers translation agency rates and only translation, not the other types of linguistic services.

This chapter closes with a very interesting section: what to ask your client before starting a translation project. I remember creating a checklist like that already four or five years into my translation career, a standard template to include in emails or to ask over the phone during initial client enquiries. Apart from this first set of questions, Oleg also focuses on the importance of asking questions during translation projects and provides examples.

“Marketing yourself” starts with an important principle: being a freelance translator means running your own business. And believe me, this, along with knowing your own value, takes a while to sink in, especially at the beginning of a translator’s career. This part includes tips on building a translation portfolio, how to use social media for business, and how to find your USPs (unique selling points, which means the combination of features that make your business special).

In “Languages and you,” the author describes some of the different markets or niches a translator can specialize in: video games, technical (including tips for readable technical translations), marketing, literary. Then, he explores ways of keeping up with our source and target languages and mentions some reference tools for English.

“Practical matters” starts with a few tips from freelance translators. My favorite was Clara’s secret to a happy work life, the four Cs: composure, calm, caffeine and cake. Have you seen that image of a cityscape at night and an apartment building with only one light on? That’s probably a translator working! In the first three to four years of my translation career, I spent more nights and weekends working than I want to admit. Then, I finally learned how to say no and how to put family time and my health over work. Oleg calls this “capacity management” and offers helpful tips. Next comes a section on SEO (search engine optimization), another quite interesting niche for translators, especially for marketing translators and website localizers.

“The lighter side of translation” includes a brief history of translation, how to work from home away from home (digital nomads), and how we can beat the loneliness of freelancing (co-working is on the rise and the options are endless).

An important part of this book is the appendix, which includes useful resources for translators. I’m a big fan of lists; I love to explore resources and this section was like Christmas morning for me. Quick list of the resources mentioned: CAT and QA tools, online glossaries, thesauruses and encyclopedias, dictionaries and glossaries by subject, translation blogs (The Savvy Newcomer is there too; thanks Oleg!), podcasts for translators, popular LinkedIn and Facebook groups for translators, webinars and annual conferences, worldwide associations for translators and interpreters, and a list of the 100 largest translation companies according to the Common Sense Advisory 2016 report.

Overall, I liked the book. I think it’s a good read, especially for newbies in the translation industry. Nonacademic books that focus on the translation business can be overwhelming in some cases, because they cover so many aspects and you might think, “How am I supposed to do all that, fresh out of university?” The writing style in this book feels more personal, like reading a blog.

Have you read the book? Did it help or inspire you in any way? Any other similar books that you enjoyed reading and would like to recommend for our future book reviews?

Summary of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission, incl. the image

The fifth edition of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey serves as a practical tool, revealing general trends in the translation and interpreting industry.

The recently released fifth edition of the ATA Translation and Interpreting Services Survey is an invaluable benchmarking tool for nearly everyone in or affiliated with the translation and interpreting industry. The study allows an individual or company to easily compare their compensation levels to their peers. Translators and interpreters are able to review rates across languages, specialties, and location. Companies involved in translation and interpreting are able to refer to this report when determining their competitiveness with respect to compensation. Students considering careers in the translation and interpreting industry can use this tool to steer their specific career decisions and to gain insight about potential compensation. In addition, the study serves as a practical tool for a broader audience—individuals and businesses in the market for translation and interpreting services.

The survey was compiled, tabulated, and prepared for ATA by Industry Insights, Inc., a professional research and consulting firm that provides management and marketing services to dealer organizations, individual membership organizations, and professional trade associations and their members. The company specializes in compensation and benefits studies, industry operating surveys, member needs studies, educational programs, and customized research activities.

Survey Design

Responses were received from translation and interpreting professionals worldwide. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents reside in the U.S., 15% in Europe, 6% in South America, 4% in Canada, and the remaining 6% in other locations.

Upon receipt, all data were checked both manually and by a custom software editing procedure. Strict confidence of survey responses was maintained throughout the course of the project.

The seven employment classifications analyzed in this report include:

  • Full-time independent contractors
  • Part-time independent contractors
  • Full-time in-house private sector personnel
  • Part-time in-house private sector personnel
  • Company owners
  • Educators
  • Government employees

For detailed analysis, responses were broken down by age, gender, years in translation and/or interpreting, education level, ATA membership, geographic region, and certification and interpreter certification/credential. This comprehensive data allows users to compare their own income, hourly rates, and rates per word to individuals in similar situations.

Some Key Findings

Respondent Demographics: Survey respondents had varying backgrounds and experience. As shown in Figure 1, more than two-thirds were female and nearly one-third were ATA-certified. More than 60% held a master’s degree or higher, and more than two-thirds had over 10 years of employment in translation and interpreting. The typical (median) respondent was 50 years old.

Summary-Fig-1

Income Varied by Employment Classification: As shown in Figure 2, translation and interpreting company owners reported the highest gross income at $55,630, which is slightly ahead of full-time private sector employees ($55,547) and full-time independent contractors ($52,323). The lowest income was reported by educators and part-time independent contractors: $17,344 and $17,746, respectively.

Certification and Credentials Matter: On average, ATA-certified translators earned 21% higher compensation than those who were not certified. Similarly, on average, certified and credentialed interpreters earned 27% higher compensation than those who were not certified or credentialed.

Trends: Nearly half of the respondents reported that their 2014 gross compensation from translation and interpreting increased compared to 2013. Nearly one-third reported no change in income, while 23% reported a decline.

Education and Experience: Thirty percent reported having a degree in translation, while 12% reported having a degree in interpreting. Half reported having a non-degree certificate in translation or interpreting. Other credentials reported include state court interpreter certification (8%) and the U.S. State Department exam (6%).

Translation Volume: Translators’ target output per day was reported at 2,855 words. On average, they translated approximately 380,000 words per year in 2014.

Translation Income: Responding translators reported three-quarters of their income was derived from translating, while 15% was earned by editing/proofreading.

Translation Services: A little more than 14% of translators reported offering editing/proofreading services, while more than 76% reported offering translation services. Only 1% of translators reported offering post-editing machine translation services.

Interpreting Income: Responding interpreters reported the bulk of their income was derived from the following settings: judiciary (27%), medicine/life sciences (22%), and business and conference (12% each).

Interpreting Services: The interpreting services offered most frequently were consecutive (96%), simultaneous (74%), sight (44%), and phone (42%).

Compensation: Thirty-two language combinations were surveyed. Translation rates were reported per word and hourly. Hourly rates were reported for editing/proofreading services. Hourly rates were reported for interpreting services.

Summary-Fig2
Summary-Fig3
Ordering Information

ATA’s 58-page Translation and Interpreting Services Survey, Fifth Edition presents the survey results in much greater detail than is possible in this summary article. The complete report includes translation and interpreting hourly rates and rates per word for a wide range of language combinations. It’s important to remember that the statistics published by ATA should be regarded as guidelines rather than absolute standards. ATA intends the survey to reveal general trends in the industry, not exact amounts.

The full report is available to ATA members for free by logging into the Members Only area of ATA’s website. Non-members may purchase the complete report for $95. Please order from ATA’s Publications page or write ATA to order your copy: ATA, 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 590, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-683-6100; fax 703-683-6122, e-mail: ata@atanet.org.


Shawn E. Six is a principal at Industry Insights, Inc. His position includes marketing, design, and implementation of the company’s research efforts, with a focus on compensation and benefits studies for a wide variety of industries. He has conducted more than 200 studies during his 20+ years at Industry Insights, and the results of these projects have been cited in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and countless association journals. He has an MS in marketing from Westminster College and a master’s degree in predictive analytics from Northwestern University.