Why Pairing up Is a Good Idea, Especially for Freelance Translators!

“I’m a freelancer, so other freelancers are my competitors. Especially in my language pair. I should avoid them at all cost!”

As a small business owner (because that’s what you are as a freelancer!), it’s very easy to fall into this trap. It does make sense, doesn’t it? Professionals who offer exactly the same services as you are direct competitors who could steal your clients and ruin your livelihood. You need to be better, cheaper or faster than them so that you can beat them.

Well, think again. If there’s one thing we can glean from the history of mankind, it’s that human effort yields the best results when driven by collaboration. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day—nor was it built by one guy with a hammer and some nails. Where would giants like Apple and Google be if those tech-savvy programmers would have isolated themselves back in the day? They’d probably still be coding line after line in a basement or garage, eager to figure it all out by themselves.

I believe not isolated diligence, but open collaboration is the key to long-lasting success. This very much applies to translation too, though it does require that translators adopt a less paranoid and more collaborative attitude. Even if you don’t actually like other translators, the benefits of working together are such that it makes little sense to stick your head in the sand.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. I’m a freelance translator and so is my partner, Lineke. We’ve been running our translation business together for three years now and we’ve been swamped with work right off the bat. Since we’re partners in real life, we live in the same house. That makes collaborating extremely easy—if I have a question for Lineke, I can simply walk up to her office and ask her straight away. I don’t need to send an email or call her.

Still, I’ve taken part in other forms of freelance collaboration and the results have always been fantastic. I’m happy, whoever I collaborate with is happy and, most importantly, the client is happy. The best business is blissful business.

Now, let’s move on to why freelancing should not be a permanent solo effort.

It Takes Two to Tango, Right? Well, It Takes Two to Translate as Well

Everyone in the translation business knows that a proper translation requires not one, but at the very least two pairs of eyes. The translation needs to be edited, and usually there’s a round of QA to mop up any blemishes that passed through the translation and editing phase unscathed.

If you pair up with another freelancer and become a translator/editor duo, you’ll be in a position to produce very high quality without having to rely on anyone else. In fact, once you pinpoint each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you’ll know exactly what to look out for, meaning you’ll spend less time on perfecting the copy than you would when you’d edit a translation done by God-knows-who. That’s not only good for your client, but for your hourly income as well, as your productivity grows while the collaboration lasts.

Two Translators Have Higher Capacity Than a Lone Wolf

Let’s assume business has picked up lately and you’re finding yourself with plenty of work on your plate. Suddenly, a very enticing offer comes in: a big, fat, juicy job for which you’ll be able to charge a hefty rush fee. Alas, you have to decline the offer since your one-man company is running at full speed. No can do.

Guess what? If you have a fellow translator to fall back on, you’ll still be able to take on that job, including that chunky rush fee. You can simply switch around your standard roles and have the editor translate the copy, with you taking care of the editing once the storm in your inbox has calmed. You’ll avert disaster, make more money and you’ll have a happy customer. It’s a win-win!

Before you worry about margins and rates: since you know each other well and function like a well-oiled machine, you can be completely transparent about the financial side of things. This is what Lineke and I like to do. We sometimes choose to work with a fellow translator because we’re both fully booked and we’ll always tell them: this and that is the maximum rate I can afford—is this acceptable for you? No need for awkward negotiating and hard-core haggling, since we’re not looking to make a big profit on the professionals who help us serve our customers well. In fact, we’re looking to enrich them as much as we can! It’s a whole different kind of dynamic—one that is in favor of the translator.

A One-Trick Pony Is Nice, but a Multi-Trick Horse Is Definitely Better

So, you’re very good at translating marketing, for instance, but your client needs help with the terms and conditions for their promotion. What will you do now? Decline, and risk sending the client into the arms of some random business they found on the internet, or accept, knowing you’ll have to struggle all night through unbridled legalese? Neither option sounds all that great, do they?

This scenario actually happened to us. Lineke and I both aren’t very keen on legal copy, but luckily, one of our fellow translators happens to excel at it. We sent the copy his way, edit it ourselves and poof—we managed to expand our business portfolio without inflicting frustration on ourselves. Not bad, right?

Having a broader range of services than what you can offer all by yourself makes you a more well-rounded business partner. Good clients hardly ever need one single service. They might require translation one day, and copywriting or DTP the next. For instance, we have clients who sometimes need Flemish versions of our Dutch copy. We don’t tell them “Well, good luck with that, because we cannot do that”. No—we have a contact for Flemish who is happy to edit our copy so that our work sounds good in Flemish, too. This saves our client quite a headache!

That’s the first three major benefits of collaboration for translators. There’s more to it though: the second part is coming soon.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your views on translation collaboration. Is it a feasible option for you? Or perhaps you already have your own unique form of collaboration in place to tell of? I’m eager to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Image credit: pixabay

Author bio

A native speaker of Dutch, Branco van der Werf runs his two-man translation company with his partner, Lineke van Straalen. His language pairs are English-Dutch and German-Dutch. He graduated from the School for Translation and Interpreting in the Netherlands in 2014 and has since specialized in marketing translation, transcreation and copywriting. His creative translations regularly appear in TV commercials, brand assets and digital spaces. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

Have you ever asked yourself if you have what it takes to be a translator? You probably know it takes more than being bilingual, but did you know there is more to it than being a good translator? If you are curious to know what it takes to build a successful translation career, you may be pleased to learn of this hidden gem offered by the ATA: A Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators. This comprehensive “checklist” for newcomers to the field is a juicy resource that answers the question of what it really takes to be a translator.

Let’s be honest: I would posit that few, if any, successful translators got to where they are today by methodically checking off boxes on a similar list. One example is Pilar Saslow, who writes in another article about what she learned from her follies: The Top Three Things I Wish Somebody Told Me When I First Started As a Freelance Translator. Entry into the profession is rarely a smooth and linear process. However, I do not doubt that many seasoned translators would have loved to have had such a list when they were starting out.

This post kicks off a new Savvy Newcomer series that will highlight questions from the ATA checklist for new translators. In each post, we will delve into several questions and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore the first section: “Professional Preparation (What I need to know before the phone rings).”

Am I willing to invest time, money, and physical and emotional energy to build a career?

There is no such thing as a career that does not require investment. However, most “traditional” careers follow a well-tread path towards success, whether that means obtaining a degree, earning a license, or getting hired at a company. On the contrary, most translators are self-employed, and this independence comes with added responsibilities, including self-motivation. A career in translation requires an ongoing commitment beyond the act of translating alone. But if you love the art itself, you will probably not hesitate to invest the time, money, and energy it takes to build a translation career. Alina Cincan elaborates on the first steps towards investing in your career in her post How (Not) to Be a Professional Translator and 6 Tips to Help You Become One.

Do I know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor in terms of tax law?

Not only are most translators self-employed; the majority are also independent contractors. Independent contractors provide services based on a verbal or written contract (hence the name) with another entity that is not their employer. Unlike the relationship between employer and employee, where the employer pays a portion of the employee’s taxes (in the US, usually 50%), independent contractors are responsible for paying the full amount of taxes owed each year.

Furthermore, it is the independent contractor’s responsibility to keep track of all payments received in exchange for work and to declare and pay taxes on this amount annually or quarterly. This means putting aside approximately 30% of all taxable earnings (i.e., after deductions such as costs, depreciation, etc.) If you live in the US, you can find more information on taxes for independent contractors via the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center. Our own Jamie Hartz also offers tips on paying taxes in this review of The Money Book.

Is my resume up to date and appropriate?

If you plan to offer services as a translator, it is important to have a resume dedicated solely to translation. You may want to include experience in relevant subject areas, but the job you held at the local pet shop years ago probably does not qualify.

Once you have your ideal translation resume, make sure not to let it collect dust. There is nothing like getting a resume request from a prospective client and letting the email languish while you scramble to get your resume in order. Taking the time to update your resume periodically will save you the headache later, and might even land you the client.

Find more tips in Marta Stelmaszak’s guide to translator CVs.

Am I able to give a reasonably accurate word count (in source and/or target languages) and turnaround estimate relatively quickly after I have seen the document?

Some things you simply cannot know until you know them, and word count and turnaround estimates sometimes fall into this category. However, one way to gain control is by tracking word counts and time spent on each project.

Use a tool like Toggl to determine how long it takes you to complete an assignment based on project or document type. You can also keep track of word output per hour to get an idea of how long it takes you to translate certain documents. Once you have your numbers, continue to expect the unexpected and give yourself a buffer so you are able to submit your projects on time.

Have I prearranged quality control measures to guarantee a top-notch product (such as time to mull over my draft, proofing tools, time to proofread, a third reading by a colleague with source- or target-language background, a subject area expert to consult, etc.)?

Never underestimate the importance of quality control. Like many translators, I consider myself a perfectionist, but experience has taught me that even perfectionists make mistakes. There are some things only a second pair of eyes will catch, like the misspelling of epidural (“epdiural”) that I once accidentally added to my dictionary in Word, causing spell check to overlook the typo. Whenever possible, it is invaluable to have a subject-matter expert on hand (whose fees you can budget into your quote) and to allow for ample time to mull over your draft.

Now that we have taken a closer look at things to keep in mind when first deciding to pursue a career in translation, it is time to prepare for what to do when your first clients start trickling in. Stay tuned for the next post in the series: “What to Do When the Phone Rings” (or when the first email arrives, in today’s business world!). Can’t wait for more inspiration? Check out this post by Corinne McKay with tips for new translators and interpreters.

Image source: pixabay

Book review: Manual de traducción inglés-castellano

Translation Handbook – Spanish book review

Alert! This is a book review on a book written in Spanish. Therefore, the quotes will be in Spanish!

I’ve been having weekly discussions with people who want to become better translators. Some would call this “translation training.” As they ask questions, they drive me to read books. One of the gems I have encountered in my research is the Manual de traducción inglés-castellano by Juan Gabriel López Guix and Jacqueline Minett Wilkinson, published in 2014 by Editorial Edisa, in Barcelona, Spain.

The book covers many important subjects before getting into the practicalities of translation:

  • The role of translators
  • Language philosophy
  • What is meaning?
  • The differences between English and Spanish
  • Translation theory from many points of view (at least 10 theorists are discussed in depth)

After covering this background information, it gets into practical issues:

  • Text analysis
  • Translation techniques and processes
  • Reference material for translation

In a way, this seems extremely different from many presentations I have attended, where the goal appears to be to get to the point as quickly as possible so we can get the tips to be a good translator and become great in about an hour. The authors of the Manual de traducción understand that translation happens in a context, and first, we must know what we are doing. On page 18, it says, “lo que los lectores tienen en sus manos es un libro escrito por el traductor” (what readers hold in their hands is a book written by the translator.)

This statement is key. Translators are writers. The statement that follows is equally important: “Una obra está sujeta a múltiples interpretaciones en la medida en que varían los lectores o el contexto en que se lee.” (A work is subject to multiple interpretations based on who reads it and the context in which it is read.) Therefore, a translator must read carefully. The way we read will make a huge difference in our translation. We must hone our deep reading skills so we can become very accurate readers, since we are the last reader of the source text before the readers of the translation receive our translated text. What a tremendous responsibility!

Reading and writing. Understanding and expressing. This leads to the next issue in our role: Decision making.

El proceso de traducción es un proceso de toma de decisiones, con distintas interpretaciones del texto de partida y diversas posibilidades de expresión en el texto de llegada.” (p. 19) (The translation process is a decision-making process, with different interpretations of the source text and different ways to convey the message in the target text.)

The book continues with one of the best comparisons of English and Spanish I have seen, introduces us to a variety of translation theories, and starts to get to the nuts and bolts of translation on page 193. That is where the explanation of text analysis begins. “Cuando el texto llega al traductor, él hace una lectura que condicionará a todas las demás.” (p. 193) (When the translator reads the text, his reading will influence further readings.) It proceeds to list a number of issues translators should consider:

  • The setting in which the communication happens
  • Actors in the process of communication and their relationship
  • The role of the text in the act of communication

In chapter 9 we are given a series of techniques for translation, with their challenges and appropriate uses.

I encourage you to read the book for yourselves. There is so much to be gained from a thorough understanding of the foundational understanding of the theoretical underpinning of our work, besides the obvious list of techniques! Listing them here would probably lead to misunderstandings, since several techniques must be “handled with care.”

I read the whole book and wrote a 13-page summary for my own use, which I refer to constantly. There is simply no waste in this book! This is a must-read for those who want to hone their skills in English-Spanish translation.

Translator competence

Reblogged from Carol’s Adventures in Translation blog with permission from the author (incl. the image)

Translators and the need for speed

I’m very excited to be writing a guest blog post for Caroline, who I met at the XXXIV Semana do Tradutor in Brazil in September. Caroline indicated that I was free to choose any topic relevant to translators or translation, as long as it had not already been covered in a previous post. Therefore, like a good translator and researcher, I first diligently read the previous posts (I even attempted the ones in Portuguese!). And I’m really glad that I did. For one thing, I feel like I know Caroline a little better. I found out that she likes Alice in Wonderland, which means that she has something in common with Warren Weaver, who is one of my personal heroes in the field of translation. That’s Weaver as in “Weaver’s Memorandum”, the document that launched serious investigation into Machine Translation. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of machine translation, Dr. Weaver was an impressive person in a number of respects.

In reading the previous posts, I observed some recurring themes, such as “translator education”, “knowledge vs skills” and “productivity”. I’ve decided to try to extend the discussion of some of these ideas by framing them in the context of my own experience as a professor of translation at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

The question of whether a translator education program should focus on knowledge (which leans towards theory or what Don Kiraly (2000) refers to as “translation competence”) or skills (which lean more towards the non-linguistic activities that support translation, or what Kiraly groups under the category of “translator competence”). Conventionally, universities have come down on the side of knowledge, contending that skills are too short-lived. For example, a university professor might argue that with regard to computer-aided translation, the important things to learn in class are the underlying concepts, and not the “how to” steps of using a specific piece of software, which may be outdated or out of fashion by the time the student graduates. Instead, the focus of a university education is on developing critical analysis, on honing evaluation, and on refining judgement. I think that few people would argue against this focus. Translation is a challenging task, and doing it well requires serious reflection. Learning to do it well, even more so!

Nevertheless, universities cannot ignore the fact that, after students graduate, they need to function in a professional work setting. One area where new graduates sometimes struggle is in meeting the tight deadlines which are a reality in the translation profession.

In many translator education courses, the focus is placed firmly on encouraging students to reflect fully, to analyze deeply, and to weigh options carefully before committing to a translation strategy, a terminological choice or a turn or phrase. There is no doubt that students must cultivate these deliberate analytical skills, and they must be given the time to develop them. However, in the professional world, there may be less time for careful deliberation. Instead, the translation must come quickly, if not automatically. Therefore, the addition of authentic and situated learning that tests and improves students’ translation skills under time pressure makes sense. It is an additional way to prepare students for the working world and to let them experience translation in a different form and under different circumstances.

Therefore, I have made a conscious decision to try to introduce some “speed training” into the courses that I teach. For the first time this year, in a 3rd-year course on professional writing, I have the students begin each class by preparing a précis or summary of a longer text. The texts in question are popularized texts on topics of general interest to students in Canada (e.g. the International Space Station, the World Series baseball championships, the discovery of a 19th-century shipwreck in the Arctic). Each text is approximately 600 words in length, and students are given 15-20 minutes to summarize the contents in about 200 words. The students receive feedback each week, although the exercises are not always graded. This takes the pressure off and allows the students to develop these skills in a low-risk environment.

The overall idea behind this “speed writing” summarization exercise is that it can allow the students to sharpen a number of skills and reflexes that are also useful for translation: the ability to analyze and grasp meaning quickly, the ability to extract key ideas and structure from a text, the ability to organize ideas, and the ability to convey ideas accurately and to recognize and avoid distortion in information transfer. By introducing speed training in a writing context, I hope that students will be better able to hone their capacity for making decisions quickly, and they can then extend this to a bilingual context at a subsequent stage of their training.

Students were surveyed at the mid-point in the semester to determine whether or not they found the exercise to be valuable. On the whole, their comments were positive and they indicated that they saw a genuine value in learning to work more quickly, and that they did feel that they were improving these skills as a result of practicing speed writing on a regular basis. There will be another survey at the end of the semester, and it will be interesting to see how their thoughts have evolved.

Meanwhile, from an instructor’s perspective, I have also noted improvements. Firstly, at the beginning of the semester, a number of students were unable to complete the exercise fully; however, now that we are nearing the end of the semester, students are able to finish within the time allotted. They are getting faster! With regard to quality, the information flow has improved significantly – the recent summaries read like actual texts, rather than like collections of independent sentences. The students are also doing a better job of differentiating between the key ideas and the more peripheral content.

So my questions to you, readers, are as follows: Did you ever do any formal “speed training” as part of your education? If not, do you think that it would have been helpful? Do you have suggestions for other ways in which “speed training” could be incorporated into a translator education program? Do you have suggestions for other types of professional “translator competence” type skills that could usefully be incorporated into a translator education program?

Some translation professors are genuinely interested in helping students to bridge theory and practice, but to do this successfully, we need input from practicing professionals! I look forward to hearing your thoughts! And thanks again to Caroline for the opportunity to write this guest post.

The complete article on this subject was published in the December 2016 issue of Meta, and it won an award.
Bowker, Lynne. 2016. “The need for Speed! Exploring ‘Speed Training’ in the Scientific/Technical Translation Classroom,” Meta 61(4): 22-36. Winner of the Vinay & Darbelnet Prize awarded by the Canadian Association for Translation Studies.
Back issues of Meta can be found at: https://meta.erudit.org/?lang=en

About the author

Lynne Bowker is a certified translator (French-English) with the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO). She earned a BA and MA in Translation from the University of Ottawa, an MSc in Computer Applications for Education from Dublin City University, and a PhD in Language Engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). She has been teaching translation, terminology, translation technologies and information studies at the University of Ottawa since 2000. In spring 2014, she was an invited professor at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. To find out more about her teaching activities, and particularly her thoughts on teaching translation technologies, check out this summary in Research Media.

What Happens When Translators Go on Autopilot

Personally, I do not believe specialized human translators who actively use their brains will ever be replaced by machines. But if you put your brain on autopilot and work like a machine, then you could be at risk of becoming some kind of zombie cyborg competing with full-fledged machines! Here are some common problems I have seen in myself and other translators when we go on autopilot and do not think about what we are doing.

When you put your brain on autopilot in my favorite sport

Do you see the similarities in this hilarious video? This is what a translator who accidentally quoted too short a deadline while on autopilot looks like trying to catch up!

When I put my brain on autopilot and blindly trust the GPS

Have you ever done this? I feel so stupid when I show up late to a meeting or event because I blindly trusted my GPS and was too lazy to spend two minutes actively using my brain to think about where I was going! I type an address on the GPS, don’t look at the map at all, and press go, whether in the car or on foot. Sometimes something goes terribly wrong. I get confused. I have to pull over and frantically look at the map. Other times, if I just slow down, take a deep breath, and use my brain actively, I can study the route I will be taking for two minutes and I’m good to go. Even though the GPS is on, I know where I am and where I am going, and I am not as prone to getting lost.

This is exactly what I propose you do in your translation business to avoid going on autopilot: Stop yourself. Slow down for a moment. Don’t act without thinking. Take a deep breath. Use your brain actively. Examine the context, situation, and conditions around you more closely. And then, after you have all the information you need to make an informed decision, put in a conscious effort, know where you are, and know where you are going.

Quoting a price on autopilot

X number of words equals price Y—done.”

Hold the phone! Is the text within your grasp? Do you have the subject matter knowledge and expertise required to translate it? How complex is it? Is it a list of words or running text? Approximately how long has it taken you to complete similar projects? How long do you think it will take you this time? How much do you aim to make per hour? How important is the text to the client? What do you think it is worth to them and what do you think they are willing to pay for it?

Quoting a deadline on autopilot

“4,000 words? Delivery on Friday (two days)—done”

Hold your horses! What if the client doesn’t accept your quote until Thursday? Isn’t it better, then, to quote X number of business days following confirmation? Your daily output will not necessarily always be the same for all types of texts. Think about how long this specific project will take you. Double check your calendar to see if you will have enough time. Think about and find out how urgent it really is for the client before you bend over backwards unnecessarily.

Translating a term on autopilot

“Source language term X equals target language term Y—done.”

Wait a second! If you put yourself in the shoes of the specific target group, do you understand what this term means? Have you checked whether it corresponds to standard terminology used by native speakers in the relevant industry?

Translating a sentence on autopilot

“I translated the words—done.”

But is the sentence effective in communicating the intended meaning optimizing any calls to action? Is the information clear and easy to understand? Has the sentence structure been adapted to target language conventions?

Translating a document on autopilot

“I translated each sentence—done.”

Did you adapt the punctuation and check how the text flows as a whole? Did you check it in its final layout, beyond the CAT tool’s sentence-by-sentence structure? Examine it as a whole and see if there is any room for improvement once you get a better feel for the overall context and the role each part plays in the whole.

Sending and forgetting on autopilot

“I finished a project, now on to the next one.”

Hold up! How will you ever improve if you don’t know or care what happens to a text after you deliver it? And you could be missing out on opportunities to contribute to higher quality and a better reputation. Don’t just send and forget. Forward any questions and concerns you might have. Flag anything you aren’t sure about. Leave alternative suggestions where applicable. Ask to see edits, offer to review any in-house changes the client makes (I don’t mean for free, but be proactive). Ask the client if they are satisfied. Ask how the target group responded to it.

Running your business on autopilot

“When I receive a project, I take it. Then I rest until the next one comes. Done.”

Listen up! A business on autopilot is only focused on the present. A sustainable business model where you use your brain actively is focused on long-term improvement. If you want to command higher rates in the future, find better clients, and consistently grow your business over time, you have to set aside some time now to invest in the future. This works the same as the other points above: Stop. Take a deep breath. Analyze your current situation. Analyze the market. Figure out where you are and where you are going. Take action. Invest in strengthening your specialization. Invest in networking with potential clients within your area of specialization. Update your website. Be strategic about where, when, and how you do all this. That’s using your brain actively to run your business as opposed to running it on autopilot!

I hope you found this helpful. God knows I have done these things myself in the past and I kick myself every time! But awareness is the first step. One of the biggest problems is when you do these things unconsciously. And, of course, keep in mind that my comments about translating a term, sentence, and document, and on sending and forgetting, are largely based on my own experience with translations of corporate communications for direct clients. Nevertheless, I would venture to suggest that all of these points are highly relevant for translation agency projects as well. Sometimes it’s easier to spot autopilot behavior in others, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the bad guy. Colleagues collaborating on a project can benefit from reminding each other, playing a constructive role, and keeping each other on their toes.

What do you think? Have you kicked yourself after going into autopilot? Or facepalmed when you notice someone else doing it? Was there anything that helped you steer clear of cruise control? Please share in the comments!

Header image: Pixabay

Goldmines for Professional Growth at FIL in Guadalajara

Congreso San Jerónimo, Feria Internacional del Libro
Dates: November 26 to 29, 2016
Place: Guadalajara, Mexico

Feria Internacional del LibroThe Congreso San Jerónimo is a translation and interpreting conference organized annually by the translators association in Mexico, the Organización Mexicana de Traductores (OMT). The conference is hosted by the Guadalajara International Book Fair, or Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL). The book fair offered the OMT some amazing support for this conference in the form of:

  • Lodging for the speakers, including an extra night to allow for more time at the book fair
  • Free conference space for 250 people

And what do they ask in exchange for all of this? That translators sign contracts with publishing houses! We asked the ATA representative at the Rights Center, Lois Feuerle, for a report, and this is what she had to say:

For the fifth consecutive year, the ATA has had a presence in the Rights Center at the Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara. Better known locally as “FIL,” it is the second largest book fair in the world and the largest in in the Spanish-speaking world. Almost two dozen ATA members from Mexico, Canada, the US and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico explained the ins and outs of choosing the appropriate translator for specific projects and demonstrated how to find them in the ATA Translation Services Directory.

Michelle Aynesworth signing dealAs soon as I landed, a driver sent by the OMT was there to meet me. I dropped my luggage at the hotel and walked to the FIL, about 15 minutes away. It was not hard to spot the activity once I got there. There were people selling book lamps for reading in bed three blocks away! Young people were walking there with empty backpacks, hoping to bring them back full. Just the right kind of way to get to a book fair. This was exciting for Helen the Bookworm.

I checked in at the fair and felt right at home. Books were everywhere! I had wanted to go for years, just for the books. I translate because I love words and text, and these come in… books! Some of the best resources were right there all under one roof, only a couple of blocks’ walk away! I spent about $500, of course. When I returned from a break with a new load in my bag, I was met with, “What did you find this time?” My colleagues were interested in discussing the value of different books in helping us become better professionals. Here is the list of what I bought.

To get to the conference, you had to walk through the fair. At the first session, I met colleagues I had seen in other places, and got my bearings for the first session I would speak in: The Role of Translation Blogs. Sharing the podium with Paula Arturo, Lisa Carter, and Tony Rosado, with Mercedes Guhl as moderator, was fun. We became friends and did not want to stop. Of course, we talked about Savvy! The idea that blogs offer a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can share came up several times. Individuals can speak their minds, and institutional or team blogs like Savvy have a lot of support for their work. Thank you, ATA!

I gave a couple of other presentations as well (both in Spanish): one on the importance of reading a text carefully before translating it and the other on negotiating contracts. The conference attendees were dedicated language professionals with an excellent mix of experience and perspectives, including students, professors and experienced translators. The conversations I had in the hallways, at lunch, and at every break were very engaging.

What was the best part? Listening to some of the other presentations. At this conference, which takes place in Mexico, it is assumed that Spanish language issues are well known. That meant we got to focus on translation issues. There were presentations about:

  • Medical translation (Dr. Fernando Navarro was there!)
  • Good writing
  • Audiovisual translation
  • Legal translation and interpreting
  • HTML
  • Content security
  • Literary translation
  • Projects of social inclusion involving translation and interpreting using Mexican sign language
  • The use of tools (with a focus on dictation software this year)
  • A literary translation forum on Sunday afternoon, for the public at large
  • How to translate culturally difficult concepts

Marta Stelmaszak, Feria Internacional del LibroThe closing session by Marta Stelmaszak gave us an excellent to-do list on how to move the profession forward. Here is her list for translators in the 21st century, based on my notes:

  • Translation is becoming commodified, and we are being asked to lower our rates. So… we must focus on providing a specialty service, not a commodity.
  • The field is being deprofessionalized. People with lower and lower qualifications are being hired to do parts of many jobs—even jobs doctors used to do. So… we must focus on our qualifications and codes of conduct, join professional bodies, and make sure we participate in professional development! We have to be able to explain the value of what we do.
  • Crowdsourcing is becoming common in many fields, even when it comes to counting birds. So… we must point out that crowdsourcing breeds lack of trust and responsibility. When they know who is in charge, they know who to hold responsible!
  • Technological change is unavoidable. In the legal field, paralegals are losing their jobs to technology. So… we must outline what machines cannot do and highlight the added value we provide!
  • A sharing economy means selling the surplus of what you have. So… we can create teams and trade with colleagues. We can trade an hour of translation for an hour of editing.

You can read some more of Marta’s thoughts on this subject here.

Next time, hopefully in 2017, I will go prepared for something different as well: I will research the publishers beforehand and make appointments with them so I can come back with a contract or two. There should be enough publishers in the hall for all attendees to score a few contracts each! That trip would pay for itself.

The Translator Requests a Clarification: Tracking the conversation

By Helen Eby (@EbyGaucha)
Reblogged from Gaucha Translations blog with permission from the author

The Translator Requests a ClarificationTranslators and interpreters face a common problem: lack of clarity in the source message. Interpreters have a standard formula for addressing this: “the interpreter requests clarification”. Although translators deal with the same issue, a standard formula is missing. We deal with acronyms that are company-specific, missing terms, etc. and clarify them with clients over email. In the middle of email chains, however, it is easy to lose track of the changes and of our role. We need a better, more rigorous, method of recording these conversations.

When translating a document such as a contract, a patient handout, or a website, it is important to record conversations about changes to the source text. To do this effectively, I began keeping a change log to serve as a record. I have used this type of table very effectively with my clients on a number of occasions, and an example is shown below. Please note, however, that some text has been changed to protect client confidentiality.

Source text Translator’s comment Client’s comment
In the next twelve we will celebrate all employees’ birthdays. In the next twelve months we will celebrate all employees’ birthdays. [The client must have meant “months”. We must say that.]
Email sent to client February 30, 2016
Please modify source text as follows:
In the next twelve months we will celebrate all employees’ birthdays.
Response received February 31, 2016
Client request: Please include all these changes in the source document. Thank you for your attention to detail.
Please mark them with track changes for me to accept them. This will help us with future clients.

As shown in this change log, these changes are often accepted as permanent improvements to the source text. In this way, the client gets two services in one: a copy editor of the source text and a translator, while keeping the roles transparent.

A translation, after all, is the client’s message in a new language, and changes need to be implemented with transparency and thoughtfulness, mindful of both linguacultures. At Gaucha Translations, we follow a process outlined in this document, and clients know that we treat their message with the utmost respect and advocate for the target audience to be able to understand their message clearly, at a glance, if at all possible.

Header image credit: kaboompics

Revision: a nlboe and etessanitl srcviee

ATA Conference session T-10, Saturday 10:00-11:00, Garden B

Revision a nlboe and etessanitl srcvieeIf you can read the intended title of this presentation, then you can understand that it is impossible to catch all our own mistakes. As translators, we become as close to the material as the author (some say closer). Our eyes begin to gloss over typos and errors as our brain becomes accustomed to them. This is why we catch new errors all the time, even after publication.

Every professional translation deserves to be checked by a second translator before delivery. This is called revision. Only an experienced translator can do this job. Teachers or Certification exam graders may seem suited to the work, but professional revision is not the same as grading papers or exams. Many “newbies” to the ATA Conference are in fact experienced translators, so they should be able to accept revision assignments and perform this critical service. Also, the principles of revision apply to our self-revision. Anything that can increase our effectiveness as revisers can increase the quality of our work and also the confidence that our clients have in us.

The presentation will define revision and contrast it with activities that look like it but are not (e.g. editing, copyediting, proofreading, grading, and evaluating). It will also include pointers on how to approach the revision task and how to price it.

Whether you have ever revised anyone else’s work or not, come to learn about this crucial activity and add it to the palette of services that you can offer your clients. Enjoy the bad puns and cartoons, too.

Header image credit: kaboompics

Author bio

Jonathan HineJonathan Hine, CT (I>E) translated his first book, a medical text, in 1962. Besides translating and revising, he conducts workshops throughout the U.S. He also writes self-help books and articles for freelancers, and a blog about working while traveling. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (B.Sc.), the University of Oklahoma (MPA) and the University of Virginia (Ph.D.), he belongs to several ATA divisions, the National Capital Area Chapter of ATA and the American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association (ATISA).

He also volunteers as an ATA mentor and a Certification Exam grader. Contact: mailto:hine@scriptorservices.com

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project Manager and Earn More Work

6 Ways to Foster a Strong Relationship with your Project ManagerAs a freelance translator, some of your projects will come from language service providers (LSPs) as opposed to direct clients. If you attend the ATA Conference, you’ll meet almost as many LSP representatives as fellow translators, looking to hire their next batch of vendors. Many of those representatives will be project managers (PMs). PMs often decide whom to hire for a project, and whether to continue working with the translator after the project ends.

Responsibilities and internal structures vary from company to company, but most PMs have the same set of fundamental responsibilities. They work with translation-buyers to determine the scope, projected budget, and client needs for a given project. They contact translators and make sure that projects are completed to client specifications. PMs save translation buyers the hassle of locating good translators themselves, while translators spend less time locating direct clients and more time translating.

As a freelancer, it’s important to establish a continuous stream of work. Since many PMs enjoy great discretion in whom they assign work to, how can you ensure you’ll get the job and keep it?

As a PM myself, I’m so glad you asked. After consulting with colleagues and reflecting on past projects, I’ve listed six ways to foster strong relationships with your PMs and earn more work.

  1. Be responsive. When a PM sends an assignment, confirm your availability immediately. Every project is a race against time, and your responsiveness is key. If a client sends changes or cancels a project that’s already started, the faster you respond to a PM, the more time you save everyone.
  2. Be communicative. The first point’s close cousin. Keep your PM up to-date on anything that might affect the quality, cost, or delivery of your project. Is there some issue with the document that will affect its delivery or final quality? Let your PM know immediately. The faster and more forthcoming you are when a problem presents itself, the easier finding a solution will be, and you’ll have helped not only your PM, but the end client too.
  3. Do your homework. This has two parts. First, it means to research the content and terminology of the document you are translating. Putting in the work to learn the industry-standard translation of a term or the correct spelling of a name shows attention to detail and commitment to your work. Second, never be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure whether a term should be left in the original language, or what it means, there’s no shame in asking. It doesn’t make you seem ignorant or incompetent. On the contrary, you’ll come off as much more competent and thoughtful than the translator who guesses.
  4. Accept reasonable deadlines, and then meet them. It goes without saying that you should always deliver on time. Knowing the amount of time it takes to complete a project to the best of your abilities ensures that you stick to this rule. Remember, you’re being paid in part for the quality of your work. Unless explicitly told otherwise, you should never sacrifice quality on the altar of turnaround. If you know you cannot meet a deadline, say so, or even propose an extension.
  5. Step in. In translation, rush requests are common. A translator who steps in with little advance warning is helping out both the PM and the client. A PM may also be having a hard time finding a translator to take on a challenging assignment, and your strengths may match that challenge in particular. Challenge yourself,.
  6. Know when to turn work down. Finally, never be afraid to say no to a project, just do it promptly. If you can’t take the project, I need to know as quickly as possible so I lose no time in finding someone else. If a project is outside your area of expertise, I’ll know what I can and cannot send you, saving us both time. Never accept a project that you cannot complete to a good standard. I, or your editor, or the client, will notice.

I’m sure many of you have other tips that have worked for you. We’d love to hear them in the comments! Remember, the ideal translation is a collaboration between you and your project manager. I’ve literally heard colleagues spontaneously exclaim that they love working with some of our translators. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but you can earn it by doing great work.

Header image credit: Picjumbo

Author bio

Dan McCartney

Dan McCartney is a freelance French and Spanish to English translator based in Chicago. Before translating, he worked as a consultant, instructor, and freelance math problem writer.

What to ask your client before starting a translation

By Oleg Semerikov (@TranslatFamily)
Reblogged from the Translators Family blog with permission from the author (incl. the image)

What to ask your client before starting a translationEvery translation job is different – that goes without saying. Every client has their own set of requirements, and every job presents its own unique challenges. What can translators do to ensure a project goes smoothly from start to finish? Well, one of the best and most straightforward things you can do is to ask the client some questions.

It’s a good rule of thumb that you should never be shy to ask questions about a job. If you’re new to the translation industry, you might worry that asking questions is a sign of inexperience or insufficient training – but it’s not at all. In fact, many clients like to be asked smart questions: it shows that the translator is a professional who cares about getting the job right. And, as we said right at the start, every job is different. It doesn’t hurt to double-check details if something is unclear. As we’ll see, you might even spot something important that hadn’t occurred to the client.

Some caution is understandable, of course, and even necessary. It’s possible to go over the top and bombard the client with hundreds of questions that you could easily have answered for yourself. But it’s easy enough to apply some common sense to the matter and avoid wasting your client’s time. A short checklist like this can be helpful:

  • Is the issue something I’ve encountered before?
  • Can I look up the answer to the question online, or elsewhere?
  • Has the client provided any reference material that might answer the question (or is it available on their website, for example)?
  • Is there a single, clear course of action that I should take?

What is the target audience?

This is a potentially huge question that can significantly impact the way you handle a translation. If you’re translating a marketing brochure that provides a first look at a new product, for example, you want to make sure you introduce new ideas and terms clearly and simply, so nobody gets left behind. But if you’re translating some technical documentation for engineers to read, on the other hand, you wouldn’t want to patronise them and waste time explaining things they already know.

You can sometimes answer this question by considering the style in which the text is written in the source language, and the manner in which it’s presented (covering things like layout, content, or the probable context in which it’ll be read). But if you’re uncertain, and you think it’s likely to affect the decisions you make, get in touch with the client and ask them for advice.

What format will the file be output in?

Sometimes the answer is as simple as looking at the source file type – but sometimes it isn’t. Businesses may first produce content using a word processor with a view towards transferring it to web design or DTP software later – and, if you’re qualified and confident, you can potentially add value to your translation by saving them the time and effort of doing so. Alternatively, you might receive a package from an agency to be translated in a CAT tool like Trados and then exported to Word or some other format. If you don’t ask, you might not find out the answer until it’s too late and you find you’ve created additional unnecessary work for yourself.

Which language variant should I use?

There is no single, universal version of any language – as we’ve discussed before. Make sure you know which one the client expects. If you’re translating into English, should that be British or American English – or some other variant entirely? If you’re working into German, should that be for the German, Swiss or Austrian market? This question also ties into matters of style and tone – it’s worth finding out how colloquial you’re allowed to be, or even whether you can introduce a little of a local dialect if your text is targeting a very small, specific geographical area. This also therefore goes back to our first question of who the client’s target audience might be, and emphasises just how important it can be to resolve issues like this before you put pen to paper (or, in our age, fingers to keyboard).

How should I handle localisation issues?

Unlike the previous question, this one is less about linguistic issues like spelling and grammar, and more about practical and cultural considerations. It may require you to work with the client to find a balance between their desires and the expectations of the local target audience – and you’re very well-placed to do this. One of the many reasons native-speaker translators are so valuable is that they know their local market better than anyone else – its conventions, its standards, current trends and peculiarities. If the client is entering this market for the first time, it can be worth discussing how much they want to adapt their existing marketing strategy to meet it. They may choose to adjust their tone of voice to prove their local awareness to the market, or they may decide to use their “foreign” nature as a unique selling point – think of the way American software companies market their services in the cheery, casual tone we associate with Silicon Valley. Or the calm, understated focus on engineering prowess that we see from some German car manufacturers. Whatever decision your client makes, it’s a conversation worth having.

And even if the client has already provided a comprehensive style manual and a complete glossary for handling local terminology – we can dream, can’t we? – you may still come across smaller localisation issues, such as prices quoted in an unexpected currency, or a date and time given with no indication of the time zone. In cases like this, you’ll definitely want to check in with the client and ask them how they want to handle the situation.

Naturally, there will be plenty of other issues that come up over the course of your career in translation – many of which you won’t be able to predict before you see them. But if you feel comfortable asking your client the right questions, they’ll usually be happy to answer them. You’ll find ways to cross these bridges as you come to them, and your work will improve as a result. That’s a win for everyone – for you, for the customer, and ultimately for your bottom line.