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in class are the underlying concepts, and not the “how to” steps of using a specific piece of software, which may be outdated or out of fashion by the time the student graduates.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.

Living the Dream? How Freelance Translators Can Become Digital Nomads

How Freelance Translators Can Become Digital NomadsPicture yourself newly-arrived on some tropical beach somewhere, or perhaps in a café in the middle of an exciting, cosmopolitan city. Laptop open in front of you, you’re adding the finishing touches to your latest translation project. As you close the file and click ‘Send’, you set off to explore this latest destination – sparing a thought, of course, for the poor project manager sitting in a boring office hundreds or thousands of miles away.

If this sounds like living the dream to you, then you might be interested in learning more about the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. It’s made possible by two fast, (relatively) cheap conveniences of the modern world: internet access and international travel. Working remotely, a digital nomad might spend a month or two living in one place, then pack up and move somewhere else when they feel like they’ve seen enough. It’s a sort of hyper-mobile expat lifestyle.

I can’t claim to be a digital nomad myself, but before I finally settled in Poland, I spent about five years living and working on the move. I went away three to four times a year, with each trip usually lasting between twenty and thirty days. As a resident of Ukraine, I had to face exhausting visa procedures for EU countries, but it never stopped me from travelling.

Frankly speaking, I could never dedicate more than about four hours a day to actual work – I was too busy trying to see as much as possible in these new places. I heard stories from a fellow translator who sometimes spends so much time working while travelling that he has hardly any opportunities to actually see the places he visits. That seems to defeat the purpose for me, personally, but I still try to always stay online when travelling by using local SIM cards or Wi-Fi connections, so that I never miss an important job. On the other hand, I also don’t hesitate to decline any urgent work while travelling if it ruins my plans for the day.

Speaking of Internet connections, I’ve noticed a tendency among four- and five- star hotels to charge extravagant rates for Wi-Fi connections in their rooms, while cheap apartments and hotels always seem to offer free internet. This is one of the reasons I prefer renting an apartment when I go abroad, rather than a hotel room. Besides, there’s also a kitchen and all the appliances that help you feel at home.

Before tablets and ultrabooks came into my life, I translated in an old-fashioned way: printing the source text out and translating it with pen and paper while taking a break from sightseeing in a café or park, or even on the beach. Once I got back to my accommodation, I would then type out the translation on my big, heavy notebook computer. Later, the rise of new mobile gadgets helped me to work a lot faster. I used my smartphone and tablet like a dual-screen display, with the source text on my phone and the translation itself on my tablet. This was a much better solution, but after a few scary moments where my Android-specific office software caused compatibility issues for the customers who received my files, I switched to a two-in-one Windows tablet/laptop instead.

All in all, the digital age has simplified this kind of lifestyle enormously, making it possible to combine work and leisure in new and exciting ways. With that said, however, there are some important factors to consider before you pack your bags and jump on the next flight.

Establish a strong client base before you leave

If this kind of lifestyle appeals to you, you should build up your business, then go travelling – not the other way around.

This is important for one key reason: travelling is expensive. Relatively speaking, it may be the cheapest it’s ever been in human history, but it can still eat into your finances in a big way. There are probably parts of the world where the cost of living is cheaper than wherever you live right now, but you still have to get there somehow and you still have to support yourself after you arrive. Where you go will be defined in part by what you can afford, which means you need a reliable budget and a reasonable expectation of continued income. Having a stable pool of customers who send you regular work will help immensely with that.

Think carefully about your destinations

Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? By all means, look into the places you’ve always had on your bucket list, but consider other sources of information too. There are a number of websites such as Nomad List and Numbeo that rank cities around the world according to factors like the cost of living, weather, internet access speeds and more.

These are all important issues, but as a freelance translator you should also consider a few other factors. What about time zones, for example? If you’re already working in the industry, you’ll know that many translation projects require an urgent turnaround — sometimes only a few hours. If you find yourself particularly far away from your regular customers, you risk missing out on projects because you’re simply unable to claim or complete them in time.

It’s a lifestyle, not a holiday

Being a digital nomad can sound exciting and glamorous—and sometimes it really is both of those things. However, it’s important to understand that this kind of long-term travel is a fundamentally different proposition from something like an ordinary two-week holiday. You’ll still need to work hard to support yourself, but maintaining that work-life balance is even more important when the stress of travel makes it all too easy to become tired and burned-out. If you reach that point, it can seriously impact the quality of your work and spoil your enjoyment of the amazing places you visit.

This isn’t intended to put you off the idea of travelling while working: it’s an opportunity for a unique adventure, and freelance translators are ideally-placed to make the most of it. If your expectations are realistic, and you’re prepared to take the rough with the smooth, then you really can live the dream. Do your research, weigh up every decision-making factor, and do what’s right for you.

For those of you who have already taken the plunge and set out to live as a digital nomad, what has it been like? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of getting on the road? If so, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Header image credit: freemagebank
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Author bio

Oleg SemerikovOleg Semerikov started as an English to Russian freelance translator ten years ago. Nowadays, he runs his own company, Translators Family, a boutique translation agency specialising in Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, with expertise in English, German, and other European languages. Many long-term customers of Oleg as a freelancer became the permanent customers of his agency. Translators Family on social media: FacebookTwitterGoogle+ 

Seven Super Skills: Progressing in Translation

By Joseph Lambert (@jaltranslation)
Reblogged from the JALTranslation blog with permission from the author (incl. the images)

Seven Super Skills - Translation ManToday’s post sees us move from the power of translation to the process of translation and, more specifically, to a look at the demands of this process.

There are a number of vital skills required to produce high quality translations and here I put forward a selection of what I believe to be the most important of them alongside suggested methods of developing each one. Having previously touched upon a couple of the skills on my blog, I’ve also included links to relevant posts where possible.

My specific focus on the act of translation means that skills relating to freelancing or developing a translation company are not included. For example, while the ability to deal with tight deadlines is an important element of professional translation, it is not a prerequisite for the act of translation in itself.

Finally, my thoughts and suggestions are by no means exhaustive (I’ve had to overlook and merge a lot of ideas for the sake of brevity) so feel free to share your own skills and tips in the comments section.

LINGUISTIC MAGIC IN YOUR SOURCE LANGUAGE:

To start off with we have the most obvious – and perhaps most misunderstood – of all the skills.

Yes, being able to understand the meaning of the source text you’re working on is of vital importance and without this necessary level of competence there is no translation. However, linguistic proficiency alone does not automatically equate to good translation despite the widely held misconceptions that a translator is just a walking dictionary or someone who simply picks ready, one-to-one equivalents between languages.

Ultimately, there is much more to translation than simply knowing a language but that’s no excuse to ignore those tricky grammar points.

How to develop:

  • Combine language courses and immersion in the source culture (time in the country, interaction with native speakers…) to develop both linguistic and cultural knowledge on a general level.
  • Pay close attention to reading skills (as opposed to speaking or writing, for example) in the source language as this is where a translator’s primary focus lies. Read books, articles, magazines – anything and everything you can in your source language(s).

SUPERHUMAN SUBJECT KNOWLEDGE:

As mentioned above, total command of a language and culture alone isn’t enough to make a good translator and part of the reason is that translators generally work in very specific subject areas that require specialist knowledge.

Reading technical jargon in your mother tongue alone is challenging enough and therefore it is vital that translators are intimately familiar with the inner workings of their specific areas of expertise. Contracts, patents, or medical journal entries all require specific linguistic and cultural knowledge that goes well beyond that given in general language classes.

How to develop:

  • Read anything you can relating to your specialist area to expand your knowledge and stay up to date with new developments.
  • Develop specialisms in areas that you genuinely enjoy to easily integrate research into your daily routine.
  • Sign up for MOOCs or other courses to greatly boost your subject knowledge in a comprehensive, structured fashion.

Getting to the Heart of Medical Texts

Seven Super Skills - SkillsetSONIC SPEED RESEARCH & PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS:

No matter how much work you put in, there are always going to be words, phrases, or concepts with which you are unfamiliar popping up in source texts and this where another key translation ability lies. I’ve said it before but it’s definitely a point worth repeating: one of the most important attributes in a translator is not what they know, but how quickly and efficiently they are able to fill the gaps in what they don’t know.

Using the vast array of resources out there, it is amazing how quickly you can become well-versed in a previously unknown area and, while the widespread advice that you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew in terms of tackling alien projects is very valid, I say that you shouldn’t be afraid expand your horizons – know your limits but remain ambitious and embrace new projects.

How to develop:

  • Get to know which resources lead to the most effective results. (The links below cover a few different ways of tracking down that elusive word or phrase)
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new tools to further enhance your research process.

Where to go when lost for words?
Using Corpora in Your Translation Work

X-RAY SPECS – CLOSE READING & ANALYTICAL SKILLS:

As well as understanding the explicit meaning of a word or phrase, a translator must be able to appreciate its many possible functions in a specific context. Beyond surface-level meanings, the use of allusions, cultural references, linguistic or rhetorical devices such as repetition or alliteration, or elements such as register and sentence length all combine to make the text the powerful entity that it is and part of the translator’s job is to recreate their effects in another language and culture. The connotations of one innocuous-looking word can be central to the meaning of an entire text (as the first link below suggests).

How to develop:

  • Think beyond what is on the page.
  • Explore texts and analyses of texts in order to encounter the various ways in which language influences us and the ways in which we can employ language to harness those techniques.

The Power of Translation: The Fox and the Grapes
Selling Cars with Sex and Lies

FORMATTING SKILLS & COMPUTER WIZARDRY:

This little pairing accounts for so much of the translation process as it involves the manipulation of the very platform that holds our work.

It is essential that a translator becomes an expert in using whatever programs clients demand of them and, in a manner similar to terminology mining (see above), this requires the ability to efficiently develop the knowledge you lack.

The only thing more annoying than an elusive indent sneaking into your document and blighting an otherwise immaculate page is having to spend an eternity finding a solution to the problem.

How to develop:

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, be inquisitive in your usage of a program to learn all of its various shortcuts and quirks.
  • Read online tips or take a course in a program’s usage.

SUPERPOWERED PENMANSHIP / WRITING SKILLS:

So often overlooked when people are developing their translation prowess, the ability to write effectively is perhaps the most important skill there is. With the end product of the translation process taking the form of a text written in your native tongue, the overall success or failure of your work is often heavily based on your writing ability.

The key factor in producing a translation is for it to be fit-for-purpose and resemble an original target language document whether you like it or not (the translator’s power of invisibility). While equivalence between the source and target texts should be of utmost importance to the translator, clients or end users are not going to be able to compare the two texts and emphasis is therefore placed on producing a translation that stands on its own.

How to develop:

  • Learn target language conventions for producing specific texts.
  • Take the time to read style guides from various sources.
  • Practice writing! Write for sites focusing on your specialist areas or write a blog and employ different writing styles of your own choosing.
  • Get feedback on your writing.

One year down: What blogging has to offer

ENHANCED VISION:

The reason that the vast majority of translators offer editing or proofreading services on top of their translation work is that the move is such a natural one. Editing and proofreading your own work is a vital cog in the translation process and learning how to do it as effectively as possible is of utmost importance.

The difficulty when going through your own work is that your proximity to the text makes it more difficult to spot errors – you unconsciously read what you intended to write and your intimate knowledge of the source text’s subtleties offers you a privileged reading position that won’t be shared by your target audience. As such, the key concept to work on is distancing yourself from the text to the point of reaching an objective, uninformed position from which to assess its suitability (or as close to that as possible).

There are many different suggestions on how to best achieve this distance and to efficiently correct your own writing (examples include changing the font and size of the text you’re working on, printing the text out and working from a hard copy or reading the text back-to-front) but ultimately the best method is different for everybody. Personally I like reading out loud, taking breaks between readings, and using different levels of zoom when spotting errors and consider three consecutive error-free readings to be the benchmark for a completed text.

How to develop:

  • Experiment with a range of methods to find what works for you.
  • Get a colleague to correct your work and incorporate their advice into your own corrections.

11 Tips for Freelance Translators from a Project Manager

By Enas Ibrahim
Reblogged from the ATA Chronicle (May 2014) with permission from the author

11 Tips for Freelance Translators from a Project ManagerHaving worked as a project manager in the language services industry for over five years, I have encountered many recurring issues when collaborating with freelancers that are not related to the linguistic aspect of the translation process. I share here what I see every day along with my recommendations for a more productive working relationship. I am sure that my fellow project managers have experienced similar issues. Some of the points, if not all, may seem like common sense, but I still see at least two to three of them every day.

  1. It is absolutely okay to say “no” if you are uncomfortable with the subject matter of the document or the delivery date/time.

Where I work, we only contact linguists who seem qualified for the subject matter, but sometimes the proposed assignment is more specialized than what you are comfortable handling. The same goes for the delivery date. It is okay if you cannot accommodate every time. Many project managers will either extend the deadline or, if they absolutely cannot, find someone else who can deliver on the date specified. However, even though most project managers can stretch a deadline occasionally, you should not make a habit of asking for extensions.

  1. Read the work order every time you receive one.

It might look like all of the others, but there might be some details that you will not catch unless you read the fine print.

  1. Examine the source files as soon as you receive them.

If they are in a format other than what you agreed on with the project manager, or if the text is corrupt, let the project manager know right away. Project managers are usually willing to work with you. Do not wait until the delivery date to mention that there was some text you could not see and left untranslated. If the project manager sent the document, it means he or she was able to see all of the elements in the text. Project managers will work with you to find out what went wrong with the file delivery and ensure that you have a properly formatted document from which to work.

  1. Always use the files you received with the work order and not the files that were sent to you with the initial inquiry detailing the assignment.

The purpose of the inquiry e-mail is just to check your availability and willingness to work, but most of the time any files that are attached with this query are not final. They could be drafts that are not formatted properly. Project managers send these initial files with the work query because they want to show you what the text is about and what the job involves. However, while the project manager waits for your reply, the files will most likely undergo additional editing to clean them up before being sent to you.

  1. Ask as many questions as you feel necessary.

It is the project manager’s job to coordinate between the translator and the client, and questions definitely help clarify any issues that might cause potential problems further into the project. If you do need to ask questions, it is better to compile them into a single file and send them to the project manager. Of course, you can always send more questions as things come up. Project managers generally want to help you as much as possible, since your success is critical to the project and retaining the end client.

  1. Please check the work order to make sure you understand what you are expected to deliver, including the acceptable file format.

Let the project manager know if you will not be able to deliver the document in the specified format for any reason. Most of the time the delivery format will be the same as the source format, but the project manager may request that a delivery package include clean/monolingual files and a translation memory export, in addition to the bilingual files.

  1. Please make sure the invoice number is not a duplicate.

Receiving two invoices labeled “Invoice #1” from the same translator is one too many. Duplicate numbers in an accounting system might also cause the invoice to be rejected and delay payment.

  1. Do not forget to include your company name on the invoice.

If you are an individual and do business as a company, include both your name and the company name on the invoice.

  1. Include the project manager’s name on the invoice.

If you choose to send one invoice for all projects done for a certain company, make sure to include the name of the project manager who assigned the work next to the purchase order number of each project. It will help speed up your payment.

  1. Include your address on every invoice if you are asking to be paid by check.

It is also very important that you let the project manager know if you change your address. Many checks get sent to old addresses and take a long time to be delivered to the recipient. It also helps if you e-mail all of the clients on your roster informing them of your address change, even if you have not worked with them in the past few months (or years). This is actually a good way for you to let project managers know you are still available and refresh their memory regarding your services.

  1. Include all of your payment methods, if you have more than one, on the invoice and indicate which one you prefer.

We see many invoices with both PayPal and wire transfer options. Now that PayPal charges a percentage of the transaction, we do not always know which payment method will send more money to your account. Some banks and credit unions do not charge for incoming transfers, so you will get the full amount. But you know your bank, so you make the call.

These are just some general guidelines, but other companies may have other preferences. It is usually okay to check with your project manager if you have any doubts concerning anything related to an assignment.

Header image credit: Picjumbo
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Author bio

Enas Ibrahim is a CCHI certified medical interpreter currently working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helping LEP families with their medical encounters. In 2008 she started as a vendor manager at MTM LinguaSoft, focusing on screening linguists and maintaining the database of freelance translators, interpreters, and other language workers then was a project manager between 2010 and 2014. She is an English>Arabic translator and interpreter, and has a BA in translation and interpretation from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq.