To ask or not to ask – that is the question…

Reblogged from the blog ClaireCoxTranslations ~ Lines from a linguist, incl. the image, with permission from the author

It’s a familiar story: you’ve come to the end of a lengthy translation and there are a couple of points you’re not quite sure about. It might be in-house jargon, or indecipherable acronyms. Or then again the source text might not be very well written, or there may be ambiguities you need to resolve in order to convey the meaning accurately in your target language. So do you get back to the client and ask for clarification? Or just hope for the best and go with your instincts….?

I’m firmly in the “ask” camp myself. I don’t believe any agency or direct client worth their salt would think you any less professional for seeking clarification. Indeed, not asking is much more likely to leave you open to accusations of unprofessionalism! There may be any number of reasons why a source text might not be entirely clear: the author may have left a word or phrase out; there may be a typing or dictation error, the text may have been left deliberately ambiguous, but conveying that ambiguity in the target text might not be quite as straightforward…. You might just not have a enough context to go on to make an informed decision. Add these to the list of considerations I mentioned above and you’ll see that if you’re in any doubt about the true meaning of your source text, it really is best to ask.

I clearly recall Chris Durban, in her mystery shopper presentation at the ITI Conference in Birmingham in 2011, describing her experiences with outsourcing work to translators. She too was amazed how few translators bothered to ask questions, but she was actually far more concerned if translators DIDN’T ask! I only outsource a limited amount of work these days, but I feel the same way. I always try and make it quite clear that I’m happy to answer any queries, no matter how trivial. It shows me that the translator is thinking about what they’re translating and keen to get it spot on.

I tend to leave it until the end of my first draft before sending in my queries, but with a very long document, it might be a good idea to split the text into sections and send batches of queries after each section. I’m currently working on a very lengthy translation and sent my first list of questions when I reached the quarter mark, over a week ago. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting, despite gently nudging the agency a couple of times in the interim! This is frustrating as not only am I perpetuating any misunderstandings I might be making, but the longer it takes, the more potential adjustments I’ll have to make at the end, rather than after a shorter section, as I’d hoped. Many of my queries relate to acronyms, not to their meaning as such, but how the client would like them conveyed in the target file. In the particular field I’m working in, some of my clients like to use the equivalent English acronym, some prefer the French left as it is and others prefer the French followed by the English equivalent in square brackets afterwards – as you can see, it’s a potential minefield! This particular end client made it very clear at the outset of this project that they were happy to field questions and that the priority was for accuracy, yet I suspect project managers at the client’s end have changed in the meantime and I have on occasions been asked to highlight any queries when I return my final translation – never a satisfactory outcome for the translator!

I often find that working for direct clients leads to more successful question-answer sessions, as you are able to go straight to the horse’s mouth. I love it when you query a term and the client ‘phones or e-mails you back saying they’ve just spoken to the engineers and giving you a detailed description of what the widget in question actually does – brilliant! Then again, direct clients may not speak the source language at all, but merely discussing the issue with them shows them that you’re aware there’s a problem and if nothing else you can add a translator’s note with possible options. I translate an ongoing series of minutes and actions for one particular client and it’s gratifying to find, further down the line, that a particular piece of text that I’ve queried has been amended in the source text as not being sufficiently clear there either….

I have worked for clients in the past who have clearly been unwilling to “bother” the end client and have just said “Oh, put what you think….” – which I hate! Providing you’ve done the necessary research, using standard dictionaries in your subject field and a decent amount of online searching, it is most certainly not a sign of weakness or ignorance to check your understanding of a specific term or phrase. Patents in particular, with their very long and convoluted sentences, are often riddled with typing errors and omissions and I frequently send them back with a list of queries based on my assumptions. With patents, you are often asked not to correct errors in the text, but to note them separately for consideration by the patent attorney. Another agency client sends me two-column Word documents extracted from Déjà Vu with an extra Comments column, and I use this to note any niggles I might have about the text as I work, for easy reference by my agency contact at the end. Translator’s notes (footnotes or endnotes) are another option, but I’d rather avoid these unless specifically asked to use them as I feel it breaks the flow of the text.

Of course, there are lots of things you can do before resorting to sending that list of queries to the client: checking dictionaries, on and off-line and carrying out web searches. I find Linguee extremely useful these days, as it shows you words used in context – you have to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, obviously, but it can give you a nod in the right direction. Translation forums are also very valuable resources: professional associations such as the ITI have language and subject networks, often with associated e-groups, where you can post term queries for discussion by qualified translator colleagues. I find these particularly helpful for getting a native speaker’s take on a particular phrasing, less so for highly technical terms, but it’s always worth a try if you’re really stuck. Finally, I have a number of colleagues I can refer to in extremis, either by Skype messaging, e-mail or ‘phone: it’s amazing how often the act of writing down your concerns helps crystallise the problem in your mind! And if it doesn’t, two minds are better than one and, between you, you can arrive at a solution. It may be that you’re still not sure, even after all that, so that’s when you need to consult the client.

Often, if you’re unsure about something, but persuade yourself that you’ve instinctively worked it out, that will be the one term that will come back and bite you – in the form of a proofreader’s red pen, or at worst an angry reaction from the client. It just isn’t worth taking the risk – even if you have to badger the client to respond in the first place! At least that way, you’ve raised awareness, asked the question and tried to reach a solution. If you still don’t get an answer, you may have to reiterate your concerns when you send in your final text, but the ball is in the client’s court, unsatisfactory as that may be for you as a perfectionist translator…

So, yes: ask, ask, ask every time is the answer to my question – not to the extent that you make a nuisance of yourself, but so that you show yourself to be the diligent, professional translator we all aspire to be.

TM-76_The absence of context is to be lamentedWith grateful thanks to for the very apt cartoon!

Book Review: Diversification in the Language Industry

By Catherine Christaki

Book Review: Diversification in the Language IndustryFrom time to time, in the translation industry (I’m guessing in many other industries as well), there are trending topics and buzzwords that become hot topics for a period of time. A few years ago, the buzzword that all linguists were talking about was diversification: what it is, do we need it, who it’s suitable for, and ways to do it. Nicole Y. Adams offered some structure and food for thought for those discussions with her book Diversification in the Language Industry (published in 2013, 350 pages).

The book is a collection of essays and interviews from seasoned language professionals offering their views on and experiences with diversifying their services. (Disclaimer: The author of this post wrote the Blogging and social networking article in the book.)

About Diversification
In Chapter 1, Nicole talks about a survey she conducted in July 2013 among 250 freelance translators regarding the services they offer and their views on diversification. She lists the following as the most common arguments that translators cite against diversification (more food for thought):

Diversification is only for bad translators. I’m successful and make a lot of money from translation alone, so I don’t need to diversify.
I’m not an outgoing person; I’m not comfortable selling or putting myself out there.
I have no time to diversify because I don’t want my core activity (translation) to suffer.
I trained to be a translator; why would I want to do anything else?
I’d rather improve my existing translation business and become a better translator.

Nicole includes an article by Anne-Marie Colliander Lind about three major trends in the language industry: volume increase (more content produced = more to translate), technology as a productivity enhancer, and disintermediation (less middlemen between the end client and the translator). She also offers the following recommendations for translators who want to diversify:

  • Add a new language pair.
  • Add another domain of specialization.
  • Become an expert in the fields you translate in.
  • Embrace technology. Learn how to use the available tools.
  • Collaborate; build a network of translating colleagues. They are not your competitors; they are potential co-workers.

In another article, Anne Diamantidis explains her position that diversification isn’t necessary, i.e. not all translators should or need to do it. She writes “If a translator feels they do not earn enough, they could consider increasing their rates and/or diversifying their existing offering, before immediately taking on a second job or writing books. Diversifying in our industry does not automatically mean having a parallel career or a new business branch. It can be as simple as adding a ‘plus’ to your offer.” And (I really enjoyed this comment and I completely agree): “…diversifying too much…can seriously damage your credibility: if you do too much and are too loud, people may think you clearly have too much time on your hands and that therefore you’re probably a terrible translator because your clients don’t give you any jobs.”

Types of Diversification
The book also offers definitions and explanations of four different types of diversification that have been identified in the language industry.

1. Linguistic diversification: Expanding your portfolio around your core service of translation
Chapter 3 starts with an article and an interview on one form of linguistic diversification: machine translation (which is interesting information if you, like me, have never worked on such projects). One author, Jeana M. Clark, believes that “Diversification at the expense of integrity or translation quality is not the kind of diversification we want to pursue.” Then, there are articles and interviews on voice-over, subtitling, transcription, terminology (including a list of available training options), transcreation, copywriting, cross-cultural consulting, linguistic validation (including a list of the typical steps involved in the validation process), online language teaching, and interpreting. This is a really great collection of articles if you want to learn more about a specific industry and maybe start offering those services.

2. Extra-linguistic diversification: Developing new business strategies or areas of entrepreneurship
Chapter 4 includes articles and interviews about extra-linguistic diversification, which includes services such as project management, blogging, social media, and online marketing. In one article, author Valerij Tomarenko writes about diversification through specialization, and in another, Inge Boonen talks about diversifying your client base.

3. Passive and external diversification: Specialized services beyond translation that freelance translators can offer to translation agencies and fellow translators
Chapters 5 and 6 are all about passive and external diversification (writing books and offering training services). Passive income can come from books, e-books or blogs, offering seminars/workshops and online training courses to fellow translation professionals, public speaking at conferences, consulting, website design, multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) and optical character recognition (OCR), and teaching. The book also includes an article on continuing professional development (CPD).

Author Meg Dziatkiewicz suggests the following ways a translator can diversify their services towards passive and external diversification:

  • Career coaching – Be a mentor, advisor and planner.
  • Marketing – Teach people how to market themselves and what tools to use.
  • IT – There are plenty of CAT tools that could be improved and applications, dictionaries, online databases and directories to be programmed.
  • Teaching – Give courses, workshops and seminars on every aspect of a translator’s life, based on your experience.
  • Art/design – Offer web design, promo materials, business cards, banners, posters.
  • Copywriting

4. Distinctive diversification: Creating a unique niche in the language industry with one-of-a-kind product or service
Chapter 7 is about distinctive diversification and includes articles and interviews on Mox’s blog and cartoons by Alejandro Moreno-Ramos, the money transferring service Translator Pay by Paul Sulzberger, the non-profit Translators without Borders by Lori Thicke, and branding services by Valeria Aliperta.

For me, the best feature of Diversification in the Language Industry is that you can you read it all at once as a book on diversification but you can also choose specific articles and chapters if you want to learn more about a specific field and/or skill set. The personal tone of most of the articles and interviews, including a brief background on the author, gives you great insight on how these authors started out and the different paths they followed in their successful careers.

The food for thought this book gave to translators and interpreters–and all those discussions I mentioned at the beginning of this post–have led to many language professionals authoring books and offering training courses and webinars, as well as copywriting and consulting services.

What about you? Have you read Nicole’s book? Did it inspire you to diversify and offer additional services apart from translation and interpreting?

Further reading
Diversification in the Language Industry by Nicole Y. Adams – a review
Books on My Shelves – Diversification in the Language Industry

Book Review: Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

by Jamie Hartz

Book Review - Found in TranslationIf your experience as a language professional has been anything like mine, when someone asks what you do for a living, you always have to qualify your response. “I’m a translator” isn’t going to cut it, but “I’m self-employed as a Spanish-to-English written translator” just might get the conversation going.

Next time someone asks what you do and gives you a blank stare upon hearing your response, hand them a copy of Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. The work is a compilation of stories and anecdotes which are drawn from many years of careful, thoroughgoing research conducted by the authors. The result is a book that reminds me why I’m proud to be part of this profession and has helped me articulate to my acquaintances what I do, and why it matters.

This book, which the authors have dedicated to translators, is the sort of work that will make you gasp, laugh out loud, and maybe even cry as you read fascinating stories about how language, translation, and interpreting affect every arena of life. It brings to light fascinating stories—some well-known and some untold—about “how the products you use, the freedoms you enjoy, and the pleasures in which you partake are made possible by translation,” all the while educating laypeople and monolinguals about our field and the industry.

I enjoyed this book not only because it was entertaining, but because it lent credibility to everything I do as a professional. By listing statistics about the language services industry, stating the growing need for professional translators and interpreters, and discussing the dedicated (and sometimes dangerous) work that language providers offer, the authors have done an amazing service to the translation community and the world at large.

Found in Translation catches readers’ attention from page one, as the first story in the book is an immobilizing tale about Nataly’s experience as an over-the-phone Spanish interpreter for a 9-1-1 call. From this story on, the book grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. Among the other anecdotes mentioned are:

  • The interpreter who played a role in Yao Ming’s integration into the NBA
  • A mistranslation that caused video game fanatics to spend months searching for a non-existent villain
  • An interpreter at the Nuremberg trials whose life was forever altered by the horrors of Nazi Germany
  • Stories of how translation has prevented or mitigated international health crises
  • Interpreters who serve as language intermediaries for the International Space Station
  • How Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament set a foundation for not only a language but an entire religion
  • Jost’s harrowing experience as an interpreter in China for some German tourists who decided to take more of an adventurous vacation than he had bargained for

Savvy Newcomers, you know as well as I do that our jobs aren’t always easy—either to perform or to explain. I recommend this book as an eye-opener for people who don’t understand what you do, and as an inspiration for you to keep on doing your job to the best of your ability. Enjoy!

People Do Business with People They Know, Like, and Trust

by Jamie Hartz

It’s all about peopleOne of my more menial but surprisingly rewarding jobs during college was working at a Chick-fil-A. This came in handy recently when I had to translate a 20,000-word catalog of industrial kitchen equipment, most of which I would have never laid eyes on had it not been for the many hours I spent chatting in the “back of the house” with the Mexican kitchen staff of the franchise I worked at. But a knack for Spanish and a knowledge of the difference between fregadero and lavamanos aren’t the only thing I gained from this experience; my years there also gave me very valuable insights about customer service.

In case you’ve never been to a Chick-fil-A before, I’ll fill you in: Chick-fil-A is a fast food restaurant that regularly wins accolades for delivering on its stated goal of providing customers above-average service. From greeting customers cheerily when they walk through the door, to always responding with “It’s my pleasure” when guests say “Thank you,” to anticipating unspoken needs, the chain’s positive culture is contagious. During the four summers I worked there, I saw time and time again how genuinely impressed our customers were when we as employees provided service that went above and beyond their expectations, and it was this type of experience that endeared them to our brand and kept them coming back to us.

I’m happy to report that my Chick-fil-A days are over (the uniform wasn’t particularly flattering, and I didn’t love cleaning waffle fries off the floor), but the will and passion to serve my customers remains. As I launch into a full-time freelance career, I’m continuing to learn the importance of serving customers—and the line between that and letting them walk all over me. I don’t bend over backwards to do unpaid work when a client asks for a “quick favor,” but I do go the extra mile in order to make each client feel that they are important.

One client recently wrote me this: “Your work is like a wrist watch; every gear has to do its intended job so that the clock can function. You not only installed the gear, you did extra work, like adding oil to it.” I believe in producing high-quality work so that each client knows that I have gone above and beyond in my work for them. Providing this type of experience leads, as I learned during my restaurant days, to loyal clients who trust me because they know that I have gone the extra mile to exceed their expectations. Along these same lines, I’m also learning the truth to the saying that “people do business with people they know, like, and trust.”

This phrase puts into words a phenomenon with which I have become familiar: social capital. Similar to the concept of economic capital, social capital is the set of resources and connections that a person has and can mobilize in order to gain more resources. In a nutshell, it’s your network. In May 2015, I completed a master’s thesis at Kent State University, for which I translated a sociological journal article on this topic (interested? Read my translation here). The author actually tries to debunk the concept of social capital, but I found the phenomenon to be very applicable to my own work.

In the business world, an example of social capital is the idea that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. When I look through the list of clients I’ve done work for in the last six months, and think about how I became connected with them initially, more than 90% of my income has been from clients who I either met at an American Translators Association conference, or who were referred to me by someone I knew personally. Only 10% came from listings in online directories or marketing emails I sent. Think about where the majority of your projects come from. How many of them were the result of a connection with someone who knows, likes, and trusts you because you made a personal connection with them?

When I look at that list and think about how social capital has played a role in starting my business, it highlights something that my dad has always told me: “It’s all about people.” This is something that doesn’t come easily to me, as a task-oriented translator who works from home. It’s also part of the reason I attend the ATA conference, try to maintain my relationship with classmates from undergrad and grad school, and am getting involved in my community. Social capital is real, and we need it for more than just business reasons.

I also want to emphasize that the title of this article doesn’t only go for freelancers. I unwittingly proved it recently when I hired a lawyer to set up my LLC. I made a lot of calls and emails looking for the right person for the job. One person responded two weeks later saying that he’s not good with “these machines” (meaning email) and didn’t realize he had never responded to my message. Do I trust him? No. One person I spoke with on the phone gave me the distinct impression that I wasn’t worth his time. Do I like him? No. One person was referred to me by a translator I know in the Philadelphia area. When I called, he responded immediately. He was knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. In the words of Goldilocks, he was “juuust right.” Which of these do you think I chose to set up my business? Professionalism and quality are important—don’t get me wrong—but when push comes to shove, people do business with people they know, like, and trust.

Moral of the story: be someone that people know, like, and trust!


How (Not) to Be a Professional Translator and 6 Tips to Help You Become One

By Alina Cincan
Reblogged from Inbox Translation blog with permission from the author

How (Not) to Be a Professional TranslatorA professional translator’s job is not as easy as it looks. A bilingual dictionary, the internet and a working knowledge of the source and target languages are not sufficient to become a self-styled professional. Depending on the speciality area, an aspiring translator needs several hundred hours of practice, subsequent certification (in some cases) and then a quite a bit of experience before they feel ready to tackle certain topics.

What a professional translator is not

A translation professional is NOT:

  •  A person who speaks two languages, even at native level

This is certainly a prerequisite; however, this alone is not enough.

  • A student of languages

They may be on their way of becoming a translator (though they may choose a different path), but they cannot be called professional translators. Not at this stage anyway.

  • A teacher of languages

Teaching and translating require different sets of skills. Sure, a translator can also assume the role of teacher (I have done that), but that does not mean that any teacher of languages can translate. The opposite is also true: not any translator can be a teacher.

  • A dictionary

Some people assume that a translator knows all the words in their language pair and two of the questions we get asked frequently is: ‘What does … mean’ or ‘How do you say…..?‘, to which we invariably answer ‘It depends on the context‘)

translation it depends on the context

Image from the talented Alejandro Moreno (Mox) on his blog:

The wrong approach

In order to be a professional translator, one must be ready to pay the price in terms of hard work, insurmountable challenges and rare opportunities for big success. If a person is merely doing translations on a casual basis, the work must also be casual – meaning, it must not be able to adversely impact the reader of the target text. Working out the instructions on a lawn mower might not need a professional translator, but anything more important than that will warrant hiring a professional. In fact, if you don’t want the service warranty on your mower to be voided, don’t even do that!

The proper approach to translation as a career

The right way to go about becoming a professional translator is… well, there isn’t necessarily a right way per se. One can take the translation studies route (Joseph Lambert and Caroline Alberoni both touched on this aspect on their blogs: The (un?)importance of translation-specific degrees to translation and Does an academic background really make a difference?) or have a totally different profession and later turn to translations, as Sarai Pahla has done and written about. Some countries require specific certifications for those who want to call themselves translators and work in this field. The UK does not. However, that doesn’t mean anyone can be a translator (regardless of what they claim).

A professional is someone who does something for a living, who is committed to continual professional development, who has the right skills (just knowing another language is not enough – I may be repeating myself, but it is the truth), who strives to find the right words, who understands the two cultures, who has excellent writing skills and the list can go on; so, until you make a career of it and are able to generate a monthly income from it, you are still an aspiring professional.

Finding the right kind of translation job

Before you embark on your long journey down The Language Highway, you need to do some forward-thinking with respect to what kind of translation you’d be happy doing for the rest of your life. If you are a primarily left-brained individual, then a career in technical translation might be suitable; alternatively, if you seek a career in the legal or medical fields, that kind of translation work is what you should be targeting.

If you want to specialise in marketing translations or if financial translations are your cup of tea, you need to make sure you understand the terminology (I am referring especially to translators without a medical or legal background). Mistakes can be costly, and especially in these two fields a correct translation can make the difference between life and death. Nowadays there are plenty of CPD courses you can embark on – some even free,  and the community of translators is a friendly one, so there will always be someone to help you.

What you should never do: accept a translation job that is beyond your abilities. Not only will it take you longer to carry out, but doing a so-so job instead of a great one will have an impact on your reputation and subsequent assignments. Not to mention potential damage you might (involuntarily) be responsible for.

Building a career

Being a professional is much more than just having a full-time translation job. Career progress is an important aspect of being a professional – one of the most important, in truth. Your work ethic is critical to this: unless you can behave like a professional, you will not be treated like one.

  • Make sure that any work that leaves your table is error free
  • Only accept projects you are qualified to take on
  • Get projects done in a timely manner
  • Use project management tools to help you schedule your work in a more efficient way
  • Never stop learning and perfecting your skills
  • Above all, maintain the cool, calm collectedness of a true professional

This is the only way to becoming a highly regarded professional translator, whether in-house or freelance.

If you think I’ve missed any points, feel free to add them in a comment below.

Header image credit: Unsplash
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