Only Human Translators

A conference in tweet-sized bites

A conference in tweet-sized bites

Does the blue bird earn its corn? This autumn has been conference season. Hardly had I returned from METM17 in Brescia when I was gearing up for the APTIC-FIT conference, this time just a short metro ride from my home in Barcelona. I have always sung the praises of APTIC, the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia, as a dynamic organisation full of good, bright people, and now they have put themselves on the map by linking up with FIT, the International Translators’ Association, who were also holding their annual meeting in Barcelona, to organise a conference full of interesting material. Overall it was a triumph for APTIC president Paola Tormo and her team. As a member of APTIC, I had agreed to help out by tweeting about the event in English, along with my colleague Rob Lunn, and we dutifully sought out highlights and telling quotes so that those who weren’t able to be at the conference could get some idea of what was going on. And it was quite an impressive line-up, including John Evans on the future of English in the EU; a round table on technology in translation, which confirmed my feeling that I never want to have anything to do with machine translation post-editing, and Alexander Drechsel on online privacy and security. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have to confess that we live in a state of wilful ignorance of this issue, and Alexander certainly enlightened us. However, against that, I think it also has to be said that, however seriously we take it, there always comes a...
Friends, zombies and writer’s block

Friends, zombies and writer’s block

Enjoying another thought-provoking conference If I say that I thoroughly enjoyed another MET meeting, this year in the lovely Italian city of Brescia, I’m hardly going to surprise anyone. Readers of this blog know that I really appreciate the annual opportunity not only to learn new and useful things but also to meet and talk to old and new friends, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts here, here and here. This year I particularly enjoyed Michael Farrell’s talk on how far a translator should go correct an author who has made factual errors, given in humorous and entertaining vein but highlighting what can be a particularly sensitive issue. I learned a great deal in Mary Fons’s workshop on how to get the most from possibly the software translators most love to hate: Microsoft Excel. The only problem was that just when it was getting most interesting it was time to stop. A “Part 2” version of it is definitely needed. ITI chair Sarah Griffin-Mason’s presentation on translation and interpreting to 2050 also gave an unsensationalised but thought-provoking view of possible and likely changes. I was also presenting myself, having stepped in after a late withdrawal to give a shortened version of a talk on specialisation I first offered at a MET training day in Barcelona in September. I was absolutely delighted at the positive response and I particularly enjoyed the discussion it provoked to the point where I’m considering turning the talk into a longer workshop to offer another year. I will also, no doubt, be producing a version of it as a blog post here. Zombies One of...
Working in interesting times

Working in interesting times

The antidote to upheaval and uncertainty Most of you will know that the last month has been an eventful one in Catalonia, where I live. Here is not the place to go into the political rights and wrongs of it (although I will happily do so in a private conversation if you’d like to send me an e-mail)*. But what I would like to do is talk a little about what it’s like to live and work amid such upheaval and uncertainty. Despite what’s been going on, I don’t want to overdramatise. Catalonia is not (and I hope won’t become) a war zone. There are much more dangerous places in the world to live and many, many people who have much more difficult lives than mine. But watching what has happened here over the last few weeks has probably taught me more than my entire history degree. Seeing at first hand how situations develop, views harden and apparently logical courses of action become impossible clearly illustrates how any number of barely imaginable things in history must have happened. It’s exhausting too. There is fear of what might happen. There are emotional highs and lows. And this is where work helps. I’ve been fortunate enough to be busy over the past few weeks and there’s nothing like having plenty of translation to do to help you disconnect from events, from the radio, from Facebook and from all other distractions, however “important” they may seem. Risk What I haven’t felt like doing much of lately is marketing. I had some plans for this autumn, but it has just seemed like the...
Perfection comes at a price

Perfection comes at a price

This week I’m welcoming Cristina Bertuccini to the blog for a guest post. A native Italian speaker with 15 years of experience as a professional translator and consecutive interpreter (IT-EN-FR), working for both direct clients and agencies, she trained formally in legal translation, interpreting, and terminology, and over the years she has specialised in the legal (business law) and cosmetics (skincare) fields. Committed to effective communication, accuracy and readability, she firmly believes in life-long learning and continues to hone her skills and deepen her knowledge in her specialty fields. When she is not working, she is active in various translation-related groups on Facebook to keep abreast of any new development in our profession and promote best practices among young colleagues. Precious feedback is the key What follows is the English translation of a post that appeared on a Facebook group for Italian translators in July 2017. It was written to reach out to those who are just starting out in our profession. At the time, a few young translators were complaining about the unsustainable rates paid by agencies “because of the market”. Other criticized some agencies’ unprofessional behaviour. Most of them probably wondered whether all agencies were like this. A young translator asked how they could tell whether they were being treated fairly. Unfortunately, it is well-known that some translators who never complain just put up with being paid peanuts, believe this is their only option, and accept that these agencies give timely feedback only when the quality is so poor that the end client refuses to pay for their work. Any such price-driven LSP is consistently making sure...
Being there

Being there

What is it with webinars? I attended a webinar the other day. Like the ones I’ve “been” to before, though, it wasn’t the most inspiring experience. That wasn’t because the subject matter was irrelevant to me. It was about the new version of my CAT tool, MemoQ, so it ought to have been important. It didn’t take long, though, before my attention started wandering. I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast with the previous Friday, when I went to a training day organised by Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET) in Barcelona. There, my attention hardly wavered throughout the entire day (for the final hour, it certainly couldn’t – I was giving a presentation on specialisation). So is it really that “being there” is so important when it comes to training? It’s certainly a big part of it. Technology is both the great strength of the webinar – without computers it would be impossible – and its weakness, because a computer holds many other distractions should the live video presentation begin to flag. I admit that I find it hard to resist the temptation to have a quick look at my e-mails, or even start working, if a webinar fails to hold my attention. So my webinar experience quite often goes like this; “Oh, I’m looking forward to this…. Yes, I already knew that…. And that…. This isn’t as good as I expected…. Actually, it’s quite boring… I wonder if I’ve got any e-mails… Maybe, I could sort of half listen and get on with my work…. What did he just say? That sounded quite interesting…” Distracted By contrast, if...
You win some…

You win some…

…you lose some I was fortunate enough to return from holiday last week to find a healthy pile of work to be getting on with and a steady stream of offers and inquiries has been coming in ever since. Considering virtually the whole of Spain goes dead for a month in August, every year I worry that perhaps work will be in short supply just when I need is to start earning to make up for taking time off, and every year I am reminded that, although he total volume available may be lower, the fact that there are so many fewer translators in action means there is more than enough to go round. Somewhere here is a lesson about supply and demand. Among all those offers and inquiries, a couple have made me think hard about the tricky topics of rates and negotiation. First of all, I was recommended by a colleague for a substantial and interesting-looking translation. There was just one problem: the rate offered was almost 20% below what I charge. As I was composing my reply, explaining that I would reluctantly have to turn down the offer of work, I started thinking that there was a time when I might have been tempted to accept. After all, it was August, there probably wouldn’t be much work about and maybe I’d once have felt it was better to be assured of having something to do than hold out for jobs that may never come. Nowadays, though, I like to think I’m better at refusing to settle for less than I’m worth, so I sent the mail, explaining my...
Learning from Jesús

Learning from Jesús

Freelancing lessons from the plumber We’re lucky enough to have our plumbing done by Jesus. Before you start thinking I’ve got a serious attack of religion, or that this blog has taken an unpleasantly blasphemous tack, I should remind you that in Spanish-speaking countries, Jesús, as it should be written, is actually quite a common first name. But although he can’t do miracles, our Jesús is an excellent plumber and heating engineer. He’s mended our washing machine and our toilet, and last week he came to fix our sputtering water heater. And while he was here I started thinking about what translators could learn from a freelancer like him. Because although we like to think of ourselves as professionals on a par with lawyers and architects, I believe plumbers and other self-employed tradesmen also have a lot to teach us. Now I’m not going to push the parallels too far and there are obviously many differences between a translator’s work and what a plumber does. But I like having Jesús work for me and I want to make sure people are happy when I work for them, which means it’s well worthwhile analysing what makes any successful freelancer-customer relationship work. So here are six things I think we can learn from Jesús: Follow up contacts, however vague. I phoned Jesús but got his answerphone. When the message cut in, I hung up, thinking I’d try again in a while, but before I got the chance he’d called me. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m very bad about following up calls. “If they’re really interested, they’ll come back...
Up the garden path

Up the garden path

…and into the lion’s den Productivity is a controversial issue among translators. We all know what we can do and we often don’t like the idea that other people can work faster than we can. If they can, we have a tendency to think they can’t be doing things properly. Now I’m quite tolerant of other people’s productivity, maybe because I’m quite a productive translator myself. I can translate 4,000 words a day to a quality standard that I am happy with, and more in an emergency. So I’m used to people saying “I don’t know how you can do that” and I’m prepared to believe that others may be able to do more than I can. If someone said they could do 6,000 words a day, for instance, I’d be surprised but I wouldn’t be calling anyone a liar. Some productivity claims, however, go too far. One such appeared a couple of weeks ago, when Wolf Steinhauer offered a webinar claiming to teach translators how to translate 10,000 words a day. It caused quite a stir on Facebook, with many colleagues agreeing with me that such a level of productivity was impossible if quality was to be maintained and others saying they would prefer to see the webinar before making a judgement. The discussions even became quite heated, with one translator accusing me of being “incompetent”, an insult I couldn’t quite understand in the context. Another colleague said she couldn’t understand the apparent anger the advertising of the webinar had aroused. The point of this post is to explain exactly why this sort of unbelievable claim is objectionable, particularly when combined with...
Redefining the premium market

Redefining the premium market

Why it is also about you and me I have a bonus post for you this month by my colleague Veronica Sardon, a translator from Spain bilingual in Spanish and English, living in Argentina, and specialising in international development and social sciences. As well as Spanish-English and English-Spanish, she also works from French into both those languages. I don’t run many guest posts, but I think what Veronica has to say is important. This is her story. Three years ago, I was a career changer who was starting out as a freelance translator. I was working in what some people call the “bulk market”: I had begun to get jobs through agencies and the odd acquaintance, worked mostly from English into Spanish, and I was routinely paid around five cents a word. I had come across blog posts by Chris Durban, Kevin Hendzel and others describing their work in specialist markets that paid ten times what I was earning. My initial reaction, however, was that theirs was a parallel universe with nothing to do with the world I live in. It made sense to me that there might be a “premium” translation market for seasoned professionals with outstanding skills and very specific specialisations in lucrative fields. But they generally translated into English and lived in first-world cities full of other premium products and experiences – people whose business (and business contacts) often pre-dated not just Google Translate and ProZ.com but even translation agencies as we know them today. Prospects None of this applied to me. I live in Argentina, where there was no chance of meeting any high-paying prospects at...
The agency dilemma

The agency dilemma

Time to get choosy Last autumn, I wrote a blog post called “Machines on the march” about threat posed by machine translation to the livelihoods of freelance translators and what I planned to do about it in my own business. I certainly wasn’t the first to see the imminent danger but ever since then, articles and blogs on the subject have been proliferating. Most recently and most forcefully, Kevin Hendzel warned translators to move upmarket now or risk becoming obsolete, while the debate has also moved into the mainstream media, with an article by in The Economist asking “Why translators have the blues“. Alongside this, I have noticed an increase in complaints about the behaviour of translation agencies.  It seems to me that translators are increasingly unhappy with the demands being made on them and are expressing by asking in translators’ forums whether certain conduct is normal, or by openly complaining in groups like the ever-entertaining Things Translators Never Say. Whether agency demands are actually becoming more onerous or whether translators faced with pressure on rates and tighter deadlines just feel less happy going along with them is unclear, and it may simply be my imagination, but it certainly appears to be a trend. Viability Now I’m not going to suggest that all translation agencies are bad. As various colleagues have pointed out at different times. if they didn’t perform a function they wouldn’t continue to exist. The idea that all agencies are out to exploit us is certainly not one I subscribe to. However, I am increasingly beginning to question the viability of working for a particular model of agency, a model I...