Only Human Translators

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...
Learning and spreading the word

Learning and spreading the word

Lessons from a client event The new monthly rhythm of this blog takes some getting used to. It’s now a month since I went to the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC to its friends) near Catania, Sicily, in the impressive shadow of Mount Etna, and time was when I would have already written about it and moved on to two or three more topics. Instead I’ve had four weeks to think about what I want to say, and plenty of time to forget it all again. Anyway, here are ten things I can remember that I learned or relearned at my first real client event: It’s not about selling. As I said in my previous blog on the subject, my aim in going to the conference was not to find clients, it was to talk, and above all to listen, to people in the business of wine and tourism. That I managed to do. You never get as much work as you intend to done when travelling. I took work with me to the conference, but between planes, airports and chatty fellow passengers, I didn’t get anything like what I expected achieved on either journey. That meant quite a bit of evening working after conference events. If you can’t get a room at the conference hotel, stay as near as possible. The conference was in a small town called Viagrande but I booked too late to get a room in the main hotel. I specifically looked for the nearest possible alternative and ended up in a small apartment five minutes’ walk away. And I was glad of it when there were...
Better together

Better together

Working with colleagues brings rewards Until a few years ago, I worked in something of a vacuum. I knew other translators existed, of course, but I had very little to do with them. Then I decided to end my isolation, I joined some translators associations, began going to the occasional conference, and my working life changed. I became much more concerned about the way I was working, I began learning from other people, and I’m sure my work and my business were better for it. Now, I’m beginning another change. Last year, I wrote a blog about quality, expressing my concern about the quality of my own work and the difficulty I was having in improving it. One aspect of this was the difficulty of charging rates that would allow me to have my work reviewed by a colleague before it is delivered to the client. I have to say, that this limitation still applies. I have, as yet, been unable to secure the clients I am looking for who will pay a good enough rate for this to be financially feasible. However much I would like to improve the quality of my work, I can’t afford to see my income affected. But other things are possible, and in my case all of them involve working more closely than ever with colleagues. Shortly after I wrote my post about quality, I was contacted by Victoria Patience, a British translator living in Argentina who suggested a mutual revision arrangement. She brought in a contact of hers, Tim Gutteridge, from Edinburgh, who also works from Spanish to English. The three of us...
Turning point

Turning point

The time has come for changes Keen readers of this blog may have noticed that last week there was no post. Work, other commitments and tiredness got the better of me and I was was unable to find time to write one. The truth is that, ever since Christmas, I’ve been struggling to find time to write. I hope I’ve been maintaining the quality and keeping the blog interesting, but these difficulties, and failing to produce my usual weekly post at all last Tuesday, have made me think about the future. Over the two and a half years I’ve been producing Only Human Translators, many people have asked me how I kept up the pace of writing a post every week. I always answered that I didn’t find it a problem: I had plenty to write about and I always seemed to find the time. But I also said that if I ever didn’t have anything to say, or if I found it a strain to keep writing the blog, I would think again. Now, that time has come. Whether I actually have move commitments than I used to have I’m not sure, but it’s beginning to feel like it. Apart from activities I can directly call work, I’m involved in different types of cooperation projects with other translators, I’m helping with the website for the METM17 conference in October and I’m in the middle of organising some changes to my own website. On top of this, when I do get those changes up and running, the time will have come to start blogging for clients in my source languages, and that is going...