Only Human Translators

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...
The secret of success

The secret of success

Learning from those who share their stories One of the positive things about the new translators’ group Standing Up, of which I am an administrator, is that it has brought together translators who don’t usually come into contact. This has led to some interesting conversations and interactions, but, at times, it has also brought about a culture clash, and never has this been more evident than when people start talking about success and money. Some people, it seems, have a problem when others begin talking about how well they’ve done or how much they can earn. Perhaps if it was all just empty boasting I might agree with them, but usually when people talk about their own successes or earning capacity in groups with other translators it’s to make a point: “If I can do it, others can too.” Whenever I read someone else’s success story I like to start off critically, to make sure I’m not being taken in, but the truth is I don’t find too much “Look at my Porsche” arrogance among translators. Even when people are talking of extremely high rates, I generally don’t find I’m affected by envy either. What I’m much more interested in is trying to learn from what the successful person has got to say. Thinking There are, of course, good reasons why someone might be doing better than I am which I can do nothing about. They might be working in a different language combination or subject areas with greater earning potential. They might have knowledge or experience I’m simply never going to enjoy. But there are usually factors I can learn from or try to...
Removing the suit of armour

Removing the suit of armour

…and turning down the sales fever A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d suffered a bit of a setback with my marketing activities and the time has come to explain what happened. Some time ago I discovered that an international conference on wine tourism is held every spring. It seemed like an ideal opportunity for me, combining as it does two of my specialist translation areas. Perhaps I should go in 2017, I thought. I did some investigation, talked to the organisers, and made up my mind to go to Sicily for the event. Then, another idea came to me. Why not take things a step further and present a talk at the conference? I spoke to a colleague and we decided to present a joint proposal. It seemed obvious to present something on the need for good translations and well-written English to promote wine tourism. We could explain the need, show some examples of getting it wrong and getting it right, and finish with some gentle self-promotion. How could they turn us down? But turn us down they did. It should have come as no surprise. Had I only listened to the various illustrious voices who have given advice on such matters at various times, I would have realised we were getting it all wrong. But I was naive and suffering from the peculiar affliction that comes, I think, to all those of us who are not natural salespeople. To cope with the discomfort of being forced into a situation where we have to get out there and sell, we put on the salesman’s suit as if it were armour and...
Invest in health

Invest in health

Don’t delay: buy that chair! Four years ago, it’s no exaggeration to say that I could hardly walk. I was in a great deal of pain and, when I put weight on my legs, either they felt like someone was passing a strong electric current through them or they simply folded underneath me, as if they belonged to someone else. I went to the doctor, but I already knew what the problem was, as I’d suffered it before in a milder form: I had sciatica. For a while I was so desperate I even submitted to some appallingly painful acupuncture in an effort to get rid of it. Eventually, the sciatica went away, more of its own accord, I’m convinced, than due to the torture disguised as alternative therapy that I suffereed for weeks. And before it had chance to come back again, I was much better equipped to fight it. I was sent on a course of physiotherapy by my doctor, where I learned a series of exercises to stretch my back and fight the compression of the sciatic nerve that causes the inflammation leading to so much pain and discomfort. I later began going swimming regularly, which I’ve written about on the blog before. This helps to stretch my back, too, and help prevent an attack. I also began sitting on a semi-inflated cushion placed on top of my work chair, a strategy recommended by my physiotherapist which keeps the muscles in the back working even while sitting. Exercises All these methods have helped me avoid another severe attack of sciatica, but that doesn’t mean it has gone...
How much?

How much?

A few thoughts on pricing Many people, when they first start thinking about pricing, are affected by the idea that everything has a “fair price” – what should be charged for particular goods or services. We can learn as much economics as we like (in my case very little) but the idea’s quite hard to shift. It’s not necessarily good for business, though. If you bend over backwards trying to be “fair” to your clients, you may not be quite “fair” to yourself. And you may even deny yourself the opportunity to look for other clients who would find a higher price just as fair. After all, you have to be fair to those existing clients, don’t you? In fact, prices have very little to do with fairness, and a great deal to do with all sorts of other factors. This was brought home to me recently when I spent a few days in Switzerland. For those who don’t live there, everything seems a little expensive in Switzerland, but there’s nothing more expensive than eating in restaurants. In Switzerland, the price of a three-course meal in neighbouring France or Germany will buy you just a plate of pasta or a pizza. And you won’t save much by just drinking water, a medium-sized bottle of which costs about the same as a glass of the ludicrously priced wine. It all came as a bit of a shock. Prices It got me thinking about what makes the price of something like a meal in a restaurant. There are the raw materials, of course, but those will hardly be different from the...