Only Human Translators

Panning for nuggets

Panning for nuggets

Getting the best from a conference When I went to my first MET meeting four years ago in El Escorial, it was like walking into a mine full of shining gold. Although I’d been translating for a good many years, much of that time I’d been working in almost complete isolation. So, when I started attending workshops and presentations, new ideas glittered in every corner. Every session opened up a new seam. It undoubtedly changed my professional life. Just over a week ago in Girona, I attended my fifth METM, and, as a more experienced conference-goer, things are no longer the same. I love MET, and probably always will. I’ve made so many good friends there and I’ve learned so much, but it seems there may only be so much to learn. That’s not to say that I know it all, just that it’s more difficult to find anything that’s really new. Nowadays, instead of whole seams of precious new ideas, it’s more like panning for nuggets. A lot of the gold dust can be found, not in the conference hall itself, but in the corridors, at the dinner table and in the coffee queue. Virtually everyone attending MET has something to interesting to say and there’s plenty to pick up by chatting with colleagues. This year, too, was special because it was the first time I had physically met my RevClub colleague Victoria Patience and the first time both of us had been together in the same room with the third club member Tim Gutteridge (you can find out about RevClub here). We were there to give our own workshop,...
Talking teamwork

Talking teamwork

Taming my inner lone wolf I never was much of a team-worker – or even a team player. Even when I was young, my sister and I couldn’t do anything together. Arguments always broke out because she wouldn’t play “properly” (in other words, my way). Of course, I had every reason for thinking my way was the only right way to do things. Whenever I played with my father he would always show me the way everything should be done, and he couldn’t be wrong, could he? At school I also remained a bit of a loner. I had friends, but I always felt I was on the outside of the main group. I found cooperative working very difficult. It was so much easier to do things on my own, because there was no-one to disagree with me and no need to convince anyone of anything. So I never got involved in clubs or associations. Just the thought of the emotional effort I would have to make to persuade everyone to do it “right” way was off-putting. What if they didn’t? I’d have no choice but to leave? Wasn’t it easier not to bother in the first place? It’s hardly surprising, then, that I should have ended up working on my own, as a freelancer. That hasn’t always been the case, though. In my previous working life in newspapers I did sometimes have to work in teams. Now and then it didn’t go too badly, but my ultimate response to finding I was working for “idiots” was to try to become a boss myself. In my blissful ignorance of...
My country, right?

My country, right?

British, European or Spanish? In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, I wrote a blog post declaring myself no longer British. I was ready to do whatever it took to maintain my position as a European, even if it meant becoming Spanish, which, due to the country’s nationality laws, would effectively mean giving up my British citizenship. How things have changed in two years! Not that Brexit has gone away. Britain still appears poised to jump off the edge of a cliff next spring, propelled by collective political madness. There can be no justification for the economic self-harm the country is about to do, and in any normal circumstances a group of sensible politicians of various parties would have got together to prevent it happening. It is Britain’s great misfortune that a combination of circumstances and incompetences have conspired to leave it without a saviour, in thrall to a spurious “will of the people” misled by lies. I have no more desire to be British now than I did in the summer of 2016. And yet… I also don’t see the European Union in the same way as I did two years ago. I’m deeply disappointed, particularly over its spineless, hypocritical and uncoordinated response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, its failure to do anything to restrain Spain from repressing the Catalan independence movement (a subject I will return to later) and its lack of support for British citizens living in the EU in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. So not only do I no longer seriously believe in Europe, I fear the whole European Union project...
Just say no

Just say no

 Stay on the right side of the two-tier system I think I’ve said so on this blog before, but it is my firm belief that your biggest client is more often than not your next ex-client. I’ve lost count of the number of times that, shortly after identifying that one customer or another is bringing me most business, I end up having to say goodbye to them for one reason or another. It now seems to be happening again. I have an agency customer for which I do a large volume of work. It mostly consists of small jobs but there are always lot of them. We’ve always got on reasonably well and at the beginning of the year they agreed to a rate increase without argument. But this good working relationship has been dynamited by the agency’s demands that I sign a new contract on the pretext of concerns about GDPR. It’s true that the agency has some big customers and I can well imagine it may have been pressed to demand some sort of commitment from its freelances concerning data protection. But it appears to have used this as a pretext for slipping through some clearly abusive clauses. One of these states that if I, the translator, breach the provisions concerning data protection or confidentiality I will immediately be liable to pay the agency 10,000 euros. I immediately queried this with the client and was told that the sum was intended as a deterrent and in any case was nowhere near the sum for which the agency would be liable if there was a data security breach....
Do the work you like

Do the work you like

Enjoyment matters Over the last couple of months, most translators have seen an increase in boring work. How do I know? It’s not that I’m psychic, I’m just aware that most of us will have been translating text related to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). And I believe most of us will agree that translations don’t come much duller than that. While I was doing my share of this linguistic hard labour, I suddenly realised that it was a long time since I had had to do work I enjoyed so little. It hasn’t always been like that. When I started as a translator I would take on almost anything, and I ended up doing plenty of pieces of work that bored me rigid. It was all fine as long as it would bring in some cash. The truth is, I started translating simply for the money. I’d moved from the UK to live in Barcelona without a job to go to. When continuing my journalism career by freelancing didn’t work out (I didn’t want to write what potential customers wanted me to write and they didn’t want to buy what I did want to write) I drifted into teaching English and it took several years before I had the opportunity to try my hand at translation. In those days, I’m sure I wasn’t a very good translator, but I soon realised there was an awful lot more money in it than in giving English classes, and that was my motivation: I wanted to make a decent living. Impostor It took several years before I started to realise...
Beyond belief

Beyond belief

Beware bad advice All of us come across awful nonsense written about translation from time to time. I very much doubt, though, that there is as much nonsense gathered in one place as in the LinkedIn writings of a translator called Matt Stanton. Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t go in for personal attacks. In fact, I have nothing personal against Mr Stanton, a Japanese-English translator, and I’ve never met or interacted with him. Ignoring his unpleasant replies to colleagues who have challenged him, and the rather offensive and sexist nature of some of his posts, all I will take issue with here are ideas that he promotes, which, in my view, would be dangerous and damaging if followed by less experienced colleagues. This is a serious point because Mr Stanton, a Japanese-English translator, has written (and puts in a great deal of effort plugging) a book about translation. He also claims to run training seminars and coaching services for translators. All that takes his misguided ideas out of the sphere where everyone is entitled to their own opinion, because he is not only pushing his opinions at other people, he is persuading them to pay for the privilege. He is, in short, what has become known in the profession as an instaguru. It is on behalf of colleagues, then, and particularly on behalf of anyone easily influenced enough to be tempted to give credence to some of the utter rot I have seen written by Mr Stanton that I discuss it here. So what does he say that is so reprehensible? My attention was...
“We do it ourselves”

“We do it ourselves”

Can clients be weaned away from DIY solutions? This could have been another post about how difficult it is to prospect for direct clients, at least for a rather introverted person like me. I went to a trade fair last week, and it’s true that, as always, I found it tough to approach and connect with possible clients in person. Caught between the eternal dilemma of not wanting to sell in a pushy way but not really knowing what to say if I didn’t, I spent a lot of time feeling like a rather awkward failure. But I think I’ve written that post before, and besides, it wasn’t all failure. After all, it was a wine fair, or rather the wine section of a huge food industry fair in Barcelona, and when there’s wine around it’s difficult to fail completely. However bad you feel, a couple of free samples tends to bring back the good cheer. And, as I know myself, I’d booked myself in for a talk, a tasting, and a lunch of food-wine pairings designed by top chefs. If I wasn’t going to persuade everyone to be my client, I was at least going to learn something and enjoy myself. And I did manage to speak to some potential clients, so that’s what I’ve decided to write this post about: a random sample of potential direct clients from the Spanish wine industry and their their thoughts on translation. Partly to have something to talk about, partly as market research and partly as a lead-in to offering my services, I asked them what they did about translation. Agency...
Escaping lockdown

Escaping lockdown

How (and how not) to cope with big projects A couple of weeks ago I won my freedom, or at least that’s what it felt like. I finally completed a series of big translation and revision projects that had kept me in what amounted to professional lockdown for more that two months. I’m now once again able to take on the projects I want without worrying about where I’m going to find the time to do them. I don’t have the pressure of knowing I still have thousands and thousands of words to translate and revise by a week on Thursday. And it feels great. It was certainly a very unusual way to start the year. I’m used to January being a bit of a struggle, with things gradually picking up into February and March. 2018, though, has been different. It actually started last November with a phone call. Was I interested in translating a book? Well, as it turned out to be a historical study right up my street, of course I was. So I found myself one morning in Barcelona’s atmospheric Ateneu meeting the author and the publisher of the book. “This has always been a place for conspiracies,” said the publisher, looking round the lounge where we sat with our coffees. “They still go on in here even today.” My eyes followed his gaze around the leather armchairs and into the dark corners of the room. I could well believe it, especially in the feverish political context of last autumn in Catalonia. But the only conspiracy we were hatching was for me to translate the best part...
You can’t get there from here

You can’t get there from here

Just how far from the original? I recently worked on the translation of a website for a start-up consultancy firm from the fashion industry. It wasn’t an easy translation and I was glad that I’d managed to negotiate a good enough rate to have my work revised by a colleague. She made quite a few changes, most of them for the better, but afterwards she made some very telling comments. “The problem was the original,” she said. “It didn’t read like a website.” It reminded me of the old joke about a foreign tourist stopping to ask a farmworker for directions in a small village in the middle of Ireland. “Where are you going?” asks the farmworker. The tourist tells him and the man scratches his head. “Oh, in that case I wouldn’t start from here if I were you…” Destination Because as a translator you are in the same position as the unfortunate tourist if the original simply doesn’t say what you think the finished version in your language ought to: you’re starting from somewhere that makes it very difficult to reach your destination.  Now, I’m all for creative translation and for getting away as far as possible from the source text when the circumstances require. But are we really entitled to tell the client: “Give me a new original because your copy doesn’t read like a website.” And what should a website read like anyway? Shortly after this happened, I was able to find out the answer to precisely that question, when attending a free webinar by Sarah Richards on how to write user-focused content for the...
Investment matters

Investment matters

Decisions make a difference January is always a time of new beginnings. Four years ago, I plunged into developing my website, of which this blog forms part. Just in case you haven’t had a look at the site itself, you can see it here. A year ago, I was putting together a new landing page for the site to promote the side of my business related to wine translations. All in all, building these sites has cost me time and money, which, until very recently, I was prepared to account for as an investment in my image. Having a website might not have been bringing me a great deal of work, but it gave me somewhere to refer potential clients. It also provided a platform for me to say exactly what I wanted to about myself, my business and, via this blog, anything at all. That was perhaps not a conventional return on the investment but it was one I was satisfied with. Then, a week or so ago, it began to seem as if the website might bring in a tangible return after al. A potential client who had found me via the website phoned with an offer of onging work which, if everything goes well, could end up recouping me everything I’ve ever spent on my online presence in quite a short time. It provides evidence that if you project the right image you really can attract the right clients. And it also shows that you don’t need many successes to repay even what seems like a sizable investment at the time. As translators, we’re tempted to be minimalist about...