Only Human Translators

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...
Not the year I expected

Not the year I expected

…but what’s new? Looking at my posts from this time last year, I seem to have been going through a great deal of uncertainty and change. In my head were three basic issues which I think are pivotal for all translators: quality, rates and finding clients. Of course, the three all feed off one another too. The problem was simple to state and difficult to solve. My income had stagnated, even beginning to fall back a little, despite an across-the-board rates increase and I was worried about the quality of my work, which I felt needed improving. But I couldn’t improve quality without taking more time over my work, and if I was to take more time I was going to lose even more money without increasing rates. But it seemed unlikely that my existing customers would pay higher rates. What could I do? I decided on a twin course of action: I would try to improve quality without slowing down, and I would look for new clients who would pay higher rates without dumping the old ones. There are some translators, of course, who have succeeded in putting up their rates much more dramatically than that. The problem is that they have had to deliberately put themselves through months with very little work before they have managed to make it work. That’s fine, if a little nerve-wracking, for someone young and unattached, but anyone with family responsibilities needs to take a different tack. Quality Where I’ve been most successful is undoubtedly in improving quality. Without becoming complacent, I’m now much more satisfied with the quality of the work I do....
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...