Only Human Translators

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...