Only Human Translators

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...