End of year review


The year began by achieving a life-time ambition of visiting Australia and New Zealand. Two months of indulging majestic landscapes, and seascapes, unique flora and fauna just flew by. Five days in New Caledonia, because, after all I am a French speaker, completed the journey.

I told my clients I would be back to work on 1st April and right on cue the first job came in on 31 March, which just goes to show the importance of building a relationship with your clients. I am indebted to my wonderful clients for staying with me and allowing me to take a five month sabbatical.

At the end of this busy year I have spent the last few days preparing for the New Year. Reading the latest issue of the ITI Bulletin I was encouraged to consider the MET conference in Tarragona next year. I wanted to go to the Elia Together conference in Barcelona in February but the anticipated arrival of our first grandchild at the same time time  clearly takes priority.The Met website led me to the CERLIS conference on the language of tourism in Bergamo. 

My Italian is improving and I would like to develop it further. I am considering various courses, perhaps in Italy, but I am aprehensive because of the disparity between my spoken language skills and my passive understanding. The problem is, sitting here in my office, the need for spoken Italian just isn’t there, while the opportunity to read a chunk of Italian text is with arm’s reach.

Another article in the Bulletin introduced me to Slate Desktop. Researching this application further and watching an Alexandria Library video on the subject I was reminded that I had forgotten to upgrade my Studio 2014 to 2015. So, one thing led to another and I have now successfully activated my Studio 2015 licence. I am still investigating Slate Desktop but provided I can find the time to prepare all my old TM files I think it could be useful.

In just a few hours time the new UTalk challenge starts. I started Turkish last year and everything was going well until I left the country. Without reliable and free internet access it was very difficult to continue. Thisyear I am home based and I have also chosen a language closer to home, Danish. I did a course on Old English a few months ago so I am expecting Danish to be interesting. 

This year I decided to try to concentrate on my specialist areas: legal, geography, the environment, history, archaeology, travel and tourism. I think this has been positive and I shall continue in the same vein next year.

On this subject I should mention CPD. It is after all one of the objectives of this blog to record CPD. I have continued to write travel pieces for a friend’s magazine in Spain: Inland Solutions, and this October I attended a weekend course to improve my skills. 

In terms of courses though, the free courses provided by FutureLearn have been invaluable. I have learned about Fracking, Environmental Justice, Renewable Energy, Underwater Archaeology, the Arcaeology of Portus and loads more.

All in all there is plenty of good stuff to continue in the New Year. With just 2 hours of the old year left it is time to make plans and resolutions.


What’s in a name


How do people perceive translators? What do they think we do? Most of us are familiar with the “how many languages do you speak? response”. To most people translation and interpreting are the same thing with the result that you might be asked to accompany someone to the doctors to translate.
At least these people have a concept of the job as a human activity. But this notion may become less common with the increasing popularity of machine translation. What is machine translation software called if it is not a translator? Might there come a time when people question whether translator is a real job?
In a previous blog on this site I discussed the nineteenth century occupation of boot and shoe translator. Their job was to revamp old shoes for resale to the poor. In all likelihood some degree of skill would have been involved but these people operated at the lower echelons of society and would have been considered far beneath the high-class boot and shoe maker. I have always wondered whether high-class referred to the shoemaker and his craft, the boot or shoe itself (leather, design, fit etc.) or the clientele. Probably all three.
I don’t mind being mistaken for an interpreter. I have great admiration for interpreters, particularly simultaneous interpreters. I’ve done a bit of consecutive interpreting in my time but there’s no way I could listen and speak at the same time. I am not happy about being confused with a machine. I want to be seen as the high-class boot and shoe maker, working with fine materials and producing beautiful, wearable merchandise, rather than cobbling something together in a rush to be sold at knock-down prices.
So how do we go about differentiating ourselves in the market?
One method is to add an adjective such as qualified, professional or experienced. The trouble is, they are not specific. A qualified teacher or solicitor has had to go through certain designated stages to attain this status, but this is not the case for translators. There are many routes into translation and various “qualifying” exams and accreditation bodies. There is no universal qualified status and our qualifications are fairly opaque to the general consumer.
Professional can be applied to sports people and musicians. It implies the existence of an alternative amateur status. Is there such a thing as an amateur translator? Experience is better expressed as the number of years in the business and knowledge of specialist areas.
I wanted to find a term that would mean something to uninformed buyers, something like the CORGI, now Gas Safe, registration for plumbers. The Chartered Institute of Linguists has a Chartered Linguist Register. Accountants and surveyors can be chartered and now linguists can be too. This is a designation that people can understand. Machines can’t be chartered. No-one can claim to be chartered unless they are on the list. To get on the list certain specified criteria have to be met. I thought this was worth aspiring to and I am now delighted to have been accepted as a chartered linguist.

Six reasons for going to a conference on translation and interpreting


I could become a serial conference attender, but many translators do not go to conferences. The reasons for not going may be cost, distance, work (too much, too little) and probably a certain amount of fear.
So here are six reasons why you should go.
1. Getting out of the office. Translators are notorious for hiding away in their offices, working in isolation and possibly only communicating by email. Yes you can read about the latest developments in the ITI Bulletin or the Linguist. Yes you can join Twitter and Linked-In forums. But sometimes it is good to put on some smart clothes, exercise the facial muscles with a smile and actively engage with fellow professionals. It can be a normalising experience; after all you don’t have to explain what you do.
2. Networking. It can be daunting I know. You enter a room and everyone else seems to be talking in huddles. You don’t know what to say to people. This is where your local network comes in handy. I have rarely been to an ITI conference where I have not met someone I recognised from a local network.
Admittedly there have been other CPD events where I have not known anyone. In these situations it is a good idea to break the ice with a few basic questions: Are you a translator or interpreter? What languages do you work in? Have you come far? Hopefully a conversation will ensue.
What is the point? Well apart from making you feel more comfortable at the event instead of standing alone with your coffee in the middle of a crowded room, where 50 other people are doing the same thing, you will meet like-minded people. For a start we are all in the same business so we share the same pleasures and frustrations in our work. It can be reassuring to discover that other people were finding the work slow last month for example. There are some very interesting people out there.
3. Work. I wouldn’t advocate going to a conference with the intention of getting work though it can happen. Often agencies have a stand where you can fill in an application form but you don’t have to go to a conference to do that. Meeting people who work for the agency might be useful, there’s nothing better than the personal touch, but you can’t be sure that the representatives at the show are the same people who allocate translation jobs. Nevertheless the people who you meet through networking might throw work your way. I know I have referred work to people I have met at such events because face-to-face meetings build trust far more than a name on a list. In discussions you might hear of a company that people like working for or a big job that needs a lot of translators.
4. Broadening the mind. Travel broadens the mind they say. By all means attend local events but don’t discount the more distant ones. I combined the FIT conference in Berlin with a visit to a number of museums, in particular the Egyptology section of the Neues Museum with the bust of Nefertiti, a trip to the Spreewald in search of the Sorbian language and a fascinating tour of Potsdam. I intend to use the ITI conference in Newcastle as an opportunity to visit the Roman fort at Segedunum.
5. Be inspired. Conferences sometimes lead me to try new things. I have investigated corpora and tried Dragon Naturally Speaking and put them to one side for the moment. I have made more use of social media. You can talk to colleagues who actually use these tools and get their opinion. I have also been encouraged to sign up for more CPD events.
6. Time off. One of the worries about attending conferences on weekdays is that you might lose out on work. You should be able to plan around one or two days. Nowadays most conferences have Wi-Fi so you can check your emails in the breaks. So really the only work you would miss is the small job for turnaround that day. Well everyone is allowed a day off. It is good for you to clear your desk and not worry about work a day or two. And what better reason than a conference with other translators.
So what’s stopping you?

Are formatting surcharges still viable?


A very interesting blog on a subject I have given very little consideration to. I haven’t converted a PDF in years.



A query from a colleague yesterday set me off on this train of thought: she’d proposed a PowerPoint surcharge to a long-standing agency client and been told that surely surcharges weren’t relevant any more, now that most CAT tools process files in most common formats. Hmmm, I wonder? My colleague actually uses Wordfast Classic, and PowerPoint files certainly aren’t straightforward given that Wordfast uses a Word interface. Text is extracted from the PowerPoint file as you work, and then re-imported, but there can be issues with text formatting, text boxes being missed and the layout not being as it was in the original. There used to be a neat add-in called Werecat that extracted all the text in advance, then re-imported it, but even then the formatting wasn’t always correct. Updating your TM after you’d checked the target file was also problematical, leading to twice as much work. In Trados…

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ITI conference


Just booked for the ITI conference in April next year. I did not think I was going to be able to make it but my plans for next year have been moved forward so now I find I can go. The last time I was in that neck of the woods I was working as a volunteer on an archaeological dig on Hadrian’s Wall. I am currently working through a FutureLearn FutureLearn course on Hadrian’s Wall so I am looking forward to revisiting the wall.
Talks on chocolate and fashion labelling on the programme. It’s always good to learn something new.

The assertive translator and the deadline debate


Sorry that’s not my language pair.
Sorry I don’t feel comfortable with that subject area.
Sorry but I only translate into English.
I think we are all comfortable with refusing to do work that is not in our language combination or specialist area but some colleagues seem to be concerned about an increased prevalence of short deadlines

I group deadlines into three categories: practical and desirable, tight but do-able, impossible. As a rule I would say that my deadlines fall into the first category. The last category I reject out of hand. Tight but do-able deadlines crop up regularly but if I choose to accept them it is because I believe I can deliver within the deadline without compromising my standards. In some cases I accept that I may have to work slightly longer hours, maybe miss an exercise class, take a meal out of the freezer instead of going shopping, etc. And I make the decision to do this because I like the translation manager who is asking me to do the job and because the subject matter is of interest to me.

I take into account my previous occupations where overtime was regular and expected. I am also lucky in that my family are supportive and will reduce the burden from me when necessary, such as taking the dog out or cooking tea.

It can be difficult when you are starting out but actually you should start as you mean to go on. I can remember back in the early days my husband complaining when I turned down work because we needed the money. But I pointed out that we needed the money now, not three months down the line after I had done the job, invoiced it and waited 60 days for payment. (The best way to acquire money “now” was from signing on as a supply teacher as payment was made the following week. I think the same applies to temping. You can accept work when you need it and reject it when you have a translation job.) I was not prepared to compromise then and even less so now. In fact what usually happens is that the job offer with the impossible deadline is soon followed by a better offer with a workable deadline.

Admittedly deadlines seem to be getting shorter and there are reasons for this. Technology has speeded the process up. Voice recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking can dramatically speed up the initial process of getting words on paper, especially if you are not a particularly fast typist. Translation memory software such as Trados, MemoQ etc. significantly speed up the work, because of their intrinsic memory function which removes the need to re-type repeated sentences. In particular I find they save time with formatting. These technologies have improved too. I used to have to build in an extra half day in case Trados did not clean properly. Agencies are also allowing more time for checking translations.

From a personal point of view my concept of a workable deadline has almost certainly changed too. As I have got more experienced I have been able to translate more and more words in a given time. Nevertheless I stick to the guideline of an average of 2,500 words per day whenever quoting for delivery times. As an average this still seems very workable. But it is just an average. You always need to build in checking time so translating and delivering 2,500 words on the same day would not be desirable in the least. I would want to put at least a night between the translation and the checking stages.

Most of my clients are agencies that I have been working with for 8-10 years. They know what deadlines are reasonable. More than once an agency has rung me and said the client wants it tomorrow but I have already told him that’s impossible, so when could you deliver it? What is possible depends on the text and the translator’s other commitments. I always try to accommodate my favourite agencies but sometimes you just have to say sorry I am not available this week. So, another translator gets the job, so what! I am sure that’s how I got jobs when I started out. The important thing is not whether I get this job or not it is keeping the client that matters.

The aim of the game is to build a good working relationship with your clients. One way of doing that is by only agreeing deadlines you can stick to without compromising your standards.

Whilst it is probably true that companies in particular routinely request translations within short deadlines I am not entirely persuaded by the argument that agencies accept these deadlines for fear of losing the client. The client still wants a translation that is fit for purpose even if they say they want it for 4.00 p.m. the same day. If the translation is not fit for purpose then they will look else where next time. So there is a balance and people negotiate.

Agencies have ways of delivering large volumes with quick turnarounds such as dividing the work into sections for translation by 3 or 4 separate translators, teams of translators working together on projects, or even, dare I say it, machine translation with post-editing. I don’t think the individual freelancer need be panicked into taking on work that can be handled in any of these other ways. A little patience and the appropriate-sized job will appear in the mail box.
So my advice is to accept only those deadlines that are workable for you. If someone else can deal with it, let them.

The usefulness of French 100 years ago


On Friday 20th June I went to a conference on Languages and the First World War at the British Library. This combination of subjects interested me not only as a linguist but also as a family historian. A few years ago I researched the life of a great uncle who was killed in the Great War. He was a public school boy, if only for three years, and had won school prizes for French. I therefore wondered how useful he would have found his knowledge of French while serving in France. To a certain extent the conference answered this question but it also gave me plenty more food for thought.
On arrival in France soldiers soon found that they needed French in order to buy food in the shops and bars or even to chat up the local girls. There was no specific language training for those going to France and it seems that even the officers found their French was not up to the task. This does not surprise me as there is a wealth of difference between book learning and actual speaking. Nevertheless I am sure that for daily needs even a little French was better than none. In due course it appears that a kind of pidgin developed that was used by both soldier and native French alike. This again does not surprise me, as language is about communication, and I have often seen people getting by with poor language skills and making themselves understood. At the same time we are familiar from films with native speakers resorting to a pidgin of their own language in an effort to simplify communication so that another can understand.
At home some national newspapers tried to satisfy the need by producing phrase books, which were carefully targeted to suit the perceived requirements of soldiers in France. This was an interesting surprise for me because my great grandfather, who was reputed to have known several languages including Latin and Greek and must surely have counted French among his better languages, worked as a printer’s reader on one of the national papers. If his paper was one of those that produced a phrase book then great grandfather would almost certainly have read and corrected it.