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.


Appreciating bridges


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANewcastle was an inspired location for the ITI’s 2015 conference. Newcastle is well connected geographically, making it accessible to people from all over the UK and Europe.
A well-attended tweetup, Yoga and Salsa classes, a run, singing translators and a music ensemble enhanced the networking opportunities and complemented the theme of renewal, rejuvenation and regeneration.
I particularly enjoyed hearing how Ann Cleeves writes. Although I have seen some episodes of Vera on the television, I have not read any of the books. This situation is about to change.
The session on translating a book raised a number of points that are worthy of more discussion, such as the time required for research and the problem that occurs when the source text contains factual errors.
Other sessions encouraged me to look at my specialist areas and their links to other areas that I had not considered before. After talking to SDL I have decided it is probably time to upgrade to the latest version of Studio. I also took the step of having a professional photograph taken.
The presence of a large number of young translators gave a reassurance that the future of the profession is in good hands. Overall the conference had a very positive feel.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have come away with a deeper appreciation of bridges. Whether walking to the conference venue, enjoying a stroll along the river bank or gazing from the windows of the hotel, Newcastle’s seven bridges were omnipresent. From practical railway bridges, swing bridges, the iconic Tyne Bridge and the sweeping arch of the Millennium Bridge to the majestic High Level Bridge striding across the landscape, they stand as magnificent monuments to the North East’s industrial heritage and, at the risk of being clichéd, a wonderful metaphor for translation.

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.

SWOT yourself a better marketing letter


At this time of year I usually look back over the previous 12 months both personally (where have I been, what shows have I seen, what books I have read) and from a business perspective (busy months, quiet times, interesting jobs, good clients, cash flow, CPD, etc.).
Checking diary entries always reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote from The Importance of Being Ernest: “I never travel without my diary: one should always have something sensational to read in the train”. Not that my jottings are sensational but the scantiest notes can bring back memories of splendid events and wonderful people, ideas created but not followed up and concerns that dissipated with time.
This is a suitable time to look over your client list. Decide which clients you have enjoyed working with and which were the good payers. You may resolve to discontinue working for poor payers and those that make unreasonable demands or continually change the goal posts after the job has been agreed.
It is also a good time to check your CPD record is up to date and plan your CPD for the coming year. You could also consider doing a SWOT analysis. Start with your strengths: qualifications, experience, recent CPD, other skills such as time management, flexibility, always meeting deadlines, etc. Then consider your weaknesses. This is for your own consumption so be honest with yourself. Use this information to highlight CPD needs for the coming year. Set yourself some goals.
These goals can be your opportunities. Threats may be things you have less control over, such as late payments, or no payments, infrequent work, low rates, etc. You should consider how to try to convert threats into opportunities. This takes us back to reviewing CPD and the client list.
If you decide you need to acquire some new clients you will probably want to do some marketing. But before you do, please take some time to think about it carefully. Over the summer I received quite a few letters from people offering translation services. They all made some quite obvious errors. By taking a look at these errors and avoiding them ourselves we can ensure that our own marketing efforts are more successful.
• The email was not address to me by name. The writer had not looked at my website or considered whether I would be interested in his/her services.
• The writer claimed to translate in to and out of a number of languages including English. However, his/her standard of English, though fair, contained a number of idiomatic and grammatical mistakes.
• The list of specialisms was long and very diverse.
• No qualifications were listed. One even stated that despite having no translation qualifications they were a good translator. (How do they know?) They all claimed to be 100% accurate all of the time.
• No membership of professional bodies was mentioned.
• The rates were very low.
• They claimed to have been working as translators for 10 or 20 years.
If they were as good as they claim to be and had been working as a translator for such a long time and for such low rates they would be in so much demand that they would not have time to send out marketing mailshots. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary I would consider these to be spam mail and certainly not open any attachments or click on any links, let alone offer them any work even if I were in a position to do so. There is really only one way to deal with such emails and that is to delete them.
So, what can we learn from them.
• Target your marketing. Make sure the client is likely to want your services. Read their website. Address your mailing to a person and reference the company specifically.
• Be honest about your language combinations and specialist areas. Emphasise your strengths (which you will know because you have done your SWOT analysis).
• State your qualifications and professional memberships.
• Be honest about your experience.
• Set a reasonable rate (check out the recent rates survey published by ITI and the CIoL).
If you are looking for a long term client instead of picking up passing trade it is worth taking the time to select your future clients carefully and ensure that you market yourself properly.

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.