Volume 6, No. 1 
January 2002

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee





Happy New Year!

Index 1997-2002

  Translator Profiles
Truth, Love, and Prehistory
by Nicholas Hartmann, Ph.D.

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Sounding the Language-Elephant's Trumpet— (a guide for intelligent buyers of translation services)
by Paul Sutton
Sounding the Language-Elephant's Trumpet (Cont.)
by Paul Sutton

Literary Translation
Cultural Elements in Translation—The Indian Perspective
by C. Thriveni  
Translation and Culture
by Alejandra Patricia Karamanian

  Machine Translation
Toward Corpus-Based Machine Translation for Standard Arabic
by Mathieu Guidère, Ph.D.

  Translator Education
A Skeleton in the Closet—Teaching Translation in Egyptian National Universities
by Moustafa Gabr, FIL

  Translators Around the World
Mammoth Translation Task Undertaken for Education
by Johann Venter

  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXVI
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators’ Tools
Translation Tools Today: A Personal View
by Danilo Nogueira
Translators’ Emporium

Letters to the Editor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

A column with practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a new translator living in Greece and my language pairs are English <> Greek. I have just started contacting some agencies in the UK through the Internet and they have asked me to send them my terms and conditions details by post.

I consider it to be a good sign for work, but I do not know what this terms and conditions thing is. I suppose it has to do with a clarification of terms of collaboration, but what should I specifically include? I would appreciate your help.

Novice on Mt. Olympus


Dear Novice,

Yes, it is a good sign—most translation companies do the opposite, unilaterally imposing their terms on you. Use this opportunity to work out your own terms and conditions.

Start by collecting as many sets of T&Cs as you can, from a range of industries—not only translation. Tabulate these in an orderly system so that you see what they have in common and where they diverge. Decide which terms are appropriate for you. Be sure to include not only obligations on the customer, but also on yourself—even if these merely restate your statutory commitments.

View terms and conditions as more than a legal instrument to cover your own backside and protect your rights. They can form part of your arsenal of client communications: clarifying beforehand what each party can expect of the other can be only beneficial. You might combine this with an analysis of your workflow, from taking a client's call to electronic delivery of the translation file and quality feedback.

Finally consider obtaining legal advice, although you will find it difficult to get a good, experienced lawyer to give you a great deal of attention for a reasonable fee. If you do consult a legal specialist, do this only after you have invested some serious time in study and drafting. Needless to say, as with all other FA&WB responses, our opinions are not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have already started teaching translation. So far so good. But I don't know how to score my students' translations. Do you have any suggestions?

I should add that they are working towards a BA in English literature. The courses I teach include "Theories of translation," "Translating simple texts," "Translating idioms and metaphorical expressions," and "Translating literary texts." Students are supposed to get a general idea of translation at the end of the curriculum.

Paper Chaser


Dear Chaser,

It sounds like your courses discuss what translation is (or might be) rather than training people to actually do it. Well, why not? But keep the distinction clear in your mind. Your students will be learning new ways to listen to the voice of authors in translation, and, with luck, gaining some appreciation of the challenges facing literary translators. They are not training to become translators. The assignments they do for you—including graded work—should reflect that.

Concrete suggestions: have students annotate translation assignments, explaining their choices. This will allow you to check that they have identified problems, even if you don't agree with their solutions. Devise exercises to test their grasp of method, and let them demonstrate that they know how to use the resources at their disposal. Make sure that those resources are available; exams or classroom exercises without dictionaries and other reference works are pointless. (Ever see a surgeon operate without a scalpel?).

You might also consider inviting practicing literary translators in for interviews or Q&A. Translating is a demanding, exciting field, and you are in an excellent position to bring this home to students.

Whatever you do, keep in mind a comment by one industry specialist: a 90% grade is pretty good for students, but in real-world translation, it is a fail. You might even repeat it to your class at regular intervals to remind them (and yourself) that their experience of translation as an academic exercise is very different from what professional translators do.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I'm with you on the signed work crusade, and confident enough in my work to believe that a portfolio of signed pieces will help me win clients. But the agencies I work with don't like the idea. I understand their point of view. Have you got any arguments to bring them around?

Dotted Line


Dear Line,

There is no better promotional material than an outstanding piece of signed translation, so it is worth investing some time and energy to pull this together.

Despite some tentative interest a few years back, we know of no agencies that run a double by-line featuring translator names, so if you have no direct clients perhaps you'd be better off trying a different tack altogether.

One win/win option is to volunteer to translate a brochure or other document for a charity or cause you support. Start with some big players, but don't neglect the more obscure outfits—
Partnership for Growth and the Kakapo Recovery Programme have a lot going for them, and may be more receptive to your generous offer.

Meticulous planning is essential to keep your project on track:

  • Contact the charity's head office to propose your services.
  • If they decide to go ahead, get an agreement in writing: your services are free, but your name appears in the credits. To focus their attention (and yours), specify the print date or the date your text goes live on their web site. Note in writing—very important, this—that you have full control of text production, including revision and proofreading.
  • Ride close herd on the project (excellent practice for assignments with your paying clients). Remember, the buck stops with you. This can be both exhilarating and a little scary for translators who have always had an agency interface.
  • Have the charity acknowledge your role in a testimonial-style letter on their letterhead (e.g., Jackson Throgmeyer's German brochure was sent to 15,000 potential supporters of our Sea Turtle Survival League, and the response has been overwhelming). You draft the letter, especially if your contacts are not native speakers of your target language and have a limited translation budget; it goes in your portfolio opposite the brochure.
  • If your translation appears in paper form, be sure to collect a hundred copies of the original print run. You will want to be able to distribute these to prospects, and originals look better than photocopies.
Good luck, and report back!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

The other day, I was at a party and saw this blonde bombshell wearing a very tight-fitting sweater flash me an enticing smile. I sauntered over, drink in hand, and said hi. Man oh man, what a looker! And brains, too: an investment analyst with an MBA. When I told her that I am a translator, her smile kind of froze and she got this glassy look in her eyes. "So... can you make a living doing that?" she asked, craning her neck to see who else was in the room.

Now why would she be like that to me? Also, this is not the first time this has happened.

Low on the Party Ladder


Fire Ant rasps:

Dear Low,

On the face of it, the lady was simply rude, and bad manners should be laughed off. It's not the rudeness, though, that's really bugging you, right? BB was on to something deeper, and like the cruel child telling everyone that you just sat down in the puddle of beer, she put her finger on something real.

Nubile human females choosing a mating partner are no different from females in the rest of the animal kingdom. They expect the male to engage in some kind of display of strength and superiority that will hold their interest. Okay, we haven't got plumage to spread, or jackhammer beaks for drilling a tattoo into a redwood tree. But human culture—and female ingenuity—have developed ways to ferret out the alpha males from the chaff.

Money, status, and power still top the list as attention-getters. Unfortunately for you, translators can lay claim to none of these. And if you believe that women's lib means bodacious female MBA's welcome a partner who makes a fraction of their own income, then think again.

Being the stronger sex, men of course are not so shallow. I have been known to say that it's personality, not physical beauty, that makes a woman attractive. (I also buy Penthouse magazine for the thoughtful articles only, not the pictures.)

Read Seneca, take cold showers, and comfort yourself with the thought that by the time you are fifty, many of your currently more successful rivals will be hemorrhaging money from paying alimony to their ex-wives.

Fire Ant

Worker Bee buzzes:

Dear Ladder,

A "blonde bombshell," eh?
Who "flashed" you "an enticing smile"?
Give us a break.
Saunter, schmaunter: what you did was shuffle over, eyes averted, give her a goofy leer, blush, hike up your army surplus pants (revealing tube socks and sneakers) and dribble red wine down the front of your Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi? tee-shirt as you toyed nervously with the cellophane tape holding your broken glasses together.

Forget the power/money/status argument altogether. Pure puffery. By the time your MBA babe issued her income query, you'd already missed the cut.

Where did you slip up? Easy. Through your dress and demeanor, you came across as weird rather than creative. This was a serious mistake, since your trump card, sir, is something few Porsche-driving options traders can fall back on.

You are a word artist (or should be), and in the right hands there is absolutely nothing more seductive than language and wordplay. The trick is to breathe life into the words, to lift them up off the page. Well, not all the words. "Man oh man, what a looker" is a non-starter, for example.

But to get even that far you will have to pull yourself together. This is easier than you might think. For one thing, translators have a distinct advantage over bankers wardrobe-wise, since you can take a cue from the creative talent on communications teams and dress casual. Just remember: creative casual, not weird casual.

With the economy faltering, snotty MBAs can be pink-slipped any time. At which point a free-thinking, witty, well-read and creative man of words could be just the ticket. As Jessica Rabbit said, "He makes me laugh."

If you want to pursue this option, invest in a black turtleneck. Cultivate a soulful gaze. And get a new pair of glasses, for God's sake.

Worker Bee


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Last spring I translated a 110-page insurance software manual from German into English for an agency in Austria and my bill was paid in full. But when I took on a separate job for the same agency over the summer, they paid late and I complained.

Following my complaint, the agency announced they would be deducting about £60 from payment on the second job to offset errors in the previous (unrelated) assignment. They deducted the money but have not provided evidence of any errors.

They had no complaint about the second job.

I cannot help feeling that I am being "punished" for daring to complain about late payment, and that it is unjust to deduct payment from a previous job which had already been paid in full. I have requested payment but they refuse and I have had no further work from them. I plan to pursue this further with the [UK] Institute of Translation and Interpreting, of which I am a member. What do you say?



Dear Short,

The time to contest invoices is before payment, not after, so your client has clearly overstepped the line. But your investment in time, energy and money to recover the amount due is sure to run over £60, which may be what the agency is counting on (sly devils).

One option would be to chalk this up to experience, turn the page, and devote your time to more lucrative activities.

But we assume you are pursuing this for the principle, right? Good for you; read on.

There is strength in numbers, so your decision to contact your national translators' association is a wise first step. Fortunately, ITI offers members a legal help line. Call now. You will have to be able to document your claims with correspondence from the agency, etc., so start getting the paperwork in order.

Depending on the advice you get, ad hoc solutions include quietly severing your business relationship with the agency; volunteering your experience when other translators ask you about this outfit; or even notifying the agency that, failing payment of the contested amount by date x, you will post details of the dispute on Internet translator forums. Karin Adamczyk has discontinued the well-known listing of bad payers/slow payers/non-payers at her Web site, but has established a payment practices mailing list where translators can find out if a certain customer is a habitual slow payer or non-payer.

Let FA&WB take this opportunity to re-issue our appeal for national translator associations and translation company networks to team up to produce multilingual fact sheets for each country, setting out basic procedures for taking legal action. Reputable agencies and freelance translators have a shared interest in weeding out the bad apples. Clearly written, widely circulated information on legal recourse in each national jurisdiction would work to everyone's advantage.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am Language Services manager at a translation agency. Here's a poser we recently received from one of our freelancers:

"In almost every order I work on there is something I need to ask the author. When I work for translation agencies like yours, any questions I have must be filtered through your account manager as, despite my having signed an undertaking not to 'steal' your clients, you obviously don't trust the clients not to approach me (or other translators) direct. That means I sometimes don't get the answer I wanted and certainly can't probe any further when the answer isn't quite what I was looking for. Effectively you are preventing me from turning in my best performance and denying a loyal translator a fair measure of job satisfaction. Surely if so many customers are so keen to 'cut out the middleman' they can't be aware of the value you're adding to my translation. Can't you solve this by better marketing instead of building firewalls between two—relative— experts (the author and a specialist translator)?"

The problem is, I know she's right and on gut feeling I'd like to tear down the firewalls—but first I'd like to hear from someone who's been there and done that. Can you help?

Name Withheld


Dear Withheld,

Your freelancer puts the question very clearly, and your own willingness to examine possible solutions speaks well for the climate of trust you are inclined to develop.

Before taking any action, we suggest you set out the logic behind your agency's current policy in equal detail.

For example, what your correspondent calls a firewall is not there solely to prevent freelancers from stealing clients. With multilingual projects, having a single contact point can be an essential means of handling product flow—nobody wants nine translators phoning the same client nine times for that fuzzy bit on page 17. Far better to centralize each project with one company representative.

But for many other products, it can make sense to set up a structure that allows direct translator/client interaction. This can also make good business sense: in Europe, some premium customers are beginning to insist that agencies allow them direct contact with translators for single-language assignments. In an on-going relationship, there is no better way to resolve form and content questions quickly and efficiently, they claim.

Your company has already put in place one important protective measure by telling your translators clearly what they must not do—steal clients. Your terms and conditions with clients should be equally clear: you do not expect them to circumvent you. In the interest of transparency, insist that translators copy you in immediately on all relevant correspondence or notes from telephone conversations.

But we also urge you to look into opportunities to consolidate translator loyalty by explaining what your policies are and why. We know two translation agencies that organize annual retreats for their core team of freelancers to discuss corporate objectives and brainstorm on how service can be improved. Translator transport and accommodation is, of course, paid by the agencies—and seen by them as the cost of doing business. Participants emerge in a glow of loyalty and mutual respect, we are told.

Perhaps the best rule would be to include names and address details of your customer's contacts with each work assignment. Whenever you do not provide these, it is understood that translators should not attempt to make contact themselves. Remind your freelancers of your policy at regular intervals.

Good luck!