Volume 6, No. 2 
April 2002

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee





Second Reader Survey

Index 1997-2002

  Translator Profiles
Reading Orwell
by Verónica Albín

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Heading for Trouble
by Danilo Nogueira
Translator Education
Teaching Proposal Writing to Translators
by Dr. Tibor Koltay  
Developing Guidelines for a New Curriculum for the English Translation BA Program in Iranian Universities
by Leila Razmjou

  Machine Translation
Useful Machine Translations of Japanese Patents Have Become a Reality
by Steve Vlasta Vitek

The Role of Communication in Peace and Relief Mission Negotiations
by Victoria Edwards

  Legal Translation
Alcune riflessioni sulle problematiche traduttive dei termini politico-istituzionali nella Costituzione italiana e spagnola
by Patrizia Brugnoli

  Book Reviews
Hyperformality, Politeness Markers and Vulgarity
by Zsuzsanna Ardó

  Translators Around the World
Un estudio del mercado español de la traducción en la internet
by Cristina Navas and Rocío Palomares, Ph.D.

Allegory in Arabic Expressions of Speech and Silence
by Hasan Ghazala, Ph.D.

  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXVII
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
Translators’ Emporium

Translators’ Job Market

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,

My workload started plummeting a few months ago, which did not bother me at first as the weather was nice and I had a deck and pergola to build. The deck and pergola turned out very well, but my income is suffering! There are no background issues of poor quality or high rates that I am aware of. Indeed, my customers have recently expressed satisfaction with my work and I don't charge high rates anyway. Could you clarify things for me a bit? Having not yet gone through a recession as a freelance translator, I have no experience to draw upon. I remember telling people quite recently that what I did was recession proof, but I guess I was wrong.



Dear Handyman,

The September 11 attacks put many business projects on hold, with obvious repercussions for translators in the weeks and months that followed. Many interpreters were even harder hit as international conferences were postponed or cancelled.

Yet even without such exceptional events, translation is a business and as such naturally subject to economic cycles. As a freelance professional, you must build this into your business plan, taking measures to ensure that even extended lulls at your clients' end do not bring your office crashing down, pergola and all.

You should have several months' income set aside before getting into the business in the first place. This nest egg will give you the breathing room you need to fine-tune your strategy to match your language combination, skills and field(s) of specialization. It will also help keep you from crumbling under price pressures; once clients have identified your pain threshold, it can be devilishly hard to negotiate them back up.

With a buffer, you can put slack periods to good use—for example, to buy and break in new hardware and software (impossible to do when the pressure is on). Or to read up on a new or related subject, and let clients know you are doing this (could kick-start some business). To catch up on glossary work, so that you can hit the ground running when your favorite client comes knocking with a 60-page training manual. And to get all of your paperwork up to date.

Above all, never ever express serious concern—much less panic—to your clients about the bottom falling out of the market. When you call them to investigate why business has suddenly dried up, phrase it "anything coming up? I'm reviewing my schedule for the next two weeks, want to be sure I can fit you in", rather than "good lord, I haven't had a call in weeks". Focus throughout on how to position yourself to take best advantage of the upturn when it comes. And don't worry—it will!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a translation company owner and recently signed up with Proz.com to get a feel for this market place.

The jobs section is astonishing. How a serious agency (and all the jobs being offered there are by agencies) could put its business in the hands of almost complete strangers is beyond me. Talk about price pressure—"no more than EUR 0.08/word" is a common way of offering a job! Yet the bids come flooding in. Another thing that amazes me is how many freelancers offer translation in both directions, multiple language combinations and all subject areas.

But the most incredible thing must be their "Kudos" system. Someone posts a question, you answer the question and if you convince the asker you're right, they give you a Kudos point. The more Kudos points you've got, the higher up the list you go when bidding for jobs. So, it's a meritocratic system—but bizarrely it's the least experienced translators who decide who's good and who's bad. And if you've got a bit of a name in translation circles, you go around bullying inexperienced translators into handing over Kudos points. Some complaints indicate that people have even been putting up questions under invented profiles, then answering themselves and awarding themselves the Kudos points!

The whole system seems designed to propagate bad translations: inexperienced translators asking questions which are answered by not very good translators (not very good because if they were they would be doing well-paid translations rather wasting their time answering silly questions). Would you care to comment?

Laugh or Cry?


Dear Laugh,

ProZ.com's downward bidding model is hair-raising, to be sure, but hey, take a look at the traffic. Sites like this flourish because there is demand—a reminder that there is not one translation market, rather a multitude of segments, including those driven by rock-bottom rates and/or lightning turnarounds, with quality a distant third.

Where you place your company on the quality/service spectrum is a personal and professional decision. We are convinced that skilled translators generally rethink their positioning as they gain experience, and shift their focus accordingly

So—is ProZ.com a flawed model? Sure, for those focusing on the quality end of the market. Populated by many inexperienced and/or clueless service providers? Absolutely. But transparent, too, which is all for the better.

Consider: a few serious agencies that do dip in from time to time have been known to blackball translators on the basis of either their questions or—more often—their answers. Seen from this angle, ProZ.com's very transparency is fighting the quality fight, albeit in a bizarre, backhanded way.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a Colombian teacher who loves translation and who some years ago did a Specialization in it here in Colombia. I would like to know if there are any kind of Translation Courses to be studied as distance education. Thanks a lot.

Enthusiastic Teacher


Dear Enthusiast,

Thanks to a recent online conference, we are able to point you here for a valuable overview of online translator training. Although the locations are far flung (from Jerusalem to Hawaii), the Internet melts distances down to a short hop for your modem. In our opinion, Carmina Fallada Pouget and José Ramón Biau Gil have done an excellent job of summarizing information and presenting diverse viewpoints and experiences in the shortest possible format. Advantages and drawbacks of Web learning are discussed, with brief but illuminating glances at new technologies. Recommended!



Dear Sir,

Good evening. I have a few questions about working in the translation industry. I have recently earned my MA in classics, but have decided that modern languages are more my style. For now, I'm focusing on Italian, but later I would like to become fluent in at least two other languages. My difficulty lies in not knowing exactly how to become a professional translator. I know I need to spend time in Italy, which I plan to do beginning in February, but as for other requirements, I'm at a loss. Is schooling required? If so, how much? If one wants to translate fiction, is it necessary to work for a huge publishing house? As you can see, I truly am a novice at this. I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me with these questions and other general information. It seems everything I read is general and vague, and not much help. Thank you for your time.

Starting Out

P.S. Just so you know, this is not meant for the column.


Dear Still Out,

Start by getting your web search skills up to speed—if you think there is no concrete information out there, something is seriously wrong.

For general information on how to become a translator, both the ITI (www.iti.org.uk) and ATA (www.atanet.org) sites are helpful (not to mention back issues of Translation Journal). For literary translation, see our comments to Eager to Study http://www.accurapid.com/journal/15fawb.htm (Jan. 2001) and consult the websites mentioned there.

That said, if you are intent on translating fiction our first question is: have you got an independent income, sir? So little foreign fiction is translated into English—and generally at such appallingly low rates—that this is simply not a full-time career option. Indeed, insiders tell us there are only one or two people in all of the UK in this position; everyone else has a day job.

By the same token, a postgraduate degree in literary translation will help train you technique-wise, but will not guarantee you work. Experts speak highly of the UEA at Norwich or Middlesex University, North London... even as they suggest you might be better off focusing on one language rather than two or three.

In any case, note that publishing houses do not "employ" translators. They use freelancers. For more information, try contacting the Society of Authors (Translators' Association) at +44 207 373 6642. And good luck!


P.S. We know you were just kidding about demanding a private reply, but just in case you weren't, remember Rule 59 of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition: Free advice is seldom cheap.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I've always thought of myself as a fairly creative chap. However, in the not-unlikely event that I don't get a record deal in the near future, it looks like I'll have to continue making my living from translation.

I've spent the last six years translating stockmarket-related texts, which has been fairly enjoyable, and also fairly lucrative. The thing is, I'm now getting a little tired of writing "economic slowdown" twenty times a day, and would like to do something a bit more creatively challenging, and better paid, in corporate communications.

What should I do? Cold-call some communications departments of large companies, or some communications agencies, in the hope that they'll throw me the odd press release or brochure? Or is there a better way?

DJ Rumpus


Dear DJ,

Have you considered annual reports? You already have a leg up on the competition because of your experience in translating investment advice. Don't worry about cold calls; yours will be toasty—after all, you know your target companies inside out (or should do, at this point). Concretely, before pitching your services, build a few bridges: when you translate your next brokerage report, phone the company profiled for input on job titles, names of strategic programs and the like. Ask for corporate communications or investor relations teams—they are there to provide precisely this information. You will of course not be able to tell them who commissioned the report you are translating (highly confidential, etc.; don't worry, they know all about this), but if you play your cards right you will have ample opportunity to impress them with your linguistic expertise and knowledge of their business. These are the same people who hire translators for press releases, the CEO's speech, pep talks to the masses and the like. Perhaps even ad copy. Get the picture?

Are you an expatriate? If so, you might zero in on companies with headquarters in your geographical market (convenient for you to visit and make a sales pitch) but listed on a stock exchange in the country of your target language. For example, many French and German tech companies have opted for a NASDAQ listing in the hopes of attracting more investors in the US.

You mention another good idea, which is to critique (unsolicited and for free!) existing communications such as Web sites or brochures. This can be a very effective way to win business. It does not have to be discreet, either: "Wordsleuth" Marc Alan Wilson, a copywriter in Utah, does this very cleverly on his Web site, replete with a "ransom request" typeface and fingerprints. (We wonder if he is the one who came up with the slogan for Polygamy Porter?)



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have just become head of our local translators' group and am being driven nuts—we all are—by a know-it-all with vast amounts of time who joins every committee, bosses everyone around, and generally doesn't let anyone else get a word in. This person is retired with a comfortable pension; we are all frazzled, full-time translators. We appreciate the help (sort of), but are being driven slowly (some of us quickly) crazy by the attitude. Worse, we have had direct feedback suggesting that this omnipresent soul is in fact alienating potential new members. What to do?



Dear Helm,

Congratulations on managing to conceal the gender of your nemesis; worried he or she's got something on you?

You may take some comfort in knowing that many associations have one of these, er, difficult people. Most are well-intentioned and genuinely unaware of what a turn-off their pushiness is. Usually they are in desperate need of recognition, perhaps floundering in a retirement vacuum after a busy working life at the wordface.

Solution: shower them with praise, up to and including an awards ceremony with engraved plastic fork, if that is all your budget can stretch to. Then entrust them, with great solemnity, with a Major Task, e.g., writing the history of the association (since they alone have all the information needed to serve as Living Memories). Or a biography of the group's founder.

In short, get them out of your (and the association's) hair by giving them something non-strategic and extremely time-consuming to do.

But remember that you and the frazzled others will then have to pick up the slack on your committees. It's surprising how much even the most irritating organizer can accomplish.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

A year or so ago, I wrote to you as a "non-charlatan novice" and you gave me good advice on how to offer beginner prices without undercutting the market. For the last two years, I've been working for Italian agencies (which pay relatively poorly and are therefore not so demanding about experience). Recently, I've gotten accredited by ATA and generally feel more experienced and ready for more lucrative markets.

I know that you two advocate going for the direct client, but I don't feel that I have the experience or specialization focus for that yet. I am in the process of contacting various, non-Italian agencies (mainly in the US, where I am). One of my questions is: where would you suggest I get the agency contact info? I've used Glenn's Guide and a few online lists, and am going through online yellow pages, Yahoo, Google, etcetera. Any other places?

Thanks kindly for your past and (I hope) future advice,

Ready to Dive Deeper


Dear Dive,

You're in luck. Just over a year ago ITI Bulletin published an excellent article by Michael Benis with all the information you need. It's in the February 2001 issue and it's entitled "Setting Out Your Stall". The ITI office tells us they will forward copies on request (info@iti.org.uk).

That said, there's no reason to postpone contacting direct clients at the same time. Go to it, and report back!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

After the September 11th tragedy, Channel 9 News ran a story about the FBI needing people who can speak Arabic, Persian, and Mandarin Chinese. I gave them a call, and they sent me an application for their language division. I sent it in a few weeks ago, and just yesterday received a call. They want me to come in next Tuesday and do a language test, part of which includes a written translation test. They allow the use of a dictionary. However, I am sure the test will be timed.

Do you have any general suggestions that may help? For example, should I first read through the whole exercise (Maybe it is a sentence, paragraph, or a whole page, who knows) first in order to get the general meaning and then go back and look up any words I do not know?

Pencil Chewer


Dear Pencil,

It might be a good idea to contact the FBI and find out as much as you can beforehand. Will they give you a newspaper article, an engineering text, legal matter? How many words, and how much time? Then do a few practice runs at home. If possible, ask a translator to critique your results.

Don't try to think too much about the examiner's supposed preferences. Just do the very best job that you can, emphasizing quality over quantity. Better to turn in a sterling-quality translation and stop short of translating everything, than to complete every paragraph and put junk on the page. A basketball coach can make a tall player run faster, but he can't make a short, fast player taller!

Good luck!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am not the most regular reader of TJ, but your column is always a delight.

For the first time I was troubled by one of your responses when Paper Chaser asked " how to score my students' translations."

As a language teacher myself, I took the question to be much more technical: the ins & outs and pros & cons of evaluation. How about suggesting sites that explain how composition is evaluated, such as:




There are objective ways to score/grade/evaluate composition, which are debated and discussed on Dave's ESL Café site: eslcafe.com/discussion/dz5/

Thank you for your dedication,


P.S. The latter site seems to have the two of you in mind with today's slogan: "Ambition is a poor excuse for not having sense enough to be lazy." Charlie McCarthy


Dear Mag,

Thank you for the links, which we are sure will be helpful to many readers. As soon as we figure out how to square Mr. McCarthy's advice with certain useful maxims, we will thank you for that as well.