Volume 9, No. 1 
January 2005

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page  
Select one of the previous 30 issues.


From the Editor
A Few Statistics
by Gabe Bokor

Index 1997-2005

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
A Fitting Trade for a Misfit
by Alex Feht

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  Translators' Nuts & Bolts
Grammatical Conversion in English: Some new trends in lexical evolution
by Ana I. Hernández Bartolomé and Gustavo Mendiluce Cabrera

  Translators Around the World
Texts in Multilingual Settings: The case of the European Union
by Mari Carmen Acuyo Verdejo, Ph.D.

  Translation History
Some Major Dates and Events in the History of Translation
by Alex Gross

Maddening Amusements; A Richness of Trees
by Eileen Brockbank

Notes on Teaching Translation Between Chinese and English
by Chuanmao Tian

  Book Review
A Newly Revised Dutch Edition of The Lord of the Rings
by Mark T. Hooker
Manual de documentación y terminología para la traducción especializada
Dra. Carmen Cuéllar Lázaro

Interprete professionista o professionista interprete?
Antonella Lasorsa
El reto de formar intérpretes en el siglo XXI
María J. Blasco Mayor

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Panorama de la mediación intercultural y la traducción/interpretación en los servicios públicos en España
Dora Sales Salvador, Ph.D.

  Translator Education
La evaluación en los estudios de traducción
Dra. María-José Varela Salinas y Dra. Encarnación Postigo Pinazo

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
From Shoebox to SQL
by Danilo Nogueira
Working from Audio Recordings
by José Henrique Lamensdorf

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

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,

For the first time in 12 years as a freelance, an agency has gone into liquidation owing me money. I was alerted too late by a kind former employee who gave me the address of the liquidator and I duly sent in my claim (€4,500). But when I telephoned the lawyer to see if she'd received my dossier, I couldn't get hold of her, although I did speak to her before I put my claim in. Something tells me things are not looking too good.

Since the translation was for a large automotive company, can I assume that the agency got paid, or would it be safe to contact this company directly to see if they could help? Or would I be contravening some law if I did? I believe I am known to the end client's translation department because I have been translating their stuff for 12 years through at least three other agencies.

Revving Up


Dear Revving,

We figure your money is gone and you can count yourself lucky if you see ten cents on the dollar. We also figure that the rule about not poaching business is voided when the agency fails to uphold its end of the deal (payment for services rendered). So don't be shy about contacting the end customer, but do think carefully through the points you want to make before picking up the phone.

The aim here is not to have a good moan about the deadbeats at Agency XYZ (although it will be satisfying to let the end client know that they have screwed their own suppliers around, since this may blacken the principals' reputation should they arise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes and start trading under another name, sly devils).

The real point of your call is to leave the end client with your name and contact details for future work. You can thus use a rueful "I'm checking up on XYZ; I'm afraid I'm out some money on their account for work I did for you" as a hook, but should move quickly on to a few comments on your indirect link to their department for over a decade—you might cite a few of the carmaker's current projects, to indicate in passing your familiarity with their products—and the fact that you are available for direct assignments.

Good luck!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a student in the English Program at Brawijaya University, Indonesia and am now doing my report. Would you please tell me:

- what is editing in translation?

- how to do editing?

- what are important things in editing?

Report Writer


Dear Writer,

The first and most important editor is always you, the translator. We all know how our translations benefit from letting them lie for a day, then reviewing them with fresh eyes. It is simply amazing how many things we catch that way: misunderstood passages in the source text, inconsistent translations of one and the same word, misspellings, bad grammar, infelicitous style.

The next editor is another translator or native speaker of the target language with subject matter expertise, hired and paid by you if you work directly for the customer, or by the translation bureau if you are working through an intermediary.

In practice, however, outside review does not always happen, for a variety of reasons.

In this case, make sure that the customer understands that there is still is going to be an editor, namely them! Quite apart from budget or time constraints, this kind of arrangement can work like a charm if the customer invests the time and effort required to do the job properly. After all, they usually know the target audience better than anyone. But even in this case, be sure to explain to them that you will be doing a final pass before the document goes to press.

Just make sure not to confuse the terms "proofreading" and "editing". The former simply means ensuring that a text conforms with rules of spelling and typesetting, without paying attention to accuracy, completeness or style. The latter means that you, the editor, actually climb under the hood of the car and get your hands dirty fixing, twiddling and adjusting.

It is difficult work and carries a big responsibility: make sure you do it well. And charge prices to match.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a freelance translator and I need your help. I would like to get some advice on how to get in contact with direct clients. Perhaps I should subscribe to certain translators' magazines?

Bulgarian Reader


Dear Reader,

Subscribing to translators' magazines, on its own, is not such a terrific idea if your prime aim is to link up with direct clients. For that, you should instead subscribe to magazines that your target clientele tracks to keep up with developments in their industry. Reading these will help you identify both clients and issues of interest to them, along with venues where you are likely to meet them in the flesh (see our answer to "Bouncing Back" below).

Other suggestions: join a translators' association, since a lot of contacts are made through word of mouth. Participating on translator elists is a good move, too—you'll pick up a lot of useful information and, provided you become an active and expert contributor in your fields of expertise/language combination, you may well find list members passing your details on to clients. Be sure to indicate your contact details in your signature.

Above all, you must market-oriented, i.e., specialize in areas where the strongest growth is, whether telecommunications, banking, environmental services or transportation.

How do you find out which areas are showing the strongest growth? Well, one way is to read the business section of at least one major business newspaper every day (this is good just on general principles). However, business news often reports on developments or events that have already happened, which is not necessarily a good predictor of the future. So depending on your market, a better leading indicator might be the "Job Openings" section of the top business newspaper in your country/region.

Say you are in Bulgaria and see that company XYZ has placed ten 1/4-page ads advertising for product managers and other senior management positions. That's a substantial outlay, and they would not be doing it without robust expectations for the future. Two or three months later, once they have their team in place, they may also start looking for freelance translators. You do not have to wait this long: contact them now, with carefully crafted letters detailing your specialist knowledge of their industry, and follow up with phone calls. This is one way to get in on the ground floor—before your competitors.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I´m from Argentina. I´m studying translation in my home city, Rosario, in the second year of a three-year program. I´d like to start working now, since I've discovered that there are a lot of working "translators" who actually don´t even have a degree. But my problem is that I don´t know where to begin. Have you got any tips? I´d prefer to work via the Internet.

Southern Tip


Dear Southern,

We're surprised that you seem surprised that many working translators don't have degrees. The nature of the translation market is such that many excellent practitioners do enter the field from prior careers. Not to downplay the importance of higher education, but none of our direct clients have ever asked for copies of diplomas or paper qualifications. What they look for in potential freelance suppliers is in-depth knowledge of their sector and the ability to craft translations that work. Which makes compiling a portfolio of your very best work a good move. Start now, and be sure to update it regularly.

Where your diploma will come in handy is in applications for salaried positions, or, perhaps, mailings to translation agencies.

Does your study program require internships? In our opinion, that's where you should be investing your time at this stage, since relevant in-house stints and the contacts they foster can make or break a translator's CV on completing a degree course. This is how you maximize your opportunities if you are still studying.

How to find internships? One recommended tactic is to locate some translations that you admire, with luck in a sector that is expanding (and that you can imagine specializing in). Find out who produced them, and devise a way to meet the person or team responsible. You then cultivate that contact, without becoming a pain in the neck, and try to leverage it into an internship.

Finally, we're not sure what you mean by a preference for working via the Internet. That's how virtually all freelance translators receive and deliver their work these days. But do keep the proximity mantra in mind: if you are working for clients far away, you must figure out a way to meet them in person at some point. Become a known face & quantity; build on a personal relationship. No serious business is going to send high-paying, mission-critical work to somebody they don't even know.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have read your column and appreciated all your interesting answers.

Here's my story: after streamlining and job-cutting at a company where I'd worked for thirty years, I decided to set up as a freelance marketing consultant. The job is interesting, and slowly but surely I began building up a clientele.

Through one of my international contacts I was asked to translate a trade magazine in the rubber and plastics sector from Italian into Spanish. (I'm a native Spanish speaker). I'd never given any thought to working as a translator before, but I find this job very rewarding. The magazine comes out twice a year. Now I'm looking for customers among Italian manufacturers of machinery for rubber and plastics with interests in Latin American or Spanish markets. I'm now prepared to invest some more time in the translation business, quietly, from home. It's a completely new world.

Bouncing Back


Dear Bouncing,

Thanks for your comments—a reminder that practitioners entering the translation market later in life can grow their translation business organically out of a present/former career, building on specialist knowledge, writing skills, an existing network, and hard work.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I'm currently reviewing the most incredible heap of crap I've ever come across in my translating career. It's a 10,000 word translation (Eng>Fr, from an English original translated from Japanese). The English translation is actually quite good, but the French is garbage, translated by a fellow with an impressive CV, who claims to be an MBA and a teacher of accounting in some private university in Switzerland. But he really made a dog's dinner of it.

Two questions:

  1. It's very clear that my revision is saving the ass of the translation agency that commissioned the original translation. How can I capitalize on that?
  2. I'm irritated that a fellow "translator" did such a poor job, while claiming such lofty credentials. I've got his address. What's a good way to bring him down a notch?



Dear Sarge,

  1. Charge accordingly. You might also have a little chat with the project manager. But situate yourself above the fray—rather than get all steamed up about the incompetent job they bought in (they're probably pretty steamed themselves at this point), use more neutral quality-assurance language: do their terms of business forbid subcontracting, for example? They might want to think about that, as it could be where this assignment went wrong (other possibilities: over-reliance on translation memory or simply brain-dead human translation).
  2. OK, you're looking for a "you scoundrel, casting discredit on the profession!" letter that is at once classy, witty and effective.

    The most damning tactic we can think of is to address this guy as an equal while confirming that you are on to his tricks. Something along the lines "Cher collègue, this project slipped off track, no doubt due to misuse of MT or one of your students not living up to the trust you placed in them; as a fellow professional, I sympathize with these problems, and am happy to return my comments to you."

    You thus remind him that he behaved unprofessionally (and possibly unethically) towards the client, while keeping to the high road yourself.

Venting can be exhilarating, but focusing on point (1) will do more for your business.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a freelance translator suffering from office clutter not unlike that of your correspondent in the last issue of Translation Journal.

My solution is simply to lead the (rare) visitor to the living room coffee table with the (true) pretext that I have only one chair in the office. It works and nobody has ever raised an eyebrow.


Lonely Rider


Dear Lonely,

Even readers who have already invested in the packing cases and fluorescent tape will want to consider your excellent suggestion.




Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I've been translating for about a year.

I'm currently dealing with a first-time translation client who is complaining about the rate I charged her (8 cents a word). A grad student working on a film about a French sculptor, she had me translate some correspondence and psychiatric reports from the asylum the artist was confined in. We agreed on 8 cents a word, but after the project was completed she informed me that she had found other "professional translators" who "seem to require significantly lower rates" than myself.

She also complained about being charged for the repeated words in the text. There are a lot of repetitions, but it was a difficult job because the original was almost illegible (handwritten doctors' reports), so I figure it evened out in the end.

Do you know of any document that explains why most translators charge per word, even when there are repetitions within a single document? I was thinking of explaining something along the lines of how the word count represents the length and approximate amount of time needed to translate the text, and that we are not actually charging for the difficulty of translating each particular word.

Asylum Seeker


Dear Asylum,

Have you got a written agreement with this person? Her comments are a reminder that you really should have one, especially with notoriously impecunious folk like grad students.

Beyond a certain point, don't worry about being pleasant. She's just doing a variation on the "Is that the best you can do?" routine (an old friend of ours tries this, at times successfully, at hotels of all types, from 4-star Marriotts through to B&Bs).

In any case, humor is the best riposte, although it may be too late in this particular transaction.

Concretely, when a client even starts suggesting that a reduction is due since "there are repeated words in there", you must laugh not in derision but in genuine (!!) good spirits. Chortle, chortle, what a fine sense of humor you've got, madame! Then read out (from a prepared text) a sample sentence or two from page 4 of a 5-page text eliminating all repeats. This will of course be incomprehensible. You might even read her an excerpt from which you've eliminated all redundant punctuation marks or spaces (hahaha, isn't this jolly).

The "others out there are less expensive" routine is also a non-starter, of course. But you have to be earnest —even blunt—in response here, volunteering that your client can get low-end machine translation for free if that's what she wants. That she can also buy translations at 0.02-0.03/word in certain foreign markets and that translations might even be good... but then again might (really) be (really) bad. If that's the kind of risk she is prepared to take, she should have taken it, by all means (—-> note verb tense, it's too late now). But you have already gone below a reasonable US rate to help her out, so sorry, babe, a deal is a deal.

Bon courage.