Volume 9, No. 4 
October 2005

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 33 issues.




Index 1997-2005

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Translators and Translations: Paintings and Shades in Their Frames
by Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages: Twelve-step Program to Recover from Translationese
by Ted Crump

  Translators Around the World
Translation Accreditation Boards/Institutions in Malaysia
by Dr. Kulwindr Kaur d/o Gurdial Singh

  Translators and Computers
La traduction automatique par opposition à la théorie interprétative — analyse d'un corpus de productions réelles
Chidi Nnamdi Igwe

Strategies for New Interpreters: Interpreting in the Indonesian Environment
by Izak Morin

Picturesque German—German Idioms and Their Origins
by Igor Maslennikov

  Translator Education
Training of Interpreters: Some Suggestions on Sight Translation Teaching
by Elif Ersozlu, Ph.D.
The Contact Between Text, Mind, and One's Own Word in a Translation Workshop
by Leandro Wolfson
A Competent Translator And Effective Knowledge Transfer
by Dr. Kulwindr Kaur a/p Gurdial Singh

  Literary Translation
L'Épreuve de l'autre dans la traduction espagnole de Vivre me tue
Dr. Nadia Duchêne

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Discovering Translation Equivalents in a Tourism Corpus by Means of Fuzzy Searching
by Michael Wilkinson
CAT Tools and Productivity: Tracking Words and Hours
by Fotini Vallianatou

  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

Practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

About a year ago a law firm contacted my small (2-person) translation company about a litigation involving foreign parties and documents. My partner and I had never done business with them before, but they're apparently a respectable outfit. When we realized that their immediate need was for an interpreter, we referred them to an excellent interpreter and translator who's worked with us in the past, and asked them to remember us if they had any translation work.

Her experience with them was very unpleasant: they hemmed and hawed, refused to sign a contract, and repeatedly canceled previously scheduled bookings. Finally, after setting up an assignment in Paris (complete with demands to fly economy class and then work as soon as she hit the ground to save on hotel bills) they canceled only a few days in advance. Big mess, lots of arrangements to undo, and potential opportunity cost. The interpreter's reading is that their behavior is cost-driven.

A cancellation fee would have been an obvious choice, but with no contract, she didn't feel she could make it stick. In her defense, I should add that we've found law firms to be unusually resistant to signing contracts. This should feel like a paradox but somehow it isn't.

The immediate lessons are 1) to look for clients who are focused on value and expertise rather then nickels and dimes, and 2) to refuse to commit to anything until the client does (i.e. ALWAYS get a signed contract). The bigger question is how to negotiate effectively to get the signed contract—assuming that there are any strategies beyond Just Say No. Any advice ?

Vexed in Virginia


Dear Vexed,

A lawyer of our acquaintance suggests presenting the lawyers with the very thing they use themselves — an "engagement letter". Be sure to list the terms you expect, including the cancellation fee.

One way or another, all service providers benefit from having a written set of terms and conditions to send out before negotiations get under way. Putting essentials down in writing really does make a difference, forcing the drafter to consider what her minimum acceptable conditions are and why.

Content can be expanded to include, e.g., a brief explanation of why it doesn't make sense to hire a professional interpreter for a critical meeting and then send her into the arena in a sleep-deprived state. This is in the client's interest; it's all about spending money wisely. Just be sure to keep the tone firm and informative—not lecturing, not strident.

It will be scant comfort now, but you might tell your interpreter friend that with experience it becomes easier to identify clients with bad-risk potential. Hemming and hawing is a red flag, or should be. And even with a signed contract, suing a law firm is to be avoided.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I find I translate much better in the nude. My style is far more flowing, the words much easier to find. Is this something to worry about?

Baring Soul


Dear Baring,

In general we are all in favor of adapting working conditions to maximize productivity, but we need more information. Do you work at home or in an office? (Do you live in a temperate zone?)



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I currently translate from French into English, mainly in the legal sector, and would be interested in your opinion on language combinations for English mother-tongue translators on a long-term basis.

More specifically, I would like to learn a third language to be guaranteed work over the long term. At present I'm toying with the idea of either Chinese (given China's strong economic growth) or an "easier" European language, such as Spanish—or perhaps even a rarer European language such as Turkish, Czech or Dutch.

Could you comment on the potential advantages of learning Chinese? Do you think that there will be a significantly higher flow of Chinese to English translation in the future than, for instance, Spanish?



Dear Multi,

To be sure, China is well on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse worldwide.

But even if you start learning the language now, it will be years before you are capable of actually translating anything from Chinese to English. Ideally you would have to go and live in China for a while, and study Chinese law while there—is that part of your plan?

More to the point, there is already massive demand in your current language combination and specialization, but only for seriously expert practitioners. Make no mistake, lawyers regularly criticize the superficial nature of many would-be legal translations, even when performed by experienced translators claiming specialization who have been in the business for years.

So we think you've got the wrong end of the stick. Unless there are special personal circumstances—you see a move to China shaping up through a spousal transfer, or there is a devilishly attractive Chinese translator across the street and you're casting about for an ice-breaker—you are better off sticking to your current combination and deepening your specialization.

That might include developing your knowledge of legal systems in English and French-speaking countries, and selecting a few particularly promising areas to make your own, gradually becoming the translator of choice in those niches—the person that demanding clients turn to.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I've just read your column in the latest issue of the Translation Journal and would like to sound the following note of warning.

Your correspondent is talking of e-mail, telephoning, and even cold-calling prospective direct clients, but he/she should be aware that such activities are now strictly regulated in the UK.

As a self-employed translator, I myself was unaware of quite how difficult it now is to source direct clients until I attended a business development course run by my local Business Link agency. There is the TPS—Telephone Preference Service, MPS—Mail Preference Service, FPS—Fax Preference Service and even an e-mail preference list. If companies are subscribers and listed as not welcoming unsolicited approaches, transgressors may face prosecution and a 5000 fine. I do not know of any prosecutions, but unlucky the translator who becomes a test case!

The regulatory framework is now so tight it seems the only way to get direct clients is by recommendation, or by networking, the latter being an expensive and time-consuming process, as I am finding to my cost.

Business Grower


Dear Business,

Thanks for that update on the UK scene. Point taken: it would be suicidal to launch any type of outreach without checking first to ensure that your plans comply with local legislation.

And true, networking can be expensive and time-consuming. But is there any other serious option? All too often translators take a short-term view, rejecting out of hand investment that business people in other sectors would view as normal, even essential.

A self-employed translator is at once business development strategist, project manager, chief accountant, head of marketing, R&D expert and tea lady. Not to mention factory-floor operative, of course. Investing to hone your expertise, then making potential clients aware of those skills and your availability is part of the deal.

Example: One of us recently spent just under €600, not counting billable hours lost, to attend a two-day conference for business leaders. Yet contacts made in the first two hours generated €1500 in business over the next month, with more to come.

The trick is to identify the most promising events by tracking what client companies (and potential client companies) are up to, then studying attendance/exhibitor lists before shelling out. You might also simply ask existing clients which industry events they consider the best opportunities to learn more about their sector. This sends out the right message: you are developing your knowledge of the field to serve them better. That you coincidentally link up with new prospects is the icing on the cake.




Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I live in France and intend to set myself up as a translator. As I start out, I have been advised to go through a Société de Portage to avoid the crippling social security charges involved when declaring oneself as a freelance in France. Could you please tell me of any Société de Portage adapted to the payment of translation work?



Dear Farmgirl,

The French national translators' association SFT (www.sft.fr) has plenty to say about sociétés de portage, which operate in a gray area and by no means reduce social security charges.

On the contrary, in exchange for taking you on as a pseudo-salaried employee, they will claim a chunk of your billings in exchange for providing "administrative services." Fair enough, perhaps, but what they don't usually tell you is that you will never ever be able to cash in on some of the perceived benefits, e.g., unemployment, and this despite compulsory payments into those kitties.

The appeal of sociétés de portage is above all psychological, it would appear, especially for translators worried about their own numeracy or ability to handle paperwork in the Land of Red Tape.

Our advice? Sign up for a year if the idea of dealing directly with the tax and social security authorities freaks you out, but use that time to acquire the knowledge you need to run your own business. Billing customers, tracking receipts and outflows, then calculating and paying tax and social security contributions is not rocket science. A good starting point is the guide to setting up as a freelance translator in France published by the SFT (Vademécum du traducteur, €15 from SFT, 22 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris, France).