Volume 10, No. 2 
April 2006

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 35 issues.




Index 1997-2006

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Straddling the East-West Divide
by Diane Howard

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Buzzword or Bonanza? A Translator Reflects on Best Practice
by Ann C. Sherwin

In Memoriam
Susana Greiss: 1920 - 2006

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages—Miss Liberty, Wireless
by Ted Crump

  Translators Around the World
Distance and Online Courses for Translators
by Christine Schmit

  Financial Translation
An English - Italian Glossary of International Finance and Trade
by Lorenzo Fiorito
Brazilian Taxation—An Introduction
by Vera & Danilo Nogueira

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Translation in Context
by Jiang Tianmin
Narrowing the Gap between Theory and Practice of Translation
by Salawu Adewuni, Ph.D.

  Book Review
Manual de documentación para la traducción literaria
Dra. Carmen Cuéllar Lázaro
Camões in English—A Review
Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

  Bible Translation
Proverbs and Phrases of Biblical Origin
by Igor Maslennikov

  Translator Education
Is Translation Teachable?
by Massoud Azizinezhad
Using Trados's WinAlign Tool to Teach the Translation Equivalence Concept
by Shih Chung-ling

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Legal Aspects of Compiling Corpora to be used as Translation Resources—Questions of Copyright
by Michael Wilkinson

  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,

What guarantees does membership of a professional translators' association bring companies who buy the work produced by the association's members?

Careful Buyer


Dear Buyer,

In absolute terms, and assuming you are a buyer prepared to invest good money in exchange for a red-hot translation: none. A translator is only as good as the last job turned in, and anyone can have a bad day. Scary, eh? It's a jungle out there, and only the very naïve believe that membership of a professional association is a bulletproof guarantee.

True, some translator associations have certification processes, which may screen out the utterly incompetent and unacceptably dire. But you will still find yourself dealing with the moderately competent and bad-dayers, not only the highly skilled professionals you want and need.

Not that the frustrating quest for quality is limited to association directories, of course. As you have no doubt discovered, any number of translation providers claim to deliver extraordinarily high quality work as a result of highly skilled teams, stringent process control and so on. Some do. Yet experience shows that the best intentions (and processes) can be short-circuited once constraints start piling up—tight deadlines, sloppy or committee writing of source text, non-availability of authors to answer questions, young or inexperienced project managers and revisers, etc.

That said, jumping through the membership hoops set by most translator associations does generally indicate that your supplier is at the very least exposed to professional discussions of quality and client service. That is a step in the right direction. The translator training programs offered by many associations—including continuing education requirements/recommendations in an increasing number of countries—are another plus. Finally, most professional associations have an arbitration body, although these entities' rulings only kick in after the fact—when suspicious buyers challenge a poor job done, delivered and already used.

For the record, Fire Ant & Worker Bee belong to the healthy-dose-of-skepticism school. We encourage translators to join professional associations and clients to turn first to said associations for advice on getting the job done right. But for the foreseeable future we will continue to urge both buyers and suppliers of translation to print supplier details on all published translations, including commercial and technical documentation. There is simply no better way to temper the bullshit factor and ensure that everybody has a vested interest in getting it right.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have identified a business sector where I think there should be a substantial requirement for quality translation in the areas in which I specialize (commercial, advertising/marketing) and am planning to attend a trade event next week with my husband, who is involved in this sector.

Can you give me any advice on how to introduce myself to potential customers? My previous experience has always been in dealing with customers who have already identified a need for translation. Moreover, I'm quite a shy person and not good at selling myself; I don't think just walking up to the people on a stand and saying "Do you need translations" is going to be very productive.

Off to the Front Line


Dear Off,

You're doing at least two things right: planning ahead and linking up with an insider (your spouse).

As we have pointed out in previous columns, merely attending an industry event and doling out business cards is not a particularly fruitful exercise—unless a year's supplier of logo-bearing freebies from machine-tool suppliers makes your day. Nor is trawling aisle after aisle at trade fairs asking outright for translation work; with clients of potential clients milling around, there is too much going on and your offer will often be dismissed as white noise.

A far better approach is to identify a promising business sector—as you have done—then select a key event and work through the following steps:

  1. Secure a list of attendees and/or exhibitors. For trade fairs, this is often on the website or in the catalog (which you should buy for future reference).
  2. Shortlist five to ten companies whose needs match your service offering: these are the guys you will want to speak to (to select likely candidates, draw on the same reading that helped you identify the appeal of this sector in the first place).
  3. Draw up a one-paragraph profile of each target (key products, markets, executives (including names) and competitors); read through this before heading for the event, and again on site before approaching their stand. Remember, for the purposes of this trip, you are not selling to "the electronics/catering/food/advertising/[fill in blank] industry" but to this specific company, so it is in your interest to know all about them. Your spouse may be able to help by providing background on key issues facing the business
  4. Use the glossary ploy to collect examples, and your writing skills to get back in touch with a free trial offer.

    Your aim, this first time around, is not to trumpet your availability for translation (unless they ask), but rather to plant your name and face in the minds of promising targets as you seek examples of the translations that they are currently producing. You are a professional translator documenting herself on their dynamic sector so as to better serve them in the future.

To get the conversational ball rolling—and bring on-stand discussion over into matters translational in a relaxed but productive way—consider taking along A4 print-outs of strikingly silly translations into your target's language (signs and ad slogans are good examples). These examples speak for themselves, bringing home to monolinguals just how bad flawed translation can make them look. You might also leave a copy of "Translation, getting it right", a client-education brochure available in a number of languages (new UK edition from ITI (www.iti.org.uk), with your business card attached.

Beyond your own knowledge of and enthusiasm for these clients' operations, your real pitch will be made from the comfort of your home, through your (written) revision of something they have already translated poorly—an approach where even the shy translator/word artist can shine.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I've been contacted by a private bank in Switzerland to do the non-accounting portion of their annual report. They found me via my website, so I was not referred to them nor they to me. They appear to be a reputable company, but I've never taken on an assignment this big that didn't come through word of mouth. I don't want to look nervous but should I ask for part of the payment up front?

Cover Up Front


Dear Cover,

In our experience upfront payment is unusual (we are talking about an assignment of under 10,000, right?). But for a first-time client on a project of this size and importance, you should definitely get the details nailed down in writing—a good idea regardless of your initial contact.

Concretely, set out your process and offer a provisional figure, basing your estimate on the previous year's text if necessary. Be sure to include compulsory revision of proofs by yourself. You might also want to specify a lump sum covering X hours for interaction and changes to the source text, after which the meter starts running. You can indicate to your new client that you will remind them of the state of play once half of this stock is hours is used up; this helps concentrate the mind at both ends.

Time-wise, calculate at least two full hours per 250-word page, and line up an outside reviser/editor if you don't already have one.

Since an annual report often generates additional work during the year, you might want to absorb some of the additional costs this first time around as a sweetener. But whatever you do, don't skimp on style and subject-matter research—annual reports are by definition a premium area, and a lucrative one at that. It's worth getting your foot in this door.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I'm a successful patent translator but have long wanted to shift my focus back over into history and the social sciences—fields where I used to translate research and books to good reviews, and which I find more intellectually stimulating.

Yet each time I gear myself up to make the break, I get sucked back into my current specialty.

Example: just today a patent agent from the past got back in touch, praising work I did a decade ago. He is keen to put more work my way. I want to say "No", but at another level feel I can't afford to refuse, so will probably say "yes"—and postpone my "new me" program yet again.

How do I break this cycle (and perhaps more to the point: should I even be contemplating such a move)?



Dear Ditherer,

We're convinced that translators produce better work when they are passionate about their subject, so if you feel you are getting into a rut it makes sense to seek new pastures.

That said, unless you have (1) confirmation that new contracts will materialize quickly, (2) a pile of patent-translation-generated savings in the bank, (3) a trust-fund income, (4) a wealthy spouse or (5) a perverse yen to be independently poor, why burn your bridges?

Consider: quoting 25% higher to your new (old) patent client will allow you to either cut back your volume in this area (freeing time for new ventures) or build up a nest egg to finance the outreach you'll need to secure a new client base in the social sciences. No apologies, simply announce and apply your new fee scale; if a former client has taken the trouble to look you up ten years on, you must be doing something right.

But don't kid yourself. Developing your new clientele will take time and effort. Start by reading up on all the work done by the authors you used to translate, beginning with those who are still productive. Then pick up your phone and get back into direct touch with them. If they are impecunious university folk, however prominent in their field of research, this is where a wining & dining budget comes in—but only assuming monies are available somewhere, somehow, to pay for the translations that you hope will follow.

Good luck!