Practical tips for practicing translators.
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I have a very basic question about interpretation.
I work in medical research and often attend international meetings. At the last one, two out of three of the interpreters' team systematically (like, every single time) pronounced "European" as "EuROPean" (as in "Fallopian") and "Europe" as "EuROPE". They also referred repeatedly to what sounded like "tardjet" which I realized belatedly must have been "target".
The delegates joked about this during coffee breaks, but we all found it jarring and distracting. I found myself wondering why these highly skilled, intelligent people in the booth had such trouble with easy, common words when they were coping well with some of the more difficult terminology and concepts. I gather from the conference organizers that they were all "qualified interpreters." Can you explain?
Unlike translation, where a flawed (written) phrase can come back to haunt the perpetrator, interpreting is by nature ephemeral, which means practitioners can genuinely lose touch with their outputout it goes into the black hole in space, never to be heard by them again.
Unlike translation, too, interpreters may not be working into their native language. In your case, it sounds like both odd pronouncers were not native English speakers; perhaps they were influencing each other in a booth-induced folie à deux?
In any case, in a work environment where stress levels approach those of an air traffic control tower, correcting a fellow interpreter's pronunciation can be tricky.
One expert compares a colleague in the booth to a "buddy" in divinga potential life-saver if things ever go seriously wrong. Good interpreters don't work half an hour "on" and half an hour "off," says this source, since an energetic colleague will provide backup, writing down figures and names, and even checking terminology in the background, while the partner is at the microphone. With that sort of constructive relationship, it is relatively easy, during a break, for a native speaker to say "by the way, I noticed that you pronounce 'European' in an interesting way"... But that is not always the case.
Then again, some interpreters become blasé, as if they have made it into an exclusive club and are somehow beyond reproach.
An obvious remedy is continuing education, but there are not many opportunities. Another is delegate feedback , which remains all too rare. So next time, why not step back to the booth yourself during a coffee break and try "hi, I noticed that you pronounce 'European' in an interesting way." Report back, please.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
The attached correspondence is about a book translation for a publisher I'll call FILUP ("Famous Ivy League University Publisher") and I'm being asked to quote a price.
I want my usual rate which is $15,000 for 100,000 words. Should I ask for more and let them beat me down? My advantage is that the author is very keen on having me because we tend to live in each other's shoes when doing a job together, and she likes that. But I know that FILUP have their own preferences and I don't want them to look elsewhere.
You will notice that the author has "forsaken" royalties on the English edition. Also note the publisher's noises about not wanting to spend too much money on the translation.
I am counting on (a) your experience and knowledge of these matters (b) your experience and knowledge of Americans.
Fire Ant says:|
As you are surely aware, FILUP is rolling in dough. Of course, that is no guarantee that they will take you on and accept your quote, sight unseen. Even at the most profitable corporations, people are under increasing pressure to justify each and every outlay, and FILUP is no exception.
What is more, very likely they already have a small cadre of translators (more often than not, academics on the faculty of FILU) whom they know and value from prior book translations. So on the face of it, your chances of getting the jobnever mind the moneyare slim to none, and Slim just skipped town.
Your one trump card would appear to be your excellent working relationship with the author, and it is a strong card indeed. Play it for all it is worth. If you and the author plot your strategy right, suddenly the odds are very much in your favor.
She will need to make it clear to FILUPpleasantly but very firmlythat getting the book translated by you is very important to her. Eventually, after some back and forth, and after duly rolling out your credentials and explaining how your involvement will save the editor lots and lots of time because the two of you can handle all the tedious and tricky cultural and linguistic issues by yourselves, FILUP will relent.
The second part of the decision phase is money. They may try the standard ploys of "Just think of the prestige you gain by getting your name on one of our publications," and similar gambits to "beat you down," as you put it. That is all poppycock.
Once FILUP decides they want to publish a foreign book, cost becomes secondary. (We told you, they're rolling in money.) Browse a few of their titles, and you'll notice that in many cases, on the Acknowledgements Page, the publisher thanks ABC Fund or the XYZ Foundation for their generous contribution towards enabling the English-language publication of the book. (And, we might add, some of FILUP's translations are indeed very well done; you can tell that the extra money paid to the translator paid dividends in the form of especially thorough research and beautifully polished style betraying no hint of "translationese.")
Once FILUP have their minds made up that they want to do this, they will find the money, even (or rather, especially!) if it does not come out of their own pockets. All that you and the author need is patience and steadfastness while the decision-making process plays itself out.
Good luck, and we hope to receive a signed copy in about a year and a half!
Worker Bee opines: |
Not to discourage you, Goose, but we're told the cards are stacked against translators in this particular area.
Given immense pressure on academics to publish, university presses are among the most exploitative publishers around, with the result that many academic authors get paid virtually nothingsome publishers even reckon the authors should pay them. Nor is forgoing royalties a big deal; since most academic books are expensive and bought only by libraries, sales of 1,000 count as a roaring success, so nobody gets any royalties to start.
In this distinctly less rosy scenario, publishers could care less about the author's preferences unless they are dealing with, say, Umberto Eco. They may even go out of their way to avoid a translator imposed by the author, worried about being stuck with an author's friend's friend who is not a very good translator.
What to do? "State your price, blow your trumpet about previously published work, offer to do a sample, and sit tight. But don't hold your breath," says our contact.
Sorry for the downbeat take. If it's any comfort, once you've moved on into the "how much" phase, Fire Ant is right on the money.
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
Our highly specialized translation agency is having a problem with a corporate client busy tightening the screws.
Following the arrival of a new bottom-line-obsessed CEO, all of their suppliers have to commit to publishing a "productivity index" annually, meaning a percentage reduction in prices from one year to the next (or "N / N-1")
I've told the new translation department boss that we try to keep a lid on costs by efficient use of translation memories and by checking for previously translated material (even though the client department doesn't tell us when they've recycled some of the text).
This, I was informed, was "synergy," not "productivity." What a fool am I!
"Consider machines: once they are up and running, they work more and more efficiently, which means they produce goods at a lower cost," he said in his charming accent.
I pointed out politely that our "machines" were people and that if we lowered prices every year, they'd soon be working for nothing. He admitted that this could be a problem but opined that maybe we could do a mixture of "synergy" and "productivity," with reductions "for fuzzy matches, etc." in year N-2 vs N-1.
Should I close down the agency and open a sandwich bar next week?
Ah, the temptation to cut costs in translation services! Situations like the one you describe are legion, with saber-swinging chief executives installing new translation bosses drawing on years of experience as bulk buyers of paper clips, machine tools or laundry services.
Since your own operation is already client-oriented and specialized, and unless you really do want to shift over to commodity translation, your best bet is simply to remind the company where your strengths lie. Remind them, too, that your services are available in case of emergency, without being smug about it. Then sit back and wait. Recovering singed and reeling customers 12 to 18 months down the road is immensely satisfying. By that time, the cost-cutting CEO may well have moved on to another position, too.
But your example underscores why it is important not to have all your eggs in one basket. If this company accounts for a significant share of your business, you may feel obliged to accept its conditions, which is the first step on a very slippery slope.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
Just before Christmas I received a translation representing 50,000 words to be completed for January 3big rush!
But on the purchase order, the translation agency marked "Our offices will be closed from December 25 through January 1". In other words, the agency brigade was off work partying for an entire week, while the poor translator (me) was working his rear end off and (yes) sacrificing his own new year's celebration just to be able to deliver on time.
Is it any wonder freelance translators get ticked off at agency arrogance?
Congratulations on meeting the deadline, but why get all steamed up? Are you suggesting that a Santa-suited agency rep broke into your office and held a gun to your head?
Let's repeat that: nobody forced you to take on this job. And rush jobs at holiday periods are an ideal opportunity to double or triple your standard fees (agencies know about this, too).
Depending on your family obligations, such sweeteners can be downright festive and help get the new year off to a good start. Stop grumbling, be merry and start making money.
FA & WB