Volume 13, No. 4 
October 2009

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 49 issues.

Index 1997-2009

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
In Less Than Twenty Words!
by Pimpi Coggins
Gabe Bokor for ATA Treasurer
by Gabe Bokor

  From the Editor
The Big Five-O (bis)
by Gabe Bokor

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
I Want the Credits for my Translation!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Translators Around the World
The State of the Translation Industry in Saudi Arabia
by Afnan H. Fatani

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Cross-Cultural Communication and Translation
by Forogh Karimipur Davaninezhad

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
How To Translate Personal Names
by Behnaz Sanaty Pour

  Medical Translation
'Death Panels'—Say What!!?
by Rafael A. Rivera, M.D., FACP

  Science & Technology
Translating a Patent: Translator's Templates
by Kriemhild (Karen) Zerling

  Legal Translation
Interdisciplinariedad y ubicación macrotextual en traducción jurídica
Dr. Fernando Prieto Ramos

  Translation and Politics
Revolutionary Struggle as a Counterpoint to Colonial Domination: Marathi Translations of Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck
by Sunil Sawant

  Literary Translation
Teaching Evaluation of Classical Chinese Poetry Translation
by Chen Qiujin

  Book Review
A review of The Distaff & the Pen—French Women Poets of Nine Centuries, selected and translated by Norman R. Shapiro
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
A Comparative Review of Two Monolingual Dictionaries of the English Language
by Joana Rek-Harrop

  Translators' Tools
CAT Tools für Anfänger
von Lucia Gocci,
CAT Tools for Beginners
by Lucia Gocci, translated by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Los otros asesores de los traductores y redactores médicos: Asociaciones, foros y blogs
M. Blanca Mayor Serrano, Ph.D.
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

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,

An agency asked me to translate a 6000-word Ge>Fr document in my specialty area in a rather short time span. I declined, mainly because I considered the deadline way too short.

This agency is usually serious about quality so when they later asked me to edit the translation I agreed.

Unfortunately, the translation delivered to them was substandard and, in my opinion, beyond repair. The only solution was retranslation, which was impossible in the editing window I'd been given (one evening).

I told them so at the start of business the next day, and backed up my comments with an analysis of a half-dozen serious mistakes (from the first page).

Now the client blames me for refusing to deliver a partially edited text. Who's right here?

Thwarted Ed(itor)


Dear Ed,

Unhappy client, unhappy agency, unhappy translator: the blame game is one reason why written procedures are so important.

Mitigating circumstances in your favor were your familiarity with the agency and belief that they wouldn't stick you with a dead one. Well they did, didn't they?

A pity, since they could and should have said no when a deadline-driven client showed up and they had no tested talent available. We're in this for the long term, or should be.

But you were cutting it fine, too. Editing is tricky; best not to get involved if there is absolutely no margin for error.

Here are some tips to avoid such situations in the future:

  • Listen to your Inner Worrier. Your first reflex was right: just how likely was it that the agency would locate a qualified translator at such short notice?

  • If you accept mission-critical jobs for which texts won't arrive until after normal office hours, demand a contact number with a human being on the other end up through 10:00 pm or even midnight. This is not only possible, but best practice for genuinely quality-oriented businesses. The understanding must be that you will only phone in an emergency—which was clearly the case here. Use your time wisely and let your contact know immediately if there was a weak link in the chain.

  • Never ever quote for an editing job without having seen the text first; if your intermediary can't guarantee that the work will be done by a known entity, just say no.

  • Always charge a stiff premium for after-hours input, and quote an hourly fee for editing (as opposed to a lump sum). Explain why: it's an incentive. If project managers and translators invest sufficient time and effort upstream, your total fee may well be lower—you'll have less to do! It is not reasonable that a translation job be placed, by default, with an untested, unspecialized and presumably inexpensive junior translator, with you left to pick up the pieces.

But the best way to avoid situations like this is rigorous enforcement of the "just say no" principle as soon as your bad-vibes antennae start twitching.

In the case you report here, the time you spent analyzing bare-bones basic mistakes made by the initial translator and writing these up for your agency client represent sufficient added value.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Your opinion of anonymous bloggers and cyber-posters please. What do these people have to hide? Assuming they genuinely know something about the translation industry and are not just government-issue, garden-variety or hybrid ranters, bullshitters, nut cases or conspiracy theorists, why the cloak of invisibility?



Dear Spooky,

We wondered the same thing—briefly—before recalling how many bona fide adult-age humans enjoy spicing up their otherwise bland existence with gossip-mongering, in-jokes, fantasy worlds, secret societies and the like. And as anyone who's had anything to do with translator associations knows, a passel of linguists seem positively driven by the plots-and-rumors brigade—resulting in massive time-wasting for all concerned.

So let's look at it another way: anonymous or not, well-written blogs are a constructive use of energy. Some are downright entertaining and insightful. (Anonymous attacks on individuals and groups being the exception; at best silly and childish, at worst cowardly).

The real drawback for anonymous postings lies elsewhere. Consider: a good blog is seriously time-consuming to maintain, but an excellent showcase for an individual translator's writing style. What better way to reinforce your brand in a sometimes crowded market? But this only works if readers and potential buyers know who you are. People, this is a no-brainer. What's with the "I can't afford to let people know who I am"?

Seen in this light, writing under a pseudonym demonstrates (1) twitchiness, but above all (2) a poor grasp of business and marketing.

It is hardly surprising that familiar complaints of anonymous bloggers are "lack of recognition and respect for translation" and "stupid clients." We bet these guys don't sign their professional output either. Now why would that be?

FA & WB (Identified on the bottom of this page)


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have been a generalist translator for two years, and at the beginning of this year I decided to focus my energy on training to be a financial translator. Despite my lack of experience in the field, it's a subject that has always fascinated me, and so it was with pleasure and enthusiasm that I hit the books.

Over the past months, I have studied all sorts of material on corporate finance and the financial markets, and I feel fairly confident of my newly acquired knowledge. I now subscribe to two financial dailies to keep abreast of economic developments, and I've compiled a solid financial glossary.

However, when I try to market myself as a financial translator, I come across the same stumbling block every time. I have no experience, and agencies only want to collaborate with translators who have a minimum of 5 years' experience and/or a professional background in finance. I've offered to do tests but they are not biting.

I'm nervous about approaching direct clients at this stage. I lack experience in the field of financial translation, and I don't believe I should be approaching direct clients until I have translated financial material for agencies and received feedback on my work.

I don't want to throw in the towel just yet, but my plan to reposition myself at the top-end of the market is starting to seem more like a pipe dream than an achievable goal. Any suggestions?

A frustrated financier


Dear Frustrated,

Your enthusiasm and preparation are great, and your reluctance to work for direct clients without initial feedback is a sign that you're taking this seriously. Good!

But as you point out, it's vicious circle time: without experience, you're a pig in a poke.

One promising vector that newcomers often forget is fellow translators.

Ask around: many practicing linguists got their big break when a swamped colleague asked for help, and in our experience an increasing number of translators are interested in cross-revision.

So step one is to get yourself along to a translators' meeting in your city or region.

Go equipped with proper business cards and some short samples of your work.

Use the face time to network, demonstrating not only awareness of arcane concepts in finance but also your even-tempered and pleasant personality.

Follow up with a personalized email to the financial (or other) translators you found particularly congenial; point out that you are available to help them with proofreading and other tasks, even—especially!—over normal vacation periods. Remind them at regular intervals of your existence and availability; no groveling, just that you'd be happy to help meet deadlines as Thanksgiving, the ATA conference or winter holidays approach.

Second, if you have not already done so, join the Financial Translators' e-list—no charge and open to all freelance translators. Advertising is not allowed, but it's a good place to seek out likely partners. Contact: dominique.jonkers@skynet.be.

Finally, consider signing up for workshops and training courses where individuals and agencies known to specialize in finance will be teaching or otherwise on hand. Swiss association ASTTI's summer university for translators in July 2009 was one, and the French association SFT has already set its dates for next summer's session: July 7-9.

Advantage: you'll learn more about your new specialism, even as you get a chance to step into the spotlight by asking informed questions of speakers.

Good luck!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Do you put two spaces or one after the period ending a sentence and before starting the next sentence? I myself use two spaces and no one's ever mentioned it, but I understand now that one space is what should be done. What is the correct form?

Point Space


Dear Point,

At last a nuts & bolts question!

And how satisfying to be able to answer "it depends."

Our own practice has shifted to a single space after the full stop in the past ten years, but when you consult style books (of which there are many) the first thing you see is a variety of opinion:


Your question is a helpful reminder that translators are above all writers. Drawing on a suggestion from a speaker at ASTTI's Spiez event, it's time professional linguists set themselves a goal of reading at least one work on grammar, writing and punctuation every quarter, if only to be able to recycle informed opinion out to their mono- or bilingual clients.

There are plenty of documents out there. You might start with Lynn Truss's "Eats Shoots & Leaves" or Russell Baker's "How to Punctuate".