Volume 16, No. 3
July 2012

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page


Index 1997-2012

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Sea Stories, Musings, and Philosophy from a Life in Languages
by Jonathan T. Hine, Jr, PhD

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
Letter to a would-be translator
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  In memoriam
In memoriam: Leland Duane Wright, Jr. — 1942 - 2012

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
Translation on the Basis of Frequency: Compliment and Compliment Response
by Narjes Ziaei

  The Translator and the Computer
Free Online Translators: A Comparative Assessment of www.worldlingo.com, www.freexlation.com, and www.translate.google.com
Claire Ellender, PhD
Olympic Targets
by Jost Zetzsche

  Book Reviews
Don Quijote en su periplo universal. Aspectos de la recepción internacional de la novela cervantina
Concepción Mira Rueda
And God Said—How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman
Reviewed by Gabe Bokor

  Science and Technology
Translators and Math: The case of approximators
by Brian Mossop

  Arts and Entertainment
Mispronunciation in Subtitling
by Sarah Pybus

Norms in the Translation of Southern American English in Subtitles in Brazil: How is southern American speech presented to Brazilians?
by Vanessa Lopes Lourenço Hanes

Translation and Politics
Screening Political Bias and Reality in Media Translations
by Mátyás Bánhegyi

Translator Education
Collaborative Learning in Translating a Travel Guide: A Case Study
by Elaine Tzu-yi Lee
Teaching Translation: A Look at the Way It Is in Iranian Universities and the Way It Should Be
by Sahar Farrahi Avval

  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' Tools
Siri vs. Windows Speech Recognition
by Laura Frädrich, BA and Dimitra Anastasiou, PhD
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  Practical tips for practicing translators.


Hi Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

A few weeks ago, I attended a sports conference in Barcelona—my first industry conference in my specialist field. I even splashed out on some professionally printed leaflets to hand out, of which I only handed out about a dozen. Perhaps that was a waste of money, but I may be able to include them in pitch letters I send in future.

Having now read your book, I realise some of the mistakes I made, particularly trying to sell my services rather than simply get talking to people and showing an interest in the sector. Even so, I found the structure of the conference wasn't particularly suited to chatting to people.

But I've now been looking into another sports conference, and following a series of links I ended up on the website of a major sports press association. I noticed they had a publication, and looked for an article signed by an author with a French or Spanish (my source languages) name to see if the English was up to scratch. Lo and behold, the English was pretty poor, and you can clearly see the Spanish behind the sentence structures.

I managed to find the same article in web format, as opposed to pdf, on the association's website and was flabbergasted to discover that credit was given to an editor. I searched for the editor online and discovered she describes herself as a sports journalist and lives in Moldova. I assume from her name and place of residence that she is Moldovan; I doubt she's a native English speaker in any case.

I intend following the advice you give on pages 150/151 and 213 of your book and informing somebody about the poor editing job, which somebody must have paid for.

The question is, who do I write to? The international association that publishes the journal, which is perhaps unaware of the poor quality of the article? The author of the article, who perhaps paid for the editing services and doesn't realise he didn't get a good deal, or perhaps was told his article would be edited and he didn't have to worry about language quality? The author's employer (he belongs to the press department of a national football federation?)

Perhaps I should phone somebody at the association and find out what their publication procedures and criteria are?

Flexing Muscles


Dear Flexing,

Whether or not professional events generate leads immediately, each and every one you attend helps you fine-tune your tactics—from revamped elevator speech to suitable attire to usefulness of brochures and business cards. So you’re definitely on the right track in pushing ahead!

In this case, we wonder if it might not make good sense to start by phoning a sports association in your home country. This would not be to bid for their business (not right now, anyway), rather to find out how they finance their translations: big budget? Small budget? Volunteers? Triage, with some texts getting professional treatment and others done on a shoestring or free by the deputy office manager’s girlfriend?

The advantage is that you’ll be speaking in your own language with native speakers who can judge English text. Once they’ve explained their internal system, steer your conversation over to the international association now on your radar screen and see what the national group thinks about the stumble you’ve noticed and its likely causes. Ask for a name to contact at the international body.

With that information, call your current target, as you suggest. If your national sports association could give you a named contact all the better; if not, you can still mention that you’ve spoken with them when you ask for the magazine’s editor.

Sandwich method, of course: say something nice about the outfit’s magazine/association as a lead-in, then ask about their procedures for both articles and translations. You specialize in their fields and might be of use to them as a native English-speaking editor.

The information you’re looking for is confirmation that there’s a budget someplace for articles like the one you’ve noticed. If there isn’t, try to identify the text types they are prepared to invest in, and find out who handles those. You should also try to determine whether the Moldovan lady is the deputy office manager’s girlfriend.

In any case, don’t complain immediately about how bad her text is (she’s on the team right now and you aren’t). But definitely include a few edited paragraphs as part of the free trial offer you send them after your call.

Another tip: for sports—like any specialist subject—use association and other directories to put together a list of translators claiming specialization in the areas that interest you. Try to find examples of what these linguists are producing, and if you like what you see, consider linking up with them by email or in person. In our experience, truly passionate and skilled specialized translators tend to see themselves not as competitors, but as members of the same team. And it’s astonishing how much work gets passed around if you once break into the group.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Do you know of any high-quality editing/proof-reading courses to take as continuing education with a recognised qualification? I translate from German into English.

Seek Training in London


Dear Seeking,

Editing and proofreading are excellent skills to add to any translator’s portfolio, and we’ve contacted colleagues in your area for an opinion.

  • Thumbs up all around for Book House .

  • Note, too, that there’s an editing component in the translation summer school at “ Use your language, use your English ,” also in London. But we’re told all places are now taken, so you’ll have to mark that for next year. You can, however, consult course materials online.

  • An ocean away, but of interest to others, perhaps: in August, several presentations at Translate in the Townships will address revision and editing. This writing master class for translators working in French or English runs from August 19-22 in Quebec.

We’d be glad to flag any other focused, practical editing courses that readers are aware of.

Any way you look at it, there is no doubt at all that superior writing skills are one way to leave the bulk market behind.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I’m a young translator one year into my first job—a job that was sold to me as a brilliant kick-start to a fascinating career in translation, where I’d be given extensive training by some of the best out there, in a constantly-evolving field where the work was varied, interesting and opportunities for progression were there for the taking.

One year later and a little less naive, this has turned out to be the dullest and worst-paid job I’ve had since I was 17 and working in a factory counting screws.

The work is repetitive (with few exceptions, I’ve been stuck on the same “variety” of text for the entire time; without going into detail, it is highly technical, full sentences are non-existent, and formatting takes up over half my time), training is non-existent, and quick production beats quality hands down. Opportunities to progress are there—it really is an interesting agency with plenty going on—but only for those who are in it for the long haul. When I tackle the subject of my increasing boredom, I’m met with a sceptical, “but so-and-so did what you’re doing for 3 years before she got given anything else to do!”

I know I’m inexperienced and should pay my dues, and by a lot of accounts I’m very lucky to have a salaried position in a large (and growing) translation department, but my question is how long should I put up with these conditions? I moved abroad for this job, and now I’m here I don’t want to leave the town I’m based in.

I worry that if I start sending off CVs word will travel fast, and I’m keen to avoid the less-than-scrupulous behaviour the company has already shown towards ex-colleagues. Not to mention that I don’t feel I have much more to offer employers than when I graduated! Is it time to cut my losses, or should I just stop whining, get my head down and put the hours in?

Welcome to the Real World!


Dear Welcome,

We hear you. And like you, we’re big believers in passion and motivation.

Surely the bottom line is finding a professional activity you love and then figuring out how to get paid a lot for doing it. (This as opposed to watching your flame flicker and die, your writing skills shrivel up and dry, and your brain slide off on auto-pilot as you starve under a bridge.)

But some peers on our panel of experts have just rapped our passionate knuckles. They point out that a keen young professional starting out in any field must be prepared to work far more than eight hours a day for well over a year to get off to a good start.

They insist, too, that mastering the ins and outs of even the most fastidious aspects of some specialist areas—and then demonstrating to your employer that you’ve mastered them—is the most effective way to impress the gatekeeper who can usher you on to the next stage in your career.

Stirring those comments into our advice cauldron generates the following:

  • Your texts are “highly technical”? That in itself can be a terrific opportunity: make an effort to learn more about the technology involved by visiting the relevant department/client; producing or studying glossaries; doing additional research off hours. Curiously (or not), even the most brain-numbing topics can become interesting if you invest the effort to really understand them.

  • OK, do set a deadline: twelve months is not that long, but 36 may well be. So give yourself, say, another ten to become the very best of breed on your current assignments, be they boring or scintillating. And, again, make sure your supervisor knows about your efforts. Do the reading. Ask the questions. Write up the reports.

  • Try to broaden your network within the company to include team members in other departments. Show interest in their projects, and let them know you’d be happy to put in extra hours learning about what they are doing.

  • Use your time outside work to consolidate your knowledge of the local language—whatever job you do move on to, living abroad in your source language is an essential stage in your career. In fact, this alone justifies spending another year in the city where you are (assuming you are not just hanging around the expat community).

  • Use your time outside work to get involved in other translation activities: attend meetings of local or national translator groups, volunteer for Translators Without Borders, write articles for industry magazines, and attend business and cultural events to broaden your network. Mention in passing to your supervisor and team mates at work that you’re doing all this, since it signals that you are, indeed, in it for the long haul.

  • When out and about, don’t whine about your current employer (you’ve got that right), but do actively seek out information about areas of translation you think you’d like better. Look for opportunities to give them a try. Yes, you can and should moonlight—assuming this is allowed under your current contract of employment.

  • At your annual performance review, don’t wait for your employer to propose training courses. Be proactive: bring in a list of courses you’d like to take, including less expensive options like webinars, and say you’re planning to take some of these in the year ahead. Ask if you can count on their support.

Good luck!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am based in an “up-and-coming” Latin American country, where I have been re-inventing myself as a marketing-oriented Spanish to English translator over the past few years. In addition to my own self-study, I sat the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ Spanish to English Diploma in January past, after completing a distance preparation course. I also subscribe wholeheartedly to your teachings on ratcheting up prices in exchange for an emphasis on quality, which I try very hard to place at the forefront.

Latin America is frequently described as an emerging economy, a status that ought to also hold true for translation, as companies and organisations scramble to align themselves in the global marketplace. To some, alas, “emerging economy” is but a mannerly euphemism for “banana republic.” While I would be loathe to attach such a scurrilous tag to my adopted home, many market conditions where I work have some way to go; translations into English are overwhelmingly handled by non-native speakers, and average rates are a pittance, weighing in at around $4 per "page" (which is seldom defined more precisely). The ceiling price-per-word that I have found is $0.10, charged by a lady wielding 20 years of experience a raft of qualifications (including the IoL’s Spanish to English diploma). The net result is a buyer's market, and a general unwillingness to consider reassuringly expensive providers.

My dilemma is thus: I have invested quite a bit of time, effort and (splutters apologetically) money in learning the trade, and strive to create a quality product.

Because of this, and the fact that the supply of native English speaking translators working here is quite limited, I really don’t want to get stuck offering rock bottom rates. Potential opportunities are tremendous, but how can I shake things up here, and spawn an acceptance of the homily “you get what you pay for?” Is it advisable to consider the kind of cynical two-tier pricing structure (one for locals, another for gringos) beloved of the local airline industry? All suggestions appreciated.

Languishing between a rock and a hard place


Dear Languishing,

Congratulations on your new qualification, which might justify a call to the $0.10/word lady to get her take on the market—keeping in mind that you’ll still want to aim higher.

Our own take is that even in markets known for low prices, there are always clients—some of them translation virgins—who are prepared to pay for quality. These guys are risk-averse: they don’t want to take a chance on the $4/pagers because there is too much riding on their projects. The jobs they have will mean greater pressure for you, but also far greater rewards.

Your challenge is to identify them, attend their events, network, and exude the quiet confidence and professionalism they are looking for—or will be looking for when the crunch hits. Concretely, this means you’ll probably be doing your fishing in waters far removed from the existing translation community.

We assume you already belong to the local Chamber of Commerce. You don’t mention what your subject-matter specialisms are aside from marketing, but at the very least you should be tracking the regional, national and international news, keeping your finger on the pulse of all cross-border deals that involve your language pair. Be sure to check out non-translation professional networks—marketing executives and FDI promoters, to take just two examples. Those are the groups you should be part of and impressing with your knowledge and expertise: attend their events and keep your antennae fully deployed.

Two-tier pricing? It can easily blow up in your face, even though invoicing per hour may scramble the cards a bit.

If the right client (“Big Break”) comes by, don’t count the hours: go all out to get that first successful job into your portfolio, since that’s how word of mouth starts and spreads.

And whatever you do, never, ever get involved in haggling. The only response to “But so-and-so charges less than 25% of your price” is “We’re not selling the same thing. The product is completely different.” Said not aggressively but firmly, with a confident smile.

You’ll be pleased to know that a Spanish version of “Translation, Getting it Right” will be out shortly. Perhaps you could use this as a basis for a presentation at your Chamber of Commerce?



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

A few months ago, an acquaintance of a friend asked my help in translating some school transcripts for a college application in a foreign country.

I am not court-certified, so I referred the person on to a certified translator acquaintance with the right language combination.

Imagine my astonishment when this translator shot back a furious letter, berating me for rudeness and unprofessional behavior towards him “in the past.” He would never work for a friend of mine, he vowed, and finished with a few nasty comments about my character.

FA&WB, this had to be a misunderstanding: I hardly know this man and had no recollection of any exchanges at all with him. Above all, I pride myself on getting along with everyone; I don’t get into translator squabbles, much less feuds. So I simply apologized and pointed this out—surely a misunderstanding, so sorry, etc.

Back came another blast, even angrier and more insulting. I apologized again—I was genuinely puzzled—but to no avail. His insults became more personal, and I’ve now heard that he has repeated them to mutual acquaintances.

I’m not prepared to go another round, but the more I think about it, the more I feel very strongly that he has crossed the line.

I’ve also been pondering our acquaintance and past exchanges, trying to figure out what set him off. While I don’t know him well, three years ago he sent me a frantic email looking for a translator with my specialization; I wasn’t free and couldn’t recommend anyone, so said as much. End of exchange.

Aside from that, I had referred three clients to him over a period of about ten years, all for certified translations of passports, birth certificates and the like.

Looking back, each returned to me with a story of some professional error or omission this translator had made on their document: misspelled parents’ names on the birth certificate, wrong date on the passport, etc.— requiring them to go back to him to get a correction made, in one case twice. He treated them condescendingly and in one case (a young intern) yelled at her when he’d made a mistake. So who’s unprofessional here?

While I’m still not sure why he is so angry at me right now, I guess you could say I’ve got the dirt on him. I was tempted to report him to our professional association, especially since he is apparently spreading rumors about me, but I see he is no longer a member.

What would you do?

Shocked & Hurt


Dear Shocked,

Well, in your place we sure wouldn’t send him any more clients.

A good rule of thumb in such cases is to check exactly when the irate email was sent. Raving rants in the wee hours can mean a substance issue—abuse, not content. Raving rants at other times can mean a personality disorder that you really don’t want to get involved in.

Step back: you issued not one but two apologies and this guy remained in incoherent rant mode, so we suggest letting it drop. Anyone he’s complained about you to has probably also noticed that he’s not making sense.

As for reporting him to your professional association—even if he were a member, that’s not a good idea years after the fact.

What does surprise us in your letter is that you continued to refer clients to him even when he had demonstrated incompetence. Inertia, you say? We say one of the reasons you should be getting out to translator events is to build up your roster of pleasant, professional and reliable contacts to pass on, leaving raving ranters in the dustbins of history where they belong.—