Volume 7, No. 4 
October 2003

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page  
Select one of the previous 25 issues.


 From the Editor
Theory and Practice

Index 1997-2003

  Translator Profiles
Overcoming Stage Fright: from Ballet to Interpretation
by Izumi Suzuki

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
by Andrei Gerasimov
Are you Prepared to Meet Your Client?
by Danilo Nogueira

Translators Around the World
The Situation of Turkish Literature in the German Polysystem
by Serpil Türk Hotaman

In Memoriam
In Memoriam: William P. Keasbey

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
What's in a Name: Juliet's Question Revisited
by Verónica Albin

  Literary Translation
Language and Choice for Learning/Translating English
by Ibrahim Saad, Ph.D.
La traducción al español de las referencias culturales en Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? de Edward Albee
Mario Juan Serrano

  Translator Education
Corpus-based Teaching: The Use of Original and Translated Texts in the training of legal translators
Esther Monzó, Ph.D.

  Advertising Translation
Loss and Gain of Textual Meaning in Advertising Translation: A case study
by Liu Zequan

  Translators' Tools
Standard Bearers: TM brand profiles at Lantra-L
Ignacio García, Ph.D.
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

A column with practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I had been working with a translation company for almost two years when they stopped sending me work. I tried sending them e-mails and even designed a survey to get some feedback from them, but no luck. I finally called one of the people who used to send me work and she told me that they had another translator who didn't require extensive revisions on their part. Even though he was more expensive they didn't mind, she said. So I'm not sure if I should try to find out what happened or just forget about it.

I admit I feel bad because I think that I'm not such a bad translator—it is just a matter of style. Maybe they give my translations to someone to review and this person makes comments which are probably not very positive.

What do you think?

Frustrated in Costa Rica


Dear Frustrated,

What we think? That you are history for this particular translation company.

But we sympathize with your efforts to find out precisely where the mismatch lay—that's essential to develop your own strategy for the future. A thought: maybe your feedback survey, while a good idea in theory, looked too time-consuming for your contact at the company.

What you need in any case is a close look at changes made to your input.

If none of the texts you worked on for this particular agency are available on the web or elsewhere in the public domain, get back to your company contact again. No bitterness, no weeping: simply explain that you are considering further training and want some concrete examples of what you need to focus on before signing up for a course.

To increase your chances of a response, make the translation company's job as easy as possible. Look through your own records and identify a few assignments where you feel you performed particularly well. Ask for their revisions of these, specifying file names, subject matter and date. `

With future clients, ask to see revisions as a matter of course and spend some serious time analyzing TC input (you might ask a trusted colleague for an opinion, too).

Finally, you note that the company's dissatisfaction may be "just a matter of style". That's not an argument to make to a premium client, where accuracy is the absolute minimum and style just about everything else. (Whether your ex-client enters that category is another matter—but do note that price is not their main objection here).

Keep in mind that translation is a writing skill, and that working on your writing style is one of the best investments you can make. An excellent book for translators working into English is William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" (First HarperResource Quill, ISBN 0-06-000664-1); we would welcome suggestions from Spanish-speaking readers for translators working into that language.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I'm a freelance translator, now a generalist (English>German), but keen to specialize in financial translation. OK, my degree is in literature (I understand that is one strike against me), but I am numerate, I've been reading about economics all summer, and I'm prepared to roll up my sleeves and work.

That said, right now I'm overwhelmed by the sheer number of areas that I'll have to master to get anywhere. I feel I should start focusing, but I haven't even got the big picture straight yet. Is there any short course you can recommend?

Lost in London


Dear Lost,

If English is one of your languages and finance your goal, you're certainly in the right place. One of the best general courses we know of is an introduction to financial markets offered by the Financial Times—not cheap, but it will give you a good overview. And you'll be studying alongside businesspeople who are potential clients for your services.

Contact Richard Rouse, FT Knowledge, Business Development on +44 207 382 8985 (Richard.Rouse@ftknowledge.com).



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I was born in Medellin, Colombia. I have lived in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and am currently living in the United States. Throughout all this change, I have kept my native language (Spanish) very alive.

I currently work with Hispanic youth for my church. For this, I have to constantly speak in Spanish and produce documents and letters in Spanish. I translate into Spanish every week at the church services and I also teach at my denomination's Bible Institute in Spanish.

I am an architect by profession. I would like to start using the skills I already have, and begin translating part-time, voice or written.

Where should I start?

Jumping In


Dear Jumping,

Visit the American Translators Association (www.atanet.org) for (1) concrete information on how to get started and (2) contact details for your local ATA chapter. Go along to meetings, start participating on translator e-lists, and ask practicing translators you meet about training opportunities in your area. You might even consider attending the ATA's annual conference (this year in Phoenix, Arizona from November 5-8) or signing up for one of its professional development courses.

Rest assured that many professional translators and interpreters have followed the path you describe, applying language proficiency acquired through studies, travel and life experience to volunteer projects, then honing their skills and moving up into language services as a professional.

We see no better recipe for job satisfaction than finding something you love to do, then figuring out a way to get paid to do it.

Best of luck as you enter this fascinating profession.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

My company recently commissioned the translation of a set of job descriptions from a group of UK translators that had been recommended to us. Our choice was based partly on the supplier's ability to work with translation memory tools, as we needed to remain consistent with an existing set of job titles and certain sections were quite repetitive.

The results were disappointing. The entire text needed to be revised in-house: some of the French had been misunderstood, and the English structure sometimes matched the French so closely that clarity suffered.

Here is an example: The purchaser then takes the lead as a summarizer, combining the contributions of his/her corporate internal and external partners in order to identify the optimum product-market combination, while helping the internal interested parties to identify and understand the risks associated with implementation of such suitability.

When challenged about the shortcomings, the translators responded: "We must stress that we have been commissioned to translate the text, not produce an English text which expresses what we might consider to have been the author's intended meaning."

Is this a widespread attitude in the translation community? I thought expressing the author's intended meaning was exactly what translation was about.

The choice of translation memory tools for our project may have been misguided. We gained in consistency and terminology management, but we were confronted with human translators who, in their quest for greater productivity, lost sight of the need to communicate clearly with human readers.

How can I avoid this happening again, but still benefit from the greater speed and consistency these tools offer?

Hobgoblin in Hoboken


Dear Hobgoblin,

Start by striking these guys from your supplier list. Translation memory systems are not a substitute for human thought and language sensitivity, and their comments reflect either total cluelessness or far too many late nights—neither of which you need. They have effectively disqualified themselves as serious contenders outside the gisting market (a pity for them, given the price differential).

We assume you gave the UK suppliers detailed project specifications, but did you ask to see samples of their work in advance? In translation there is never an absolute guarantee of quality, but a supplier with a portfolio of successful work is a better bet than an unknown quantity, even with a recommendation. For future projects, you might also ask to review the project together earlier on, i.e., not wait until final delivery to discover how much revision would be necessary.

In answer to your first question, the attitude you decry is—sadly—all too common, although few people articulate it as baldly as your hapless suppliers. In fact, one of our contacts claims this is the number one problem facing the industry today, citing translations that give you the impression the translator thought his role was to "describe" the document rather than make it understandable. Slavishly following the punctuation of the original is one flashing red light (e.g., French to English translators who mechanically put three dots instead of "etc."); syntax structured along that of the source text another.

Like raw machine translation, translation memory software is only as good as the people who use it. As the man said, translation is not about words, it is about the ideas behind the words. Exit machine, enter expert human translator (and beef up that budget while you're at it).