Volume 8, No. 1 
January 2004

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page  
Select one of the previous 26 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 work as a French-to-English literary translator in France. What is your favorite online dictionary? I would like to just type in a word and get an instant, full definition (maybe even a list of synonyms) rather than fumbling through the way-too-thin and heavily-mauled pages of my dictionary! Does a dictionary like that exist? Thank you.

Fingers-to-the-Bone Fred


Dear Fred,

Striking how print dictionaries have faded from the translation scene, isn't it? And your query explains why—the Internet opens new vistas for translators, making many of the assembled-on-the-cheap-despite-reputable-name-in-publishing offerings less attractive than ever.

We put your question to our favorite literary translator who answered as follows: "Most literary translators rely less and less on dictionaries. We use the web for research, first to find the word in as many source language contexts as possible and then to check out possible translations in the target language. We also have a raft of native speakers we call on to 'locate' problem words, plus target-language experts we can consult to check specific technical terminology. There are no shortcuts, quick fixes or one-stop online solutions."

She said it, not us.

For some interesting interfaces designed specifically to help translators locate glossaries and parallel texts quickly, check out www.multilingual.ch.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

There are several translation rates surveys circulating but I've never seen any guidelines on rates for proof-reading. What rates do people charge, and how do you charge—per hour or per thousand words?

Down to Detail


Dear Down,

As a businessperson, you should already have a good idea of how much you earn per hour on average (gross and net)—if only to help identify text types that you, personally, should steer clear of. Whether translating or proof-reading, keep that figure in mind.

For editing, revising or "simply" proof-reading, our contacts advise strict compliance with Rule no. 1: Never issue a fixed quote, much less accept a job, without seeing the text or a sizeable sample first. (How do you say "lost my shirt" in Tagalog?). When your client passes on the text, be sure to scan not just page one but also a few passages in the middle and towards the end. That's where the going will get seriously rough if a mad dash to the finish line preceded your arrival.

Rule 2: Be absolutely clear with your client about expectations on both sides. You will almost certainly be fixing errors and omissions, not just flagging them. And if the fixing is the equivalent of a rewrite, you had better quote high.

Rule 3: This is one area where you must keep your eye on the clock—and on the ball. Log time meticulously. Let the client know if things are getting out of control, and try to renegotiate.

As always, the hours you spend on the job are not just those hours on that day. They reflect the thousands of hours of experience you bring to this particular task. Remind your client of this if necessary. Remind yourself, too—and be sure to factor it in.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I graduated ten years ago in History, but am only now trying to return to the job market (I am 41).

My language skills were really gained at school level where I got some good grades (German Grade B, French C)), but, as you can see from my age, that was some time ago.

Yet I have recently brushed up my skills, mainly through reading, and I would say I can now read general texts fairly fluently in German. I would also say I can write well in English.

I would like to know where I stand with my present level of competence, and how far I need to improve to reach the level required of a professional translator.

I would really like some way of gauging my current German language competence and, should it not be adequate to the task, how I can make it so, and how long that would take.

Finally, in your professional opinion, is it realistic for me to consider this career option, given my age and background, as I really can't afford to waste time on unrealistic dreams at this stage?

Late Learner in London


Dear Learner,

Accuracy, speed and style are generally what clients look for in a translator, although not necessarily in that order. Different market segments have different priorities—ideally you will seek one where demand is on the rise and you can maximize your special strengths.

OK, if you write well in your native English, you are one step ahead of the pack. But reading general texts in your foreign language fairly fluently is below the bare-bones minimum; increasingly, translation buyers seek suppliers offering fluency in their foreign language as well as in-depth knowledge of one or more specialized fields. Most successful translators will also have spent at least some time living in the country where their source language is spoken.

So—if you are seriously contemplating a career in translation, you've got some serious work ahead.

Concrete steps?

You don't say what you've been up to since leaving school, but you might analyze your work and life experience to date to see what specialist knowledge you've picked up en route and consider building on this to focus your language learning.

You might also try translating a few passages and submitting these to a practicing translator for an opinion. Where do you find one of these? Visit the website of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (iti.org.uk).

You might also go along to one of the increasing number of universities offering short translation courses and ask for an opinion. Here too, ITI can help put you in touch.

Join online translator forums and lurk or participate actively to gain insights into issues affecting professionals and their language skills.

A final thought: most of the successful professional translators we know have a genuine fascination—even passion—for language. The Flame. This may be what makes many of them so eccentric, er. creative. Whether or not you've got that is something only you know, but its presence or absence may also help you decide whether to pursue this career option further.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

What is the best way to go about finding internships without a degree in translation or any real practice, so to speak? I don't want to be too much of a burden on a firm or an individual, but I do believe that I could learn quickly and become an asset rather than a handicap to the translation staff at a given office.

Ground Floor


Dear Ground,

Grab the bull by the horns. Identify firms or individuals who produce the type of work you'd like to produce, in markets you'd like to work in, and actively seek opportunities to meet them face to face. When you finally meet up, no need to hide The Flame, but do avoid excessive displays of eccentricity (plenty of time for that later).

Professional association get-togethers are one good venue; regional and local translator networks another.

Don't become a pest, but do be prepared to suggest a "free trial offer". If accepted, use that time to wow them with your energy and efficiency. Do not watch the clock. Be cheerful. And yes, be prepared to do non-translation work if asked, but be sure to use at least part of your internship to produce translations, too, or at the very least to solicit feedback on your work.

A successful internship is the number-one way to net job offers and/or stellar references for future work, so investing time and energy at this critical stage is one of the very best things you can do to get your career off to a strong start.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am about to take a course in French, would you tell me what is the difference between translation and transliteration, please?

In Transit


Dear Trans,

"Transliteration" simply means transcribing words and proper names between languages using different alphabets. In a discussion of the Hebrew alphabet we are told that transliteration is more an art than a science, and that opinions on the correct way to transliterate words vary widely.

Dostoevskii or Dostoyevsky? Your choice depends on your audience: casual readers may have different expectations from scholars.