Volume 8, No. 4 
October 2004

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page  
Select one of the previous 29 issues.


From the Editor
Thank You!
by Gabe Bokor

Index 1997-2004

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Some Northern Light for Young Translators
by Meeri Yule

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Lab Report on a Marketing Campaign for Freelance Translation Services
by José Henrique Lamensdorf

  In Memoriam
Louis Korda: 1917 - 2004
by Peter Gergay

  Translators' Nuts and Bolts
Topónimos y gentilicios en español de los estados de Estados Unidos y de sus capitales
Alberto Gómez Font y Verónica Albin

  Translators Around the World
Languages for Tourism Workshop
by Hary Fuller
American Translators Association Adds Croatian into English and English into Croatian to its Translator Certification Program
by Paula Gordon
Translation Taken Seriously
by Danilo Nogueira

  Arts and Entertainment
The Viewer as the Focus of Subtitling—Towards a Viewer-oriented Approach
by Ali Hajmohammadi

  Book Review
For the Benefit & Helpe of Ladies and Gentlewomen: A Translator’s Historical Review of Dictionaries and Their Eccentricities
by Verónica Albin
Don Kiraly's A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education
by Marta Rosas
New Terminologies: Peaceful Immigrants or Invading Hordes? A Review of Three New Books
by Alex Gross

  Literary Translation
Translation of Poetry: Sa`di's "Oneness of Mankind" Revisited
by Hossein Vahid Dastjerdi, Ph.D.

  Translators' Tools
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’ Best Websites
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 am a freelance translator with an office in my home and a reasonably successful business serving clients in the UK and the Netherlands. The other day I was caught off guard when a client phoned me out of the blue and insisted on dropping in to review a text in person (he happened to be in the neighbourhood, and the text was urgent).

It was a chastening experience—not for the text itself and our discussion, which went very well, but because my office is a shambles, with papers papers papers and files files files as far as the eye can see. I will spare you the details, but from the look on this man's face as he crossed the threshold, I don't think my frantic hoovering accomplished much.

I've lectured myself and pulled up my socks (sort of) but am realistic, too: I am not a tidy person, and there is no way my working environment is going to become a slick, clean operation with a place for everything and everything in its place.

I know that visits from my clients are likely to remain rare, but never want to go through that stress and embarrassment again. Have you got any strategies for dealing with clients who pop in unannounced?

Litter Bug


Dear Bug,

If your untidiness is grease and cockroaches, we can't help. But we can identify with paper clutter build-up, along with that sinking feeling as the doorbell rings.

Successful techniques we have observed firsthand depend on the size of your office, the size of the cluttered patch, and advance notice.

If you can, intercept the visitor at the doorstep, pretexting a prior visitor (e.g., your tax inspector has just shown up for a spot-check of your books, you'd like to leave him/her to work in peace, shall we retire to the café opposite?).

If this is impossible, your aim must be to lead the visitor quickly past the clutter to a clear desktop or other surface at which you will be working, then focus attention on the job at hand. To do this, we have five suggestions (note that for options 3 to 5, you will have to buy in supplies in advance):

  1. Square Up the Corners: somehow piles of papers that are carefully stacked look infinitely neater than those in haystack format.
  2. Strategic Lighting: carefully targeted, this can be a big help, depending on the time of day.
  3. The Green Plant/Colorful Bouquet: a strategically placed giant green plant or bouquet may divert the visitor's eye temporarily.
  4. Archives In Transit: a store of packing cases folded behind a bookcase will serve you in good stead. Should a client-intruder's call alert you to an impending visit, whip these out and place all extraneous documents/papers inside. Tape shut and stack neatly as per Square Up the Corners (above). Explain briefly to your visitor that your archives have just been transferred in from storage or are on their way out.
  5. Emergency Tape: in extreme cases—and depending on the layout of your office—you might consider taping off the cluttered area with that striped fluorescent tape they use to mark out danger areas on construction sites. Explain briefly to your visitor that there was a burglary the previous night and the police have instructed you to leave everything as is until they can get over for fingerprinting. (Let us know how this one works, OK ?). The tape can be found in most hardware stores.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I'm in the process of switching from per-word to per-hour pricing. So far I've simply done an estimate of time spent on each job, but I realize I'm not too accurate (e.g., often forget to note phone calls, then feel obliged to deduct more time than I actually spent while distracted). How can I get this on a sounder basis?

Tick Tock


Dear Tick,

A contact suggests Time Stamp, a free software package that you can download at http://www.syntap.com/products_timestamp.htm. You click to start and stop (i.e., when your phone rings and when you hang up, or when a client-intruder arrives and leaves). You can even indicate your hourly rate, in which case it calculates the amount per job automatically. Try it and report back, please.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

A common phenomenon at translator associations around the world is that translators who don't have enough work, or who feel threatened by competition from translators in other countries, or who are simply disgruntled with their own feelings of being underappreciated, start attacking their association, accusing it of being the source of all their woes, and espousing anti-foreigner policies that are the very antithesis of what one would expect from folks who make their living from the communication between peoples and cultures.

Why do they waste so much energy fighting their association instead of working to improve their own lots, e.g. by marketing, networking, improving their skills, going where the clients are, etc. Any thoughts?

Puzzled in Peoria


Dear Puzzled,

Peoria, eh ? Well, we've observed this "our association is leading us all over the cliff, rise up fellow lemmings!" phenomenon on three continents since January 2004. And before that just about every year for as long as we've been in the business, generally peaking as annual general meetings roll around. Which is only natural.

Assuming such campaigns are not somehow linked to global warming or sunspot activity, our first reaction is simply that change is a scary thing and all the scarier for people who feel they have little influence over trends shaping their lives. It's a lot easier to react within one's comfort zone (against the "translation industry big guys" as represented by regional or national translator associations) than it is to take a long, hard look at how individual behaviors contribute to the outside world's view of translation providers as a whole.

Well, we would say that, wouldn't we, since our niche is giving concrete advice to individual correspondents with specific problems or queries. Mind you, we often recommend collective action through associations.

The main problem we have with single-issue militants is that however earnestly their case starts out, 99% of the time it ends up painting all opponents as either hopelessly naive or part of a global conspiracy. That is generally unproductive.

But you wanted our opinion, right? Two points:

  • If critics' stated aim is to move the industry forward with idea A, B or C, they have a duty to do their research properly, set out their case clearly, and be scrupulously honest in citing statistics on membership support, however devious and addicted to smoke-filled back rooms they believe their target association's elected officials to be. For their own mental health, they should be prepared to step back, stand down and blog their case if necessary. They should avoid abusive language and the naïve/conspiracy reasoning.
  • At the same time, elected officials have a duty to respond point by point to the carefully researched issues raised, however strident and unhinged they think the leaders of the peasants' revolt are. Once. They too must be scrupulously honest in citing statistics on membership support should this issue arise. And for their own mental health, they should be prepared to step back and reexamine association policy at regular intervals. But in our opinion they need not respond further if their critics consistently misstate information that has been corrected already.

As one old-timer comments, "I have a soft spot for vocal gadflies as long as they are well-informed, intelligent and committed. But the license for criticism comes with the understanding that the gadfly must be willing and able to pick up the torch and show how it's properly carried."



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am an English teacher in China—Chinese with English as my foreign language. I have read quite a bit of literature on translation, gradually gaining confidence that I may contribute to your magazine. To tell you frankly and honestly, I have two purposes in my mind right now, one being to share my ideas with all translators worldwide and the other being to raise my profile among my colleagues. So please tell me how I can contribute if I have an article completed later on?

Willing Contributor


Dear Willing,

For information on contributions to this magazine, see http://www.accurapid.com/journal/26editor.htm. Keep in mind that the purpose of Translation Journal is providing working translators with useful information (to others, not just yourself and your career in China). Letters to the Editor are always welcome, says Gabe Bokor, but must state the writer's name and location to be considered for publication.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

It's all very well to talk about raising prices and targeting premium segments, but that is light-years from the daily experience of the vast majority of translators.

I should know: I have the knowledge, the diplomas (PhD), the experience (18 years). I log long hours and always deliver excellent work on time. But I haven't been able to raise my prices for eight years, and am losing work to cheaper suppliers abroad all the time. The reason is simple: the agencies I work for refuse to negotiate, and they are the ones who call the shots. I am one person; you have only to look at their advertising budgets and influence.

I have studied for years to get where I am, but sometimes I wonder why I've bothered (except that I love languages). I sincerely believe that I deserve better, as do the many translators like me who are struggling in good faith but not able to make ends meet.

Failing a guaranteed minimum price, with sanctions for agencies that go below this, I see no solution. Our national translators' association should get out of bed with the agencies that are responsible for this state of affairs. It should be working to establish this minimum price, rather than organizing conferences that are far too expensive for most members to attend.



Fire Ant rasps :

Forgive us if we've misunderstood, but your letter is not about associations (or even agencies) at all. What you seem to want is a fairy godmother to wave her wand and bring you high-paying work without you having to do a thing. And maybe give you a little kiss to make it all better in passing.

Here's the bottom line: it takes two to tango. The only way for an agency to get away with paying low rates is to find poor helpless little people who will accept low rates. If you are still laboring in agency hell after 18 years, it's clear that you have made a few bad choices over the years. You are living with the results now.

Worker Bee buzzes:

Over the years we have offered many practical solutions to translators in your situation. We urge you to consult the TJ archives.

For the record, we've never said that creating a successful translation practice is easy. It takes language skills, business savvy, hard work and a willingness to strike out in new directions.

But the first step is to accept that change is inevitable where the market is concerned, and not only possible but positive where you are concerned. When you read a tip that worked for a fellow translator, your first thought should not be a gloomy "Well sure, she managed to make that work, but I don't have her language combination/specialization/social contacts/wardrobe/ [fill in blank]" but rather "Hmm, maybe that could work for me, too."