Volume 11, No. 4 
October 2007

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 41 issues.

Index 1997-2007

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
On the Importance of Schmoozing
by Alexandra Russsell-Bitting
Standing Tall in the Profession: Interview with Alexandra Russell-Bitting
by Verónica Albin

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  Translators Around the World
Maltese Translation in Transition
by Janet Mallia

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages — Gift from Heaven
by Ted Crump

  Translation Theory
Synonymy in Translation
by Said M. Shiyab, Ph.D.

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
Romance Gender Benders: Gender of Nouns in the Romance languages
by Carl Stoll

  Legal Translation
El diccionario jurídico español-árabe como herramienta útil para la traducción en el ámbito del Derecho y la mediación intercultural
Aguessim El Ghazouani Abdellatif

  Book Review
Blue Lines on Black Ink: A Look at a New Book on Censorship and Translation
by Verónica Albin
A Non-Native User's Perspective of Corpus-Based Dictionaries of English and French
by Estela Carvalho
Hey, counsel, you've plagiarized my book!
by Danilo Nogueira
Engenheiros do Destino/Engineers of Fate de/by José Lamensdorf
Dayse Batista

  Translator Education
How New Technologies Improve Translation Pedagogy
by María José Varela

  Arts & Entertainment
A to Z of Screenplay Translation
by Alireza Ameri

Eileen Chang's Translation of The Golden Cangue
by Deng Jing

  Translators' Tools
Creating the Ideal Word Processing Environment in Translation Environment Tools
by Jost Zetzsche
Manual MT Post-editing: “if it's not broken, don't fix it!”
by Rafael Guzmán
Linguoc LexTerm: una herramienta de extracción automática de terminología gratuita
Antoni Oliver, Mercè Vázquez, Joaquim Moré
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

Practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Our company is in a high-technology field and is an occasional translation buyer. We like to think that we are on a cutting edge.

Because of the very technical nature of our work, we gave the translation agency handling a recent assignment both the documents to translate and an in-house glossary.

In exchange they signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Two weeks ago one of our researchers discovered whole paragraphs of our document in the "help" section of an online forum of translators. Several sections from our glossary were also posted there.

We have complained to the agency. They tell us that the irresponsible act was by one of their subcontractors, with whom they will not work again. That is of little help now; our confidential information was placed on the web for all to see, in breach of our written agreement. Who knows where else our document may be displayed?

Here is our question to translators: both the document and the glossary were marked "Confidential." Do translators not know how to read, or what that word means?

Unhappy Client


Dear Client,

Curious, isn't it, that professional wordsmiths can be so clueless about notions as basic as "non-disclosure agreement" and "competitive environment."

But your query raises several issues, which you will want to keep in mind for any future purchases of translation:

  • Clients are not always aware that agencies rarely employ translators in-house; more often than not, your work will be subcontracted out to one or more suppliers, perhaps even to another agency.
  • A serious agency will have a structure in place up front to ensure that each and every one of these subcontractors respects the same degree of confidentiality you have insisted on from them. If they haven't, they are remiss and you have a definite claim against them.
  • Employing only translators and translation agencies that are members of a professional association is one way to reduce risk, since all such associations include a clause about confidentiality in their code of conduct.

Note to Unhappy Client: By all means seek damages from the agency. This is a healthy if painful wake-up call for the entire industry.

Note to agencies: Make sure you have professional indemnity insurance and a tight contract policy. Have all suppliers sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) up front, and enforce it through regular reminders and checks. Ensure, too, that they understand the full implications for their own work and research methods—or gird yourself for some first-hand experience in commercial litigation.

Note to translators: If you want to argue that using an egroup for assistance is "normal practice in the industry," fair enough (if your agency client agrees). But get real: it is both stupid and naive to do so in a way that discloses confidential information about a client and its documents. However warm and cozy your favorite egroup seems, anything you post can be cut and copied anywhere. If you have professional indemnity insurance, reread your contract now to get a better grasp of how insurers view "negligence." This will help you understand why you may not be covered if you do stupid and naive things.

With thanks to Unhappy Client for raising this important issue.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a Russian lady living in Florida for 8 years by now. I would like to obtain information about employment opportunity translating Russian into English and English into Russian. I am fluent in both languages. Please, let me know if you can help me. I appreciate your time. Thank you.



Dear Rimma,

The golden rule in translation is that professionals work into their native language only. Full stop. Be sure to keep that in mind as you investigate career options; there are some awkwardnesses in your letter that underscore the risk of translating into a non-native language.

One option might be to team up with a native English-speaking translator working out of Russian. You could then reread each other's work, acting as safety nets. But this is only possible if the numbers add up.

The best place to find information about the profession is your national association of translators—in the US, that's ATA (www.atanet.org). Give them a call, then dip your toe in the surf by attending local meetings and talking with translators who have already set up.

Желаем удачи!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I finished my translation degree over a year ago and took a seminar on how to set up in business that advised me to do all the things you recommend: attend trade shows, rewrite poor translations ("free trial offers"), mingle with businesspeople at chamber of commerce events, etc.

But this does not seem to be paying off. I have had no responses to my offer of services, except last week when an agency offered me a job at about 2/3 the price I want to charge.

At a business event last week, the head of the chamber of commerce came over to me and asked how I was doing (she recognized me from the seminar, which was held at the chamber earlier this year). I said fine. I could have said something about getting discouraged (even desperate), looking hard for clients and did she know anybody who needed a translator, but I felt uncomfortable exploiting our acquaintance that way.

My point is, I want to succeed, but I want it to be on the basis of my work, not the people I know. Do you have any suggestions?



Dear Beginner,

Yes: change tactics immediately.

You sound very conscientious and your pride in your work is great, but if you are setting up as a freelance, you are also a businessperson and it is in your direct interest to view people you know as the invaluable resources they are. Forget Frank Sinatra, and use every single contact you have—ex-colleagues, your brother-in-law, parents in your kids' school, neighbors—to get your name out and about.

Concretely? Call the head of the chamber of commerce today!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a 28-year-old American and have little time due to my financial responsibilities. But I am working hard to reduce my cost of living, going as far as selling my house, to be able to accomplish the things I want in life.

I studied French, German, Spanish and Latin in high school as well as Russian as an exchange student and for the one year of college I have completed. Events in my life postponed further college education and I am now attempting to find a way to continue my education in languages. At this time however, I would not be able to attend a course of study with large weekly time requirements.

So here is my question: how might I be able to study for a job as a translator with the limited time I possess, given the need of a full time job and a lack of additional income. Are there certain programs that are better recognized in the translation community for their excellence? Is there a specific certification program for translation that is best recognized outside of the USA?

My goals are to live and work in Europe in a field I enjoy.

Many thanks,

Bobby in Pa.


Dear Bobby,

Here's what we think: the deck is stacked against you as things currently stand.

You want to (1) live in Europe and (2) practice a profession you enjoy, both objectives that we wholeheartedly endorse. Yet even a cursory attempt at drawing up a game plan to make this happen as a translator reveals a few gaping holes:

(+) You've dipped into the study of languages and enjoyed it-that's great.

(-) Your current foreign-language skills are not strong enough to build a career on.

(+) You realize that you need further training.

(-) You have neither time nor money to pursue such training right now.

Professional translators work in a tremendously exciting field with lots of opportunities, but these are only open to those who enter with a strong hand right up front. High-school level French isn't enough, and audio tapes and "learn Spanish while you sleep" methods do not scratch the surface of what a professional translator must know to set up in business and build up a clientele.

For that, you'll need outstanding writing skills in your native language; excellent foreign-language skills in your source language(s); an initial specialization in a field or two where demand is heading up; and a very good grasp of technology. Most specialists also insist that the general knowledge picked up in a college-level education is a strict minimum. We tend to agree, even as we admire a few passionate autodidacts.

So if you want to learn more about the profession, contact the ATA at atanet.org. If you want to build up your language skills but are not free to take classes, by all means hunker down with a teach-yourself method, watch satellite TV in your foreign languages, and join a salsa or tango club.

But if what you really want to do is live in Europe, get a plan B.

You don't mention what your present job is, but is an overseas posting with your current employer an option? Keep in mind that you will need to get your papers in order in any case. As we advised a correspondent in January 2000, "The streets of Europe are littered with expatriates who drift into a kind of limbo they find difficult to escape." With visas and work permits now required Europe-wide, it is unlikely that you'll get even that far.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Why do clients always always always spring for the cheapest supplier? And then they regret it and people like me have to pick up the pieces.



Dear Angry,

Perhaps because you aren't charging these particular clients enough for your text-repair services?

At the risk of repeating ourselves, a translator who agrees to "fix" poorly translated texts at cut rates is part of the problem. So if your clients come to you regularly for this service ("always always always"), you may well be an enabler.

Perhaps, also, because you are Angry? Don't forget that clients, too, can get frustrated if everything they buy in is garbage. By the time they reach you, they may be intent only on finding a short-term solution.

If they haven't figured out where the problem lies (pay peanuts, get monkeys), set up a meeting and walk them through the figures. Be patient and pleasant—and be sure to put a cost on frustration at their end and yours.

Good luck!