Starting out as a translator or interpreter?

I don’t normally post announcements about events and training courses here but I though I would make an exception just this once. You’ll figure out why soon enough! The Irish Translators’ & Interpreters’ Association is organising a full-day Continuing Professional Development event for anyone who is considering a career as a translator or interpreter. In addition to sessions on working as a freelancer, translation technology and starting out as an interpreter, I’ll be contributing two sessions: one on developing translation specialisms and the other on marketing your services online.

The event will take place on 12th November from 10.30-15.15 at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin and admission is free to members and non-members alike. The organisers do ask that you send an email to give them an idea of numbers if you plan attending. For more details, go to the ITIA website.

A number of people asked me for a copy of the slides I used for this event. You can download them in PDF format here.


The Rube Goldberg Approach to Translation

As a general rule I don’t have too much of an issue with doing test translations for new clients or agencies. Some really good agencies even pay translators for these tests. The logic behind test translations is pretty sound because it doesn’t matter what you have on your CV, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the only way to gauge how good you are as a translator is to see a sample of your work.

Recently a translation agency made contact with me and, after the usual introductions, asked if I would like to work with them on technical translation projects. After much to-ing and fro-ing we were both satisfied that we could work together. I outlined my experience and specialisations, they described the type of projects they get and we both agreed that there was great potential for future work. Hell, we might even get matching tattoos. Rates and terms were agreed without so much as a whimper. Everything was going well until the issue of test translations cropped up.

The epitome of inefficiency - a Rube Goldberg Machine

The epitome of efficiency?

This agency had a pretty weird approach to test translations. Instead of a test translation at the start of our working relationship, which is the customary thing to do, they announced that they ask translators to complete short test translations for each project. The translator who produces the best test translation is then awarded the particular project. I read and re-read the email several times to make sure I understood what they were proposing, hoping that I had misunderstood. But no, when they received a job from a client, rather than contacting a translator who they had already screened, tested and knew was suitable, they would start a mini screening process before work could even start on the translation. I can imagine this being pitched to customers as a way of ensuring that “only the best translators are used” for their projects, and it’s probably well intentioned, but does anyone seriously think this is good practice?

Aside from the startling inefficiency of this Rube Goldberg approach to operations management, which disadvantages both customers and translators alike, things became even more interesting when I queried whether translators would be paid for producing numerous test translations over an extended period of time. The hitherto brisk and prompt exchange of emails suddenly ground to a halt. I never received a response and can only assume that it confirms my worst suspicions.



Hold your horses

Buried under a mountain of paper

No problem, it'll all be ready by morning (Image via Global Nerdy

I received an enquiry from a potential client asking whether I could verbally translate 400,000 words of specialised texts into English, on-site and over the course of 8 days. Now it’s possible that in my old age (I’m approaching another birthday with alarming speed) I’m slowing down ever so slightly but this equates to 50,000 words per day. The most I’ve ever managed to turn around in a day was around 18,000 words and that took a solid 20 hours to do with a good translation memory and it was for information purposes.  Surely nobody could do 50,000 words in a single day?


Translators readying themselves for a revolution

One of my articles on rates of pay for translators was recently republished in the ITIA Bulletin – the monthly electronic magazine of the Irish Translators’ & Interpreters’ Association – and almost immediately afterwards I noticed a large jump in the number of people visiting my site. Naturally I was pretty pleased by this, after all you kind of hope that someone will read your articles. Two days later, however, the numbers went through the roof with hundreds of hits in just one day. What was even more unusual, I thought, was that they were all coming from various towns and cities throughout Italy. Ever the pessimist, I wracked my brains to see if there was anything in the article that could possibly have insulted an entire nation. But no, that wasn’t it. Had they found out that I love their food, their music and their culture and they were rushing to tell me that yes, they loved me too? Maybe, but that wouldn’t make so many of them visit my humble little website. Would it?

Translators to rise up against the tyranny of agencies and forums

Translators rise up against the tyranny of agencies and job forums

No. It turns out that the Italian translation community is in the midst of a proper fight against scurrilous agencies who try to impose outrageously low rates on translators and generally treat translators like glorified typists aided and abetted by race-to-the-bottom job auction sites. Now translators aren’t known for their fighting spirit. Normally we might sit and give a muffled grumble or start to write a strongly worded email but before long we turn back to our computers and get on with translating (Those 7000 words of medical reports aren’t going to translate themselves you know!). There’s no fight in us at all. In fairness, with most of us working as self-employed contractors, it does feel that there’s not much we can do. Or so you would think. Cue the Italian translators who, like modern day Gladiators under the banner of their translators association, have said “Enough is enough. The abuse of translators has to stop!”

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Weathering the storm in university

The new academic year is well and truly underway in pretty much every university everywhere and for most of us, academics and students alike, it’s a very hectic and, in some ways, exciting time as we meet our new students eager (hopefully) to learn new skills, put the finishing touches and generally come to grips with the new timetable and the bizarre room allocations which see us trekking to the most far flung outposts of the campus.

There are easier ways of weathering the storm

There are easier ways of weathering the storm

This year, however, I’ve noticed that we have a lot more students than we had last year and it’s gotten me wondering why. Last year, I don’t think anyone was surprised at the lower numbers because it came in the midst of the hysteria about the global recession and nobody was certain about anything. In such a climate, you can understand the reluctance of people to commit to the expense of higher education. Why would you leave a job to go back to university when there’s a chance you might not find another one for a while?

But while this explains what happened last year, it doesn’t explain this year. Now, we’ve all come to terms with the recession and most of the feelings of shock, horror and panic have gone, giving way instead to a grim acceptance that the economy will be in tatters for years to come and employment prospects are going to be quite dismal unless you do something beef up your arsenal with some new qualifications.

Are people realising that the best place to sit out a recession is in university? After all, providing you have the money set aside or can get a big enough loan, going back to university full-time means you have at least one full year where you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to be made redundant. From my own experience here in Sheffield (which is purely speculative and by no means conclusive) this seems to be borne out in part by the make-up of students. We are seeing fewer international students but a lot more European students, particularly UK students. This would seem to suggest that the scarcity of money is causing people to reconsider the expensive business of foreign study; international students pay much higher fees than UK or EU students. But it does suggest that UK students are doing the sensible thing during a recession and waiting it out in the relative calm of university. I’d also wager that the same thing is happening in many other countries. By the time they’re ready to go back to the real world, they’ve survived another year of doom and gloom with their sanity relatively intact and they’ve acquired some new skills which will give them the chance to either change career direction or rejoin the workplace with a competitive advantage. It’s really not a bad idea at all!