I wrote eleven blogs on translation-related matters in 2016, although only one appeared in this space.
Please head on over to my personal blog to read the Chronicle of Allison's translation blogs in 2016.
The last paragraph mentions an interesting project I would like to get off the ground:
I have plans this year to publish guest blogs in Portuguese on my website and invite colleagues to contact me with their contributions. The idea is that together with the writer of the original in Portuguese, I (or someone else) would craft a translation in English, and publish the two versions side by side in the hope that this will invite comparative analysis by readers and stimulate discussion in the blog comments. Please contact me if this idea appeals to you!
As I said in the blog, I am particularly interested in exploring the huge topic of 'honing our craft', and think that this type of collaboration in blogging would be a useful adjunct to what we already do.
©2017 Allison Wright
I am excited to announce that I shall soon be publishing a Portuguese translation of my website.
Last night I posted a question to a Portuguese translators' group in which I asked whether I should use the rules of spelling as detailed in the new Orthographic Agreement, which is not popular among linguists, for good linguistic reason on a number of fronts. It has therefore met with much resistance from translators and much confusion from the public at large.
Here is a screenshot of my question:
This morning a translator friend in England who also translates from Portuguese sent me a message wondering why she could not figure out what I was trying to say until she realised that she was reading a Bing translation. All became clear when she clicked on "View original". She sent me a screenshot of the reason for her confusion:
As soon as I laid eyes on the above, the compulsive editor built into my human brain immediately winced seven times in quick succession:
It seems that even Microsoft's grammar checker in Word objected about the start of the second sentence in the above image. I do like to, actually, but that is not the subject of this blog.
If you are not a translator, then I need to tell you that what you are looking at is 22 English words (23 in the Portuguese) translated by an automatic translation program called Bing, which has rather small search engine capabilities compared to those of Google Translate - another "machine".
Those 22 words contain 7 translation errors of which 3 are, in my view, serious ones. If the text were 100 times longer and comprised 2,200 words, it is not entirely unreasonable to assume that Bing would make in the region of 700 errors of which 300 could be considered serious. Even if it is unreasonable to make that assumption, I would wager that the incidence of error would be unacceptably high for all except the most frivolous of purposes, such as trying to figure out what your foreign friends of your foreign friends are saying on Facebook.
What is an unacceptably high incidence of error in a translation?
Most translators use the rule of thumb that one error is one error too many. In practice these days, I suppose an "acceptable" number of minor typographic errors a proofreader could expect to pick up in a translation would be in the region of between 2 and 5 in a text 2,200 words long. Having said that, I revised a 214,000-word biography last summer. The translator made only 4 typographic errors in the entire book, which I found remarkable. It was, however, a revision assignment, and my revisions of her translation were many.
Neither Bing nor Google Translate seem to make many typographic errors at all. I would like to know what is the point of perfect typing when the perfectly typed translation is, in fact, rubbish?
Google Translate did a slightly better job of "translating" my little Facebook post than Bing:
Where Google Translate has the advantage over Bing as it is presented to readers in Facebook is that it offers alternatives. If these are chosen judiciously, the result is closer to the original meaning of the source text:
Close, but not close enough. It seems not all abbreviations are recognised by this machine. And, despite my simple sentence structure in Portuguese, I unwittingly produced a text from which you could not tell the gender of the translator. This makes translation of the second sentence quite tricky.
As it happened, the sentence was conceived in Portuguese. I gave no thought to how it might be translated. That is not unusual. That is how most people write. Unless one works for an international organisation which has rules about using simplified language, one is under no obligation to make what one writes "easier" to translate into any given language.
The translation difficulties encountered in the above 23 Portuguese words would be very different if they were being translated into a language other than English. This does not mean that one language is more difficult than another. It means that the process and the method of conveying the meaning in different languages is different because the deep structure (or grammar) of every language is different from every other.
So how would I translate my own words in Portuguese into my own mother tongue, English?
I will save you the trouble of scrolling up and repeat the text here:
Alguém está a traduzir o meu site para português. Surgiu a pergunta sobre o Acordo Ortográfico.
If I were to base my translation solely on the information in the text itself, then I suppose this would have to do:
Someone is translating my website into Portuguese. The question arose about using the new Orthographic Agreement.
You will notice from my translation that English requires "expansion" of the phrase "about using the new Orthographic Agreement" which is not necessary in Portuguese (although the opportunities for me to be more eloquent in my use of Portuguese abound).
Suppose, however, that the gender of the "someone" who was translating the text had been revealed as female - or, in this case, that I know that fact from extra-textual information. That tiny piece of the puzzle, known in the trade as "context", possibly helps to makes a more natural-sounding translation:
Someone is translating my website into Portuguese. She asked me whether she should use the new Orthographic Agreement.
You will have to wait and see what my decision has been after considering all the arguments presented by my learned colleagues.
In the meantime, I hope that I have convinced you that human involvement in the translation process is by far the better approach if your aim is to communicate effectively.
In closing, I should perhaps tell you that I would consider either of my two translations above as acceptable equivalents of the Portuguese source text. It would depend, as translators are fond of saying, on the context.
©2016 Allison Wright
A peek into the process
I have written this post in an attempt to convey just one nebulous aspect of the translation process simply because I happened to come across a sentence which serves to illustrate something which is quite hard to explain without examples. The sentence is taken from a biographical article on José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize In Literature in 1988. The full article can be found here: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1998/saramago-bio.html
Messy tracked changes!
I originally posted what you find below as a Facebook update, and have modified it only slightly. Facebook really ought not to ask me what is on my mind so provocatively!
From a reading of the English target text, I cannot detect any obvious errors in the translation from the Portuguese cited above, and only one place where I could immediately see the source text shining though. The sentence discussed below is a good example of how sentence length and punctuation in the Portuguese, when transferred faithfully into English, make the English rendition clumsy.
I was so excited when I first discovered this particular subtle shift required during the Portuguese to English translation process because it demands a much more elegant performance of acrobatics than, say, German to English translation where seeking out the constituent parts of verbs and relative clauses take precedence. My discovery occurred about 2.5 years after I started learning Portuguese, in case you are interested.
I don't know if you can spot what I mean by "too many commas" in the following sentence taken from the article. To me, it has several possibilities for the re-ordering or re-grouping of the information to make it more readable for the English reader; more intelligible to the English ear:
I will re-do the first half of this sentence to illustrate how to eliminate two commas and make it more "English" (with only one word change - "during" instead of "in"):
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided....
Do you see? It's the transforming of the four-part or three-part structure into a two-part one.
Now that the first section has no "little humps in the road", we can continue:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman.
There is nothing wrong with "for which job were required..." It is just that the English reader needs some time to process all the information in the sentence so far. A breather; a full stop. You can see that this is necessary merely by looking at all the complications in the final stretch of the sentence: inverted commas, brackets with continuation marks... the second half of a comparison, and a list!
So, here is that original sentence (also a paragraph), slightly rewritten:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more "literary qualifications" (a common expression then...) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
What we now have is two sentences instead of one. The only changes made have been at the level of punctuation and word order.
But we are not finished, because there is still something sticking out like a sore thumb which we could not possibly have dealt with until we had got the main structure right. So, let's do that now:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known surroundings other than those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more "literary qualifications" (a common expression then...) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Just so that you do not have to scroll up again, here is the original sentence for comparison with the thoroughly revised one:
Maybe because he had served in World War I, in France as an artillery soldier, and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman, for which job were required no more "literary qualifications" (a common expression then...) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known surroundings other than those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more "literary qualifications" (a common expression then...) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Now, read both versions of this sentence aloud. Follow the punctuation (i.e. pause appropriately when you encounter commas and full stops). Which text is easier to read? Which text is less confusing? From which text is it easier to extract information? I think the revised text is the better one, don't you?
The original sentence was 65 words long. Do you think the changes I have made are worth more than €1.95 (or the most often offered rate of €0.03/word)? What about what the overall effect would be if you had a short story - or even this entire article, say? Or a novel? I think these changes are most definitely worth more than the rate most often paid.
And if I had the original source text to hand, don't you think I would check straight away to see what alternative translation could be found for '"literary qualifications"' in an attempt to eliminate those horrible inverted commas?
We know that José Saramogo has a particular writing style, very similar, unsurprisingly, to the style and feel of the paragraph I have revised here. But if you look carefully at the second half of the article, he himself departs from this style, so that the article loses its overall coherence. You also have to remember that the sentence structure employed by Saramago in the Portuguese is fairly normal for a Portuguese text, so in this case, it behoves the writers of the English version (the translator and the revisor) to produce a sentence which is fairly usual within the norms applied to English texts. I was not really criticising a Nobel Laureate; I was merely pointing out that his trademark storytelling style was not employed throughout the article. Admittedly the text as a whole does not lend itself easily to a nice, rounded feel given the list of all the works published.
My question, therefore, is this: Surely, tightening up the prose in the initial paragraphs to match the latter ones will render the whole article more palatable, and give a better overall impression? If the reader wants to read Saramogo purely for his written style, there are plenty of works to choose from, both in the original Portuguese and in translation.
Two other considerations:
1. I wonder whether a non-native speaker of English can see the difference between the original sentence and my revised one?
2. If I had translated this text from the original Portuguese (which I have not seen), I wonder how close to my revision above it would have been?
Perhaps I should mention for those who do not habitually work with texts that all the changes described in detail above normally happen at speed. There are times, however, where changing just one word in a text might take half an hour, a good deal of research, consultations (while maintaining confidentiality) with colleagues or, indeed, an entire night's sleep before the correct replacement word or phrase is found. This is true for all sorts of texts, and not just literary ones.
These are some of the things that run through my mind when I translate and revise, and have done so for years. It is called constantly honing one's craft - an obligation which translators have to themselves and to their readers.
©2015 Allison Wright
I would say that the branding trend among freelance translators only started gaining widespread momentum about two or three years ago, with much debate as to what is the most appropriate approach for individual translators to adopt. Translators are a diverse bunch of people. We have different language pairs, different areas of specialisation and experience, and differing opinions on which is the best way to drink coffee.
Simply put, no two translators are alike. This means that branding possibilities are infinite. Many translators have developed strong brands, and corporate identities perfectly synchronised with the company name they have chosen for themselves and with the particular services they provide. They have done a great job, and put the results to good effect, as one would expect.
I did not participate actively in the great freelance translator branding debate. Instead, I followed the debate and read widely on the topic. I thought long and hard about what I should do. I had solo brainstorming sessions in an attempt to come up with a company name which I could be happy with in the long term. I produced a long list. Afterwards, I gave the list a title: Things not to call your translation business. Anyone who has worked in public relations will appreciate the humour of the NO list.
Let me just say that much ink was used to arrive at the name I started out with, and the one with which I am most comfortable, Allison Wright Translations. That's my name; that's my brand.
Here is a story which tells you why, first published as one of my contributions to a free, downloadable e-book called The Bright Side of Freelance Translation and reproduced here by kind permission of its compilers:
Quick sketch: ©2015 Allison Wright
Table for two
The African Insurance Organisation held a week-long conference in the new Harare Sheraton in 1988. Translators were few and far between in Zimbabwe. I had a full-time job as secretary and translator at a credit insurance company. My services as a French-English translator were summarily offered on my behalf for the duration of the conference.
Thus it was that one Monday morning I found my youthful self, with a badge on my jacket, in a small room jam-packed with semi-computerised typewriters and three other women. Two were not translators and had no experience in insurance, but had been teaching French for years. This will be fun, I thought. The third was the group’s supervisor, Nati Collin, a professional woman in her forties. She was a picture of European elegance, with a sense of chic seldom seen in Africa. I liked her immediately.
My next surprise was a 20-page delegate’s speech for urgent translation into French. I said that usually I only translated into English, my mother tongue. Nati told me the into-French translator could not make it; I was the next best thing. I got to work. It passed muster with Nati, and the deadline was met. The flurry of other French to English documents served to make this hectic experience even more intense.
I was tired, but not undaunted, by 9 pm on Wednesday. Nati said it was time we had dinner; work could wait and it was her treat.
During our three-course gourmet meal, she remarked that she had been watching me closely − as if I had not noticed! − and thought I had what it took to become a good translator one day. She said that one should always use one’s own name in one’s company name. She suggested I increase my rates because it was unethical to do otherwise; charge what you are worth − no less.
She spoke of the passion involved in translation. She was confident, dignified and experienced − precisely the kind of person I needed to meet. After the conference ended, I never saw her again.
Some 23 years later, I sat in the Great Hall of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, at the launch of a large book I had translated. In his speech, the author referred to me as a passionate translator. I thought of Nati Collin. She would have been quite at home in this august assembly. I wished she were there with me. In a sense, she was.
Story by Allison Wright, pages 60-61,The Bright Side of Freelance Translation, © Nicole Y. Adams, NYA Communications, and Andrew Morris, Morristraduction, 2014.
Quick sketch, doctored: ©2015 Allison Wright
The quick sketch? That was a bit of five-minute fun.
For the rest of the time, I am serious about business and translation.
©2015 Allison Wright
There are two basic truths which apply to the profession of translation: we learn from our mistakes; and we learn from other people.
If we are fortunate, we find our errors before delivering our work, or translation errors are discussed with us by mentors, project managers at agencies, or revisors. If we have an open, communicative approach with our direct clients and ask questions when we have translation doubts or cannot figure out what the source text is trying to say, we avoid errors, learn from experts in their field ('other people') and learn how to deal with similar problems in the future.
None of us can know everything. Sharing knowledge is important. We all have the ability to learn new things throughout our lives.
If, as translators, we maintain a dialogue about the translations that we do, receive feedback and accept criticism with maturity with a view to improving our skill, and do this repeatedly for many years under very many circumstances, we suddenly find that one day we are what others call 'experienced'.
What do we do with all this experience? Apart from apply it to our daily work, I mean. It is a natural impulse to give others the benefit of our experience, either for a fee, which is to be expected in business, or as a kind of community service so that other translators can learn from the insights we have gained. We pave the way for those who follow us, just as the way was paved for us by people who cared enough to point us in the right direction. This happens in all professions. It happens in the world of translation too.
The Internet makes it easy
The Internet, websites, blogs and social media platforms make the sharing of knowledge and experience easier than it has ever been before.
Wissenswinkel is a German-language knowledge base for translators; an excellent initiative launched by two very experienced translators, Sabine Lammersdorf and Giselle Chaumien. So that the content of this well-organised, interesting website reaches a greater audience, they have called for volunteers to translate articles of their choosing into English. You can read the article I translated, entitled Paving the way to being a professional: strategy and goals, here.
Although there is much controversy centred around the merits or otherwise of 'translating for free', I think in this case that it is a fine idea. I blog 'for free' on translation matters, so why not translate someone else's blog as a service to the translation community?
Collaboration is key
You will hear me saying 'collaboration is key' a lot.
I first noted my thoughts on the collaborative aspect of translation in a guest blog produced - you guessed it! - in collaboration with Catherine Jan on her blog, Catherine Translates. I say collaboration because the draft submitted to Catherine was a little over 4,200 words. Her pertinent comments helped me rewrite the article so that the final product is about half that length. Catherine is also the one who taught me - in action - about the effectiveness of sub-titles, by the way.
If collaboration is key, so too is revision of your translation by a translator who knows your work well.
My revisor for the Wissenswinkel blog has been revising my work in her capacity as a translation agency owner and professional translator since 2011. I was glad that she agreed to join me in this small voluntary effort since she was the natural choice as my second pair of eyes for this document to which we have 'signed our names'.
What does a revisor do?
After all these years, why does a translator like me need a revisor? Surely I know what I am doing by now? Oh, yes, I do! That is precisely why I value revision of my work.
A revisor checks the accuracy of the target text against the source text. Other checks include typographical, grammatical and spelling errors. What about legitimate doubts which arise as a result of typographical errors in the source text? Did you know that punctuation rules are different in other languages? Punctuation in the translated text has to be checked too. Then there are numerous harder to define aspects, such as consistency of style, tone and flow. All these factors help to create document cohesion. Document cohesion? Document cohesion is achieved when you cannot tell that the text produced is a translation, when the text 'hangs together' and makes sense as a whole.
One last thing
That article I translated wasn't that hard, was it? No, not really. So, what have I highlighted in yellow in the image of this short text above?
Just for fun, after the translation had been posted, I went through the text again and identified the main places in this so-called easy text where a degree of extra finesse was required or serious translation choices had to be made. To do this, I used my in-built 'red-flag system'. Quite a lot of yellow, don't you think, for an easy, non-technical, non-specialised text?
My red-flag system identifies all the places this text could sound like a translation, if I were not careful. I daresay my revisor has a red-flag system of her own especially for revision work, and would paint quite a different picture than the one above. She brings a different perspective to the work; she is my safety net.
Of course, it is possible for a translator to manage these things all on their own. Without the safety net of a competent revisor, however, you can never be sure. And you cannot learn from your mistakes or share knowledge. A good translator brings out the best in a good revisor - and a good revisor brings out the best in a good translator. And that paves the way for a professional translation.
©2015 Allison Wright
When you see the term "professional translator" what does that mean exactly? On the surface, you may assume it refers to someone who makes their living from translating, but the issue goes a lot deeper than that.
Despite what some dubious websites will have you believe in this age of crowd sourcing that all you need is a smattering of bilingualism to translate, this is simply not true. Anyone who is a professional translator finds such statements outrageous primarily because they undermine the credibility of what is widely acknowledged as exacting work.
At the risk of stating the obvious, to translate properly requires not only linguistic competence in more than one language but also in-depth knowledge related to the text being translated in order to achieve accuracy and coherence on a number of levels. If any bilingual person can translate "easily" by "simply" signing up to one of these crowd sourcing gimmicks, why do so many hundreds of thousands of translators all over the world spend years of study both before and after they obtain their academic qualifications just so that they can call themselves a professional translator? Because being a professional does matter, and how you translate also matters. It matters to the individual translator, and it certainly matters to that translator's clients.
the credibility of what is widely acknowledged as exacting work
So how do we as translators become professionals? It is not through competence and experience alone, although, naturally, these two aspects do feature in the rich tapestry woven over time which lend substance to the word professional.
Translators validate their professionalism by becoming members of professional translators' associations. There are many such associations in the world, most often nationally based. Some, although not all, are affiliated to the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT)/ International Federation of Translators (IFT). Each translators' association or institute has categories of membership commensurate with one's standing, which generally range from student membership and ordinary membership to accredited membership.
As with any professional body, one has to qualify for membership and subscribe to a professional code of conduct, or code of ethics. Prerequisites vary from one association to another, but unless you meet the conditions laid down, you cannot be a member. And simply "knowing two languages", as crowd sourcing translation outfits would have you believe, is not going to cut the mustard. By a long shot. Any professional translator who subscribes to a code of conduct of any serious translators' association would almost certainly be in violation of that code of conduct were they to accept the notions put forward by crowd sourcing translation enterprises, if not the actual letter of that code, then certainly its spirit. In this regard, the Translator's Charter on the FIT/IFT website is indicative of the rigours to which professional translators subject themselves. Subscribing to codes of conduct and codes of ethics point to the integrity of, and lend credibility to, the individual doing so.
Credibility as a professional translator is further enhanced by gaining accredited membership of a national association.
Accredited membership means that you have to earn your accreditation. In order to do so, the translator has to pass examinations in a specific language pair. Such examinations are designed to test the candidate's ability to translate. The pass mark for such examinations is necessarily high. These examinations are required even if you already have a string of other academic qualifications. You also need to be able to afford the fees, which some may say discourage translators from trying in the first place, but that is another matter altogether. Suffice to say that value is placed on acquiring accreditation because of the distinction it confers upon the translator.
Are you beginning to see why professional translators dislike claims that "anyone can translate" and that "translation is easy if you know two languages"?
The chief point about memberships, not only of national translators' associations, but other international groupings, is that they afford the translator an opportunity to consider a whole range of issues specific to the profession of translation. Memberships give the professional the chance to enhance their own development in their chosen profession and to help others to do the same.
Doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, teachers, and engineers are among those who nowadays have to engage in continued professional development (CPD) and indeed, in some parts of the world such CPD is legislated. Translators are no different is this respect. Translators too, have to ensure they follow a programme of continued professional development. This should motivate clients to pay for a professional service, so that they can rest assured that their documents are going to be treated in a professional manner by translators who take their work - their profession - seriously.
It is for all of the above reasons, and more, that I am delighted with the recent founding of the
Associação Portuguesa de Tradutores e Intérpretes – APTRAD, the Portuguese Association of Translators and Interpreters, and I am happy to be counted among its members. The dynamic nature of its founders and the translation community in Portugal should serve to ensure that this association succeeds in all of its aims to promote the standing of translators and interpreters within Portugal. There is every indication that this particular association will develop in precisely the direction its members require and will move from strength to strength with the active involvement of its members.
I will continue to retain my long-held accredited membership of the South African Translators' Institute (SATI/SAVI) because I heartily approve of the high standards this organisation sets for our profession, and because it now seems that I am able to offer a service beyond mere participation in general affairs to its newer members.
Some memberships appear not to require too much of an effort to obtain, but do rely on the individual's general bona fides, reputation and work experience. I believe this to be the case with another association I joined recently, the Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET). In this latter organisation there are many members who I would consider my peers, while there are also many I would consider more accomplished than I within the fields I work. The idea of learning through the exchange of ideas has always appealed to me, and the formal organisations mentioned above certainly help me to maintain my status as a professional.
I would be interested to know how other translators feel about their membership of professional organisations, and whether such membership has been of direct benefit beyond a sense of general well-being in their careers. For me, membership of professional translation bodies, or accreditation for that matter, in no way replaces the attention we need to pay to the constant development of our competence as translators; it is a useful corollary and serves to reinforce our professional credibility.
Although officially on leave over Christmas and the new year for the first time in more years than I care to remember, I am answering e-mail correspondence and available to schedule work for my return to the office on Monday, 19 January 2015.
This blog was originally posted as a guest blog in June 2013 on Moira Monney's blog, The Successful Linguist. Since then, although still running her translation business, Moira has decided to focus on her other passion in life - nutrition and an holistic approach to wellness. I was pleased to have met her in person recently after working together with her for almost three years. Her enthusiasm for what she does beyond the sphere of translation is more than evident in her new website here. We agreed that I could re-post the original article here.
What was the common denominator among delegates at the 2013 ProZ.com International Conference held on 8 and 9 June 2013?
If anything – apart from a love of good coffee, fine wine and fine food – it is that they are all passionate about getting things right.
For many, this was probably the main motivation for attending the conference. It certainly was for me.
Whether you are new to the game, or a seasoned translator with so many tricks up your sleeve that your jacket is bulging, there is always room to improve some aspect of your translation business.
Your translation business
When many of us started out, people seldom uttered the phrase, "translation business". It was a rather foreign concept, for which no formal training existed. We simply learned the freelance ropes as we went along, and got by with a little help from our friends - as the line from that song goes.
I have vague recollections that I made a conscious decision to refer to the place at home where I work as "my office" rather than "my study". Concepts, as translators know, are incredibly important. Active visualisation of concepts, together with their integration into the activity from which we earn a living, is even more so.
The simple implementation of efficient administrative systems, is one thing; having a business model which works for you is quite another.
This is why I found the first of the workshops I attended at this conference interesting. Daniela Zambrini's presentation entitled, "Drafting a business model canvas: First steps towards personal branding" was based on the methods advocated by Alexander Osterwalder, whose published works are available on Amazon.com. Given the plethora of business models on the market, it could have been tempting to dismiss this model as just one more.
Yet, fresh perspectives are just that: Fresh. The first element of freshness was the "canvas" itself presented to us in the form of a sheet of A3 paper divided into rectangles with headings referring to various interactive elements in a business. We each received two little pads of adhesive notes, each of a different colour upon which to write things which we thought should be assigned to the different building blocks, or categories, of our translation business. Once we had defined for ourselves what should go in each rectangle, the placement of low-tech sticky labels on our own canvas became quite satisfying. The idea behind using sticky labels is that you can reassign them to a more appropriate rectangle as your understanding of the process - and your business - improves.
I heard someone saying after the presentation that he was disappointed that Daniela had to explain in such detail what a business model is, since everyone should already have one. Really? Is that a prerequisite to being an excellent translator (my primary, and constant, objective)? I, for one, would rather employ a good translator with a fuzzy business model or none at all than a mediocre translator with a fantastic business model. I am not a fan of the dismissive approach; it is, quite simply, no fun at all. It is no fun because it curtails the possibilities to be discovered simply by following the steps.
Be serious about what you do
I admire Daniela Zambrini for having tackled such a huge subject with such a large and diverse group of people whose degree of experience in managing their translation business was just as diverse. Within the allotted 90 minutes, Daniela even managed to get us working in groups effectively. I delighted in the enthusiasm of those in the group I was part of and the lively, cheerful discussion which ensued. It confirmed my long-held theory that being serious about what you do is fun.
Daniela gave the 54 registered participants a wonderful gift, for which I heartily thank her: A handout. If you read the handout, you will discover that it is part of a larger document to be found at www.businessmodelgeneration.com where you can download a 72-page preview of the book entitled Business Model Generation for free. You will also discover that you do not need to design your own canvas on your own computer. A web-based app for this purpose already exists! Yay! No more real-life sticky labels! Just as soon as you have factored "making a good business better" into your "Cost Structure" building block, you can take full advantage of it. Explore the website for yourself. You owe it to yourself to invest in yourself and your translation business. You are part of the business model generation, after all.
Take my breath away
If I had to take a deep breath after Daniela Zambrini's presentation, then it will come as no surprise to learn that my breath was completely taken away by what Marta Stelmaszak had to offer under the title of "Exploring the Freelance Advantage" in the first session on Sunday morning.
Marta had also prepared a hands-on presentation. She is an ardent time-keeper, and passionate about her profession. These two facts were immediately evident.
Her first step was to give us about 180 seconds to write down on a piece of paper why we translate. And then we had to hand her our scribbled bits of paper. Marta says she pins these statements to a board and uses them for inspiration.
I wasted a good 20 seconds fishing out my favourite purple roller ball for this important statement, and then got nervous - inexplicably, perhaps, because this piece of paper was destined to be read more than once by a fellow translator! Then I panicked about legibility!
These stages of the creative process were peppered with Marta counting down the seconds left until completion of the exercise. This was not entirely conducive to a well-crafted sentence, but I suspect that it was intentional. Even though I had done some early-morning brainwork before the 9:00 start, this rapid-fire writing under pressure was a shock to the system. A jolt of Marta-energy!
Why I translate
You are all curious, now, so here is my why:
I translate because I love the process and the outcome.
I do this better than any other thing!
I am happy to share this inelegant statement publicly precisely because it is raw, honest, and passionate.
Marta's targeted, well-structured advice
We each offered up a few words in exchange for the wealth of targeted, well-structured and motivational advice Marta has to offer. She packed plenty of activities onto the six-page handout spanning her well-devised three-part presentation. More of these gems can be discovered at Wantwords.
With deft precision, Marta led participants through the basic activity of defining their "why", describing the "how", and finally saying "what" they do. The simple graphic shows three concentric circles, with WHY in the innermost circle, HOW in the middle, and WHAT in the outermost one.
Despite the plainness of the diagram, I found myself thinking back to those old cut-away models of what lies beneath the Earth's crust. So, when Marta exhorted us to "rediscover the why", and tells us that "clients buy the why, not the what", and that "inspired leaders think, act and communicate from the inside out" (i.e. starting with the why and progressing to the what), I am thinking "magma". At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me simply say that my why - at the core of my being - could be likened to magma; molten, fluid, powerful, brimming with actual and latent energy, ready to burst forth with force at every opportunity! What a hot image! You may think it grandiose. Grandiose, but necessary. Powerful images sustain you.
Marta's dynamic presentation elicited a strong response in me. One week later, I am still trying to cope with it.
A strategic graph
The second activity pertaining to the "translator" section of this workshop tempered my fiery daydream somewhat with an ingenious graph which invites you to work on your "strategy canvas".
This is the place where you rate yourself against others on such diverse aspects as price, personality, customer services, brand, pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase performance, additional services offered (upselling/cross-selling), payment terms, specialisation, and seriousness/formality - and any other quality which may be relevant to you. It is a personal, translator-centric vision of your very own world. Use the Internet to evaluate how "others" (your competitors) measure up.
I love this graph!
My reason is this: I am well practised in the art of eschewing the very idea of being competitive. I much prefer pursuing excellence for its own sake.
This graph, though, makes excellent sense. It is a SWOT analysis and market-positioner all rolled into one. I delight in the fact that I have very many coloured pens, and I quickly realise just how different the markets are for my different language pairs, and how different my strengths are in each language pair. My coloured pens allow me to plot a profusion of coloured dots representing others and me. There should actually be six different colours on this graph. So far, only three. I am working quickly, but Marta is speeding right ahead.
She has an image on the screen of the Kim and Mauborgne's Blue Ocean Strategy® and is telling us that this concept and the little dots on her personal graph have enabled her to create her own "blue ocean" in which she no longer has competitors, but collaborators.
Unique selling point
I hear her mention "homework". Our homework (and the very word assumes an ongoing collaboration with those of us in the workshop) is to do the same, and define our USP (unique selling point). Much to my utter surprise, I actually come up with a decent USP from my haphazard, off-the-cuff graph exercise – and the plump seeds of an idea are beginning to germinate. I have been inspired by a legal translator, the phonetics of whose mother tongue (Polish) are a complete mystery to me. Life is beautiful.
Imagine my horror as we seamlessly slide on to the second part of Marta's presentation which deals with the Client. We are tasked with drawing our "Ideal Client Avatar" (ICA). Our worksheet has a blank outline of an androgynous human being. I am flummoxed. I draw a hat on my politically-correct gingerbread person, because, at least a hat does keep the humour dry, and an optimistic open expression, with a smile which could be the way someone smiles when in the act of speaking at the same time. We have questions to answer about our ICA which force us to attribute human, personal characteristics to this avatar. In the five minutes of time allotted to this task, I get hopelessly lost in a sea of madness.
I question which of my current clients are, in fact, ideal. As I think of the attributes of some of my clients, I become confused trying to marry a liking for the works of Bob Marley to the intricacies of certification of manufacturing processes in the logistics industry. I also wonder about the ethical correctness of drawing what will, in my hand, inevitably end up being a caricature of a leading figure in Portuguese viticulture. It would only serve to strip away the very great respect I have for this person. Oh, dear! Hopeless! Clearly, I need more than one avatar. A close-knit multi-culti bunch of good-looking people - and a portal or two for good measure.
I mention my stumbling block because I am fairly certain that I was not alone in my dilemma at this point in the presentation. It was also the most depressing ten minutes of the entire conference for me.
Know your client
The Big D-word notwithstanding, Marta does make a compelling and important point: You have to know your clients in order to be able provide them with what they need. Knowing your clients includes knowing what motivates them, their strategies, and even their dreams. One should add that knowing your clients means knowing as much as possible about their business, their industry, and where relevant, their origins. For what it is worth, I agree. You simply cannot be a stranger, or a casual observer, and hope to produce translations that work for your client in the best way possible.
Likewise, in order to do your job to best effect, you need to acquire knowledge which comes from cultivating a relationship with your clients. This knowledge is every bit as much your stock-in-trade as your linguistic expertise.
Marta is of the view that you need a well-defined Ideal Client Avatar (hers is in giant Technicolor® and still has some of his real human hair) because this will determine such things as your business name, business card, your clothing, your e-mail signature, and what your website looks like.
My non-conformist nature prevents me from agreeing wholeheartedly with this view. I do agree that you do need to win your clients over by adopting their world view to a large degree. Where you as the translator differ from your client is that you have at least two different world views with which you deal every single day - more, if you work with more than one language pair. This is the value you bring to the relationship; this is the difference you need to accentuate. This is your sacrosanct why.
A kind of magic
The third part of Marta’s presentation deals with the place where translator and client meet; where the magic happens. The level of precision required to complete the three activties on the worksheetis certainly not for the faint-hearted. Rigorous self-examination is part of the deal. The reward? Success in your translation business.
Both Daniela Zambrini and Marta Stelmaszak gave workshop participants concrete, practical suggestions for improvement of their translation businesses. These are methods which have been proven to work on a sustainable basis.
All the exercises and activities require effort and application. This kind of visualisation has nothing to do with the beach, a hammock between two palm trees and a goodly supply of pina coladas. It is the vision of a much bigger picture which you as a freelance translator determine yourself.
It is worth a try, don't you think?
Besides, Marta's closing words were, "Be ready in two weeks". You have less than one week left.
Clients and potential clients should be aware that there is a bogus directory on the web called Lingvo Point.
It is bogus because it has stolen the data from a bona fide translation organisation called ProZ. All the profiles on Lingvo Point are the profiles of ProZ members. No ProZ member has given consent for their personal and professional data to be used by Lingvo Point. In addition, details given by Lingvo Point, such as rates and in some cases, the language services individual translators provide bear no relation to reality.
Please let me know via the Contact your translator form on this website, Allison Wright Translations, if you receive any notification by Lingvo Point that I am working on a job for you. Let me assure you that I never have, and never will.
All I can do is to urge you, as clients, to make sure you are dealing with a real person, a real translator.
I am always happy to communicate directly with my clients. In fact, Apart from blogging, I don't do it any other way.
That's right. I have finally got a proper website with my own domain name - and a new e-mail address!
Whether you are already one of my clients, a potential client or a fellow translator, I welcome you to this space. I hope you find it easy to use, and that it helps you to get in touch with me quickly and easily via the CONTACT YOUR TRANSLATOR menu tab above.
While I do not currently outsource work, there are some exciting developments in the offing, with particular focus on the Portuguese to English language pair. All systems should be in place by the February 2015. Details will be of interest to clients and translators alike, and will be published here in due course.
As many of you know, I sometimes write about aspects of translation as well as other things on my personal blog, That elusive pair of jeans. You may not recognise it now, because it has recently undergone a face-lift despite its modest renown internationally. I shall continue to blog there as the mood takes me.
The blog here at Allison Wright Translations will include articles directly related to my work which are not - or no longer - confidential. Here, I will showcase larger projects already completed and other items intended chiefly for clients, but also fellow translators with whom I enjoy contact on various professional forums and social networks.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Q: What do translators do on Facebook?
A: They post a definition of translation by a famous Portuguese writer.
Then one of their friends - if they are anything like me - translates it just for fun.
This is one of the few occasions I elected to maintain in English the very long sentences found in the Portuguese. Everyone readily acknowledges that German has long sentences; Portuguese also has them, but I find that they require different treatment - and a different set of mental acrobatics - to render them in intelligible English.
While I am neither a literary translator nor a transcreator of poems, I appreciate both literature and poetry.
If you would like to read a translation I did of a sonnet, Assenta a minha aldeia written by 'the poet of Alte', Francisco Xavier Cândido Guerreiro (1871-1953), you will find it here at That elusive pair of jeans, my personal blog.
This blog will focus solely on aspects related to translation.