One Powerful Way to Change Your Year as a Translator

One of the best things I have ever tried as a translator was speaking at an ATA conference. Presenting gives you a confidence boost, solidifies your knowledge around a topic, and creates a unique way for you to meet new clients and colleagues. The ATA just put out its call for proposals for this year’s conference in New Orleans—give it a try!


I’ve presented at most of the conferences I’ve attended. Here are my best tips for putting together a winning conference proposal:

  1. Think about your own “pain points” in the industry. Do you get annoyed by how often you see confusion around certain terminology? Does an apparent lack of education on some business topic make you crazy? Have you ever rolled your eyes or pulled your hair in frustration about how little information is available about your secret favorite resource? Make that your presentation topic!
  2. Create balance between theory and practical skills or resources. Language professionals can enjoy talking about say, the history of French prepositions, but that’s not the whole reason people attend this conference—if someone from your audience got a job the same day with connections to your topic, what would they immediately be able to implement to improve their work? Give your listeners a useful tool.
  3. Remember that adults like to share what they know. Yes, even when they are in a learning situation. Build audience participation moments into your presentation plan (even simple audience surveys will help) to make sure people are going to stay engaged with your information.

If all you do is jot down a sentence or two on these three topics, you’ll be most of the way to a successful proposal.

Remember, too, that translators and interpreters have one major trait in common: an insatiable thirst for knowledge. You never know when a project will come along that requires specialized understanding of how a printing press operates, what conditions are required for optimum results in asphalt laying, or when is the best time of day to eat an apple. There is nothing that won’t interest us—so you really can’t go wrong!

For more information on how to submit your proposal, click here.


Happy new year!

This past year certainly had its ups and downs here in the States. Still, I learned more about my subject matter specialty, shared information with fellow editing enthusiasts in a new format, and reconnected with language professionals here in Sacramento. Life and time marches on!
The coming year has quite a few exciting events in store already, including a book launch and more revision training options for you. Most importantly, I am finally setting aside some time to work on a personal translation – something that I picked up years ago, a project likely only a few friends and family members will read (but why not?). Just thinking about it makes me smile.

I hope you also have a moment to reflect back on all you accomplished this year and decide where you will steer yourself in 2018. What was your most memorable project this year? What project would you most love to complete in the coming months? Feel free to share your goals in the comments below.

Whatever you decide, best wishes to you for a healthy and prosperous new year!

Coffee hour, December 16th

Grab a coffee with your language-loving colleagues on December 16, 2017, in Roseville, California. I’m hosting another coffee hour for the Northern California Translators Association in the greater Sacramento area just in time for the holidays. Please join us from 10:30am–12:30pm at the Westfield Galleria for some friendly shop talk. Our gatherings typically cover everything from local restaurants to national politics. Whatever is on your mind professionally, you are welcome to share with us!

Details are on NCTA’s events page:

How to Be a Better Translator

If you’ve been translating for a while and feel stuck at your current skill level, I have good news! It’s likely not your translating that needs improvement—it’s your editing. All first drafts are terrible. No one thinks in perfect English (or French, or Swahili) when they’re focused on forming ground-breaking, substantive thoughts. And that’s OK! What wouldn’t be OK is to release that brain dump as a final product.

Unfortunately, editing seems to be an afterthought when we think about translation as a whole. After all, translators work from finished products, right? Well… only sort of. You may be working from completed ideas and logic chains, but you need to leave yourself enough time to clean up the parts that didn’t transition easily into the target language. Done properly, the editing process can take as much time or longer than getting the initial translation down on the page (screen).

behind books

You don’t have to learn editing to translate, or to translate well. Not one of the 20 professionals in my workshop at ATA58 had ever taken a formal class in revision before (and many of them have been translating for over 20 years!).  But if you want to improve your translations, you should strongly consider taking a course on how to improve your quality control.

In-person classes are often available through your local university or writers association. ATA offers my revision webinars on demand (here and here). Or, if your time is limited right now, I can personally recommend any of these books as a soft starting point:

I’m curious: Have you completed any training in revision? What resources can you recommend? Add your favorites in the comments below!

Revision Refresh Workshop – Last Chance to Register

There are just a few spots left in my editing workshop at ATA58. If you have never had formal training in copyediting or proofreading, consider signing up now for the 3-hour session on October 25th. 

You’ll get hands-on training for every stage of revision and walk away with several customized tools for your language pair(s) and subject matter specialties. We’ll discuss how to manage individual projects, long-term client styles, and team translations. There is a pre-workshop assignment you can do now, or turn it in after the live class for personalized feedback.

In this tech-focused world, quality revision makes your work stand above the machine output. Click here to register for AST-14 today: 

IRAC and Legal Translation

One of my major goals this year was to complete some intense subject-matter training. The in-person UC Davis certificate program in paralegal studies began in June. It’s been exhausting, and will continue to be up through mid-November, but I am already seeing returns on this investment.

Besides the study materials coming in handy at my day job at the law office, learning how lawyers think behind the scenes about their work has led to a major breakthrough moment in how I approach my legal translation projects!

upside down

American lawyers break pretty much every issue down to four headings: Issue – Rule – Analysis (Application) – Conclusion, or IRAC. It’s the preferred method for deciding whether to take on a case, drafting a letter or brief, and presenting an argument in court. For example:

  • Issue—Can I certify this translation?
  • Rule—In the US, anyone can certify a translation they produce by signing a declaration under penalty of perjury that they are qualified and have done their best work.
  • Analysis—I am qualified, did my best effort, and will sign a declaration to that effect.
  • Conclusion—Yes, I can certify this translation.

Now, I’ve translated quite a few divorce decrees in recent years; I know what laws to expect, the general order of the basic parts of the argument, and I know the terms of art to plug in. Last week, though, when I received another run-of-the-mill Hungarian divorce judgment, without even consciously considering what I was doing, I broke the Hungarian text down according to IRAC principles. It was like getting a new pair of prescription glasses—I thought I could see before, but it’s so much clearer now!

All of a sudden, not only do I understand what the words mean and how to render them in English, I also understand how the Hungarian judge was analyzing the parties’s request and facts to reach her decision.  In hindsight, the differences in the source text and a parallel American judgment make total sense, based on the differences I already know about the syntax of the languages. Hungarian sentences play with word order so that the part being emphasized comes first (think Yoda-speak: Hungry, I am!). The Hungarian legal argument followed a similar pattern. The basic structure is, “Regarding issue A, the conclusion is X, because of our analysis in light of Rule P.” Besides the issue, the decision is the most important thing in a court document. The American IRAC structure is turned to ICAR in Hungarian.

Figuring this out won’t outwardly change my translations—in legal translation, it’s a no-no to reorder the paragraphs—but it was certainly a fun surprise to read an everyday project in such a new way. If you’ve been on the fence about investing in some subject-matter training, dive in now!

What special training have you taken recently? How has your work surprised you lately? Share in the comments below!


Get ready for #ATA58!


Are you planning on heading to Washington, DC this October for the 58th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association? I sure am — I used to live in the neighborhood where the conference is being held. DC is a great place for language lovers and folks who love to explore different cultures. Here are my recommendations for the conference. Feel free to add yours in the comments below!

At #ATA58

  • Sign up for my pre-conference Advanced Skills and Training workshop on revision (AST-14). We’ll be reviewing the basics of tidying up the written word and spending plenty of time on translation-specific problems like working with non-native texts and dictated translations, and jumping between specialty fields. Details are available here.
  • The French Language Division is putting on a number of fun events, including a happy hour mixer and the annual dinner. (Sign up soon for the dinner; it regularly sells out.)
  • In addition to all the great presentations, I highly recommend attending at least one special event—the job fair and brainstorm networking have been very helpful to me at prior conferences. It’s a chance to meet potential clients and colleagues you might not see otherwise.

Around DC (and walking distance to the conference hotel)

  • Kramer Books is a great place to browse for new reads (and get a potent cup of Irish coffee to go with your purchase).
  • The Phillips Collection has one of my favorite curated art collections in the world—the last time I went, they were still arranging the rooms by subject, rather than artist or time period. It’s a whole new way to see artwork!
  • St. Arnold’s Mussel Bar tucked away on Jefferson Street offers scrumptious moules-frites and a wide selection of Belgian beer.

I hope to see you in DC. Please share your favorite city sites in the comments below—even with the politicking, it’s a wonderful place to visit!


Alibi mystery magazine cover

Do you teach a language in addition to your translation work? Or do you have a pack of kids swarming your house this summer? “Alibi” is the game for you!

This works best for small groups (5-10 participants) and is fun for all ages. (Really. We tried it at an office party with the attorneys, and no one wanted to stop.) You might want to use this for intermediate language learners and above.

Set the scene: A crime or murder has been committed. Use some imagination to customize it for your group – for instance, someone stole all the cookies from the cookie jar. The police have narrowed it down to just two suspects, but unfortunately, the pair are providing an alibi for each other. Be a little specific here – such as, they say they were at the movies together at the time. 

Choose the potential criminals: Now pick two people to be the suspects with the alibi, and ask them to leave the room for a minute before the interrogations. They should be corroborating their story now (for example, what movie did they see, where, and what time). In the meantime, explain to the rest of the group that they will be the interrogators. They should brainstorm a series of questions to try to catch the suspects in a lie.

Interrogate suspect one: Ask only one suspect back into the room. Sit the person in a chair facing the group, and let the questions begin. For writing practice, someone can be in charge of noting the answers. Go through about 3-5 minutes or 20 questions at this stage. The interrogators can improvise questions as they go. The suspect must answer (pretend to be their attorney if they try to use that defense to get out of playing).

Interrogate suspect two: You can ask the first suspect to leave, but it’s more fun if they stay – as long as they are quiet. Bring in the second suspect and go through questions agan. Ask the same or similar ones to see where their alibi is weak. Cap this stage, too, at 3-5 minutes or about 20 questions (unless you clearly catch the lie – then a questioner should holler “Aha!” and “the law” wins). You will likely catch the pair in a lie, but they might hold out – in which case, “the citizens” win.

My favorite part of this game is that each round is equally fun. There aren’t many tricks you can learn that make it too easy for either side, and it doesn’t get vicious – people are too busy puzzling through the logic flow. Even your most reticent students will be itching to chime in. No one can resist a mystery…

What language games do you like, for fun or for class? How do you get shy people talking? Share in the comments below!

Coffee hour, July 15


I’m hosting another coffee hour for the Northern California Translators Association on July 15, 2017. If you’re going to be in the greater Sacramento area this summer, please join us from 10:30am–12:30pm at the Westfield Galleria for shop talk. Our last few gatherings have covered everything from local restaurants to national politics. Whatever is on your mind professionally, you are welcome to join us!

Details are on NCTA’s events page:


Business Tools Update


Happy mid-year! Have you checked in with yourself lately to see how you are doing with meeting your annual goals? I just started my paralegal training this week, so that’s one thing checked off my list.

A goal I didn’t write down is to streamline my billing and accounting system. Software packages like QuickBooks or Quicken are too expensive and complicated for my business type.  I do everything in homemade Excel spreadsheets right now, which I love, but I know they can be improved upon. And guess what? Someone has already done that! A colleague sent me a link to Simple Planner. It has everything I was looking for – income and expense calculators in the same Excel file, plus an invoice generator. It may even motivate me to calculate my profit and loss statements. I won’t be changing my system mid-year, but this is definitely going on my list of year-end buys (especially since this tip comes from someone I trust; I promise we are not in the pockets of this company). Check it out here.

[Bonus tip: Apparently, most banks let you download your transaction statements as Excel files. So instead of doing all your bookkeeping data entry by hand, you can copy/paste or link it all up!]

If marketing is your focus this year, BufferApp is another great tool to try. (Again, I am not compensated in any way for sharing this information with you.) I have been paying the nominal fee for their Awesome Plan for a couple years, no regrets. I love being able to schedule updates for events and holidays in advance, and spread out the news I read (usually in one big go on a Sunday) and share so I’m not just dumping everything on my followers at once. But it gets better: BufferApp recently added a feature that lets you sign up for RSS feeds for blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc., right in the scheduling app. So now, instead of going to my RSS feed to catch up on news, then switching to the app to post articles of interest, I can do it all in the same place. Isn’t everything better when it’s streamlined? Check out their plans here (they have a free version, too).

What goals have you checked off your list this year? What tools are you using to meet them? Please share your favorites below!