Your copyediting questions answered

The American Translators Association recently asked me back to present another webinar. This time, we explored how to copyedit a text well without scrubbing out the original author’s unique voice. If you missed the live webinar, it will be available on demand here.

Live listeners came up with some great questions that I promised to answer. So, here goes:

  1. How do you differentiate between translating idomatically and respecting the author’s tone?

    This is where your specialized professional knowledge comes in handy! First of all, you will be familiar enough with your source text to recognize a cliché or common idiom. “Raining cats and dogs,” for instance. Those are characteristic to a language or culture, but likely not a particular author—so you can localize them at will.

    Second of all, if you read through your source text once or twice before you dig into the translation, you will notice words or phrases that the author reaches for often. For long texts, it helps to jot some notes on this as you go. The list you end up with will be your road map to the author’s style—and therefore, the pieces you must respect.

  2. I edit a school’s weekly newsletter. The current style is each division writes their own piece, and I compile them together. As a result, the reader can recognize different voices from different divisions. Should I edit all divisions’ texts so that they have a unified voice, or should I keep each division’s distinct voice as it is?

    The best answer I can give is, “It depends.” What is the goal of the newsletter? Is it a marketing product for a private school? An informative piece for parents? If the text leans more to the advertising side, unified is usually better—consistency in the writing builds a sense of reliability in the institution behind the newsletter. But if the piece is supposed to show parents what their kids have been up to, multiple voices would be a great way to demonstrate just how well rounded is their kids’ educational experience.

  3. How do you handle an ellipsis at the end of a French sentence?

    I had a lot of people ask about this! Strictly speaking, the French use an ellipsis (…) where American English writers use “etc.” Both of these feel clunky to me most times. If you are translating a technical or very professional piece, then by all means keep the “etc.” But if you can, consider rewriting the English a bit to, shall we say, imply the ellipsis.

    For example:

    Instead of this: Campers can try out activities like boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, etc.

    Try this: Campers can try out a variety of activities, such as boating, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.

    For more formal writing, “including” is a good alternative to “such as.”

If you think of any other questions, ask away in the comments section! Until then, happy translating.



American court interpreters get a voice

Go read this. Now. I mean it.

This is exciting, people. BuzzFeed, a pretty popular source of news and entertainment for many Americans, just ran a piece on the state of court interpreting in the US. In addition to the independent interpreters interviewed, the American Immigration Lawyers Association spoke up on behalf of our profession—they know it’s not easy, and the work we linguists do is pivotal.

american flagConsider this short excerpt:

The immigration court system has long attracted criticism for its patchy, lackluster efforts to provide high-quality language interpretation. A 2011 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found that the Justice Department consistently failed to provide meaningful language access in immigration courts…

Despite the confusion caused by the author switching back and forth between the terms “interpreting” and “translating,” I’m going to call this a win. Our profession is gaining traction and visibility in the States. There is hope!

Read the BuzzFeed article here:

What do you think? What are your experiences? Share away!

56th annual ATA conference

It’s almost time for the annual American Translators Association conference! Have you registered yet?

When you’re looking through the preliminary schedule, I have some bad news: the presentations I planned had to be canceled. I won’t be able to make it to Miami for personal reasons. So sorry! If you were interested in the proofreading session, my webinar from June is available on-demand here (or contact me for private or small group workshops!). If you wanted to learn about what it was like translating an alternative to Tocqueville, check out this guest post I did for Lisa Carter.

The good news is, next year’s conference will be in San Francisco, a quick day trip from my home office. The Northern California Translators Association and I are going to make sure you have fun in our home state.

Until we meet again, happy translating!

What non-translators think of translators

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with more direct clients on a wide range of tasks: consulting, recruiting, managing, interpreting, and translating.

However, hearing what non-translators think of professional linguists… was not always pretty. Take a look at some of the comments I’ve heard from different buyers:

  • We’re an exclusive crowd. We can be difficult to talk to, hard to reach, and suspicious of outsiders (even though they are our potential clients).
  • We’re not the most flexible. In the interest of portraying confidence and defending our “turf,” we’re frequently unwilling to budge in any area of negotiation—which leaves the client wondering where their side of the win-win went.

arm wrestling

  • We are openly hostile towards technology. And it scares aware customers who aren’t sure why we’d take that stance, even though it could soothe some of those negotiation points.
  • We’re quirky. Sometimes a positive trait, sometimes a negative.
  • We’re incredibly intelligent. When we finally get talking, it’s clear we know a lot about our subject areas, languages, and cultures.
  • We help people move forward with their lives. People come to us with serious roadblocks to their business, immigration, healthcare needs… you name it. And when we can remove those for them, it’s a major relief.

I offer these as some free market research for all my fellow linguists (in the United States, at least), along with a challenge:

Let’s use the positive comments to our advantage, and change the negatives for the better. Lead with your knowledge, ask intelligent questions, and let people know you’re ready and willing to help them communicate. Talk to local business owners. Correct the myths about our industry.

We do amazing things every day. Our reputation should match that!

Have you heard these comments before? Do any of these surprise you? How do you address the good, the bad, and the ugly in your business interactions?

Proofreaders’ marks

Thanks to everyone who participated in today’s webinar with the ATA! It was fun leading you through the creation of a proofreading system. I’ll be following up on some questions that came up afterwards over the next few days.

One participant asked, “Where can we download or get the proofreaders’ marks?” That’s an easy one, so here you go:

And a similar version from the Chicago Manual of Style:

Chicago Manual of Style proofreaders' marksHappy translating (and proofreading)!

Quality assurance training opportunity

A little bit of exciting news:

The American Translators Association is hosting a webinar with me on June 16th, 12pm (noon) EDT. I’ll present techniques and tricks for proofreading your work efficiently and effectively, plus some of the science behind why they work. Register here today!

Here’s a quick sampling of my reference materials:
Building Great Sentences, by Brooks Landon
The Fine Art of Copyediting, by Elsie Myers Stainton
The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin

For more information, click here. I hope you can join us!

Dealing with change

It has been a long while since I’ve shared my thoughts with you, and that deserves some explanation. The last year has brought some significant shifts in my private life. Something had to give. I hope you have enjoyed scouring the archives in the meantime.

Without making any promises about the regularity of future posts, I want to share some ideas that helped me keep my business growing while dealing with the heavier stuff behind the scenes. No one is immune to change, whether to their health, relationships, or goals. You have to learn to manage them—wanted or not.


1. Systems and routines minimize the energy you must spend on your business and allow you to maintain some semblance of continuity. You should decide in advance which systems are essential, and which can be let go temporarily.

I suggest keeping a bare-bones social media presence alive, a daily industry news habit, and the administrative and production tasks that regular client work demands. Everything else—seeking out lots of new business, building fun marketing campaigns, planning world domination—can probably slip a little without harming your business. Look at your own data and make the call. Think of it as part of your emergency preparedness plan.

2. A wise person once told me, “Relax. This will not be the biggest growth period in your business history, and that’s OK. That can come later. Probably sooner than you expect.” Don’t force it. Accept that the present will become the past, quickly.

3. Maintain relationships with your core group of colleagues. You don’t need to broadcast your troubles to the world, but do let some key people know why you are scaling back temporarily. Camaraderie works!

These three pieces of advice served me well in the last year. I gave a successful presentation to a welcoming group of colleagues in Chicago, joined a great group of local businesspeople in my local Chamber of Commerce, and signed on as translator of a book (much sooner than I anticipated in my 10-year plan). Hopefully, this advice helps you, too.

If you have any thoughts or tips to add about freelancing during rocky times, let us know in the comments.
Happy translating!

Getting things done

Happy new year! Have you made any business resolutions yet?

This year, I’m going to focus on expansion in several directions: doing more education outreach, getting more involved with direct clients, and taking my language skills up another notch. I laid the foundations for reaching these goals last year by joining a few chambers of commerce and working closely with a colleague to develop a panel discussion at the local university. And this summer, I’m planning to spend 6 weeks working from Budapest.

frozen waterfall

Needless to say, there are days when everything feels incredibly overwhelming! I know I’m not the only entrepreneur out there who gets anxious. Here are my favorite resources for helping “tame the beast:”

  • A calendar. I used to be a die-hard paper person (and I still have a paper calendar on my wall), but for all the daily and weekly to-dos, it got too crowded. The visual clutter was too much! This year, I switched to Google for my scheduling. So far, so good!
  • A planner. Most of my planning goes into a simple, unruled notebook. It’s great for “brain dumps” and doodling the connections between different tasks. If you need a little more guidance than a blank page offers, I recommend the Passion Planner. (You can download a basic template for free!)
  • An escape. A couple of times a week, I go to yoga. The classes I like are recurring events on my calendar so I’m not tempted to skip. And once every 6–8 weeks, I get a massage. (And no, I’m not a 6-figure earner yet.) I started doing this the last few months of 2014, and it is amazing how much longer I can go between the “freelancer blahs.” Not to mention the energy boost it gives me. What’s your escape?

Best wishes to you with all your goals this year. Feel free to share your own below, and resources you’re using to reach them. Happy 2015!

It’s the little things

Holiday season is officially upon us!

christmas wreath teal door Wiki commons image

Consider this a PSA: I’m not one to dictate to anyone how to conduct business (there’s more than one way, after all!), but you should seriously consider using this opportunity to thank those who help you pay your bills by paying theirs. Meaning, your clients.

If you have something against holiday cards, send New Year greetings. If you have something against that, pick another point in the year that will be your thank-you time. Even if you have hundreds of clients, you can keep your costs low while making a big impact. Pick up the pen, put it to some stationery, and write “thanks!”

Think about it: when’s the last time you received something other than a bill or unsolicited marketing junk at your business address? Most likely, it’s been months. Another question: aren’t we translators ultimately in the business of communication?

Take a moment now to put a smile on the face of your clients by demonstrating your ability to communicate gratitude. Don’t sell, don’t write about new business, don’t schmooze. Just say thank you. The rewards will come. Not that they’re the point.

Warmth and rest to you this winter season!

Make proofreading less painful—literally

On the heels of my recent presentation at ATA55, I want to share some of my favorite tips for proofreading. I’ve already discussed the technical side of things here and here. Today, let’s get physical!

seated posture

Your body is an important tool for translation work. Sitting at a desk for long hours can be incredibly demanding of your muscles, joints, and skeleton. Taking a few minutes to learn about how to care for yourself while doing the work you love can help you keep doing it longer. Here are a few ideas:

  • Warm up your eyes before getting started. With your eyes closed, look up-down-left-right, and all around in both directions. Open your eyes and look at something far away. Repeat during breaks from your work every so often to protect your eyesight and avoid headaches.
  • Seriously, look away. Far, far away. The wall in front of my desk it totally blank on purpose. I also have a window to look out of. Use your long-distance vision to let the short-distance vision rest every so often.
  • Work with print materials on an inclined surface. This helps you maintain good seated posture and avoid contorting your neck in funny ways.
  • Practice good posture! Shoulders back and low, feet on the floor, pelvis tucked in a neutral position. If you need to work on this, try these yoga videos.
  • Use technology to your advantage: dictation and/or CAT tools for drafting, text-to-speech during some kinds of editing. Make templates for heavily formatted documents you get often (birth certificates, marriage licenses, academic records…). Your wrists and fingers will thank you.

What do you do to avoid the aches and pains of translation? Share your ideas in the comments!