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!


Do you ever feel like a fraud?

There’s a pervasive motif in this profession that divides translators into the “absolute pro” category versus the “mere hobbyist” camp—with absolutely no grey area, despite the fact that translators’ business styles are as varied as the subjects they translate. This, believe it or not, is probably my #1 source of stress as I develop my freelance enterprise.


For instance: everyone goes through droughts—of workload, energy, and confidence levels. It’s a normal part of business. Veteran professionals take weeks or months off at a time to prevent burnout, tend to family needs, or explore a new interest. I’m not sure why younger professionals, who have these breaks forced upon them by circumstance, are meant to feel it makes them something less than they are.

The same goes for mistakes in our work. Yes, there may be a sliding scale of “total newb” versus “tired pro” errors, but the truth is, no one is perfect. Pros can make dorky mistakes; newbs can create elegant solutions to tricky problems. What matters is how you handle correcting the mistakes you do make, and whether you learn from them for future projects.

Final example: I know some incredibly professional translators who “only” do it part time, in between raising children or working another job. Or they don’t have to worry about their business revenue, because a partner or spouse is the steady breadwinner. Are they less professional because they aren’t putting in X amount of hours, or sweating bullets about earning over some income threshold Y? Absolutely not!

Let’s stop putting this sort of pressure on our colleagues and ourselves. There’s pressure enough minding our grammars and building our translation skill sets (not to mention finding and keeping good clients).

Have you ever felt like a fraud? How did you get past it? Extra credit: share one positive thought about a colleague of yours. What does s/he do well?

How I chose my specialty field: Therese Iknoian

To watch the interview on YouTube, click here.

Therese Iknoian is a journalist-turned-translator of German fitness and outdoor sports texts. She’s based in California, but flies back to Germany pretty often for tradeshows, client meetings, and other business.

Watch the interview to hear Therese’s thoughts on switching careers into translation, working in a tight-knit niche, and staying current. Some highlights from our conversation:

  • Authenticity is a big deal, to clients and consumers.
  • You don’t have to dream of Everest to be part of the outdoor sports community.
  • Her favorite thing about translation as a career? Being able to hand-pick clients and develop close relationships with them.
  • There are pitfalls to that good translator trait, curiosity: you can only fit so many careers and business ventures into one lifetime!

Feel free to share your thoughts below! Therese and I are standing by to answer other questions you might have.

Would you like to be part of this translator specialization series? Send me an email at carolyn@untangledtranslations.com!

How I chose my specialty field: Magda Phili

To watch the interview on YouTube, click here.

Magda Phili translates English and Italian texts into her native Greek, specializing most recently in work for coffee and baby products. You might know her as the author of Which Translates To.

In our interview, Magda shared her variegated story about becoming an “accidental” translator—a story which I’m sure will resonate with more than a small number of our colleagues. She is an energetic professional who finds time to translate, write, maintain a blog, and create art while balancing the most important thing: time with her young family.

Some highlights from our conversation:

  • “Kids are the best training for time management.”
  • Working with an unusual language pair (like her Italian>Greek) can make you feel like a Sherlock Holmes of terminology.
  • Translation as an industry doesn’t suffer from crisis—whether good or bad, news and information always needs to be communicated.
  • On mastering a new specialty: “Details are everything.”

Feel free to share your thoughts below! Magda and I are standing by to answer your questions.

Do you specialize in an unusual subject matter or language pair? Would you like to share your experiences with others? Send me an email! carolyn@untangledtranslations.com

How I chose my specialty field: Cveta “Cece” Kundtz

To watch the interview on YouTube, click here.

Cveta Kundtz, known to most as Cece, is a Macedonian linguist in the Washington, DC metro area. She currently works primarily as a language instructor in Arlington, VA, but also accepts interpreting and translation requests that fit around her teaching schedule. Cece began her career as an interpreter and translator for the military in and around Kosovo.

In our interview, Cece shares her ideas on specializing in a rare language, rather than in a particular subject matter. She stresses flexibility and curiosity as essential characteristics for translators hoping to build their career around a less commonly requested language pair—something she knows from experience!

Other highlights from our conversation:

  • Military language work involves a variety of different specialty terminology groups.
  • Sometimes you just have to learn as you go—but you have to balance that with knowing your own limits.
  • People who work with rare languages can—and maybe should—“specialize in generalizing.”
  • On being asked to interpret Russian (a language she didn’t know) in Kosovo: “[They] did not have anyone else. So, I went along with them. I was still better than no one at all. We just tried together to get the message across.”

Feel free to share your thoughts below! Cece and I are standing by to answer other questions you might have.

Would you like to share your experience choosing a specialty in translation? Let me know at carolyn@untangledtranslations.com!

Using scripts to market your services effectively

I draft a script for every one of my regular categories of marketing and sales interactions: phone calls, emails, even notes on a postcard! It has been a huge boost to my efforts. Why?

  • The process of drafting and revising the script before sending it out in the world helps me internalize my message. I’m getting practice telling others what I do by telling myself in private first.
  • It reduces the number of decisions I have to make when I actually sit down to do sales and marketing tasks, which makes it less daunting overall. I have the basic structure and delivery method for my communications in front of me like an instruction manual: Just follow steps 1-2-3 to contact people A, B, and C.
  • It helps me maintain consistency across my communications. This is important for my reputation as a reliable professional, and it reduces potential confusion about what services I actually offer to clients.
  • It gives me more confidence when talking on the phone. As a translator, I’m used to having lots of time to think about what I want to say and how. Phone calls are a whole ‘nother ball game. Having a general outline of what information I mean to convey gives me something to focus on when giving on-the-spot responses to unscripted questions.

Now, I’m not saying you should send exactly the same note to every person or have exactly the same phone call with each person you contact. Personalization is important—you don’t want to come off as a robot, or someone who didn’t do their homework on a specific contact’s background. The scripts just give you more time to be more personal (or personable). Give it a try!

Have you used scripts to help with your own sales and marketing? What sort of texts to you draft ahead of time? Has it helped?

How I chose my specialty field: Sarah “Alys” Lindholm

Psst—This month’s interview format is a little different. Using Google’s On Air feature, I made a video of my conversation with Sarah. What do you think?

To watch the interview on YouTube, click here.

Sarah “Alys” Lindholm, also known as The Detail Woman, is a Japanese-to-English translator specializing in anime, television, and video games. She has worked in the industry for a solid decade, currently as a senior translator with FUNimation.

In our interview, Sarah shared quite a bit of advice for linguists considering subtitling as a career. We discussed the highs and lows of working in a narrow specialization for 10 years, ways to keep it interesting, and how it has changed her feelings towards anime as a hobby. She offered a couple suggestions for people interested in following a similar career path. And she also talks about that “little bit of crazy” that most translators have inside.

Other highlights from our conversation:

  • Not all Japanese language majors do it for the love of anime.
  • Television and cartoons are just as creative a translation pursuit as marketing or written literature.
  • “When we do hobbies for ourselves, we can pick out only the stuff that we like. Let’s say my hobby is knitting, and I love knitting scarves but I hate knitting hats. If you do it as a profession, you have to knit the scarves and the hats.”
  • Subtitling projects can help you define your personal and professional ethics—depending on which, if any, you choose to turn down.

Feel free to share your thoughts below! Sarah and I are standing by to answer other questions you might have.

I’d also like to know: do you prefer the video format, or the written transcript? Constructive comments about the video are most welcome, just keep in mind how camera shy I am to begin with… break it to me gently!

Choosing a name for your business

I am a big advocate of translators investing in just two things when they first start freelancing: professionally printed business cards, and a website with professional domain name. But before you do that, you’ve got to face a creative challenge: choosing a name for your business.

untangled translations business card front

The front side of my own business card.

If you go the easy (though no less credible) route, you simply use your name and your profession together. For instance, I might choose CarolynTranslates or TranslationsByCarolyn. (As a complete aside, I recently read an interesting piece that touched on personal domain names as a future sign of old age. You can find it here.)

Another route for choosing your business name involves brainstorming a bit. When I worked for a branding company, the way the pros did this was to create a few lists of single words, then mix and match until something stuck. Draft a bunch of adjectives you want associated with your name and services. You can also make a similar list of nouns.

Aim for 10–15 words on each list, so you are forced to go beyond the really obvious (i.e., overused) choices. Say I wanted a simple Hungarian domain name to market myself to my source-language audience. Part of my list might look like this:

legal              translator

scholarly      revision

precise         language

thorough     communication

American     writing

This is just scraping the surface, so the words look a bit boring at first. But even with this limited list, you can expand your options. Play with the words a little: precision English, thoroughly translated, write American, etc. It’s OK to get creative, goofy, and downright awful in your suggestions. Sometimes the “mistakes” grow on you.

I wanted to emphasize the English variant I specialize in (American), since British English is a frequent request from new Hungarian customers, and one I can’t really accommodate. This way, even before clicking on the link to my site, my potential customer already has a general idea whether I can help or not. I’ve had amerikaifordito.com (American translator) up and running for about a month now. We’ll see how it does with the Hungarian market!

A final word of advice: be sure to check with a company that sells domain names, such as GoDaddy, to make sure your final contenders are available! If you’re worried that your awesome new name(s) will be snapped up quickly, go ahead and purchase it/them now. (Do a little price shopping if you like; GoDaddy doesn’t have to be the last word.) Otherwise, sleep on it for a few days. I guarantee one option will stick in your head—a sure sign you have your winner.

How did you pick your business name? What are you favorites that you’ve come across? If you’re having trouble picking one out, let us help!

How I chose my specialty field: Stephen Schwanbeck

Stephen Schwanbeck is a native Californian but grew up in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest. He moved to France in 1994 as a student and has resided there ever since. A member of the ATA and the SFT, he has been translating professionally for 15 years. In 2010, he left his day job and became a freelance translator. Although the work may be hard and the hours long, he loves it.


Hi, Stephen! Thanks so much for letting me pick your brain about how you chose your specialty field! I’m sure there are plenty of new translators out there that can benefit from hearing your story. Picking a specialization can be confusing.

Let’s start with a bit of background. You’re a technical translator—do you specialize in any particular subject matter? What sort of documents do you work on most often?

I specialize in nuclear safety and security, HVAC and pharmaceuticals. That said, being a technical translator, I work in a lot of other fields as well. I mostly translate reports, instruction manuals, brochures and protocols. I do get the occasional menu, though.

When did you first decide that this would be a good specialty for you? Did you have prior knowledge of the subject matter, or a related hobby or interest?

I didn’t really decide that any of these fields would make good specialties. The real reason is because of my clients. They sent me work and I realized that I found it interesting and I was able to do it. Before becoming a translator, I didn’t really have any prior knowledge in any of these fields. At school I was mostly interested in literature and history. I wasn’t at all technical minded.

How did you learn to work in this specialty field? What did you do to make sure that clients could trust your abilities with their technical documents?

I learn as I go. I do a lot of research on the Internet and I try to read as much as I can on each subject. That’s not to say that it makes good bedtime reading, but you need to keep up with developments and vocabulary. I’ve been translating for 15 years, so I have a fair amount of experience in a variety of fields and in translating. I always agree to do a short test translation so that new clients can see my style and how I work. For example, if I have a question or comment about something in the source document, I’ll flag it in a separate file and send it to the client.

What keeps you interested in working in this subset of translation? Why do you like to translate technical texts?

Well, I really enjoy the variety. Every day, or nearly every day, there is a new document in a different subject to be translated. One day it could be a document on nuclear safety and the next it could be a lab report or a menu. I like translating technical texts because the subjects are interesting and I usually learn something. I often joke that the things that I learn make good icebreakers or subjects for dinner conversation.

Where do you see yourself career-wise in the next 5-10 years? Do you think there is room to grow in this specialty field?

I think I’ll still be translating. I don’t know if I’ll still be a freelancer or if I’ll still be working by myself or maybe with an associate. Only time will tell. There definitely is room to grow in technical translation. There are so many subjects, technologies are constantly changing and there are so many new developments being made.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about technical translation, or translation in general?

Technical translation isn’t as hard, or as boring, as people may think. On the contrary, it can be quite interesting and sometimes even fun. Also, you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the subject you’re translating. If the document is well written, you have a fair understanding of the subject and you have good writing skills, odds are you’ll turn out a good translation.

As for translation in general, it’s still highly misunderstood by the public in general and even by many translation clients. It’s up to us to correct that.

How to ask for client feedback

Do you ever feel like your translations get sucked into some black hole after you turn them in? Do you ever wonder how effective your writing really was? Are you looking for a way to forge a stronger relationship with your project manager or direct client?

suggestion box

Ask for feedback! That advice might seem to fall under the “easier said than done” category, but you can do it. It just takes a tiny bit of gentle nudging. This is what works for me:

  • Ask questions that focus on the buyer‘s experience with the project, rather than your own—questions like, “Were you satisfied with the quality of the work you received?” or  “Are there any specific ways could I help you better next time?” Make it clear that receiving feedback is not only important to you, it can help your client as well.
  • Ask multiple times. I include a short request at the bottom of every delivery email and on my invoices, too, welcoming “any comments or compliments.” I offer three ways to respond (email, via ProZ, or on LinkedIn). Anyone who hasn’t given feedback before, or who ordered an unusually large project, gets a short, friendly follow-up email within 2 weeks.
  • Provide some context with questions. I ask a maximum of 3 specific questions to help my clients organize their thoughts and let them know what aspects of working together I’m most interested in improving/changing. For example, I don’t often ask about pricing, because I’m not interested in renegotiating rates. However, I do wonder how I can better match my writing style to their preferred styles.
  • Be patient. Sometimes clients can’t comment right away, because they haven’t had time to review the work, or haven’t received comments from the end-client yet. Other times, they want to wait and see if you are consistent across projects before they say anything.
  • Make it a prerequisite for any unpaid work you do. I’m happy to provide short test translations to agencies—as long as they let me see the reviewer’s comments. I love to work with nonprofits on pro bono projects—if they are willing to give me feedback and a letter of recommendation. One caveat here: providing free translations doesn’t mean you are due compliments if your work is sub-par. Always do your best work!

How do you solicit feedback from clients? What works best for you?