2016 Translator Wish List


Happy holiday season! No matter if, what, or how you celebrate, this is the time of year when gift-giving explodes (and, more practically, perhaps you have some business spending to do to boost your tax deductions). Here are some ideas for gifts to get the professional language lover in your life, or maybe just treat yo’self:

  • The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, by Yudhijit Battaharjee – The true story of a dyslexic traitor and his attempt to steal from the FBI. I just ordered this for myself, and I can’t wait to dig in – a language issue as the key to solving a crime? How fun!
  • Interpreters with Lewis and Clark, by W. Dale Nelson – Another true story with language professionals at its core. The story of Lewis and Clark’s journey across America never ceases to fascinate me (I love hiking and kayaking, but wow!). This will take it to another level. Summary in French here.
  • Books in translation – Share your own favorite, or try something new. Words Without Borders has a long list of women writers in translation here.
  • Movie passes – Have you heard about the new film, Arrival? Linguists are central to the plot. The heroes, if you will. And who wouldn’t want to feel like a superhero for once?
  • Yoga passes – Whether you are a translator, interpreter, academic, or other kind of linguist, chances are you spend a lot of time doing physically taxing work (lengthy typing sessions, demanding conferences). I’ve noticed more and more of my colleagues talking about how much they love their new yoga routine – it has to be the perfect form of exercise for an introvert. Groupon is a great place to snag some trial runs for the linguist in your life.
  • A very nice notebook – I started using the Bullet Journal method this fall when the needs of my various business and personal interests all started to collide. Wow, guys. Basically, you take any notebook you like and create a custom planner – if you like calendars, there are dozens of suggestions for calendar layouts. If you like lists, there are hundreds of ideas for lists to keep. My favorite feature was the “habit tracker.” Using a really simple chart, you list out what is important for you to accomplish (walk the dogs, take a yoga class, do a source-language maintenance activity) and how often. Then you fill in the squares when you actually do it. Game. Changer.

What other ideas do you have for presents for language professionals? What’s the best present you ever received? Share in the comments below!

Update: NYU’s Certificate Program for Translators Has Changed

New York University recently revamped its translation studies program (which I first reviewed here), but it hadn’t been clear to me exactly what those changes were. Luckily, a rep was available in San Francisco at the 57th annual American Translators Association conference to answer all my questions. (If you’ve been confused, too, you’re not alone – she said no one has understood it well!)

The higher-level translator education options through NYU are always a favorite of mine to recommend. Besides being a good value (especially when compared to the programs in Monterrey), the translation studies department at this school brings in really wonderful teachers. Certain languages are taught primarily in person, and other languages require mostly online coursework. In true New York City style, the best developed tracks are finance and law, but you can pick and choose from a good variety in a number of languages.


I was initially disappointed when NYU announced the change to their program – if it’s not obvious, I absolutely loved my certificate program in French-to-English legal translation, and it sounded like they were eliminating this option altogether.

Fear not! Only the name has been trashed: now, instead of earning a “certificate” from your 6-course program, you earn a “series badge.” If for any reason you do not complete all 6 courses, you don’t walk away empty handed, because for any course you complete with a “B” grade or better, you earn an individual course “badge.” (Both of these badge types are a digital symbol that you can use in your web presence and resume to show what you have studied – similar to how MOOCs now operate.)

Although I’m dubious about the dumbing down of the name of the credential issued as proof of these studies, I love how much more welcoming this change makes the program. A few years ago, every new student was required to take the Introduction to Translation Studies course – which meant that even intermediate- to advanced-level translators looking for some resume padding or a switch to a new specialty had to fork over the dollars for a class they could likely teach on their own. In the new “badge” system, you are free to choose from any of the classes you like; as long as you successfully complete 6, you earn your Credential Formerly Known As Certificate. Newbies can start with Intro still, but more seasoned professionals can dive right in to English to French Patent Translation.

Classes are available for Arabic, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish translation. You can also take classes from their Translation Studies series, including an introduction to CAT tools, editing for translators, and subtitling. Browse the course offerings here and here.

For more information on the badge system, click here. NYU also offers a Master of Science in Translation, and several other new diploma options depending on the amount of college education you’ve completed. Now that someone helped walk me through the options, I’m excited about this boost to translator education opportunities! (Also, I promise I’m not paid to promote this school – I really did get a lot out of the program I completed.)

How did you learn translation? What are your plans for continuing education? Are you thinking of switching to a new specialty field? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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: www.buzzfeed.com

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!