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!


On being a better translator

Welcome back from summer! Vive la rentrée!

This month, let’s look at professional skills and how to improve them—without taking out Masters-level student loans. Here are some translation skills I’ve already published about:

What would you like to learn about this month to improve your translation skills? What advice do you have to give?

On freelancing


Throughout this month, I’m going to explore this idea of flying solo—whether you’re a freelance translator, self-employed writer, or any other kind of entrepreneur. It’s a scary and wonderful feeling to be your own boss. At times it can be overwhelming, frustrating, lonely, exhilarating, cozy, and empowering… Often all at once.

Flying solo doesn’t have to mean going it alone, though. There are plenty of freelancers out there willing to share their experiences to help you find your way. These are some of the topics I’ve already covered in previous posts:

And for first-time freelancers, I did a special roundup of links here.

The rest of the month, I’m going to explore the ups and downs of BYOB (being your own boss) and hopefully untangle some of the trickier knots you come across.

Are there any other topics you’d like to hear more about? Leave your questions below! And of course, your experiences are welcome. How do you like flying solo?

Legal language: affidavit vs. declaration

Legal formalities aren’t always as formal as you might expect. Take, for instance, the use in California and federal courts of the declaration, rather than the affidavit.

hand on BibleWhat’s the difference? An affidavit is a notarized, sworn statement from the witness or party to a case giving his or her account of the facts. A declaration is the same statement, unsworn (not notarized). [source]

When translators in the United States certify their translations for a client, very often a declaration can be used instead of an affidavit (though many times clients opt for the extra level of formality and have a notary get involved—just in case).

Section 2015.5 here sets out the language you should use to make sure your declaration can hold its own:

I certify (or declare) under penalty of perjury under the laws of
the State of <insert state name> that the foregoing is true and correct:
_____________             _________
(Date)                                    (Signature)

If you change things up to make this read better for a declaration about your translation, be sure you have the elements “under penalty of perjury,” “laws of <place>,” and “true and correct.” You should also, at the beginning of the statement, give information about who you are and how you are qualified to make such a statement.

As always, for legal advice for specific situations, consult a qualified legal professional (in this case, a notary should be able to help).

What are the laws about affidavits versus declarations in your country or state? Do you make declarations about your translations often? What language do you use?

Credential translation tips

I wrote a guest piece for the ATA Savvy Newcomer blog on how to get started in credential translation. In the article, I discuss the difference between a translator and an evaluator, tools to make credential translation easier, and finishing touches to polish your work. You can read it over here.

Some of the resources mentioned:

Incidentally, I’ve heard from many, many translators who confess to actively avoiding credential work. I’m very curious about this!

Do you turn down requests for diploma/transcript translations? If you do, why do you turn them down? What has your experience been working with credentials?

Scary technology: what lawyers and translators have in common

I recently sat in on a conference call offered occasionally by the Antitrust Section of the American Bar Association to discuss developments in e-discovery. The general reaction I heard from lawyers about e-discovery—meaning, the use of technology to sift through mountains of documents for the few that may be relevant to a particular case—can be summed up in one word: suspicion. Sound familiar?

fear of technology

Lawyers use predictive coding to extract needles from their haystack of possibly useful texts just as translators use machine learning to extract terminology from their source texts or a corpus. Both professions can benefit from this technology, but many companies and individuals are incredibly mistrustful of the tools.

During this particular call, representatives from law firms, courts, and federal agencies discussed the guidelines they would like to see in place to make clients and judges more comfortable with e-discovery output. Most of the suggestions could very easily apply to the use of machine translation and CAT tools:

  • Show your work. Be transparent about your process. For both lawyers and translators, this means defining different quality control stages and documenting the output at each stage. It also means understanding very clearly the limitations of your tools and ways you can work around these limitations. For instance, everyone knows that spell checker tools can’t distinguish between errors like “they’re” versus “their,” so professional writers use human proofreaders at a final stage to correct what the software cannot.
  • Make multiple passes through your texts to better control how your work gets refined. For lawyers, this means using several, gradually narrower search queries to pinpoint key documents, rather than using one “high-powered” string of specific search terms on the very first go. For translators, this means doing your background and terminology research, then using your CAT tool, then using a concordance tool, then perhaps a special spell checker, and so on. Bottom line: when working with huge volumes of information, even when using technology-based solutions, it’s more effective to take small bites multiple times than trying to swallow the whole project at once.
  • Spend a significant amount of time training your tools with a significant number of texts in order to teach it to produce results backed by statistically significant confidence levels.
  • Have a human expert review and approve the results of the machine work before using them in a professional context. This was the most-repeated suggestion throughout the call. People are far more likely to trust a machine that is taking over a formerly human task if a seasoned professional can confirm that the machine is, in fact, performing well. Even if you only confirm a [statistically significant] sampling of the machine output as high quality, you will exponentially increase your client’s comfort with the non-human processing of language.

Where else have you heard concerns from the translation industry cross over into other fields? How have you addressed concerns about technology use in your field? What do you do to make sure your time savers work properly?

2013 Year in Review

I set some broad goals for myself as I entered my first full calendar year as a full-time freelancer. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with 2013. Schedules got a bit hairy around my move to California, and I won’t say business didn’t suffer at all… But I definitely feel different, more comfortable in my professional skin. And that can’t be bad!

Here’s a look back at my goals, with more specific thoughts on each:

  • acting as Secretary for the National Capital Area Translators Association, the DC-area subgroup of the ATA (thanks, all members who voted for me!). I had to step down a couple months shy of the full year due to my cross-country move, but I like to think I made an impact. We had regular, interesting content up on our website and social media sites. A bunch of younger translators joined, perhaps because of some of the outreach events I found for us to attend. And towards the end, I took on web manager duties as well—which went pretty smoothly. It was an experience to remember!
  • getting my website translated into French and Hungarian. I actually did this twice this year—on my own last January, and then through a couple out-of-English colleagues in November after I updated my site structure. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as I expected to have colleagues translate my site, and it involved far less hair-pulling than the DIY route. My advice? Do your pricing research before you try it yourself. You could save yourself a lot of time better spent researching leads.
  • focusing my writing on the art of translation. I have tried to include a good number of posts on writing, editing, and terminology. What have you liked? Disliked? Is there anything you’d like me to cover in the upcoming year?
  • becoming more involved in client-oriented groups. I attended several web/phone conferences hosted by the American Bar Association, an in-person symposium, and the ATA conference. But there’s always room for more, especially now that I live so far from my original home base.
  • learning more about my subject-matter areas. I think I knocked this one out of the park this year. A couple classes through Coursera on EU and entrepreneur law, some ABA events on legal research and antitrust issues, not to mention all the wonderful sessions in San Antonio.

How was your 2013? What accomplishment are you most proud of? What unexpected challenge did you manage with style?

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?

It’s OK to take your time

I recently heard author/translator Chris Durban comment that so many suggestions for improving your writing boil down to this: take your time. Let’s take that advice one step further: taking your time is important in every aspect of your business.

Climb the mountain.

I am a firm believer in taking baby steps, using training wheels, and generally growing slowly, because you get more time to think about long-term, key questions like Who is my gotta-work-with-them set of clients? and Is this the best way to get my message across to those people?

Earlier on in the business development process, those important questions look more like Am I actually a strong writer? or Do I know enough about X to say I specialize in it? These are not trivial, secondary concerns for you as a freelancer (or 9-to-5 applicant!). They are the meat of your craft. Working towards an affirmative response to either is not an overnight process, but it helps you produce something that lasts.

Take your time while you do background research. Take your time while you proofread. And, above all, take your time while you grow your business. Your clients will thank you for your quality output, your family will thank you for your lowered stress levels, and you will be able to appreciate the satisfaction of having created not just one fantastic translation, but a consistently wonderful product and a truly personalized company. And that is a beautiful thing.

If you don't climb the mountain, you can't see the view.