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.


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:


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?

Certification for language professionals and their work

I’ll be speaking at the Hacker Lab in Sacramento, CA again! This time with a co-presenter.

Join me and Clarissa Laguardia on Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 10:30am–noon for a discussion of the laws and current practices surrounding certification for language professionals and their work here in California* (with some broader discussion of practices in the US and abroad).

Learn about opportunities for interpreter certification, translator certification for rare languages, laws about who can certify translations for use in filings, and the language used for certifying translations. For a taste of what we’ll be looking at, see this California government code.

Questions we’re planning to answer:

  • What does “certified linguist” mean? Who does the certifying?
  • Why would I ever need a certified translation?
  • How do I get a translation certified?
  • What about rare languages? How do I get certified or find a certified linguist for an uncommon language?

What else would you like to know? Ask your questions below, or send me an email at carolyn [at] untangledtranslations [dot] com!

Unable to attend? Sign up for my newsletter to get the slides as a PDF following the presentation!

*This presentation is intended for information purposes only for interpreters, translators, and those who need to hire them. It does not constitute legal advice; for questions about specific situations, make sure to consult your lawyer.

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?

An afternoon with ABBYY, Feb. 18, in Sacramento

ABBYYpackageTranslators and interpreters are invited to a special Sacramento coffee hour at Hacker Lab on Tuesday, February 18, from 3:30–5:00pm. This is part of the new series of regional events within the Northern California Translators Association.

My review of ABBYY FineReader was recently featured on the ABBYY website, and I will be giving a short presentation on how I use the OCR tool in my translation workflow. All attendees will receive a discount code for the software and be eligible to win one free downloadable copy of FineReader Pro (for Mac or PC), valued at up to $169.99.

I will be posting a pre-recorded version of the presentation shortly after the event, so don’t worry if you’re too far to attend in person! Sign up for my newsletter if you’re interested in the discount codes; they’ll be valid February 17–27 only.

A representative from ABBYY will be available to answer your questions and hear your feedback about the product. Snacks, drinks, and meeting space provided courtesy of Monica Nainsztein, CEO of SpanishOne Translations.RSVP to me at by February 15th. Space is limited!

Event Details
Date: February 18, 2014
Time: 3:30–5:00pm
Location: Hacker Lab, 1715 I St., Sacramento, CA 95811

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?

The hard conversations

While I was at ATA54, I lost a client. Well, not a real client when I think about it logically, but it stung that way when I first read the email. A natural gut reaction to unpleasant realities, regardless of the whole truth.

You see, this “client” of mine never actually was a client. He was a person I contacted at some point almost two years ago while trying to expand my client base. We both said we were excited about the prospect of working together, and yet… Somehow, he never sent me much work. In two years, he’s had a total of three requests for me, and always with startling accuracy about exactly when I was *not* available to jump on board. Most of the requests were those morning requests for afternoon deliveries—i.e., not so great for a first project with a new customer.

In all likelihood, I was the backup for a backup for this language pair—in other words, not his VIP translator. So, while I mourn the loss of potentially interesting projects, it’s really not a big deal. I respect the client for being honest and respectful of the time it took to have those fruitless exchanges.

It was a hard conversation to be part of, but thank goodness it happened.

Has this ever happened to you? Did you ever have to initiate one of these hard conversations? How did you handle it?


Links for getting the most out of conferences

airplane drawing

I’m packing my bags and flying out today for ATA54 in San Antonio, Texas. It’s my first multi-day industry conference, so I’m pretty excited!

Below is a round-up of tips I found useful in preparing for this large professional event. I hope you find them helpful, whatever conference you may attend.

The only other advice I feel I can add to this is: to thine own self be true. I’m not an early riser, for instance, so you definitely won’t find me at the 6am yoga sessions, no matter how lovely they might be. I do like having a lot of time to observe the action, though, so you will find me seated at the information table for the National Capital Area Translators Association quite a bit (I just phased out of my board member role, post-move, but I can still recommend joining!).

If you’re planning to attend the conference and want to say hi, you know where to find me!

What advice do you have for conference-goers? How did you enjoy attending your first major professional event?

Links for first-time freelancers (or veterans who need an extra push this week)

Entering the world of freelance translation can feel daunting at first, but there are so many resources out there to help ease you in. No need to panic! If you are just dipping your toes into the profession, take a look at some of these articles. (Veteran translators can benefit from the reminders, too!)

From here:

First things first

Growing your skill set

Good tips for a great editing process

Tips for creating a professional web look

From elsewhere:

16 free online business classes that are actually worth your time

7 tips on how to survive your first freelancing month

Keeping your freelance finances in order

Advice for a new translator on job hunting

There are plenty of resources out there to help you get a clear picture of the steps to take to set up your business. These are just some of my favorites. What are yours?

Have a question that’s not answered here? Ask away!