Volume 4, No. 4 
October2000


Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


 




 


 

 

The World Is Our Oyster
by Gabe Bokor
 
Index 1997-2000
 
  Translator Profiles
Experience Counts!
by Eva Eie
 
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
 
  Translation Theory
Equivalence in Translation: Between Myth and Reality
by Vanessa Leonardi
The Sociosemiotic Approach and Translation of Fiction
by Yongfang Hu
Translation and Meaning
by Magdy M. Zaky
 
  Portuguese
Into English—Seven survival tools for translating Brazilian Portuguese into English
by Danilo Nogueira
 
  Translator Education
Poor Results in Foreign>Native Translation: Reasons and Ways of Avoidance
by Serghei Nikolayev
 
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXI
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
 
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Search Engines Revisited
by Gabe Bokor
 
  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium
 
Translators’ Events
 
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
 
The Profession




The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

 
A column with practical tips for practicing translators.
 

Q:

Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Your response to Wearing Down Fast sparked some serious debate in our in-house translation department. Like him, we serve authors who seem far happier when we deliver translations that are word-for-word transpositions of their original efforts. I'm the latest hire here, but I've heard some real horror stories. So far I've been flying the quality flag, but remind me again: why shouldn't we just give them what they want/deserve?

Pass the Ammo


A:

Dear Defender of the Faith,

Negotiating with authors—asking questions to clarify source texts and explaining linguistic choices—is an integral part of the translator's job. And as part of an in-house team, you are in an ideal position to do this.

Regardless of the consensus around the translation department water cooler, we wonder if your colleagues are not simply ill at ease with the normal backing and forthing that goes on when authors review translations. To our knowledge, this is rarely mentioned, much less taught, in translation schools, which is a pity all around. Handling these exchanges requires not only language but people skills—skills that will serve you well whether you remain a staff translator or move into the freelance market. Once you've identified sections that need clarification, you must be able to ask questions efficiently and articulately, slipping in the odd technical reference to remind authors that you master the subject, and offering a choice of solutions. Rare is the source text that does not benefit from such discussions, which are also an opportunity to raise your own profile and that of the translation department.

Heading down the path of least resistance, even for in-house documents, carries at least one risk: seeing your own writing style corrupted. We urge you not to underestimate this danger, since it will ultimately disqualify you from the top end of the market—which is arguably the most lucrative (and certainly the most fun).

The bottom line: however willing your clients may seem, do not foist upon them anything that would embarrass you in front of native-language peers, especially if you can imagine life outside this particular company. Who knows where your career will take you? And in one way or another, shoddy work always comes back to haunt you.

FA & WB


Q:

Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am about to embark upon a gap year in Latin America and am looking for ways of financing my plans. I can speak Spanish reasonably but not fluently, and, being an English student, can write English well, and have a good turn of phrase and sense of idiom. I recognise that I would not be able to command such high prices as professional translators, and that no translation agencies would be willing to take me on, but is there any work out there for young amateur translators? Nothing would be too boring or too badly paid for me. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Gapster


A:

Dear Gap,

Ah, timing. Your letter came in just after the last issue went to press, and we bet anything you're reading this in a cybercafé in downtown Quito with your non-refundable, non-exchangeable plane ticket home next March 30 stashed in the bureau drawer of the hostal you're staying at. There you are, sipping a batido de naranjilla, with a few rush assignments from Traducciones Acme in your bag.

Our advice: reconsider. Not the gap year, of course - taking a year off to see the world before starting university is a terrific idea. But your prime aim at this stage in your life and education should be to immerse yourself in a foreign culture and language, around the clock. Which means hanging out with locals of all ages, speaking Spanish only, and acquiring life experience that will serve you later at university and out in the rat race.

The only way to achieve this is to avoid expats, and you are sure to stumble into their clutches if you venture across the threshold of even the humblest translation establishment.

You need money? Look around: if you like kids, apply for childcare positions (a great way to hone foreign language skills). Wait on tables. Flip the local equivalent of burgers. Pick grapes. Pump iron and sign up as a bouncer at a salsa club. But whatever you do, live and talk in Spanish—only Spanish.

If we've got this wrong and you're sleeping under a bridge, with no gainful employment in sight except trading on your mother tongue, consider giving conversation classes rather than dabbling in low-end translation. Direct oral exchanges will allow you to get mileage out of your laudable energy and early-gap-year confidence ("being an English student, [I] can write English well"). Best of all, since conversations are by nature ephemeral, they entail less risk for clients, who deserve output several notches above student efforts even if they are shopping at the low end of the market.

FA & WB

Q:

Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Do you have any advice on translating foreign laws and regulations? It is obviously impossible to contact the "author" with questions, so my approach to date has been massive background reading, followed by checking with a US attorney. I enjoy the assignments and my customers seem happy, but I worry about getting out of my depth.

Legal Eaglet


A:

Dear Eaglet,

While your safety net makes good sense (and we assume you are billing this service on to the client, not just running the texts past your next-door neighbor), be sure to ask your customer the Primal Question: what will the document be used for? To get an idea of the foreign law? To find out once and for all what a foreign law says (scary)? To publish a collection of foreign laws in translation? To submit the translation as Plaintiff's Exhibit A in a lawsuit based on a contract governed by the law translated?

This basic question applies to every single translation, of course, and is all too often overlooked—sometimes with disastrous consequences. Asking it will help keep you from getting in over your head, or at least remind your customers (and you) of some of the risks, and may also give you a chance to sign your work.

A lawyer friend notes that law firms routinely include disclaimers in everything they publish, and suggests translators should, too, especially for work of this type—e.g. "This translation is not intended, and may not be interpreted, to constitute legal advice; only a lawyer admitted to practice in the jurisdiction in question can give advice about the meaning of this law." Or "Laws and regulations are subject to administrative and judicial interpretation and there can be no assurance that a regulatory agency or court of law has not construed, or will not construe, the original statute/regulation in a way inconsistent with this translation." Or both.

FA & WB

Q:

Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Some friends of mine have a translation company in Northern Europe. They've recently put up a multilingual web site and both the Spanish and French are pretty poor. I think I understand the problem (and the problem is very typical for many well-intentioned translation teams). How would you go about discussing it in such a way that everybody learns something useful?

Bean Spiller

A:

Dear Spiller,

Who is "everybody"? Does it include buyers? They have already learned something very useful about this company.

Forgive us for questioning your angle here, but we have recently done a 180° turn on this one, not least because of the sheer number of translation provider sites that correspond to your description. Sad, perhaps. Downright comical at times. But transparent in any case, and that we welcome. Surely it is far healthier for potential clients to see what they are likely to get if they shop in a given emporium.

If you really want to help your friends out, you will have to bite the bullet and tell them as much: their translations simply do not make the grade as promotional copy. Soften the blow by noting that their technical texts or patents may be top-notch; perhaps it's only websites and sales documents they should steer clear of in these language combinations. But do remind them that if they could not even commission top-quality work for their own purposes, something is seriously wrong.

To bring your points home, mark up or, better yet, retranslate a few paragraphs, or have them retranslated by a trusted supplier. This concrete input will give your friends and the translators from whom they bought the text a better idea of what to aim for.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, a translation company that advertises its own services through poorly translated texts—on the web, no less—reminds us of a top-class caterer putting on a gala dinner to promote its services, only to serve up burnt burgers and greasy fries on paper plates. Caveat emptor.

FA & WB


Q:

Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am, I admit it, a near-amateur translator. I know you serious professionals not infrequently scorn those in my category as interlopers and charlatans. As I sidle into the profession, I would like to do my best to be neither. I would like your advice on how best to do so. I am trying to gain experience and sharpen my skills without undercutting professional translators. I have been directly soliciting badly-translated ("We are second-rate hotel situated in tranquil bowels of green....") and untranslated Italian web sites. I identify myself as a student, and I charge about 60% of the rates suggested by the association of Italian translators. Am I thereby devaluing the market and ruining the lives of Italian translators around the globe? It seems hardly fair to charge full rate when I've been translating part-time for about three months. I try very hard to deliver the best possible translations. I carefully research and I turn to a list serve of Italian translators for help on difficult points. Yet, I am not a true professional, do not have the latest equipment and dictionaries and cannot meet tight deadlines. Eventually, I would like to be such a translator. For now, how can I best proceed without stepping on toes or cheating clients?

Non-charlatan near-amateur

A:

Dear Charly,

What price level should a translator starting out in business choose? If "too high", then (a) you may not get the business, or (b) you may overcharge customers for what they get. If "too low", then (c) you may step on toes by undercutting professionals, and (d) you may lose money and may go broke.

We respect your concern about (b) and (c), but would suggest giving at least equal attention to (a) and (d). Being dedicated and hardworking, you are going to deliver translations that will at the very least be competent, so you won't be ripping off your customers.

On the other hand, highly paid translation assignments usually come through referrals based on reputation, and you haven't had time to build a reputation yet.

As a broad outline, starting with lower rates to gain experience, both as a wordsmith and a business person, and then replacing your clientele as you raise your rates over the years sounds like a good plan—but the devil's in the details. You have to develop a gut feeling for what the market will bear: that comes from a combination of experience, otherwise known as paying your dues or the school of hard knocks, plus the terrible pressure of having to succeed because there is no safety net.

Anyone lacking either of these elements is an amateur. Nothing wrong with that; as you know, the word "amateur" is not a derogatory term. Some of the best work in many fields has been done by amateurs: Heinrich Schliemann excavated the city Of Troy, and the comet Hale-Bopp was discovered by hobby astronomers. Nor should you let professionals make you feel guilty for undercharging—most of them started out that way themselves.

So go ahead and charge 40 percent less than the rate suggested by a translator's association (which will in any case be an arbitrary figure and lower than what discerning clients are willing to pay), or charge 40 percent more, or the same. Whatever you feel comfortable with is fine, but remember, the game starts in earnest only when you play for keeps. And regardless of whether you are sidling or blasting your way into the market, the work you produce must be good enough to serve as a reference for the next job, and the next, and the next.

FA & WB


Q:

Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

My wife and I work together as freelance translators (G/E, E/G), supplying work to direct clients and agencies (about 50/50). Last December/January, as most years, we received a number of Christmas gifts from our clients— primarily office supplies w/corporate logos but also other assorted gadgets. A few good bottles of wine. A nice coffee-table book. And a bunch of calendars and diaries, most of which will go straight in the can.

My wife says that we should consider sending gifts to our clients in return but I am not comfortable with this. It seems to me that we are small fry compared to the companies that employ us, and anything we might be able to afford will look tacky (like a lot of those calendars and agendas, to tell the truth). I guess cards are an option. What do you think?

The Grinch


A:

Dear Grinch,

Celebrating the year end by expressing thanks and best wishes to those who helped make it a success is an appealing ritual, but you're right about the tacky trinkets. Ditto tacky messages, e.g., "Peace on earth—and you can call us any time for your German/English language needs." There's a fine line between sincere greetings and yet another marketing ploy. Do not cross over.

While cultural conventions and expectations definitely play a role in holiday offerings, we see no reason for you to splurge on costly corporate objects in response to your clients' largesse. A card, perhaps—why not. But even then, don't go into it half-heartedly: find or create witty cards, or at the very least buy them from a charity you support and add on a personal greeting.

If you do opt to go the gift route, find something memorable, personalized and easy to mail/deliver (light-weight, non-perishable). Why not put off the decision for now; keep the option in the back of your mind until November 30. If nothing suitable surfaces by then, forget it, or go for a card. Or nothing.

Other suggestions gleaned from our contacts here in Europe include:

Spread the cheer: rather than a bottle of booze for the boss, a box of fine chocolates for the whole office, or case of premium lager for the next office party. Input from cheerful, organized secretarial staff often goes unrecognized; these people are your allies (or should be) and deserve a tip of the hat.

Incorporate wit and wordplay: as translators, you and your wife are professional writers, poised at the interface of two cultures and languages. Even if you stick with cards alone, use your writing skills to create a short best-wishes message that sparkles and reminds them of your cross-cultural expertise.

If you do opt for an office consumable, make sure it is well-designed and genuinely useful—e.g., a striking calendar with lots of space for notes, or a sleek desk version - or linked to your specialization, e.g., a space pen (writes upside down) for a translator working in aerospace.

If Fire Ant & Worker Bee operated out of Latin America, we might send our favorite customers gift-wrapped boxes of fried hormigas culonas from the Colombian province of Santander. Cross-cultural, unusual, clear link to name/image, easy to mail. And unforgettable. Unfortunately, we are assured that these crunchy insects are at their best in May. But you get the idea.

FA & WB