Volume 6, No. 3 
July 2002

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee





Reader Survey Results

Index 1997-2002

  Translator Profiles
Aerial Trap and the Lao People's Republic
by Peter Wheeler

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
What Every Novice Translator Should Know
by Antar S.Abdellah
Translation Economics 101
by Danilo Nogueira
Translator Education
Quality Assurance in Translator Training
by Moustafa Gabr 
Positive Transfer: A Neuropsychological Understanding of Interpreting and the Implications for Interpreter Training
by Lin Wei, Ph.D.

  Financial Translation
Implications in Translating Economic Texts
by Guadalupe Acedo Domínguez and Patricia Edwards Rokowski, Ph.D.
Saisir les subtilités qui existent entre l'anglais et le français ?
by Frédéric Houbert

English to Japanese—to What Extent Can Translation Be Accurate?
by Angela Loo Siang Yen

  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature—A Fond Farewell
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

  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Translators’ Job Market

Letters to the Editor

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.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

This week I received an offer of work from a translation agency here in the US—the first time they've contacted me. The job is in a field I know and I am interested. The company says it can give me "as many words as you want throughout July if this goes through" and promises more (maybe) as the year progresses.

But then this: "We need to bid very competitively as we are up against a translation company that uses cheap translators in Africa and Europe. What would be your rate per target word (files are pdf, translation to be done in Word) and the volume you can handle (days available and words per day)?"

Sounds like a challenge, but I'm game. Should I cut my rates to lock this deal in? If so, by how much?

Big Break


Dear Big,

Have you heard of the Stockholm Syndrome? http://web.archive.org/web/20010802090349/www.pt7.com/public/articles/stockholm.htm It's the only explanation we can see for this phenomenon of experienced translators caving in at the mere sight of a loaded gun. The gun in this case is the mythical "cheap translators in Africa and Europe" that you must now underbid—or so they say.

Europeans' cost of living is generally not lower than in the US. And even in Africa, cities with educational facilities able to produce skilled translators are not that cheap. However, some translators will always lay down their head under the guillotine. Some even helpfully draw a CUT HERE line on their neck. Susceptibility to the Stockholm Syndrome is just another occupational hazard.

In concrete terms, working with suppliers like this has three serious drawbacks: (1) you won't earn much money, (2) you are unlikely to learn anything from the process and will certainly get no credit or feedback, and (3) you have every chance of getting unceremoniously dropped at some point along the way (hardly surprising: there is always somebody prepared to charge one unit less).

If you think this is a sweet deal, think again.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Two summers ago we employed an intern and were under-impressed—the guy was a clock-watcher who never bothered to read the background material we recommended, left out bits and pieces of text, wrote poorly, etc., etc.

Our assessment of his internship was tepid, although we did not blow him out of the water.

Last week a potential employer called for an opinion. They passed on the CV he is circulating and I was taken aback by what he claims he did during his stint with us. It goes well beyond stretching the truth. I should know: I was the one who had to rewrite every single sentence he produced.

I spluttered as much to the potential employer.

Should I raise this directly with the ex-intern or let him continue on his merry way and react only when asked?

Whistle Blower?


Dear Whistle Blower,

One option would have been to tell the potential new employer—in neutral language—what your intern actually did, and leave her to draw a comparison with the claims in his CV.

Yet as things stand, the ex-intern has overstepped the line and needs a reminder of how small the (translation) world is.

Call him and express your surprise. Better yet, mail him a copy of his CV with the inaccurate part circled in red and marked "?". Enclose your business card. If you are feeling particularly evil, you might make this anonymous.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

My professional association recently got an internet forum going, and debate heated up pretty quickly. In a spirit of good fun (but also irritation at the pomposity of some participants) I did, I admit, engage in a few flame wars. Things escalated and two months ago I unsubscribed.

The association is organizing a get-together this summer in a city not far from here.

At one level I would like to meet (or examine from a safe distance) various people I've crossed verbs with on the net. Yet some pretty harsh words were said, and seen from here the event has all the ingredients of something particularly violent that should take place in a misty castle in Ruritania.

Should I give it a miss or go along anyway? If I do attend, what are some good opening lines?

W. Mitty


Dear Walt,

By all means attend. Nobody holds a grudge (or should do) where forum debates are concerned. We have a sneaking suspicion that on-line belligerence may be all the greater in fields like translation, where many practitioners work in isolation and let their people skills go cold. Some of the fiercest on-line opponents we know of are drinking buddies in real life (take that, cyberspace!). Why not break the ice with a friendly "Can I get you a beer/glass of warm milk?"



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Browsing the web I found http://home.clara.net/patriciatreasure/linguist/newmark.htm which makes me wonder: Do translation academics have anything to teach working translators?

Wordface Worker


Dear Wordface,

An intriguing example, although Peter Newmark is hardly your typical academic; some would even call him a maverick.

An academic of our acquaintance notes that it is important to develop an ability to self-monitor and see yourself (and your texts) from the outside. If well taught, says this gentleman, theory can provide the conceptual tools you need to do this. The trick is to select the right materials from the work of theoreticians. Why not start with the aptly titled Can Theory Help Translators? by Andrew Chesterman and Emma Wagner, in St Jerome Publishing's "Translation Theories Explained" series (ISBN 1-900650-49-5; ISSN: 1365-0513).



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Lately, I am running more and more into the following problems:

1. Time constraints. Everything has to be done very fast—even if the client took lots of care and months to write the source document. In a rush, it's very difficult to do accurate work—let alone a good style. And by now, most of my jobs have very short turnaround times.

2. Money. We are supposed to do better and better work for less and less money. ALSO, and that is a main issue, the client often just wants "updates," pieces documents together from segments done by different translation agencies, does his own formatting (with a HUGE potential of introducing mistakes), tries to get by as cheaply as possible.

3. Lack of understanding on the client's side. Unfortunately, very often the client isn't willing to listen or learn. He wants to have it his way, even if you explain to him time and time again that it's impossible or not recommendable.

4. Sub-standard quality of the source text.

5. The clients (especially their reviewers) expect the translator to deliver a product that is far superior to the source text. I'm running into that a lot lately—and aside from the fact that this is not appropriate in my opinion, it is also not possible: a translator or translation agency not employed by the client does not have the necessary resources to deliver such a product! (Yet, many times the translation is an improvement on the source text anyway, because translators ask questions and correct errors and/or ambiguities.)

6. The in-country reviewers will often hold the translator responsible for everything, including technical content (such as the ubiquitous redundance and lack of specific technical information in US English marketing texts). Even if the translator points out to the client in the U.S. that the text should be modified for the target market, the answer usually is to translate exactly what the source text says. And the reviewer often does not like it and thinks the translator should have changed it.

7. After all, translating the exact content of the source text IS our job. Or should be. Ideally, there is close cooperation between client, their reviewer, and the translation agency/translators. In that case, it might be ok, to sign a name. The next question is though: WHOSE name? A translation, in most cases, is not the product of one person's work, but a cooperation of several people: translator, editor, proofreader, DTP staff, reviewer and possibly a technical writer who corrected some errors in the source language.

In most cases however, I would not care to sign my name to a product that I don't have control over!

First of all, we need to educate the clients so they cooperate with us. (An agency I work with told me that they lost a lot of clients, because this agency asks too many questions! The clients just wanted to get the job done fast and cheap and easy, without having to answer questions.)

Also, it might be nice to provide the clients and their reviewers with a list of indicators for good and bad translations. Many reviewers seem to think if they change on key term, the whole translation is bad (even if the term chosen by the translator is perfectly correct, just not used by this particular company). Or they make stylistic changes and claim that the whole translation is bad. It is very difficult for the clients to figure out what a good translation should look like—and in fact, this is true for many other industries. How do we know, for instance, whether the new roof put on our house will actually last? We don't find out until the warranty has expired! Just some ideas... And I also wanted to be sure that [our professional association for translators] is not expecting us to deliver all kinds of value-added services we cannot provide (due to a variety of factors).



Dear Overwhelmed,

Congratulations, your letter sums up every query FA&WB have dealt with since the column's launch in 1998. No respect, no control, no power—and certainly no money. Excuse us while we go lie down in a darkened room with a cool damp cloth on our insect brows.

Yet a close re-reading suggests that many of your own practices place you squarely in the part-of-the-problem box. What is this about working more for less and less money? Accepting insane turnarounds? Working with agencies that refuse to deal with questions? Worst of all, are you seriously suggesting, madam, that "it is not appropriate" to deliver translations that are superior to the source text? Excuse us while we go lie down in a darkened room with a cool damp cloth on our insect brows.

Agreed, client education is a long slog. But rather than throw up your hands in dismay, we suggest you try to break the process down into do-able, concrete stages. Download "Translation, getting it right" from www.iti.org.uk or www.sft.fr, in English and French) this instant and start distributing it to your clients (reliable sources indicate that German, Czech, Dutch and Spanish versions are waiting in the wings). Take a hard look at your client base and weed out the most obnoxious and clueless now. Hone your writing skills, specialize in a subject area where demand is on the rise, and get out and start pitching your services. Network with fellow translators to share resources and ideas.

Above all, start saying "no." You owe it to yourself and the profession as a whole.