Volume 7, No. 1 
January 2003

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee





From the Editor
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Index 1997-2003

  Translator Profiles
How Not to Become a Translator
by Per Dohler

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
It's a Small World
by Steve Vlasta Vitek
Translation: A Market in Crisis?
by Danilo Nogueira

Translators Around the World
Análisis de la demanda de traducción en un organismo público en las islas Baleares—El caso de la Dirección General de Economía
Lluch i Dubon, Ferran y Belmonte Juan, Roser
In Memoriam
Harvie Jordan, 1943-2002
by Patricia Bobeck
David Orpin, 1946-2002
by Geoffrey Pearl

  Literary Translation
Language Ambiguity: A Curse and a Blessing
by Cecilia Quiroga-Clare
Translation of Literary Style
by Song Xiaoshu, Cheng Dongming

  Translator Education
Translator Training & the Real World: Concrete Suggestions for Bridging the Gap — Part 1
Translator Training & the Real World: Concrete Suggestions for Bridging the Gap — Part 2

  Arts & Entertainment
Translation in a Confined Space—Film Sub-titling—Part 2
by Barbara Schwarz

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators’ Tools
Close Windows. Open Doors
by Marc Prior
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,

I am a Latin American student majoring in English philology in Madrid. Our teacher commented that these days translation agencies in the US want their Spanish translations done by Spaniards rather than Latin Americans. He didn't explain why, but I guess he had in mind that it is a matter of language correctness. We didn't have the opportunity to comment on this in class, so I didn't say a word, but I can't get it out of my mind. Of course, I have my own opinion: the competence of a translator does not depend on his nationality but on his command of the languages he works in. Preferences are a different thing. What do you think?

Hibernating Iberian


Dear Hibernating,

Serious translation intermediaries with even a minimal understanding of the business try to match the translator to the target audience. Always. And since terms and expressions differ from one Spanish-speaking country to another, this means turning to a translator from Spain for a translation for a Spanish audience, a translator from Argentina for an Argentine audience, etc. "Language correctness" has nothing to do with the country and everything to do with the educational level and writing style of the individual doing the work.

Perhaps your teacher was deliberately seeking to provoke your class (hmm, why didn't anybody speak up?). If he was extrapolating from a personal experience, he was making the same mistake that practicing translators do when they equate an incident with a clueless intermediary with the attitudes and priorities of premium clients (who are the ones you want).

So maybe your man is simply out of touch—in which case, listen carefully to what he has to say about the history of translation and translation theory, but take his marketing advice with a scoop of salt. Oh, and good luck on January 6!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have just returned to my native Germany after four years in the United States, where I worked as a sales rep for pharmaceutical equipment & supplies. That assignment followed a twenty-year stint doing the same in Germany. I now plan to work at least part-time as a translator in this field; I'm putting together my business plan and have already been approached by several direct clients.

When I contacted the BDÜ (German translators' association) I was told that they are not allowed to give me any information on prices charged for translations since it would violate anti-trust laws.

I would really appreciate it if you could give me at least a rough guideline as to what average prices are commonly charged. Many thanks.

Calculator in Hand


Dear Calculator,

How much do translators charge? How long is a piece of string?

The answer, of course, is that it all depends—on who your customers are, how long you've been in business, how you position yourself, what kind of material you translate, how short your deadlines are, and much more. Most translators in Germany charge by the line (50 to 55 keystrokes) of target text, yet some charge by the hour, others charge a project fee and still others by the number of words.

We've seen mass-mailed letters from German translation agencies offering work at €0.55 per line. It's hard to see how anyone can make a living that way, but hey, that's their choice. The top per-line price we've seen is €5.70, with most about a third that much or less, albeit with wide variations. With your experience and language skills, you will of course want to aim for the top quartile.

Our suggestion: as you move into the market, try offering project prices. This is a good way for you to learn how to calculate your income as a function of time and money. Concretely, figure out what gross revenue you need, divide by the number of hours a week you want to work, and you've got your hourly rate. Divide that by two because you're a beginner and will need longer at the start—even if your hands-on experience in sales gives you a leg up on many of your competitors. Be sure to allow for taxes and social security contributions.

If you do quote per word or line, you might explain to clients that this is temporary: let them know from the start that you will be reviewing your position in six months.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I recently graduated from Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia, and have worked for several months with the United Nations Development Program in Jakarta. I would like to become a professional translator, and am looking for a post-graduate course abroad (my languages are Indonesian and English). Do you have any information about institutions offering scholarships to study translation?

Eager to Study


Dear Eager,

The simple answer: no, with the exception of a few leads you might want to follow up directly (the American Foundation for Translation & Interpreting (AFTI) via walter@atanet.org, and the training institutions listed on the ATA website at atanet.org).

Indeed, all our contacts indicate that there is only limited funding available for overseas students, which means that you should (1) be prepared for fierce competition and (2) plan on working at least part-time, since by all accounts your living costs will exceed the amount of any scholarship.

The most promising resources appear to be university networks and exchange programs, education advisers at local embassies, and, of course, the Web. So why not start with your former teachers at Gadjah Mada and move out to internet forums, especially those specialized in the teaching of translation. But don't neglect the embassies/consulates of English-speaking countries in Jakarta, which may have advisers with information on exchange programs and scholarships.

Finally, don't limit yourself to training programs: at your level, any extended stay in an English-speaking country will be an excellent means of honing your language skills, so look into work options as well—perhaps through your current employer.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

My college alumnae magazine recently ran an obituary for Shulamith Nardi, a Hebrew-English translator, interpreter, and communications advisor for decades to prime ministers in Israel. I was delighted to see that the person who wrote the obit distinguished between "translator" and "interpreter." I'd like to write a letter to the editor and comment on that, but I'm not sure of the key points to make so that readers will be educated a bit (if my letter gets printed). Do you have any suggestions?

Mile a Minute


Dear Minute,

A session at a recent ATA conference addressed precisely this question, i.e., how to write letters to the editor that make the cut. A full transcript of that round table will be published soon, but in the meantime we've distilled some of the tips offered by the ever erudite Neil Inglis below:

  • Editors face huge space constraints, so keep your letter short and tailored to your audience, weaving in references to current events or issues as topical hooks.
  • Avoid lengthy recitations of your professional qualifications: explain your connection to the translation & interpreting world adroitly and in passing, if at all.
  • Be witty; hand-wringing and self-pity are huge turn-offs.
  • Prune drafts ruthlessly to eliminate cherished insights that are not strictly relevant to the matter at hand.
  • If you are going to criticize, try using the sandwich technique: (1) congratulate the journalist for an insight, any insight (even if s/he has written utter nonsense, you can always express thanks "for raising this important issue"); (2) set the record straight and/or stick the knife in, (3) end on a humorous or philosophical note. So much for general suggestions.
But your journalist got it right, right? In which case you might simply congratulate him or her on being so astute, pointing out how few people outside the language industry make this key distinction. Emphasize the different skills that practitioners of each of these challenging professions bring to the task. In this particular case, a quote or anecdote about Ms Nardi would be particularly apt, if you've got one handy. Or you might say—but don't tell anyone we said it!—that a translator is to an interpreter as Michael Jackson is to a heart surgeon. Translators and facial reconstruction addicts live with mistakes forever after; heart surgeons quietly bury their mistakes (and interpreters commit them to the wind...).



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I recently did a financial translation for a new client (they found me on the ITI site and I was recommended by two colleagues). The document was highly specialised and was for a "prestigious" client. They had the job checked and told me that although they were happy with my financial terminology, they were not as happy with my French. They said that their checkers had spent three hours (!!) checking it (2500 words) and that they wanted me to reduce my invoice by 25%.

I looked at the amendments, consulted two other French colleagues and we both came to the conclusion that most of the amendments were not justified (some were either wrong (!) or did not improve the text at all, some were just substituting one word for another which meant the same; and apart from one sentence which was a bit awkward and which was possibly improved by the checkers, all the corrections were aimed at changing the style). So I explained this to them and told them that the reduction of 25% was not justified.

I have not received any reply yet.

However, this morning after a good night's sleep, I actually think that they are out of line. Depending on their reply I am thinking of reclaiming my work and preventing them from using my expertise. How do you think I could go about it? Is there any copyright rule that I could quote and would I need to ask them to sign an agreement not to use the translation?

Still Fuming


Dear Fuming,

In the absence of payment of the agreed fee, the Institute of Translation & Interpreting's Standard Terms of Business, lodged with the UK Office of Fair Trading, make it clear who owns the translation—and that owner would appear to be you.

Yet in this case we would advise against "reclaiming" or litigation for the simple reason that it will cost you far too much in time, effort and money. There is a point at which a pursuit of justice may turn into a vendetta, and we're sure you do not want to be a latter-day Michael Kohlhaas. Instead keep your eye on the ball and seek a resolution through negotiation and compromise.

Concretely, this means that you retain the option of covering the client in customer service if it comes to that, i.e., accepting the 25% hit, however unfair it may seem. Depending on the agency's response, decide for yourself whether they are clueless low-bidders (in which case you won't want to work for them again and might have some interesting input should their name come up on translator forums) or trainable; in the latter case, view the complaint as a springboard for discussion leading to closer interaction, a means of "talking methods" with them and perhaps teaching them something in the process.

For the agency clearly does deserve a wake-up call. Three hours' revision for 2,500 words in a field as demanding as financial services is by no means excessive, especially for a "prestigious" client. Stylistic tweaking is notoriously time-consuming, (and of course a reviewer who introduces errors puts them on very shaky ground).

But keep in mind that for you, too, there is always a learning curve on first projects (did the agency provide you with enough background information and examples of what they considered appropriate style? Next time be sure to ask for this).

Ultimately, each side must be prepared to invest time up front to ensure a good outcome for the client, but it goes without saying that this sort of investment only makes sense if the customer offers potential for a pleasant and lucrative long-term business relationship.