Volume 12, No. 3 
July 2008

Fire Ant
Fire Ant

Worker Bee
Worker Bee


Front Page

Select one of the previous 44 issues.

Index 1997-2008

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
On Becoming a Translator
by Salvador Virgen

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Everything’s Comin’ up Roses (with apologies to Stephen Sondheim)
by Bernie Bierman
Navigating in a New Era: Translators in the Age of Image and Speech
by Eileen B. Hennessy
Supply and Demand Analysis of Patent Translation
by Yvonne Tsai

  In Memoriam
A Farewell to Vera—In Memoriam Vera Maria Conti Nogueira: 1944 - 2008
by Danilo Nogueira

  Nuts and Bolts of Translation
Übersetzung deutscher Nominalkomposita aus der Fachsprache der Technik und Analyse typischer portugiesischer Entsprechungen
Katrin Herget, Holger Proschwitz
Proper Names and Translation
by Samira Mizani

  Translators Around the World
The Influence of the Market on Translating—A Tentative Study of the Market-oriented Translation in China
by Tian Chuanmao

  Scientific and Technical Translation
Mini-Guide to Translating French Documents
for English-Speaking Markets (with general tips for other language pairs and writers of EFL)

by M.L. Seren-Rosso

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Translating Sexuality: The Translation Industry and Adult Websites
by Sathya Rao

  Literary Translation
Corpus-based Study of Differences in Explicitation Between Literature Translations for Children and for Adults
by Shih Chung-ling

  Translator Education
Bibliografía comentada sobre Traducción e Interpretación para estudiantes
Pablo Muñoz Sánchez
Individual Differences in the Translation Process: Differences in the act of translation between two groups of ESL Japanese students
by Atsushi Iida
El análisis crítico de traducciones literarias en la formación de traductores
Dra. Beatriz MĒ Rodríguez Rodríguez

  Book Reviews
Book Review: A Companion to Translation Studies
by Esmaeil Haddadian Moghaddam
Book Review: The Locas mujeres poems of Gabriela Mistral
reviewed by Liliana Valenzuela

  Translation Theory
Meaning: The Philosopher's Stone of the Alchemist Translator?
by Maite Aragonés Lumeras, Ph.D.

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translation and Participatory Media: Experiences from Global Voices
by Chris Salzberg
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

Translation Journal
The Profession

The Bottom Line

by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

Practical tips for practicing translators.


Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I have an undergraduate degree in French and Spanish and am working as an English teacher in Spain while preparing for the Institute of Linguists' Diploma in Translation (French/Spanish - English).

However I am unsure how to proceed; should I start looking for an in-house position now since I am unsure of the business side of translation or is it better to wait until I pass the diploma and set up as a freelance? Also, how do I go about looking for an in-house position if this is the best way forward? I intend to stay in Spain in the long-term.

Thank you,



Dear Preoccupied,

You're off to a good start if only through your decision to spend some serious time in your source language country. Classroom learning is fine, but immersion is essential for anyone planning a career in translation, and the best time to do it is during or immediately after your studies, before you acquire a spouse, a mortgage, and children.

Moving right along:

  • In our experience there are very few in-house positions going anywhere these days, and even fewer for people just starting out. So should one come your way, grab it—and use the opportunity to get your work revised by real live users or colleagues. But don't hold your breath.
  • Contact your country or region's professional association now and see if there are any courses on offer on "how to set up in business". If not, suggest one and/or start attending association events to network with experienced practitioners today. You might ask if you could shadow an experienced colleague for a few days or weeks to get a feel for the ebb and flow of translation in the real world.

Whence an observation. It is true that many translation courses provide no information at all about the environment in which graduates will find themselves. Understandably so, say some: your teachers are helping your refine the skills needed to craft text on screen or page, and there are only so many hours in the day. It is also entirely possible that the teachers have no direct experience of real-world translation, in which case it is probably just as good that they not relay common misperceptions.

On the other hand, many observers (including FA&WB) are wary of courses in which there is little or no input on how to hook up with buyers of the skills you are busy honing. The reason goes beyond paying the rent: interacting with buyers from very start is how you pull together the attitude and information you need to produce outstanding work.

Teachers should be aware of this (some are) and make sure that it is part of the translation assignments they dole out.

Good luck with your exam!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

In your response to Workaholic, you gave three options for what to do when one can't accept a job.

When you say "Say No, and find an alternative," am I correct in figuring you meant to say "Say Yes but don't tell them that someone else is actually going to translate/revise"?

Also, can I ask which of the three you use (I'm guessing that it depends on the subject of the text)?



Dear Curious,

Thanks for asking.

We meant "Say No, and find an alternative and make sure you let the client know it's an alternative, that is, specify that you are not doing the translation yourself."

As a matter of principle, it is never a good idea to pass someone else's work off as your own. Taking that one step further, it is in your interest to remind clients at every opportunity just how complex translating is.

This is not to suggest you should fuss, split hairs and pick nits, which gets tiresome fast and drives clients away. Instead take every opportunity to remind non-linguists of a basic truth or two (e.g., professional translators work into their native language only; project management adds value and is not free), even as you position yourself as the problem-solver who smoothes the path.

In response to your second question, we have successfully used (1) Just Say No and occasionally (2) Say No, but suggest an alternative, the latter with mixed results (never underestimate the time involved in locating an alternative to pass the client on to).

Option (3), in which you locate the supplier and take full responsibility for his or her work in exchange for a cut of the action, is another matter altogether, with scope for severe stress and enduring bad vibes with former friends.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am a freelance translator living some sixty miles to the north of Paris in a little town that must remain nameless for reasons that will become clear as my story unfolds. The events I am about to narrate were set in motion on a summer's day in 2002.

I was about to dive into the local swimming pool when I spotted our amiable lifeguard Laurent in uncharacteristically animated conversation with a pair of middle-aged gentlemen sporting the knee-length shorts so favoured across the Channel for reasons of modesty but banned in most French establishments on grounds of hygiene. My language skills saved the day, and our English friends soon returned wearing the required V-shaped trunks.

Indeed, so taken were they with Laurent that they signed up for private swimming lessons, and here again I was able to help out with some of the trickier technical terms like "dos crawlé" "le crawl" and "la brasse".

Laurent's gratitude knew no bounds and he has been coaching me for free ever since. He also took to singing my praises, and soon I was being asked to help out in all manner of language situations and receiving favours in return.

For instance, I have been writing CVs for various members of our fishmonger's family (thanks to me, his son now works as a waiter in a well-known London restaurant) and have also helped his daughter write a successful application to an American university, so now he keeps me supplied with prize oysters and home-cured salmon...

My girlfriend and I have become frequent and honoured guests at the Michelin-starred restaurant down the road ever since I rescued their menu (which they change twice a year) from the jaws of Babelfish. And I receive inexpensive treatment from our local dentist (dentures at cost price, fillings on the house...) in return for regular summaries of articles from The Lancet and The American Journal of Dentistry.

An idyllic situation you might say but only other day, finding myself at a loose end between one job and another, I thought to put a value on all these gifts and services and discovered to my consternation that I have been earning an unofficial income of approximately €20,000 a year in return for informal translation work—enough to move me into a bracket where I should have been paying an extra €2,000 yearly or €10,000over the last five years.

So what shall I do? Let sleeping dogs lie as my girlfriend suggests? Fling myself before the Hotel des Impôts and confess to my sins as her father (who has been peeking at my papers) obviously hopes? Or leave the country in a hurry?

Yours sincerely,

Sick with Worry


Dear Sick,

It is clear that you are essentially a Nice Guy and, just as importantly, recognized as such in your town. In fact, lots of translators are Nice Guys—and as long as they are getting enough business in their day jobs, what's the big deal?

The problem arises when Nice Guy reflexes get out of hand—when you are evicted for not paying your rent or mortgage and die on a park bench one cold winter morning, or when you collapse from exhaustion for that midnight to 3 a.m. session translating a local tourist brochure, a deserving immigrant's high-school diploma or a free-press article for the middle-school fête. The cherry on the cake might be a future in-law's concern that his daughter is involved with someone whose grasp of economics stops at barter.

Our advice: Forget the tax people. They're unlikely to get on your case as long as you are paying a reasonable amount into the collective kitty.

Instead think quality of life.

If for you that means walking down the street with an entourage of monolingual admirers thrusting flyers, reports and signs at you for expert input, that's terrific. If this opens other doors in your community, why not?

But if the time you invest in such endeavors is getting out of hand, the best solution is to have a phrase or two up your sleeve to indicate your unavailability and/or steer the conversation over into the realm of commerce. This is far easier than you'd think. E.g.:

  • What a fascinating brochure! I'd love to translate it but I'm booked solid—yes, clear through to Christmas.
  • Your wife's insurance claim? I'd translate it in a minute, but... my tax situation is iffy right now, it would be too risky for both of us.
  • Ah, a CV! They are so tricky to translate—in fact that's why they are so expensive. Shall I look at it and give you a quote? What's your deadline?

Deliver these phrases with a Nice Guy smile, of course.



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

I am deeply shocked when I see Internet sites of certain translators stating outright that "only people with translation degrees are genuine professionals". This, in my opinion, is contrary to CEN 15038 as well as to professional ethics, and might even be construed as unfair competition, especially when the authors of such statements make a big deal of their professional memberships on the same site. You guessed it: I do not have a diploma in translation but have been working since 1996 in the industry (and none of my clients seem to mind).

What do you think?

No Sheepskin


Dear Sheep,

There's little anybody can do about translators making claims like this on their websites or in advertising materials. But as a translator yourself, surely you are aware that they are only advertising their own cluelessness (or pomposity or navel-gazing or substance abuse).

Strictly speaking, such statements are also untrue: to be a professional you must be working legally (and presumably paying taxes and the like) even as you generate enough income to pay your living expenses. Plenty of translators with diplomas are not in that category.

Fortunately, any translator who starts carrying on in this vein in person with other professionals would get laughed out of the room in short order. On a website? Let them rant: these guys are not a threat, rather comic relief. Loosen up!



Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,

Your long-time reader and fan needs your wise words again. After a seven-month wait on the edge of my seat, I have just received my ATA certification as English into Spanish translator.

I feel happy, and my question to you is: what now?

That is, how am I going to take advantage of my certification? Experience and advice from the trenches most welcome!



Dear Certified,

Congratulations! One immensely appealing aspect of taking and passing a test of this type is the personal satisfaction of measuring your skills against an industry benchmark.

In concrete terms, there are markets where a qualification of this type makes no difference at all, but if you've got it, hey, why not flaunt it: add "ATA certified, Eng>Spanish" to your business card, website and advertising materials immediately.

Depending on your home country you might also want to expand ATA into American Translators Association. And be sure to look into the many membership benefits offered by ATA, as these may be as useful in the immediate future as any direct payoff in marketing terms.