Practical tips for practicing translators.
Hi Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
Is it a good idea to tell existing clients who your other clients are? I’m thinking of direct clients here. I can see this working two ways: it
establishes your credentials, but can remind them that you also work for the competition (does Widget Manufacturer 1 really want to know that I also
work for Widget Manufacturer 2? Does Pepsi really want to know that I work for Coke? etc.). They might not like that.
Pitching Discreetly and Discretely
Never ever discuss particulars of one client’s projects with another; likewise, never complain about one client to another. Both put you squarely
in the “Lookit me, I’m an amateur” box.
But it’s possible to drop a name casually, without spilling any specific beans.
“Good to hear from you! I’ve just finished up a big job for Acme Corp., so the decks are clear. Tell me more about your project!”
“Your text will arrive on January 20? Let me check my calendar: hmm, I’m booked for Acme the week before, but the 20th looks
“A query on this came up recently at Acme Corp. and I did some research on it. Here’s what I’d recommend for you: [xxx]”
“Let’s see… [read text]. Yes, I’ve done similar work for [prominent business mogul X] at Acme Corporation. This is right up my
In our experience, clients react positively to the occasional reminder that their translation supplier is in demand for high-profile clients, as long
as you make it very clear that they are your number one priority when you are working on their job. Since you are dealing with your clients
sequentially (or should be), this is easier than it sounds. Likewise, anything you say about any client should be admiring, especially when said to
another client. And one aim of any freelance translator should be to manage her client portfolio actively enough so that the admiration expressed is
FA & WB
A respected colleague referred his son to me recently to work for us as a freelance translator (we are a boutique translation and editing
outfit with a focus on defence and aerospace and a specific need for French translation and editing capacity).
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
The son is highly educated (languages) and truly bilingual, and his professional background (not translation) is relevant to our areas
Unfortunately our French team was seriously underwhelmed by the test translation, which showed up some methodological shortcomings as well as
maybe the overconfidence that comes with being young, pointy-headed and bilingual. He needs experience but can't get it because he has no experience --
how frustrating! Maybe he needs a mentor. Can you offer any advice about how I can point a would-be translator in the right direction?
Krusty Carlsbad, CA
If your young friend is seriously interested in a career in translation, mentoring would be ideal.
But allow us a riff on bilingualism first. We’ll take you at your word that Junior really is fluent in both of his languages, keeping in mind
that many people described as “bilinguals”by admiring monolinguals or even by themselvesaren’t, or have varying degrees of
fluency in writing and speaking.
As your example shows, even mastery of two languages doesn’t necessarily mean a person can move meaning convincingly between the two in
writing. Nor does an education focusing on languages necessarily teach this skillthe doing of translation, as opposed to the talking and
thinking about it. Finally, even a student of translation who does very well in classwork and on internships needs two or three years to find her feet
once out in the real world. That’s normal.
So where does this leave you as a potential employer?
We suggest you start by sending your candidate the corrections your French team made to his translation, since this will give him a better idea of what
you are looking for and where he’s falling short. It will anchor your future discussions.
From your letter, it doesn’t sound as if you are in a position to be his mentor, but there are some excellent options out there. Consider the
online courses offered by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, the UK association for professional translators and interpreters. ITI’s
Peer Support Group (for translators moving into a freelance career) and Orientation course (for newcomers to translation) run 14 and 12 weeks,
respectively; past participants rave. He’s missed the ITI boat for this year, but should check out details here.
If other professional associations run courses of this type, we would be delighted to hear about them.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
Dutifully heeding your always excellent advice, I recently attended a major conference for translators and interpreters. I had to travel to attend, and
while I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the host city, it was not an inexpensive proposition.
So you can imagine my astonishment (not to mention acute irritation) when I had trouble hearing some of the speakers because a number of my fellow
attendees talked at length during the sessions. I realize that norms for this kind of thing vary from one culture to another, but I find it enormously
inconsiderate to everyone in the room. And bafflingly wasteful – surely the talkers are investing as much time and money to attend as I am?
I’ve tried a variety of tactics in these situations: the Courteous Request, the Friendly Smile, the Cleared Throat, the Pointed Stare, you name
it. Increasingly I find that the talkers are either indifferent or actively hostile.
Can we assume you’ve also tried the Death Ray Glare?
That leaves two options:
- depending on room layout, pick up your bag and moved right up to the front yourself, where there are often two or three empty rows (why are
translators so shy?)
- slip the person chairing the session a note asking her to put the lid on: abusers can be invited to continue their conversations in the public
area outside, for example.
Curious, isn’t it: translators are educated folks, trained to be acutely sensitive to nuances of meaning and other voices in their day-to-day
work. But that’s words on a page or a screen.
By working in isolation, many seem to have let their social skills go cold, then get over-excited at the sight of another human and start burbling away
uncontrollably. Think Robinson Crusoe, or your new Labrador puppy that pees all over the kitchen floor in excitement when its humans return home at
Along the same lines, earnest, otherwise continent, but solitary translators handed a microphone will sometimes transform a post-session Q&A into a
lengthy monologue on the meaning of life, their last sixteen jobs and a worrisome comment made in passing by a project manager two years ago Christmas.
The basic rules of normal social interaction have somehow evaporated.
Once again, the solution is a firm chairthe person, not the seat.
In fact, why not drop the conference organizers a line and ask them to remind people chairing sessions of their responsibilities: chairs set the tone
and pace. And they can and should call chatterers and monologuers (and even poorly organized speakers) to order.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I've translated some non-fiction books for a publisher in the UK, and they contacted me some months ago for a rescue operation. They explained that
another translator had done a 300-page book and they had some doubts as to whether it had been well translated. And they were right to be suspicious,
because apart from style there were hundreds of mistranslations, including some astounding and dangerous ones. Anyway, I did my stuff and the author
and publishers were very content. So far so good.
Now my problem. The publishers asked how I'd like to be credited. I said "Translation edited by [me]". After consultation they rejected that because it
raised the question of who had done the translation in the first place and also implied that the translation had needed editing, which didn't reflect
well on them or the translator (who could have been identified from the advance publicity).
So then I suggested "Translated by XX and [me]", but then the original translator said he didn't want to be credited at all because he didn't agree
with the revisions.
So at present the only byline open to me is "Translated by [me]".
I hope you can understand my unease, not because I don't stand behind the finished product - on the contrary, it's a very interesting book and I think
I've done a good job on itbut because it's not true. At best I would say that I am responsible for 30% of the translation. Moreover, although they
penalised the other translator by reducing his fee in order to pay me (normal contractual provision), he still got paid a good whack (and definitely
more than me) for his "work". Should I just shrug my shoulders and be happy to have the publicity, or is my unease justified? And if so, are there any
The Society of Authors, which represents translators of published works in the UK, tells us that in
cases like yours “Edited by [me]” is a common solution, and you might run that past your publisher.
When a translator does not want to be credited, for whatever reason, a pseudonym is often insertedmarking the spot, as it were, without putting
anyone’s reputation on the line. This can be a combination of both translators’ names or a completely made-up moniker.
If neither of these seems workable, we’d recommend plan C: write the publisher to say how much you appreciated the opportunity to work on this
project and your interest in doing more of the same. In the threesome you thus become the competent, serene remover-of-chestnuts-from-fireand with
luck their first port of call when another book in your language combination and field hits their desk.
Note however that regardless of the name on the credits page you can still register for Public Lending Rights (translators get 30%, so in this case you could each claim 15%).
A final word of advice from our literary expert: for future books, be sure to have copyright assigned to you, not the publisher.
In fact, your letter is a useful reminder of just how helpful it can be to join a professional organization like the Society of Authors, who are there
to protect your rights and promote your work.
FA & WB
Dear Fire Ant & Worker Bee,
I've enjoyed reading your book a lot, and would like to ask if you're planning on publishing a new
edition with recent posts?
Also, the articles and blog posts on the Translation Journal are quite valuable and interesting. I was wondering how can I subscribe to the Journal or
get these articles in print form?
Glad you liked the book! There’s no new edition of that one in the works for now, so your best bet is simply to consult recent posts online at
this site. But we are working on another writing project and will publish news of that here in due course.
As for the many excellent articles in the Translation Journal, we, too, prefer reading on paper at times. Why not simply print out the on-screen
FA & WB
TJ Editorís Note: Fire Ant is right (as usual). Not everybody is interested in all the articles that appear in a given issue of the TJ. If you wish to read any of the about 1000 articles published since the first issue of July 1997, you can find it on the Web and read it or print it out at your convenience. By not offering a printed version, we can keep the production and administative costs low and offer access to the TJ free of charge.