Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Sauregurkenzeit (literally: pickle time) is what German-speaking business people and journalists call the summer months, particularly July and August. With Europe's customary 4+ weeks of vacation per year and school out, many businesses there operate on a greatly reduced staff. As a result, few new projects are scheduled during this time, so there is not much need for translation services. This would then be a great time for us translators to take a break, too.

Unfortunately, here in the U.S. vacation time for employees is usually much less generous. So while we might be able to take a month off, our partners often can only take a week or two. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I spent a week vacationing in and around Washington, D.C. -- not exactly off the grid, but interesting all the same.

Since my return, projects have been slow to arrive. With the heat wave we have had here in New York, I found it difficult to concentrate in the middle of the day when the temperature in my office reached the mid-80s (Fahrenheit) or so. So using that time for relatively mindless filing and general organizing seemed like a good idea. I've also tried to use some of this slack time to increase my marketing efforts. On the other hand, with everyone to whom I am marketing myself away, that doesn't necessarily work so well, either.

I'm about to leave my office again for a while -- this time to attend the Congress of the International Translators Federation in San Francisco next week. I am taking my netbook and I will monitor my e-mail on my smartphone, but I am not accepting new projects for next week. I'll try to blog next Wednesday, but that's the night when the Congress holds an international dance party, so I may not get to it.

Have a relaxing summer!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is Volume Pricing Appropriate for Translation Services?

Freshly back from vacation, I received an inquiry about pricing for a rather large translation project. Some translators argue that because the same amount of work per word goes into a small project as does into a large one, we shouldn't offer volume discounts. "We sell a valuable service, not shoes," I've heard say.

While I certainly agree that selling a professional service is different from selling everyday items, a large project does lower our cost, as well. That cost reduction may not be as dramatic as it is for a retailer receiving a steep volume discount from the wholesaler, but it does exist. For one, I can spend the next two or more weeks just working on the project, instead of having to spend part of my time in unpaid attempts to get work.

Then there is the fact that the more familiar I am with a particular text and the way it is written, the faster I am translating it: much of my terminology research already occurred during the first twenty or thirty pages, I become accustomed to the writer's style and "get into the groove". So I do think that volume pricing has its place even in translation.

That said, beware of agencies requesting the lowest possible price with the promise of large quantities of future work. You don't know whether that work will actually materialize, you still have to negotiate each project separately with the agency, and if the work is from different agency clients, the time savings from working on a consistent piece evaporate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Client Reviews and "Signing" Translations

I recently edited a rather good, mostly idiomatic translation. A few days after I submitted my work, I received a note that the client had feedback on the translation and editing. When I looked at the file attached to the note, almost all of the changes turned what had been an idiomatic text into an almost literal translation that no longer sounded like it had been written in the target language (in this case, German), but rather like a German version of a U.S. text. I did point this fact out, but the end client has the final say ...

This was a translation for hire, so my name was not publicly associated with the end product. An article I read recently advocated that translators "sign" their work so they can get credit for their efforts. As I recall, the article further argued that such authorship declarations would counteract the proliferation of less-than-professional translators, who would not want to have their name associated with their work. I am not so sure that this argument would hold, but in any case what would I do in a case like the one described above?

I wouldn't want my name associated with that end product. In this case, I saw the changes made. Frequently, I hand a translation in and never hear from anyone again. Presumably someone is proofing/editing my work, but I generally do not know who that person is or what changes have been made. This situation is somewhat similar to that of a writer whose work is edited. However, a writer usually knows the editor (frequently the same person who assigned the article/bought the book) and may have a say in the changes being made.

The technical documents I translate usually don't even acknowledge the author(s) of the original text, much less the translator. Since such text does not require much poetic talent and was generally either written by employees or as a work for hire, that seems fine to me. Fiction -- and to some extent marketing material -- is a different story. Here the translator is more of a "transcreator" who is basically ghostwriting the original in a different language. And that effort should be acknowledged -- not only in the work of fiction, but also in any reviews thereof.

On an administrative note: Sorry for not posting last week, but we wound up having to deal with a bedbug infestation. I did get the translation I had promised out, but I had absolutely no time to do anything else besides dealing with those nasties. Next week will be missed again, I'm afraid, because I will be on vacation.