Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This Blog Moved

This blog has been moved to and is now running on a Wordpress platform. I will no longer update this version of the blog. Please visit my new blog location for more thoughts on language and translation.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Presenting at tekom & What I Learned

The tekom conference is over and I am on the overnight train to Vienna, in a sleeper car where they just served us breakfast - a nice bonus. My presentation went better than I expected, but in the process I learned a few things:

  • A four-year-old netbook is too slow to efficiently manage my business while on the road and to follow up on conversations I had at the conference.
  • The resolution on that netbook also isn't quite sufficient for a conference projector. My slides did display, but were a little fuzzy.
  • The laptop I use next time should support extending the display to a second monitor, so what is displayed on my laptop doesn't have to match what the audience sees (see below).
  • I need to learn more about the firewall and security settings on my machine so I can get online on public networks with strange settings.

While attending other presentations I also learned a few things about speaking at such conferences:

  • Each slide should have a footer with the company logo/name and slide number. I added a footer with my company name at the last minute. The logo in an appropriate resolution/size would probably have been better and I couldn't get the slide numbers to display.
  • My slides need to look more professional. I used the background from my stationary and the blue and purple colors from my website, but I need to spend some time with fonts and a crisper layout.
  • Rather than having my speech on paper, I should have it on the laptop - probably as notes for each slide. That, of course, only works if the laptop supports dual monitors with the display extended to the second monitor, not duplicated there. I probably was the only presenter at tekom who used paper notes.
  • If available, I should use the wireless headset rather than the microphone on the lectern. That way the audience can still hear me when I turn to the screen with the laser pointer to highlight some aspect of a slide.
  • It might be good to also record the presentation in advance. For one thing, I can time it more accurately. Plus, if I get sick before a presentation I may be able to give the talk remotely.

Now I need to digest all the new information I tried to absorb during the last three days. I'll report on the presentations I attended sometime in November, after I get back to New York.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School?

This time of year when I see my teacher daughter setting up her classroom and my student son-in-law buying textbooks I get a little nostalgic for my own college days. Since then I have taken a couple of classes here and there, but now that both my children are grown I could go back to school more permanently. The obvious choice would be to get a degree in translation studies. Since I already have a BA, I'd want to go for an MA. The only such programs for German translation, however, are in California and Ohio. Plus, they are full time, so I would have to somehow put my current business on hold for a couple of years and then resurrect it after I have my masters. I'm not sure that would even be an option.

Translating various technical documents I do get an impromptu education in different areas of science and technology simply by researching terminology for a given job. I find Wikipedia particularly helpful for providing a quick overview of, say, electrical heating systems - my most recent project. That project, as well as several others over the years that involved electrical circuits, has piked my interest in electrical engineering.

At age 52 it seems a little late to start a new career - particularly one that would involve several years of study first. But I wouldn't necessarily have to become a full-fledged engineer. An introduction to electrical engineering might be enough to satisfy my curiosity - or spurn me on to learn more about the subject. Starting this Fall wouldn't really work since I'll be in Europe for two weeks in the middle of the semester to speak at the tekom conference in Germany. But there's always the Spring semester.

Meanwhile there is no shortage of one-night lectures on various topics here in New York. These are frequently held in bars. While that is problematic for young people who are interested in science, I'm certainly old enough to attend. Time to start researching ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

US Translators and UK English Requests - Accept or Refuse?

I just read an interesting post about US versus UK English by Jill Sommer (@bonnjill on her blog Musings from an overworked translator. Jill explains why she declines requests to translate into UK English and how simply changing the spelling of certain words doesn't turn a text into UK English. The comments section for that post features a spirited discussion about how different the two "Englishes" really are.

Like Jill I am sometimes asked to translate into UK English and i generally decline. However, in technical writing at least, a somewhat hybrid form of English seems to be emerging. When I explain to clients that living in the U.S. I don't feel comfortable enough with British English to translate into that variety of English, I am sometimes told that proper UK English is not what they're looking for anyway. Rather, they want a non-country-specific "global English" with British spelling.

Well, I can (and have done) that. Such a hybrid form wouldn't work for legal texts, where not only the text, but the legal system itself needs to be translated. But in my specialty, IT, most terms were coined in the US to begin with. And frequently the translation I provide is not really - or not exclusively - intended for the UK market anyway. Rather, specifications, data sheets and similar materials are translated into English as a lingua franca. UK spelling is requested because that is the spelling most Europeans learn in school. As long as my clients are clear about the fact that my terminology and style will be based on US, not UK, English, I'm happy to run the finished translation through whichever spell checker they prefer.

Other clients (agencies) have said that providing a US English translation for what will eventually be delivered to a UK end client is okay because they will have a UK proofreader/editor change it to conform to British English. Conversely, I have been asked to "Americanize" a translation done by a UK translator so that it can be delivered to a US end client. If the agency knows that the editor will need to change quite a bit to adjust for the other variety of English, they won't fault the original translator for "poor quality", and everyone is happy.

So while I don't accept work that specifically calls for UK English, some of these workarounds allow us to exploit time differences across the Atlantic, as well as provide the internationalized English many end clients are really looking for.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Should I Become an Agency?

Last week I wrote about suddenly hitting a feast period in terms of workload when I had expected the usual Summer famine. That trend seems to be continuing. I am working on a large project that will now take me through the end of the month. Yet, agencies with whom I have sometimes worked in the past keep contacting me about projects they'd like me to take.

So far, I have simply told these agencies that I'm too busy right now to take on more work. When asked who else I could recommend, I either gave the agency the contact information for a colleague or referred it to the American Translators Association's website referral service.

At the same time, my net earnings are rather low for the well-over 40 hours a week I put into this business. Freelance friends (not translators) have counseled me to "become a manager" if I wanted to make better money. In the translation industry that would mean opening my own (mini) translation agency.

My friends are probably right about the earnings potential - I could be earning money from translations performed by others while earning additional money from the translation work I do myself. There are large agencies who farm work out to small agencies who in turn work with individual translators. Becoming one of these small agencies seems possible, even without direct clients of my own.

Plus, a pool of translators who work in different language pairs might get me direct clients whose needs extend beyond my own language combination. If I specialized in into-English translations, I could edit/proof the translation without necessarily being fluent in the source language. (Always sending the edited version back to the translator for verification, of course!)

I was a middle manager once (in IT) and hated being squeezed between the boss' (read: large agency or end client's) demands and the needs of the people I managed (read: the translators with whom I would contract). On the other hand, I wouldn't be stuck with the same boss day in and day out. If an end client's demands were too unreasonable, I wouldn't have to accept subsequent projects from that client -- should they even be offered after I told the end client that his or her demands couldn't be met.

Then there is the whole question of vetting someone else's work. How would I know that the freelancers I contract with for other languages provide high-quality translations? Even if the English translation they sent to me were fluent, how do I know that it is accurate? If I limit my agency to languages I read (German, Spanish, French, maybe Swedish), I can catch glaring errors, but probably not more subtle problems. Besides, part of the idea of becoming an agency would be to offer more languages and this approach would severely limit the number of languages I could contract out.

Networking is the key to getting both clients and translators for an agency. I'm not particularly good at networking, even online - and worse face to face. Given a choice, I'd rather sit in a corner with a book than talk with strangers at an event.

So maybe this whole agency thing is not for me, after all ...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Summer Slump?

Now that summer has not only officially arrived, but school vacations have started across most of the U.S. and Europe, I was expecting the same drop in projects I had experienced the last few summers. This year seems to be different, though.

First there was a famine period in early June. I thought the summer slump had arrived early this year, perhaps fueled by economic uncertainty over the fate of the Euro. Then there were several inquiries about relatively large projects, including one possibly later this summer. And now I am working on a good-sized project with a longer-than-usual deadline because the project manager is out during the intervening week.

In addition, I had to decline two other projects for lack of time, in part because I was planning to spend the July 4 holiday with my family instead of translating. And today I had an inquiry for another long-term project, although the details on that one are still rather hazy.

With both my children grown I don't need to plan vacations for the peak summer months any more, so this feast of work coming in is quite nice.

On the other hand, with temperatures consistently in the 90° F range here, a slower pace wouldn't be so bad. The trick may be to adopt a Mediterranean rhythm: work early mornings and late nights and take an extended nap in the early afternoon. Sleeping during the day in noisy New York City isn't so easy, though. Maybe I should reconsider installing an air conditioner in my office ...<.p>

What are summer work loads like for you in general? Does this summer look like it might be any different? Is that good or bad?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

STC Summit Chicago - Writing for Global Audiences

As promised, here is the text of my presentation, "Writing for Global Audiences", at the recent Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit in Chicago. In Part I, Part II and Part III of this series I reviewed conference sessions related to translation and freelancing.

Writing for Global Audiences

by Barbara Jungwirth, reliable translations llc
at the 59th STC Annual Conference, May 20-23, 2009 in Chicago, Ill.

Hi. I'm Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations. I translate and edit software documentation and other technical documents between German and English. Before becoming a translator, I used to write software documentation.

Increasingly, English-language technical documents intended for global audiences are no longer translated into multiple languages. Instead, technicians and others are expected to be fluent enough in English to understand these texts in their original language. While these professionals generally know the English terminology for their specific field, their overall command of the language may not be quite so fluent. Add to this the fact that the English spoken in, say, New Delhi or Capetown differs considerably from that spoken in New York or Chicago and you can see how a document written for an American audience may be difficult to understand elsewhere.

But if you are mindful of some issues that may pose problems to non-native English speakers you can greatly increase the likelihood that global audiences will understand your document. In this presentation I will outline two areas of potential problems:

  • Writing issues - that is word choice, grammar and syntax
  • and
  • Formatting issues - that is text formatting and images

Finally, I will briefly talk about evaluating how your text may fare with a global audience.

Writing Issues

One of the most important writing issues is consistency in word choice: use the same term for the same concept. If a widget is a widget in the help system overview, that same widget should not have morphed into a thingamajigg in the section on installing widgets and a gizmo in the appendix about different widget types.

A corollary to this rule is to use standard terms with standard spelling. If the widget is spelled "w-e-e-g-i-t", a reader unfamiliar with the term cannot look it up in a dictionary and is forever left to wonder what this item might be. Also, minimize the use of words with the same spelling, but different meanings. These are sometimes confused even by native speakers and are often difficult to distinguish for non-native speakers.

Similarly, use the literal meaning of words, and avoid wordplay and metaphors. That said, many modern computer terms are, in fact, non-literal versions of older words -- e.g., mouse -- and universally understood in their new meaning. So, don't try and find a more "literal" word to describe a computer mouse -- when reading a manual, no one will think of the furry animal when encountering this term.

Don't use words in non-standard ways, such as using nouns as verbs and vice versa. When it comes to grammar, most languages are not as flexible as English. When reading foreign-language texts, many people subconsciously translate into their native language. The closer you stick to "schoolbook English", the easier it will be for non-native readers to translate the text for themselves.

Long convoluted sentences with many dependent clauses are difficult to understand even for native speakers. Complex concepts with many variables can still be explained in a series of sentences. Each of these sentences should refer to the concept explained in the previous sentence by name. Non-specific pronouns, such as "this," are harder to interpret than if the specific term to which "this" refers is repeated.

Most non-native speakers reading technical documents in English will be quite familiar with the terminology specific to their particular field. They may, however, not know colloquial expressions common in documents written for U.S. readers. This applies especially to expressions referring to sports, movies, or cultural icons. References to politics and religion, as well as anything even slightly off-color, should obviously be avoided when writing for people from different cultures.

Keep in mind that time zones, units of measure and national holidays differ among countries. Some of these references may be unavoidable, but don't add unnecessary references to location-specific items. In particular, don't provide unnecessary measurements. Since most of the world operates on the metric system, the reader will need to convert all such measurements.

Avoid acronyms and abbreviations as much as possible. If they are unavoidable, provide a list of abbreviations. That, however, does not necessarily apply to very common acronyms, particularly when the acronym may be better known than the phrase from which it derived (e.g., UNESCO).
Write in a formal tone. Many languages distinguish between two (or more) forms of address, depending on the degree of familiarity between speaker and addressee (or writer and reader). Being too formal is rarely considered offensive, while being too familiar can offend. That said, don't start using archaic phrases or stilted language. Imagine you are addressing, say, your local mayor -- assuming you are not from a small town where the mayor is your personal friend. You wouldn't call him or her "His Excellency", but you wouldn't slap his or her back, either.

Formatting Issues

While it is relatively easy to understand how vocabulary and syntax issues may affect understanding, formatting questions are often overlooked. Bulleted or numbered lists may be a better way to illustrate a set of options than a long paragraph describing the choices available. Tables, too, can present the relationship between distinct pieces of information in a fairly intuitive way.

Not all images are worth a thousand words, but procedures can sometimes be summarized in flow charts that require little linguistic knowledge. That said, writers and designers need to be mindful that a left-to-right progression is not necessarily obvious for readers who come from right-to-left (or top-to-bottom) languages. The significance of specific symbols may also not be apparent to everyone. Most U.S. readers will recognize an eight-sided red sign with white lettering to mean "Stop", but the corresponding road sign in Japan is triangular and in Tonga the sign is a white circle with a red triangle inside.


When creating documents that will be read online also take into account slower download speeds and differing standard fonts on non-English computer systems. A page that downloads quickly over your broadband connection and displays nicely in Verdana may look quite different on a machine running the Russian version of Windows and using a dial-up connection. Whenever possible, try to test online documentation in the countries where it will be mostly viewed.

Evaluating Your Work

Besides trying to test under local technical conditions, it's a good idea to have colleagues from the countries where the document will be mostly used read your text. What seems perfectly clear and understandable to you may not be so for someone coming from a different language. If people who actually live in the target countries are not available, native speakers of the languages in question who live in the U.S. are a good second choice. Failing that, people familiar with the native languages of the people likely to read the text may be able to point out significant problems.

Two other presentations at this Summit cover related topics: Bruce Poropat will speak about "Plain Language for Technical Writers" immediately following this progression and John R. Kohl, the author of The Global English Style Guide will be speaking tomorrow at 11:30. I have also prepared a short list of additional resources, which you are welcome to take.


  • Ugur Akinci, Ph.D. "How to Write for an International Audience". Technical Communication Center (Jan. 29, 2009).
  • Gerald J. Alred et. al. Handbook of Technical Writing, 9th ed. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press), 2009.
  • John R. Kohl. The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market. (Cary, NC: SAS Institute, Inc.), 2008.
  • Michael Kriz. "10 Tips for Writing International Technical Content". The Content Wrangler (July 8, 2011).
  • Philip Rubens. Science & Technical Writing: A Manual of Style, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Routledge), 2001.
  • Edmond H. Weiss. The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, Internet Pages for a Global Audience. (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe), 2005.
  • Dovie Wylie. "Tips for Writing Globally". Multilingual Computing, 10.1 (Oct. 1998).
  • Sun Technical Publications. Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry, 3rd ed. (Sun Technical Publications).

PS: This was a short "Progression" session. I will be holding a full 45-minute session on the same topic at the tekom conference in Wiesbaden Germany, October 23-25.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

STC Summit Chicago - Summary of Sessions III

This is the third in a series of three posts about sessions I attended at the recent Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit. In Part I of this series I reviewed presentations by David Sommer, Lisa Pietrangeli and Bruce Poropat. Part II covered presentations by Michael Fritz, John Kohl and myself. This post summarizes sessions related to freelancing/consulting.

Teresa Stover of Stover Writing Services explained how to Transform a Prospect Meeting Into a Signed Contract. Translators working through agencies will probably not go through the more traditional multi-step sales process for a project. But the insights provided by Ms. Stover may be helpful when trying to acquire long-term direct clients.

Jenna Moore of SAS Institute spoke about Building Your Professional Network - Beyond the Social Media Maze. Networking is certainly one marketing tactic all independent workers need to master. In this mini-workshop Ms. Moore guided the audience through creating individual lists of specific networking possibilities and addressed how to follow up on that list.

Louellen Coker of Content Solutions provided advice on social media marketing in SMM101: 5 Cs of Managing Your Presence. Since I am active on several social media platforms (blog, Twitter, LinkedIn), I was particularly interested in this presentation. The 5Cs are: clarity - concise - cohesive - consistent - connected, and they all apply to developing and communicating one's brand.

Brenda Huettner of P-N Designs, Inc., explained how to become known as an expert on various platforms in Building the New Resume. Her advice was to participate in LinkedIn and Facebook groups and to write regular blog posts showcasing one's knowledge. She also advised freelancers to highlight how easy they are to work with.

Next week: My entire presentation on "Writing for Global Audiences".

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

STC Summit Chicago - Summary of Sessions II

This is the second in a series of three posts about sessions I attended at the recent Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit. In Part I of this series I reviewed presentations by David Sommer, Lisa Pietrangeli and Bruce Poropat.

Michael Fritz of tekom/tcworld GmbH spoke on ISO/IEC 82079 -- The International Standard for Technical Communication. tekom is a German organization similar to STC that has been working on this standard. The standard, which is more commonly used in Europe, includes sections on translation quality, as well as specifying that "instructions for use shall be supplied in the official language of the country of sale". We translators can use this language to advocate for translating materials that might otherwise remain only in the source language.

John Kohl of SAS Institute summarized his seminal book The Global English Style Guide in his presentation Introduction to Global English. His guidelines for writing for audiences across the world include: conform to standard English, simplify your writing style, use modifiers clearly and carefully, make pronouns clear and easy to translate, eliminate unusual terms and phrases, adhere to standard punctuation and capitalization, and use syntactic cues. Text that follows these rules is not only easier to understand, but is also easier to translate.

My own presentation, Writing for Global Audiences, was part of the Writing and Editing Progression. Progressions provide 6-10 concurrent 20 minute round-table discussions on various related topics. I provided a brief overview of both writing and formatting issues to consider when addressing readers who are not native English speakers, and outlined how to evaluate whether the text can be properly understood by its intended audience. I will post the text of my speech here later this month.

Next week: Presentations related to freelancing/consulting.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

STC Summit Chicago - Summary of Sessions I

So I'm finally getting around to writing about the actual content of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit -- i.e., the sessions I attended. Eight Summit sessions were related to translation/international communication, although I only attended six of them. Here is a summary of the first three of these. I'll summarize the second three next week and provide an overview of sessions related to freelancing/consulting the following week.

David Sommer of Net-Translators spoke about Advanced Localization for Technical Communicators. He focused on localizing IT-related material, including user interfaces and help systems. The presentation provided me with an overview of how translation agencies handle the entire process, rather than only seeing the translation portion I normally work on.

Lisa Pietrangeli of ThirtySix Software explained Translation Technology: MT, TM and Translation Reuse. She emphasized the importance of consistency in writing the source text and explained how poorly written text impacts the use of translation tools. None of this is news to translators, of course, but the Q&A portion offered me an opportunity to introduce myself to a room full of potential translation buyers.

Bruce Poropat of Technical Communications explained how to “translate” convoluted documents into plain English in Plain Language for the Technical Writer. While the primary goal of plain English is not to make text easier to translate, that is frequently a secondary benefit of the conversion process. In this session I learned about how the process of making a given text more accessible to, for example, consumers, actually works.

Next week: Summary of remaining sessions related to translation

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Back From Chicago With Lessons Learned

After an interesting, but also exhausting STC Summit and reinstalling everything on my desktop (starting with the operating system), I'm back to more regular work. A few lessons learned from this trip:

An iPad alone is insufficient equipment if you turned in translations just before leaving. As it turned out, two of my clients needed additions to work I had sent just before I left for Chicago. Fortunately this time I was staying at the conference hotel, so I could scoot up to my room during Monday's lunch break to deal with these texts. When packing I had decided at the last minute that I didn't need both the iPad and netbook, and left the latter at home. As a result I had to translate without CAT tools or even a decent keyboard. I had brought my bluetooth keyboard for the iPad and got the job done, but typing with timelag to the screen and without being able to switch to a German keyboard was frustrating. Next time I'll bring the netbook (and probably not need it).

It is worth paying for mobile access to CRM (customer relationship management) data. Sage ACT!'s service, where the data resides in the "cloud" still worries me, but there is an iPad app called "iTract for ACT!" that synchs with the ACT! database on my computer. I downloaded a trial version, but haven't yet had a chance to test it. If it lets me input the business cards I'm accumulating at these events while waiting for my plane, then sync them with my desktop when I get back, it will be worth buying.

There is an Android app called "PDAnet" that lets me use my phone to connect other devices to the internet. I should figure out whether there is a way to hook my iPad up to my phone. That way I could be much more productive while waiting for 2-hour plane delays caused by bad weather in New York. After all, there is only so much online work one can do on a smartphone's pull-out mini keyboard and mini screen.

Do you have any other road warrior tips for running your business while not in your (home) office? Please share them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Client Acquisition and Relationship Management

No, not that kind of relationship. I am talking about keeping track of clients and potential clients, not managing my personal life. Back in the Fall I bought Sage ACT! to track potential clients and my interactions with them. While there are plug-ins for the software to interact with other standard applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, I have a number of problems with my version of ACT!. For one thing, the supposed integration with Outlook doesn't work very well and doesn't recognize e-mails sent by other people within the same organization, unless I set each person up as a separate contact. That's quite a task for larger language service providers with many different project managers.

Besides, I have moved away from Outlook and now mostly use Gmail to manage my e-mail. The e-mail address connected to my website domain name forwards to a Gmail account that I can easily access from my phone or any browser. That greatly simplifies negotiating projects when I'm not sitting at my computer - for example while having my morning coffee (at which point it's already early afternoon in Europe).

I am therefore looking again for another customer relationship management (CRM) solution. Samantha Gluck mentioned on Twitter a blog post with a list of some 20 CRM solutions for freelancers, with a brief blurb and links to all of them. This yielded a couple of promising options: Work[etc] and The first one is expensive (at least for a one-person company), but includes a billing solution. The second one has a free version, but no billing module and seems less customizable than Work[etc].

Unfortunately both of them are cloud-based (i.e., hosted on someone else's server). I suppose this is necessary if I want to be able to access this information on the go, for example at a conference, but I'm not sure how I feel about entrusting my client contact information to "the cloud". On the other hand, my gmail contacts are already on Google's servers and all my e-mails are stored on my web hosting company's and/or Google's computers. So this may not make much of a difference.

About client acquisition: a few posts ago, I wrote about creating a second, more client-focused blog and alternating posts between this blog and the other one. In preparation I started to re-write some of the older posts from this blog that might be interesting to potential clients. But while uploading a new photo of myself (courtesy of my daughter and son-in-law who took and cropped/processed the photo, respectively) I realized that most social media sites only let you list one blog URL. So now I am rethinking the entire two-blog concept. Back to the drawing board, then ... (By the way, the new picture is in the bio section to the right of this post.)

Note: I will be at the STC Technical Communication Summit in Chicago next week and may not post next Wednesday, unless I have enough time (and an internet connection) at O'Hare before my flight back.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparing for the STC Conference

The annual Society for Technical Communication Summit in Chicago is a little more than 2 weeks away. So my preparations are in full swing. I wrote my presentation based on average words/minute for public speaking. Turns out, I talk fast (no surprises there, my friends and family would say). So I'm 2 minutes short. Either I slow down, or I write more text. Knowing myself, I suppose I better opt for the latter.

Meanwhile, STC created a social media app just for the conference where attendees can set up profiles, follow others, post their schedules (only official sessions, though), etc. Great networking opportunity, but it can be time-consuming. But then, I suppose, networking takes time in general.

So I said in an earlier post that I'd try and have the client-focused blog up and running by the time I depart for Chicago. I have been working on writing/re-writing posts for that, but I'm not sure I'll have the time to actually set up the blog before I leave. Maybe I'll find time at the conference to do it (one can always hope!).

Another item on my to-do list is to get a decent picture of myself for posting online and using in other promotional material. Again, I'd like to have this done (and up on my website, the conference social media app, etc.) before I leave. Looking for photographers online earlier today, I had a brainstorm: Macy's here in New York has free makeup sessions in its cosmetics section (where they then try to sell you expensive makeup stuff), as well as a photo studio. Maybe I can combine the two, get a professional makeup job on the first floor, then a professional picture on whatever floor the studio is on. If it's digital, I should be able to get it while I wait, right?

Then, of course, there is notifying regular clients of my absence, preparing flight and hotel information for my family, checking that my business clothes are clean and ironed, etc. Not to mention practicing my presentation, actual packing, backing up everything and making sure I have all the files and applications I might need while in Chicago.

I wonder how frequent conference/event speakers handle all these preparations (and the attendant stress) ...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Referrals Are (Sometimes) Great

I was recently referred by someone I know from one of the groups to which I belong to a potential client. That's wonderful, isn't it? Well, it turns out the potential client needed languages in which I don't work.

Obviously, I didn't communicate clearly enough to my networking contact what exactly I do - and in which languages. This led me to thinking about how I approach networking. Basically, I attend events, try to have something useful to say and hope for the best. Not the best way to go about this and apparently not well directed, either.

In his The Marketing Plan Handbook: Develop Big-Picture Marketing Plans for Pennies on the Dollar, Bob Bly talks about crafting an "elevator pitch" -- a very concise, yet compelling, statement about exactly what I do. My attempts to come up with such a statement seemed rather forced and "marketingy". I hate being marketed to, so how can I inflict this on others?

But marketing - especially marketing through networking - is the name of the game if I ever want to work with end clients (and get paid accordingly) rather than agencies. Since I attend both events within the translation community and those in the larger technical and business community, I probably need more than one such "elevator pitch". I don't need to explain to translators the difference between translation and interpreting or the fact that I only work with a very specific language. On the other hand, contacts in the technical community will know that working with technical material doesn't mean one is equally adept at marketing copy.

So what's your "elevator pitch" (or pitches)?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2 Blogs: 1 for Colleagues, 1 for Clients

In Everything You've Been Told is Wrong - The Truth about Marketing Your Freelance Business with a Blog Michael Martine writes about freelance bloggers who achieve a decent number of followers for their blog, but no actual business from it. That is so because advice about business blogging is usually not geared towards freelance service providers such as translators. This results in blogs being written for peers, not customers. His assessment certainly rings true for this blog.

I've been pondering how to change this. Mr. Martine's advice to simply change the targeting and content of blog posts to attract customers instead of colleagues leaves these colleagues behind. Based on comments I have received on this blog and the associated Twitter account, Language and Translation does appear to be useful for fellow translators. I don't just want to cut off my colleagues.

The obvious answer would be to start a separate blog aimed at potential clients. This is an attractive idea, but I don't really have time to write two blog posts each week - one for translators, the other for translation buyers. So here is what I will do: set up a separate client-focused blog and continue this blog less frequently. I will still be blogging once a week, but one week it will be this blog and the next week the client blog.

Next on the agenda is to pre-write several client-focused blog posts before actually setting up that second blog and going to the bi-weekly schedule on each blog. Given my other commitments, this may take a few weeks, but I'm trying to have the client blog up and running before I head to the STC Summit in late May.

Speaking of the STC Summit: As a presenter there I have been asked to add the Summit logo and a link to their website to my own online presence: see image above, therefore.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Techno-Marketing Hybrid

Back in February I promised to write about the relationship between technical information and marketing tactics (Will Controlled English Take Over Technical Communication?). I just translated a technical text that was clearly intended as a marketing tool. Documents like this one often include "purely technical" information, such as tables with specifications and parts lists, but the bulk of the text is intended to convince potential buyers of the superiority of the particular product.

There is an inherent tension between technical and marketing speak: Technical information is highly specific and full of terms with very precise meanings in the field in question. Marketing text, on the other hand, tends to be much more vaguely worded, including phrases aimed at emotions and devoid of actual meaning. Combining these two very dissimilar writing styles is an art, but can leave a technically minded translator scratching her head.

I must confess, when I read that someone's ball bearings are superior, I immediately think: "Says who? Why or how are they better than anyone else's?" Sometimes technical-marketing hybrids will actually answer that question, but more often than not, they will simply assert that this is so. The accompanying table will then add some numbers, but without offering corresponding numbers for other, similar products.

Presumably the intended audience for these documents does have an idea what these numbers mean and whether higher or lower values are better for a particular feature. But I doubt procurement managers memorize the standard specifications for all -- or even most -- items they order. So how do they decide which ball bearing to order?

Many of these hybrid texts land in a technical translator's inbox, rather than being translated by someone specializing in marketing. Even though I much prefer straightforward technical information, I have had to learn marketing speak in order to handle these types of texts. Living in New York City surrounded by advertising does help me come up with appropriately "salesy" terms. Superior ball bearings? - ah, yeah, that's what that sign in the hardware superstore said. So I guess it's a common term...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interruptions -- Our Daily Lot

The other day I received an e-mail from a current client requesting a reply ASAP on whether I could take this project. The catch? It was 4:30 am in New York. Since I am usually in bed at that time, I didn't reply until several hours later. By then the project had been assigned to another translator.

Later that day, another called client asking why I hadn't yet replied to their e-mail about a potential project. Turns out the e-mail had been sent 5 minutes before the call and hadn't even arrived in my inbox yet. I was in the middle of working on another project, but my train of thought had already been interrupted. So I checked that e-mail immediately, negotiated the project, received and checked the files, etc. Only to find out an hour later that this new project had been double assigned and I shouldn't work on it after all.

Next, a Skype message popped up on my computer, from yet another client, wanting me to turn a small project around within a few hours. When I replied that I couldn't accommodate that time frame because I was already working on other projects, the answer was "But it's only 300 words, so it shouldn't take long, and I need it right away." By the way, no rush fee was offered.

Books on time management suggest sending phone calls to voice mail, turning off Skype and checking e-mail at set times to minimize distractions. That may work for corporate managers with secretaries, but we freelance translators cannot simply be unreachable for lengthy periods of time. As the first example shows, we lose out on work that way (I am still not getting up at 4 am to check my e-mail, though).

So what can we do to deal with these interruptions? I generally limit my e-mail checking to once an hour or so, unless I am expecting a file or response from a client. When I remember to do so, I set Skype to "do not disturb" before working on a project. And I usually decline same-day projects, even if they are short, unless additional compensation is offered.

The real answer, of course, is better scheduling on the end client and/or agency's part, so enough time for translation is included in the project plan. Unless you are a medical interpreter in an emergency room or work in disaster management, there is really no good reason why translation projects have to be so urgent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ergonomics and My Home Office

With more projects come more hours at the computer, which translates into aching shoulders and back pain. I do have a pull-out keyboard and mouse tray, height-adjustable monitors, an adjustable high-backed office chair and a separate pair of glasses for computer use. That doesn't seem to be enough, though, so at my husband's suggestion I started looking for an ergonomics consultant. It seems that most such consultants work with large companies to assess various workstations and hold workshops on working ergonomically.

Since I don't need -- and probably can't afford -- that level of consultation I started tinkering with the existing set-up, adjusting the keyboard height and playing with the (limited) settings on my chair. Next on my to-do list when I get a little free time is checking out books on ergonomics in the home office.

Given the layout of the room, the options for moving furniture around are very limited. In the long term the answer is probably to wean myself from paper copies and hand-written to-do lists, calendars, etc. Tracking everything only electronically would reduce the need for desktop space. That, in turn, would mean smaller/less furniture. And that would mean more flexibility in arranging it in the space available.

How ergonomic is your workspace and how did it get that way?

A happy Easter/Passover to those of you who celebrate these holidays!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tracking Data to Create a Business Plan

Most Mondays find me paying last week's bills, invoicing the work I did the previous week and generally inputting financial data into Quickbooks Pro. A few weeks ago I added another step to my weekly finance session: filling in a spreadsheet with the money earned during the previous week. For this purpose, any work submitted during the week counts as a project for which the money was earned that week. The spreadsheet is divided by currency (US$, Euros, Swiss Francs), with formulas to create US$ totals (using approximate average conversion rates) for the week and month, and a running US$ total.

This spreadsheet, along with a daily planner divided by half hour increments where I try to track how long I spend on various projects (including administrative chores, marketing, etc.) is an attempt to get enough data for an actual business plan. I can (usually) estimate reasonably accurately how long a given project might take and I know what money I have (or don't have) in the bank. But since payments for projects arrive a long time after the work has been completed and since I regularly transfer money from my business account to the family account, I don't have a good sense of how much I actually earn for the time I spend.

Hopefully this system will eventually give me enough data to figure out what I'm actually making per hour, both on average and from specific clients. That should help me create a realistic business plan. Let's see how it goes ...

How do you approach business planning?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Finding Time for Marketing

Sorry for posting so late in the week. The last couple of weeks have been really busy, plus I had contractors at my house renovating a bathroom. A one-week project that turned into two weeks and required more of my time than I had anticipated. That, at least, is over now. The work rush, though, is likely to continue for another week or more.

All business advice books and articles I have read say you have to market yourself, including on social media, even during busy times. I try to do that by scheduling my blog posts on my to do list and using Tweetdeck to set up my Tweets in advance. While I try to treat these marketing activities as just another project, they are clearly less urgent than paid work. So they occasionally fall by the wayside, like this week.

Eve Bodeux asked about my "How I Plan to Target Swiss Direct Clients post how that plan was coming along. To be honest: slowly, if at all. I started to research Swiss IT companies online before I left for Vienna, but found that most appear to be very local. There were a couple of possible leads, but I haven't really done anything with them. Maybe if next week is less crazy, I will contact them.

In addition to paid projects, there are the unpaid articles and book reviews I keep agreeing to write. They are marketing activities of sorts, too, I guess. My next to last book review for the STC's Intercom magazine was just published, and I'm waiting for my next review copy to arrive. Meanwhile, during my meeting with fellow interpreter & translator Sabina Illmer in Vienna, I agreed to write an article for the next newsletter of the Austrian Court Interpreters Association.

So how do you find time to market yourself?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hyperpolyglots or Unscrupulous Translators?

Last week, the New York Times profiled a New York high school student whose hobby was to learn a large number of different languages. The student, Timothy Doner, now creates You Tube videos of himself speaking in various languages, making him a minor Internet celebrity. By his own admission, he is not striving for near-native fluency in any of these languages, but rather attempts to learn the basics of as many languages as possible.

Doner is part of a select group of individuals who know dozens or more, often very dissimilar, languages, so-called "hyperpolyglots". They collect linguistic knowledge the way others collect porcelain figurines or autographed baseballs. It certainly takes quite a talent to learn foreign languages that quickly and it also helps to start that hobby young.

I'm not sure whether the e-mails I have seen advertising translation services from and into a dozen or more languages provided by a single person were from such hyperpolyglots or from unscrupulous translators. I could see people with a relatively basic (but not rudimentary) command of a language attempting to translate simple general texts, such as an invitation to an event, from that language.

Most documents handled by professional translators, however, are much more complex and/or specialized. So even if the person advertising such services were a talented linguist who collects languages, I doubt he or she would be able to accurately translate, say, a technical whitepaper for a new type of construction machinery into half a dozen languages.

As always, the challenge is to explain to end clients why they are unlikely to receive a translation of acceptable quality from such a super-multilingual translator and why that matters.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lessons Learned From a Long Trip

My trip to Vienna was fun, but despite regularly checking my e-mail while I was away, there is quite a bit that still needs to be addressed. Plus, clients were already e-mailing me about new projects before my plane had even arrived in New York. It's nice to be wanted, but it feels a little overwhelming sometimes.

Here are a few lessons I learned for the next long (at least by American standards) trip:

  1. Double-check WiFi availability for your destination/hotel. My (really cheap) hotel had only one (rather slow) desktop computer with an Internet connection next to the reception desk, with a time limit of 15 minutes per guest and no way to connect my Netbook. I wound up using the free WiFi in Vienna's largest train station (which was several subway stations from my hotel).
  2. Copy promotional information, rate sheets, etc. onto my Netbook (and a USB stick) before leaving. For some reason, several new potential clients contacted me while I was away. They were gracious about waiting for my return to provide that information, but then I have a number of them to follow up with this week.
  3. If I can solve 1. and 2., schedule about 30 minutes a day to deal with business. Yes, I'm on vacation, but following up immediately on new leads or potential projects to be completed after my return cuts down on the backlog I need to address right away when I've just arrived back home and am still jet lagged.
  4. Explore copying all that information to the cloud, rather than my Netbook, so I only have to take my iPad, instead of both Netbook and iPad (the latter for e-Books to read and for better portability in terms of Internet access).

How do you prepare for long trips/vacations?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Translator's Education Never Ends

I had a couple of very interesting meetings with translator colleagues -- some of whom also function as very small translation agencies -- here in Vienna. Our e-mail communications are usually limited to exchanges about a specific project or topic. That is certainly appropriate for the medium and the fact that such conversations tend to take place in the middle of our workdays. A (very) occasional after-hours face-to-face meeting, on the other hand, affords us the opportunity for much wider-ranging chats.

One of the things I learned in these meetings is that the Austrian translators association, Universitas, holds summer courses on terminology at the University of Vienna. Something to bear in mind for Summer 2013, when I'll be back in Vienna for my father's 80th birthday anyway. Spending a summer in Austria would also be a good immersion course in contemporary German. Like most translators, I do try to read regularly in my "other" language(s) (i.e., the one(s) in which I'm not living), but actually living in that linguistic environment 24/7 is different.

I consider trips back to Europe part of my continuing education as a translator. So is the class in green building/alternative energy that I will attend in New York starting in early March. It should help me better understand how solar energy and similar technologies work. I have translated a few documents on photovoltaics, but wound up resorting to Wikipedia to help me understand the technical concepts behind the text I was translating. That understanding (and credentials, since the class prepares for a certification exam as an LEED associate) should pave the way for more work in the alternative energy sector.

But a translator's continuing education isn't limited to source and target languages, as well as subject matter. It should also include changing technologies both in our field and for general use. This means keeping abreast of new CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools, terminology databases and social media networks, as well as administrative software, such as CRM (customer relationship management), project management and invoicing programs. Another thing I learned in my meetings here is that the CAT tool memoQ is becoming rather popular in Europe and is apparently more flexible than Trados, which I use. I'm not sure I want to spend money (and time) on two tools, but I'll certainly investigate the program after I get back.

PS: I will be on vacation the next two weeks, so won't post again until my return in early March.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Will Controlled English Take Over Technical Communication?

The Society for Technical Communication organizes regular web seminars (webinars) on a variety of communications-related topics. I attended last night's webinar on "Controlled Language", presented by language service provider TedoPres.  Controlled English -- also called Simplified English -- is used to standardize technical texts, as well as to make them more concise. It limits writers to a list of approved terms and imposes a set of grammar and style rules in addition to general English grammar. The vocabulary list and rules differ from company to company, so that there is no one single "Simplified English" standard. However, there are specifications, such as Simplified Technical English (used in the aerospace and defense industries), which can be adapted to a specific company's needs.

Using such controlled vocabulary and grammar ensures consistent use of terminology. It also guards against ambiguities and needlessly complex sentences. That, in turn, makes translation easier and more efficient. Consistent terminology allows me to use my translation memory tool more effectively. Clearer source text helps to avoid mistranslations due to erroneous interpretation of the original. The same is true of simpler sentence structures.

All this streamlining usually also reduces the amount of text to be translated. According to the webinar, use of controlled language reduces translation cost by 20-30%. However, too concise a text can become ambiguous when the intended audience is not considered. The presenter cited one example from an airport in Canada where the instructions included the phrase "clear runway". Everyone working there left the area in question, except for the snowplow driver, who entered the runway to clear away leftover snow.

In addition to reducing translation cost, controlled language also makes the text easier to understand for speakers of English as a second language. While writing in English for global audiences does not require the use of a specific controlled language, many of the rules for simplified English apply in this situation, as well.

So does the proliferation of English-language documents read by global audiences, as well as the drive to reduce the expenses associated with expanding a business internationally mean that in the future most technical text will be written in a controlled language? The trend seems to point in that direction, although marketing considerations probably pull the other way. I'll look at the relationship between technical information and marketing tactics in a future post.

PS: I am leaving for Austria this Friday, Feb. 10, for three weeks. I will try to post at least once during that time, but possibly not more often than that.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Language Learners as Translators?

The recent newsletter of the American Translators Society contained a summary of an article published by New Scientist (Great Britain) about a free language learning website called Duolingo (Learn a Language, Translate the Web). At this point, it only teaches German and Spanish. So far, so good.

But Duolingo not only teaches its users a new language, it has them translate from that language and check translations provided by other learners of that language. This is not just a learning exercise (incidentally, apparently not supervised by a teacher), but Duolingo uses these efforts to build paid-for translations of websites.

Not to disparage talented language learners, but I wouldn't dream of translating from a language I hadn't thoroughly mastered. Unless the website in question consists entirely of short subject-verb-object sentences, maybe with an occasional adjective thrown in, I doubt very much that such a translation would adequately grasp the subtleties inherent in the original.

Granted, the initial translation is reviewed by other amateurs before being accepted. But simply having several people who are just learning a language deem a particular translation correct does not make it so. I have edited text translated by professionals who had mistaken a subject for an object in a long German sentence. How much more likely is such a mistake for someone who is not fully fluent in the language?

Duolingo seems to be another step in the continuing decline of linguistic quality, both for translations and text written in the author's native language (to wit: typos, grammatical errors and repeated text in books printed by large publishers). Can we stop that decline? Is it even worth trying?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Copyright for Translations

The New York Times recently reported on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that returns works published abroad and previously not protected under U.S. copyright to protected status under U.S. copyright law. Since many such works were presumably originally published in languages other than English, it got me thinking about copyright for translations. According to the Copyright Advisory Network of the American Library Association, translators have a copyright to their translations, but need to obtain permission from the rights holder of the original work in order to publish that translation.

Technical text, such as computer documentation, is usually written as a "work for hire", i.e., the author either is an employee of the end client or relinquishes his/her copyright in the freelance contract. Most of my contracts with translation agencies also specify that I cannot claim copyright to my work. Since I translate mainly technical and legal documents that have little commercial value beyond their specific uses, such as documentation accompanying a certain device or a contract between two specific parties, this lack of copyright does not particularly concern me.

It did make me wonder, though, how contracts for literary translations are worded. Do they include the same language on copyright as most standard agency contracts? Given the relatively low rates most literary translations command, it would only seem fair that translators should be able to retain rights to their work. This is particularly true since the absence of such rights for the translator generally does not mean that the translation is in the public domain, but rather that a corporate entity (usually a publishing house) benefits from the translator's work.

An interesting perspective is provided by Lenita M. R. Esteves, who translated J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings into Brazilian Portuguese. She wrote about her experience with copyright issues after that book became a bestseller on the Translation Journal's blog, Translators Around the World.

If you translate literary works, what has your experience with copyright been?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Aren't eBooks Global?

Joshua Bodwell writes in the current issue of Poets & Writers magazine about book lists ("You Are What You Read"). He calls the list of some of the books he read last year "Bodwell's Baker's Dozen". As translators we not only read for pleasure, but also to keep current on terminology and usage in the languages in which we work. As freelancers we also run our own businesses and may read up on business advice. All of this, then, should lead to a fairly eclectic reading list for most of us. Last year, mine included:
  • Global Communication by Thomas McPhail
  • The Social Media Survival Guide by Deltina Hay
  • Till Eulenspiegel by Christa and Gerhard Wolf (German)
  • The Entrepreneurial Linguist by Judy and Dagmar Jenner
  • Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar edited by Richard Ford
  • New Stories by Southern Women edited by Mary Ellis Gibson
  • Los Mejores Narradores Jóvenes en Español from Granta en Español (Spanish)
Unfortunately, unless I am willing to pay outrageous shipping charges, I find it rather difficult to get a reasonable selection of physical books in German here in the U.S. The main branches of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan library systems do have German-language sections, but their holdings tend to be rather mixed, including quite a number of German translations of American books, and mostly relatively old. Bookstores carry, at best, annotated bilingual collections of short stories for students who are learning German.

Enter eBooks -- or so I thought. Just like the Internet finally let me read foreign newspapers without spending a fortune (and waiting 2 weeks for an issue to arrive), I thought I would now be able to download German-language books. But when I went to Amazon Germany, I found that I cannot download books from them to a Kindle registered with a U.S. address. So much for digital media as a means to access content from around the world ...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colleague or Competitor?

In about 5 weeks I'm going to Austria. This time, the trip is wrapped around my sister's 50th birthday and other family obligations. Another part of the trip, however, is dedicated to meeting with colleagues. Some of these colleagues work in the same language combination in which I work: German to English. In some ways that makes them competitors, I suppose.

I have encountered other translators who see anyone working in the same language combination and direction as they do as a potential competitor best to be avoided and/or trumped in the race for projects from translation agencies. I am fortunate to be working in a relatively large language combination and have health insurance through an employed spouse (not a minor point in the U.S.). Even so, it's not always easy to get enough projects.

But if we view each other as competition, rather than colleagues, each of us will struggle alone to get paid a living wage while upholding quality standards. Plus, there is something to be learned from -- and sometimes taught to -- colleagues working in our language pair.

The fear of competition seems to keep many of us from getting together to demand better conditions and pay. Yes, we are not unionized employees. But as I explained in my previous post, unless all of us demand to be treated as the independent business people we are, some agencies will use the age-old "divide and conquer" tactic and treat us as quasi-employees without benefits or rights.

I, for one, enjoy meeting with my colleagues in Austria and elsewhere to compare notes, talk about the industry, and maybe share some knowledge I may have gained during the last decade or so. This increasingly interconnected world needs translators. If we all talk with each other -- including about pricing -- and stick together we may be able to carve out a reasonable niche for our profession. If each goes it alone, we will simply be played against each other. So talk to your colleagues -- they are your colleagues, not your competitors!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Are Translators Becoming Employees Without Benefits?

In his "GeekSpeak" column in the current issue of the ATA Chronicle Jost Zetsche notes that translation agencies increasingly ask translators to work with specific online tools. Some even require translators to pay for the agency's own tool. I have had several requests to use an agency's online tool myself last year, including from agencies with whom I had worked previously. As Mr. Zetsche points out, such a trend toward cloud computing erases the gains made in the ability to exchange data among different tools. In the still highly heterogeneous world of online tools we can rarely use a glossary we developed in one tool in another one, for example.

If we work with multiple agencies who use cloud computing, we also have to learn to use these tools, generally without being compensated for the time this takes. Once we have mastered the tools, we must constantly switch between different ones as we work on projects for different agencies. That makes it difficult to become thoroughly familiar with any one of them. We simply can't develop the necessary "muscle memory" for each tool. It also means that the agencies decide on the tools their independent contractors use. I tell agencies that I use a standard tool, Trados Studio 2009, and do not intend to switch.

Another trend I have observed during the last year is that translation agencies ask me to commit to specific periods of availability for them -- i.e., being "on call", but without compensation, except for whatever projects the agency might offer me for these times. My standard answer is that my availability varies depending on other projects I have accepted, but that I have always delivered any projects I do accept on time or early.

In addition, some agencies I have worked with in the past have asked me to accept lower rates, threatening that I would be unlikely to be offered projects from them in the future, if I refused. I refused anyway.

Taken together, these trends point towards agencies increasingly treating freelancers as if they were employees, but without any benefits or job security. Agencies require us to work with tools they specify, invest time in learning these tools, be available to them for specific periods of time, all with the promise -- not guarantee -- of projects to be assigned. We are only paid for the translation work assigned, and the rates we receive for that work are falling.

This reflects a trend in the larger U.S. economy to hire "consultants" to perform the work previously done by employees, often under substantially the same conditions, but without overtime pay or benefits. Unless all of us refuse such attempts at controlling our tools and time while being paid less, translators may end up becoming quasi-employees without benefits or rights.