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?