Friday, April 30, 2010

Backup Procedures & Disaster Preparedness

In a previous post I talked about trying out online backups. I have since set up such backups and put together a comprehensive backup plan. Here is what I do to keep files safe and continue working should disaster strike:

I keep the client's original files both in a separate directory for the project on my hard drive and in the original e-mail with which the client assigned the project. In addition, I keep a hard copy of the assignment e-mail and/or PO, as well as any special instructions the client might have sent. On that copy I also note the translation memory and glossar(ies) used for that project, as well as its due date and the date and time I sent the completed work to the client. This gives me a physical reference of the scope of work and resources used, which is also useful if a follow-up assignment arrives. A quick look at the client's file and I can ensure that I use the same glossaries and translation memory as I did for the prior project, which in turn ensures consistent use of terminology.

After stopping work on a project for longer than a brief break, I back all project files up to a CD specific to the client. I also back up the completed project there. Over time, this provides me with a complete collection of all projects completed for this client during the calendar year. Since I keep these CDs and the associated hard copy of instructions, etc., for 5 years, I can refer back to prior projects should a follow-up assignment arrive years later.

In addition, my entire client directory is backed up to a secure online storage site every night. Every Friday, all files that changed on my hard drive during the week are backed up to a network-attached external hard drive. Both these measures ensure easy access to all information -- both pending work and invoicing/payment data, as well as translation memories and glossaries -- should my primary computer crash. Since I also have a laptop, and other members of my family also have computers, a potential computer failure should cause only a short disruption in work on my current projects (long-term, of course, it would be a big headache).

My laptop includes a second, swappable battery, so I can continue work for up to 6 hours, even if power fails. Other safety measures for such outages include uninterruptible power supplies for my computer, printer and business telephone line, as well as for the network router and cable modem. These power supplies permit orderly shutdown of systems in the event of an abrupt power failure, minimizing the chances of corrupted files or damage to equipment.

Should my broadband internet connection fail, I can take my laptop to several cafes with free wireless internet access which are located within a few subway stops and are open until 1 am. And there's also my Blackberry, where I can communicate with clients by e-mail or phone (Skype mobile), even if I am not in the office or there is no power. That Blackberry can even be used as a modem for e-mailing files, if none of the Wi-Fi cafes were available or open.

Of course, if half of the United States is without power for several days, all of these measures will be of limited use. But short of that, I should be able to complete any outstanding projects on time, even if disaster strikes. Which, however, leaves the question of backing myself up, not just the equipment. I haven't solved that one yet, but I'm working on it ...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Checking Out Potential Clients

A recent question in the Translators Worldwide group on LinkedIn prompted me to write this post. An English-Spanish translator was describing a potential job offer she received by e-mail which raised a few flags for her. She wanted to know whether that e-mail might be a scam, rather than a real translation project.

As small-scale businesses providing services to far-flung (sometimes international) clients, we face this situation not infrequently. How do we know that a potential client will, in fact, pay us after we deliver the translation? Worse yet, how do we make sure the bank account information we may provide on our invoice for purposes of direct payment is not abused to hack into our account digitally and syphon off our money?

The short answer is: we can't make sure. But we can take a few precautions. When I get a request from a new client, I check a few things:

  • I google their company name and look for:

    1. a professional-looking company website with physical address information (i.e., a house number and street, not just a PO box)
    2. other websites/forums referencing this company

  • For U.S. companies, I use's reverse lookup function to check the name and address connected to the phone number. If the phone number is unlisted, it's probably not a real company.

For agencies I also:

  • check the blue board for other translators' experiences with that company.
  • check for other translators' experiences with that company's payment practices.

If there are no references at all on the web to this company and/or the company has no website, I assume it's not a real company -- at least not one that would work internationally and therefore need translation services.

I have sometimes taken calculated risks with jobs for which I wasn't sure I'd get paid, but I generally only do that with small jobs.

If the client looks like a potential payment problem, I ask for 50% of the estimated cost up front by PayPal. That way the potential client has no bank information. I transfer incoming PayPal payments to my bank account, so if anyone could get at my PayPal account, I wouldn't lose much money.

Granted, there are legitimate potential clients out there who are just not good at marketing their business -- or don't need to market it on the web, e.g., because they have enough word-of-mouth referrals. My brother's niche business manufacturing high-end musical instruments is such a case, for example. But how do I know this is not just someone who thinks they have a great idea the world will pay for, but then finds out that the world is not interested and consequently has no money to pay their suppliers (including me)?

In the end, I generally trust my instincts. If it looks fishy, it probably is. I may have lost out on some potential assignments, but in the end I have gotten paid most of the time -- even by private individuals in Australia.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Language Swapping Site

A blog posting featured in MultiLingual News' weekly newsletter alerted me to an interesting website, called lingomatch. It is intended to help people who want to learn a foreign language find a speaker of that language to practice with. In exchange, they'd teach their partner their own language. My daughter used a similar system run by the University of Leipzig's (Germany) foreign language department for its students to learn rudimentary French while studying there.

The site seems to be still fairly small, with fewer than 50 ads listed in New York City, for example. As the blogger noted, it's also currently limited to large cities. While this service may not be necessary in very small towns where people know each other, it would be particularly helpful in smaller cities, where there may not be as many bilingual people as, say, in New York City.

Such a swap of linguistic knowledge is, of course, no substitute for an actual language teacher, who not only speaks the language in question, but also knows how to teach it (not to mention being familiar with its grammatical structure, rather than simply taking grammatical constructs as given). It is, however, a great supplement to a language course or a good way to practice a language that was once learned formally, but has remained dormant since.

The ads list only one "speaks" language, presumably the person's dominant language -- which, however, raises the question of how truly bilingual people could list both languages as options for teaching others. Particularly in places like New York City, where many people do grow up with English plus one or two other languages, such a situation is easily imaginable. Note to lingomatch's developers: please allow multiple selections (limited to two or three maximum, however) in the "Language I Speak" drop-down menu of the "Post Ad" screen.

I just posted an ad to find someone to help me revive my Spanish skills. (I used to live in Mexico City, but that was a long time ago.) I'll report in future posts on how that search works out. (Some of my friends are Spanish speakers, but having a dedicated time, place and person for learning a language seems a better way to stay on track.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Client Education & Translation Processes

Yesterday I went to the Barnes & Nobles text book store on 5th Ave. and 18th Street in Manhattan (New York City). The store bills itself as "the largest bookstore in the world" on some of its windows facing 18th Street. Not finding any books on translation theory or practice in likely sections (Foreign Language, Linguistics, Reference), I asked a store clerk. After looking my request up on a computer, he announced that the store didn't carry a single book on translation.

In the March 2010 ATA Chronicle (the American Translators Association's magazine), Howard Clark calls the U.S. "an immigrant-based, yet largely language-ignorant society" in his opinion piece "Clients, Freelancers & Translation Agencies: Productive Partnership or Missed Opportunities?" It seems to me his assessment is spot-on. Mr. Clark then continues that, given this fact, "client education is critical".

Right again, but how do we, as translators, educate an end client whose identity we may not even know? This should be the translation agency's responsibility, but in my experience in the real world of short deadlines and tough competition for large projects that education is frequently given short shrift. If we work directly for end clients, our chances of explaining how translation works and what is required for a sucessful, high-quality product, are much better.

One resource for doing so is the American Translators Association's Client Outreach Kit. Another is a page on our workflow, either posted on our website or sent to prospective clients along with other promotional literature. The advantage of such a page (which agencies sometimes already have) is not only client education, but also a way for translators to learn best practices from each other. Maybe another translator has already found a solution to an issue I am still struggling with. If he/she has posted his/her translation process, I can profit from his/her experience, rather than having to re-invent the solution.

While each of us works a little differently, much of the process is likely the same -- or at least very similar -- for all of us. Through sharing our own workflows, we may be able to define a relatively standard process for non-agency projects. Such a standard process would, in turn, simplify client education. End clients would have a better idea what to expect when hiring a translator and may therefore be more likely to actually provide the resources and time we need to produce a high-quality translation.

Based on Linda L. Gaus's "Top 10 Pet Peeves of a Technical Translator" (ATA Chronicle, February 2009), here are some items to be incorporated in educating clients about translation processes:

  • Provide context
  • Provide reference materials
  • Provide specialized terminology
  • Have time for questions
  • Don't assume you speak the target language better than the translator
  • Proofread/edit the source documents
  • Finalize the text before translation begins
  • Provide diagrams/illustrations where appropriate
  • Empower one person to decide translation questions
  • Schedule sufficient time for the translation

Look for a future post on my own workflow and ideal translation process.