Two Hands = Violinist?

Today we'd like to discuss one of our favorite topics -- why the simple fact that being bilingual doesn't automatically make anyone either a translator or an interpreter. There's significant training involved, but oftentimes outsiders to the profession equate bilingualism with professional translation and interpretation because writing and speaking is something we already know and do, so they don't perceive it as a learned skill. We've spent a few years trying to collect some convincing analogies, and depending on who we are talking to, we select from this list. Some might be more direct analogies than others, while others might be funnier. As always, take some of these with a grain of salt.

In addition, we like to add that just because you like to do something, it doesn't mean you do it well or that others would pay you to do it. For instance, just because you like to crochet doesn't mean that it's good enough that anyone wants to buy your work. Just because you like to dance doesn't mean that event planners will hire you as entertainment for their events. Passionate chess players might very well not be good enough to play payed exhibition matches -- but the professionals are. Enjoying something doesn't necessarily mean you are good enough that others will pay you for it, or, in other words, that it will have value in the marketplace. However, oddly enough, this is what the general public usually incorrectly assumes about languages skills and translation or interpretation. We rarely hear anyone say that they like numbers, ergo they are an accountant, perhaps because there are significant barrier to entry to becoming an accountant, but we digress.

We've written about this many times before, but we'll state it again: being bilingual is the minimum requirement for this job, just like having two hands is the minimum requirement for being a violinist. But having two hands doesn't automatically make you a violinist. And being bilingual doesn't automatically make you an interpreter or a translator, but all interpreters and translators are bilingual.

Now, without further delay, here are our analogies. Some might be better than others, and we look forward to hearing which ones you like!

Being bilingual doesn't make you a translator just like.....
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you a journalist.
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you an advertising copywriter.
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you a public relations professional.
  • being able to type doesn't make you a court reporter.
  • enjoying cooking doesn't make you a professional chef.
  • driving every day doesn't make you a race car driver.
  • being tall doesn't make you a basketball player.

Being bilingual doesn't make you an interpreter just like...
  • speaking English doesn't make you an actor.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a TV anchor.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a professional comedian.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a voice-over talent.
  • liking to argue doesn't make you a lawyer.

I Was Bored Before I Even Began

We created this image on www.canva.com.
Many times, we hear from newcomers to the profession that they want to become translators and/or interpreters because they love languages and really enjoy working for themselves. Those are two excellent reasons, but of course those two things don't make anyone a translator or interpreter, nor do they guarantee success, but we digress. Today we wanted to address some lesser-known facts of the business: much of it won't have anything to do with language at all, and some can be, well, a bit boring. We are not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that all adminstrative tasks are boring, but it does make for a catchy title. 

Most readers of this blog are experienced linguists and will certainly know that self-employed translators and interpreters have to devote a significant portion of their time to tasks that have absolutely nothing to do with language. These are neither fun tasks nor tasks that you can romanticize at all: they are the nitty-gritty basic tasks (some very easy, some challenging) that are necessary to run a business. They include highly interesting (yes, we are being sarcastic here) things such as:
  • Logging our mileage and our business expenses so we can deduct them from our taxes 
  • Calling customers who have not paid their invoices (does not happen very often)
  • Sending customers the requested paperwork (W-9s, confidentiality agreements)
  • Dealing with tax-related paperwork
  • Paying our bills and your vendors
  • Renewing business licenses and dealing with government bureaucracies
  • Going to see our accountants and lawyer, etc. 
On the other hand, there are many routine tasks that we enjoy very much, such as:
  • Issuing invoices
  • Working in our trusty accounting system, Translation Office 3000
  • Corresponding with clients
  • Depositing checks
  • Checking the online balances of our accounts
Others are not boring, but can be taxing, such as:
  • Dealing with computer challenges
  • Doing software upgrades
  • Calling the bank again to deal with an incorrect charge
In addition, we frequently outsource work to a small group of our superstar contractors, so we oftentimes do project management and edit others' work, which is not boring at all, but can be quite cumbersome on the administrative level.

The point of this post is the following: newcomers to this profession must realize that while of course we work with language on a daily basis, all linguists devote part of their time to administrative tasks. Sometimes it's 30% of our day, sometimes it's 50%, sometimes it's even 100% (as happened during a recent computer crisis). We think it's important that newcomers know about this reality, which is why we share it here on this space as food for thought.

What about you, dear colleagues? How much time do you spend on boring (read: administrative) tasks every day? Which one is your least favorite? Do you have one that you actually like?

And surely music fans were quick to recognize the title of this post: it is a favorite line from an 80s song by The Smiths. The name of the song is "Shirtlifters of the World Unite." Yes, Judy is a huge The Smiths/Morrissey fan.

Spanish Grammar and Writing: In Pictures

Our friends over at Ortografía Real have been tweeting up a storm and have been sharing a large amount of interesting tidbits about the Spanish language. We really enjoy their tweets and their Facebook page, and highly recommend you follow them.

They recently tweeted two images that nicely illustrate some very common mistakes. If we had a penny for every time someone sent us an e-mail with Hay nos vemos (correct: Ahí nos vemos) or Haber si te quedas a cenar (correct: A ver si te quedas a cenar), we would be rich. Perhaps this will clear up some of these common errors. Enjoy!

Thank you, Ortografía Real, for this gem.
Simple and priceless. A ver si se acuerdan.

Should I Sign This?

Today's brief post is about a topic that we consider vital to your success: documents that require your signature, specifically, documents that either an end client or a translation/interpreting agency sends you before you have an agreement and before services are rendered. Remember that we are not attorneys, although one of us is married to one. The following is not legal advice, but rather our advice on what we have learned in the T&I trenches. Here it is, in easy-to-read bullet format.


  • Read everything. Even if the client insists that you need to sign this right now or the world will come to and end (yes, this is the sense of urgency that's sometimes communicated to the translator or interpreter), take your time to read everything. Also be sure that you understand what you are reading. If you don't, consider asking. 
  • If you don't agree with something on the document, be it a confidentiality agreement, a purchase order, or a non-compete agreement, don't sign it. These documents can be considered drafts of contracts, and they are not court orders with which you need to comply. We occasionally get non-compete clauses that are so completely egregious that we simply can't agree to them. So we go into the document, delete/amend the portions we don't like and send it back to the client for their review. Initially, we used to be a bit nervous about this, because just like many service providers, we want to make everything easy for the client. That said, we also have to protect our business interests, and sometimes that's a thin line. However, pretty much all of the time, the client has agreed to our changes and we've signed the redacted version of the document.
  • Even if the client claims that this "is just completely standard," it still has to be a standard that works for both parties. A contract is an agreement between two parties, and if you don't agree, say so. Don't be afraid of potentially losing a client. If the client isn't willing to respect your business interests, then perhaps this is not a good basis for a work relationship. We assure you that there will be other, better clients. We recently turned down a hugely lucrative contract with a tech giant because their terms were so outrageous (especially their terms in case of any errors and omissions) that our entire business would have been at risk. The client said that the contract was just a formality, but after having two attorneys review the terms, we decided to decline. It was a tough decision, but ultimately we thought it was the right one.
  • One of us (Judy) spends a lot of time in legal proceedings as a court interpreter, and it's never fun to go to court if it's about you. Save yourself the trouble of having to litigate anything and negotiate everything before you sign. Once your signature is on the document, it's official, so think twice before you sign.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive and is only meant as initial food for thought. What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any other advice on handling this issue? We'd love to hear from you.

3000+ Translation Glossaries

A few weeks ago, our colleague Alina Cincan in the UK (managing director of Inbox Translation) contacted us to let us know that she was working on a list of more than 3,000 translation glossaries (yes, 3,000). This very well-researched list is now live, and we have to say it's quite impressive indeed.

It's divided into a wide variety of categories (120 to be exact), including such diverse topics as medicine, weights, printing, beauty, mythical creatures, text speak, gambling, nutrition, noble titles (yes!), food, measurements, math and much more. This is quite possibly the most extensive list of translation glossaries we have ever seen, and would like to thank Alina very much for undertaking this massive project for the benefit of all! The vast majority of these are monolingual and are very helpful.

Here's the link to the 3,000+translation glossaries.


Getting Conference Interpreting Work

A few days ago, we received a message from a lovely colleague here in the US who is also a fellow legal interpreter. However, he is under the (correct) impression that conference interpreting is a more glamorous field, and asked us how to get into conference interpreting. As is so often the case, the answer is a bit long, so we thought we'd answer his very good question here for the benefit of all readers. For ease of reading, we will list our (useful) advice in bullet-style format. Please note that this advice is based on the US market for conference interpreting, as our colleague resides here.

First things first. Let's talk logistics and details:


  •  We have never met an interpreter who doesn't love conference interpreting work. It's (sometimes) glamorous, exciting, and a nice change of pace for medical and legal interpreters. We do know quite a few full-time conference interpreters who are not medical/legal interpreters as well, but they are mostly in Europe and tend to work with the European Union. Here in the US, we know few freelancers who can make a living just doing conference interpreting work, but there certainly exceptions (in-house at the State Department, United Nations, etc.)
  • Getting conference interpreting assignments can be hard. They require a lot of legwork. Don't expect to get a conference interpreting assignment every week as a freelancer in the US. We know very few people who get that many assignments. And every interpreter we know would like to have more conference interpreting assignments, including us.
  • You don't get paid to prepare for the assignment, and you need to factor that into your price quote. You thus shouldn't accept to interpret at the annual meeting of the American Association of Ventriloquists unless you know something about the field. 
  • Conference interpreting is limited to mostly larger cities. Not all conferences are large and not all conferences happen in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago or Las Vegas, but as a general rule, you have a better shot at being a conference interpreter if you live in a larger city. Most conference organizers are usually not willing to fly in interpreters from Boise to Omaha when there are perfectly good interpreters in Omaha, which makes sense.
  • Conferences are planned a long time out -- we know because one of us lives in the conference capital of America, Las Vegas. That said, we have yet to encounter one single hotel in Las Vegas that has permanent interpreting booths installed and most hotels rarely work with booths and equipment, so it's oftentimes a struggle to get this all organized. And yes, we've shown up to events with no booths at all. That's not the case in most of Europe, where even small hotels will have conference facilities with interpreter capabilities, which is nice.

  • Now, how do you get these assignments? Let's start with a few basics.
    • Many conference interpreting assignments come through agencies. We don't work with agencies at all on the translation side, but will take occasional conference interpreting assignments if the terms work for us. The good part here is that these LSPs are relatively easy to find, and you can contact those in your area who specialize in conference interpreting. Perhaps you can take the project manager to lunch and let him/her know that you are really interested after you pass the initial screening and traditional CV review.
    • Other conference interpreting assignments come from tourism bureaus, convention centers, individual hotels, and destination management companies. Market your services to them. Get out in the community and talk to the decision-makers.
    • Team  up with a good equipment provider who can take care of the A/V and all the equipment so you can recommend someone you trust to the client. It's usually best to let the client deal directly with the equipment vendor, unless you want to act as project manager/agency.
    • Find a top-notch booth partner. Conference interpreters always work in pairs, so nothing is more essential than a superstar booth partner. You might have to kiss a few frogs before you find your ideal partner. Remember that you will be sharing a small space for extended periods of time, so make sure you choose wisely.
    • Request documents ahead of time. Many conference organizers struggle to get the presenter's PowerPoints or even the outline, but trust us: you do need some material to prepare properly. If nothing can be found, you should still spend several hours compiling vocabulary based on the client's website and general company information that's available to the public. We usually include a disclaimer in our price quotes that we cannot guarantee our usual quality if we do not receive pertinent materials XYZ days before the event. Sometimes we still don't get any materials, but the show must go on.
    • Finally, the best way to get conference interpreting clients is to do a great job at any interpreting you do in any field and to let clients know what you are also interested in conference interpreting assignments. Get the word out.
    This brief list is not meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. We merely wanted to get the conversation started and would love to hear from conference interpreter colleagues (and anyone else!). Please do share what you know by leaving a comment below. Happy conference interpreting!

    The Interpreter Ethicist: Should Interpreters Accept Tips?

    Tipping is big here in the US, and pretty much everyone expects a tip in the services industry: the barista, the hairdresser, the cab driver, the guest room attendant at a hotel, the waitstaff at any restaurant, even the guy who opens the door for you at a fancy hotel. However, professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants are customarily not tipped. So where do interpreters fit in? Do interpreters ever get tipped? Should they? Is it ethical to accept tips? If yes, when is it and when isn't it? Let's explore this interesting topic today.

    In all the years we've been working as interpreters, we've only had a few situations in which clients wanted to tip us. Here are two:

    • One time Judy was interpreting in court for a private client in a civil case (this means that the client was paying and not the government, as in Nevada the government only pays for interpreters in criminal cases). This particular client won his case and was very grateful for Judy's services. Even though Judy had been invoicing the law firm that was representing the client, he told her she did such an outstanding job that he insisted on tipping her. He pulled out his wallet, took out $20, and offered the bill to Judy. She didn't know what to do, as that was the first time it had happened. So she followed her first instinct, which was to decline, and that's probably never a bad decision. The client insisted for a bit, but Judy told him that she was already invoicing his law firm at her regular rate and that tips weren't necessary. The client finally put the $20 back in his wallet and thanked Judy once again. Now, would it have been ethical for Judy to accept the tip? Maybe; or maybe not. We consulted the codes of ethics of both California and Nevada, and as is typical with codes of ethics, there's no specific information about a situation like the one that Judy was in. Accepting a tip from a private party after the assignment is over doesn't violate the impartiality clause, as the client was already paying Judy (through his law firm) in the first place and she still remains impartial. So, the extra $20 wouldn't have affected that pillar of our code of ethics one way or another. However, could accepting the tip be a violation of another one of the elements of our code of ethics, such as professionalism? We aren't sure, but we'd love to hear your opinion.

    • The other situation occurred during a business interpreting assignment. Judy had spent five days with a lovely couple from South America during a tradeshow, and she enabled communication with the client's vendors. She learned a lot about their business during that week, and they established an easy rapport. This type of interpreting is completely different from court interpreting, where one has to remain impartial, and on the last day, the couple invited Judy to lunch. They had already paid a 50% deposit for the interpreting services, and Judy had agreed to invoice them for the rest at the end of the week. However, they pulled out an envelope with cash at the end of the meal and said they wanted to pay the balance right away and threw in an extra $100 for the great service (but of course still wanted an invoice and a receipt). Judy had never been paid in cash before, but was happy to receive the payment. She wasn't sure about the extra $100, and hesitated a bit. The client insisted she accept the money and told her that she'd helped him and his wife have a very successful business trip. Judy finally did accept the extra $100, but remained unsure. Was it ethical to do so? We think it was.

    We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, dear colleagues. As with so many questions on ethics, there are really no clear-cut right or wrong answers. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    European Union Looking for Translators

    Happy Friday, dear readers! Today's quick post is to let you know about an employment opportunity with the European Union that just landed in our inbox. The mighty European Union, the largest employer of interpreters and translators on the planet, is looking for German, Spanish, Greek and Swedish translators. From the posting, it's  not entirely clear to us if these positions are in-house in Brussels or if they are freelance positions, but surely the European Union will be able to answer all your questions. Please have a look at the following link for more information and to apply.  

    While Dagy is an accredited freelancer conference interpreter with the European Union, we don't have any first-hand knowledge of the selection process for translators, but we'd love it if colleagues who translate for the EU would be willing to share their experiences by leaving a comment. 

    Best of luck and keep us posted!

    Professional Headshots: Our Experience

    We are SO not models.
    We've long been advocates of professional headshots to be used on business cards, websites, marketing materials, etc. Long gone are the days when we saw many T&I professionals use cropped summer snapshots as their profile pictures on LinkedIn and other online media, and that's a great development. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals long ago discovered the power of professional images, and translators and interpreters need them, too. It's rare to visit a website these days that doesn't feature an image of the actual services provider. It builds trust and it's always nice to see a picture of a real person rather than a stock image. We are usually surprised when there isn't a real picture to be found on someone's website, and we bet clients feel the same way. Having a professional image is relatively easy and doesn't require a big investment. This year, we just spent $100 each because of a fabulous special at a local studio that made us feel like royalty for an afternoon.

    Dagy's royal treatment.
    A few years ago, we started encouraging our local and national associations to host photo shoots with professional photographers at discounted rates for their members, which allowed many colleagues to obtain top-notch photos at reasonable prices. We had our pictures taken at several of these events, and it's fantastic that this is catching on!  Even if you hire your own photographer, it's usually a worthwhile investment and one of the few upfront investments you need to make in your online presence. 

    Photo by Sam Woodard.
    Photo by Sam Woodard.
    After doing four or five outdoor photo shoots in a row (all in Vegas), we decided to have an indoor studio photo shoot this year. We had just received a very attractive offer from Fremont East Studios through our downtown Vegas co-working space Work in Progress and we had a fantastic experience! The photo shoot even included the services of a highly talented and lovely make-up artist, and the studio was fantastic and very comfortable. We hope you enjoy both the finished product (that's Judy on the left) and some goofy behind-the-scenes pictures as well. As you can tell, we are very far from being model material, and we usually don't know how to stand, where to look, or what to do with our hands (told you we weren't model material). Luckily for us, photographer Sam Woodard and make-up artist Doralynne Valenzuela told us exactly what to do. What a great all-female team! You'd think that posing in a studio would be really unnatural and awkward, but it was quite the opposite.

    And don't forget that this is a classic business expense. Actually, it's one of our most entertaining business expenses of the year. 

    What about you, dear colleagues? Have you had a professsional headshot taken or are you still thinking about it? We are always looking for good photo ideas, so we'd love to hear about your experiences!

    It's Official!

    After four years and more than 3,000 books sold, we are proud to announce that we have finally tackled a big project. Yes, we are currently working on the new edition (second edition, actually) of The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. This edition will include several completely revised chapters as well as a chapter specifically for interpreters as well. The book will be available on Lulu, Amazon, etc. in print and PDF format and of course in all e-book formats through BookBaby.

    While we don't have a hard deadline for this, we would love to be able to introduce our new book at the 55th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association in Chicago in November, as we will both be there. We are currently reviewing all existing content, creating new chapter(s), and putting thought into the cover design and illustrations. 

    Since we are currently working on the new edition, we'd love to hear from our colleagues. Is there anything you'd like to see included? Please do let us know by leaving a comment and we will be delighted to review all suggestions and input.

    Thanks for your support of our first edition, and we look forward to sharing our second edition with all of you! We will keep you posted about our progress right here on this blog.


    Join the discussion! Commenting is a great way of becoming part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media are all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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    The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.