Interpreting Tip: Try This

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For today's quick and short post about interpreting (which will take you less than three minutes to read), we'd like to share an easy technique that should help you improve your interpreting skills. It's a true-and-tried technique, but one that we also frequently forget about. Whenever we do remember to do it, we feel that our subsequent interpreting renditions are stronger.

The technique is called shadowing. Most of you will know what that means, but let us elaborate just in case. Shadowing means that you will listen to an audio recording via headphones and repeat what the speaker says in the same language word by word, trying to lag at least a full thought behind the speaker. This sounds easy, but some speakers are so fast that shadowing in itself (let alone interpreting) is a huge challenge. We purposely choose fast speakers (court hearings and especially trials on YouTube work very well) to make this as difficult as possible. It's still less draining than actual interpreting, so we try to do some 45 minutes of this. And we can really tell the difference if we do an interpreting practice session right after. In our experience, shadowing helps us with improve our pronunciation and speed, and repeating the same phrases over and over again during practice puts them the tip of your tongue for actual interpreting work, as we have found.

So try it, dear colleagues. We recommend doing this in both source and target (or in several source languages if you have them). What do you think? Have you tried it? Do you have some videos you like to interpret that you'd like to share? We'd be delighted to hear from you. 

Do Nothing

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We oftentimes hear from our lovely colleagues that they are stuck in a situation that they don't like, mainly that they don't receive the rates that they deserve. This is a common complaint not only in our industry, but in many other industries. In our book and on this blog, we have given advice for many years on how to get what you want from your business, including the rates that you want. However, what many don't think about is that changing a current situation to a better situation requires something crucial: changing something.  Doing nothing and changing nothing won't change the status quo.

We know that change is difficult, but if you don't like your current work situation (or even just a small portion of it), you have to change something. Doing the same thing over and over will give you the same result (presumably) that you have been getting and that you don't want. So change something, even if it's something small. If you don't like a current client, take the risk of not accepting any more work from him or her and look for a better client. If a client isn't paying you, write a strongly worded letter asking for payment. If you don't get paid, don't work for them anymore even if they promise they will do better with payment next time (which you've probably heard before). 

Yes, we are aware that some of these strategies are risky and may not yield the results that you want, but in order to be successful and put yourself in the situation that you want to be in, you have to take some risk. No one is successful (at least that we know of) without taking some risk, even if it's just a quantum of risk. Take baby steps and don't be too hard on yourself, but our main point here is: as a freelance linguist, you have the ability to change things. Try it and see what happens. No one else can do it for you, and it's almost impossible to change others, such as your clients, but you can change what you do and what kind of client you pursue. We have taken plenty of risks and not all of them have worked out, but we have stuck to our number one rule: we ask for and get the rates that we charge, but we don't get them for all potential clients, which is fine.

You always have the option of doing nothing. But if you don't like the status quo, you are going to have to make some changes.

What do you think, dear colleagues? We would love to hear your thoughts on today's quick post. 

A Career-Preserving Skill

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For today's quick post, we wanted to focus on a skill that's relatively easy to master.  All it takes is a few sentences, sincerity, and heart. However, its importance and impact are often forgotten.

All translators and interpreters are human, and as such, we make mistakes (see our previous post on Judy's mistake of the month). During some point in your career, you will make mistakes. Plenty of mistakes. We all do. They key is avoiding making the same one twice. The other key is making sure you apologize. 
Here are some thoughts in easy-to-read format:

  • Just do it, do it quickly, and mean it.
  • Be sincere and offer solutions.
  • As mortifying as it is to make mistakes, they happen. They are part of business, and part of life.
  • Take responsibility and accept that making mistakes is normal and human. 
  • Offer a discount if necessary and count your lucky stars if you client doesn't take you up on it.
  • It doesn't matter if it's a translation error, administrative error, if someone else made the error and somehow you are involved: 
    • apologize quickly
    • explain how you can fix the situation
    • and move on.

What do you think, dear colleagues? Meaningful and truthful apologies usually go a long way, even if sometimes all you can offer is: "Sorry about the oversight. While I investigate what happened here, let me offer my sincere apologies and a 10% discount on this project." We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Ouch: Mistake of the Month

Because few things are as fun as poking fun at ourselves, we wanted to do a quick post with this month's utterly horrifying mistake. We make many errors, but try not to make the same ones twice. This one was Judy's, so we will let her tell the story.

A few weeks ago, Dagy had the unique opportunity to interpret at an OPEC conference (English booth), and I was to be the back-up interpreter (I also did get to interpret). The setting in Vienna's regal Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was amazing, and the permanent booths were top-notch. As a US-based interpreter, I am usually quite impressed by anything resembling a permanent booth. We checked out the other booths, which are located on the third floor high above the stage, to meet our colleagues from the Spanish and Russian booths, but no one was there, so we reviewed our materials and got ready for the big moment. After we had sat down, a distinguished-looking gentleman walked in, extended his hand (without introducing himself), smiled, and said (in Spanish) that he was delighted to see us. I thought, don't ask me why, that this lovely gentleman was the colleague from the Spanish booth because no one else every ventures up there, so I immediately went into very casual small talk, and yes, I addressed him informally. As if I knew him. As if we were colleagues. As opposed to English, in Spanish we've got two pronouns, the formal usted and the informal (which I used). Among colleagues, we usually use the latter. 
The rest of the morning went better.

The only problem here was that this gentleman wasn't a fellow interpreter, but an ambassador to Austria of a South American country. Dagy had the good fortune of getting a glimpse of his badge, which had been facing away from me, and recognized the name immediately (research pays off; as the badge doesn't say "ambassador," either). She immediately greeted the ambassador with something appropriate along the lines of "Good morning, Your Excellency." This is of course when I realized my error and I was completely utterly mortified. However, the ambassador didn't miss a beat, didn't take offense at all, and just chatted away. I did recover enough to thank him for coming upstairs and for hiring us (yes, he hired us!), and exchange some other pleasantries. So yes, I committed a pretty big faux pas at a high diplomatic level, and I lived to tell about it. It's a nice reminder that people at the top can be very kind and forgiving, and I am grateful for it. I was pretty sure I'd never hear the end of this one from Dagy, and now that we've shared it here, I am guaranteed that it will last forever!

What about you, dear colleagues? Care to share your favorite mistake? We won't tell. Oh wait, this is a public blog....

Webinar: No Pain, No Pain (Active Marketing)

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Happy Friday! Judy is very excited to present another webinar on June 9, 2015 (yes, that's in 10 days).

She will present a 90-minute webinar for ASETRAD, the Spanish Association of Translators, Copyeditors and Interpreters. Note: all links to ASETRAD from this blog entry lead to Spanish-only pages, but here's a link to the English-language homepage. The topic is a popular and often requested one: it's all about how to work with those elusive direct clients. The presentation's full title is: No Pain, No Gain: Active Marketing to Direct Clients. Hint: it's a bit of work to find them (hence the title of the webinar), but it's worth it. 

The webinar is hosted by ASETRAD and will commence at 6 p.m. Central European Summer Time (US Pacific + 9 hours; check the time zone relative to where you are here). While Judy has given many presentations in Spanish, this one will be in English to allow for a bigger audience and because it also allows ASETRAD to offer webinars in a language other than Spanish. There will be a 15-minute Q&A period after the 75-minute presentation. The webinar will be run via GoToWebinar. The fee for non-members is EUR 45, while ASETRAD members can join for only EUR 20. There's also a special EUR 30 fee for members of other associations; including ATA members (Spanish-language link to sign-up page).

We look forward to "seeing" you there! Please let us know if you have any questions. If we cannot answer your question, we will be happy to send it to the lovely organizers, who do indeed have all the answers.

Job Posting (Vietnamese): Las Vegas

While this job is not directly translation-related, it comes from a dear client and it might be of interest either to a beginning translator or a Vietnamese speaker who is looking for a steady entry-level position. Please see the job posting and application information below . Let us know if one of you gets the job!

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Nevada State Government Agency is seeking an Applicant who can speak and read Vietnamese for the position of:

Administrative Analyst I

Education/Experience: High school diploma or equivalent and 2 years of office experience.

Knowledge: General knowledge basic computer functions and Microsoft Office, spreadsheet software, and general office operations. 

Abilities: Ability to speak and read Vietnamese and English. Ability to multi-task; meet deadlines, prioritize and organize work and handle frequent interruptions and effectively compose business correspondences and reports. 

Duties: Assisting in administrative/office work, perform data-entry functions, communicate through email and phone, assist customers, and additional tasks as needed.

Employment Status: Temporary with possibility for full-time employment for the right candidate with Nevada State Government Agency.

Anticipated Start Date: TBD

Salary: Based on education and experience.

Location: Las Vegas

How to Apply: Email:

Introduction to Translation Starts 6/23

Happy Friday, dear readers! This is just a quick note to let you know that Judy's online class (English/Spanish) for University of California San Diego-Extension is starting again on June 23, 2015. The class is Introduction to Translation, and it's offered entirely online (asynchronous), and it lasts five weeks (through July 27, 2015). The class is offered via the user-friendly online learning platform Blackboard. 

The class is part of UCSD-Extension's online translation (Spanish/English) certificate, but you don't have to be signed up for the entire certificate to take this class. Since this class is the very first one in the certificate program, all students with the English/Spanish combination may take this class. Here's where to sign up

Translation Pricing: Should We Charge Hourly Rates?

The inside of Judy's wallet.
For today's quick post, we wanted to touch on something that we've been thinking about a lot: the way translators charge for their services. Traditionally, translation services in the U.S. have always been billed by the source word, meaning the translator will know exactly how much she or he will charge the client before the process starts. And the client has an exact figure, which is helpful for them. In Germany and Austria, translation is usually billed by the source line (a line being 55 characters).

Changing existing pricing structures can be difficult, and most translation agencies have established processes based on per-word rates, so we speculate that there won't be too much change there in the short term. So that's why we will focus on direct clients here. We work only with direct clients, and not surprisingly, most have no idea how many words are on the documents/websites they need to have translated  because as opposed to translators, they've never thought on a per-word basis. On most documents, it's easy to count the words, but things get trickier with PDFs and with web-based content. For the past few years, we have started quoting many projects by the hour, because we feel that an hourly rate is something most clients understand quite well, as they are used to paying that for other professional services, such as lawyers, CPAs, therapists, etc. 

We also like this approach  because it elevates our profession in a way and puts it more on par with other professional services and moves away from this "piecemeal" approach that sometimes comes with per-word pricing. And ultimately, it's all about making clients happy, and in our (not necessarily representative) experience we feel that clients have been pleased with the hourly approach. We also like this pricing structure because it makes sense to most clients. For instance: say a client brings you a five-page last will and testament. If you submit a quote for five hours' work (for instance) at your hourly rate of, say $100/hour, that's transparent and easy to quantify and understand. 

Finally, we like per-hour pricing because it gives the client the chance to clearly understand some surcharges that we usually added on manually in percentages. For instance: a scanned images converted into a PDF document will take infinitely longer to translate than a Word document with no tables (well, not infinitely, but it feels like it). We've always had a surcharge for PDF processing (which sometimes results in the client finding the Word document), and we think it's a very straightforward explanation that a PDF takes more time to process and is thus more expensive. We think it all comes down to an hourly charge being something that's transparent and easy to calculate and understand. Of course, your clients must trust you not to overcharge them. 

Now, what are the potential downsides to this pricing approach? The main one that we see is that the translator has to do an excellent job at estimating how long the translation will take before the project starts. This is relatively easy to do if you have many years' experience, but it's hard in the beginning. That's why we advise to estimate on the high end to give yourself some wiggle room and you will have a pleasantly surprised customer if you invoice them for less. On the other hand, we never invoice more than what we estimated, as we think that's not fair for the client. You may choose to do this differently, but on the few occasions where we've been way off on our estimates, we just had to absorb the difference. Another downside is that some clients might potentially perceive your rate, regardless of what it is, as high. Then you can either explain to them that translation is professional service or you can simply thank them for their interest. Unfortunately, a change in pricing structure doesn't mean that there won't be some clients who will think your work is too expensive regardless of how you charge for it. 

What do you think, dear colleagues? This brief post is of course in no way exhaustive, and we'd very much enjoy knowing what you think. Please join the conversation below!

Kiva Looking for Volunteers (Into English)

We've frequently written about Kiva, a leading microlending organization with big impact on poverty that relies on volunteer translators to try to change the world, one microloan at a time. We have no working relationship with Kiva other than we think that they are doing great work, and we are happy to spread the word about them on this blog. We frequently recommend volunteer translation opportunities to beginning translators to get some experience under their belt, as most agencies (and direct clients) usually do not work with translators who have no experience. We think volunteering your time for a worthy non-profit and getting that name on your CV is a much better idea than working for the very low wages that are frequently offered to beginning translators on the open market.

A few days ago, we received another message from Kiva, asking them to spread the word. It looks like this time they are looking for team leaders rather than translators We are copying and pasting from the e-mail we received here:

Kiva’s Review and Translation Program relies on over 400 volunteers to edit, translate, and thoroughly review loan profiles that our Field Partners have posted to the Kiva website. Each profile provides a brief overview of the borrower's background and their microloan use. This personal component is what helps to connect Kiva borrowers with Kiva lenders.

To keep our volunteer teams working smoothly, we are looking for highly committed volunteers to lead teams of up to 35 members. This remote volunteer opportunity is ideal for someone who would like to use their for strong communicators who speak English at a native level to head teams professional skills to help create social impact through Kiva. We are looking for strong communicators who speak English at a native level to head teams working in English, Spanish, Russian, French, and Portuguese.

We’re accepting applications through May 31 for Team Leaders to join us in August 2015, and would greatly appreciate your help in reaching out to in order to help us spread the word
about volunteering with Kiva.

We don't have any additional information about this opportunity, so if you have any questions, please be sure to contact Kiva directly.

Bad Client?

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Today's  post is about something that comes up in our industry quite often. The scenario is this: the highly talented translator delivers a world-class translation, only for the clueless client (we mean this tongue-in-cheek, in case you haven't noticed) to destroy it by "editing" it when the client should stick to his or her area of expertise and leave the translating to the talented translator. The resulting edited translation is not improved at all: quite the contrary. It's a disaster. Now the translator is  indignant and complaining to all her colleagues and friends about it. Does this sound familiar? Let us suggest a different way of looking at it.

After the client pays for your work, he or she owns it. Period. They are free to do with your product as they please, because you now longer own it (yes, we got a legal opinion on this). A translator can certainly insist that his or her name not be listed as the translator on a mutilated translation, but the reality is that most translators can't get their names within 10 miles of most translations anyway, so this shouldn't be a big concern. We are not saying that the client is right in destroying a perfectly good translation with good intentions but bad language skills, but that's life. Translators are no different than lawyers, doctors, interior designers, stylists, etc. We hear our stylist when she tells us black is not our color, but we love it anyway. We hear our doctor when she tells us to lay off the fatty Mexican food, but it's so tasty.  Our CPA is right that we should be more organized in our charity donations, but we aren't. Sometimes clients buy a Mercedes and put gaudy rims and license plates with rhinestones on it. The dealer probably cringes, but if the client's money is good, what can be done? Not much. 

We have had this scenario happen very infrequently, but when it does happen, we just make sure to detail in writing why we think the translation should be published/going to print as is and list the reasons. Then we say that we are happy to give our professional opinion, since that's in part what we are getting paid for. If the client insists to use the mutilated translation anyway and our names are on it, we respectfully ask to have our names removed. We think it's important to stick to your role of professional advisor and not become too indignant when the client doesn't follow our advice. They pay us for it, so they are free to take it or leave if after they've paid for our services.

That said, we are on our way to the tailor to have her add some ruffles to a gorgeous black Jil Sander suit. While we are at it, we might stop by the hairdresser's to see if she can turn us into redheads. Just kidding! 

What do you think, dear friends and colleagues? We'd love to hear your thoughts. 
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.

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