Business Tip: Small Talk

Our last post of the year will be short and sweet. It's about the art of making small talk at business events, which can be quite mortifying for many introverted translators. Try the following approach.

We prefer networking with food. Photo by Judy.
Ask a question. Instead of immediately talking about yourself, which most people will do, ask the person you are speaking to a question about herself or himself. Most people will be happy to talk about themselves, especially in the US, and you will get the conversation started without having to "sell" yourself, which is what so many translators are afraid of. Now, the question doesn't have to be personal at all, and can be rather general, along the lines of the quality of the food offered at the event, whether the person has been there before, a compliment about their dress (works best if the person is of the same gender), a comment about the person's profession (if it's obvious), etc. Trust us: asking questions is usually a good thing. And the best question of all is: May I buy you a drink/coffee/sandwich? We have yet to meet someone who has declined that offer.

With that, we would like to wish all a very happy and successful 2014! Here is to much successful networking!

Do You Have Klout?

Earlier this year, our dear friend and colleague Karen Tkaczyk mentioned that a Klout score higher than 60 would get her into a fancy airport lounge at San Francisco International Airport. We'd heard of Klout, but had never spent any time researching it. This nugget of information got our attention.

So what exactly is this thing, Klout? Well, it is a sophisticated set of algorithms that measures how important one might be on the internet. Of course, internet fame or influence should always be viewed quite suspiciously, but the idea in itself is intriguing. According to Wikipedia: 

Klout is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank its users according to online social influence via the "Klout Score", which is a numerical value between 1 and 100.

That makes sense. The more active you are online, and the more of an influencer you are perceived to be, the higher your Klout score, which will earn you a certain number of so-called Perks. Most of the items Judy has earned (discounts at restaurants, free stuff meant to promote the company giving it away) have not been too exciting yet, but Klout seems to be a fascinating beast indeed.

Seen in the most positive of lights, Klout rewards online behavior that is useful and of interest to others. For instance, if all you do all day is post updates about what you ate and what your cat is doing, that will most likely not be too thrilling for others and thus won't increase your Klout score. On the other hand, if you engage others, get them to retweet your post and discuss your idea on Facebook or any other social media outlet, this will increase your score. That also makes sense. Now the question is: What's the point? At our most cynical, we could say Klout is just another online popularity contest with no real tangible benefit other than marketers benefiting from what we do online. However, we want to spend some more time exploring Klout before we make up our minds. While much has been written about how to increase your Klout score, Judy recently tried some of these strategies, but her score remains steady at 62 or 63, which is a bit puzzling. Ah, the mysteries of algorithms...

What about you, dear colleagues? Have you tried Klout? What's your take on it? We'd love to hear your opinion. 

Intro to Translation at UC San Diego-Extension: Starts January 7

Judy at UC-San Diego this summer.
Happy holidays, dear friends and colleagues around the world! We are taking some well-deserved (we think) time off during the holidays, but wanted to let you know about some of Judy's upcoming online classes at the University of California-San Diego Extension (the Translation/Interpretation Certificate for the Spanish/English language combination).

Have a look:

Introduction to Translation: This five-week asynchronous online class starts January 7 and runs through February 10 ($225). The class includes pre-recorded PowerPoint presentations with audio, lots of exercises, student-instructor interaction, detailed feedback on two translations, and much more.  Sign up here

Introduction to Interpretation: This class had traditionally only been offered on campus, but due to popular demand, UC San Diego-Extension decided to create an online version, which Judy taught for the first time last quarter. It was a big success, so the class is back! It also lasts 5 weeks (starts February 11, ends March 17) and includes dozens of self-study exercises (original recorded content in English and Spanish), exams, detailed evaluation of your final exam, lots of student-instructor interaction and a weekly overview of specific areas of interpreting (court, medical, conference, community). Sign up here

The university requires an admission exam for students wishing to take the entire certificate (either in translation or in translation and interpretation), but you can take these introductory classes without taking the exam. For more information, please have a look at UC San Diego-Extension's dedicated page for the Certificate in Translation/Interpretation (Spanish/English). Here is a short brochure. The university also offers free informational sessions, which are held at the La Jolla (San Diego campus).

We are delighted at the University of California education system offers these online opportunities, as formal university education in the field by bricks-and-mortar and well-known universities in the US are relatively rare, especially online. Please help us spread the word! Translation and interpretation programs in Europe abound, but that's not the case in the US, creating an educational deficit for US-based linguists. However, the internet has made access much easier, and in a way, California is leading the way for interpreters and translators. 

InterpreTIPS: New Resource for Interpreters

Interpreting at a museum. Photo by Dagy.
We are delighted to announce that two wonderful colleagues (who happen to be true industry dynamos) launched a very useful website for interpreters. It's cleverly titled InterpreTIPS and it's a series of videos featuring Katharine Allen and Marjory Bancroft They answer questions about interpreting submitted by colleages around the world. The first three videos are already up, and they are a great source of information for both interpreting students and experienced professionals. We are particularly grateful that two accomplished interpreters and interpreter trainers decided to make this available for free for everyone, as there are relatively few excellent free videos of this type for interpreters. Thank you, Marjory and Katharine!

Have a look at their well-designed website and join the conversation! Please help us spread the word. 

MOOCs for Translators and Interpreters

Judy at Harvard, 2011.
At this point, most people and probably all of our readers are familiar with MOOC (massive open online courses), which are offered for free (yes!) by some of the world's best universities. They are offered entirely online and all students can sign up, although a few courses are intended for advanced students in certain fields. We've written about MOOCs before, and we are delighted to see that more and more top universities in countries other than the U.S. are adding courses in other languages. Coursera now offers courses in a total of 12 languages.

A few weeks ago, we decided to take a Spanish-language class from the well-known Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (it starts in February). Even though we attended part of elementary, all of middle school and part of high school in Mexico City, we haven't taken college-level classes in Spanish, so this should be a real treat. We also got our recently retired dad to sign up for the class (Scientific Thinking) with us, so it's a family activity! Coursera and EdX are our favorite MOOC platforms, and we've found many courses that might be a good fit for colleagues with very specific specializations and interest. Here are just a few:
We are very strong believers in professional development, as evidenced by the dozens of conferences and workshops we attend in person every year. However, we've never taken a class at an Ivy League university, so this is quite a treat. Regardless of one's field of specialization or interest, there seems to be a MOOC out there that will deepen and broaden one's knowledge and insight. We can't wait to get started. What about you, dear colleagues? Have you taken a MOOC before? Tell us about your experiences!

Question & Answer: Interpreter Ethics

We oftentimes get questions from colleagues and we are flattered that our colleagues think that we are qualified to answer them, and many times we can. However, due to the sheer volume, it can be difficult to answer individual questions. That's why we try to answer some questions here on the blog for the benefit of all. Here's one of the recent questions we received.

Ready for the EU? Picture by Dagy.
A colleague who is not yet court-certified asked us the following question (amended to protect the colleague's privacy):

"I have a big court hearing on Friday and I don't know anything about the subject matter or anything. I have never interpreted at this type of hearing before. Can you recommend some glossaries that I can use to study for this? I don't feel ready for this."

Wow, we thought! Finally, an easy one. 

Here's the short answer: Don't accept the assignment. It's a matter of interpreter ethics.

Now, we thought about this some more, and here is the longer answer with (hopefully) some useful nuggets of information.

This is indeed a good question, but the long answer is still relatively straightforward. Interpreters, just like all professionals, have a professional obligation to only accept assignments for which they feel qualified. This is in addition to any ethical obligation they might have under applicable codes of ethics. It's not fair to the client (be it an agency, a direct client, a government agency, an NGO, etc.) and very much not fair to the person you are interpreting for. This is especially important in judicial proceedings. Can you imagine being stuck in jail in a foreign country, say, China, and that the interpreter who shows up KNOWS she doesn't know what she's doing? Would that make you feel warm and fuzzy? Probably not. So in judicial matters, one really has to take a hard look at one's skills and ask: can I do this? Would I be putting anyone in danger if I accepted this assignment? What's the worst-case scenario in terms of outcome? Medical malpractice? Unlawful deportation? You get the point.

For other types of assignments, things aren't quite that dramatic. For instance, if you are Jewish and are asked to interpret at a Catholic wedding (mass), you probably won't know too much. However, these are things that can be acquired, and you can study up and read and print out prayers and other elements of mass in a week or so. Also, if you have to go interpret at a family court adoption hearing and you've never done family court, but you are a certified court interpreter, you will probably have enough of a terminology base and access to resources to get through this. For instance, you could ask the court clerk for a transcript of a similar proceedings and then study up on some vocabulary.

So the short long answer is that we think you should not accept the assignment unless you feel like you are qualified or you feel that you can adequately prepare in the time you have before the assignment. We'd be especially careful with court-related hearings and medical matters, but for community interpreting and perhaps even conference interpreting, the lines aren't always that clear. In general, if the assignment usually calls for a certified interpreter(and those certifications exist for a reason) and you don't have that certification (medical, court) then you should definitely stay away from it. Nothing good can come out of it.

That said, we want to leave you with one final thought. In a way, one can never be 100% completely ready for some situations. Even if you've interpreted hundreds of depositions, sentencing hearings, status hearings, arraignments and have spent years in court, the first time you do a trial is scary and will make you question your abilities. The first time you go to a hospital to interpret pre-surgery instructions you will be nervous, but if you passed the certification, there's only one way to get more experience under your belt: you need to go and interpret.

We hope we've provided some food for thought. Interpreter codes of ethics (Judy is certified in California and Nevada) are notoriously vague on some issues, but not on this one. When in doubt: decline the assignment. There will always be other assignments. Err on the side of the conservative.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

Customer Service Superstars: Bagels

A  few weeks ago, the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association held one of its many workshops. Just like every time, we pre-ordered some bagels and coffee from Einstein Bros. Bagels. Now, we've ordered from Einsteins for many years -- both for professional and personal events. We already know that the nice folks at Einsteins aren't always the best at getting our orders right, but their ability to make things right is remarkable. Let us elaborate on how sometimes one can retain customers by fixing problems.

Last month, Judy and the guest speaker picked up the bagels and the coffee and headed to the event across town. Upon getting there, they realized that Einsteins had neglected to include the cream cheese, stranding us with less-than-attractive dry bagels and no time to go buy anything else. Judy called Einsteins to complain (just out of principle), and to her surprise, the store manager offered to call another nearby store to have them deliver the cream cheese to us. In addition, the manager said she'd throw in a second dozen bagels for free.  Judy was very pleasantly surprised, and sure enough, in 30 minutes, a smiling and apologetic Einsteins employee had no trouble at all locating the (rather hard to find) downtown location and delivered everything to our hungry group of lingusts. 

Now, the fact that they didn't include the cream cheese the first time around is less than ideal. However, they took ownership of the problem and solved it quickly and very professionally. And they also went above and beyond by giving us extra bagels. Plus, their product itself is really, really good.

Of course this little anecdote isn't about bagels, but about customer service. Have you either experienced a similar situation as a client? Or have you, as a vendor, made a mistake but fixed it quickly and well? We certainly have made mistakes in the past, but have retained those clients because we went out of our way to acknowledge the problem. We then apologized, fixed the problem quickly, sent a little gift or gave a discount, and moved on. Please do tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment.


Potential Pitfalls: Listservs

What would we do without the internet and e-mail? We really have no idea how our treasured colleagues worked without any of these tools not too long ago. Our hats are off to them! In our modern age, we've really come to rely on technology to help us solve our translation-related challenges, but we still rely on the best resources out there: each other. Now, thanks to listservs (large e-mail lists, usually run by T&I associations), we can reach up to several thousand people at the same time. How fantastic is that? Is you are stuck on a term and can't find it in any of your gazillion dictionaries and the internet only turns up pseudo-answers from not-entirely-qualified translators, you head to your trusty listservs, which are usually limited to the members of a certain group (for instance, the Spanish-language division of the American Translators Association, the members of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association, etc.) It's a great thing. Or is it? Just like with every piece of technology, there are some risks and potential pitfalls. Here are a few in no particular order of importance that we've come across in our 10 years or so of belonging to listservs.
Keep calm and e-mail on. And drink tea. Picture by Judy. 

  • Reply all. While hitting "reply all" (or just "reply", depending on how the listserv is set up) is not quite the equivalent of sending a mildly inappropriate picture to your boss (if you had one), it's still quite mortifying. Think before you hit the send button! We've seen some pretty personal messages that were clearly meant only for one person, and what's worse, sometimes those messages had unkind things to say about others. You cannot really undo that, even if you apologize profusely. A good rule of thumb is to also not put too many negative things in writing -- just in case. Keeping it positive is always a good thing. If you have a bone to pick with someone, the best strategy is still to go out for a beer or coffee is you live in the same area or marking a quick phone call.
  • Asking too many questions. The vast majority of our lovely colleagues are very happy to help and are eager to answer questions. However, if you ask too many questions it might become clear to others that you struggle with understanding the source texts you choose to translate and the source language in general, which is not a good thing for your industry reputation. While listservs are a safe place, they are also a place where people form opinion about others' skills, so think before you ask. 
  • Taking things personally. We've both been in the rather unfortunate position of having to mediate between parties when e-mail conversations got ugly. All these instances were entirely avoidable, a huge waste of everyone's time and energey and probably stem from the fact that translators spend too much time in front of their computers and put too much value on a sentence or two that someone wrote. As a form of communication, e-mail is less than ideal and can oftentimes lead to misunderstandings. It's just very difficult to tell if someone is being sarcastic or funny unless you know them personally, and we've had to witness many unattractive e-mail exchanges between individuals who insisted on copying the entire group. This is never a good idea, so the rule of thumb should be: don't do it. Don't waste the group's time with any personal feuds. If you want to talk to an individual, do so outside the list. Strive to be known as someone who is helpful, positive, friendly and knowledgeable. Your reputation is all you have.
  • Not respecting netiquette rules. Before you sign up for any listserv, you will most likely be presented with a list of netiquette rules that govern everyone's online behavior. It's a sad state of affairs that we need these in the first place, but they come in handy. There's usually even a list master or list mistress (yes, we've seen that term) or list owner in charge of moderating conversations. As much as we like to talk about politics, we don't do it on the listservs where it's not allowed (plus, it's not relevant to the job). On any and all ATA listservs, one cannot talk about rates, so you need to keep that in mind. 
In general, we are very grateful to belong to many listservs, even though we are not quite as active as we'd like to be on some of them. They are a fantastic source for information and a great place to get to know colleagues from all over the world, even though it's only in a virtual way. What about you, dear colleagues? We'd love to hear your experiences. And no, we've never hit the reply-all button--yet. 

Cringe-Inducing Video: The Importance of Professional Interpreters


Happy Black Friday to our friends and colleagues in the US and happy Friday to everyone else! While we are certainly not going shopping, we are taking the day to play catch-up with work before we take the rest of the weekend off. Today we wanted to share this cringe-inducing article and video with you. They really drive home the point that professional interpreters are essential in many, many situations, especially during press conferences and public events. We recently came across the post on a Turkish blog (Turkish Business Translations), and while the video is in Turkish and in Italian, you don't need to speak either language to get the idea (we don't speak the languages, either). Here's the link to the blog and the video. We are also putting the YouTube video directly into this blog post, but be sure to read the accompanying article (aptly titled "Why you need a qualified and professional interpreter") so it really makes sense. 

What do you think, dear colleagues? While we do feel bad for the poor pseudo-interpreters, they should probably know their limitations, and this is what happens when you don't. We'd love to hear your thoughts.

5 Downsides to Working for Yourself

Many new translators and students ask us about what's better: working as an in-house translator or working for yourself as a freelancer. Judy has done both, while Dagy has never worked in house, but our answer is clear: working for yourself is infinitely better. However, there are a variety of significant downsides, so we wanted to briefly list a few of them. This is a question we get quite frequently, so we wanted to get a list going. Of course, it's not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but in no order of importance, here are the 5 main downsides of working for yourself:


  1. You are never done and you are never really off work. When Judy worked in-house managing a small group of translators at an e-commerce company, she was required to be available at all times and was practically married to her Blackberry. However, in reality she never really took much work home and was essentially done with work when she pulled out of the company parking lot. However, as self-employed linguists, we are never really done because we ARE our company and there's always more networking to be done, more e-mails to be sent, requests for proposals to be answered, volunteering to be done, etc. There is no finish line, and that's a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. We love it that our work is a continuum, but we do occasionally have a hard time turning work off. We suppose this is a good problem to have, as we really enjoy what we do and it doesn't always feel like work.
  2. Days off? We constantly see spouses, friends, and acquaintances who are at home because, well, it's a holiday! We frequently forget holidays, and since we have clients in more than five countries, any particular holiday is usually not a holiday in the other countries. It's therefore a challenge to take the same days off as your loved ones and friends. We certainly try to observe holidays, but it's not always possible. That said, Judy is taking two days off this week, while Dagy gets to work, as Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in Europe and our Austrian clients don't care that Judy isn't working. The projects still need to get done.
  3. Paid holidays. One of the great perks of working for someone else is that you have paid vacation time. If you live and work in most other countries than the US, there's actually some government rule on how much vacation you should get, and it's usually quite generous (four weeks or so in most European countries). Entrepreneurs don't have paid vacation time. If we want to go on a vacation, we have to start saving up for it. 
  4. Getting paid for actual work. As a salaried employee, you get paid (either every two weeks or monthly, depending on where you live) whether you work or not. Self-employed linguists, however, are very much like self-employed lawyers: we only get paid when we can bill our hours (or words, or lines, or whatever) to a client. When Judy worked in-house, she was certainly not known for sitting around and eating macaroons, but the point is still that there's much less pressure to perform because you will get paid anyway, regardless of how much you accomplish during the pay period. As an entrepreneur, you better finish that project relatively fast if you want to send the invoice and get paid. It's a great motivator indeed, but it's also a situation that can be too stressful for many.
  5. Uncertainty. The only thing that's for certain if you run your own business is that it will probably be great, but that it will also be a lot of work. Everything else is up in the air, and you never know how much money you will make tomorrow, next week, or next month. This is not a good way to live and work if you are very risk-averse, and it can be quite scary if you think about it. Of course, when you work in-house, you have no real long-time job security either (some countries are better about employee rights than others, but we digress), but you will know where your next paycheck is coming from: your employer. When you are self-employed, you are essentially looking for work every day for the rest of your life. Of course with time you will get repeat customers and you will hopefully establish long-term working relationships, but as a contractor to your clients, they can walk away from the relationship at any time (and so can you). Does that sound too scary? Then perhaps self-employment isn't the best choice for you.
We hope we have given you some food for thought. In spite of the downsides, we absolutely love what we do and would never be able to have the lifestyle we have if it weren't for self-employment. However, we think it's important to highlight some downsides so new translators go into the world of entrepreneurship with eyes wide open. 

We'd love to hear your thoughts, dear friends and colleagues! 

Monday Humor: German-Language Video

Thanks to our colleagues from the German Language Division of the American Translators Association, who found this gem and recently posted it on the listserv. It's quite silly and a bit absurd, but it's also pretty hilarious, and makes a (funny, if slightly long-winded) point about German compound nouns. It's definitely intended for German speakers, but might be good entertainment even for those who don't speak the language. Enjoy!

NAJIT Conference: Call for Proposals

The 35th annual conference of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators will take place in Las Vegas (Judy's hometown) in May 2014. This relatively small (250 attendees or so) is a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the best legal interpreters and translators in the country, and next year will mark Judy's third conference, and perhaps her third as a speaker if her proposal is accepted.

We've heard from many colleagues near and far that they are quite interested in coming to this conference now that it's in Vegas (it's hard not to get excited about Vegas, but we are biased), so we bet next year's event will be even better than usual. We are very happy to have colleagues come to one of our stomping grounds so we can show them around and show off our town! If you are thinking about attending, then perhaps you also might want to submit a proposal to be a presenter. It's a national conference, but it's not as intimating as presenting at the ATA conference, as this event is smaller and more intimate. It's a great opportunity to get in front of a national audience! Proposals must be submitted by December 1, 2013, and must follow the exact guidelines listed on the NAJIT website (on the right-hand side, choose the September 26 entry to download the Word document).

See you in Vegas, everyone?

Getting Dressed for Work

Most self-employed translators get to work from home and can wear whatever they want to work, which is fantastic. After years of working in-house (Judy), it's certainly nice not to have to get dolled up by 8 a.m., but the question of whether you should be completely dressed and looking professional before you work from home where no one sees you is a topic that comes up quite frequently on listservs. It's a question that Judy also gets from her students at UC San Diego-Extension every quarter, so we figured we'd address it here. The answer is: it depends. 

We don't always dress like this.
Some colleagues like to get up, take their shower, and get dressed in clothes that make them feel comfortable and professional, similar to what they would wear if they worked in a traditional office environment. Others put on comfy lounge pants, yoga outfits or pajamas. After all, the client can't see you, so it doesn't matter what you look like. However, we do think there is, for some of us, a sort of correlation between what you are wearing and how you feel. We do like to get dressed first thing in the morning, after having our tea and reading the paper, but we don't always wear a suit. We are also interpreters, so if we have an interpreting assignment say, mid-morning, then it makes sense to put on that suit at 8 a.m., translate for a few hours, and then head to court (or the conference, or whatever the assignment might be). If we have no client appointments nor interpreting assignments scheduled for that day, we usually put on some business casual outfit that could quickly be converted into more formal dress (by adding a black jacket, for instance) if we had to leave the house for an impromptu meeting or assignment. Other times, we like to head to a 2 p.m. yoga or kickboxing class, and those days, it makes sense to put on our workout gear. We are not known for working in our pajamas, although that does sound tempting. For some reason, we like to be a bit more dressy, even if it's at home. Our one secret weapon when it comes to dressing is that we always keep a black jacket on hand (Judy keeps one in her car). We think it's essential to have one good-looking black jacket that's been recently dry cleaned and has no missing buttons. There's nothing quite like putting on a black jacket -- it makes us feel instantly professional. We like to think of it as our business game face. It's hard not to feel like you are "on" when you are wearing a fitted suit, even if it's just the jacket.

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you get dressed for work most of the time? We'd love to hear your comments!

Recommended Reading: White House Interpreter

Last week at the fantastic 54th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association, we were lucky enough to get an autographed copy of The White House Interpreter by legendary English->German diplomatic Harry Obst. In addition, we also had the chance to hear him give a very entertaining (and packed!) lecture. Mr. Obst is now in his 80s, and hearing him speak about his experiences interpreting at the highest levels of diplomatic relations for seven American presidents was a truly unique experience.

Our autographed copy. 
As soon as we got home to Vegas (before Dagy flew back to Austria), Judy started reading the book and devoured it. It's an easy, non-academic read about Mr. Obst's long career and his interaction with presidents, secretaries of state, annoying bureaucrats, mid-level diplomats, and everyone in between. In the early parts of the book, the author makes some excellent points about the lack of formal college education for interpreters, which has resulted in, well, the lack of well-trained interpreters in America. He's got a point, but he makes it so often and so passionately that it's clear he has a bone to pick with an academic institution somewhere, although he wisely does not name any names.

At his career level, it's obvious that the author doesn't have to hold back, and his opinions on everything from certain colleagues (not named) to certain presidents (clearly named) are quite clear. It's rather refreshing to read a book by someone who doesn't have to walk on eggshells when it comes to certain topics, and Mr. Obst not only provided a fascinating insight into an interpreting world into which most interpreters never have access, but he also pulled back the curtain on politics and negotiating at the highest levels. You guessed it: presidents can be as petty as the rest of us, but some are very gracious and respectful, while others are not. Mr. Obst extensively writes about the obstacles that interpreters face on the job, and most of us who work in other fields (court, medical, etc.) will certainly be able to relate. In person, Mr. Obst still has a hint of the charming German accent that reminds us that he risked his life to flee former East Germany to come to the United States, a country that he served well for many decades. He's an effortless and witty writer who really makes his anecdotes come alive. At times, we could almost feel those leather seats on Air Force One as he crossed the Atlantic for the 52nd time in 1979!

Mr. Obst spends some time explaining his craft, and we wish he'd spent more time on what he considers (rightfully so) the key component to top-notch consecutive interpreting: proper note-taking technique. It's much feared by simultaneous interpreters around the world, who'd rather have a root canal than do consecutive, but it's still the holy grail of interpreting and the key mode for diplomatic interpreting. Mr. Obst shares one page of his notes and the corresponding paragraph those notes were based on, but he could have developed that portion of the book much better. In fact, we would have enjoyed an entire chapter on this subject. We'd read many an academic book on note-taking, but we bet Mr. Obst can teach us (and everyone else) many, many things on this important subject.

We truly enjoyed this peek at the high-paced, exciting, and highly stressful world of diplomatic interpreting, and the book was a great read. However, we were somewhat taken aback by Obst's consistent use of the male pronoun when referring to interpreters (example: "the interpreters trains his memory..."). He does add a note about this delicate issue ("with apologies to the female interpreters"). However, considering the fact that the vast majority of interpreters are female, it would have made more sense to use the female pronoun. And while the use of he/she isn't perhaps the most visually appealing option, we think it's important to include women in language.

Finally, let us leave you with some memorable quotes from this fantastic book, which is available at InTrans Book Service.

"Good interpreting schools teach their students how to analyze well by using a multitude of available tools and clues, just as good law schools and engineering schools do. One of those tools is good general knowledge of many fields. Where better to acquire such knowledge than at a university where a wide range of different subjects is taught in one place?" (page 37)

"The translator's product is for the ages, the interpreter's for the moment." (page 35)

"...the vast majority of American interpreters are not trained professionals. As a result, the reader, in many American environments, is more likely to encounter an untrained interpreter rather than a trainer professional. Encountering an untrained interpreter in Finland, France of Germany is a rare occurrence."  (page 39)


Interpreting: Two Quick Memory Exercises

During last week's amazing 54th Annual American Translators Association Conference, several colleagues commented on the fact that we had good memory, as we tend to remember spouses' names, pets' names,
and anecdotes that colleagues told us the previous year. We do think that we have decent memory, as we are both working interpreters, but just like all interpreters, we constantly work on it. Please read on for two simple exercises that we've been doing for many years. They seem to work, so we will continue doing them.


  • Movie previews. This is an exercise we've done since long before we became interpreters. It's very simple and consists of memorizing, in their correct sequence, any movie previews that are shown at the movie theater before the actual movie starts. In the US, that's usually a total of five previews, and remembering them in their correct sequence after the movie (120 minutes or so) is a lot harder than you think. And no, we don't cheat and write them down, but we do silently repeat the titles of the movies back to ourselves a few times during the movie.
  • Reading and remembering. We are both voracious readers, but we read so quickly (to the tune of up to two books a week per person) that occasionally we don't pay too much attention to what we read and hence can't remember what we just read. In an effort to change that (nice side effect: memory training!), we started forcing ourselves every few pages to read a sentence that has a list of say, nouns (could be adjectives, too) and then continue reading for a few more sentences. After that, we stop and try to remember all the words in the list that we have just read. You can also try to remember a complete sentence if you prefer, but with fiction, that can be more difficult. For instance, a typical list could be: "She had been to New York, San Francisco, Zagreb, Crete, Oslo, Frankfurt, and Rome." Can you remember all these cities in the correct order after a minute or two? It's a bit of a challenge, but it's good for your brain and for your memory. 
What about you, dear fellow interpreters? Do you have any suggestions on improving your memory? We would love to hear about them!

ATA Conference: Where to Find Us

It's been one year, and now we are getting ready to jump on a plane and attend our very favorite conference: the 54th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association in San Antonio, Texas. We are very much looking forward to seeing all our lovely friends and colleagues, and it will be a pleasure to meet new friends, too! We wanted to share a brief overview of where we will be in case you'd like to stop by, say hello, and/or have a cup of coffee.
  • Newbies and buddies. This year, the ATA created a fantastic new program for first-time conference attendees  The idea is to match newbies with buddies, and we are happy to participate as buddies, as we remember how intimidating it was to walk into our first-ever conference. There's a Buddies Welcome Newbies event on Wednesday, November 6th at 5:15 p.m., right before the opening reception. We will be there with bells on, looking for our newbie!
  • Welcome reception. This is, without a doubt, our favorite event of the conference. It takes place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and will feature a ballroom full of our friends and colleagues. We'd love to meet up, and we should be easy to find, as we believe that we just might be the only twins. Last year's opening reception in San Diego, right next to the ocean, was hard to beat, but we are sure this year will be fantastic as well. 
  • Presentations. This year, we are giving two presentations. One will be a joint presentation for the German-language division of the ATA, and it's all about the variety of German that's spoken in Austria. We gave the first part of this presentation in San Diego last year, and we are doing the second part on Saturday, November 7, at 8:30 a.m. It's called Austracisms for Beginners. In addition, Judy is giving a presentation titled Assertive, Not Aggressive: Dealing with Conflict on Friday, November 8, at 11:30 a.m.
  • Book signing. It's our great pleasure to do yet another book signing with our dear friend Freek Lankhof of InTrans BookService, who graciously carries our book. Freek is celebrating 25 years as an exhibitor at the ATA, so be sure to stop by and help us celebrate! We will be there during Freek's anniversary reception from 5 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 7 (in the exhibit hall) and we will also sign on Saturday, November 9, from 10 to 10:30 a.m.
  • Associations. Dagy is proud to represent UNIVERSITAS Austria, the Austrian Interpreters' and Translators' Association, and she is attending the conference with her Secretary General hat on. Judy is the past president of the Nevada affiliate group of the ATA, the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association (NITA) and NITA will have a table (with information about our group) where we will spend quite a bit of time. Look for the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and stop by and grab some candy!
  • Evening events. We've confirmed our attendance at both the Spanish division's dinner (on Friday, at Casa Rio River House) and the German division (at the Rio Plaza, second floor, on Thursday), so you will be sure to catch us there!
  • Late night. Yes, we've been known to enjoy a nice glass of wine or a fancy cocktail at the hotel bar to wrap up the evening. 
We look forward to seeing you in San Antonio!

Read This: Slaves Of the Internet, Unite!

For the record: We paid for this image. 
This past Sunday, we did what we always do on Sundays: We read the print edition of the paper of record, The New York Times. Yes, we are old school like that and really like getting ink on our paper. And the paper smells great, too, but we digress.

One article on the cover page of the Sunday Review caught our attention, and we wanted to share it with all of you, dear readers. Today is Halloween, so we will tackle the spooky subject of not getting paid for your work. Turns out writer Tim Kreider also has a few things to say about the subject, and as a writer for the NYT, he writes infinitely more eloquently than we do. The bottom line is: giving away your work for free stinks. And it means others don't value it. If they did value it, they would pay you for it. So don't give it away for free. This article as been quite popular, and to date, there are more than 650 comments on the online version. 

Here's the link to the brilliant article (we recommend you subscribe to the NYT, but we believe the first few articles a month are free). The author concludes his article with a smart piece of advice that he's willing to share with everyone. Actually, it's a nifty e-mail template that you can use to respond to people who want your work for free. Since the author intended this to be freely shared, we are copying it here:

Here, for public use, is my very own template for a response to people who offer to let me write something for them for nothing:
Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I’m flattered by your invitation to [do whatever it is they want you to do for nothing]. But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it’s how I make my living, and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.

It's nice to see that translators aren't the only ones who get asked to do free work. We knew it's quite common with writers and illustrators as well, and it's great to read such on on-point essay about this important topic. What do you think, dear readers? How do you handle these tricky situations? We'd love to hear from you. 

A New Tool: TranslatorPay

Earlier this month, we saw a quick Tweet by our friend Eve Bodeux of Bodeux International. She mentioned TranslatorPay as a new tool for translators to get paid internationally without having to incur significant bank fees (which we are not very fond of). We were intrigued and decided to have a look at the website. We have a long history of doing international bank transfers and PayPal transfers (both receiving and sending), and just like most people, we are quite stunned by the high costs and by the fact that transfers, especially bank transfers, can take so long despite the fact that we live in the 21st century.

Let's talk about money.
First things first: TranslatorPay, an online money transfer system, was created by two high-profile colleagues in the industry: Dr. Paul Sulzberger and Jessica Rather. We have not met either one of them personally, but they have excellent reputations in the industry, which immediately put us at ease. The idea behind TranslatorPay is that translators should be able to get paid the full amount of the translations that they invoice rather than the invoice amount minus some (usually quite opaque) bank fee. Of course, we rather like this idea. The way it works is that the translator registers (for free), uploads his or her banking information (which some might be a bit reluctant to do), persuades the client to pay via TranslatorPay (this might be a bit of a challenge), and there you have it: the translator gets paid the full amount within one to three days. The company lists the following reasons for using their service, and these are very strong and convincing arguments.

This service is very certainly worth exploring. We haven't used it ourselves, but wanted to help spread the word about it. Have you used it, dear colleagues? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Mysterious Ways

This week, we've been thinking about the fact that business opportunities can really present themselves anywhere, and that has certainly been true for us. Here are a few examples of how business has worked in mysterious ways for us:


  • Dagy just issued a price quote to a long-time customer in Vienna. We briefly talked about the project, and then reminisced about the fact that she met this client in her Pilates class. Really.
  • Just over a week ago, we met a potential client at a pub (yes, a pub) at Heathrow airport in London. He was on his way back from India, where he had just been trying to find a translation vendor for his own client. This meeting was quite serendipitous indeed, as the potential client just happened to sit next to us at a bar, said hello, and asked what we did for a living. 
  • A few years ago, Judy's beloved Prius got hit by another car in the parking lot of a grocery store. As she waited for the insurance people to show up, she started chatting with the other driver (a very nice lady), who happened to work for IBM and was looking for translators. The project didn't work out, but we thought the way we met was pretty cool.
  • We met one of our favorite clients at a baby shower that Judy attended a few years ago. 
  • Another long-term client of ours is Dagy's former yoga instructor from Vienna (yes, we like to work out).
What about you, dear colleagues? What's the strangest place you have met a potential customer? We think it's important to be prepared to talk intelligently about your small business at all times, be it at a bar, a baby shower, a grocery store, or a happy hour. We don't mean that one should constantly be shoving business cards in people's faces, but we do think it's important to be prepared. You know what that means: don't leave your house without business cards.

We'd love to hear your stories, dear colleagues!




The Results: Federal Court Interpreting Exam

After three months of waiting, Judy knows the result of the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE), which she took in Denver in mid-July. Read below for her take on it.

I will make this short and sweet: I did not pass. It was close, but I still failed, and it's certainly very disappointing. I scored a 76%, and I needed 80% to pass. This was my first time taking this notoriously difficult exam, and here are my thoughts on the results and on the exam in general:

  • Contrary to the rumors that constantly circulate about this exam, it's quite fair -- at least it felt like it. I'd heard from many other people that they'd leave the exam feeling quite confident, but when they results come in, they get 60%. I'd say the same was true for me. I blogged about my actual exam experience here, and I felt quite relaxed and good about my performance. Obviously, I was wrong.
  • There have been many, many administrative challenges with the FCICE, and getting the results was no exception. The website crashed under the weight of candidates trying to access their scores, although I don't think it's more than 500 people or so. What kind of website cannot handle 500 people logging into it? It's a but puzzling. 
  • The FCICE goes to great lengths to make the process transparent, and they issue a detailed examinee handbook (see picture), which is quite helpful. However, some parts of the process are entirely opaque. For instance, candidates have no idea who the graders are. The exam is graded based on scoring units, which seems quite fair. On the other hand, when you get the result letter (online), there's a little disclaimer saying that the "test is not meant to be a diagnostic tool." What is it, then? In addition, examinees do not get a breakdown of their scores by sections (the exam has several different components), making it impossible to identify one's area of weakness. I find this truly incomprehensible -- if each individual section was scored, why wouldn't the committee tell the candidate those individual scores so they can improve on their weakest area? 
  • Many friends and colleagues have asked me if I plan on taking the exam again in 2015 (that's a long time away), and I've considered it. However, since I don't really know where things went wrong for me, it's a challenge to change my study plan. While I will certainly admit that I could have studied much more than I did, I took several courses, including one at the venerable Monterey Institute of International Studies and a useful online class at the Southern California School of Interpretation. I passed four mock exams, and never scored below 90 on the mocks that gave me an actual numerical score (I was honestly surprised by the high scores). 
  • I really don't want to join the legion of exam takers who have long alleged that the exam is ________ (fill in the blank: unbiased, unfair, etc.), but the experience does give me some food for thought indeed. I have no way of knowing where I did poorly, and clearly, my strong performance in mock exams was no indicator of future performance. So were the mock exams at MIIS and SCSI completely off? Or did I just have a bad day at the actual exam? I didn't really think that I had a bad day. Quite the contrary: I felt well prepared, calm, collected, and ready to take the exam, so I did. And I failed it. It's humbling indeed.
  • For better or for worse, state-certified court interpreters (I am certified in both California and in Nevada, at the master level in the latter) don't really need the federal certification to interpret in federal court, which also seems a bit off. Why go to all this exam trouble if the federal courts are full of state-certified interpreters? Of course this means that I might very well have the chance to interpret in federal court as well with my current certifications, but I'd still like to have USCCI (United States Certified Court Interpreter) after my name. 
  • Of all the people I know, which includes my MIIS colleagues, friends from Google Groups, and my study group in Vegas, I only know of three people who passed the exam. I am very, very happy for them, and the pass rate for the exam is indeed is very low (as far as we know). No data about pass rates is ever released, so I truly have no idea how many people have taken the exam and how many passed it.
In summary: I thoroughly enjoyed the study process, the challenge, and meeting many fantastic new colleagues and friends along the way. It's a pity that I didn't pass, but I bet I will try again. However, I have heard from several very talented colleagues that their scores actually do down rather than up after multiple attempts, which doesn't quite make sense. I am humbled by my result, and somewhat motivated to try again - although I am not sure how to change my study plan, but I will figure it out.

How did you do on the exam, dear colleagues? Are you willing to share your score and your experiences? I decided long ago to make this process very public 

The Translation Tribe

We've both been on the road quite a bit lately -- actually, we have been traveling to workshops and conferences in Europe together, which has been truly fantastic. During our workshops (we do some jointly, and many individually) we like to emphasize how important it is to have great working relationships with your colleagues. These professionals are your friends, your support team, your cheerleading team (if you need them), your linguistic consulting group (think listservs and industry boards), problem-solvers and very oftentimes your friends. Colleagues and friends help you out when you get sick and cannot complete a translation, serve as contractors if you need them, refer work to you, recommend you, help you, etc. We have always invested time into building our relationships with fantastic friends and colleagues around the world, and for the first time during a workshop in London, Judy came up with a catchy term: the translation tribe.
Part of the translation tribe at the Proz conference in Recife, Brazil.
Unfortunately, many times we see some unnecessary fighting and needless disagreements between members of our tribe, be it in person or online. It's certainly true that it's impossible to get along well with everyone, and that there will always be people with whom you cannot agree, and it's fine to disagree. However, rather than weakening each other's position, we think it's crucial to strengthen and build each other up by the power of this international translation tribe. 

So let's make a commitment to each other and to ourselves to treat our translation tribe with all the respect, professionalism and yes, love, it deserves -- even when we disagree. We are not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that our industry doesn't get along, but we have noticed occasional negative interactions and tones, especially in the online space. However, we think it's important for all of us to have a positive, welcoming place (well, a virtual place) to go to with problems, challenges, and concerns: we should be able to turn to our translation tribe for help and support. 

We think about this quite frequently: that we would never have made it thus far in our careers without the love and support of mentors, more experienced translators, associations, volunteers, and endless hours of advice and support from our friends. We are extraordinarily grateful to be part of this great translation tribe, which is composed of thousands of individuals. Let's all take a moment and thank each other at some point for how far we've come as an industry. We still have a long way to go, but there's no doubt that we are stronger together. No translator is an island, and you truly cannot do it alone. And you don't have to: you've got your translation tribe!

What about you, dear readers? Do you feel like you are part of the translation tribe?

Free E-Book: The Translator Diaries

We are delighted to announce that our colleague Lloyd Bingham, a senior in-house translator in the UK, has put together a nifty free e-book that's just recently become available. It's a collection of great insight for beginning translators, gathered from many fantastic contributors, and we really like the format. It's divided into easy-to-read chunks, it's quite informative, and the lay-out is visually appealing.

The short chapters are also quite clever, as they focus on ever-important topics such as finding clients, determining your specialization, whether you should get a master's degree in translation, etc. It's refreshing to read short, to-the-point quotes from both industry leaders and younger translators: a great resource indeed. Well done, Lloyd!

The e-book is free and you can either read it online or download it to your computer from here: http://www.lloydbingham.co.uk/p/e-book.html


Business Lunches: Etiquette Question

It's a lovely place indeed.
Taking our clients -- and potential clients -- to lunch is one of our favorite business activities. Who doesn't like a nice meal with lovely people? It's also a good way to get to know your clients, and clients don't have to invest too much of their time: just an hour or two. We've previously written about the art of the business lunch, and now it turns out that we have an etiquette question that we have yet to resolve. 

Ready to eat!
We just returned from a fantastic business trip to London, and we took one of our favorite clients to lunch at the venerable The Wolseley on Picadilly. It's a fancy and distinguished place, and as usual, we were a  bit early. Our client had been kind enough to make the reservation in her name. The restaurant was happy to seat us, because it was clear that we knew about the specific reservation and had the client's last name, but the question is: Should one get the table before the other person arrives? Or wait at the bar? Or wait in the waiting area? As the restaurant and bar area were quite crowded, we decided to go ahead and get the table. Also, we had not yet met our client in person, and we figured if we sat at the table it would be easy for our client to find us and recognize us (there weren't many identical twins there, but still -- it's a big place). On the other hand, the potential downside to waiting at the table is that it might make the client feel like she's late, even when she's not, and sometimes it's hard to stand up and say hello properly , especially if seated in a booth (makes for an awkward handshake/hug).

We are still not quite sure how to really solve this, and much depends on the situation, available space at the restaurant and a few other factors, but think we came up with a good option last week. As with so many things in business, the answer probably is: it depends. However, if there's some straightforward etiquette rule on this that we are unaware of, we'd love to hear it. That's why are posting this here. What do you think, dear colleagues? How would you handle this situation? Does it depend on whether you've met the client previously?


Humor: Seductive Tasty Pleasure in Santorini

Not great.
Today's post is just for fun, because life is short and it's good to laugh, even if the translations/slogans are scary. The picture on the left is a photo of a flyer that we received from a restaurant in Santorini, Greece. In spite of the fact that this restaurant is abusing the English language a bit, we ate there anyway, and we are happy to report that there's nothing fishy about this restaurant.
But the place is great indeed.

By reading the ad, one might think this place is adults-only, but no: it's a lovely , family-friendly place by the beach. We spent a fantastic afternoon there and had some tasty fish, appetizers, gyros, light white wine, and went swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean. Our day in Santorini was one of the many highlights of our recent Greek vacation, for which we are incredibly grateful. And we also collected lots of fun examples of Greeklish! OK, we just made that up. It is hard to tell if these masterpieces are translations from Greek or German or just simply poor writing by folks who probably shouldn't be doing any writing in English (especially not if 'it's printed by the thousands). We bet it's the latter, but we will never know. 

Sometimes you just have to take it all with a grain of salt, forget about language, and focus on enjoying an epic meal. And we are here to tell you that the talented folks at Atmosphere do know how to cook!

Happy Wednesday!

Asking Questions: A Client's Perspective

Last year, we wrote a blog post about the sometimes challenging issue of knowing when it is appropriate to ask the client for clarification regarding any issue that arises during a translation project. Many new translators are quite afraid of asking the client, and prefer to ask questions on industry forums and listservs, which can be helpful. 

Ask and you might get the answer.
However, many times, the client might very well be the only one who has insight into something like, for instance, a company-internal acronym that no colleague in the world could possibly know. We think it's important to go straight to the source (read: client) in order to make the translation process efficient, but can certainly understand that translators -- both newcomers and experienced -- don't want to bug their clients too much. However, we do think that one fear is unfounded: that the client might think you don't know what you are doing if you ask a question. Quite the contrary. Asking questions (relevant ones, that is) can show the client that you really care about this project and that you are putting great thought and care into the translation. Here's what a dear client of ours told us a few days ago about this very issue. This client also happens to be a friend, and she mentioned what she likes about working with us, which made us very happy. Here's summary of what she said. We think it's quite important to hear the client perspective, so we are sharing it here: 


  • I like the fact that you sent me a few questions grouped in one e-mail that I could answer on my smartphone. I knew the answers right away and didn't have to do any research.
  • I was pleased that you identified some areas that were company-internal, and that you reached out to me for clarification. There was no way you could have known these terms, as we created them, and it showed me that you cared.
  • In terms of level of communication, I was happy because you didn't bombard me with e-mails but you didn't go completely silent either. I heard from you during the translation process and was able to keep my boss updated.
  • You made me look good, as the translation was spot-on and I felt involved in the process. After all, I am the one who convinced my boss to have this text translated.
Of course, for every great experience like the one we have described above, there might be others where you ask questions and the client simply doesn't answer, doesn't have the answer, or says she will research it, but you never hear back. 

What about you, dear friends and colleagues? Have you had good/bad experiences when reaching out to the client with any questions you had? We've love to hear your thoughts on this topic. 

Friday Challenge: Advertising Translations

As seen at the Athens airport.
This past week, we spent a glorious week in Greece with Judy's hubby and our dear translator friends Catherine Christaki and Christos Floros (more on that fantastic vacation in a future post) and we saw a lot of clumsy attempts at English -- think menus, flyers, ads, etc. 

We oftentimes ask Keith, our resident native English speaker (and a funny, sarcastic attorney with a very dry sense of humor) what he thinks about the ads that have been translated, mostly very poorly. It's interesting to hear his perspective. As a non-translator, he isn't immediately put off by bad language. Rather, he either just doesn't get the ad, ignores it, moves on, or decides he doesn't want the product (this recently happened with an Austrian Airlines ad, which had Keith shaking his head in disbelief). He doesn't speak another language, so he can't really deduce the message's meaning based on the source text. It's fascinating to pick his brain about language and its impact. In general, he thinks about language significantly less than we do, which isn't surprising.

When we showed him the ad that we've included above, he said he certainly understood what was being said, but that he also thought it was funny because it's missing a noun. Translating any sort of advertising is a very challenging undertaking, and we have many fantastic colleagues who tackle who are really good at it. We don't know if this is a translation or a clever (or not clever?) language experiment, but German company Jacobs is using the slogan "Experience the perfect." It's not terrible (and it's certainly different and attention-catching, which is the point of advertising) and one could  construe it as a clever attempt at molding and shaping the language into something new (after all, language changes and evolves). And of course, advertising language has been pushing the envelope for decades. Alternatively, it may just be a bad translation. Your opinion might depend on your perspective and perhaps on the languages you speak and your tolerance for new advertising speak. Another question is this: is the world ready for the nounification of adjectives? Perhaps? Are we ready for "the perfect"?

What about you, dear colleagues? What do you think? Would you have come up with something entirely different or stuck with the straight-up translation? We could not verify this on the Jacbos website, but perhaps the original German was "Erleben Sie Perfektion."Do you think the existing translation (assuming that it is) is mortifying or is it good enough? Does it communicate the message, which is the point of translation? Or do you think this was created from scratch in English and is meant to push the language envelope? OK, those are too many questions for a Friday afternoon (in Europe), but it's food for thought. We'd love to hear your opinions on this.  We find this topic very interesting, and we hope you do, too.

Video of the Week: Are Translators a Waste of Space?

Many thanks to the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators for creating this gem. It's only a few minutes long, and it's not what you think it is. Watch one of the most clever videos we have seen all year! In case you want to share it, here's the direct link to the YouTube video.

Business Cards: The Next Level

Very clever format.
During the fantastic V Conferência Brasileira de Tradutores do ProZ in Recife, Brazil, last month, Judy had the opportunity to spend some time and share some drinks with Portuguese translator Elenice Barbosa de Araujo. We'd both had the chance to meet her back in 2010 at the ATA Conference in Denver, Colorado, and we remember being very impressed by her creative business cards, which were actually a bookmark (brilliant, since she translates a lot of books). When Elenice saw Judy again in Recife, she gave her the new version of her business cards -- a very slender, slick, work of art that's in a much different format than we've ever seen before. Judy's quite standard cards pale in comparison. We have included two pictures of Elenice's card next to Judy's so you can see the difference in size -- and you can also see how much cooler they are.
The front of Elenice's card.


Elenice told us she ordered these cards from Moo.com, and we've seen their work before and find it quite fabulous. She even has a cute card holder that's just the size of her business cards! I think it might be time for us to switch from good old Vistaprint to very cool Moo. 



What about you, dear colleagues? Who designs and prints your business cards? Is it time to up the ante? Dagy already has, and hired a designer to come up with her new business cards. We will blog about them soon!

How Not to Treat Your Customers

We really enjoy learning from other businesses -- or learning what not to do . We think it's important to occasionally look outside our own profession for customer service inspiration or marketing ideas, and once in a while, we get treated the way we wouldn't want to get treated, and we make a mental note. Here's a recent conversation (slightly changed to protect the innocent) that Judy had with a pest control company. It reminded us how important it is to explain one's product or service to the potential customer without sounding condescending.

Pest control place: (mumbling) Pest control.

Judy: Um, hello, is this XYZ pest control on Bugkiller Avenue?

Pest control place: Yes.

Judy (thinking: "I don't feel very welcome here"): Well, um, I have ants everywhere, can you come out and give me an estimate? How much would it cost to get rid of them? I feel bad for killing them, but I don't want them in my cereal....

Pest control place (cutting Judy off): We don't need to come out to give you an estimate. We can just tell you over the phone.

Judy (annoyed): Well, OK, do tell me, then.

Pest control place: I need more information.

Judy (annoyed): OK, what do you need to know?

Pest control place (annoyed): Well, you know, the basics.

Judy (annoyed): Basics? I don't know anything about your business, so I don't know what the basics are. You haven't told me how you charge, so I don't know which information you need from me. Just ask and I will tell you.

Pest control place (annoyed): Well, my dear, it's by square footage, so I need the square footage of your house.

Judy: OK, why didn't you tell me that sooner? It's 1,800 square foot with a big yard. I also have a 100-pound Labranard, her name is Luna, and she doesn't like the ants, either, but I am not sure that matters.

Pest control place: That would be $150.

Judy: $150 for what?

Pest control place: To spray for ants. Or did you say you had cockroaches?

Judy: I get that, but how many times? How long will it take? What kind of products do you use? Is it safe for my dog? Do I have to leave the house? You seem very reluctant to give me information here, and I don't understand that. I am trying to give you business here. Where do you spray the chemicals? On the wall?

Pest control place: Why would we spray the chemical on the wall?

Judy (exasperated): I have no idea where you spray it -- I am not in the pest control business. I am merely asking questions, but you are not answering them.

Pest control place: I am sorry, I am just not feeling very good today. I apologize if I've been grouchy.

Judy: I hope you feel better, but I really don't think this is going to work out. I feel like I've inconvenienced you terribly with this phone call, so I don't want to inconvenience you any further by giving you my business.

Pest control place: I am so sorry! Look, we use an all-natural spray that's safe for pets and children. You don't have to leave the house at all. It will take about 20 minutes and we spray the baseboards in the house and also in the backyard.

Judy: I appreciate that, but I don't think your company is a good fit for me.

Pest control place: Please give us another chance!

Judy: I will think about it. Have a lovely day!

We think it's a powerful lesson to remind ourselves that our customers -- the direct clients purchasing translation and interpreting services -- most likely don't know anything about translation and interpretation. That's where we come in. It's our job to explain to them what a source word is, why we bill by the word, etc. It doesn't make them uneducated not to know these details; rather, it's simply not their area of expertise, and as providers, we need to clearly explain the process to them. This is something linguists oftentimes forget, but instead of complaining about clients who are unfamiliar with our processes, we should see the situation as an opportunity for client education. 

We would love to hear your thoughts on this!
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become 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 is 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.

Translation Times