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!
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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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