Recommended Reading: 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know

We recently received our review copy of "101 Things a Translator Needs to Know," and evey though our reading lists are quite long, we had to read this one first (we devoured it in one sitting). Thanks to one of the authors, Chris Durban, for sending the copy. The short review is: we like it. A lot. Go read it.

It's on the bookshelf! Picture by Judy.
This nifty little book (it has no page numbers, but it appears to be roughly 200 pages) is published by the WLF Think Tank, which is an ad hoc group of highly experienced translators (who have more than 500 years' experience between them). Many great working professionals contributed to this book, and they include our colleagues Nick Rosenthal, Janet Fraser, Ros Schwartz, Terry Oliver, Steve Dyson, and many others. The book is lovingly illustrated by talented illustrator Catherine Anne Hiley, and we are very fond of her work, with the exception of some drawings that just don't work well in black and white (including the drawing of a prism). Her work is clever and engaging, and every single one of the 101 things (or tips) comes with its own little drawing. It's a great idea that really draws the reader in.

The 101 things every translator needs to know consist of very short and concise bits of information -- consider it the Cliff Notes of our industry. We've long emphasized the importance of being brief and concise for maximum effect on readers, and this book truly pulls that off. The advice is short (roughly half a page each), spot-on, gives you plenty of food for thought, and is quite wise. Even the titles are very witty and engaging.

Here are some of our favorites (yes, it's hard to choose just a few):

#17: Hallmarks of a good translation
#23: Beware of sharks 
#34: When to say no
#49: Professionals v amateurs
#50: Don't bury your head in the sand. 
#88: The customer is always right. Or is she? Note: We love the consistent use of the female pronoun.
#96: Be transparent.
#101: Rules are made to be broken

This is most certainly a book that belongs on every translator's shelf. You can buy yours here. It is worth every penny of the $20.56 cover price.


Steve Dyson on May 14, 2014 at 12:21 AM said...

Judy & Dagmar,
Many thanks for the review and the constructive feedback.
Steve Dyson
(Translating technical journalism at

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 14, 2014 at 8:30 AM said...

@Steve: You are very welcome! It's a fantastic book, and it should be on every translator's bookshelf for sure. :)

Chris Durban on May 14, 2014 at 9:01 AM said...

Many thanks for the write-up -- which, in passing, confirms one of the "things" in the book. To wit: revision is incredibly important.
As you point out, 101 is a collective project in which brainstorming, cross-revision, input on phrasing, titles, ideas for illustrations, etc. all featured prominently and made for a incredibly stimulating work environment. :-)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 14, 2014 at 9:23 AM said...

@Chris: You are very welcome -- and the praise is well-deserved. We can already picture the awesome conversations you had about picking great titles and images for each item. Would have been fun to be a fly on the wall! You chose everything very well. Happy to spread the word!

medical translator on May 26, 2014 at 12:41 AM said...

This is a great list with wonderful advices. Still, I have a very big problem I don't know exactly how to deal with.

I speak about 4 languages but at some point, when let’s say I try to talk Spanish and translate words in my head, they come in versions of other languages I know. This is frustrating. Do you have any advice for this?

Ana Miller

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 26, 2014 at 9:04 AM said...

@Ana: Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, this is outside our area of expertise, but usually, if people are truly fluent in their languages, they don't confuse them, either in their head or while speaking. :)In our case (four for Dagy, three for Judy), our languages exist in separate spheres, really, and we don't confuse them. Now, we will see how that continues after Dagy adds Greek to her working languages (she's got a long way to go...) :)

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