Open Thread: Mistakes Were Made

Once in a while, it's entertaining to think back on our mistakes and figure out what we learned from them (we usually learn a thing or two). We'd also love to hear your most embarrassing or simply favorite mistake in the translation or interpreting world. We are more thinking about business mistakes rather than linguistic mistakes, but all are welcome. Here is ours.

Almost ten years ago, we sent an invoice to a fantastic client (still a client, actually). It was for a small project and we sent the invoice via e-mail. A day or so later, the client got back to us and very sweetly pointed out that:

  1. The invoice contained another company's contact information
  2. The invoice referenced the wrong project
  3. The invoice thus had the incorrect amount due on it
Ouch. As you might imagine, we were working, in the early days, without an accounting invoicing system and had used a previous invoice (we had simply Word templates back in) and had thought we had substituted the information. Obviously, we had not done so correctly. That was the last time we issued an invoice without a database that keeps track of quotes, invoices and project information. We thoroughly researched many options and ended up purchasing TranslationOffice 3000, which we love (a review will be forthcoming). Our client was not mad at all, but we were beyond mortified. We apologized quickly and sent the correct invoice. We never did make the same mistake again.

Would you be willing to share your favorite mistake with us and our readers? 

Dictionaries: Found

Book signing at the InTrans booth in Denver, 2010.
Every outstanding translator and interpreter we know is quite proud of his or her dictionary collection. We've never really met a serious linguist who is not passionate about acquiring as many top-notch resources as possible, but unfortunately, in the US, it is sometimes quite challenging to find a place to purchase dictionaries that are not widely available. Enter our friend Freek Lankhof from InTrans Book Service. While Freek is a fantastic friend of ours and also sells our book, we've been filling our bookshelves with books bought on his website and at the many conferences he atttends before he even knew that there are two of us.

Judy and Freek after the AAIT in suburban Atlanta, 2011.
In Europe, Dagy is in the enviable position of having several good bookstores at which to buy materials, but in the US, we only purchase from Freek. Imagine this: without InTrans, you might be hunting for that difficult-to-find book on random websites that might or might not ship it to you within a reasonable amount of time, and most dictionaries you won't find at all. Luckily for us, Freek has excellent relationships with publishers around the globe, and he's sure to have the most recent book or dictionary that you just need as reference material. Unfortunately, the book selling business is a low-margin business, and while Freek is very passionate about sharing his books with linguists (mainly for Spanish and German), it's also a tough job: imagine traveling 3,000 miles with hundreds of books to display them at a conference. However, for more than 25 years, he's done precisely that, and he hasn't missed an ATA conference or the 10 or so other, smaller conferences he attends, in years. He's a staple at the conferences, and we'd say, a staple of our profession. We are truly lucky to have him, but if you decide to purchase a relatively-easy-to-find book on Amazon for $3 less than what it would cost on InTrans, you know what might happen. Let's support small businesses, particularly those that sell us somethign we really, really need.

InTrans and Freek Lankhof will once again be an exhibitor at the ATA conference in San Diego, CA, this coming October. We will both attend the conference, and as always, our first stop in the exhibit hall will be Freek's booth, where we get our hands on new dictionaries (we can never have too many). If you are looking for us, try the InTrans booth first, where you will be most likely to find us. Then try the NITA table and the hotel bar, where we might be enjoying a fruity cocktail with friends and colleagues, dictionaries in tow. 

Supreme Court Ruling on T&I

It's been an exciting week for language news: the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that, essentially, translators write and interpreters speak. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that, and to read up on the details, we'd like to point you to analysis by professor Barry Olsen of the Monterey Institute and co-president of InterpretAmerica, who contributed to the amicus brief that was submitted to the Supreme Court a few months ago. You can read his excellent analysis here.

So now, when you get ready to explain the difference between interpreting and translation to someone, and they question your explanation, you can confidently say that the Supreme Court said so.

Another Giveaway: $100 in Google AdWords

Google keeps on sending us so many free certificates for $100 in Google AdWords for new users, and we are happy to raffle them off. As usual, we will raffle off the certificate to a colleague (freelancers only, please) who answers one question correctly. We will e-mail the access code to the winning person so he or she can get started with Google AdWords. The certificate expires July 31, 2012.

A caveat: you have to be a NEW user of Google AdWords, as this certificate is not valid for existing users (in that case, we'd probably use it ourselves).

Here's the question: where were these pictures taken? Hint: it was not in the U.S. Give us the state/city/area (not just the country; that's too easy!), and you will win the prize. We've made it easy for you by including several clues in the pictures, and both pictures were taken in the same place.

Google+ Hangout: Court Interpreting

Endless Possibilities is a an informal online "hang-out" organized by dedicated industry professionals Esther Navarro-Hall, Gerda Prato-Espejo and Al Navas. You don't have to have a Google Plus account to join the conversation (as of a few days ago, Judy did not, either). The channel is public, so anyone can join! A recording will also be available on YouTube. For this upcoming Sunday, Endless Possibilities has invited Judy to talk about court interpreting and the pay cuts that have been in the news recently -- both in the UK and in Nevada.

The event will take place at 12 noon on Sunday, May 13, 2012 -- Pacific Time. For full details and for information on your time zone, please visit the Endless Possibilities blog.

We are looking forward to this informal virtual chat. Will you join us?

You Must Read This: How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator

When we started our business many moons ago, relatively little information on how to run a translation business was available. We only wish that Corinne McKay’s classic “How to succeed as a freelance translator” was available back then, but it came out in 2006, after we’d already made many beginners’ mistakes. The new generation of translators and interpreters are in the lucky position of having many books at their disposal, and there’s no doubt that Corinne’s book, now in its second edition, is the best book on the market. 

Full disclosure: we are very good friends with Corinne, especially Judy, but we were fans and attended her seminars long before Judy had the pleasure of meeting Corinne at the ATA conference in Seattle in 2005. However, if the book weren’t any good, we would certainly tell you. As you might have guessed, it’s a fantastic book. The first edition sold more than 4,500 copies around the world, and we have no doubt that the second edition will outsell the first.

We reviewed the first edition a few years ago. The title of that blog post was “The bible for freelance translators” and that continues to hold true. The long-awaited second edition, which many, including us, pestered Corinne about writing for quite a while, was released to rave reviews last August. You may ask yourselves why it took us so long to review a book that we are clearly very fond of. The answer is that Judy had committed to doing an original, not-before-published review of the book for Translation Ireland, and we had to come up with two different reviews. Here it is.

This book should be required reading at every university or college that teaches any class related to translation. At the very least, it should be essential reading for every aspiring and established linguist. We always continue learning from others, and to say we’ve learned a few things from Corinne’s book is an understatement – there’s a wealth of information from which linguists at all levels can benefit. Corinne's writing, known to many through her outstanding blog, Thoughts on Translation, is clear and precise. She’s perhaps one of the most gifted writers in the industry, and her ability to communicate oftentimes complex material in an easy-to-understand manner is unsurpassed. There’s no pretense or purposefully difficult writing here – you are very much reading a book by the approachable, highly successful and laid-back Coloradan translator next door. After reading the book, you might be tempted to knock on Corinne’s door to grab some coffee to continue the conversation.

It might be a sign of the times that the amount of e-mails about how to get started in the industry we receive have increased exponentially. We aren’t able to give individual advice to everyone who asks – we’d spend all day answering e-mail – but we always recommend Corinne’s book. Her smart, 200-page book will tell you everything you need to know about the industry. It will tell you how rewarding of a profession this is, but readers will also learn about the challenges of building a business and that there’s no magic button to press (or wand to wave) that will make you a successful translator. It’s all hard work, but Corinne has made it easier for you by compiling all the information that would take you months to compile elsewhere. If there were any true secrets to being successful in our business, Corinne would surely detail them in her book. In the absence of real secrets, she’s written a book that tells you everything you need to know to get set up for success. The book assumes that you have the language skills necessary to become a translator.  

The fully updated second version of the book might be even better than the first edition. It’s a bit longer with an additional chapter, has a  redesigned cover and it’s beautifully laid-out. Our well-thumbed first edition has been sitting on our bookshelves for years, and now we had to put a “display only” sticker on the new edition. We take the book to industry events from our local translator and interpreter associations, but we want to make sure the copies don’t walk off – after all, they are our prized autographed copies.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the book’s highlights:

  • Table of contents and index. They make it easy to find what’s in every chapter, and they make this book a fantastic reference source. Say you are looking for “rush charge” because a customer just asked you, on a Friday, to translate a document that’s due Monday morning. You go to the index and quickly find out that information on that topic can be found on both pages 30 and 150. It’s the print equivalent of ctrl + F, with the difference that you are holding a gorgeously bound book in your hand.
  •  The 10 chapters start off with a great overview of the translation business. Section 1.5, which gives you brief description of the kinds of work that’s available for linguists, is a fantastic tool to help you decide what kind of work is right for you. Chapter 2 (Launching your freelance translation business) contains everything you need to know about getting started. From advice on how to set up your home computer to how to polish your résumé for translation agencies, this chapter will make your early business decisions infinitely easier. Our favorite section here is the handy start-up checklist.
  •   Chapter 3 (Your first year as a freelance translator) will give you a reality check about what to expect in your first year. This chapter contains a plan in four stages, including what every new freelancer should do in their first year.
  • Chapter 8 (Translation and technology) is a brand-new chapter, and it provides solid guidance for linguists who are not sure what to make of translation environment tools, also known as computer-assisted translation software and translation memory software. The chapter starts out with a good overview of the role of technology in our industry in the 21st century. The bottom line is that it’s here to stay and that you should embrace it. This chapter will teach you how not to be afraid of technology and will give you a much-needed introduction into all the available tools. Do you need speech recognition software? How much does Trados cost? Are free tools available? Should I invest in one of the proprietary tools?   
  • Chapter 9 (Rates, contracts and terms of service) answers many of the questions that beginning translators have, such as setting your translation rates (no specific rate recommendations are made, as the author respects the ruling antitrust legislation on the topic), how to research your customers, how to deal with international payments, questions you should ask before accepting a project,  how to word your terms of service, etc. It’s a goldmine of information, and we have quoted from this chapter more than any other chapter. This chapter also includes valuable information on how to deal with adversity. We particularly like the section on non-payment, which all of us will have to face at some point. The book includes dunning letters that you can use to remind your clients that you are expecting payment. The author even includes a sample invoice on page 164 – she really does make it easy for her readers.

A few months ago, Corinne invested the time and energy necessary to make this book available on the Kindle, which is a fantastic addition. Her book was originally published by, and while it’s also available on Amazon and a number of other outlets, please consider supporting Lulu by purchasing the book on their site. This smart book will make a great gift for any translator – beginning or not. It will give you all the advice you need to get started in the industry or to have a more structured approach in your business. If this book is not the bible for freelance translators, we don’t know what is.

We are sometimes surprised how little newcomers are willing to invest when starting in the business. We usually recommend five or six books, and many times, we are asked to narrow it down to one. If you only have $19.95 to spare to start or re-start your translation career, then we suggest you spend it on purchasing "How to succeed as a freelance translator". Next time you see Corinne at a conference, bring your copy and have her sign it. It might have collector’s value at some point – we are betting on that and keeping our copies safe and pristine. Happy reading!

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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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