We'd Like to Pay More, Please

It's all about the money. Or is it?
A few weeks ago, we received a pair of quite puzzling phone calls from two of our favorite clients. We've tried to transcribe the gist of both conversations here. We've added some lines for comedic effect, but the point of the conversations has been left intact. We are on very friendly terms with both clients and our conversations are usually quite casual.

Client: Hi Judy, thanks for the holiday chocolates.  I am eating them right now. No calories, right? Just like you said on the card?

Judy: You got it! No calories. Happy holidays. What can I do for you?

Client (making munching sounds): Oh, you know, we are a pretty big client of yours.

Judy (stomach dropping, quick to answer): Of course you are! We are so grateful for your business. That's why you get chocolates.

Client: Glad to hear. We think you are awesome, too, but we really have to talk about what we are spending with Twin Translations.

Judy (fearing the worst): Sure. Looks like you are working on your 2013 budget. Is it tight?

Client: Yes, I am working on the budget. It's taking forever. What do you mean by tight?

Judy (telling herself to grab the bull by the horns): Well, I mentioned the tight budget because you are calling a vendor to get a lower rate.

Client (laughing): Oh, I am sorry. You misunderstood! I was just reviewing the rates of what we pay for services that I think are essential to our business, and I don't think you make enough. We would like to pay you some more. So have a look at our current contract and change the number on the per-word rate.

Judy (cannot believe her good luck): Oh wow, yes, of course. I am sorry, I almost fell out of my chair. I thought you would be asking me to lower our rates. And yes, certainly, I will adjust the rate and send the contract back to you.

Client: Great. Just come up with a new number that you feel comfortable with and send it my way. Happy holidays!

Judy: Thank you so much, will do. Happy holidays to you as well. It's a pleasure to do business with you.

Client: By the way -- I just recommended you to a friend. I told her you guys were great, professional and very affordable!

Judy (baffled): Thanks so much for the referral. We really appreciate it. Have a great day!

Client: Talk to you soon.

Our thoughts:
1) Christmas miracles do happen.
2) Things aren't always what they seem.
3) It's important to hear people out.
4) We've been called a lot of things, but never affordable.
5) Looks like we've done a good job at convincing our client of our value.
6) We should raise our prices across the board.
7) We have the world's best clients.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, dear readers!

Book of the Month: The 5-Minute Linguist

A few months ago, a wonderful little book found its way to our mailbox. Now, we receive many books from authors who request reviews of their work for this blog as well as our German-language book review blog, but this particular package contained no note. We called the usual suspects. They are friends and family who have the fantastic habit of buying books for us when they find something they think we would like. But no, it was not them. Intrigued, we started reading The 5-Minute Linguist: Bite-sized Essays on Language and Languages, edited by E.M. Rickerson and Barry Hilton (second edition). After the first essay, we were hooked.

A few weeks later, the mystery was solved with Kevin Hendzel, a well-known veteran of the translation industry and the author of one of the essays, revealed that he was the mysterious sender. Kevin has held a number of high-profile positions in our industry, including the one of spokesperson for the American Translators Association and chief Russian translator for the White House (US-Russia Presidential Hotline). Impressive credentials indeed. By the way: have a look at his interesting blog.

Originally conceived as a series of five-minute segments on language and everything related to language on venerable NPR (National Public Radio), this book gives you bite-sized and easy-to-read information on a variety of topics that would take you hours to look up elsewhere. Most essays are no longer than three pages, and each is written by an undisputed expert in the field. It is quite a feat that this book manages to unite the world's foremost experts on so many relatively narrow topics, and what they all share is the (quite rare) ability to clearly explain complex subject in a way that non-linguistics doctoral students can understand and remember. While we are voracious readers of fiction in our four languages, we read significantly less non-fiction, because much of it can be a drag, even though there are, of course, some gems. Many writers on language do come across as terribly pedantic bores who constantly try to outsmart and impress the reader with their knowledge and expertise, which are not attractive traits. Rest assured that this book is the opposite. While it's clear that the 5-Minute Linguist is written by high-level experts, it's accessible,  fun to read, and more then anything: it's addictive. The book's own description is quite accurate:  it's more fireside chats than college textbook.

We both read the book within a matter of days, and we'd initially started marking our favorite essays my drawing  a star next to the name of the essay in the table of contents. We soon stopped this practice, as essentially every essay has a star next to it. However, here is a brief overview of some of our favorites:

  • How many languages are there in the world? This is a good question that, for some reason, comes up quite frequently in conversation when we get asked what we do for a living. Now we have a truly intelligent (and short!) answer.
  • What are lingua francas?
  • How many kinds of writing systems are there?
  • What causes foreign accents?
  • Did German almost become the language of the United States?
  • What happens if you are raised without language?
  • Where did English come from?
  • Is Latin really dead?
  • What's Gullah?
  • Whatever happened to Esperanto?
  • Do you have to be a masochist to study Chinese? Short answer for native speakers of English: yes.
  • Can you make a living loving languages? This is should be required reading at translation programs.
  • Why do we need translators if we have dictionaries? Written by Kevin Hendzel, this insightful essay might be our favorite. Try to memorize it and recite it the next time you get this question at a cocktail party. 
This book might make for good reading material for Judy's Intro to Translation class at UC-San Diego, and there's no doubt that the 5-Minute Linguist makes for a great gift for friends, family, clients and colleagues. We had originally planned on keeping the book next to our desks and thought about reading one essay a week or so, but we devoured the entire book in a few days, and almost fought about it (we only had one copy). This might very well be our second favorite book of the year about language (first place: Found in Translation), as it covers a wide variety of topics, is superbly written and highly insightful. We learned something on every page, and so will you. It was also great to see that we actually retained some of the new information we learned quite well. When asked about creoles and pidgins at a recent party, we think we gave a coherent answer. If this book is not yet on your Christmas list, it's time to add it now. Happy reading!

100 Days of Interpreting

Inspired by Dagy's performance at the accrediting test for freelance European Union interpreters, Judy decided to invest some time preparing for the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreters Certification Examination, which will be held in July (she passed the written portion this summer). Now, we are twins, but there's no doubt that Dagy is more disciplined when it comes to interpreting practice than Judy. Dagy practiced essentially every day for a year and a half, including at a rented apartment in Santiago, Chile, in the car on the way to California, on the plane from Argentina to Chile, by the pool in Vegas, in our Vienna office, late at night, in between appointments, early in the morning, at a coffee shop, and on a bus going cross-country in Chile (yes, people stared), on European trains, etc.

Her well-taken point is that you just need to practice every day, even if it's not convenient and you can't fit it into your day very well. Just do a few minutes and get into the habit of making it part of your day, just like going to the gym or brushing your teeth. Thus, Judy decided that she was going to follow suit and practice either simultaneous or consecutive interpreting, using a variety of materials and resources, for 100 days (7 days a week). She records all her work using the online tool Audacity and listens back to them immediately after recording them. 

Here's a brief report about the first 10 days:

Day 1: Sunday, December 2
Witness expert interviews, James Ray/Arizona sweat lodge trial plus Alex King murder interview/trial reports. All videos from YouTube. Total time: approx. 30 minutes. Self-assessment: much better than I thought.

Day 2: Monday, December 3
11 segments of Casey Anthony trial. Opening statements, prosecution. All videos from YouTube. Total time: approx. 1 hour. Self-assessment: very strong, but granted, the prosecutor speaks quite slowly.

Day 3: Tuesday, December 4
3-hour paid interpreting assignment: civil deposition (employment law). Self-assessment: I was in the zone today, even though the topic was tricky.

Day 4: Wednesday, December 5
Opening statements, Michael Jackson trial (Conrad Murray): Prosecution, 3 segments. All videos from YouTube. Total time: approx. 45 minutes. Self-assessment: there was more medical info that I was prepared for, so I did not get some of that right, but in general, I kept up and my voice did not sound hurried.

Day 5: Thursday, December 6
Sample recordings, Lecture 1, Southern California School of Interpreting, Preparation for the Oral Component of the Federal Exam PLUS Opening statements, Conrad Murray trial, prosecution, parts 5, 6 and 7 (YouTube). Total time: approx. 1 hour. Self-assessment: decent.
      Day 6: Friday, December 7
3.5-hour paid interpreting assignment, 2 depositions: car accident in California. In addition: one TED talk (traffic jams). Total time: 3 hours, 45 minutes. Self-assessment: pretty happy with my performance.
      Day 7: Saturday, December 8
    TED talks – arts festival. Total time: approx. 10 minutes. Self-assessment: poor performance.

8.   Day 8: Sunday, December 9
    You Tube – Mock Trial –Joon’s Opening Statement (Defense), YouTube. Very difficult to hear. Total time: approx. 7 minutes. Self-assessment: was difficult to hear; I did very poorly.

9  Day 9: Monday, December 10 
   Jeff Smith, business lessons from prison – TED talks.    Total time: 5 minutes. Self-assessment: average at best, but happy that I was able to interpret at all, as I am sick with a lymph node infection.

    Day 10: Tuesday, December 11
    TED talk (Love Letters to Strangers). Total time: 5 minutes. Self-assessment: I got lost, but I am still quite sick, so I am proud of myself for tackling this.

Stay tuned for the next 90 days! We'd love to hear from you, dear colleagues: how do you improve your skills and/or prepare for interpreting exams? 

Interpreting for Europe

While Dagy was getting her master’s degree in conference interpreting at the University of Vienna, the EU’s recruiting efforts for freelance interpreters kicked into full gear. A lot of freelancers will be retiring soon, which means that especially the German and the English booths desperately need new talent. That is why the EU started a serious campaign to get young conference interpreters to apply for what they call an inter-institutional accreditation test. We don't know how many people actually get invited to the test, but we do know that the application process is highly competitive. The EU reimburses candidates for their travel expenses (certain restrictions apply). The lucky 20% who pass this notoriously difficult test are then qualified to work as accredited conference interpreters (ACI in EU jargon) for the European institutions: Commission, Council, Court of Justice and Parliament. The EU advertising efforts struck a chord with Dagy. She applied right after she got her diploma and was invited to take the test shortly after that, which she passed. In this blog post, we will focus on some basic information and Dagy’s personal impressions of her freelance test and hints on how one might want to prepare for it. 

General info:

Please note that a master’s degree in conference in interpreting is required to apply (exceptions  may be made for languages of lesser diffusion, such as Slovak) or significant experience as a conference interpreter (we are talking 300+ full days of conference interpreting). The minimum number of languages for the German booth is your native language plus three (again, fewer languages may be acceptable for languages of lesser diffusion).

Here are Dagy’s impressions of the test, which took place in Brussels on November 16:
  • Contrary to popular belief, the jury DOES want you to pass. They need you and I could tell. They took really good care of us during the 6-hour process, which involved a lot of waiting (actual test time was about one hour).  More about the “Bogeymen myth”: http://theinterpreterdiaries.com/2012/10/31/bogeymen-in-brussels/
  • Long consecutive is six minutes, simultaneous is 10 (you can use your own headset). Note: on the consecutive, the entire segment is one segment that lasts 6 minutes, which means you will be listening for six minutes, taking notes, and then interpreting the whole thing, which is a huge challenge. Many American court interpreting exams also have six-minute consecutive portions, but during those, the individual segments are only 20-75 words long, so we wanted to clarify that this is not the case here. One of the speeches has EU-specific terminology, the others are fairly general.  The speed was not a problem. There were no crazy long sentences, no tricky idioms or jokes, no unfinished sentences, very few numbers. The structure of all speeches was logical and easy to follow.
  • The recently introduced new system provides that two people listen to their consecutive speeches (read by a real person, no recordings) together. Then, one of them leaves the room (taking her notes with her) while the other does the interpretation right away. For the second language, it’s the other way around. Obviously, none of the candidates gets to listen to the other’s performance.
  • You may ask a question right after the speaker finishes her or his speech in the language of the speaker. It might be wise to limit your question to essentials, such as a number you would like to double-check.
  • After a short deliberation at the end of the day, they jury will tell you if you have passed the examination  There is no official score nor a precise breakdown of your performance in terms of percentages or anything else. It's pass/fail, and yes, we agree that there is some room for improvement  on that front, as it does not seem very transparent and test-takers don't know what the metrics are. For instance, do you need an 80 to pass? Or a 95? We don't know, but we do know that you have to be excellent.
  • According to the new system, only two languages are tested (which you cannot choose yourself). After I passed Spanish and English into German, I will be tested for my third and last language, French, on December 19.
While the jury is friendly (but very down to business) and they certainly need you, they will not lower their quality standards. An excellent performance in consecutive interpretation is essential, including a logical structure, good delivery, eye contact with the jury and lots of self-confidence. And of course they expect excellent command of your native language, which might sound like a no-brainer, but often turns out to be a problem. In simultaneous, they expect top-notch technique, which includes not sticking too close to the source text. Which brings us to test preparations:
  • What you learn at the university is not enough. You need to practice on your own, preferable every day (I did for about a year and a half; no excuses). Record your interpretation and listen to it. Be self-critical. Candidates will get access to the EU’s excellent “multilingual speeches” database (also used by students enrolled in interpreting programs). The ones labeled as “test-type” are similar to what you will get at the test. After I exhausted that database, I started using www.ted.com and www.tedx.com. Most speeches are in English, but quite a few are available in other languages as well.
  • You need to have an excellent command of your native language. Read good newspapers and magazines on an everyday basis and don’t forget literature, both fiction and non-fiction.
  • You need to know what’s going on in the EU and in the countries where “your” languages are spoken. www.europa.eu offers a wealth of information, and I also recommend subscribing to the “Eurotopics” (www.eurotopics.net) service, which will give you a digest of EU-related newspaper articles once a day (available in German, English and French). If you work with French, you might find this behind-the-scenes blog interesting: http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/
  • Try to control your nerves (pop an herbal pill if you need to). The setting can be intimidating – after all, you will be taking your test either at the European Commission or the Parliament in an impressive room with quite a large jury. If you’re nervous, try not to show it. Try imagining the situation ahead of time and prepare for it mentally. And don’t forget that these tests cost a lot of time and money and that it’s a privilege to be there in the first place, even if you don’t pass on your first try. Not many do.
  • I believe that listening to international radio stations in all my languages (Radio France Internationale, BBC, NPR, Radio Exterior de España, etc.) really helped.
  • On the day of your exam, warm up first. I had two short speeches on my iPhone (don’t exhaust yourself) and did those before I headed to my test.
Good luck to anybody planning on taking the accreditation test soon! If you like a challenge, this is for you!
Don’t hesitate to post any questions you might have.

Free Online Dictation

Our web guru recently discovered this free online dictation software, which seems to work quite well. Warning: it's no Dragon Naturally Speaking, but it is free and seems to be a good option for short messages. Perhaps you want to try it for your annual Christmas letter? We do a tremendous amount of typing, and any sort of relief we can get is great, so we took Online Dictation for a spin.

Here's a brief overview of our very informal software testing:

  • There's no need to install any anything. Just click on the link and start speaking after you click on the microphone symbol.
  • It only works in Chrome, which happens to be our browser of choice, but we realize that this is quite limiting for folks who use other browsers.
  • We tested the system with several sentences. First, we tried: "The chicken laid an egg today" in honor of the very first egg that a friend's chicken produced today. The transcription was flawless. If anything had been incorrect, we could have clicked on the word in question to correct it. The system allows you to copy and paste the transcribed texts, and it looks like this: The chicken laid an egg today.
  • We then tried another sentence. Again, perfect. The system was batting 1000.  I really don't feel like going to the gym.
  • The third sentence was harder and was purposefully spoken in our best Austrian accent. Here, the system produced hilarious results. What we said: "I can't believe this dog is hungry again!" (referring to Luna, our always-hungry mutt), and the system came up with this, so clearly there's some room for improvement: Hey get a pizza target how to get.
  • The final test was a comment about today's work load: "The work is piling up on my desk." Again: perfect. The work is piling up on my desk.
  • Our humble opinion: this system works quite well as long as you speak in short sentences, enunciate well and don't try to mock your own accent, as we did in example #3. It's a great tool for short e-mails, tweets and perhaps even blog posts!

Again, here's the link to Online Dictation.

Holiday Gift Ideas

Ah, it's that time of the year, isn't it? We've already made several Santa-style delivery trips with gifts to friends, colleagues and clients, and we are just getting started. While we personally have everything we need and prefer to support worthy non-profits, here's a line-up of fantastic gift ideas for the friends, clients and colleagues on your list.

In recent months, after reading a very enlightening article in Mother Jones about the work conditions in warehouses that fulfill orders for online retailers, we've shifted our purchasing to smaller vendors and to physical stores (support your community!) as much as possible, but we realize that some purchase will just have to be made through big online retailers.

  • Books and dictionaries. This is, without a doubt, our favorite category. We bet you know many translators who really, really want a specific dictionary, and we recommend you purchase them on InTrans Books to help support the only independent bookseller in our industry. We have a serious book-buying habit, and InTrans is our favorite resource. Here are a few of our favorites: Found in Translation (we've been ordering this one by the dozen) and Mox Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation. We recently fell in love with the Five-Minute Linguist and also really loved Trip of the Tongue, which we got as a gift. For how-to books, there's no better book than How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay. We also love The Prosperous Translator.
  • Desk stuff. This washable keyboard from Logitech might be perfect for the messy translator in your life. This nifty clean desk set might also come in handy, and keeping all your cords and cables organized is something we should probably do. 
  • Smartphone accessories. During the last year or so, we have struggled with consistently dirty smartphone screens, and had yet to find a good solution. We spent a lot of time cleaning the screens with our little cleaning cloths, but that didn't seem to help. Now, at the ATA conference in San Diego, our friend Tom Ellett had a nifty case that was lined with microfiber cloth -- instant cleaning when you pull the device in/out of its case. We loved it and had to order one. Tom's wife, the talented Alison Ellett, sells these on Etsy, a site we really enjoy supporting. 
  • No wrapping necessary. One of the best gifts Judy has received in the recent past is a one-year subscription to Jost Zetzsche's (AKA tech guru) online newsletter, the Toolkit. Her friend Karen Tkaczyk gave her the subscription a few years ago -- great idea! For a mere $20, you can give your favorite colleague piece of mind and access to Payment Practices, a database of translation/interpreting agencies' payment habits. It's an invaluable resource for those who work primarily with LSPs. 
  • Software. Do you have a fantastic colleague  who could really benefit from a software package? Perhaps he or she has not been able to buy it this year, so this would make a fine gift. Try the invaluable TranslationOffice 3000 (you get a discount if you mention this blog) and Wordfast, our new favorite translation memory software. You can save 15% if you purchase the license before January 1, 2013. 
  • Membership. How about giving a colleague a membership in his/her local T&I association? Many local associations charge less than $50, so this would make for a fine and affordable gift. 
Getting up close with a fluffy llama in Chile.
  • Donations. While it is certainly not a reliable source for translations, we all use Wikipedia on a daily basis. In fact, most humans on the planet use it every day, but it's a non-profit, so may we suggest a modest donation to the world's fifth-largest website? We've actually already been on Wikipedia five times today, and it's not even noon. It truly is amazing that all this content is available for free, but they do need donations to keep the site going. We are also big fans of giving the gift of livestock and other animals through organizations such as Heifer International. For $120, you can give a family an adorable goat, and you can even buy a share of a goat for as little as $10. A share of a llama, our new favorite animal (we fell in love in Chile last year) will set you back $20, and you will give a family the opportunity to make a living with the help of this hard-working and very fluffy animal. Now, that's some Christmas spirit right there, isn't it? And how about buying a gift certificate that can be used for carbon offsets? This could be perfect for your client who travels too much and feels guilty about it or for one of your globe-trotting colleagues. 
  • What we want. Well, nothing really. We just want happy and healthy colleagues and friends throughout the world! Actually, there is one thing, and it doesn't cost anything: we'd love to have more reviews of our Entrepreneurial Linguist book on Amazon if you are so inclined. 
Happy giving and happy holidays!
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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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