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. 
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.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times