Cancellation Policies for Court Interpreters

For one of our final posts of 2017 (time flies, doesn't it?), we wanted to discuss an important issue for court interpreters: cancellation policies. 

If you have worked as a court interpreter for any length of time, you will be familiar with a common phenomenon: depositions, arbitrations, mediations and other types of hearings get moved, cancelled, postponed, etc. It also happens in court, but many courts will  pay the interpreter for a cancellation that is received less than 24 hours ahead of time. For civil cases and in the private market, it's up to the interpreter to set and enforce cancellation policies. In general, as a profession, we can do a better job at enforcing this, and we have (anecdotal evidence here) noticed that colleagues can be timid about their cancellation policies. However, definining them and sticking to these policies can be key to preserving our earning potential. We recently heard from a dear colleague who doesn't like to take depositions anymore because so many of them get cancelled. She has a good point, but rather than not taking the work, we think the better approach is to draft a good cancellation policy. In fact, we like cancelled depositions and other hearings.

It's entirely reasonable to have a cancellation period. In fact, many professionals have it, including doctors, lawyers, and even massage therapists and hair stylists. Most people understand that you have relatively little opportunity to sell your time again to someone else if the first person, the one you had originally scheduled, cancels a few hours ahead of time. In addition to potential lost income, there's also the issue of professional courtesy: most of us are busy enough that once we have a slot booked we get inquiries for the same slot from other clients, which we turn down (if you operate on a first-come, first-served principle, like most of us do). It's reasonable to expect clients to give us plenty of notice so we can fill the slot once they discover they need to reschedule.

Our cancellation policy is 24 hours, and we have enforced it without major problems for years. Once in a while a client will ask us to cut them some slack if they cancel, say, 23 hours ahead of time, and depending on the client, we do. We are now thinking about changing our cancellation policy to 48 hours, because in our experience, it's quite difficult to fill cancellations within a day. What about you, dear colleagues? How have you handled this issue? We'd love to read your comments.

Webinar: Negotiating Skills for Linguists

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We know, we know: negotiating is probably most linguists' least favorite part of the job, but it doesn't have to be painful. Join Judy and the CLEF in Québec (Carrefour des langagiers entrepreneurs/Language Entrepreneus Forum -- go entrepreneurs!)  on Friday, December 8, 2017, for a pre-holiday webinar on how to make everyone, including yourself, happy when negotiating contract terms -- but maybe not always. It's important to keep in mind that the negotiation process doesn't have to be something negative and adversarial. Sometimes it's good to look at it just as a conversation during which each party gives and takes a little.

Note: the webinar will be presented in English.

Here's a webinar abstract:
Regardless of your profession, negotiating is often everyone’s least favorite activity. It can be stressful and intimidating for linguists, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s also an opportunity to hone your skills, try new strategies, and even cement your business relationships if done right. It takes practice, patience, and the willingness to assume some risk. During this webinar, the speaker will take you through some of the main things to keep in mind when negotiating with potential and existing clients.

You can register for the webinar here. Hope to see you there and happy negotiating!

Open Thread: Spooky/Scary/Funny Interpreting Experiences

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Happy Halloween, dear friends and colleagues from around the world! Halloween-based posts and newsletters (and advertising, of course) are a thing this year, so we thought we'd jump in by asking interpreters to share their scary/spooky/funny stories as they relate to their interpreting experience. Some assignments can be very scary, others are emotionally draining and difficult, while others are simply funny. Of course we do not mean to make light of challenging or scary situations, but we would love to hear about them and share them here.

Below are some of ours:

Scariest interpreting experience:  A few years ago, Judy went into a county jail to interpret for a defendant and his public defender. After the appointment was over, all three of us were locked in the interview room because the jail doesn't have enough staff to come and unlock the door. Judy wasn't scared of the defendant at all, who was very polite, but didn't enjoy being locked in a small room. Being claustrophobic doesn't help. Plus, it was lunch time! It took about an hour for staff to let us out.

Spookiest interpreting experience: Last year, Dagy had the pleasure of interpreting at an OPEC event in Vienna (Judy was there as back-up interpreter), specifically at the gorgeous Hofburg (Imperial Palace) Conference Center. It was a high-profile event with media from all over the world, but finding your way around, especially to the interpreting booth, was a bit spooky: think dark corners (no ghosts, though), hidden corridors, and hallways so complicated that it makes you want to leave breadcrumbs so you can find your way back from the bathroom. The Imperial Palace dates back to the 13th (!) century, and the fourth-floor interpreting booths are obviously much newer than that, thus creating an architectural challenge and was not always solved in the most elegant way. After much running around, we are happy to report we did did find our way to the booth, to the bathroom, to the hall were lunch was being served, and back out without needing any breadcrumbs.

Funniest interpreting experience: Judy showed up at a mine (yes, a mine) in desolate central Nevada wearing a business outfit, only to be told that she'd be interpreting outside in 115-degree weather, and that she'd be working around corrosive and potentially explosive (!) materials. Since there was no other clothing available, she was given the nurse's scrubs, socks, and steel-toed shoes, which she wore under fire-retardant clothing (brand-new, at least). The client showed up and was puzzled that the nurse spoke German.  Judy had to explain that she wasn't the nurse, but the interpreter. 

We'd love to hear your scariest/spookiest/funniest interpreting experience, dear colleagues! Please leave them in the comments below and have a fantastic Halloween!

Budgeting for Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments

Norwegian kroner, because we had the picture handy. Photo by Judy.
If you are like most small business owners here in the U.S, in our profession or any other, you are probably quite familiar with quarterly estimated taxes, which are due four times a year. We generally think taxes are a great thing, and that they are one of the main things that make a society work, and we are happy to pay them. But sometimes small businesses run into cash flow issues and occasionally you have to scramble to come up with the estimated tax payment when it's due. It's happened to us, too, and while we have always been able to pay it, we figured we needed an easy way to guarantee the money is there when we need it.

The strategy we started using is quite simple, but one we had only used intermittently before: every time we deposit a check into our checking account or receive a payment via online banking transfer (which they all should be, but we digress), we immediately take 20% of each payment and transfer that into a savings account that's used to pay taxes. The two accounts are with the same bank (Chase, as much as we dislike them at times) and the transfer is quick, easy, and free. Since the money goes out so quickly after it's been deposited, we don't really miss it, and we ware delighted to have it come tax time. 

What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you follow a similar strategy?

Free Event:'s International Translation Day

Can you believe it's September? We can't, but the great news is that International Translation Day, one of our favorite days of the year, is right around the corner. This year September 30 falls on a Saturday, so many T&I organizations and groups are having events on Thursday and Friday of that week. Just like every year, is putting on a free virtual event -- complete with American Translators Association CE credits (currently pending). This is a big event with some 10,000 registrants expected to sign up! Judy is delighted to be part of the festivities and will present two sessions:

1) The art of the business lunch: How to handle yourself and grow your T&I business (September 26)
2) Is Twitter stupid? (September 27)

Other sessions that look very interesting include:
What I would do differently if starting over (September 26)
Tips and tricks for remote interpreters (September 27)
How to create multiple streams of income as a linguist (September 27)

There is no need to register: you simply log on here when you are ready. Recordings will be available to all attendees (depending on your membership status, you can access the recordings for 72 hours, 1 week, or forever). Happy International Translation Day, everyone!

Personal Document Translation: What If I Can't Read Something?

The last post of the month is about a topic that's not very glamorous, but can be quite lucrative: personal document translation. Oftentimes, linguists shy away from it because dealing with non-businesses can be time-consuming and it's happened more than once that you don't get paid. We avoid this by kindly asking for pre-payment for personal document translations. We've translated hundreds of documents for dozen of government agencies around the world, and one of the most frequently asked questions we get from new colleagues is: what do you do if you can't ready something? Allow us to share our thoughts.

  • Ask the client. The beautiful thing about working directly with individuals who most likely are the owners of the documents in question is that you can easily go to the source. This is important for handwritten documents where say, the place of birth is noted but it's a small province in a country you are not familiar with. In these cases, we do think it's perfectly acceptable to ask the client, as they would obviously know where they were born.
  • When to put [illegible]. While there are no hard and established rules on this, we would never guess or fill in the blanks (more than a letter or two) if the portion we cannot read is typed but either too faint to read, cut off, etc. In that case, even if the client could solve it for us, the issue is readability of the document (rather than sloppy handwriting), and in such cases, we usually put [illegible]. Most of our colleagues have tended to handle it this way, but of course there are other approaches.
  • Requests for changes. You'd be surprised how often clients have asked us to change their birth date (because it was incorrect on the original or for other, significantly less legitimate reasons), name (because they have since gotten married or divorced), or simply asked us to translate parts of the document and exclude others. However, that gets us into the dangerous territory of document falsification, and you want to steer as clear of that as humanely possible. Since these document translations are almost always certified and notarized, we never change, add, redact, etc. anything at all -- no matter how small. Explaining to the client that document falsification is a crime in which you will not participate usually does the trick.
  • Certifying other's work. This is a bit off-topic, but still related. Oftentimes clients will say that they "just translated this themselves since they speak both languages" (we can see the collective eye roll from here!) but that they want a "real" translator to certify their work. We gently point out that we cannot say the work is ours when it isn't.
What about you, dear colleagues? Do you handle this in a similar fashion? We would love to hear your thoughts. Just leave a comment below!

Interpreting: Spanglish Example of the Month

As many English<->Spanish interpreters know, especially those of us who work in the US, interpreting Spanglish and anglicized versions of Spanish words can be a signficant challenge. Many non-English speakers do speak enough English to throw English terms into their Spanish-language speech, which makes things interesting, to say the very least.  Even if you live and work in an area where you are surrounded by Spanish and Spanglish (as Judy is in Las Vegas, NV), many of these can can still throw you for a loop. Having grown up in Mexico City, we pretty much know how Spanish speakers can potentially mispronounce English-language terms to come up with all kinds of indecipherable things, but here's one that really was a challenge. And perhaps it wasn't even Spanglish. We don't really know what it was, but here it is for your reading pleasure. Note: the following is in both English and Spanish.

At a deposition. The attorney, Ms. Higgins, is the English speaker, and the deponent, Ms. Ríos, is giving testimony in Spanish..  Mr. Urr is Ms. Ríos attorney. All names have been changed. Judy is the interpreter.

Ms. Higgins: On the afternoon of April 10, where were you going?
Judy (interpreting): En la tarde del 10 de abril, ¿a dónde se dirigía usted?
Ms. Ríos: A la Willy-Willy.
Judy (interpreting): To the Willy-Willy.
Ms. Higgins: I am not familiar with Willy-Willy.
Judy (interpreting): No conozco la Willy-Willy.
Ms. Ríos: ¡Pues la Willy-Willy! En la Decatur esquina con Tropicana.
Judy (interpreting): Well, the Willy-Willy! On Decatur and Tropicana.
Ms. Higgins: I don't know a store with that name.
Judy (interpreting): No conozco tienda alguna con ese nombre.
Ms. Ríos: Pues no sé, licenciada, pero yo voy a cada rato. Muy buenos precios.
Judy (interpreting): Well, I don't know, counsel, but I go all the time. Great prices.
Mr. Urr, interrupting: For the record, my client is talking about the Goodwill store.
Judy (interpreting): Quiero hacer constar en actas que me cliente se refiere a la tienda Goodwill.
Ms. Ríos: ¡Exacto! La Willy-Willy, o Goodwill, o como le digan. ¡Es lo mismo!
Judy (interpreting): Exactly! Willy-Willy, or Goodwill, or whatever it's called. Same thing!
Ms. Higgins: I would never have guessed that. OK, let's continue talking about what happened when you went to the Goodwill store.

During depositions and all other legal proceedings, things happen very quickly and you have very little time to react. In retrospect, Judy did have a hunch (based on the address the deponent provided) that the Ms. Ríos was referring to the Goodwill store, but definitely knew that a hunch (or a guess) was not an acceptable option. We think this worked out beautifully -- an attorney who had knowledge of the case clarified everything for the record and we went on with the deposition. After it finished, there was much good-natured laughter about Willy-Willy.

We would love to hear your best examples of Spanglish or other challenging interpreting situations, dear colleagues!

Interpreting Profanity in Court

Interpreting in court is not for the faint of heart. During the course of their careers, judicial interpreters will hear and interpret many things, and sometimes those things can be disturbing. One of the hardest things for some newcomers to court interpreting to master is the fact that they have to interpret everything that is being said, even if it's difficult, offensive, heartbreaking, incorrect, etc. Judy trains future legal interpreters at several universities, and one of the most frequent questions she gets from interpreters-to-be is: How do you handle profanity? What if someone drops the F-bomb or says something worse than that? 

The short and simple answer is: you interpret it. You will probably encounter less profanity than you think, but at some point, a defendant may curse, or attorneys may curse at each other, or a witness may start cursing at a defendant. Judy had to interpret at a deposition a few years ago where a few attorneys screamed at each other for what seemed like an eternity (it was only a few minutes, actually). She had to interpret that for the non-English-speaking deponent, who was shocked by the language being used by all attorneys, including his attorney. 

We've heard some stories, which perhaps are urban myths, that some interpreters, rather than interpret what's being said when it comes to profanity, will say: "Your Honor, the ________ is using profanity." In our humble opinion, that is not really an option. When you are in court, you take an oath that you will interpret everything, unless the judge instructs you not to, and you must do that. It doesn't matter if the language offends you-- you are there to interpret it. Of course, you do technically have the option to recuse yourself from the proceedings and hope the court can find another interpreter, but that's not a good solution in the long run, and it also won't make you popular with colleagues and court staff. 

So our advice to future and current court interpreters: be prepared for profanity, and interpret it. You might actually have to do some research into how to render some terms in the other language (this may be cringe-worthy for some), as these renditions can be trickier than you think. 

Business Tip: Indicating Validity of Quote

Happy Friday, dear readers! Before we head off into our holiday weekend here in the US, we wanted to share a quick and easy business tip that can have major impact on your workflow.

It's about something relatively simple: including a specific date on your price quote that indicates how long the quote is valid. This is especially crucial for time-sensitive projects for which you might have to reallocate time from other work. Please note that this applies to direct clients, as most agency clients traditionally ask linguists to sign the agency's purchase order (to which you can, of course, also make changes and/or additions).

Consider the following scenario: your client calls on June 28 and says she needs the translation of a contract by July 5. This is a bit tight with the holiday weekend, but you are willing to make it happen (with surcharges, of course), as she is a great client. In your quote, it's essential to include that you need the client to confirm the project by a specific time and day. Otherwise, it could happen that you never hear from the client, you take on other projects, and then on July 4 (Independence Day!), she calls you to tell you she wants the project by the original deadline, July 5. That's obviously not a good scenario, so you should do everything you can to prevent it.

Here are a few ways to do that.

In your price quote, include something to the effect of (please note that we are not lawyers, so if you want specific legal advice on the language to use, please contact an attorney):

The present price quote is valid until ____________ at ____ am/pm. This quote shall be null and void unless the client has confirmed it in writing by signing at the bottom of this document by _____________. 

In order to meet the client's deadline, this project must be confirmed in writing by ________ at _____ am/pm. The translator can only guarantee the agreed-upon delivery time and date of ______ at ____ am/pm if the client sends back the signed price quote by ______ at am/pm. If no confirmation is received by that point, this quote shall be null and void. 

What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you have any other and better ways of handling this? We have found that putting all these things in writing make for much smoother business transactions and for happier providers and clients.

Free SDL Webinar on June 27: The Art of Networking

Networking at the BP17 conference in Budapest, Hungary.
Please join us for another free webinar on in-person and virtual networking, presented by Judy, and organized and hosted by our friends over at SDL. It's free for everyone, and you simply sign up with your e-mail address. Judy's last webinar for SDL on June 8 had more than 800 sign-ups (thank you!), and we would love to "see" you at this one as well. Consider signing up even if you cannot attend the live session, as all who registered will then receive a link to the recording a few days after the webinar.

Networking is such a crucial part of our profession -- and of any profession, actually -- yet as linguists we oftentimes neglect it. You can only grow a business if you grow your circle of influence, and Judy will share a few ways to do this, both offline (meaning in person) and online. One hour isn't nearly enough to talk about this important subject, but we will address many key points.

Here's the link again to sign up. Looking forward to it! 

Open Thread: Are Interpreters Superstitious?

This elk has been to several trials.
Today we would love to hear from our fellow interpreters, regardless of their field: do you have a good-luck charm? Are you superstitious about certain things? For instance, do you always use your left hand to hit the microphone "on" button in the booth? Or do you wear a favorite suit/scarf/pair of shoes/lucky underwear for high-profile interpreting assignments? Do you always start a new page in your notebook for each interpreting assignment? What are your quirks -- call them superstition or not?

In general, our manicure is one of our main secret interpreting weapons. Feeling good about our nails, as trite as it sounds, makes us feel confident. In addition, we do have some favorite items of clothing, in particular a black power suit for Judy that she bought in Vienna, and yes, some lucky charms in the form of small stuffed animals. The newest addition is this little guy (an elk) that Judy picked up in Oslo, Norway. 

Please share your stories with us, dear fellow interpreters! Just leave a comment below. 

Free SDL Webinar on Negotiating: June 8

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Please join Judy and a few hundred colleagues (if past webinars are any indication) for a free webinar organized by our friends over at SDL. This webinar has nothing to do with their software, but rather, this is a series of webinars on  both technology and business topics with well-known speakers from around the world that SDL offers for free to all colleagues around the world.  You just have to sign up and provide your e-mail address.

Next week, on Thursday, June 8, 2017, Judy will have the pleasure of talking about an important but seldom discussed topic in our industry: negotiating. How do you do it while making everyone happy? Can you? How can you get what you want and still make the client happy, too! Log on and find out. The full title of the webinar is: How to negotiate with potential and existing clients whilst maintaining good relationships.

Once again, here's the link for you. "See" you online?

Our Favorite Travel App

A few years ago, Judy had the opportunity to attend the (short-lived) Vegas version of the legendary technology conference South by Southwest, and it was a fantastic event. One of the best presentations was by Sam Shank, who is the CEO of an app we had never heard about until that point: HotelTonight. Sam spoke about some interesting graphics elements in HotelTonight and how they came up with their simple, yet powerful logo. Sam seemed like a nice guy, and Judy immediately thought about approaching him with the question: do you have international versions of your app? If not, do you want them? We can help! Approaching him took some courage, but he was very friendly and open, and turns out they were already working with our client and friends over at Smartling (who provide the awesome technology for multilingual apps) and their team of freelance translators, so we weren't going to pursue that lead, but we decided to check out the app.  Turns out it's fantastic!

It's available for all major platforms (we use the Android version), and the design is every design geek's dream: sleek, pretty, functional. Basically, it works like this: you can book tens of thousands of hotels around the world (unsold inventory), either for the same night or up to seven nights out. We wondered who waited until the last minute to book at hotel, and turns out a lot of people do. We used it when Judy and her hubby were stuck in a very subpar hotel in South Dakota and needed to find another one ASAP: HotelTonight delivered. We used it in Athens, Greece, when the entire city was inexplicably booked out, but HotelTonight came to the rescue. When we arrived, the hotel had no record of the reservation, though, but it got resolved and we received a HotelTonight credit for our trouble. Since then, we've used HotelTonight dozens of times in a variety of countries, including Hungary, and we have been very pleased. The only downside is that you cannot select bed type -- it's automatically assigned to you, but the deals we have found (up to 60% off the hotel rack rate) are so amazing it's worth it. 

We also love the clever copywriting and hotel descriptions (which can be notoriously boring on other sites and apps). Our favorite recent score: $120 a night for the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on a trip with our dad. Our clients also love the fact that we use HotelTonight to get good deals when travel is billed to them. So there you go: that's an overview of our favorite travel app. And for the record: they are so not paying us for this post. On a final note, one of our dear colleagues is translating the app into German; we can't wait to see it.

Workshop in Los Angeles: What's a Check Interpreter?

Not *this* kind of check. We think. Receipt from Oslo.
On June 10 in Los Angeles, our friends at the Association of Independent Judicial Interpreters of California (AIJIC for short), are offering a workshop that sounds so intereresting that Judy booked her slot and her airfare within a few minutes of receiving the announcement. Now, we go to a lot of conferences every year and invariably learn a lot, but it's rare that a topic is so new that we've never really learned anything at all about it. Well, this is one of them. The title of the workshop is: Check Interpreter and Ethical and Practical Dilemmas, and the first half of the workshop will be presented by the great Esther Hermida, while the second half, focusing on ethics, will be led by Genevive Navar Franklin, who is a co-author of the ethics manual for California interpreters and thus a perfect person to teach this. They are both federally certified Spanish court interpreters, and the workshop is language-neutral. It's held an Embassy Suites right across the street from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and there's a free shuttle for those flying in.

Now, what's a check interpreter, really? It's usually an interpreter in judicial proceedings who gets retained by the other party to check on the interpreter who is doing the actual interpreting for either the defense or plaintiff firm, primarily in civil matters outside of court. This puts everyone in an uncomfortable position, as the interpreters most likely know each other and certainly are colleagues. When should you speak up? What are your obligations? What exactly is expected of you? Until now, the few times Judy had been retained as a check interpreter, she only made one or two corrections on the record of terms that were clearly not interpreted correctly, and her fellow interpreter agreed. Still, these situations are awkward, and it would be fantastic to have some guidelines. Hence, we are quite excited about this workshop!

The cost is $150 for non-AIJIC members and $125 for members and includes those coveted California CIMCE (continuing education credits for California interpreters). Please note that we are not the organizers of the event, but rather we are just fans! Please contact AIJIC with any questions you may have. See you in LA June 10? Don't forget sunscreen. It's always sunny in Southern California.

Watch This: 4 Essential Interpreter Skills

What does it take to be an interpreter? Well, we won't really have space to list everything here, so for the sake of brevity we'd like to point out a few key skills that, in our humble opinion, interpreters should have to be successful.

These skills go beyond the obvious language skills, memory skills, etc. We purposely picked a few things that we can easily illustrate with videos of... pofessional athletes. Yes, really!  This might sound like a stretch, but please hear us out. We oftentimes hear the -- very applicable and correct -- analogy that interpreting is similar to theater, that you have to perform whenever it's showtime, that there's no way back once you've started speaking (or acting), and that there's no safety net. So: what do interpreters have in common with a tennis player, a cross-country skier, a ski jumper, and a gymnast? Have a look.

1) Interpreters must be fast. 
Interpreters must think on their feet all the time, and they need to speak, think, and process things very fast -- much faster than non-interpreters. Sometimes we feel like we are constantly sprinting, and we are, but there's not always a clearly defined finish line. We like watching videos of all things speed-related right before big interpreting assignments to get our blood flowing, and we particularly like this compilation of best finishes by Petter Northug, one of the best cross-country skiers in the world. He's a two-time Olympic champion from Norway, and you can probably see that it gives him great pleasure to beat anyone from Sweden (big rivalry).

Ready to pick up some speed? Watch this.

2) Interpreters must be precise.
Not unlike Olympic champion gymnasts, such as Aly Raisman, interpreters must be very precise, especially in judicial settings. You need to nail every twist and turn, err, every sentence just so in order to enable communication and keep the register and tone. From the outside looking in, we've oftentimes heard that interpreting seems like magic, and while it's not, it is an art to master. When we need a little reminder of how important precision is, we remember that we have one (just one!) thing in common with American gymnast Aly Raisman: we are very precise (but we are afraid of the uneven bars).

3) Interpreters must be passionate.
We are both quite passionate tennis players (Judy is a former NCAA Division I tennis player), so to illustrate passion and dedication, we could not think of a better example that perhaps the best tennis player of all time (male or female): American Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles--the most in the open era. It's very rare for any one athlete to dominate the sport as much as Serena does. Just like Serena, interpreters must be passionate about what they do, because it requires a lot of dedication and commitment to be a truly great interpreter. Get inspired by Serena:

4) Interpreters must be fearless. 
In a way, interpreting is an act of faith because you never truly know what's coming at you next. It's like jumping off a cliff without being 100% sure that there's enough water underneath for you to dive into. Or it's like jumping off a huge ski jumping hill at a speed of up to 60 miles an hour. Yes, interpreters, on one level or another, have to be fearless (but prepared, of course). It's normal to feel some nerves before important interpreting assignments, but you have to believe that you can do it in order to start. Once you've started, there's no way back. No one knows this better than ski jumpers, such as Austrian world champion Stefan Kraft.

Basic Listserv Etiquette

Happy Friday, dear colleagues and readers! Today's quick observations revolve around mass e-mail lists, usually organized and hosted by a professional organization. These are known as listservs, and they are a very valuable tool for translators and interpreters. We are members of myriad listservs hosted by many T&I organizations, such as ATA, NAJIT, Universitas Austria, and others. We have found these listservs to be very enriching, on both a professional and personal level.

Unfortunately, throughout the years we have noticed some very disheartening trends, including rude and completely inappropiate messages, personal insults, and everything in between. Perhaps it's a reflection of our society in general that civil discourse has deterioriated, but we still believe that most of these interactions can and should be positive. That being said: we do think some of the tone used on listservs is getting worse these days, and we'd like to share some thoughts on the topic. Ready for some tough love?

  1. Your colleagues and potential clients are reading what you post and respond. Keep in mind that responses and/or posts will go out to everyone on the listserv, which can be in the thousands. This is not the place to pick fights, air dirty laundry, or have unreasonsable disagreements with anyone in particular. Take those offline or contact the person in question directly. We don't frequently respond to posts, but we read most of them, and we always take note of unreasonable and disrespectful posters and make sure to not work with them -- and many other linguists do to the same. 
  2. Know your technology. Oftentimes we see linguists post along the lines of "Please remove me from these mass e-mails, they are stupid and annoying." Such a message is not only not appropiate to send to the entire community, but it also reveals a lack of understanding about technology in general and listservs in particular. You don't want to be known as the person who struggles with basic technology. In general, listservs are opt-in only, and the user controls how they want to receive messages. An "unsubscribe" link is usually conveniently located at the bottom of messages, but you have to unsubscribe yourself. No one can do it for you.
  3. Be helpful. The idea behind listservs is, in part, to strengthen the community from within by sharing information, resources, interesting articles about our profession, and to help solve tricky terminology issues. If you can contribute, be sure to do so -- but agree to disagree. There are many ways to skin a cat or to solve translation puzzles, and it's important to respect others' solutions. We've often found that arguing over who is right makes linguists seem petty and close-minded, and remember: those reading might become clients, and petty and close-minded are not good traits. Sorry about the tough love here, but we've literally seen (and read) it all, including colleagues being banned from listservs by the moderators (yes, really) for bad behavior. This is undoubtedly bad for your reputation and for your business.
  4. Think before you post. Translators spend a lot of time by themselves, so sometimes the almost-human interaction that listservs provide can be a very welcome distraction. That being said, think before you fire off a response in anger. You will never be able to take it back, and do you want, say, 3,000 of your colleagues reading something you wrote while angry? Don't do it. If you wouldn't say it to anyone's face, there's no reason to type it. The same rules of basic human decency still apply online, and you can't hide behind an anonymous e-mail address --although incredibly, some do.
  5. You don't have to read everything. Some of the complaints that are frequently aired is that "I don't find this interesting." Well, that's reality: you won't find everything that's posted interesting, but someone will. It's not about the individual, but about the community, and if you don't find the subject line interesting, don't read it. Our tip: switch your message delivery options to "daily digest" instead of getting each individual message or set up an e-mail rule on your Outlook (or whichever program you use) to send all listserv messages into a special folder so they bypass your inbox and you can read them at your leisure.
So that's it; a short summary of some things we think we can all do to make listservs even more enjoable for all. We'd love to hear your comments. 

Interpreting Incomprehensible Speakers

 A few months ago, Dagy witnessed any interpreter‘s worst nightmare: during a large conference organized by a multi-level marketing company, one of the speakers turned out to speak an almost incomprehensible Austrian dialect (he was from the southern province of Styria). 

Is this Judy or Dagy interpreting? We actually don't know.
Dagy was in the English booth and understood him alright (here’s to the advantage of working from your first language). However, this meant trouble in other booths staffed by excellent interpreters who were working into their native language. Not surprisingly, they understood very little of what the motivational speaker was saying since his German had almost no resemblance to the kind of German usually spoken at conferences. Apparently, after a few moments of shock, my fellow interpreters did the best they could, which involved mostly guesswork. At some point, they decided to switch to the English channel and work from there into their languages, which was probably the best call. 

However, in the meantime, many conference participants who depended on the interpreting service had already started to complain to the organizer, which prompted her to send up members of the organizing team who grabbed the microphone from the professional interpreters and tried to do their job. This only made matters worse. These staff members might have understood the Austrian German, but they spoke only basic foreign languages and had absolutely no training in interpreting, which is why they threw in the towel after a few minutes. To me, that’s one of the biggest imaginable affronts that any interpreter might experience in their professional life. I felt vicariously humiliated and decided to mention it to the client after the conference.

But it got even worse: the company’s CEO spoke on the following day and actually made fun of the hard-working interpreters and their troubles on the previous day, while thanking just about everybody else for their work. This struck me as particularly offensive, given that it was the company who had hired an incomprehensible speaker whom even a lot of native German speakers in the audience did not understand (I overheard many conversations to that effect during the coffee and lunch breaks).

I later e-mailed the client about this matter and she mostly dismissed my concerns, which considerably lowered my willingness to work for this client in the future. What would you have done in such a situation?  We would love to hear your opinions. 

The Interpreter and the Prince

Image copyright: Bernhard ELBE LPD Wien
Have you ever wondered what it's like to interpret for a real prince? We have, too, and now that Dagy has had the experience, she's delighted to report on it for you. 

To curtsy or not to curtsy? That was the first thing that crossed my mind when the Austrian State Department (officially the Ministry of Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs) called me about an interpreting assignment during the official visit of the Prince of Wales to Austria. To make a long story short: there was no need to curtsy and it was a great experience.

The Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, were on a whirlwind tour of Europe and Austria was to be the last leg of their journey. They arrived Wednesday afternoon, met a few dignitaries and attended a state banquet. I was to interpret on their second and last day during Prince Charles’s short visit to the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF), a government agency that provides services to recognized refugees.

My main task was to spring into action whenever the Austrian Minister of the Interior needed me and to interpret any German-language statements into English for His Royal Highness.  A few days before the job, I received plenty of background information, made sure to memorize the correct form of address (“Your Royal Highness”) and I also learned that curtsying was not required. I’m all for respecting the protocol, but I was actually quite relieved about that.

Image copyright: Bernhard ELBE LPD Wien
Since most of the talking was done in English, I rarely had to intervene and I mostly enjoyed the (almost) royal company (naturally, I saw him mostly from behind and from the side). Not surprisingly, Prince Charles came across as very approachable and likeable. He talked to refugees from Syria and Iraq, learned about the services and volunteer-run programs offered by this government agency and attended a so-called values and orientation workshop designed to introduce refugees to Austrian values and society (see picture on the right).

The whole visit lasted just 45 minutes, with perfect timing. After the motorcade with Prince Charles left, everybody was happy that things went smoothly, including the interpreter.  Since Prince Charles last visited Vienna 31 years ago with his late wife Diana, let’s hope he will come back sooner than that, maybe as king. I certainly wouldn’t mind being part of that experience again. 

Waiting for Translations: New Pricing Model?

On call: doctors and translators.
The German-speaking blogosphere recently saw an interesting discussion about pricing models for translations centered around whether should you should charge by the line/word or by the hour/project, which is an important topic, as is pricing in general. While the jury is still out on this one (we personally like the hour-based approach for certain projects and have written about this issue extensively), Dagy recently had a very unique request from an advertising agency client that we'd never had before: they asked her to provide a quote for her availability for possible translations, six days in a row, including the weekend.

After consulting with her favorite business partner, Dagy decided to charge EUR 500 per business day and EUR 750 for every day of the weekend, plus a slightly discounted rate per line for any translations. In exchange, she guaranteed permanent availability and the fastest possible completion of all translations, every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Even though we've worked hard on developing and insisting on professional rates for our services, Dagy did fall into the stereotypical self-exploiting freelancer trap with one thing: she didn’t even think about including a lunch break in her quote. We've made many business mistakes, and we usually don't make the same one twice, so next time we will definitely contractually set a lunch break. Lesson learned!

The client happily accepted after zero haggling. Dagy had to cancel quite a few appointments she had scheduled during those days, but it certainly paid off. Most days, she received no translations. On two days, she did a lot of translations, which had a nice impact on the final invoice. While Dagy did feel a little limited in her daily activities, she was certainly happy with what ended up being a highly lucrative week. During her stand-by times, she also proofed several hundred pages of a German-language annual report, which is per se a major project, and also worked on a wide variety of other client projects.

We believe this experience goes to show that even very unique pricing models are possible in our industry and that clients are prepared to pay adequate prices for extraordinary services. Why not keep that in mind next time you negotiate with a client?

By the way: what Dagy ended up translating were documents regarding a highly confidential company acquisition by a large European company. The estimated purchase price was in the billions. It does feel nice to have been part of such a major deal, even to a very small extent. 

While a friend suggested she use part of that money (it was, after all, a lucrative week) to upgrade to business class on her upcoming flight to the US, Dagy decided to put some of the money aside for future tax payments and to make a donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (also known as the UN Refugee Agency) to benefit people who are much less lucky than she is. 

On Making Rates Public

Image created on
Happy Friday, dear readers and colleagues! Today's quick post is about making or rates (or fees) available publicly. We have chosen to do so, but we understand that many linguists choose the opposite approach. We think it's an interesting topic indeed, and here are some of our thoughts on this:

  • In general, we believe transparency is a good thing for the market and for the industry. We don't really see too much of a downside n making rates public. Most other businesses and service providers do.
  • It's important to think of the client. Think of yourself as a customer: if you are on someone's website, and when you click on "rates" and it says "please call," do you really call? Or do you simply go to the next provider who does disclose rates? We usually do. 
  • Making your rates public saves you time. We don't get too many e-mails of potential clients just asking our rates without having a specific project in mind that we can quote on, but when we do, we simply e-mail them a link to our rates. Most potential clients will have already seen them on our website, though, which saves both them and us time we could also spend on better things.
  • We very much understand the argument that some collleagues don't want to publish their rates becuase they are afraid it's not good that they charge different clients different rates. There's nothing wrong with that, though. This is an unregulated industry, and you are welcome to use price differentiation. Pretty much every business on the planet does it. For instance, your glass of wine is cheaper during happy hour at the bar than an hour later and ten feet away in the restaurant area, skiing is more expensive on Saturdays than on Wednesdays, and seniors get a discount on train tickets. You get the idea - it's fine to offer different price points, including discounts to certain groups (non-profits, teachers, military --whatever works). If you'd prefer to post a range, which we think is a good idea, go ahead and do that.
  • Oftentimes, colleagues mention that they are afraid of pricing themselves out of the market. That's a good point, but once you set rates at a level that work for you, you should probably stick to them -- and they shouldn't change too much, whether you disclose them publicly or not. And you probably don't want the bottom-feeder clients who want to pay peanuts anyway, right? The bottom line: you will definitely price yourself out of some work (we all do), but your best bet is to go after the business you want at a price point that allows you to be a happy linguist who runs a profitable small business. 
So those are our main thoughts on this topic -- what do you think? We'd love to discuss this important topic here on this forum and look forward to your comments. 

BP17: A Translation Conference, Reinvented

This May, we are both quite excited to be heading to the same conference together: BP17 in Budapest, which is organized  by our colleague Csaba Ban (yes, remarkably, there's  no big association or organization behind this conference). Throughout the last few years, we've heard amazing things about this conference, and this year, Judy is honored to be a speaker at the event. 

What we love about this conference is that it is quite different from traditional T&I conferences, and we are always looking for interesting and new experiences. The twelve TED-style talks (limited to 20 minutes) will be given by a great selection of speakers from four continents, including Paula Arturo, Nick Rosenthal, Michael Farrell, Jonathan Downie, and many others. These short talks are a great idea to get lots of information in a short period of time, and we also happen to love TED talks (who doesn't?). These will be held on May 5, and May 4 will be all about masterclasses, including Judy's. There are six of them -- and one of them is an ATA certification exam, which is fantastic, as those are relatively rare in Europe. As you can see, Csaba has been busy! May 6 will be a more traditional conference day with lots of sessions to choose from, which we look forward to. Half of the sessions will focus on business, which we applaud -- we need more conferences that focus on business, as we are all businesspeople first and linguists second. All sessions on May 4 and 6 will be held at the Hotel Arena, the
conference hotel.

And there's the venue for May 5, which we are already drooling over: a beautiful old movie theater called Urania. It's the loving maintained theater that you wish you had in your hometown -- and we bet it will make for a great picture backdrop!

Unlike many other conferences, if you purchase a full pass, the price will include a farewell dinner, which will apparently turn into a party (count us in) as well as lunch. The best deal is the 2-day conference pass (masterclasses are extra), and you can bring a guest to the farewell dinner for EUR 42. The two-day pass is quite reasonably priced at EUR 239, and the conference hotel is affordable as well. Amazingly, Csaba has also organized several day trips that can be booked separately -- we just might go to one of them. These trips are something we have never seen at American conferences, and we are all for them. There's nothing quite like getting to know your colleagues while on a short trip.

So in case you cannot tell: we really are very much looking forward to this conference, and look forward to seeing all our friends and colleagues. We've been to Budapest before, and it's a spectacular city. See you there the first week of May?

Keeping Your Distance

View from US District Court, Reno, NV.
If you are intrigued by the title of today's post, you might or might not be a court interpreter. If you are (and even if you are not), please read on for today's brief comments on ethics and keeping your distance.

One of the pillars of the code of ethics for court interpreters is neutrality: we don't get involved, we are on no one's side, and we are certainly not allowed to give legal advice (nor are we qualified). We are there to interpret and to do absolutely nothing else. Obeying this basic rule will serve you well as a court interpreter, and it seems easy enough, but in practice it can be tricky.

One of the rules of thumb that we try to use is to not be alone with a person who needs interpreting services in a judicial setting. One usually needs at least three people for interpreting to take place (in our case, the non-English speaker, the non-Spanish speaker, and the interpreter) and no good usually comes out of having any sort of one-on-one conversation with the non-English speaker (LEP), so it must be avoided at all costs. The question is: how do you avoid talking to people if they walk up to you in the hallway? What if you see them in the parking lot afterwards and they have a question about their loved one's case that you are not allowed to answer? These situations can be tough, and there's no one right answer, but we usually use this approach:

  • Avoid being in public places where you could run into one of the parties alone. Ideally, walk with the lawyer/person you interpreted for. If their client comes up to the two of you, then you can certainly interpret.
  • Avoid leaving a hearing right after the LEP or his/her family so you don't put yourself into the situation of being asked a question about the case. Wait a few minutes inside the courtroom if need be. This might be awkward, but it does remove you from a potentially challenging situation.
  • If an LEP comes up to you without his/her attorney and asks a question, excuse yourself as quickly as possible. LEPs usually see you as their ally because you speak their language, but as a court interpreter, you are no one's ally and you must avoid all appearance of conflict of interest. One option is to briefly apologize about not being able to talk, and say that the code of ethics does not allow court interpreters to speak with LEPs on their own because we are neutral parties, and go looking for their attorney as quickly as possible. This is oftentimes quite disappointing for LEPs, but you must stick to the code of ethics. You don't ever want to get into a situation where an LEP says in court: "The interpreter told me...." It happens more often than you would think, so don't put yourself in the situation.
  • If necessary, go to the bathroom. This doesn't sound like a very elegant solution, and people might still want to talk to you inside the bathroom, but being inside a stall is usually a solid bet.
We'd love to hear other possible solutions/thoughts from fellow court interpreters! 

Quick Negotiation Tip: Final Offer

Happy Friday, dear readers! Today's quick negotiating tip comes, as always, from our own practice.

First things first: just like most people, we don't love to negotiate. We could certainly be better at it, and we are working on it. One thing we've learned recently that oftentimes it pays off to never stop negotiating, even if the other person says the famous words of: "This is my final offer." 

A few weeks ago, while negotiating an interpreting contract, the client, in a very friendly conversation, told us a number that she said was going to be her final offer. We've also learned not to say yes or no right away, but to ask the client if we can think about it, which has served us well as a negotiating tactic. We employed it this time, and the client said sure, that we could think about it for a day or two. Then we talked amongst ourselves: she said this was her final offer, right? Does that mean we do not have a choice but to accept it? We mulled this over a bit, and we came to the conclusion that of course we do not have an obligation to accept it. Everything is still negotiable until one party walks away, an outcome you (mostly) want to avoid (unless the terms don't work for you at all). So we decided to gamble (there is always some risk) and decided to counter one more time. We figured that our client could always reject our counteroffer, which would put us back at square one, but we decided we would cross that bridge in due time.

So we sent a friendly and upbeat email saying that we would love to work with them, and even though their offer wasn't the number we were looking for. We stated that we were willing to work with them and offered a more reasonable rate at X. We told them we looked forward to working with them, and lo and behold: they accepted and everyone is happy.

Lesson learned: a final offer is only a final offer if you accept it. It's usually worth negotiating to see what happens. A caveat: if you really need a particular project, this strategy might not worth be the risk. This is a classic risk/reward scenario, and it requires willingness to assume some risk. Happy negotiating! We would love to hear your negotiating tips if you are willing to share them with us and your colleagues.
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.

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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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