Dec 28, 2008

Can you English?

I've enjoyed a bit of a break for the past few days and a chance to catch up on reading. Being the proud owner of a young wire-haired vizsla, Quodian's Aristos, who has a number of tests ahead of him in the coming year, I've got a strong interest in dog training. Many years ago I started with the methods of the Monks of New Skete for my old German Shepherd, but these are not enough for a young hunting dog with a sensitive temperament and very specific requirements for hunting tests to pass before he's permitted to breed. Unfortunately there are few hunters or dog trainers near Berlin who have experience with these Hungarian dogs, so at the present time we rely on advice at a distance, lots of books, online research seminars and hope for the best.

One of the fortunate discoveries we've made online are the training methods promoted by a Danish expatriate, Mogens Eliasen, who has very effective approaches which engage a dog's intelligence and avoid the harshness which can ruin a sensitive breed like the vizsla. Mr. Eliasen has written a number of books on the subject of dogs and dog training and translated at least one from Danish into English. I enjoy his writing very much not only for its good content, but also for its entertainment value. However, his work has one glaring deficiency which I have found in a number of other reference works lately. Like too many other non-native speakers of English, he has obviously relied on his own limited mastery of the language and failed to seek professional assistance in editing his work. So sometimes when reading it, I laugh, cringe or scratch my head in puzzlement at some of the things he tries to say but which are not entirely understandable to someone who doesn't speak Danish or at least a related Germanic language. The books are good on the whole, and the information is some of the best that I have found for dog training, but with professional editing it would all be so much better.

As translators most of us probably have similar experiences. Although Mr. Eliasen's English makes me cringe at times, it is at the better end of the scale, and very little if any of his core message is lost. However, the same cannot be said for many letters, user guides and other documents I see from customers who think they have a good command of English and that their work "just needs a bit of touching up". When I am told that there is no German original for some horrible bit of text I've been asked to look at, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. In many cases, the authors or their colleagues fail to understand what the problem is, because they can understand the text better than I can. Of course they can - it isn't English. It is German using bits of English and pseudo-English to replace the German words. The pseudo-English is put through a mental filter that is often difficult to grasp even for someone with a long acquaintance with the language. I've been using German actively now for over 33 years, and I can understand any German text whose English equivalent would not be inaccessible to me. But Denglisch is another matter entirely. I put it in the same category as all the hundreds of odd English pidgin dialects spoken around the world and consider it about as useful and appropriate in the professional world.

As a consulting liason between a German software company and its partners and subsidiaries in a number of other countries, I saw all too many cases where poor communication in English was unhelpful to the company's reputation and hindered its product sales. Along with considerations of professional reputation and marketing, there is the more important aspect of product liability to consider. Unclear, poorly written or badly translated instructions can mean considerable damage awards against a company, and not just in US courts. I recently had the pleasure of translating seminar materials for use in Germany where numerous local examples of product liability due to unclear instructions or defective instructions translated from defective manuals supplied by a foreign manufacturer were cited. So the idea of blindly relying on a company employee who spent a semester or two abroad in Canada or the UK with "translating" critical documentation as many companies seem to do, is truly fraught with risk. Many "professional" translators contribute to this problem as well by seriously overestimating their ability to translate into the languages they learned later in life. But regardless of where these translators or non-native writers fall on the ability scale, just like native speakers who write and translate, they should not ignore the importance of good editing services. If you are lucky, doing so will only make you look amateurish.

Dec 23, 2008

Setting your price

I've always enjoyed reading Danilo Nogueira's online essays and other contributions. He has a lot of common sense and expresses his ideas in a refreshingly clear way. Today I ran into a piece I hadn't seen before: his essay written in 2003 on the subject of pricing, which is just as relevant today as it was five years ago. I won't comment on it - he says everything I could and says it better. Follow the link and enjoy reading!

Dec 21, 2008

Other fees from the German JVEG

My previous post on the Judicial Remuneration and Compensation Act (JVEG) discussed the "standard" rates for translation services. However, there are other reimbursable expenses relevant to translation work, which are covered in Section 7 of the law. Here is my translation of its provisions:

Section 7 - Reimbursement for other expenditures
  1. Out-of-pocket cash expenses not cited in particular in Sections 5, 6 and 12 are also reimbursed to the extent that they are necessary. This applies particularly to the costs of necessary representatives and escorts.
  2. For each of the first 50 pages of photocopies and printouts produced, the reimbursement will be 0.50 euros per page and 0.15 euros for each additional page; the production of color copies or color printouts is reimbursed at 2 euros per page. The amount of the allowance is to be calculated uniformly for the same matter. The allowance is granted only for copies and printouts from official files and court records insofar as their production is necessary for proper preparation or processing of the matter, as well as for copies and additional printouts which are produced at the request of the party contracting the service.
  3. For provision of electronically saved files in lieu of the copies and printouts cited in Paragraph 2, the reimbursement will be 2.50 euros per file.
So according to this, if I am requested to prepare a 10 page certified translation for a local court, in addition to my fees for translation and certification, I would add 50 euro cents for each page of the copy submitted. This would probably be 10 euros (assuming the translation has the same number of pages as the original), because a copy of the original is attached to the translation in such cases.

These reimbursement rates, though intended for the specific context of work with German courts and public prosecutors, are reasonable points of reference for work in other areas where hardcopies or large numbers of files are to be provided. They are by no means overly generous when one considers the time involved, the cost of toner, ink cartridges, etc. I would apply these as standard rates for materials any time hardcopies of a translation are requested, and in cases where I am asked to juggle or process a large number of files, I think a per file additional charge may not be inappropriate. This would be a useful way of distinguishing between a 1 file job with 5000 words and a 100 file job with the same word count. Of course the primary CAT tool I use (Déjà Vu X) handles large numbers of files very well (much better than Trados 7.5 & earlier versions), so I might not be inclined to assess a full € 2.50 per file, but there is still more work involved, so the principle is certainly worth considering.

Standard rates in Germany: the JVEG

There is occasionally a lot of grumbling to be heard among translators about "just rates" and the desirability of "standard rates". For some reason a lot of the grumblers seem to be French or otherwise lost in a Neo-Marxist fog which my mind can't quite penetrate. Aside from the sheer impracticability of trying to regulate an international market which can operate largely by e-mail and money transfers by any means, notions of "just" may vary considerably. Translation is a business like any other, and a successful business here depends on a lot more than just linguistic skill. If a translator can't or won't deal with these other factors to make the business successful and insists on thinking like an employee, then it's time to get an in-house job somewhere or move on to another field. On bad translation days, dog training sounds pretty good to me.

In any case, this Mecca of standard rates does in fact exist in a few areas. In 2004 the JVEG (Justizvergütungs- und -entschädigungsgesetz, Judicial Remuneration and Compensation Act) replaced the previous more generous law governing payment for translators, interpreters and others providing services. The new law provoked fury in some quarters, as it forced rate reductions of 30% or more on many service providers. Although the new law allows for higher rates to be charged for particularly difficult texts, in many jurisdictions, the bean counters insist on paying the minimum rate uniformly, and invoices for higher amounts have to be collected by a lawsuit.

Section 11 of the JVEG specifies the conditions for compensating translators. Here is my translation of that section:

Section 11 - Fee for translations
  1. The fee for a translation amounts to 1.25 euros for each 55 keystrokes or fraction thereof in the written text. If the translation is considerably more difficult, in particular due to the use of technical terms or due to poor legibility of the text, the fee increases to 1.85 euros; in the case of extraordinarily difficult texts it is 4 euros. The target language text is the standard for the number of keystrokes; if, however, Latin characters are used only in the source language, the number of keystrokes in the source language text is the standard. If counting the keystrokes is associated with excessive effort, their number is determined by taking into account the average number of keystrokes per line and counting the lines.
  2. For one or more translations which are part of the same order, the minimum fee is 15 euros.
  3. Insofar as the service of the translator consists of reviewing documents or telecommunication recordings for specific content without the need of preparing a written translation for these, the fee received will be that of an interpreter.
Section 9, Paragraph 3 of the JVEG specifies that interpreters are to be remunerated at a rate of 55 euros per hour. Mind you, not everyone gets this rate, certainly not if doing court work through an agency. I remember berating one friend of mine a few years ago for driving through a snowstorm in her old car while 8 months pregnant to make 15 euros per hour while her agency billed 55 euros per hour for her services. I really think a more reasonable distribution of the fee would have been appropriate in that and other cases.

According to my calculations using my rate equivalency spreadsheet, the basic line rate of 1.25 euros in target text for German to English is equivalent to 18.5 euro cents per source word, which at today's USD exchange rate is USD 0.26 - an acceptable, but by no means outstanding rate on the European market.

Some of you reading this and other recent posts on rates in Germany may see the rates as low. In some cases I certainly do, particularly with regard to the published agency rates. Offering high quality specialist services one can usually do better with agencies that have good marketing skills. Others who are scratching for USD 0.10 or worse in my language pair may think of this as "pie in the sky", but trust me - it isn't. If you offer good quality, market your services in a reasonable way and stand firm on your prices, you can do much better than that even if you live in India. I am very sure of that, because I know what some of my customers are paying to appropriately qualified specialist translators in India. At a certain level of quality or above, good rates should and can be considered as independent of local conditions in today's Internet market.

Dec 20, 2008

Report on translation, editing and interpreting services by the BDÜ

Although I find the "Honorarspiegel" deficient in many ways, the recently published report by the BDÜ (a German translators' association) on the average rates its members reported for translation, editing and interpreting services is ground-breaking in many ways. I am not aware of any other source of data where one can obtain such specific information categorized by customer group, for example. And average rate information found elsewhere, for example on ProZ, suffers from the fact that, although the reporting base is large in some common language pairs, the worldwide distribution of the data makes it of limited value to the local market in some cases. The BDÜ data is specifically relevant to the markets worked by the members of the organization, which are primarily constituted by German agencies and direct customers in Germany.

Only language pairs involving German are listed, and data are only reported where at least 5 persons submitted information in order to ensure a certain level of anonymity. The customer groups in the report were
  • Agencies
  • Direct customers in the judicial system and public authorities
  • Colleagues
  • Private individuals
  • Direct customers in business & industry
The average highest rate, average lowest rate and most frequent rate were reported. Line rates reported are target line rates and word rates are source word rates. The number of data points for each reported value was also indicated.

An example of the line rate data in euros for the language pair of personal interest to me (German to English) is:

...... High Low MFreq
Agency 1.05 0.87 0.95
Dir IB 1.51 1.19 1.33

For those interested in additional data for this language pair or rate information on other services or languages, the report can be ordered online as of the beginning of 2009 from the BDÜ website. The cost is € 15.00, which is very little to spend for a useful piece of business intelligence. The report also includes a discussion of how to understand this information in the proper context and use it for one's own rate calculations.

German regionalism in the crosshairs

One of the problems regarding sworn translations in Germany is that there is no guarantee that they will be accepted for official purposes if the certifying translator is registered with a different state. In some cases, certified translations have even been rejected if the translator was sworn by a different regional court in the same federal state. In Austria, by contrast, certified translations from sworn translators are accepted anywhere in the country.

In practice, there are relatively few objections raised, and a translation certified by a translator sworn in Bavaria will probably be accepted in the Saarland or North Rhine Westphalia, etc. But as is too often the case with life in Germany, there is the uncertainty of bureaucratic confusion and scope for abuse by some arbitrary, petty twit who hasn't had enough coffee.

With regard to certified translations that may end soon. In the member forums for the German translators association BDÜ, the head of the Berlin-Brandenburg group commented a few days ago that the question of whether a translation certified by a translator from one region will be accepted in another region should be resolved in the very near future. Changes in the law are expected at the federal level, which would make a certification in one state valid in all other states. However, he also noted that this was to have taken place on the 12th of December, and here we are somewhat later... as they say here, "gut Ding braucht Weil".

Dec 19, 2008

A riveting task

I hate certified translations. After my partner's official change of address from the Saarland nullified her authorization to certify translations for official purposes, I decided to obtain such authorization myself from a German federal state that doesn't care where I live. Bavaria is very progressive in this respect, while Brandenburg (where I actually live) has been unable to get its act together in the past two years and pass a law regarding the authorization of translators and interpreters for official purposes. As a consequence, here and in some other states, no new persons have been sworn since the German High Court in 2007 decision forbade doing so based solely on administrative rules (a law is now required in each state).

So anyway, after a little paperwork, a short trip to Munich and a nice chat with pleasant court officials with charming accents, I became a court-sworn translator for Bavaria. Some people think of this as a great career move to get more work at decent rates. (German courts have a defined payment schedule which is more reasonable than one encounters with many clients - really bad copy can be charged up to something like 4 euros per line, though the base rate is only 1.25 euros per line.) I didn't really care about that; I'm drowning in work, and I was rather hoping this wouldn't attract more. I just wanted to be able to help out certain favored clients who occasionally require certification from a sworn translator and do a bit of pro bono work for people from English-speaking countries who are crazy enough to get married or divorced in Germany. (The bureaucracy is amazing. We've had our rings for four years now, and we still haven't gotten things sorted out.)

Now comes the hate part. Given the relative scarcity of translators with particular specialties like mine who can do sworn translations, I have in fact attracted some of that extra business that I didn't want. That's OK, because I've gotten to know some very fine new clients that way, and I just say no to more of the boring, routine stuff that anyone could do. Doing a few pages of a certified translation, attaching it to the original or a copy, stamping, signing and sending it all off by registered mail is a nice break from time to time. What I dread are the big translations that need certification. They hurt my wrist. I have yet to find a reasonable way of fastening a thick stack of papers together in a way that ensures it cannot be tampered with. My current procedure (suggested by the retired metallurgy professor next door who took me into his workshop to deal with a particularly nasty case) involves riveting the whole mess. I use a hand punch on all the paper, then drive a rivet through the hole and hammer the thing down on a small anvil. Maybe I should have been a blacksmith instead of a translator. I know that lawyers and notaries have better ways of dealing with this, but given some of the legal restrictions here in Germany, I'm going to be very careful before adopting any of their methods. A good solution to the problem might be found with a quick cross-post to the BDÜ member forums where surely hundreds before me have faced the same challenge. But when the task is merely an occasional irritant, once a week or less often, rather than a daily nuisance, these things tend to be forgotten in the daily tumult and drag on....

Dec 17, 2008

NordicTrans hits the bottom

Our colleague Jeff Whittaker was kind enough to draw attention to a press release announcing new, low prices from NordicTrans in response to the current economic crisis. Very interesting.

There are many ways to process that information. I could call the company an opportunistic bottom feeder for offering translation at below what I do (given today's exchange rate with the euro) when including proofreading by a second native speaker, but since I doubt that the quality a big agency can deliver at that price will every be any threat to me, I won't. For those translators who think that the sky is falling and prices with it, I'll agree that this is probably sound evidence of that: it's hard to afford a monkey at three cents a word when you're only grossing eighteen cents. Mistresses and Maseratis ain't cheap, and I for one am not about to give up my hard-earned profits to the undeserving just because they can't afford their winter heating bills. That would be bad business.

In any case, according to the press release, this represents the bottom of the scale pretty much. I do know of a few kitchen table wannabe agencies that charge about the same (well, a bit higher usually, given the exchange rate), maybe even a few pennies less in some extreme cases. But indeed, this is more or less rock bottom I think. Those who are a few levels down on the outsourcing food chain should think about this and consider it carefully in their "marketing strategies".

No mercy for PDF jobs!

I'm always amazed at the BOHICA attitude of many translators and agencies when it comes to PDF documents submitted for translation. As we all know, these usually involve considerably more effort to produce a document which often falls short of the original in terms of the quality of its layout or other factors. I've addressed this issue in the past by lecturing on handling PDF documents at conference in Berlin together with an expert on the subject, the German/Swedish/English translator Peter Linton, as well as publishing a short article on including OCR in one's business model and providing some guidelines for post-OCR workflow and QA that cover PDF and other formats.

To many people in our industry are hesitant to charge for the real nuisance involved in working with PDF documents of all kind, and they do end customers a great disservice by not educating them in the fact that PDF is not a valid format for translation. The number of ignorant queries from translators in online forums asking how to use Trados on PDF files indicates that this lack of knowledge is probably pandemic in some parts of our industry as well.

Aside from the fact that I have added many additional thousands of euros to our revenues for conversion work I had to do anyway simply by charging normal hourly rates for the effort, there is another big advantage to insisting on significant PDF surcharges (10 to 25% in my case). When the client knows exactly how much more a PDF job will cost, the "missing" original document in MS Word or other usable formats is often miraculously found. This happened to me again this morning. Last night I informed an outsourcer than an OCR conversion would take several days and cost at least an extra 400 euros, and this morning - wonder of wonders! - her client managed to find the original file, saving everyone much hassle and allowing those involved in the project to get started right away. A meek acceptance of the format without insisting on an extra charge would not have led to the result, and in a document with very complex tables, the end result for a team project with a tight deadline would have been a real disaster.

Citation management with Zotero

For years now, I've been collecting information on translation tools and techniques for my own purposes or to summarize as little guidelines for my partner, friends, colleagues and others. As I embark on a few somewhat more ambitious projects of this nature, the collection of data will continue to grow beyond its already enormous proportions. It is maintained, for the most part, as semi-organized bookmarks in Firefox and a myriad of folders scattered across various hard drives and partitions. Not the best solution, really.

So I was rather excited this morning to discover Olivia Judson's review of citation management tools for research in this morning's NY Times. One tool, Zotero, is a free Firefox add-on which sounds ideal for imposing more order on my web-based research and enabling me to keep information sources straight. It has information capture and search features, note-taking, integration with OpenOffice and MS Word, and interface in more than 30 languages & a lot more. I suspect it will also be a useful tool for keeping track of information sources for large translations.

Dec 15, 2008

Quotes to support your marketing

Tonight I found another technique for adding to one's marketing portfolio which I found rather inspiring. Katalin Horvath McClure, a Japanese/Hungarian/English translator did something rather clever on her ProZ profile. She asked her clients various questions like "why did you pick me?" or "how did you find me?" and posted a couple of nice answers that are basically good plugs for her services. This is a nice variation on posting spontaneously received feedback (usually good) and trying to fish for such feedback (bad karma in my opinion).

This question technique of hers could be a good way of getting nice quotes to add to your web site or marketing brochures. It's useful to ask such questions even if you don't want to use the information this way; I get a lot of contacts, but the callers or persons sending e-mail often do not tell me where my contact information was obtained. I like to know this, because it gives me a hint about what means of "spreading the word" are working and which ones are not.

Be proud of your rates!

Jill Sommer reposted an editorial on fee negotiation that is very worthwhile to read. I think it offers a good and honest way of dealing with price objections and helping customers to understand the value of services which you offer (assuming, of course, that they do have value).

Templates for quicker DVX project setup

One of the things that does get on the nerves of some Déjà Vu users is going through the Project Wizard to set up a project each time some little file needs to get translated. Some people get around this by having a "master project" with all the settings for a particular client; small new jobs get added to this as they come along. Somewhere I read a suggestion to create a template with all the settings for a particular client and copy this template into each new project folder and use it.

Today I was reading the "SDL Trados Studio 2009" review on the Tracom blog which described a number of questionable "advantages" of Trados (when I saw the comment about the over/under arrangement of segments being superior to an SDLX/DVX/Across/MemoQ columnar arrangement, I wondered what they were smoking). One point, however seemed plausible: the ability to "plunge right in" (more or less) and translate a file without a lot of preparation, then clean it, deliver it and write the bill. "Gee," I thought, "Maybe that's right."

I thought about it for a while and decided to try a little test. I made a DVX "template project", with no client or subject area specified. I saved it in my main folder for current projects. Then, with an eye on the second hand of my watch, I opened a folder with a little press release I have to translate, pasted in a copy of the template, double-clicked the icon to launch DVX, then I opened up the Project Explorer and used the drag & drop technique to add the file straight from the desktop folder (rather than use the program's internal navigation - I'd never tried this before, but I thought "why not?"). Then I right-clicked the file listed and imported it. The whole process took well under one minute. Now if I feel like assigning it to a client or categorizing the job, I can do so quickly via Project > Properties...

What was that about "plunging right in"? If I try to assign client or category attributes in Trados the whole process will probably take longer. Or not - I don't really care any more. This is just another typical example of unsubstantiated assumptions used to justify continued kowtowing to an abusive "market leader". That said, I do agree that other tool vendors could do a lot to simplify their project setup processes, and they could certainly do more to explain shortcuts. I hope one day they do.

Improving profiles

This morning I got a pleasant surprise. I stumbled out of bed and went down to the office where the computer was still running and waiting for me to resume last night's project. As a "warm up", I decided to check out one of the current whines on ProZ about how rates are going down the toilet, the world is ending, etc. where I discovered the latest contribution from a young French translator whom I (and others) had advised a few months ago to rework his profile to improve his public visibility and possibly contacts by clients. He thanked me very nicely in public and claimed that the number of contacts he receives has increased four times, implying that the rates offered or negotiated had improved. I think most of the changes he made were actually suggested by other people, and he deserves the credit in any case for making them. (I took a look at the profile again, and there is still a lot he can fine-tune I think, but he's smart enough to figure that out now that he understands the principle.) Not everyone is so flexible, and many people insist on including information in a profile or CV that does them more harm in marketing services than good. Months ago I had a delightful exchange with a translator in Romania who emphasized the same aspects of family life that I take pleasure in; it took some convincing to persuade her, however, that expressing one's commitment to the roles of wife and mother will not get you more veterinary translations. Last time I looked at her public profile it was much more professionally focused and had a few slightly daring statements that brought a real smile to my face as I read them. I hope her incoming work has quadrupled too.
I don't know any magic recipes for online advertising. I seem to be good at it without trying that hard in the same way I used to get a response rate around 16% for direct mail actions to sell computer stuff where common wisdom said 1 to 2% was to be expected. But if I tell you why this works, I'm just guessing. I believe that there are certain general principles that apply to all of us most of the time with regard to marketing, but the fine-tuning will always be an individual thing to work in the best way. If someone tells you something is good or bad, think about it for a while before you act. If the person giving advice is very experienced, s/he is probably right, but really understanding that advice in your personal context may lead to a better solution than the one suggested by the "expert". Don't be afraid to experiment and measure the results. A year ago I started making certian changes to my online profiles and actions with the goal of improving the quality (not the volume, which is an unfortunate side-effect) of contacts by potential clients. I measure the results in terms of (1) Google rankings and (2) page traffic. My Google rankings for keyword combinations I care about have improved (though they are not always where I would like them to be), and the page traffic on my ProZ profile. has increased about seven-fold. Traffic on my business web site has also gone up, but I don't pay close attention to those numbers, because I'm embarassed by the fact that I've had a major site upgrade ready to go in two languages, and I've been too busy to upload it. Now I have to rewrite the whole thing to update it before it goes live. Just not enough hours in the day....
With regard to those Google rankings, I was asked recently by a colleague in Portugal how to go about improving them. Once again, I'm not an expert. I just try things and see what works. There are lots of "how to" guides on the web for search engine optimization (SEO), and I'm not about to summarize or regurgitate them here, not only because the subject bores me, but also because I have heard so much contradictory advice over the years that I am really not sure which of it to believe. So here's what I do:
  1. I ask myself what my "perfect prospect" (like maybe a chemical company with an in-house DMS system for which the documentation needs translation in my case) would use for keywords when looking for a service provider using Google.
  2. I incorporate those keywords in a reasonable way in my profile or other web page. I do pay some attention to advice from the more plausible SEO guidelines, but I don't follow them slavishly. This is a game to me, and I have more fun if I can play with the "rules" as I like.
  3. I wait a while (days, weeks), then I do a search and see where I come up on the hit list. In some simple keyword combinations I really care about, my entries come up one or more times in the top five hits currently. In other cases I'm buried several pages back, so obviously I haven't perfected the process. But then I'm so busy dealing with all the inquiries I do get that it really doesn't matter.

Dec 14, 2008

All the myriad formats

This morning's e-mail included the 129th Tool Kit newsletter from Jost Zetzsche with its usual collection of interesting and generally useful information. The most interesting item in this edition is the mention that ECM engineering is offering an annual subscription to all its special filters for € 195 (about USD 250 currently). While this still isn't chicken feed, it can quickly pay off for translating projects that include formats such as
  • Indesign®
  • XML
  • Visio®
  • Excel®
  • Photoshop® CS, CS2, CS3
  • Illustrator® 10
  • Illustrator® CS (11)
  • Illustrator® CS2/CS3
  • CorelDraw® 11
  • CorelDraw® 12
  • CorelDraw® X3 (13)
  • CorelDraw® X4 (14)
  • Syscat
Why Excel and XML are on the list is a mystery to me; maybe that is for the benefit of translators who don't have ordinary CAT/TeNT tools. Many of these tools also now include InDesign filters in various stages of maturity, but since these files are often sill a problem, I welcome alternatives. As for the others, I personally don't know or use any CAT/TeNT that can handle them. I have partners who use CorelDraw filters (maybe even these ones - I never asked) from whom I could probably beg a conversion favor, but that's not much of a business model, so if I decide to get serious about expanding the range of formats covered by our services, this is probably the way I'll go. And of course I'll charge a suitable premium to offset the cost of the subscription.

Dec 11, 2008

TO3000 update: first invoices issued

The process of migrating to the new project administration and billing platform has been a slow one due to a lack of time. Nonetheless, with the help of the quick start information in the help file and a bit of fiddling, I was able to set up several clients manually (I plan to try a mass import later), configure their price lists and locale info and issue a few invoices for completed jobs. Everything has been much easier than expected so far, though it's also very clear to me that I could be doing all this much more efficiently. Still, it's already working better for me than LTC. Being able to adjust the RTF invoice template in a word processor is so much nicer than messing around with Crystal Reports. If I can just find a way of cloning the locale information so I don't have to individually customize the decimal, thousand separator settings and date formats for every German and Swiss client, I'll be in Heaven.

Hiding file content in MS Word and RTF files for translation

We frequently receive jobs in which some part of a file is to be excluded or where tables are included where the customer wishes to have the target text written adjacent to a column with the source text. Some of these jobs are straightforward to deal with, others less so. After a particularly nasty assignment with a mix of tables, colors and untranslatable notes embedded in the middle of sentences, I decided to write a short set of suggestions to share with some of my clients so that they can prepare certain jobs more effectively, saving me time and saving them money. If it can be of assistance to anyone, feel free to download the guidelines here. Suggestions for improvement or addition are very welcome.


One of my major pet peeves in German to English translation is the unfortunate tendency of some people to translate "Impressum", the term used to refer to the page where legal notices and various other company information such as company registry numbers, tax IDs, editorial responsibility or credits, and contact information is posted, as "Imprint". I challenge anyone to find me a web site created by native English speakers for a company in the English-speaking world that uses this term. Depending on the content of the page, it is usually called "Legal notice and info" or something along those lines. Translating "Impressum" as "Imprint" simply comes across as incompetence to a native speaker of English or is at best merely confusing.

Oddly enough but somehow typical, many German companies insist on adopting this travesty because so many other German (or Austrian or Swiss) companies use it. Virtual lemmings....

Evidence II

It's been a very busy week, so most of my intended posts are still somewhere in the editing queue. (Yes, I do sometimes edit what I write, as hard as that may be to believe!)

However, the responses to my earlier post on Rod Walters' portfolio suggestion have caused me to think about variations on and refinement to this approach that might be suited to different purposes. I would like to share a few of these ideas and encourage others to suggest better ways for particular situations.

In the comments on the original evidence post, Michael mentioned that the portfolio approach had not worked in the past. What would interest me is why it didn't work with a particular audience. That's the point where I thought of some of the brochures I translate for customers which target specific solutions in specific sectors: document management and archiving for tax accountants, as opposed to a general brochure on the same topics for all areas of business. As freelance translators we are often encouraged to specialize, because this improves our earning potential and usually also improves the quality of our work because we develop deeper expertise in an area. What better way to demonstrate that expertise and focus prospects' minds on the areas you really want to work in and presumably do best than by making a targeted portfolio emphasizing those areas?

I have a strong interest in GRI sustainability reporting, for example. I simply love translating that stuff, even though some of it is just hot air and propaganda. If I want to attract more business in this area or in related topics for environmental issues or (in the case of the stuff I enjoy most) transportation, I could put together a portfolio which might include:
  • a profile of myself, including my relevant scientific education, involvement with environmental organizations and general experience in this area translating reports for major organizations
  • samples of translations in this area taken from public sources
  • a link to an online glossary on the subject created from specialized corpora and other sources (I've actually been working on one of these for a while, but I haven't given much thought to how, when or where - or even if - to make it publicly available)
  • relevant certificates related to the specialty (I don't have any in this case, just thought I'd mention it. If you are looking to do translations for elder care and you've got lots of relevant degrees and certificates, actual images of these in the back of a portfolio might be interesting. And so on.)
  • articles you have written on the subject or references to them
All of this should be well-organized in an easily distributed format with appropriate indexing or navigation of some sort if it is of any significant length.

I responded to Michael that I had understood the portfolio concept as a way of avoiding the test translation issue, and while I still look at this as a possibility, I think my memory played tricks on me here, because it was probably intended more as a way of getting prospects interested in the first place. Whether things go from there to a test translation request is another matter to be dealt with separately.

In any case, I do think that a careful focus of the material in a portfolio will make it more effective. Rod did in fact suggest one's chosen fields for the portfolio, but maybe it would be better to take this a step farther and do one portfolio for patent work, one for chemistry, another for technical marketing (or whatever fields are relevant for you).

Dec 5, 2008


In an online discussion of how to "break through the endless Catch-22 of gaining experience", Japanese to English translator Rod Walters had an excellent suggestion. He noted that real evidence of the ability to translate well is generally more compelling than "experience". Given the miserable work I have seen from some translators with decades of experience, I would have to agree with this.

Rod suggests preparing a portfolio of translations in one's chosen fields and hawking it relentlessly with prospects, showing it on your web site, in a distributable PDF and as hardcopy. While this is a rather "obvious" suggestion, I'll bet that only a small minority have gone to the trouble of putting together such a portfolio. It is an excellent alternative to the foolish practice of doing free test translations.

Dec 3, 2008

A matter of choice

Unlike the people who speak them, all languages are not created equal, nor are the opportunities associated with them for language professionals the same. I was reminded of this again in a recent online discussion in which a translator expressed her outrage at being assessed a minimum charge by a translator for performing a trivial service. She publicly expressed her outrage at the thought of being charged for something so "unimportant" (but it was important enough to call up and make an urgent request that those two words be formatted bold and the months-old job be re-sent to the client ASAP) and mentioned, among other things, that she looks forward to being "honest" (I read that as "vengeful") the next time this person asks for a reference. She went on to mention how "easy" it is to find good translators and replace this one. Well, honey... I've got news for you. It's easy to find outsourcers with a bad attitude toward the value of a skilled translator's time, and she may just have replaced you and moved up-market.

The persons involved in this dispute work in the English-Spanish language pair. Now I've had the impression for a while that somehow the world turns differently in that pair and that it's more dog-eat-dog compared with the kinder, gentler environment of my language pair German & English. But then on the low end of the market for German I once heard the same sort of statements. Maybe it's just that these zookeepers don't value the monkeys to whom they feed peanuts and that translators who charge what they are worth (if they are worth much) get a lot more respect.

But this little flare-up of online indignation reminded me of a decision I made 34 years ago, which I had largely forgotten, but which has proven to be one of the most accurate professional assessments I ever made. Kids aren't as stupid as we oldsters sometimes want to think they are. The decision was my choice of what foreign language to learn in high school. In Southern California, where I grew up, the general consensus was Spanish being the only "logical" choice, because it is so "useful"? "Useful for what?" I asked. Useful for giving orders to the gardener or asking for directions in certain parts of town? Certainly. Useful if you aspire to some sort of community service job? Probably. Useful if you aspire to work at the cutting edge of research and development? Most likely not. As a kid I simply judged what I saw on the bookshelves of my local technical library. That was the Millikan Library at CalTech, where I spent many of my Saturdays from age 10 onward browsing the bookshelf contents for biology and chemistry, with occasional forays into the floors for other technical disciplines (usually playing hide-and-seek or up to other devilment with other kids involved in the weekend education program for kids at that time). There I saw a huge quantity of scientific books and other publications in German and a number in French and Russian, though comparatively few. I don't remember seeing any in Spanish, and the very nice Mexican student that I shot pool with one afternoon was learning German to support her career ambitions in science. So that pretty much settled my choice. If a medical career had been my ambition, I might have made another choice, but then again perhaps not. Once again, the basic science for the profession would require a command of German to explore many important sources. So I still would have chosen that language, followed later by another language appropriate for whatever community I chose to practice in. If I had moved to Africa on a mission wiith Doctors Without Borders, Spanish wouldn't have done me much good. In Ecuador on the other hand, very much so obviously.

So the next time some kid pipes up in a public forum announcing his or her calling to a career in translation or interpretation and asking what languages are "in demand" and should be studied (that in itself seems a sign of the sickness affecting our market-driven economies), I'll remember my choice long ago and the reasons and suggest that they consider their other interests and the languages that are important to these, and the places they might want to live and work, and base their choices on that more than what is currently "hot". Years ago I was told that my knowledge of Russian was "worthless" and that the country would never have any commercial or scientific status again. Now I see a different situation, even if the competitive environment for Russian translators isn't easy.

My choice of German has turned out to be a very fortunate one for me personally. Germany has a long history of scientific and technical leadership, and it is still one of the leading exporters in the world. Most of that world does not speak German, and despite the willingness of Germans to learn other languages, the "natives" will never develop enough foreign language competence to cover the effective demand in a way that will secure contracts and keep them out of product liability fiascos due to bad documentation. So for someone like me who is actually interested in a lot of what Germany does, makes and exports, being a translator of German is sort of like winning the language lottery. But then at age 13 I knew it would be that way, even though I expected to spend my life in a lab.

Dec 2, 2008

Another cool translator's web site

Necco Enterprises Inc. is a small company specializing in Brazilian Portuguese translations. For many years, I have used their resource page for Déjà Vu, but I had never looked at the main site before. It has a really unique feature: a wandering navigation menu! At first I thought someone had been sloppy in designing the page layouts, but it was very quickly apparent that this was a deliberate design feature that works. Check it out!