Saturday, 27 December 2014

My thoughts on ITI conferences

On 11 December I shared my thoughts on ITI and its conferences in a post that was published on the ITI Conference blog.

I feel privileged to be a member of the ITI community.


This is what I wrote:

I am a Bristol-based full-time translator. I translate patents and contracts from English and occasionally Italian into German. You can follow me on Twitter @EHHtranslation (English) or @EHippeHeisler (German). I also have a blog, which you can find at http://hippe-heisler.blogspot.co.uk/. My most popular blog post to date has been about what, to my mind, are the top 10 misconceptions about translation and the translation profession at http://hippe-heisler.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/top-10-misconceptions-about-translation.html.

#ITIConf15 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne will be my third ITI conference. I have registered to attend on the Saturday only, and I’m looking to do some sightseeing with others on the Sunday. Since it is quite a distance between Bristol and Newcastle, I hadn’t been sure if I should attend the conference this time. However, I had already skipped the last one in London Gatwick – I admit I didn’t find the venue overly appealing –, so I am now very excited about my forthcoming foray north.

This is going to be my second visit to Newcastle: I had come over from Germany more than a decade ago to visit a good German friend who was doing her year abroad at Newcastle University. At the time, the UK and its culture to me still felt foreign, slightly odd, and extremely different from Germany – a feeling that I know won’t engulf me on my second trip to this part of the country. After all, I’ve been a UK resident for over 10 years myself now, and the UK definitely feels a lot more like home!

Attending ITI events is important to me. I feel privileged to be a member of both our local ITI network in Bristol/Bath (the Western Regional Group) and the wider ITI community. I found starting out as a translator very difficult, and I am grateful to the ITI – also and in particular my mentors on the Peer Support Group in 2007 – for helping me place my business on a proper footing. I have so many wonderful colleagues. However, most of our communication happens online, which is why I believe conferences offer the perfect chance to meet others in real life.

I really enjoy going to ITI conferences and would definitely recommend them to anyone working in our industry. The most rewarding part of them to me personally, I think, is the opportunity to leave the office for a couple of days, so I can catch up with or get to know fellow professionals. My life tends to be very busy, but at conferences I can pause for a while, reflect on what I have achieved so far, and pick up on new trends and challenges.

See you in Newcastle next April?

Related posts on this blog:
-14/5/2011: ITI Conference 2011, "Expanding Horizons
- 20/5/2009: ITI Conference 2009, "Sustainability in Translation"
 


Thursday, 18 December 2014

ITI WRG Christmas meal 2014

ITI's Western Regional Group had its annual Christmas meal at the Olive Shed on the harbourside in Bristol on Saturday, 13 December 2014. As usual, it was very well attended, festive food was enjoyed by all, and it was great to catch up with fellow professionals in a lovely ambience.

ITI WRG Christmas meal at the Olive Shed on Bristol's harbourside

Afterwards, a couple of us had drinks at the Riverstation not far from the Olive Shed.

Related posts on this blog:
- 5/7/2014: WRG Business Skills Workshop in Bristol
- 4/8/2013: WRG cycle ride 2013
- 8/3/2013: WRG Technical Authoring Workshop
- 12/12/2007: WRG Christmas Dinner at The Bull in Hinton


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Looking forward to the ITI Conference 2015

Today I have registered for the ITI’s next conference (for the Saturday only) to be held at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 23 until 25 April 2015. Its theme is ‘Renew, Rejuvenate, Regenerate – translating and interpreting in an evolving world’. The ITI Conference is a biennial event and attracts translators and interpreters from all over the UK and beyond.


Join us for the next ITI conference!

Since it is quite a distance between Bristol and Newcastle, I hadn’t been sure if I should attend the conference. However, I had already skipped the last one in 2013 as I didn’t find the venue overly appealing although I can see why Gatwick had been chosen as it was easy to reach for delegates from abroad. What’s more, I always enjoy conferences (for write-ups of previous ITI conferences see here, here and here). Therefore, I am now really excited about my upcoming foray north!


Overall, my reasons for deciding to attend are exactly those that Karin Krikkink describes on the conference blog: to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones, to network, to earn a few CPD […] points, to learn about what’s new in the industry, to get out of the office and spend a few days in a beautiful city abroad (let’s be honest, who doesn’t use conferences as a good excuse for a mini-vacation…), and perhaps most importantly to be inspired by all those colleagues who are also passionate about their jobs.

The most rewarding part of conferences to me personally, I think, is the chance to get out of the office for a couple of days to catch up with or get to know fellow translators and interpreters. I have so many wonderful colleagues, which is one of the aspects that make my job really worthwhile. However, as we mostly communicate online, I believe conferences offer the perfect opportunity to properly meet others in real life.



Meeting other translators in real life at conferences

You can keep up to date with the latest Conference news via the Conference website and by following @ITIConference on Twitter. The Twitter hashtag is #ITIConf15.


English is not my first language. Therefore, if you've just read this post and noticed any errors or unidiomatic expressions, please get in touch and let me know. Thank you so much!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Geeks, Nerds, and Translators


My favourite student job was a short stint at Siemens in Erlangen in 2002 which involved testing newly developed software. I simply had to play around with it and try to find out where it didn’t work as it should. Or, in computer programming speak, my job was to define bugs. I was in a room full of computer programmers who were working on this new software. Among other things, they fixed the bugs that I and another student, who came in on different days, had identified. Work in this room was focused, productive, and above all quiet – just as work for me as a translator is today.

It is now okay to be an introvert!

People doing quiet work, many of whom are introverts, have had a lot of good press in recent years. This is good news to all introverts, including geeks, nerds, and translators too: it is now okay to be an introvert! This has not always been the case. An article on Psychology Today in 2010 therefore even referred to it as the revenge of the introverts. Previously overlooked as people who love hiding behind their computer screens, they are now valued much more for what they’ve got to offer.

So what exactly defines the personality trait of introversion? Introverts enjoy solitary work, in particular work that allows them to dive in with few interruptions. They tend to be better at writing and listening than talking, and prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. Perhaps, introversion can best be defined as a preference for low-stimulation environments.

For a closer look at how introverts interact differently with the world, I recommend this Huffington Post article, which has proved very popular on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook in the past few months.

Bill Gates and other famous introverts

One just has to think of a couple of famous introverts such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Mahatma Gandhi, Vincent van Gogh, Queen Elizabeth II., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg, Joanne K. Rowling, Claudia Schiffer, Joachim Löw, Angela Merkel, Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg, or Emma Watson. Many introverts have had a profound influence on the world, and a lot of the products that we use and love today were in fact designed by introverts.

Are you an extrovert, an introvert, or an ambivert? According to the psychologist Jung, “there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert”. This means every single one of us is situated somewhere between the extreme ends of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Take the quiz here and find out here (in English) or here (in German).

Recommended articles:

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Should translators blog?


Should translators blog, or is it a waste of time? I recently came across “The Case Against Blogging”, a guest post by Karen Tkaczyk on Corinne McKay’s blog. Karen argues blogging is not the best use of a translator’s time and advocates a blog should be uncommon, regular with a predictable posting pattern, novel, and/or entertaining or instructive.

Blogging helps reduce translators’ invisibility.

I’m aware there are a couple of excellent specialised translator blogs out there. But what about all other, more general blogs, including mine? Judging from my own experience, I agree with Karen on the following:

Starting a blog will not bring in lots of new customers.

This is true of my business, too. My customers have come to me via other avenues, but certainly not via my blog. There are numerous other – and to my mind much more effective – strategies to make yourself known as a translator and bring in business. I, too, doubt strongly that potential clients are keen on reading translator blogs.

The style required for a blog is different from the style required for many types of translation.

Yes, and it also applies to my work. The style needed to attract blog readers is worlds away from the style required for patent translation, which typically is dry, verbose, and heavy-going. The style that I have to use tends to be awkward and over-exact – also because I’m sometimes required to reproduce errors, for example.

Most translators should not have a blog.

There are very many translator blogs out there overall. Off the top of my head, I can even think of more people who blog than of people who don’t. And many of us write more or less on the same topics. So is the translator blog market for less specialised content saturated? I think Karen may well be right on this.

It is okay to blog if you find it personally satisfying and don’t care if anyone reads it.

And that hits the nail on the head for me! I find it extremely satisfying on a personal level. I’m not a typical blogger in that my posts are infrequent and I do not even allow comments. However, I’ve never regretted starting this blog, and I’m going to continue writing posts whenever I find the time. Here’s why:

Blogging is intellectually challenging.

I can give my brain a task to work on that is different from translating. It is therefore often really nice for a change! Note that translating involves sticking to the source text to a greater or lesser degree – greater in my case – and conveying every single aspect and nuance. By contrast, when it comes to blogging, I can write freely and creatively.

Blogging helps me gain a clearer perspective.

Writing something down provides a clearer view of what is going on within me. I am sure I’m not the only one who encounters problems in translations with the answer suddenly popping into my head just because I’d started writing an e-mail to a translator forum! The same is true of blogging. It can also motivate to bring about change in various circumstances.

Blogging helps me get things off my chest.

My blog offers a space not just for event write-ups (which I love doing), but also a platform for venting my thoughts. I can write about anything I like, whenever I like. How often have I felt so much better after sending out a post into the cybersphere – especially when I’d been really annoyed about something! It’s curious, too, that others tend to take you more seriously once you’ve published something “officially” on your blog.

Blogging is enjoyable and a way of connecting with the world.

Writing is fun. A blog may not be overly beneficial from a marketing point of view (which I don’t need mine to be as I’m usually inundated with work anyway). Personally, however, I think a blog is a must for anyone who lives and works on the web, as translators do. I only felt I was properly living on the web after starting this blog. It’s also fascinating to occasionally go and check in which corners of the world it’s been accessed – be that the US, Thailand or Austria. (By the way, this blog now has more readers in the US than in the UK!)

Blogging is a way of connecting with the world.

Blogging lets me tap into a skill I am better at than talking.

Translators are by nature better at expressing themselves in writing than verbally. There is some illuminating research into how introverts’ as opposed to extroverts’ brains work. Put simply, introverts’ brains have a higher level of internal activity, and it takes thoughts longer to travel around brain pathways. It’s hence no wonder that many introverts (although notable exceptions exist!) are drawn to professions like writing, translating, researching, accountancy, or computer programming. Therefore, isn’t a blog the perfect tool for communicating with the world?

Blogging helps reduce translators’ invisibility.

Translation is an industry worth an estimated 33 billion US$1; yet it often seems the public is not even aware of its presence. What better way than via a blog to throw light on what translation is about, what translators do, and why it’s important? The more of us who blog, the more effect it will have. We should all make an effort and promote a more positive image of the translation profession. Blogging is just one tool to help achieve this, but it’s a particularly powerful one! A blog also lets you control your own public image. I feel this applies also if you publish posts infrequently.

You can gain a clearer perspective by blogging.

So my take on whether translators should blog or refrain from it is this: It may turn out to be a waste of time if you’re still building your business. However, if any of the above appeals to you and you have some time to spare, why not?

1 source: Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

Monday, 29 September 2014

My 3 Favourite Minimalist Principles

Six months ago I started embracing a more minimalist lifestyle. I felt I wanted more time, less stress, and fewer distractions in my life. I don’t aspire to be an extreme minimalist who owns just 100 things. Instead, my goal is simply to own fewer physical objects, declutter particular areas in my life, and ultimately focus on what is important. I have since given away, recycled, and removed lots of objects that I decided I didn’t need. And as I was gathering momentum on the minimalism journey, I realised all this felt so good!

Here are my 3 favourite minimalist principles:

I get rid of at least one thing every day.

This can be anything: an old magazine; a household item that has seen better days; or a DVD that I’ve never liked. As a translator and a mum, I lead a very busy life and have little time for decluttering on a grand scale. The One-A-Day-Declutter approach does not take much time out of my day. Yet it has the positive effect that over time, I evaluate all things that I own individually. So by the end of one year, I have (at least) 365 fewer things to worry about. Any object that I decide to keep has to fulfil two requirements: is it a) functional, and/or b) beautiful? If the answer to either is no, then out it goes!

For more ideas visit Colleen Madsen's blog 365 Less Things.



Minimalism: more time, less stress, and fewer distractions in life


I keep surfaces clear.

Clear tabletops, clear window sills, and clear bathroom counters communicate calm, serenity, and order. A clear desk will improve motivation and concentration levels. Note this: Horizontal surfaces tend to magnetically attract stuff – be that your own or OPC. (OPC is minimalist jargon for Other People’s Clutter.) Although it’s true that with children you cannot have a completely clutter-free home, you can designate clutter-free zones. Our kitchen counters are mostly clear now, too. I have never really been into cooking, but thanks to a few easy-to-follow minimalist principles, I now have started to almost enjoy cooking (not fully, but almost!).

For more ideas visit Joshua Becker’s blog post "15 Clutter Busting Routines For Any Family".

I digitise more than ever before.


Maybe minimalism appealed to me instantly because translation in a way is a minimalist activity, too? After all, as translators we deliver intangible products. We need well-functioning brains to create them, but comparatively few physical objects to achieve this. I now digitise more than before, including old letters, music CDs and magazine articles, and then either donate or bin the corresponding physical items. (Turning things to bits and bytes should of course go hand in hand with a sensible back-up strategy.) It’s a great time to be a minimalist, which we have computers, scanners, PDF converters, smartphones, external hard drives, and the cloud to thank for!

For more ideas visit Sara Colombo's blog post "Declutter the translator's office: my minimal project".

You’ll likely hear more from me on the topic of minimalism, which has really electrified me. Stay tuned!

Related post in this blog:
- 4/7/2014: Minimalismus im Übersetzeralltag (German)
- 15/2/2015: 5 common misconceptions about minimalists (English)
- 10/9/2015: Mein Leben als Minimalistin - Eine Bilanz (German)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Business Skills Workshop in Bristol


On 5 July 2014 ITI‘s WRG held a workshop on contracts, terms & conditions, contract-related problems and getting paid at the Watershed, Bristol’s popular venue on the harbourside. It was aimed at freelance translators and interpreters and attended mostly by WRG members from the Bristol/Bath area, although a few attendees had travelled from further afield, such as Cardiff, Gloucester or Exeter.

The workshop was led by Andrew Leigh LLB, MA, MITI, who has previously run similar workshops and written articles for the ITI Bulletin and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders on these topics. The topics were in fact well worth addressing. After all, we tend to be very good linguists, but at university we are not usually taught about the business aspects of translation and interpreting!


Basic knowledge about contracts for freelancers

Andrew initially conveyed basic knowledge about the formation of contracts. He covered typical concepts such as consideration (which means the client receives the translation, while in return the translator is paid for it); counteroffers (if the translator suggests new terms in response to an offer by an LSP, this constitutes a counteroffer and will need to be accepted by the LSP for it to become binding); or express and implied terms (the latter being deemed to be incorporated into the contract by implication, but not being stated).

Andrew, an engaging and accomplished speaker, offered plenty of useful advice. As clients sometimes do not issue a purchase order, it is advisable to send your own PO or order confirmation, which is a practice that Andrew always applies in his dealings with direct clients. An order confirmation does not need to be signed; it is usually sufficient if the client acknowledges receipt of it. If the terms of the contract change (e.g. if the source text is amended or a new deadline agreed), the translator should request an amended PO or himself issue an amended order confirmation.

Next on the agenda were terms & conditions, which can be defined as a set of standard terms that apply to all contracts entered into with customers. It is strongly recommended to draw customers’ attention to your T&Cs constantly in the following places: on your website; as a link in your e-mail signature; on the reverse of quotations; on the reverse of order confirmations; and on acceptance of a job. Andrew stressed it is too late, technically, if they are only sent with your invoice.

Andrew kept us active throughout the day by splitting us into groups for work on relevant exercises. One exercise saw us scrutinising clauses in T&Cs under Andrew’s expert supervision. A delicate issue that is sometimes found is the stipulation that all copies of your work must be destroyed on delivery, which may conflict with professional indemnity insurance provisions requiring you to keep copies of your work for evidence purposes. Other questionable clauses concern provisions more applicable to employees and copyright issues.

If a translator has T&Cs, and the LSP has T&Cs, too, whose then actually apply? Under English law, the counter-offer prior to the beginning of performance voids all preceding offers. This is known as the last-shot rule. Clients’ T&Cs should always be scrutinised for the following keywords: indemnify, hold harmless, penalties, limit of liability, and responsibility. You are then faced with these options: accepting them outright; rejecting them outright; or negotiating, i.e. querying their meaning or scope and crossing out or adding clauses yourself.

Having your own T&Cs has clear benefits, but who of us actually have and actively use their own T&Cs? Andrew proposed several options for obtaining T&Cs: using an off-the-shelf set such as those offered by the ITI; writing your own; adapting an existing set; or asking a solicitor to draw one up. The important thing to bear in mind is that T&Cs should be tailored to you and your business!

After a delicious cold buffet lunch, which allowed us to catch up and network or have a stroll in the gorgeous sunshine by the water outside, we reconvened for the afternoon sessions, starting with contract-related problems. Andrew gave practical pointers on how to respond to client complaints such as acting professionally and maintaining good communication. Sometimes an apology to the client is in order; otherwise, don’t be afraid to stand your ground! Other options include the opportunity to rectify the problem; an independent third party opinion; or legal remedies, once all other avenues have been exhausted.

After taking in quite a chunk of heavy-ish legal terminology, we welcomed Andrew’s humorous, light-hearted approach to imparting the contents of the session about getting paid in the form of a role-play. The role-play was based on The Three Little Pigs, featuring Sally Swine, Paula Pork and others – and rather unexpectedly brought out real acting skills of some attendees! It illustrated in a fun way what can arguably turn into the most tedious, headache-inducing tasks of running a business: checking out clients and their creditworthiness; negotiating terms; chasing up invoices; recovering debts; applying late payment legislation; and, of course, accounting practices, too!

In summary, the workshop provided ample opportunity to brush up on or learn about contract law knowledge. It was a day packed with useful advice, hands-on activities, and encouragement to handle contract-related aspects of our freelance businesses with more confidence in future. Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your valuable knowledge with us, and Sandra, for organising this informative, well-run event!

TweetOutWest's first ever tweet-up at Bristol's Watershed

Many of us stayed on for TweetOutWest’s first ever tweet-up, which took place at the Watershed right outside the workshop room afterwards. It was also the first ever tweet-up that I had attended myself. Does anyone else experience this or is it just me? Translation is a quiet profession, there are lots of introverts among translators, and I, too, am usually not much of a talker. Yet, when I’m among fellow translators, this always feels so good as after all there is quite a lot to talk about… I therefore felt sorry I had to head back home so soon!

Tweets in connection with the tweet-up can be found under the hashtags #TweetOutWest and #LinguistsUnite. Thank you, Lloyd and María @TweetOutWest, for arranging it. Bring on the next one!

Previous WRG events which I have written up:
- 4/8/2013: WRG cycle ride 2013
- 8/3/2013: WRG Technical Authoring Workshop 
- 7/11/2010: Sustainability workshop with Siobhan Soraghan
- 7/5/2008: ITI Joint Revision Workshop and St. Jerome Seminar
- 12/12/2007: WRG Christmas Dinner at The Bull in Hinton

Friday, 16 May 2014

5 simple ways to boost your efficiency: A guide for freelancers

Do you find you spend a little too much time in the office? Do you know how many hours you work? Time is a valuable resource for you as a freelancer, so be sure you make good use of it! Efficiency is key to productivity and business success, and I am sure we all have our own little efficiency measures in place. But perhaps you’d like to consider implementing the following efficiency measures, which work really well for me:

Buy time-saving office equipment. Invest in the latest superfast computer. It is simply not worth having to wait for a slow-ish computer to boot up or for all your various programmes to sluggishly open. Get a fast internet connection, too, to speed up your work processes. I recently bought a new document shredder that can shred 60 sheets at a time, rather than just a couple. Why waste precious time?

Build macros. Automate tasks that you perform regularly in Microsoft Office. Macros are easy to define even without any programming knowledge. Simply follow the instructions here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/support/using-macros-to-speed-up-your-work-HA001019230.aspx You could, for example, build a macro for converting text to Arial and sending it to the printer using your own shortcut key combination. (I usually revise texts in Arial as it helps pick up errors and clumsy renderings much better than other fonts!)

Define codes for frequent words or phrases. My favourite feature in MemoQ, my preferred translation software, is the Autocorrect feature. It lets me define codes for all those long (and not so long) German compound nouns in the patents I translate. Needless to say, typos do not stand a chance of creeping into words again once you’ve spelt them correctly the first time round. You can, therefore, focus your attention elsewhere in the text. Autocorrect and the translation memory function in MemoQ have saved me, for example, from having to type “Ausführungsform” 679 times in the last 3 months alone! (“Ausführungsform” is the translation of embodiment, i.e. the manner in which an invention can be made, used, practised or expressed.)



Increasing translators' efficiency: MemoQ's Autocorrect feature

Check e-mails just once every day. I use 5 e-mail addresses, 4 of which are linked to my website domain. Work e-mails reach me every 10 minutes between Monday morning and Friday evening. They are also the only messages that come through on my smartphone. By contrast, I download messages from friends and family members as well as forum messages just once every day, and I use a separate e-mail client for that. I recommend dealing with such messages at the end of the working day when your concentration levels have likely gone down. Your colleagues and friends will condone the odd typo or infelicitous wording; your clients won’t.

Track your time. For me, efficiency goes hand in hand with knowing how many hours I’ve spent in the office and what I have achieved in that time. I use TimeStamp from Softonic for this. I punch in when I start working and punch out when I take a break or call it a day. Taking regular breaks is important, too, as sustained concentration can result in mental exhaustion and stress and will impact your efficiency. Even translators, who tend to have very long concentration spans, need regular breaks! Tracking your time will help you manage your concentration span and schedule breaks.




Tracking time will help manage your concentration span better.

Ultimately, the goal of being efficient is to carve out more time that you can take off. In this context, I also recommend setting aside at least one free evening per week. For me, Friday evening is always free from translation work as well as chores and commitments. The reality – especially with children – is you often just cannot avoid working evenings. My kids are older now, so more of my evenings are free. However, I still treasure my Friday evenings as they date back to a time when it was extremely difficult to actually fit in any free time at all.

Have a great weekend!


Related posts in this blog:
5/2/2014: 168 hours
10/4/2012: The translating parent
21/5/2009: Work-life balance for freelancers 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Pricing and Turnover in a Translator’s Business

Pricing and turnover in a translator’s business are thorny subjects. So thorny indeed that many translators are extremely reluctant to talk about it at all. It is also a subject where I can get a bit hot under the collar. I know I shouldn’t really say too much as I don’t want to tread on anybody’s toes, but I do feel it is detrimental to the image of our profession that so many translators complain about low turnovers. Are you happy with the turnover of your translation business? If not, consider the following:

Do you specialise in any particular fields? It is time-consuming to regularly have to dig into and research new areas and it will not add much to your bottom line. Stick to the same fields, and market yourself as an expert in such fields.

Do you use translation software to automate some of your work? Translation software will speed up your work considerably. It will take some of the dull, mechanical work off your shoulders and free up space for the more intricate (and much more interesting!) parts of translation.

Do you manage your time? Are you actually working while you could or should be working? Do you manage your attention span? Time is one of a freelancer‘s most precious resources and should not be wasted. Effective time management techniques, therefore, are key.

Translators are not willing to work for peanuts.

Do you charge per 1,000 words although it would be wise to charge by the hour – or vice versa? Obviously, you wouldn‘t want to price yourself out of the market, but don’t forget freelancing means you can charge whatever feels right to you. After all, no one dictates what you should charge.

And, finally, the awkward question:

Do you charge enough? Do you work for serious-minded clients or bucket-shop companies? Remember the translation market is huge, and demand for translations is immense. Therefore, why not make the effort and track down some good clients? By the way, if you’re constantly inundated with work, you should raise your rates sooner rather than later.

Misconception 7 of my most popular blog post ever says “translators are willing to work for peanuts”. Are you willing to work for peanuts? There is still much work to be done, but I am confident that we are slowly moving away from the erroneous, outdated image of translation as a low-paid, unattractive profession. And if more of us became a bit more open about what we charge and earn, it would go a long way towards promoting the image of translation as a worthwhile and respected profession.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

168 hours

How many hours did you spend at your job, exercising, on Twitter or doing school runs last week? According to Laura Vanderkam, bestselling author of the e-book “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”, we all have 168 hours each week. Every single one of us. But do we spend these 168 hours well? Do we spend them in a way that satisfies us personally, that is good for our careers – and our families? Say you work about 35 hours per week (which is what I do) and sleep 7 hours per night, that still leaves 84 hours for other things.

Getting a better grip on your time management

Inspired by the suggestions in Laura’s book, I embarked on a time log experiment in the first week back at work this year. First, I listed all my routine daily activities in a spreadsheet and then logged the duration of each of them for a couple of days. For years now I have tracked time spent in the office week in and week out. As a translator I can get really absorbed in what I do, so my work time log gives me a clear indication of when it’s time to stop. Tracking my time meticulously for everything else, too, has revealed some very interesting insights and, hopefully, will help increase my efficiency. (And I love thinking about efficiency!)

Weekdays I am usually up before everyone else in the house. I watch the news in English, Italian or German first. (I have been doing this in Italian a lot recently as I really need to practise my listening and comprehension skills.) This is followed by reading and having breakfast on my own – in absolutely perfect quiet! Reading is one of my favourite pastimes and, like all translators, I have to read a lot. Yet I sometimes find it so hard to make time for it. Translators read anything, from newspaper articles and non-fiction books to blog posts. They do this to learn about terminology, get a feel for good writing, and stay current with industry trends. I’ve always done a bit of reading in the morning, but I’ve now managed to carve out a bit more time for it.

Laura suggests getting up early for things that are not terribly urgent, but overall are important to us. Of course, we all tick differently, and what works for me might not work for you at all. And on some days all my good intentions can go out the window too. In principle, however, I love Laura’s idea of getting a jump on the day. I find it’s particularly suited to any of us who juggle a busy career and family commitments. Especially if it’s a career (like translation!) that tends to fill more than the usual office hours and so often seeps into weekends, too.

If you feel like getting a better grip on your time management, you’ll have to get your hands on “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”! It also includes great tips in the sections “What the Most Successful People Do On the Weekend” and “What the Most Successful People Do at Work”. Check out Laura’s website here or follow her on Twitter @lvanderkam.

Related posts on this blog:
- 10/2/2012: The translating parent
- 21/09/2009: Work-life balance for freelancers
- 3/11/2015: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Human translators: Do we really need them?

If you’ve ever come across a text on the internet that somehow reminded you of the confused stammering of a delirious lunatic, it was probably a machine translation. Look around and you’ll notice that human translators are as busy as ever. Note that this has been the case not just for years, but in fact decades of research into machine translation. Human translators won’t be outdone by machines in the next 100 years. Or in fact ever. Read on to find out why.

The difficulty of finding the English equivalent of the quote in my previous post is just one of the very many and varied examples where human translators are needed to tackle linguistic, grammar, research or cultural challenges that texts typically bring up. Translator forums are full of queries concerning such challenges for which no translation machine is capable of providing satisfying answers or solutions.


Human translators are as busy as ever.

Would you let a machine gobble up, digest and spit out your carefully written marketing texts? Obviously, you wouldn’t. A professional human translator would transcreate, i.e. rewrite, your texts so that they read well in the language of the country that you’re planning to export to so that you don’t end up making a fool of yourself. Translation machines are notorious for not being able to pick up even the slightest of cultural or linguistic nuances.

Would you disclose confidential details of your contract willy-nilly to just any server out there on the web because you don’t care what becomes of them afterwards? Obviously, you wouldn’t. Of course, it’s recently become a painful fact that, whatever measures we take, the privacy and confidentiality of whatever we communicate via the web can’t be taken for granted any more. But you’d at the very least prefer to send your documents using encrypted communication methods, such as the ones that professional human translators offer to ensure confidentiality.

Would you entrust your patent, which contains sentences more than 300 words long and which you intend to file with the patent office, to a translation machine? Obviously, you wouldn’t. Using a professional human translator’s services will not only guarantee that all the commas are in the correct places, but also that the correct meaning is conveyed, appropriate terminology is used and consistency is maintained throughout the text. And isn’t that what translation really is all about?

Anything spat out by translation machines should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Always. Remember the story of someone walking around with a tattoo saying “Babylon is the world’s leading translation software” as the translation for a beautiful message translated using Babylon? And the story that there is, potentially, the danger of a doctor amputating your leg on holiday abroad because you’ve asked her for something for your headache using a translation app that you happened to have on your phone?

Translators regularly use translation programmes themselves, so by all means, you should use them too if necessary, including the free tools on the web called ‘raw MT tools’ (if you like jargon). They can be useful and are certainly getting better. Use them to get an idea of what a text in a foreign language says. To understand somebody else’s Facebook updates. For all the texts that machines are good at and don’t require a human translator. But overall, be careful – especially if you don’t understand the language. Remember that anyone who does understand the language might think that this is not so funny after all.

Finally, it would be much appreciated if everyone would refrain from comments along the lines of “Why should I use a human translator ever again as I’ve just discovered Google Translate?”. Because you’d immediately give yourself away as someone who doesn’t fully understand how language works. Language still has a huge part to play in our day and age, whatever industry you work in. And having to answer “Why should I use a human translator ever again as I’ve just discovered Google Translate?” is tiring for human translators, who are simply too busy to have this discussion.