Using Corpora in Your Translation Work

I trust everyone out there in translation world is doing well having enjoyed a restful Easter break! Today I wanted to share a few practical tips that I’ve developed from within a specific area of translation studies in the hope that they will prove useful to you too. The area in question is corpus-based translation studies, a fascinating sub-category of the discipline that I’m not hugely familiar with but one that I have explored enough to glean these useful tips to apply to my day-to-day work.

In this particular context, the word ‘corpus’ – coming from the Latin for ‘body’ (and with its lovely plural of ‘corpora’) – simply refers to a large and structured set of texts (nowadays usually electronically stored and processed) used to carry out statistical analysis and check occurrences or validate linguistic rules within a specific language territory. These days, corpora are often found at the root of machine translation technology, including Google Translate – something I’ve previously explored on my blog.

In general, a corpus may contain texts in a single language (monolingual corpus) or text data in multiple languages (multilingual corpus). Multilingual corpora that have been specially formatted for side-by-side comparison are called aligned parallel corpora. A few free online corpora out there include the BNC (British National Corpus), the Spanish corpus CREA and the corpus of written Italian, CORIS.

For translation studies, meanwhile, the modern translator’s capacity to process information more quickly and easily than ever before has led to vast developments in this area. Indeed, the problem now is that although we can find information easily, we need to ensure that it is reliable and correct within a specific context and this is where corpora and concordancing software play an important role.

While I don’t want to delve too far into the technical side of things as the practical tips below don’t necessarily require any in-depth knowledge of the area, for anyone looking to get better acquainted with what research in this area involves, I’d highly recommend giving Maeve Olohan’s ‘Introducing Corpora in Translation Studies’ a read. The book works from a basis of Descriptive Translation Studies and analyses the worth of (as you’d imagine) corpora in translation studies. While asserting that contrastive translation studies alone doesn’t take the translation act or its sociocultural contexts (ideology etc.) into account, the author advocates combining the quantitative data provided by corpora with qualitative findings from studying the texts more closely.

Using corpora as a style guide or terminology checker

Based on my own (fairly limited) research into the area, the primary application of corpora that I initially implemented into my work was the method of constructing a ‘DIY corpus’ to carry out statistical analysis in fields within which I was not 100% comfortable.

One of the major aims of this method was to develop my knowledge of medical translation when I first started exploring it as a specialism. In this particular case, I constructed an English monolingual corpus of medical journal entries available in open-access online journals in order to gain a firm understanding of the kind of style expected of medical writing and to provide statistical backing for the selection of particular terms or phrases in translation. Subsequently, I analysed the constructed corpus by using the concordancing software AntConc, a freeware program that allows the user to search a body of text for collocations, the frequency of words and word clusters.

In practice, when producing a translation, I would cross-check my English renderings with the corpus (i.e. searching for a particular word or phrase within the texts) to highlight how common/uncommon a particular phrase or term was and what contexts it could be used in. Take, for instance, this simple example: while a term such as ‘significativement’ in a French ST could be adequately translated in various contexts as ‘significantly’, ‘frequently’ or ‘strongly’, by using the corpus and concordancing software you can pinpoint the most fitting synonym for this exact text type and context. As such, compared to dictionaries or glossaries, which often just provide word lists and are unable to take context into account, such ‘DIY corpus’ results provide unparalleled contextual and statistical backing for a given choice.

In general, it is thought that reliable statistical patterns will emerge from a corpus containing 100,000 or more words and, while this figure initially sounds daunting, if texts in the area are readily available – as if the case with medical texts, for example – the process is not overly time-consuming and the positive impact it has on a translation project ensures that its construction is completely justified. Not all topics or languages are so readily available, however, and the relevance and reliability of documents does need to be carefully assessed before adding them to the corpus. Why not give it a go?

The internet as a corpus

Frankly, however, despite representing an excellent way to find your footing in a new specialist area, it is simply not practical to construct a 100,000-word corpus every single time you have to tackle an unfamiliar genre. Fortunately there is another, more user-friendly way of implementing corpora into your daily work.

Rather than going through the extended process outlined above, it is possible to achieve a similar effect using the internet as a ready-made corpus for a whole range of topics. The most effective method that I have found involves using Google as a makeshift style guide when working for a particular site or within a particular site’s stylistic parameters. For example, If you were looking to produce an English text in-line with the general style adopted on the BBC’s website, you can simply type a specific phrase into Google accompanied by ‘’ (or whatever site it happens to be) and the results will let you determine whether the word/phrase is commonly used, and in what specific context.

Say you wanted to see whether the US English spelling of the word ‘specialise’ is ever used on the BBC’s site, for instance: by typing “specialize” (the quotation marks are important to find only that exact spelling) into Google, it takes just a few clicks to conclude that the British English spelling is much more common with almost 30,000 hits compared to just under 4,000 for the US spelling. Handy, right?

For me, when I am writing for a particular site or translating documents along similar lines to previously produced texts online, there are numerous times when I feel unconvinced by a certain phrase or sentence structure and like to use this method to ensure that I’m fulfilling the intended style, it’s a kind of guiding hand when proofing your own work.


Trapped in Toyland: Effective non-translation in Toy Story

A far cry from last time’s outing, which listed some of the best online resources out there to help you get better acquainted with translation studies as a discipline, today’s post is perhaps a bit more fun.

As one of the defining films of my childhood, Toy Story has always had a special place in my heart and I wanted to look at some of the interesting tidbits that have emerged from its global success – the trials and tribulations of translating such a tale for toy lovers around the world… if you will.

While I’ve tackled the translation of film titles on several occasions in the past and regard it as an extremely interesting topic, the fact that Toy Story has retained its English title quite consistently around the globe seems to suggest that this line of enquiry is one of little merit.

There is the obligatory French translation (Histoire de Jouets) in Quebec, and in Italian the subtitles added to each film seem to follow the formula of dumbing down titles in translation that I discussed in my other posts on the topic (the first becomes Toy Story – Il mondo dei giocattoli [The world of toys], the second adds Woody e Buzz alla riscossa [Woody and Buzz to the rescue] and the third adds La Grande Fuga [The great escape]), but there is little else of note. However, it is precisely this non-translation that counter-intuitively offers some interesting insights that I will look at in more detail later in the post.

Of course, there’s the usual mix of tricky translations to deal with within the film’s narrative. The riddle of Al’s Toy Barn in the second film is one great example that sees the toys struggling with the meaning of the car licence plate LZTYBRN (Al’s Toy Barn with the vowels removed). In French, the translators completely ignored the significance of the licence plate, having selected a fairly literal translation of the shop’s name (La Ferme aux Jouets d’Al) that was impossible to link to the letters available. I’d certainly be interested to know if there are any more creative versions in other languages that manage to incorporate the licence plate.

Furthermore, one interesting point is that the film’s iconic theme tune – Randy Newman’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend in me’ – is actually translated into French (Je suis ton ami – below) and Spanish (Hay un amigo en mi). While the Spanish version is used in conjunction with the ‘Spanish Buzz’ gag in the third film and adopts a flamenco-based orchestration, the French version is something of an oddity as the song’s lyrics have just been translated and played over the existing music, something that is quite rare. Indeed, the entire French soundtrack received this same treatment in a move that is perhaps due to the slightly more Anglo-skeptic nature of French audiences (something to be discussed below) or is perhaps just a challenge that the movie’s producers set themselves…. Either way, it is well worth a listen for the clever transposition of the lyrics.

However, the most interesting insights come from outside of the main storyline and the title of the second film in Italian mentioned above hints at this point of interest – the clue lies in the fact that Woody and Buzz remain untranslated. While Woody’s name, coming from the African-American Western actor Woody Strode, could easily be translated to reflect a similar cultural reference, Woody, Buzz and several of the more minor characters’ names are consistently left unchanged or, if altered, are translated simply to reflect to real-life toy that they depict (e.g. M. Patate / Señor Patata – Mr. Potato Head). This retention of the same names is particularly true of cultures that are more accepting of English – such as Italian, where all of the characters’ names remain untranslated – and it is a clear indication of the powerful marketing strategies operating on a wider scale.

In the case of France, meanwhile, where there is more pride associated with the native language and a less favourable opinion towards Anglicisms, there has been more of an effort to rebrand the names (Buzz Lightyear becomes Buzz l’Eclair, for example, and Wheezy is renamed Siffli in an attempt to match the pun – an opportunity that is not taken in Italian or Spanish) but ultimately the importance afforded to the core marketing terms (Woody, Buzz, Toy Story etc.) overrides this cultural trait.

Furthermore, the names that are translated in French are themselves equally concerned with positive marketing as they are always well thought-out, catchy and in-keeping with general naming trends among toys: Slinky becomes Zigzag, Stinky Pete becomes Papi Pépite [Grandpa Nugget – using the mining reference], Bullseye becomes Pile-Poil [spot-on, exactly] and Hamm becomes Bayonne (a famous ham-making region in France).

The memorable nature of these names and the repeated use of rhyme and alliteration mark these out as something beyond the ordinary translation. Indeed, the translation of names in France was not only a tool to provide a small touch of humour to viewers but also a means of marketing the toys to the general public, a clever opportunity that was perhaps slightly ignored by the Italian translators (although the merchandise still undoubtedly sold well in Italy under the English branding). Ultimately, it’s not surprising that all of the toys were successfully marketed in France (anyone want a Pile-Poil doll?).

So what can Toy Story tell us about translation? Above all, both the translation and non-translation of various elements within and surrounding the films demonstrate that the power of global marketing consistency can be more influential than linguistic considerations when mediating between cultures, particularly when the source language enjoys the kind of global hegemony that English does. Toy Story is quite unique in its marketing potential (how many children could resist the lure of wanting a Woody or Buzz of their own after watching the film?) but this is a choice that is reflected in many translations these days, where a brand must choose between comprehension and consistency in their branding.

In this particular case, even the decision to leave the title as untouched as possible is a strategic one (rather than being the result of laziness). The film’s logo and distinctive colour scheme are now instantly recognisable and this greater consistency has ensured unrivalled brand value on a global scale rather than fragmenting international markets.

Ultimately, aside from the lovable characters, enjoyable storylines and clever marketing, it seems that the strategic translation choices (or the lack of translation all together) made along the way have been one of the key factors in the series’ continuing success that saw the first film alone make $361 million worldwide.

To infinity and beyond / Vers l’infini et au-delà / Verso l’infinito…e oltre! / Hasta el infinito… ¡y más allá!

– Buzz Lightyear

Exploring Translation Studies Online: Where to start?

With the debate raging on as to whether or not an academic background is a necessity for today’s translator (you can read my take on the subject here), an increasing number of translators are taking the plunge and working towards those translation-specific qualifications or at least considering getting a grip on the academic side of the our profession.

However, if you’re looking into the area and don’t want to immediately splash out on an extensive reading list, where do you start once you’ve ploughed through the valuable nuggets that Wikipedia has to offer on the subject?

While translation studies as a discipline is gradually increasing its online presence in this digital age, it is still relatively difficult to find useful resources among the masses of websites that skirt around the subject. As such, here are my top five online translation studies resources to map out a few key starting points that will hopefully provide invaluable insights for both experienced translators and those completely new to the wonderful world of translation alike while saving you the hassle of trawling the web.

Anthony Pym’s Youtube channel

What better place to start than with a leading figure in translation studies interviewing other leading figures in the discipline? That’s exactly what you get with Anthony Pym’s Youtube channel. Pym, current president of the European Society for Translation Studies, has clearly put a lot of effort into making the discipline more accessible and the interviews in particular provide an ideal way of exploring a range of key ideas. Also included on the channel are explorations of the different theories within translation and a whole collection of fascinating lectures.

Meanwhile, Pym’s website too is something of a treasure trove of information as he has made much of his previous research available for free online. While reading only one scholar’s take on the subject can result in a biased view of the discipline, the quality of Pym’s work means that it is worth really taking advantage of the resources on offer in conjunction with other research.

Fondazione San Pellegrino’s Youtube channel

Along the same lines as Anthony Pym’s channel, the Fondazione San Pellegrino have uploaded a vast collection of excellent interviews and talks given by leading figures in the discipline (in both Italian and English) that are well worth a watch.

Jeremy Munday’s ‘Introducing Translation Studies’ site

Another leading figure in the discipline, Munday’s companion site to his 2001 book of the same name is perfect for anyone looking to get to grips with the development of thought within translation studies. The site includes video discussions of each chapter from the author himself, suggested further reading, external links and even multiple choice quizzes to test your translation studies knowledge.

Online Journals

Journals provide the most telling representation of current trends within a discipline and therefore remain a key area to explore. A good place to start when looking for online translation journals is on Mona Baker’s website where the author of ‘In Other Words’ (thetextbook of choice for translation courses these days) has included a fairly comprehensive list of translators’ associations, translation journals and publishers in the field.

And, while many of the more famous journals like Translation Studies and The Translator require a subscription to access the texts, there are still many open-access journals out there that provide quality, free content. Two such examples are the New Voices in Translation Studies journal and the University of Helsinki’s English studies electronic journal that both provide great articles. Finally, one newly-formed translation journal that has fully embraced the digital age we live in is Translation: A transdisciplinary journal. Their website is a bit more user-friendly than the rather cluttered standard layout that can accompany journals and, while you do have to pay for the core articles, certain content (such as reviews, introductions and interviews) is available for free. It’s certainly a project worth following.


When producing a list of the best free online resources on offer, it would be extremely careless of me to overlook the power of blogging. There are several excellent blogs out there addressing the topic of translation theory – Aston University’s blog or the About Translation blog to name but two – and I’ve tackled the topic a couple of times in the past myself too. So, if you’re looking for somewhere familiar to start you off, why not check out my brief introduction to translation theory.

Hopefully these few resources will help you get started and hopefully they will equally inspire a few of you to delve further into translation studies literature. If there are any other resources that you feel should be included, please get in touch to let me know!

Finally, although it’s not specifically translation studies material, here’s a bonus link to several free e-books on translation, terminology and linguistics. Who doesn’t love a free e-book?! Enjoy!

Trust me, I’m a translator

Before getting started with today’s blog post, I just wanted to quickly mention a recent post I was featured in. Over at the Balance Your Words blog, Sara has started a great new series entitled ‘What’s on your desk?’ that gives translators out there a little insight into their fellow professionals’ quirks and working habits and I was lucky enough to be the first translator featured. Be sure to check out the upcoming posts.

But now it’s time for today’s main course and I want to look at something that has a part to play in every single translation project out there – the issue of trust (I guess the title and the huge flashing image to the right give it away somewhat).

Traditionally, there is a widespread air of mistrust surrounding the translator – this wily, shadowy character who lies between cultures, hides behind their computer screen and turns one language into another in a terrifying act of textual alchemy… It’s not natural, surely!

And in some ways, this sense of unease is quite justified. We are taught to mistrust that which we do not fully understand and the fact that the translator possesses a means of doing something completely alien to the end client will instantly raise their guard. In either turning their beloved text into a strange foreign tongue or producing flowing prose from something that previously made no sense, the client is forced to trust that what they are receiving is the genuine article, so to speak.

This video from the hugely popular series Game of Thrones sums up the dilemma entirely: how do you know that the words you are receiving actually represent those that they should when you do not speak the source language..? In the video, the interpreter (Missandei) is put in the unenviable position of trying to mask her master’s obscene language in order to maintain diplomatic negotiations. Requiring a sharp mind able to produce a complete reinterpretation of the source words in an instant, the role sees her rendering phrases such as ‘because I like the curve of her ass’ as ‘because Master Kraznys is generous’ (1:05).

And this particular conception of trust is something that has been considered by leading translation scholar Anthony Pym. In his 2009 ‘On the ethics of translator’s interventions’ (an intriguing talk that is available in its entirety on Youtube and is well worth a watch!), Pym focuses on the issue of trust and trustworthiness – albeit in a different context to the one explored here – and suggests that as one party is always out of control they must always maintain trust in the intermediary.

Ultimately, that is why professional translators charge what they do: they understand the importance of your message and have spent countless hours learning how to transfer that message as fully as possible to a new culture and audience.

However, I choose to look at trust as a two-way relationship rather than just a single level of faith on the part of the client and this is something alluded to by another leading translation scholar in Andrew Chesterman. While considering the development of a professional code of conduct for translators (his ‘Proposal for a hieronymic oath’), Chesterman highlights trust as one of the key categories involved along with truth, loyalty and understanding.

In labelling his notion of trust as equal and something to be subscribed to by all parties involved, my conclusion coming from his ideas is that, just as the client must trust in the translator, the translator must also trust in the client. Issues such as timely payment, the resolution of problems outside of the translator’s control (source text errors, for instance) and setting reasonable deadlines that are subsequently respected are all examples of occasions when the translator must place their faith in an equally unknown client and this shifts the initial representation of trust that we explored above.

With this taken into account, the notion of trust becomes a reciprocal relationship and should be respected as such: the key to successful collaboration lies in interacting with professionals that share the same standards and expectations as you. My belief is that ultimately, if you can trust yourself to handle a project well, then you can trust your like-minded professional translator to do the best job possible. Trust me, I’m a translator.

Translation as Music

In the past I’ve written about my love for metaphor within translation (on two separate occasions no less) and this post roughly picks up from there. Previously, I’ve taken a look at the metaphors that have been formed over the years in an attempt to shed light upon the (supposedly impossible) task that we, as translators, tackle on a daily basis. This time around, meanwhile, I aim to delve deeper into one particular connection that is frequently made – that of translation and music.

As a keen musician when I’m not translating, this link is something I love to explore (I wrote a post looking at applications of translation within music a while back) and first off here are a few famous examples of the two being drawn together:

“Poetry translation is like playing a piano sonata on a trombone.” – Nataly Kelly

“A translation is no translation, he said, unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it.” – John Millington Synge

“Music, ‘the universal language’, is what poetic writing aims to be.” – Suzanne Jill Levine

“All writers aim to be musicians.” – the narrator in Infante’s Inferno by Cabrera Infante

Yet rather than aiming to merely recount occasions when a link has been made between translation and music, this post intends to take a preliminary look at a new potential means of viewing the relationship between the two. While translation is so often considered a secondary, derivative task, there is an interesting thread to follow within musical metaphor making that may help us to challenge this subordination.

If such a strong link exists between translation and music, then why not see translation as a cover version of a track? Covers share the same status as a translation: they are an interpretation, a reading of anoriginal. Just like translation, the fact that they cannot stake a claim to utter originality is also without doubt, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot equal, or even surpass, this original.

As cover versions often go on to seal their place in a different style and era, translations too can breathe new life into a text and come to represent something beyond their source. This value is subjective of course, but the possibility seems undeniable.

One nice example that demonstrates the potential existence of a superior cover/translation is the 1967 Bob Dylan track All Along the Watchtower. While Dylan’s original recording is a classic in its own right, the song is almost overwhelmingly identified with the version Jimi Hendrix recorded for Electric Ladyland (below) just six months after Dylan’s track was released. Hendrix’s cover went on to become a Top 20 single in 1968 and was ranked 47th in Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’, making it by far the more successful of the two.

Indeed, when describing his reaction to hearing Hendrix’s version, Dylan himself said: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there.”

Furthermore, Dylan subsequently took to basing his own performances of the song on Hendrix’s version, something he openly admits: “[Hendrix] probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.” Now, when listening back to later live performances of the track, it is clear how much Dylan’s own take on the song has been influenced by Hendrix’s cover.

When considered in the context of translation, this example calls to mind the famous quote by Salman Rushdie: “It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.”

In overturning the dominant view of translation as a secondary task that struggles in vain to live up to an immovable original, this metaphor serves to provide a stronger image of the task at hand and the profession as a whole. While it still reflects the inescapable fact that a translation is not an original production, the image of translation as a cover version demonstrates the power that translation can nevertheless wield and the immense value that it offers. Ultimately, alternative meaning and originality complement each other – neither makes up a whole on its own.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Are there any other musical metaphors you’ve come across? To finish of with, here’s a fitting quote from Paul Blackburn that takes us back to Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home:

In your view, what is a translator?
A man who brings it all back home. In short, a madman.

One year down: What blogging has to offer

After being spoiled with a brilliant guest post on LinkedIn last time out, this post is something a little different.

I was recently made aware (by the fairies at WordPress) that my blog had turned one and thought that now would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what has been an exciting year and consider how valuable a tool blogging has proven to be in the process.

So what does a blog offer you? Why should you consider making the leap if you’re not already among the league of bloggers? Maintaining a blog is certainly a considerable commitment but I believe that the rewards far outweigh the potential drawbacks and here are a few of my own thoughts on the merits of translation blogging:

1) Developing relevant skills

When I started out with my blog, I had little idea of the direction I wanted to head in and it was primarily a place to write about something I love. I was full to the brim with translation-y goodness and needed somewhere to share it. Beyond this, however, it was also a means through which I could work on my writing ability within a context of my choosing and has allowed me to increase my familiarity with different styles of content and work on different way of making topics more dynamic and appealing. While it may not seem instantly relevant, all of these skills are key aspects of a translators’ continuing development.

2) Demonstrating your know-how to potential clients and contacts

While not all of my posts are technical essays on complicated subject matter, far from it, I hope that they at least demonstrate that I know my subject well and this is one of the most valuable tools that a blog can offer. If you’re an expert in your field, then why not show it? With so many translators out there – many of them sharing the same specialist areas as you – a blog provides a platform to show off your knowledge and show that you know how to get that information across. What’s more, while you can’t encapsulate all of your knowledge into the few pages deemed acceptable in an application, a link to and a mention of your blog in your CV allows you to direct potential clients to a wealth of additional information and clients will certainly be interested in having a look at what you’ve been writing about.

3) Expanding your horizons

While at first it may prove difficult to get your content out there and get noticed, you’ll quickly find that there’s always an appetite for interesting/informative/different content. I’m a strong believer in the value of social media for freelancers and it is here that you will find the best paths to expansion. Sharing content has really helped me to integrate and interact with the Twitter translation community and this in turn has led to the development of strong ties with new contacts and clients alike. Furthermore, as your content finds its way further afield, you will see improved visibility on other platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, even without a concerted personal effort, and this can only be a good thing for your business.

4) Letting people know a little bit about yourself

While my blog is by no means a personal sound board, the very topics that I choose, the way that I try to get information across and the manner in which information is presented all serve to give a strong representation of the person that I am. In an industry where people want to work with people, and not nameless machines, this is a valuable asset. As Sara discussed in her guest post last time out, this is vital to your growth as a business and blogging represents an invaluable means of demonstrating that personal touch.

5) Giving something back

Ultimately, one of the main things that I want to achieve when writing a post is for people to enjoy the content and take something (however little) away from it. The translation community is filled with excellent blogs and articles that help no end in your professional endeavours and it is great to be a small part of that and give a little something back.

Finally, I just want to thank everyone who has read and shared content during this exciting first year and I hope that there will be plenty more for you to enjoy in the coming years. Ciao!

Guest Post: Mastering LinkedIn with Sara Colombo


Hello all and thank you for having me here today. How are you? Joseph invited me to write a guest post for his blog and I am glad today we’ll be talking about LinkedIn. Yes, the once professional network that became a social utility and is now functioning as a professional social network… a sort of in-between platform.

“But social media are a waste of time for freelancers!” you might think. And you are right. Social media won’t lead you far if used only to play games, share selfies and chat about cats, soups, cars etc.

However, if used for business purposes, social media can really help you to get in touch with potential clients (agencies as well as direct clients), discover new niches, turn followers into customers and establish yourself as a leader.

The only thing you have to do is clarify who you are to attract the right people – the people you get on with who will be happy to work with you (and will also benefit from your translation services) –  which, to be honest, is not exactly an easy task.

Keep in mind that people work with people, not nice brands. They want to see the human behind the digital surface. And when I say this, I mean that they want to connect with a nice human, someone they like, find interesting, someone they would hire because they understand their business and can help them. In other words, when you create a LinkedIn profile, you have to be human, personal, find out what your values are and who might benefit from those values/skills.

Why? Well, because (a) you don’t want to attract all the random bonkers annoyingly hanging out around your contacts and (b) why the heck would you waste time to create a very general and anonymous profile, a universal washout, when you could spend the same amount of time on a clear, effective, specific profile? You tell me.

We need to understand this: creating general profiles to please the whole world and attract all the damn clients we can think of is tiring, pointless, useless. You need to attract the perfect client for you, not thousands of pests.

Think about it: isn’t it better to be a business that solves problems rather than being just another business? And who can you help if not the people experiencing the problems your skills and expertise can solve?

The solution? Be yourself, learn to value your skills, know who you want to talk to, understand what they want to hear from you, and create a specific, clear, effective, LinkedIn profile.

Let’s put it this way: use LinkedIn to attract the right people.


Many people think that specialization is something that comes with their brand, as if colours and logos could tell the whole story of your life at first glance. Failures and milestones included.

Wrong. As I say in my book: you are your brand. A brand might be cool and definitely an important part of your business, but this is the time to show your personality and talent to the world. Because this is how you will build your career and attract the right people.

So, to create a great LinkedIn profile, forget rules and fixed CV standards and learn to interact, be true and tell your story. Here are some ideas:

  1. Use your picture, not your logo. People want to work with real people, and unless you come from Mars, you should be one nice, interesting person.
  2. When writing your summary, be focused, clear and personal. Use your creativity to link all the steps and create a compelling presentation: show your love, motivation and share your areas of interest or your specialisations. As I have said, being specific helps you attract the right client, but it is also the only way to tell people more about your values, opinions and, as a consequence, stand out from the crowd. Because you don’t want to be just ‘another translator’…right? Great. Then ‘neutral’ should not be in your vocabulary, especially when it comes to describing your career. On the contrary highlight your skills, specify the important milestones or steps that led you to where you are now, charm people with your lovely wink and (finally!) close the deal. Use that damn ‘call to action’ to bring people to your blog, website, to contact you… to work with you!
  3. Add multimedia content to personalise the profile and give more details about you as a freelancer. Specifically, there are two elements that could work for you: an infographic and a presentation of your company. Visual content is really popular these days because it can help you shrink a lot into a tiny digital surface. Create a fun, personal, memorable infographic to show your CV or skills. Alternatively, and especially if you run a blog related to your field of specialisation or simply a blog about translation, link it to the profile to attract traffic and let potential clients explore your website.
  4. Don’t link Twitter to LinkedIn and don’t spam people with posts and updates that have nothing to do with your profile. Yes, I have told you to be yourself, but I meant the best professional version of you (who said professional can’t be fun, witty or interesting?!). Despite being a social platform, LinkedIn is still a professional network. If you really want to share a post on all of your social media, make sure the content is right and it won’t damage your reputation or make your prospects run away from your initial promise.
  5. Connect properly: when sending a message to someone, specify why you want to connect with them and add a couple of details about yourself as well. I keep on receiving invitations from people I have never heard of and sometimes find myself declining them as the profile looks incomplete, unclear or simply unprofessional. Why should your ideal client work with you if you don’t even know how to introduce yourself in a catchy way?

Finally, two more tips you might find useful:

  1. Update your profile regularly and remember to check LinkedIn updates too. Social media change quickly; keeping your profile updated and fresh is the only way to stand out.
  2. Use keywords all around your profile: from the tag line to the summary, the description of your educational background and your interests. If you want your prospects to find you, you need to be clear about what you do.


Apologies for the fitness reminder, but the subtle connection is easily understandable: just like training regularly, you also need to use social media on regular basis. That is, on a daily basis. First of all because engaging people often enhances your visibility and, secondly, because if you want to find clients, establish a connection and lead them to your website or even close a deal, then you will have to take steps, connect and be present. Ultimately, it will take time to negotiate the deal, just as it would offline.

So, here are some things you can do every day:

  1. Research LinkedIn to find potential clients. Or do some online/offline market research and then go to LinkedIn to find those people/companies.
  2. Connect with two-three new people and do it in a pleasant way (aka: see point 5 above!)
  3. Update your profile: tell people what you are working on, share an interesting business story, ask a question, post a valuable blog post/video.
  4. Follow one or more companies. Weren’t you looking for potential clients?! Then stalk freely. Which brings us to the next point…
  5. Turn your LinkedIn contacts into potential clients and do market research to examine their websites, services, reputation… Anything you might need before contacting them and introducing your services as a freelance translator. How? Well, that’s a different story!
  6. Join a group/conversation and contribute by giving your opinion or asking a question. This, I’ll be honest, is something I used to do a lot in the past but that I have recently dropped because my schedule doesn’t allow me to do so anymore. It worked though. Or at least it helped me to get noticed within certain marketing groups. I am not saying chatting brought me clients, but it did garner a few connections and, eventually, a couple of projects as well.

Heres another of my tiny secrets: if you want to be noticed, engaged and contacted, you have to be personal, clear and engaging rather than screaming to the whole world about your slogan and spamming people with annoying stuff like self-promoting posts, it’s-all-about-me updates and very low comments based on your personal frustration. People hate haters and they find your obsessive advertising vain and arrogant.

If you’ve recently contacted a potential client through LinkedIn but he/she never replied after accepting your request, then start asking yourself what went wrong and how you could introduce yourself properly, rather than persistently posting your CV, the link to your ‘services’ page or showing off how great you are. This is not a TV commercial, this is a social platform based on conversations, engaging people and using your positive skills to attract and connect with the right people.

If that person simply ignored your request or you are still waiting for him/her to call you, then take the first step and send another message, let them know that there is a reason why you connected with them (which is not just because you were desperate to share your new CV). Make them feel like a valuable connection.

Do you want me to be honest? Alright then, let’s face it: not everyone is interested in working with you and repeatedly sharing your CV is of NO use whatsoever. Believe me. I mean, I am happy to know you’re a great professional, someone always available to help with a new project, but stop it because after the fifth time we all know that you are.

You have to work your ass off and put your motivation on the table to overcome the digital surface and bring your negotiation to the next level. This is why being specific and choosing the right people is mandatory. Because they are the clients who will be happy to work with you, they will find your profile interesting, your projects an example of your skills and your values similar to theirs.

Want to know more? Get in touch? Of course!

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Oh, and remember to #balanceyourwords!

Joseph: All that remains is to thank Sara for such a brilliant post. I myself have been looking for ways to make LinkedIn more effective recently but didn’t know where to start. As such, I hugely enjoyed reading such expert insight into the topic and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did! Ciao.

Intralingual problems: A look at localisation

Today’s post takes a brief look at a sub-section within a sub-section of translation: an interesting phenomenon within the world of localisation. And while I don’t really specialise in localisation myself, I have some experience of the process and find it a fascinating area.

So what is localisation (or ‘l10n’ for the Twitter-savvy readers out there)? Personally, I regard it as something of a sub-section of translation but there is a certain level of cross-over between the two areas and it can be difficult to separate them. This is particularly true when the concept of adaptation is thrown into the equation, but there are certain key aspects that allow localisation to create its own identity.

While translation proper is often regarded primarily as a linguistic activity, localisation focuses intensely on the cultural side of meaning transfer. One succinct definition of localisation describes it as ‘the process of adapting a product or service to a particular language, culture, and desired local look-and-feel’.

The process demands in-depth knowledge of the target culture and extends to non-textual components when attempting to assure easy assimilation in the desired market. This level of cultural knowledge is perhaps something that every translator should incorporate into their work but its importance is not universally appreciated and non-textual factors ensure that its application does not extend as far as in localisation.

For instance, while elements such as the correct representation of dates, currencies or units of measurement should perhaps be automatically considered part of translation itself, the adaptation of certain colours or altering the physical representation of a product to adhere to local sensitivities are tasks that are usually beyond the scope of translation and fall specifically under the umbrella of localisation.

Ultimately, a successfully localised service or product is one that appears to have been developed within the local culture, masking all evidence of translation.

One element that I find particularly interesting, however, and the area that this post will focus upon from here on, is the interesting manner in which localisation can enforce changes within the same language. On a linguistic level alone, I am often asked to work into US and UK English and sensitivity to the changes required between the two can be surprisingly deep – it goes well beyond simply replacing ‘-ise’ with ‘-ize’.

An example that perfectly demonstrates the linguistic and cultural difficulties involved in such a process is the adaptation of the hit UK TV series The Office to American screens. The pilot of the US version of the show (here) was adapted from the script of the first episode of the British version (here) and a comparison between the two makes for interesting viewing in this context.

While adaptation can be considered another distinct area of translation (though certainly not without adding further blurred boundaries), the striking similarity between the two versions – in certain sections in particular – places this example firmly in localisation territory. Indeed, upon airing, the episode was criticised for simply being a direct copy of the original and most of the differentiation is due to the shorter running time of the US version – itself form of localisation as the writer is forced to conform to the conventional length of shows on US television.

Furthermore, the added admission that the producers’ intention was to simply ‘Americanize’ the show in the pilot speaks volumes about the treatment it received. (For a good example of the similarity between the two, watch 5:08 to 5:20 on the UK episode alongside 3:00 to 3:25 in the US version – the scene is nearly identical)

When viewed in parallel, the first few minutes alone demonstrate the difficulty involved in attempting to prepare a text (or a TV show in this case) for another culture even within the same language. Beyond small details like replacing ‘head office’ with ‘corporate’, which requires a level of linguistic-based cultural knowledge, there are deeper, more subtle changes being made.

The first thing to strike you is perhaps the use of different names in the US version which represent an attempt at allowing the characters to resonate with the new audience’s expectations. Problems arise, however, when a joke based around a character’s name is encountered in the original version. The UK pun on receptionist Dawn’s name (‘Every bloke in the office has woken up at the crack of Dawn’ 2:14) wouldn’t work with the US equivalent Pam and as such the joke is replaced with a toned down allusion to her attractiveness and a play on words based around her name that mimics the character Bam Bam from popular cartoon The Flintstones.

Next, a temporal aspect comes to the fore in demonstrating how topical references can date quickly and cause problems for the writer. This aspect is exaggerated here as the four-year gap between the two programmes represents a much longer period than most products will encounter before undergoing localisation.

However, this void is cleverly used to the advantage of the US version in their treatment of the ‘Wasssup!’ joke (3:31 US version) – coming from this Budweiser advert – which was an up-to-date reference in the UK version but vastly outdated in the US pilot. Instead of simply leaving the gag untouched and appearing to be behind the times, the US writers highlighted its outdated nature and used the joke as a tool to demonstrate how out of touch lead character Michael is.

One final example that demonstrates the amount of cultural juggling involved in such a process occurs at 6:40 in the UK version. Here, a head office character enters and boss David claims to have given her the nickname ‘Camilla Parker Bowles’, conjuring up a strong image for UK viewers. Meanwhile in the US version, corporate figure Jan is nicknamed ‘Hillary Rodham Clinton’ – an apparently similarly powerful woman at the time in the US and a reference that is considered to match the impact of the UK image. Whether or not this cultural substitution succeeds is up for debate but it is impossible to deny that the reference fits perfectly in its new setting.

As you can imagine, comparisons between the two could go on and on at some length and this exploration has barely scratched the surface of what is on offer. Further interesting cultural references in the US version include American sketch show Laugh-In and The Six Million Dollar Man but hopefully I have given enough to provide a little insight into the process and inspired you to watch the rest of the episodes and play a little game of linguistico-cultural spot the difference yourself. Enjoy!

Time for 2014: Reflections and Resolutions

As my blog enters its second year of existence, I thought that now would be as good a time as any to briefly reflect on what has been an exciting year. Looking back over some of the posts from the previous 12 months, there has been a huge range of topics whirring about and I hope that there has been something to interest everybody.

Personally, I’ve spent much of the year developing as a freelancer, while outside of work I’ve thoroughly enjoyed connecting with some of the many interesting people actively contributing to the Twitter translation community (good old #xl8!). I wholeheartedly recommend it to any aspiring translators out there as the amount of friendly advice, useful information and enjoyable content constantly rolling in make it an invaluable resource.

On a different note, meanwhile, the top three most-viewed posts for the year on my blog made for particularly interesting reading. I shared them on my Twitter page a while back and here they are again for anybody who missed it:

3) Getting to grips with translation theory: A (very) brief introduction

2) Twittering Translators

1) The (un?)importance of translation-specific degrees to translation

Thanks a lot for reading and sharing, and hopefully there will be plenty more content that will grab your attention in the coming year. The range of topics in those three alone is a symbol of what I’ve tried to do – looking at all things translation!


But enough of the past. Now it’s time to look forward to 2014 and wonder as to what is in store for the next year. While I’m not much of a New Year’s resolution kind of person, I thought I’d try to use this post to come up with a few aims for my year and hopefully some of you will share your own on the comments, or on Twitter etc.

A good place to start looking for inspiration was this post by Herman Boel on the Alta Verba blog – ‘A translator’s ten commandments for 2014’ – and I’ve managed to come up with two personal resolutions that are quite comprehensive and sum up my aims within translation by focusing on what is important for me.

1) I want to strive to keep developing and learning

As I’ve said before, and as I’m sure many other translators will identify with, this profession is a constant quest for knowledge in a huge range of different areas. From linguistic skills to specialised knowledge, computer wizardry and business acumen, there is so much to work at and I want to ensure that I keep developing in all of these areas and ultimately get better at what I do.

This involves trying new things, embracing new opportunities to gain more experience in unfamiliar, or already-developed areas, and avoiding the pitfalls of complacency – believing that you already know enough about anything is a mistake. Furthermore, setbacks should be seen as a learning opportunity and a chance to grow further.

With projects coming in from all over, it can be difficult motivate yourself to sacrifice free time for other pursuits with less tangible rewards but I’m determined to keep developing and keep learning! Even now, I have a few writing projects underway to hone my skills outside of translation and I want to keep up with these kinds of initiatives.

2) I want to keep on doing what I love, and loving what I do

While I love translating, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that fact. When you’re pushing yourself to complete a particularly tricky project, it feels like hard work and it is easy to get bogged down in the task. Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and assess where you are.

I love the projects that I work on and don’t ever want to take it for granted. I want to keep on working on projects that excite me and in areas that interest me. This ties into the first resolution as it requires constant development to stay on top of what you do and to earn respect in the field to allow you to go as far as possible.

For me, loving what I do is an extremely important consideration when it comes to work and I want it to stay that way for as long as possible.

All that remains now is to wish all of my readers, followers and fellow translators all the best for 2014, and good luck in achieving whatever goals you may set for yourself!

The 12 days of Christmas: A JALTranslation special

Before I sign off for the year, I thought it would be nice to have a little festive fun. Over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve come across a selection of funny images tailor-made for translation nuts and grammar geeks like myself and thought it would be nice to share them on my blog. So here are 12 of my favourites to put the Ho Ho Ho into your holiday season.

There’s a bit of everything in there: some linguistic silliness, grammar police-y punning and film title translations very much in line with blog posts I’ve brought you over the last year.

All that remains is to wish you all the very best for the holiday season and an enjoyable start to 2014. I’ll see you in the new year. Enjoy!




Wall Painting




It's a metaphor


CAT Tool


Sixth sense




French windows


Meaning of this




In Seine


Future perfect passive