Calling all translators! Tell me about ethics.

Hi everyone, just a quick one today.

As many of you will already know, I’m currently about halfway through writing my PhD thesis on the ethics of translation and I was hoping that you might be able to offer me a little help.

I’ve attempted to retain a sense of practical, professional relevance within my thesis, using real-life translation examples from my own work where possible and always keeping that act of translation in mind, but I’d also greatly appreciate some input from my fellow professionals to get a better sense of what ethics really means to other translators.

Have there been times in your translation practice or your translation career when the question of ethics has come up or when you yourself have had to make ethical choices?

What is your take on a translator’s need to be faithful, accurate or impartial and how do you approach a text with this in mind?

Feel free to discuss anything that you feel is relevant.

I’d love to hear from as many people as possible so don’t be afraid to share this post.

Leave a comment on here, tweet me, email me (joseph@jaltranslation.com), send out a message in a bottle, whatever you want!

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Thanks!

The Joys of Working From Home

Earlier today, during a spontaneous mid-morning break from my work, I found myself questioning whether or not, after several years of working almost exclusively from home as a freelance translator and researcher, I could go back to working in the ‘real world’ of offices, 9-5 and all that jazz.

While the obvious answer is yes, of course I could, it struck me that the longer I’ve been working from home, the more certain I’ve become that the transition back would be a slow, painful one.

From the freedom to take mid-morning breaks that lead to blog posts like this to the increased productivity associated with working in such a tailored environment, working from home has played a huge part in my personal development.

With that in mind, here are ten conclusions that I’ve drawn based on my adventure so far (with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

  • Family members / friends will never quite understand that ‘at home’ does not equate to ‘doing nothing and likely to be grateful for a call/surprise visit’.
  • Lengthy conversations with pets are entirely normal.
  • My clothing habits have gone beyond the point of no return and I’m OK with that.

  • Caffeine can be used to solve most work-related issues.
  • At this point, my own personal schedule has become so deeply engrained that having to adhere to anybody else’s timekeeping rules would most probably cause my brain to cease functioning.
  • The degradation of social skills is a very real thing.

  • With the vast majority of communication revolving around email conversations, it is essential to become adept at utilising subtle variations in tone, from the ‘I’m really not happy’ staccato sentences to the all-powerful smiley face.
  • These days, anyone complaining about their dreaded commute is automatically met with a smug inward grin as I picture my five-second saunter from bed to office.

comics-invisible-bread-home-work-625699

  • Internet connection issues are always cause for unmitigated panic.
  • My boss is pretty awesome.

Bass Solos and Job Satisfaction

Before getting into today’s post, I want to quickly share a link. A short while back, one of my posts (Translation’s Identity Crisis) was translated into Spanish and posted on the Júramelo blog as ‘La crisis de identidad de la traducción‘.

It’s brilliant to be able to read yourself in another language and it’s a great initiative – using translation to share articles about translation should be the norm. So, if you fancy reading a bit of JALTraducción for a change, head on over!

Anyway, as for today, I have something that probably counts as slightly off-topic but I still feel it is well worth sharing.

The story starts last week when I travelled down to Birmingham to attend a clinic with Mr Big bassist Billy Sheehan. Chances are that the majority of you have never heard of Billy but he is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock bassists of all time having played for and with a number of legendary acts over the course of a career spanning more than 40 years.

That night, Billy was giving a kind of bass masterclass and, even though I don’t play bass, the opportunity to meet and listen to one of my musical heroes talk about his extraordinary career was too good to turn down (essentially, clinics like this are a bit like a small-scale conference for music geeks – you get to listen to an expert in their field demonstrate some of their skills and share their experiences before launching into questions about their industry and generally talking about geeky things with other like-minded individuals).

As impressive as the playing was and as entertaining as Billy’s anecdotes were, however, the thing that really stood out for me was the fact that Billy is clearly still deeply in love with what he does. He spoke with such enthusiasm for all things music and, when fielding a question about how he passes his spare time, he was honest in saying that music is pretty much his entire life – when he’s not on the road or recording, he enjoys nothing more than to listen to music and discover new tracks and artists.

Speaking about endorsements, he explained how he is never paid to endorse gear but rather lends his support to the instruments, amps etc. that he genuinely enjoys using. Ultimately, beyond money, success and recognition, an overwhelming love for music has defined his career path.

While Billy also had the talent and good fortune to turn his passion into a hugely successful career, after around 6,000 gigs this is a man who clearly still loves what he does.

Job Satisfaction - Victoria Stanway

Job Satisfaction – Victoria Stanway

Beyond the world of music, meanwhile, there are indications that more and more people are looking to take control of their careers and follow their passion in the workplace in general.

In the UK, self-employment is higher than at any point over the past 40 years, with this rise predominately down to fewer people leaving self-employment than in the past, and talk of ‘monetising your passion‘ crops up with increasing regularity these days.

And for me, it seems that this desire to work in an area that you love is something that is strongly reflected within translation. Judging by the translators I know and interact with on social media, the vast majority genuinely enjoy what they do. Despite the gripes of long hours and potentially low pay that regularly crop up in discussion, people love the task at the heart of our profession to the point of rendering these drawbacks almost irrelevant.

I consider myself lucky to do something that I genuinely enjoy and I believe that’s the way it should be. Reading and writing about translation (and translating itself, of course) dominate my daily life and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

Ultimately, if Billy’s example is anything to go by, then beyond the obvious requirement of a considerable dose of talent, an overwhelming passion for what you do has a fundamental role to play in the longevity and success of your career.

Agree? Disagree? Do you love what you do or try to keep work separate from your own, private interests? Leave a comment and let me know.

Book Review: 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know

After bringing you a Translation Studies-based post last time out, I wanted to again stick with an exploration of translation literature in today’s entry. The similarities end there, however, as here I give you my thoughts on the recently published (April 2014) 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know – quite a compelling title I’m sure you’ll agree – which provides a light collection of practical tips rather than an in-depth, academic odyssey.

First of all, it is worth mentioning that the book was written by a number of authors (including some fairly big names in the translation community) who are all members of the WLF Think Tank – a virtual body of experienced practicing translators. In a brief introduction the book quickly informs us that the 101 tips contained within come from “a broad spectrum of translation professionals with some 500 years of collective experience” so you instantly know that the advice on offer will be ultra-reliable.

The book’s tips range from practical translation advice (translating numbers or units of measurement in a source text, for example) to thoughts on the professional obligations that occupy a translator (such as the importance of marketing your business or keeping track of your finances).

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is its neat design, with each of the 101 translation tips displayed across two pages (see below for a typical example). On the left-hand page of each tip you find an excellent illustration by  Catherine Anne Hiley while the right-hand page contains a cleverly worded title for each tip as well as a well-articulated, succinct elaboration of around 100-200 words. With a selection of witty representations of the tips they depict and some neat cultural references (be sure to check out #45’s spin on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover), the illustrations fit in seamlessly and represented something of a personal highlight.DSC_0658

While I found myself with a few hours going spare and decided to blitz through the entire book in one sitting, the aforementioned style and the easily digested content are perfectly suited to a quick five-minute read when you’re in need of a break.

Less convincing, however, is the assertion that the book is perfectly suited to a wide-ranging readership. The very first page informs us that:

This is a book for beginners. It’s also a book for seasoned professionals, students and teachers. For freelancers and staff translators. For amateurs and experts, generalists and super-specialists – be they certified or sworn, recognised, authorised… or simply tantalised by translation’s potential for a varied and enriching career.

While it is certainly true that the book will appeal to anyone with an interest in translation, it seems to me that the content is primarily geared towards the beginner or student of translation looking to gain a foothold in the profession.

Yet that is not to say that the tips are of no use to a more experienced professional, quite the contrary. While anyone who has been around the translation community for an extended period will have previously read words to the same effect at some point, it is undeniably nice to have these tips gathered together in one place. Furthermore, the fact that the authors touch upon all aspects of life as a translator means that the book provides a handy way for professionals to ensure that they are operating in a well-rounded manner. The tips will either ring true and validate their existing practices or point to areas of their work requiring additional attention.

One minor gripe that I must share was the occasional repetition of certain points made throughout the short volume. Topics like ‘Specialism’ (tips 18 and 27) or ‘Saying No’ (4 and 34) both receive several mentions and, while this was probably a deliberate attempt to drive home specific points for readers who are less familiar with the area (indeed, tip #57 explicitly states the important role of repetition as an emphatic device in translation and this use of repetition is a positive trait for any learning resource), it will nevertheless feel slightly tiring for the more experienced translation professional. DSC_0656

Overall, however, complaints are few and far between. An overarching focus on the human aspect of an often de-personalised profession  provides the crux of an extremely valuable message and makes this book an ideal purchase for the modern translation professional (ideas such as developing effective communication skills, constantly improving and concentrating on the value that you can add as a translator are all prominent). Ultimately, the book summarises the range of challenges facing the modern-day translator and attempts to inspire you to get the most out of your skills.

Written with an understated authority and a sense of humour that makes it a pleasure to read, 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know is a worthy addition to any language professionals’ bookshelf and stacks up favourably alongside other introductions to the profession.

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.

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

HOW TO BE YOURSELF, ATTRACT THE RIGHT PEOPLE AND USE LINKEDIN EFFECTIVELY

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.

IF I HAVE TO BE SPECIFIC, HOW CAN I DO IT?

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.

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE: YOUR DAILY SOCIAL MEDIA WORKOUT

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.