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.

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.

A few thoughts, tips and tidbits on translation

A far cry from my previous post on board games, this entry revolves around several bits and pieces that I have been mulling over in my translation work during recent months. I don’t claim to be offering any concrete answers and comments and feedback would be much appreciated to hear your take on the areas discussed. Ultimately, however, I hope you will find the points interesting and practical.

Is your CAT tool really adding to your work?

First up is something that has come under close scrutiny in my working practice of late. While I readily accept that CAT tools offer so much to the professional translator, in certain contexts this is a particularly pertinent question to ask yourself.

When dealing with fairly short texts that require a substantial amount of restructuring and adaptation to be rendered fit for publication, I realised that my standard working method involving a CAT tool simply wasn’t efficient. With a mode of working based around translating sentence by sentence, I would subsequently have to completely re-work the entire draft – a process I could’ve incorporated into my initial translation process. Factor in the tight deadlines and I simply couldn’t continue using such an inefficient process.

In this case, working directly from Word has proven to be a much better alternative and it is certainly a question worth considering on future projects.

CAT Tool

How can you maximise critical reading?

By critical reading I essentially mean the process of proofreading your own work here and this was something that I really wanted to get to the heart of recently as I looked to further improve my working efficiency.

While most experienced translators will tell you to take a break from your work before going over it with ‘fresh eyes’ or, better still, sleep on it before re-reading your text in the morning, what about projects with a deadline such that a method like this is simply impossible?

One method I find to be quite useful in this situation is to walk away and have a snack before going over a text again while another that I’ve seen mentioned a few times recently is to print off the text and read a physical copy.

These two methods are far from ideal, however – the former is best avoided long-term for health reasons and the latter suffers due to cost/practicality – and therefore my suggested route is to read the text in a digital form that cannot be edited. Personally, I have found that this makes a huge difference as previewing a seemingly final Word document or watching a Powerpoint presentation in full-screen mode where no changes can be made forces you into giving the text a fresh look. Give it a try.

Practice makes perfect

I’ve said it before but it is definitely a point worth repeating: one of the most important attributes in a translator is not what they know, but how quickly they are able to fill the gaps in what they don’t know.

Using the vast array of resources out there, it is amazing how quickly you can become well-versed in a prevously unknown area and, while the widespread advice that you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew in terms of tackling alien projects is very valid, I say that you shouldn’t be afraid expand your horizons – know your limits but remain ambitious and embrace new projects.

Know how to use theory sparingly

While I am a huge translation theory geek, I’m still among the first to admit that it has very obvious limitations. No matter how well you know your stuff and how much sense the ideas may seem to make, you always have to bear in mind that the key factor in producing a translation is for it to be fit-for-purpose and resemble an original target language document whether you like it or not

While Venuti’s ‘foreignising’ strategy may have an undoubted allure, the realities of professional translation dictate that textual experimentation is simply impossible while stylistic choices are based on parallel texts and style guides rather than your sense of duty to a text/culture – preserving foreignness is not the way to impress a client.

Good translation paradoxically damages the profession

As a kind of continuation of the previous thought, this point explores the idea that translation as a profession is still woefully misunderstood. The aim of theories such as those mentioned above is to address that very trend of invisibility in translation that sees texts produced to appear as if they have not been translated.

The point which then stems from this is that good translation actually reinforces this illusion of invisibility and ensures that the translation process continues to go undetected. On the flip-side, this in turn leads to the fact that the only time that translation is noticed is when it is done badly, meaning that the general picture of translation outside of its own community is shaped by things going wrong… A kind of no-win situation for the profession and a pattern that is hard to break.

It’s great to work doing something you love

But enough of that doom and gloom! The heading here says it all and it is something that is always worth remembering. I love being in a situation where I look forward to receiving new projects, interacting with new clients and tackling texts that stretch my abilities. I don’t know about you but the translator’s life’s for me!