10,000 Words for Tomorrow

Thanks to our colleague Jill Timbers, whom I met a few weeks ago at CHICATA, for sending this hilarious video of a friend of hers. Here, multitalented fellow translator Sharon Neeman is performing a song that all translators can identify with. Enjoy! And remember that "I am sorry, I am not available" is a perfectly acceptable answer if a deadline doesn't work for you.

Hotel Rooms for ATA Conference Going Fast

The 50th Annual ATA Conference is still many months away (October 28 -31 in New York City), but this year, as opposed to most previous years, hotel rooms are going very quickly. This being New York City, $208 for a room is a bargain, especially at a fantastic hotel like the Marriott Marquis (where rooms are traditionally priced above $400). Even if you are not yet ready to plan for the fall, we'd suggest getting online to reserve your room now (free of charge). The ATA has successfully secured a block of rooms at this price, but once the block is filled, this rate will no longer be available. The hotel has a very liberal cancellation policy should you need to cancel your reservation. It's also a good idea to look for a colleague to share the room in order to save some costs and watch those conference expenses.

For more information, please see the ATA's site here. We look forward to seeing you in New York City!

20th Chicago Conference on Translation and Interpretation

As board members of our local and national translation and interpreters associatons, respectively, we know how much of a challenge it is to organize profession-specific events, workshops, meetings, and -- the biggest challenge of all: conferences.

When CHICATA chose me, Judy, (via a recommendation from my friend Karin Bauchrowitz, an active CHICATA member), to be one of three guest speakers at their annual conference in May, I was amazed to discover that this mid-size organization (approximately 100 members) has been putting on an annual conference for 20 years. The entire event was fantastic, very well organized, and the attendees very extremely satisfied and felt that they got their money's worth. In my mind, the following were the key contributing factors to the event's success (read on, conference organizers from other organizations looking for ideas):
  • Being highly organized. The organization's president, John Bukacek, has been doing this for more than 20 years, so he's a pro. He is very well organized and is sure to request speaker's bios, abstracts, pictures, handouts, etc. ahead of time so he can put all this information together for the conference package. The initial invite for the conference went out about a month and a half before the event. John was backed by an enthusiastic group of conference organizers, who were also on-site early to take care of registration. Name tags and pens were on hand, and tickets for a book raffle were also provided. Each attendee received a folder with several flyers (on distinctively-colored paper), including handouts, surveys, important information, etc. Not one detail had been overlooked.
  • Same date every year. The conference has been held consistently the first Saturday in May. This year, the event was held two weeks later (an exception), but everyone knows this event happens in May. It's good to be consistent to facilitate planning on behalf of potential attendees.
  • Diverse line-up of speakers. CHICATA scheduled three speakers. I gave the morning's keynote speech titled "Lessons from Business School: The Entrepreneurial Linguist," which was well received and generated quite a bit of discussion. Diane Howard, a well-respected linguist, instructor and presenter, addressed "Translation Ethics: More Than You See in the Codes." Her session was excellent and based on translation theories. It was very interactive and there were lots of passionate responses. The final speaker, attorney Martin McKenzie was a substitute for presenter and attorney Constance Doyle, who had fallen ill. Martin presented the same information Constance had been due to present, titled "Your Castle...Your Rules: The Importance of Using your Contract Terms When Working For Agencies or Third Parties." This interactive presentation included information that many attendees were not familiar with, and was quite popular.
  • Manageable attendance. The conference drew around 30 attendees, and the room was small enough for people to comfortably talk to each other, but big enough to meet new people. Speakers did not need a microphone (there was one provided, just in case), and everyone could hear very well.
  • Asking for feedback. The conference organizers included a short anonymous paper survey that they asked attendees to complete. The intention was to find out if the sessions had been perceived as helpful and whether attendees had any suggestions or comments.
  • Excellent location. The Talbott Hotel in downtown Chicago is a small, luxury botique hotel with fantastic service. The room was set up very nicely, and snacks and drinks were provided throughout the day. We never ran out of water and cofffee. The location was also ideal in terms of lunch, with dozens of restaurants within walking distance. The conference organizers did a great job at providing lists of local eateries.
  • Affordable rates. CHICATA keeps the fees very reasonable at $55 for members and $65 for non-members.
  • Good choice of length. One day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seems to be a great length -- not too short, not too long. Also, the conference organizers and all the presenters stayed within their alloted timelines, which made sticking to the day's schedule of events a breeze.
  • Combining conference with annual member meeting. After the conclusion of the conference, CHICATA held its annual general membership meeting, which many members attended. It's a great opportunity to take advantage of members being there to ask for their input on the year's activities.
CHICATA did a great job at this event, which was reflected in attendees' very positive feedback. On a personal note, I am happy to report that I have been invited to present at CHICATA again next year. Mark your calendars for May 1, 2010.

Time-Saving E-mail Signatures

This weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Chicago Area Translators and Interpreters Association (CHICATA) annual translation and interpretation conference in Chicago (more on that in a future post). I included some tips about time management and the fact that your time is the only resource you have. You must use it wisely.

What I forgot to mention is that you can program e-mail signature templates to respond to business inquiries that are not even within your approximate range of rates (alternatively, of course, you can just hit the delete button). We received this one this morning:

I need a translator to translate a letter approximately 600 words for $20. Forgive me, I know it is little money, but that is what I can afford. It is relatively simple because it doesn't need a great deal of finesse-- it just needs to be understood. Contact me at any hour. But you must include a phone number and the hours I can call you (please include your time zone.)

We programmed a signature to our outgoing e-mail and saved it as a template, so we can use it to respond to messages of this time in the future with the click of a button. We said: "Thank you for your message. Our professional, highly specialized translation services very significantly exceed your budget." Fair enough, right? We liked the sender's acknowledgement that this was a very low rate, and wanted to at least honor it with a 30-second response (we are feeling charitable today). However, don't even get us started on the "it doesn't need a great deal of finesse" statement. For time-saving purposes, we didn't even address that. We have several e-mail signatures pre-programmed with some text on them so we can respond to the inquiry in question. Try it on your e-mail client -- it can usually be found under options/signature and you can typically have several signatures from which to choose when you compose an outgoing message (choose the one that most closely applies to the message you have received).

Lower Rates + Pressure: Bad Combination

Many of our colleagues have been receiving e-mails from translation agencies asking them to lower their rates. We don't work with agencies, but our take is that if translation agencies are receiving downward pressure on their rates from their customers, than they haven't built strong enough ties with their customers, hence the price sensitivity. Of course, the tough economic times are a significant contributing factor. If an agency has failed to retain a customer at the current rates, lowering rates is a way to retain the customer (but perhaps not the smartest way). The business (agency) needs to take a hard look at how the customer can be made happy and receive good value without lowering the price. In this economy, everyone is trying to save a buck or two. Agencies need to realize that downward pressure on prices is one of the risks of doing business, and they should be running financially sound businesses that have some financial cushion (and plenty of generous margins, which they do). Wanting to pass the buck on to the suppliers (=freelance linguists) and getting them to lower their rates is not a sound way of running a business.

One of our friends received a message from a large translation agency (to remain unnamed) that did not even address her personally. It said "Dear translator". The e-mail included many stylistic atrocities. We think that only folks with a solid command of the English language should be writing external communications. If these e-mails aren't proofed, we have serious doubt about the degree of quality assurance for translation projects at this company.

"We would like to look again at this position with you, and we would be
pleased to hear from you in the hope of talking about rates at a more
sustainable level, thereby opening the way for new work opportunities."

The message went on to state that, while the company hasn't worked with the freelancer in question before due to her higher rates, would she consider lowering the rates further (to a lower price than she turned down in the first place) now that economic times are tough?

Our colleague's answer to this question was "no." Passing the business risk of big companies on to freelancers is not the way to do it. Our suggestion to agencies who are facing downward pressure on prices, for one reason or another: buy cheaper paper. Cancel the company picnic. Get rid of the coffee machine if you must. Buy cheaper chairs. Buy open source software . There are a many ways to do this that do not include putting unreasonable pressure on suppliers.

The Politican, the Firemen, and the Trouble with Language

While we don't frequently post links to videos, this is one that we needed to share with our fellow Spanish-language lovers. The link came courtesy of a professor of Spanish at the University of Vienna's Translation and Interpretation Institute, and we can see how difficult it is to regain your composure after a verbal mishap with a sexual undertone.

We are not quite sure who the speaker is, but he's a very affable Spanish politican who appears to have a great sense of humor. No one is more stunned at what he said than he was. Luckily for him, there were no intepreters in the room, as it might have been very challenging, even for seasoned interpreters, to keep a straight face.

Note: this is in Spanish, and it's not explicit. The speaker has an unfortunate enounter with the term "bien dotados." Enjoy!

3 Ways to Get PR Coverage: Print Media

One of the most effective advertising strategies -- both in terms of cost and in terms of credibility -- is getting some media coverage. This is, of course, mostly free (excluding your opportunity cost), but the challenge is: how do you get someone in the local (or regional, or national) media to do a feature on you? In these challenging economic times, it is true that print publications are struggling, but editors are usually still looking for local articles that don't require a lot of research. Since staff has decreased, many newspapers have confronted challenges in covering local happenings and end up taking a lot of national stories from sources like the Associated Press, hence decreasing their local relevance, so they might be grateful about a business story from their community that's presented to them.

Getting coverage in media can greatly improve your chances of breaking into new markets and being exposed to the business community. There might be translation needs you will probably not have anticipated, and it's a great way to increase demand. However, don't expect to have the phone ring off the hook the next day: sometimes PR is part of brand-building and is a long-term investment.

Here are three things you can do to jump-start your PR efforts in print media.
  1. Get featured in your alumni magazine, whether you live in that community or not. Most editors of these magazines are always looking for interesting stories on alumns. Even if your entry only makes it into the smaller "class notes" section, these magazines are usually read quite widely by the business elite. Being an alumna or alumnus of the particular university usually adds to your credibility, as many graudates enjoy doing business with fellow alumns.
  2. Contact your local business weekly. Editors' names are usually publically listed in the publications and/or their websites. Write a short note (e-mail is fine) about who you are, why it would be interesting to feature you, and give them some useable information about you. Write a press release about yourself to give editors more background.
  3. Write a letter to the editor. Sure, this sounds very old-fashioned, but if you have something interesting and insightful to say and your letter gets printed, a lot of eyes will see what you have written. Ideally, you'd comment on an issue related to your industry; about language, translation, interpretation. etc., in the news and explain your point of view from a languages professional.

Guest Post: Getting a Ph.D. in Translation Studies

By B.J. Epstein

I am nearing the end of my time in a doctoral program in translation studies, so I thought I would write a little bit about what it means to get a PhD in the field.

In September 2006, I moved from Sweden to Wales in order to study at Swansea University. There are not that many schools yet that offer translation studies; more often, one must study a language or comparative literature. So what does it mean to be in a translation studies program?

Translation programs on the BA or MA level generally focus on training translators. Such programs combine theoretical and practical work. Students improve their language skills, read and discuss translation theory, practice translation, learn about computer programs and terminology, and maybe get information about starting a company or working for agencies, and other such things. In other words, these kinds of programs are aimed at students who are good with languages and want to work in the field of translation.

In a sense, translation studies might as well be totally unrelated. I have met many people who study or work in the field of translation studies and yet have never translated and have no intention of doing so (I tend to find this odd, but that is a different issue). In a Ph D. program, a student is being prepared to become a researcher, not a translator. As in BA or MA programs, students learn about translation theory, but by the Ph.D. level, they are expected to have (or to quickly obtain) in-depth knowledge about this. Students should already have extensive language skills. One doesn’t really attend courses, although this depends on what country the program is and what individual students require. For example, I chose to sit in on several classes about translation theory and the history of translation, mainly out of interest and a desire to refresh or extend my knowledge. Basically, one spends most of the time researching. Students must be independent and good at working hard and making their own schedule.

Research what? Well, there are many different possible areas. One can research and analyze the translation of specific kinds of non-fiction or fiction works or specific types of language, the translation of a particular author, what it means to translate between two or more different languages, how translators feel about their jobs, what translators actually do as they work, how translators are or ought to be trained, how translators use (or don’t use) computer tools, how ideas of translation have changed over time, critiquing translation, how translation can be used to control certain populations, how translation can develop a target language, what conditions translators work in, differences in how translators and those studying to be translators work or think about their work, and much, much more. Remember that much of this can apply to interpreting too, which is generally subsumed under the field of translation studies, though interpreting studies as a separate field is growing, and also to subtitling.

As an example, my own research has been focused on children’s literature and I have been particularly interested in how figurative language is used and translated in books for children from English to Swedish. I also know people who research the translation of medical texts between English and Chinese, and the translation of idiomatic phrases in non-fiction from Spanish to English, and the subtitling of talk shows. Some researchers use computer programs to help with their research (particularly if they need a large corpus of texts), while others interview translators or sit with them while they work, and still others focus on close analysis of texts.

Those who are starting out in the field often spend a lot of time learning about translation theory in general and their particular field specifically. For example, in my first term or two in the PhD program, I read everything I could find on the translation of children’s literature, on translation in the colonial and postcolonial contexts (this was related to my need to learn more about translation and power), on functionalist theories and skopos, on translating dialects and wordplay, and related topics. Others might want to read about gender theories or issues of in/visibility or financial translation or interpreting in a legal setting or think-aloud protocols.

The next step is picking one’s texts and starting the research and, of course, trying to find something new and important to contribute to the field. I use primarily textual analysis and statistical analysis, which means I study texts and their translations, and then compute how common certain translatorial strategies are. In the first term, students often begin writing literature reviews and chapters of their dissertation. Here, one’s supervisors should give detailed criticism on one’s writing style and ideas.

In the first year, many students start attending academic conferences and sometimes even presenting at them. Conferences are an excellent way to learn about what research is taking place in the field and also to get feedback on one’s budding research. Next, one ought to try to get articles published. Attending and speaking at conferences and having work published are both essential when one is finished and looking for a job. Research trips may also prove beneficial; I spent two wonderful weeks at the National Library in Stockholm, studying various translations of work by Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain.

I have really loved my time being a PhD student in translation studies. I have continued to translate, edit, write, and teach throughout my years in Wales, and that has been really stimulating for me, although many Ph.D. students prefer to focus solely on their research. It’s a lot of fun to research translation and to try to contribute to the field and in the future. I hope to continue combining research with being a practicing translator.

B.J. Epstein is a Ph.D. student and a Swedish->English translator living in Wales. She's originally from Chicago, and lived and worked in Sweden for many years. She's also a friend of ours whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Vienna earlier this year. Don't miss her fantastic blog, Brave New Words.
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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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