Faking it

At some point in your interpreting career, you will have to to interpret at your first _______. Yes, it's fill in the blank here. No matter your level of education or level of preparation, there will come a day when you have to tackle a project you've never done before, and it is scary. We remember our first criminal trial, our first psychosexual evaluation, the first interpreting assignment inside a jail, the first high-level business liaison interpreting assignment, and our first international delegation. Every time, we diligently prepared, tried to find out as much about the project as we could, showed up to the assignment at least 30 minutes early, and then faked the confidence we did not have. You read correctly: sometimes you just have to fake the confidence, even if the butterflies in your stomach are chasing each other at the speed of light. No one wants an insecure interpreter, and especially when you are not seated in a comfy conference interpreting booth, the interpreter's nerves (or lack thereof) can really set the tone for the project. 

We are not suggesting that you accept assignments for which you are not prepared. What we are suggesting is the following. For instance, say you are a certified court interpreter and have been doing lots of administrative hearings, home visits for Child Protective Services and psychological evaluations with clinical psychologists. While these assignments are stressful enough and come with their own sets of challenges, they are not as high-profile or stressful as say, a criminal trial. There will come the point when you get the phone call to be one of two (or more) interpreters at a criminal trial, and you will rightfully be a bit intimidated. However, as a certified court interpreter, you have the skills and the knowledge to excel at a criminal trial.

Be sure to ask as many questions as possible and try to obtain any pertinent legal documents related to the case as you can, which is often easier said than done. Try to ask the prosecutor questions about how many witnesses they plan to have, and ask about expert witnesses. If you are lucky, the prosecutor will tell you that a chemist will testify about a specific drug at the trial, which means you need to prepare highly specialized terminology so you can keep up with the level of language used by an expert in his or her field, which is a tall order indeed. Many times, you will not get any information at all. For instance, the German delegation that is coming to the US to talk to high-tech companies might not give you any of the information you have requested, which will make your job very, very challenging. One option is to put in your price quote that services will not be rendered unless pertinent materials have been received X days before the assignment, but then you have to decide if you want to enforce that part of the contract. More times than not, you might choose to roll with the punches, knowing that you will be at a distinct disadvantage of not having any (or enough) background information, but this tends to, unfortunately, be quite common in our industry.

The best advice we have is: 
  • Prepare as much as you can
  • Get a good night's sleep
  • Have a healthy breakfast/lunch
  • Put on your power suit
  • Bring your lucky charm (ours is this
  • Trust your instincts, your knowledge and preparation
  • Fake some self-confidence if you have to
Our experience has been that the first few minutes are always the hardest, but that things do get easier as you start getting into your rhythm. It's just like a tennis match. John McEnroe used to say that being nervous is normal and healthy, and we think that holds true for both tennis and interpreting. 

Have you had to fake some self-confidence? We'd love to hear it. 

Essential Software: TranslationOffice 3000

Many moons ago, when we started our small business (specifically, the European side of our business), we made many beginners' mistakes, including managing to invoice incorrect amounts to incorrect companies. We chronicled this mortifying experience here, and shortly thereafter, we decided that it was time for an invoicing and accounting system. Our IT guru set out to find one, and we loved it from the very beginning: TranslationOffice 3000, mainly known as TO3000. We have been recommending this nifty software at all our seminars and workshops around the world for years without having any financial connection to the company (other than the fact that we gave them money for the software). However, in the spirit of full disclosure, we want to let you know that earlier this year, AIT, the company that makes TO3000, decided to take out an ad on this blog. However, this does not prevent us from giving this software an honest review. The short version: we love it.
Screenshot of main screen. Courtesy of TO3000. 

First things first: What is it?
TO3000 is a translation management software that allows users to track every project, every invoice, every client and every payment. It's relatively simple to use, and readers of Translation Times get a 25% discount (version 10 is currently EUR 183).
The software allows you to create very pretty template-based quotes and invoices for clients, which has forever eliminated embarrassing invoicing errors for us. We also have a solid database of customers, phone numbers, addresses and contact persons inside the software. You can created many different billing categories, including hourly interpreting services, per-word translation rates, discounts for repeat customers, etc. One of our favorite features, which was missing from many of the other software packages that we looked at, is that you can invoice in many different currencies.

Our favorite features
There are many fantastic features of TO3000, and it's a bit hard to narrow them down. However, we've tried to come up with our 10 favorite features in no particular order.

Overview of invoices. Courtesy of TO3000.
  1. With one click of a button, you will know how much money you have outstanding for the month. You just go to Invoices to clients --> calculate totals. The system will clearly indicate which invoices are outstanding. 
  2. Creating professional-looking quotes is a breeze. They are based on templates that you will help create -- this is a bit tricky, you not too terribly difficult to figure out. 
  3. There is a built-in word counter that's integrated into the quote tool, which is fantastic. You upload the document and the system counts the words and automatically tells you how much the project will cost. Brilliant.
  4. We really enjoy knowing who our biggest customers are. This comes in handy around the holidays, when we decide who should get the larger presents! You can easily view how much you've earned from each customer.
  5. The project tracking tool (called Schedule of Projects) is wonderful. Once you enter the quote and get the project, you enter the deadline for the project and the system will tell you exactly what's due when. 
  6. Invoicing is, without a doubt, our favorite administrative job. There's something very satisfying about writing an invoice, and with TO3000, it will only take a few minutes. We then convert them to PDF and off to the customer they go (via postal service in Europe, via e-mail in the U.S.)
  7. The company's customer support is top-notch. We've only had a few questions through the years, and every time, the friendly folks at this Ukrainian company have answered our questions quite quickly. It's pretty nice to actually have a relationship with the people who make the software.
  8. Entering payments from clients and closing out the project is fast and easy. The system will keep track of the average time it's taken for a client to pay, so the next time you issue a quote to that particular client, it's handy to know that they took longer to pay than you would have liked. This might be a good time to ask for a deposit.
  9. TO3000 is a database, so you don't have to worry about hitting "save" for things to get saved. 
  10. You can try the software for free for 30 days, but by the end of it, we bet you will be hooked.
Adding a job to an invoice. Courtesy of TO3000.
The software is made by AIT (Advanced International Translations), which makes a variety of other cool software tools as well. Stay tuned for our review of Projetex. 

Any bad news?
Well, not really. Initially, the navigation (those menu items that one uses to click on things) wasn't as intuitive as it could be, but it has both improved a bit with new versions and we've also gotten used to it. Some navigational items aren't very elegant, such as going from creating a project to creating a project-related job, but those are relatively minor details. AIT is very good about bug fixes and new versions, which we've always installed without problems. By the way: we are not translation software gurus (that would be our friend and colleague Jost Zetzsche). Rather, we are advanced users, so rest assured that if we can figure out this business-essential software, so can you. 

Don't forget to get your Translation Times reader discount -- no strings attached. We really don't know how we managed to run our business without TO3000. If you are only going to purchase one piece of software this year, make it TO3000. 

Great Expectations and Funny Stories

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas, NV
The past two weeks were filled with interesting escort interpreting assignment for us on both sides of the Atlantic. Judy spent almost two weeks with a European executive who is trying to break into the American market with a very unique and highly specialized product, while Dagy spent a week with a South American delegation that was in Vienna to visit some hotel and conference venues. 

Just when we thought we knew exactly what clients wanted, we get thrown for a loop and were a bit surprised by some of the unusual expectations. It's a great reminder that escort interpreting is probably the area of our business that's the least predictable, and thus perhaps also the most fun. In the conference interpreting booth and in the courtroom, the lines are clear: we are strictly interpreters and don't mix and mingle with our clients. Escort interpreting, however, can require interpreters to be partial business advisers, tour guides, language coaches, and everything in between. Here are some of our experiences from these past two weeks:

Vienna, Austria. 

  • Dagy was asked to pronounce some tricky German words, which her clients wanted to record with their smartphones. They could not get enough of "Zweigelt," an Austrian wine.
  • Judy's client, who has extensive experience working with interpreters, decided it would be easier for Judy to do the initial presentation to the potential customer instead of interpreting everything. He thought this would make for a smoother presentation, and he was correct. However, it required Judy to learn everything she could about the customer's product in a short period of time. The Q&A session was interpreted simultaneously.
  • Dagy acted as impromptu Vienna tour guide and vacation adviser, as she was asked everything from whether it's better to go to Budapest by train, air, car or boat to what time to see the famous Lippizaner stallions.
  • Judy's client commented that he was very unhappy with another interpreter from a previous business trip to a European country because the interpreter was "all business." Judy pointed out that the interpreter was simply sticking to her role, but turns out the client had non-traditional expectations of the role of his escort interpreter. He felt that there was no personal connection, and for long-term escort interpreting assignments, it's certainly important to have a good connection, so he's got a point.
  • Dagy had to adapt to a wide variety of interpreting situations, all without any equipment. They included PowerPoint presentations given to her trade group in two languages (German and English, and a third one: poorly spoken English), walking tours of conference venues and hotels, which are quite tricky with large groups, and sit-down lunches, during which Dagy served as menu interpreter and recommended meals to her clients, who were obviously unfamiliar with traditional Austrian cuisine.
  • Judy's escort interpreting turned into an impromptu medical interpreting assignment when her client needed medical attention. It was a wholly unexpected turn of events, but as an escort interpreter, you have to roll with the punches.
We'd love to hear from you, dear readers. What's the most unusual situation you have encountered? We'd also very much like to hear your favorite story from the world of escort interpreting. 

Fall Classes: Introduction to Translation

We are pretty sure you are not thinking about the fall (yet). Rather, you are enjoying the gorgeous summer! However, here's just a quick note to let you know that UC San Diego Extension just opened up the two fall sessions for Judy's Introduction to Translation class (all online). It's a five-week class and it's $200. The class is limited to the first 20 people who register, and there are usually quite a few disappointed folks on the waiting list, so if you are interested, be sure to sign up early. Have a look at UC San Diego's certificate program for English/Spanish translation. This class will give you a solid overview of the industry, what it takes  to be successful, and will allow you to discover if translation is a profession that you'd like to pursue.

The Amazing Blind Interpreter: Jamey Cook

Snapshot of Jamey and Abner. 
In late April, Judy flew to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to give a  presentation at the annual conference of CATI (Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters). It was a wonderful event,  and  her main highlight was meeting Jamey Cook, an awe-inspiring blind  interpreter who always has her adorable Seeing Eye dog, Abner, by her side. Jamey is an accomplished scholar and interpreter, attends conferences on her own, and is the first-ever blind certified medical interpreter (CMI). You read correctly: Jamey is a top-notch Spanish medical interpreter who who also happens to be blind.

Read on to learn more about Jamey's story. It's quite inspirational, and it reminded us that our fellow linguists are capable of overcoming enormous challenges. Jamey grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and now lives in Carrboro, North Carolina (a suburb of Chapel Hill), where she is a Spanish medical and telephone interpreter. She holds a master's degree in Spanish from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It is truly amazing how Jamey can navigate a world that's not designed for the blind. We hate to admit this, but we were quite ignorant about how non-sighted linguists navigate computers (which we seem to use every  minute of every day), and it was fascinating to learn more about the tools  that Jamey so successfully uses. What's even more embarrassing is that we didn't even know if we had to say "visually impaired" or if "blind" was fine. Jamey put as at ease and told us that all the political correctness is overkill. Using the term "blind" is perfectly acceptable. So here's our interview with the amazing blind interpreter, Jamey Cook. 

 Q: What was early childhood like for you?
Jamey: After being born three months prematurely, and quite literally fighting for  my life, I was diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).  I lost  sight in both eyes by the time I was six months old, and underwent a total of eleven eye surgeries by the time I was three. Doctors couldn't save my physical sight, but my parents were determined that I be given every  opportunity to live a full life.

What was school like?
Jamey: I attended classes with sighted students from preschool through high  school, and spent a small part of my day in the vision room, where an itinerant teacher worked with me on everything from Braille to adaptive technology.

How did you learn Spanish?
Jamey: My mother, who grew up in East Texas, taught me a few words, and I was fascinated.  She checked out tapes from the National Library Service For the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and I studied these dutifully for years until I could get into high school Spanish courses.  I now have a  bachelor's and a master's degree in Spanish.

 How did you become interested in interpreting?
 Jamey: I began volunteering once in a while as a patient visitor at the local  hospital when still in high school, and then was called on to interpret as  a substitute occasionally.  Then, during and after completion of my  undergraduate work at Maryville College, I interpreted both on site and by telephone.

How do you get around on the computer?
Jamey: First of all, I neither use a monitor nor a mouse, and I perform all  functions with keystrokes, and a program which reads the screen aloud to me. My screen reader doesn't get along with every website, nor can it read  images, but this would be a long digression if I told you all about that. When I graduated high school, I could barely type, and I had only a  rudimentary concept of formatting.  By God's grace, I met a private  adaptive technology teacher who came out to my college campus, and I was soon flying through Windows and Internet concepts.  Again, how the screen reading and  other technology has evolved since the point when I had to read each entire  webpage would be a long discussion.

How did you manage before you owned a PC?
Jamey: I utilized a small, portable device called a note taker.  I still remember  my mother counting spaces and measuring indentations with a ruler to format  my first resume accurately in high school.  I still use a note taker today,  but it is much more sophisticated, and is still far more portable than a  laptop computer, though it can't handle Excel and PowerPoint yet. The ability to carry hundreds of Braille volumes in electronic files is just incredible. I am a proud Braille reader, and literally ripped backpacks carrying home bulky volumes during my school years before all this technology evolved.

What was grad school like?
Jamey: Challenging.  I had a great deal of difficulty getting university  departments to collaborate with each other when I needed specific help.  Romance Languages faculty and staff bent over backwards to help me adjust  to teaching, and Disability Services would Braille my tests and scan my  textbooks, but if I wanted a sighted reader to help me speed through  research far faster than I could using scanned texts, I ended up having to  find my own.  I experienced many challenges when it came to finding all of  the required reading for my comprehensive exams, and thesis research was  slow, but I finished and graduated, thank goodness. In fact, grad school  helped me grow up in many ways, and I have developed strategies to overcome  those same problems, should I decide to get another degree.

What made you decide to return to interpreting?
Jamey: I had difficulty with the practical aspects of foreign language teaching: preparing visual aids, being able to work my way through  electronic resources fast enough to plan lessons and complete my own coursework at the same time, etc.  I love teaching, and my students  asserted that my enthusiasm for Spanish was contagious, but I was under a lot of stress because of the extra time I needed for preparation.  I attended a  lecture by a local medical interpreter, and it hit me slap in the face that  interpreting was my calling.  It is a richly rewarding and sometimes tough job, bridging communication gaps, and adjusting to new developments in this diverse field.  I really enjoy it! I understand that if I become an  interpreter trainer or manager, I will take on more responsibilities, and maybe even have an opportunity to return to teaching.  Grad school taught  me about research, and I am eager to write some book reviews, perhaps some  articles, and maybe even present at a conference sometime.  I am thrilled  to have received training and certification as a medical interpreter, as well as to have obtained work, and I look forward to what lies ahead.

Can you tell us more about Abner? How does he help you in your daily life?
Jamey: Two weeks after graduation, I flew up to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ, where I met this easy-going Lab and Golden Retriever cross named Abner. Matching a dog to a person is a bit of an art and a science all at once, and it was so wonderful to participate in that process for the first time!  Training was intense, but so totally worth bonding with this handsome fellow.  He helps me to be more active and independent, and definitely to travel farther and faster than I ever have before.

CATI board members look on as Jamey and Abner handle the raffle.
I have attended conferences in other cities on my own, we are expert Amtrak travelers, and he makes me more visible, which really helps when I need assistance.  Instead of walking fixed routes with my cane, I can take my talking GPS and my dog with me and have the "big picture."  My spatial orientation has grown far more sophisticated, and I can actually walk to places in my neighborhood just about as fast as the bus can get me there.  Not to mention that I can now give decent driving directions to locations in my area if I have been there a few times before. And yes, he is a loyal and faithful friend who helps me network, and sometimes even unexpectedly calms others down.

He had the distinction of snoozing quietly through my certification exams last year, and as I understand it, I am the first totally blind interpreter to have the CMI credential.  I work night shift now, and having him beside me when I'm on the job is special.

I feel so very blessed in many ways, and thanks so much for this opportunity!

United Nations: Opportunity for Spanish Translators

Ah yes, the holy grail of translation and interpreting: the United Nations. We have the pleasure of knowing a few top-notch linguists who work in New York and Vienna, and now's your chance to sit for the competitive examination if you apply and get invited.

Here is the announcement we just received from our wonderful colleague Marcela Jenney-Reyes. We thought we'd spread the word!

We are pleased to announce that competitive examinations for the recruitment of Spanish-language associate translators/précis writers and associate verbatim reporters are scheduled to be held on 17 and 18 September 2012, respectively.

The purpose of the examinations is to establish rosters from which present and future vacancies for Spanish-language associate translators/précis writers and associate verbatim reporters at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and other duty stations will be filled.
Further information regarding the examinations, including eligibility requirements and online application forms, can be found on the United Nations web site:
The deadline for submission of applications is 21 July 2012.

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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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