Two Hands = Violinist?

Today we'd like to discuss one of our favorite topics -- why the simple fact that being bilingual doesn't automatically make anyone either a translator or an interpreter. There's significant training involved, but oftentimes outsiders to the profession equate bilingualism with professional translation and interpretation because writing and speaking is something we already know and do, so they don't perceive it as a learned skill. We've spent a few years trying to collect some convincing analogies, and depending on who we are talking to, we select from this list. Some might be more direct analogies than others, while others might be funnier. As always, take some of these with a grain of salt.

In addition, we like to add that just because you like to do something, it doesn't mean you do it well or that others would pay you to do it. For instance, just because you like to crochet doesn't mean that it's good enough that anyone wants to buy your work. Just because you like to dance doesn't mean that event planners will hire you as entertainment for their events. Passionate chess players might very well not be good enough to play payed exhibition matches -- but the professionals are. Enjoying something doesn't necessarily mean you are good enough that others will pay you for it, or, in other words, that it will have value in the marketplace. However, oddly enough, this is what the general public usually incorrectly assumes about languages skills and translation or interpretation. We rarely hear anyone say that they like numbers, ergo they are an accountant, perhaps because there are significant barrier to entry to becoming an accountant, but we digress.

We've written about this many times before, but we'll state it again: being bilingual is the minimum requirement for this job, just like having two hands is the minimum requirement for being a violinist. But having two hands doesn't automatically make you a violinist. And being bilingual doesn't automatically make you an interpreter or a translator, but all interpreters and translators are bilingual.

Now, without further delay, here are our analogies. Some might be better than others, and we look forward to hearing which ones you like!

Being bilingual doesn't make you a translator just like.....
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you a journalist.
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you an advertising copywriter.
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you a public relations professional.
  • being able to type doesn't make you a court reporter.
  • enjoying cooking doesn't make you a professional chef.
  • driving every day doesn't make you a race car driver.
  • being tall doesn't make you a basketball player.

Being bilingual doesn't make you an interpreter just like...
  • speaking English doesn't make you an actor.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a TV anchor.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a professional comedian.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a voice-over talent.
  • liking to argue doesn't make you a lawyer.

I Was Bored Before I Even Began

We created this image on
Many times, we hear from newcomers to the profession that they want to become translators and/or interpreters because they love languages and really enjoy working for themselves. Those are two excellent reasons, but of course those two things don't make anyone a translator or interpreter, nor do they guarantee success, but we digress. Today we wanted to address some lesser-known facts of the business: much of it won't have anything to do with language at all, and some can be, well, a bit boring. We are not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that all adminstrative tasks are boring, but it does make for a catchy title. 

Most readers of this blog are experienced linguists and will certainly know that self-employed translators and interpreters have to devote a significant portion of their time to tasks that have absolutely nothing to do with language. These are neither fun tasks nor tasks that you can romanticize at all: they are the nitty-gritty basic tasks (some very easy, some challenging) that are necessary to run a business. They include highly interesting (yes, we are being sarcastic here) things such as:
  • Logging our mileage and our business expenses so we can deduct them from our taxes 
  • Calling customers who have not paid their invoices (does not happen very often)
  • Sending customers the requested paperwork (W-9s, confidentiality agreements)
  • Dealing with tax-related paperwork
  • Paying our bills and your vendors
  • Renewing business licenses and dealing with government bureaucracies
  • Going to see our accountants and lawyer, etc. 
On the other hand, there are many routine tasks that we enjoy very much, such as:
  • Issuing invoices
  • Working in our trusty accounting system, Translation Office 3000
  • Corresponding with clients
  • Depositing checks
  • Checking the online balances of our accounts
Others are not boring, but can be taxing, such as:
  • Dealing with computer challenges
  • Doing software upgrades
  • Calling the bank again to deal with an incorrect charge
In addition, we frequently outsource work to a small group of our superstar contractors, so we oftentimes do project management and edit others' work, which is not boring at all, but can be quite cumbersome on the administrative level.

The point of this post is the following: newcomers to this profession must realize that while of course we work with language on a daily basis, all linguists devote part of their time to administrative tasks. Sometimes it's 30% of our day, sometimes it's 50%, sometimes it's even 100% (as happened during a recent computer crisis). We think it's important that newcomers know about this reality, which is why we share it here on this space as food for thought.

What about you, dear colleagues? How much time do you spend on boring (read: administrative) tasks every day? Which one is your least favorite? Do you have one that you actually like?

And surely music fans were quick to recognize the title of this post: it is a favorite line from an 80s song by The Smiths. The name of the song is "Shirtlifters of the World Unite." Yes, Judy is a huge The Smiths/Morrissey fan.

Spanish Grammar and Writing: In Pictures

Our friends over at Ortografía Real have been tweeting up a storm and have been sharing a large amount of interesting tidbits about the Spanish language. We really enjoy their tweets and their Facebook page, and highly recommend you follow them.

They recently tweeted two images that nicely illustrate some very common mistakes. If we had a penny for every time someone sent us an e-mail with Hay nos vemos (correct: Ahí nos vemos) or Haber si te quedas a cenar (correct: A ver si te quedas a cenar), we would be rich. Perhaps this will clear up some of these common errors. Enjoy!

Thank you, Ortografía Real, for this gem.
Simple and priceless. A ver si se acuerdan.

Should I Sign This?

Today's brief post is about a topic that we consider vital to your success: documents that require your signature, specifically, documents that either an end client or a translation/interpreting agency sends you before you have an agreement and before services are rendered. Remember that we are not attorneys, although one of us is married to one. The following is not legal advice, but rather our advice on what we have learned in the T&I trenches. Here it is, in easy-to-read bullet format.

  • Read everything. Even if the client insists that you need to sign this right now or the world will come to and end (yes, this is the sense of urgency that's sometimes communicated to the translator or interpreter), take your time to read everything. Also be sure that you understand what you are reading. If you don't, consider asking. 
  • If you don't agree with something on the document, be it a confidentiality agreement, a purchase order, or a non-compete agreement, don't sign it. These documents can be considered drafts of contracts, and they are not court orders with which you need to comply. We occasionally get non-compete clauses that are so completely egregious that we simply can't agree to them. So we go into the document, delete/amend the portions we don't like and send it back to the client for their review. Initially, we used to be a bit nervous about this, because just like many service providers, we want to make everything easy for the client. That said, we also have to protect our business interests, and sometimes that's a thin line. However, pretty much all of the time, the client has agreed to our changes and we've signed the redacted version of the document.
  • Even if the client claims that this "is just completely standard," it still has to be a standard that works for both parties. A contract is an agreement between two parties, and if you don't agree, say so. Don't be afraid of potentially losing a client. If the client isn't willing to respect your business interests, then perhaps this is not a good basis for a work relationship. We assure you that there will be other, better clients. We recently turned down a hugely lucrative contract with a tech giant because their terms were so outrageous (especially their terms in case of any errors and omissions) that our entire business would have been at risk. The client said that the contract was just a formality, but after having two attorneys review the terms, we decided to decline. It was a tough decision, but ultimately we thought it was the right one.
  • One of us (Judy) spends a lot of time in legal proceedings as a court interpreter, and it's never fun to go to court if it's about you. Save yourself the trouble of having to litigate anything and negotiate everything before you sign. Once your signature is on the document, it's official, so think twice before you sign.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive and is only meant as initial food for thought. What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any other advice on handling this issue? We'd love to hear from you.

3000+ Translation Glossaries

A few weeks ago, our colleague Alina Cincan in the UK (managing director of Inbox Translation) contacted us to let us know that she was working on a list of more than 3,000 translation glossaries (yes, 3,000). This very well-researched list is now live, and we have to say it's quite impressive indeed.

It's divided into a wide variety of categories (120 to be exact), including such diverse topics as medicine, weights, printing, beauty, mythical creatures, text speak, gambling, nutrition, noble titles (yes!), food, measurements, math and much more. This is quite possibly the most extensive list of translation glossaries we have ever seen, and would like to thank Alina very much for undertaking this massive project for the benefit of all! The vast majority of these are monolingual and are very helpful.

Here's the link to the 3,000+translation glossaries.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times