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Can you find the best translator?

25 Aug

Have you ever noticed how unpopular is the concept of “the best product ever”?

Although some marketer and manufacturers are trying to make use of this slogan, it seems odd that this concept has never gained much popularity among advertisers. What can be more natural? You claim you are the best (or you product/service is the best), and people will instantly join the queue to get it.

But there must be some sort of explanation why such an obviously brilliant idea does not get the popularity it (certainly?) deserves.

The thing is that “the best” is an adjective. Like almost any other adjective, it has descriptive nature. In other words, people can`t measure the portion of “best-ness”, otherwise they would have already employed the concept long time ago. So, when someone says that something is the best, they always compare the thing they are talking about with other similar objects/products/etc. One-of-a-kind objects can`t be the best or the worst.

In other words, people tend to compare things, and, based on their requirements, they can find the best expert for the text they are going to translate. Quite often these requirements include price (budgets are tight, which is why clients have to screen out translators whom they can`t afford. Although some may claim that the best translators are the most expensive ones, for these clients they are obviously NOT the best ones). Or, a lot of people will only search for native speakers of the target language, filtering out those who claim they can do it both ways.

Many prefer experts with strong translation skills and will never let translators per se with some knowledge of the specialization touch the source text, etc.

My point is that clients can`t find the best translators for every project. Without clear requirements and criteria identified prior to the search it is more like chasing a mirage. In other words, it is quite ineffective to try to make prospects believe that you are the best one for them. Some of them will (of course) take the bite, but the probability that this relationship will last much long is minimal. It is far better to let clients match their requirements related to their specific project your expertise and experience, or, yes, to let them pass you by in case they don`t need your profile. This is the only way to let them “stay by” you if they choose you.

BTW the same goes for the concept of “the best translation” (to be elaborated in another post of mine).

Words are just words, and it is a very bad when clients (attracted by catchy slogans) don`t see the profile they were thinking about – not because you are a bad translator, but because you are not the best for THEM. Defeated expectancy.


Part II. Selection of translators for literary/non-literary translation process

5 Nov

(based on “Translation in Practice”, a symposium edited by Gill Paul, 2009)

Both types of translation require careful selection of a person who will produce the translation. Although time spent on pre-translation and/or post-translation activities is much greater in case of literary translation, that does not mean you can bring the text to an indifferent translator, which is not rarely the case with non-literary translation. On the contrary: “those who translate literary fiction require something beyond this [an ability to convert words liter­ally from one language to another] —something much more creative, involv­ing an instinctive understanding of the way that words and phrases can work together to best effect.” Once again, literary translation of any given book will most probably be read by at least hundreds of people, which makes it vitally important to allocate much more of proper resources (both time and people) to the translation process.

The next aspect to cover is the relationship between project manager/editor and translators. It should be noted that the process of literary translation in most cases requires that editors have their favorite 3-4 translators (BTW, occasionally these editors may take on new translators). When doing so, they do not base their choice on price only. This is a very distinct characteristic of commercial (for-profit) literary translation process, in contrast to commercial non-literary translation industry, where the price is quite often the only criterion for choosing a translator.

Translators of non-literary text are not required to share the enthusiasm of an editor for this or that book. They can even say no, just because not all books can or have to “strike the necessary chord”. On the contrary, non-literary translators usually don`t mind translating different texts of absolutely different nature (provided that these belong to their specialization).

The final and the most striking difference between selection procedures for two types of translation is the amount of communication between editor/PM and translators. One is often missing if automated translation mechanisms are used by translation agencies. Literary translation process vitally requires a lot of communication and can`t be automated by definition.

Part III. Author, outside reader, sample translations.

Literary vs. non-literary translation: similarities and differences. Part I

17 Oct

Today I would like to start a series of blog posts about differences and similarities between literary and non-literary translation. A lot has been said about the subject matter, and that is exactly why I have decided to put in my two cents` worth.

“Translation in Practice” (a symposium edited by Gill Paul) (2009) (available at is perhaps one of the best and most comprehensive guidelines on the process of literary translation, from choosing a translator to the editing process and the translator’s role after the editing is complete. The information in this publication will be compared to the experience I have as a non-literary translator.

Let`s start with the next statement: the main difference between literary and non-literary translation is the time spent on pre-translation, translation and editing of a given document. Often it takes months to publish a best-seller, which is a very rare occasion in the realm of non-literary translation process (manuals, data sheets, etc.)

Who are the key figures in both cases? Literary translation requires involvement of the following key figures: author, translator, editor and publisher. Each of them has a certain set of functions. Exclusion of one of these key figures will inevitably result in getting a poor translation (=less readership).

Since the time allowed for the translation of non-fiction is usually much shorter, the number of people involved is reduced to an absolute minimum (translator, sometimes proofreader (who is an editor at the same time), and project manager. It is not infrequent when the text translated by a translator is sent directly to the client (no one says it is bad, because there are situations when one needs a gist translation ASAP).

In other words, those editors who process literary translations have to consider more factors and circumstances – e.g., they should feel “the vibrations and spirit of the original”, as well as considering the “balance between producing a commer­cially viable book and one that stays true to the author’s vision and literary genius.” The role of editors of non-literary translations is usually reduced to one of finding typos and ensuring that style and terms accord with the nature of document.

The role of a project manager is similar to the functions of a publisher. Both ensure that the client (=readership) receives a good translation. They both have a direct interest in ensuring high profit margins of the company they represent (wider readership in case of literary translation, or better understanding of the information in case of non-literary translation).

It is not uncommon for editors of literary translations to commission an outside reader in case the editor does not read well enough in the language of translation. An outside reader will not edit the text. The only function of this key figure is to provide an editor with a report “providing a summary of the book’s plot, and commenting on its literary merit and mak­ing a personal recommendation about whether or not it should be published in English.” This person may also be asked to look at the test translations sent by new translators. Well, it seems that the standard procedure for non-literary translation does not provide for such a position. Instead, the functions of an outside reader are evenly distributed among other key figures – the translator, editor, and (sometimes) project manager). This distribution does not help get a better translation either.

Part II: choosing your translator for literary/non-literary translation process.

Listening to voices of experts: yes or no?

7 Oct

I once met a translator who was (and probably is now) a great opponent of marketing. He was a freelance translator, and, of course, while being an active opponent of marketing activities, he had to “resort” to the most simple forms of marketing a lot – both unwillingly and unwittingly. The thing is that his viewpoint on translation and marketing was a mixture of arrogance, unwillingness to learn from others and fear of the unknown. Instead of proactively searching for new clients, this translator bought membership of a well-known web platform for translators in the hope that clients with decent rates would sooner or later show up. Wow.

A year before I had been on the same path considering marketing blah, blah, blah to be a trap for people (marketing-related books, CDs, etc. cost a lot of money). But being more open-minded about business development in general than the mentioned freelancer, I was lucky to notice there was a lot of hype about marketing among translators (I created my Twitter account that time). Soon I realized that marketing was much more than just registering at PROZ and sending occasional quotes to job posts in my language pair. Among other things, marketing was (and is now) about spending money on training – yes, books, СDs, etc. I have now a robust library of business and marketing materials I use to compile my marketing plan for the next year, or to fine-tune my marketing strategy here and there.

Buying marketing-related training materials is not the only option though. Translators have to apply the info they find there. Another great marketing tool is your on-line image you create using (for example) social media or direct mail. This is another step a lot of freelancers try not to take – by any means possible.

These two steps (spending money on marketing materials and becoming visible on-line) helped me find new clients of absolutely another type – direct ones, or those fellow translators who own boutique TAs and, thus, are willing to pay generous rates. I don`t use my smartphone now – I simply don`t have to be the first to send a quote or answer an email from a pathetic TA. This is the reward people get when they start to communicate and spend money on professional development.

But the main idea of this post is a much more important conclusion: don’t be too arrogant when it comes to your development. There are people who can tell you something of value. There are people who can help you get more – both financially and personally. There are people who know more than you. And they are ready to share the knowledge.

My interview given to about translation and translation industry

28 Jul

Today I would like to share some passages from my interview which I gave to portal several days ago (it is not published yet). Frankly speaking, I was quite pleased when I was contacted by their marketing manager Michael Eckl, who asked me to answer several questions about my translation career and prospects of the translation industry.

I hope that the info mentioned below will find its readers.

P.S. Although it is a bit lengthy for a blog post, I believe that both newbies and seasoned freelancers will find new ideas to apply.


Q. In self-marketing, which factors have helped out the most so far?

А. Marketing is the basic activity any freelancer should master. You simply can`t go without marketing. Without one you will have to accept any work you come across – just because you don`t have much of it. While a lot of freelancers tend to use their rates as the main differentiator (in other words, they try to offer the lowest or “most competitive” rates), smarter freelancers try to work less and get more. They find clients which don`t ask about the price right from the start, if you like. Here comes marketing. These freelancers learn ways how to get such clients, how to make them accept the conditions.

You have to show that you are an expert. Not THE BEST translator in the world, but the one who is an expert (who is the best NHL player? No one knows. There are some 100 of them – they all are THE BEST players). Your name should be heard. Your business card should touch hands of proper people. Your direct e-mails should land proper people. You also have to tap your network and go deeper with existing clients. They should be happy with the work you provide.

A very helpful technique is to brainstorm marketing ideas with a pen and a sheet of paper.

Q. Which of the social networks do you use most successfully for customer acquisition, which ones more for interaction with others in your industry?

A. Well, social networks have profoundly changed the way people sell things and services. First, these are very time-consuming things (you can end up spending a lot of time on-line). That`s why I don`t use Facebook (which is too complex compared to Twitter, for example). I use Twitter as the main “megaphone” of things I “broadcast”. You can choose any other social media, but there are two things to remember. First, you have to find people who will be interested in what you are talking about. Second, you have to have something to say to people who are the same as you. If you don`t have right people (in my case – translators, translation agencies, direct clients who are interested in my areas of specialization) around you, or in case you don`t have anything to say, you will waste your time there.

The last thing: don`t expect miracles. Social media alone won`t bring you too many clients. Your marketing strategy should be comprehensive. Direct contact with people at shows, fairs, direct mail campaigns, etc. should be accompanied (not replaced by) social media.

Q. In your work with clients and partners, what are you doing differently today in comparison to the early phase of your career?

A. Well, CAT tools are a must now. We also did not count repetitions back in 2004. These are the most noticeable changes.

A lot of translators now use Google Translate to pre-translate files. This was unimaginable back in 2004. Now with Google Translate the speed of translation is much higher. MT engines I saw in 2004 in my language pair (English-Russian) were pathetic compared to Google now. “Thanks” to MT you now can see a lot of ads in the Internet where translation agencies are looking for MT post-editors (BTW, this has nothing to do with direct clients; another plus of working with them).

Third, Google search engine is now a very helpful tool used for searching different terms. In 2004 search engines were far less intelligent.

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your blog?

A. Well, although I don`t blog too frequently, I try to stick to a certain schedule. Frankly speaking, it is quite difficult for me to produce words on paper, first because English is not my native language (it is quite natural, I believe. You write much quicker in your native language). Anyway, I believe that marketing is one of the most important areas freelance translators have to master, and that is the exact reason why almost all my blog posts are about marketing. Where do I find inspiration? Well, the source is everyday life. The thing is that every day you encounter people and businesses who either employ or don`t employ various marketing approaches. Sometimes you wonder how on Earth they make money! That`s when I switch on my computer and tell people how things shouldn’t be done.

I write a lot about the relationships between outsourcers and translators as well. Sometimes I am shocked to see how some translation agencies treat people who make money for these translation agencies. That is another subject I cover.

I also give a lot of valuable recommendations to my colleagues. Once again, this is my experience, and I believe that translators can and should make their contribution in order to change the industry.

Q. Which online and offline resources do you read on a regular basis?

A. First, Twitter posts of other translators and marketing gurus. Every day I read through dozens of blog posts. Some of them contain absolutely obvious information, but some reveal facts and opinions which are sound and useful.

I also buy books regularly, if I see that they are worth buying. They are not always about translation or marketing. I read a lot about physics, electronics, engineering, construction, etc. as well. These are my core specializations.

Third source of information is Internet. Every day I try to read several editorials about economy of my country, news, etc. This also helps to sharpen my language skills and stay fit. It is a must for any translator to literally devour tons of information regularly.

These are most important sources of information I use.

Q. What are CAT tools missing today, how would you envision the CAT tool of your dreams?

A. This is my favorite question. Well, CAT tools are expensive. That`s OK, but the number of glitches you come across is annoying. Why on Earth do you have to pay 900 EUR for an application which crashes frequently? I am sure that this is acceptable for freeware applications, but is abnormal when we speak about things people pay for.

Even the most expensive tools can`t open certain popular file formats, although they allegedly have to.

Simplicity is another characteristic most CAT tools lack. I also believe that such complex applications which use a lot of other programs you have to install beforehand are doomed to crash frequently. Simple systems don`t crash.

Q. What would you pass on as personal advice to translators new to the industry?

A. Frequent mistake many newbies make is that they don`t choose their specialization. Jack-of-all-trades is a myth. And that is a very bad signal to your potential clients.

Another mistake people do is that they try to compete on price. Once I heard a statement that when you compete on price you have no choice but to be the cheapest. And, once you start to compete on price then you can count on there being somebody coming along who’ll beat your prices, even if doing so ultimately bankrupts them. That`s a law. BTW, people and/or translation agencies who try to find the cheapest translators won`t stay too long with them. It is another myth that you can charge superlow rates and at the same time count on long-term cooperation with this outsourcer. Marketing is there to stop getting low rates.

But who said that it would be easy?

Future of translation industry

30 Apr

I have read a lot of information related to predictions and forecasts for the translation industry recently. It seems that this is a hot topic now. It also seems that a lot of professionals try to speculate about what our “industry” will look like in the near future. Like any forecasts, they are more or less accurate; moreover, I believe that it is much harder for people to make any forecasts due to the pace the technology changes (even the speed at which this changes take place is a-change as well!). Which all means that any prediction translators or bloggers make are no way an accurate account of what things will look like even in 5 years. New social media can turn the direction of development 180 degrees, which happened numerous time before.


Well, a lot of experts speak about MT as literally the only type of translation services offered (and, what is more important, being in demand) by 2025. Others are more restrained, speaking about MT as one of many types of translation services available on the respective market. I tend to combine this two approaches and say that although MT will surely be there in abundance, it will be applied only to a low-quality content easily replaced by new content within a short period of time. In other words, why bother to hire a human translator for short ads that will be replaced by new ones at this or that web-site soon? Moreover, the MT technology is quickly developing into a sophisticated algorithm able to cope with almost any text out there. I am almost confident that the times will come when whole genres will be MTed only (by 2025).


It implies that translators will have to either diversify or specialize, either to find new areas of specialization, new language pairs, new types of services, or concentrate on two or three areas of specialization instead, becoming an obvious expert in these areas (read more on diversification in my precious post). Each of these paths has drawbacks. In the first case, you don`t want to be perceived as a “jack-of-all-trades”. On the other hand, specializing in only two or three areas can lead to a situation when you don`t have enough work to even pay your bills. Translators will have to balance out these two approaches.


Therefore there will be a huge demand on professionals who post-edit MTs. At a first glance, this seems to be a sad thing; on the other hand, this service has a lot in common with today’s proofreading or editing. The same poor quality (at least now), the same feeling of disgust (sometimes)… We all must be ready to face the situation.


On the other hand, if you don`t like to become an editor of this kind of translations, you must be ready to stand out from the crowd, or to become the obvious expert. This is not only about certificates, additional education, etc. Marketing activities will become an inseparable part of any freelancer`s experience, and at least one of the most important issues to address. No marketing will mean no clients (at least clients you would like to have). BTW, this rise of MT technology will eventually attract inexperienced or semi-professional translators, living “real” texts to experts and boutique-style translation agencies.


Have a nice day!

Review of “Diversification in the Language Industry” By Nicole Adams

11 Apr

I haven`t posted anything for quite a while, but now it`s time to speak up once again. Today I am going to share few thoughts about my recent purchase – a booked by Nicole Y. Adams called “Diversification in the Language Industry”. Well, physically speaking, it is a rather heavy item (some 320 pages). General appearance of the book already tells a lot about its content.
Frankly speaking, when I took it for the first time, I almost immediately thought that this would be another boring stuff sometimes you came across (well, the weight of the book is 550 grams). But right from the very first pages I realized that the book was (at least partially) a collection of absorbing interviews with both well-know and less acclaimed representatives of the language industry.

The core message of the book is diversification. Translators can no longer rely on translation alone. They have to keep their eyes open for new areas of specialization, types of services and (sometimes) language pairs. Still, there should be a healthy balance between diversification and pantophagy (do you want to be seen as a jack-of-all-trades?).
Well, I don`t think that this was a kind of revelation to me. Having read dozens of books about business, marketing, etc., I already had some thoughts about where to go to for additional money. To much of my regret, I haven`t (until now – 130 pages away from the first page of the book) read anything to the contrary (i.e. that diversification is an absolutely unnecessary item). I believe there are a lot of translators who make a decent living out of pure translation. On the other hand, do we still use pen and paper to translate texts? Haven`t we already diversified our business using Google Translate, CAT-tools, OCR programs, etc.? I believe we have. You don`t necessarily have to start doing something completely different, first because it will take much of your time (like DTP or voice-over).

What areas are considered to be examples of “lite” version of diversification? According to contributors of the book, these are transcreation, subtitling, copyediting, proofreading and rewriting. Voice-over, subtitling, interpretation, new language pairs, new subject areas and DTP are all examples of “pro” version of diversification, because they take much time, efforts and money.
To sum up, I have just started reading this (undoubtedly) great collection of thoughts of people who make a difference to this industry. I am sure there will be a lot of precious information further on. For those who want to take a look at what the industry will be within 10 years, read the chapter written by Oleg Rudavin. Sad but true. Or is it really that sad?