Translation: the Business of Belonging

belongingOne of the more awkward moments in my life was dealt to me inadvertently by a close friend many years ago. We had dropped in to admire some handcrafted jewelry in a shop here in California, and she discovered that the owner/artist was Dutch like me. So she called me over excitedly to “speak Dutch” with him, and then left us to it while she stood there, beaming expectantly. The thing is, it was pretty obvious that we both felt put on the spot but we didn’t want to be churlish either, so we performed a forced little conversation about how long have you lived here, where in Holland are you from, do you like it here, can we gracefully wrap this up now.

Why was this so awkward? Continue reading

Badsplaining,the Translator’s Curse

Writer James Fell recently shared a Reddit challenge on his Facebook page to Badly Explain Your Profession. The responses are inventive and hilarious, but they made me think about how we translators explain what we do. Hang around any translation forum or group long enough, and sooner or later the conversation will turn to complaints about the misconceptions people have about our profession, like the notion that any high school kid who’s taken a year of French can be a translator.

But really, whose fault is that? Continue reading

The Secret Ingredient of Freelance Success

woman readingTranslation is one of those professions that sound like an easy way to make some extra cash to certain people. They don’t understand what it involves, exactly, but when they find out you’re apparently making a pretty good living at knowing a few languages, you can practically see the thought forming: “Hey, I could do that!”

I’ve had a few people over the years approach me for advice on how to get a translation business going. At first I dove right in with enthusiastic advice about ways to gain experience, build a resume, find clients, etc., but I have found that a lot of times the eager nodding is not turned into action, let alone perseverance, and when I see these people months later they are still wistfully waiting for some magic jump-start. Continue reading

Patriotism and the Power of Words – an Immigrant Perspective on the 4th of July

I was born and raised in the Netherlands but I have lived in the US for over 20 years and got dual citizenship a few years ago. I love my birth country and my adopted country, and my ideal self is fully Dutch and fully American. The reality of straddling two cultures, however, is that you are no longer one and never fully the other. It manifests itself in countless small ways. When I meet new people, for example, they invariably ask me where I’m from because I immigrated too late in life to shake my accent. Yet when I visit family in Holland, sooner or later someone will poke fun at my alleged American accent. I don’t believe it but then who am I to judge anymore? I don’t hear my Dutch accent either.

Because of this dual perspective, though, I think I’m qualified to offer a few comments on this most American of all holidays, the Fourth of July, aka Independence Day, which celebrates America’s hard-fought transformation from colony to sovereign nation. Continue reading

This Job Is Not For You

Here’s a question for you: what is the worst possible job you can think of?  The restriction is that it has to be a regular job, so anything obviously detrimental to individuals or society is out.

Okay, I’ll start: three jobs that make me break out in a cold sweat just thinking about them are, in no particular order: improv comedian, wedding planner, and tour guide.

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Professional Feedback


The best feedback I ever received was in response to a translation for a new agency several years ago. The proofreader had a problem with the terminology I had used, explaining that the most authoritative reference in this field was this particular lexicon which I had obviously not used. I was fairly new to the field, so I immediately went out and got my hands on this holy grail of terminology, which has been a life-saver on more than a few occasions since. So even though the critique stung a bit, I am grateful for it because it told me something I really needed to know in a straightforward, non-offensive way.

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A little bit laid-back, a little bit OCD

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So do you have to be just a little bit OCD to succeed as a translator? Not to make light of the actual disorder, but I’ve wondered more than once, while triple-checking a term I’ve translated before but can’t say for absolutely sure will fit in this exact context, how obsessive you have to be, or rather, how non-obsessive you can get away with being and still deliver a quality translation.

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