The Seven-Year Itch in Translation

The most dangerous drivers, statistically, are those who have had their license for about a year. They start feeling comfortable and relax their vigilance even though they are actually not that experienced yet, leading to a higher accident rate. Similarly, the seven-year mark is reportedly a tricky time in a relationship. The thrill of conquest and romance has worn off and gradually gets replaced, it seems, by bills, annoying nose-blowing habits and demanding in-laws.

Translation careers go through phases as well, some exciting and some not so much, and it’s good to be aware and prepared so you don’t wreck your career through misplaced confidence or throw it all to the wind when difficult times (inevitably) arrive. Continue reading


Pattern Recognition for a Thriving Translation Business

Humans are strongly predisposed to recognize patterns. Music, math, language, and art all appeal to this part of our brain, but we also use this ability thousands of times a day for more mundane purposes, such as picking out a familiar face in a crowd and or finding a bottle of Heinz ketchup at the grocery store. So strong is this innate tendency, in fact, that we even see patterns where there are none, imposing order and meaning where none exist. This need to impose order is the basis of the Rorschach test, where the subject is invited to interpret random or ambiguous images.

So what does this have to do with translation? I’m glad you asked. Continue reading

The Translator’s Dilemma

prisonersThere is a famous scenario in game theory called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this scenario, two suspects are arrested and brought in for questioning in separate rooms. As it stands, the prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charges, so they really need at least one of the two to confess. Continue reading

All About the Rates

I can’t get rid of this catchy Meghan Trainor earworm, except in my head it goes “It’s all about the rates, ‘bout the rates, no trouble”. This is not true, of course, because where rates are discussed trouble is not far behind, or so we are told, but what the heck. I’ll start.

I started my translation career working for $0.05/word on, where else, I just bumped into the site one day while job hunting, and I was beyond thrilled that here, apparently, was a way back into the profession I had thought I’d had to give up for good when I abandoned my Translation studies at the University of Amsterdam to move to the agricultural Central Valley of California. So when I found Proz and realized that physical location no longer mattered, I set up a profile faster than you can say “bulk-versus-premium market” and happily jumped into the bidding fray. Continue reading

Does Your Website Have a “Hack Me” Sign?

Getting your own business website is a huge milestone. I loved the excitement of the the design phase, creating the content, and finally seeing it out there “live” on the internet. Of course I’d heard about hackers and such but that seemed like one of those things that happens to other people. There’s a saying among con artists, though, that if you look around the room and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you. If I’d looked a little closer I might have seen the “hack me” sign on my back. Continue reading

When No One Calls — Making It through the Dry Spells

A few months back I was faced with a bit of a moral dilemma.

You may recognize the scenario: I had been asked by an agency with which I have a long-standing relationship to evaluate the work of a potential new translator. The translation was excellent and earned a high score on the evaluation sheet; simple enough. But when I emailed the project manager with the results I found myself hesitating, as it occurred to me that having another talented translator around might mean less work for me. Did I really want to add fuel to the fire by adding a personal note of praise for this potential interloper? Continue reading

The Pitfalls of Language Without Cultural Context

The Dutch are a no-nonsense, straightforward people, and I always thought the language expressed this national characteristic pretty well.

Not for us those expressions of affection that roll off the tongue so easily in English. Ik hou van je is much harder to say than “I love you” for some reason, which logically speaking is bizarre of course, since the Dutch love their nearest and dearest as much as anyone else. The only reason I can think of is that effusiveness is simply not in line with the Dutch character. We are a nation of farmers and seafarers after all. Fighting sea and soil does not leave much energy for poetry. Continue reading

When Bad Translations Happen to Good People

I received an assignment from a long-standing client last week that made my Spidey-sense tingle as soon as I read the instructions. It was billed as a super easy review of a translation done in-house at a hospital which should take no more than half an hour. Uh-huh. A quick glance at the translation told me that this was going to take a lot more than thirty minutes, especially since they also wanted me to explain every change I made and check the terminology against a reference document. I explained I’d only be able to scratch the surface in that time, so the agency agreed to pay me for an hour and asked me to do what I could within that time frame.

It was a textbook case of You Get What You Pay for and Why the #&!! Did You Not Hire a Professional in the First Place. Continue reading

Blogs – What Are They Good For

Blogging, what is it good for

Image by Mike Licht on Flickr

If your response to this title is “Absolutely nothing, HUH! (say it again y’all),” to the tune of War, What is it Good For, you are probably thinking in terms of how effective blogs are as marketing tools. A common complaint is that blogs do nothing to bring in new clients and are therefore a waste of time.

It’s an interesting debate which surely does not just apply to the translation industry, so out of curiosity I decided to look at a few other professions to see how their practitioners use blogs. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Agencies

The freelancer-large agency relationship is often an ambivalent one. On the one hand, the industry behemoths can provide a steady flow of work, which is a good thing if you have bills to pay. On the other hand, larger also means more layers of organization, so the people you talk to don’t have the authority to make decisions, and the people who do tend to be well-protected behind the organizational line of scrimmage. Plus some of them don’t pay a lot. When I first started translating I didn’t realize this was an issue, because I was happy to have work at all and I jumped on every job offer, no questions asked (which, in hindsight, I don’t recommend). Continue reading