“Treasured Guests” and Other Trials

I love Disneyland. It’s hopelessly uncool, I know, but the irony-free “Happiest Place on Earth” is a refreshing change from the cynicism required for survival in the rest of the world.

So it was a bit of a “what?” moment when a friend told me that Disney employees have a special code for referring to difficult or unpleasant visitors. So FIY, the next time you send back your burger at the Galactic Grill for the second time and ask to have a sandwich from the Blue Bayou sent over instead, do not be flattered when the waiter calls in a special request for a “treasured guest”; you’re being marked as a certified jerk. Continue reading

You Get What You Pay For — a Myth?

pennypincherPrincipled decisions usually have no immediate pay-off except knowing that you did the right thing, but sometimes life gives you a sweet little taste of poetic justice.

About six months ago one of my best agencies asked all its translators to lower their rates to help them keep up their profits (paraphrase mine). I passed on this opportunity to take one for the team, worked a little harder to cover the shortfall with new clients, and chalked it up to sad experience.

Fast-forward to last week, when I got another mass-email from this agency: Continue reading

Translator: Rise of the Machines?

mountain roadTranslating when you’re in the zone is like driving a Maserati through the Alps. It’s not always like that, but I know I know I’m not the only who has experienced times when words zip into place without effort and hours fly by in minutes. In his book on work satisfaction, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to this experience as flow: a state of relaxed, enjoyable engagement when you’re immersed in a task that is neither boring nor too difficult. Continue reading

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, Proz.com. 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