Learning from customer experience


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As translators/interpreters, we are service providers. All companies/brands that sell services/products also provide an experience to their customers, and this experience starts from the very beginning, even before prospects contact us, when they try to find us or someone who can provide what they need. And it ends way after the product/service is delivered, but it doesn’t necessarily need to, that’s also the point.

As a customer, I love great experiences! I easily become loyal to brands that go beyond and provide me the best service possible. Likewise, I easily let go of brands who let me down somehow. And when there is reasonable competition, even the smallest detail can make a difference. As customers, we have a lot to learn also as entrepreneurs. After all, learning from mistakes (and successes) of others is better than making our own, right?

When we need something, a service or a product, we are vulnerable (or at least control freaks like me are). Leaving our comfort zones is not easy. We have to look for someone who can provide us something we need with quality, a reasonable price, reliability, and, most of the times, we do not have a clue as to what this means. If the service provider makes us feel at ease, comfortable and happy with their service, then we can easily trust them. If, on the other hand, they make our lives even more difficult than they already are, the entire experience becomes a nightmare.

Here are three real-life scenarios that I’ve been through and from which I learned a lot!

Scenario 1: Post office

Important fact: here in Brazil, mailmen usually don’t work on Sundays.

Another important fact: as you might all be aware, Brazil is not exactly a safe country. And I live by myself at a house, as opposed to an apartment, that is usually safer.

At 9 a.m. on a Sunday, the doorbell rings. I was still sleeping, because I had gone out the night before and arrived really late. I answer the intercom. A man on the other side identifies himself as the mailman. Still sleepy, I think, “The mailman, on a Sunday?” I ask him whom the package is for (something I always do, to check the person is indeed the mailman and the package is indeed intended for me, since other people have lived in my house before and their mail still keep coming). He confirms my name, in a rather impatient voice, probably noticing I’m reluctant. I think, “Ok, that is information people can easily get ahold of. This is still weird.” I tell him I find that strange, “I’m sorry, sir, but what guarantee do I have you are indeed the mailman, on a Sunday morning?” He becomes quite mad, goes away and leaves me speaking to myself over the intercom.

Later on, I find out they had been working on Sundays because they were late on deliveries. But I learned this from someone else, because the mailman himself didn’t even care to try to explain that to me.

I tried to track the package and see where it had been taken to, with no success. I got yelled at over the phone and hung up on a couple of times, so I just gave up.

Of course mailmen know they don’t usually work on Sundays. The guy was probably so pissed he had to work on a Sunday morning that he simply didn’t care. No empathy at all, no trying to understand my position, no respect, just plain rudeness.

Takeaway: We often complain that clients say “translator,” when they mean “interpreter,” or that they want everything for yesterday, and so on. And many of us are even rude or have no patience at all with people that are not from our area and that have misleading ideas about it. How would they know? It’s our role to be patient and try to explain, in a way they understand, how things work. Whining, complaining and having lack of patience with people are not the solution.

Scenario 2: Landline technical support

My landline was silent. I had no signal to make calls, but I ran some quick and simple tests and found out it was probably the device itself, not the connection. I took it to a place specialized in technical phone support. The girl ran not one, but several tests, in different power supplies, using different wires, until she found what the problem was.

This is it, plain and simple, right? You are probably thinking, “C’mon, that’s her job.” Yes, it is, I agree. However, unfortunately, people simply don’t do their jobs anymore. They simply don’t care. What I expected: her trying once or twice, at the most, and giving up, saying it was broken and that I needed to buy a new device. Instead, I was really impressed at how much she cared and tried to find what the problem was.

Takeaway: Are we doing our jobs? My clients are frequently ecstatic with me for just doing my job: delivering on time, sometimes, if possible, even earlier, doing a good job, etc. Basic things we are expected to do, but that, apparently, most translators don’t. Is the competition fierce? Are there a lot of translators out there? Yes and yes. However, what’s the quality of the service they provide? Delivering on time is Translation 101, Lesson 1. If, apart from that, you go a bit beyond and try to deliver earlier whenever you can, believe me, you win the client. Go the extra mile. Be the solution your client needs and, if you can’t solve their problem yourself, be proactive and try to find someone who can. Clients usually don’t have a clue about the translation world. We do.

Scenario 3: Nike store

I love Nike products. In my opinion, they are high-quality and worth every penny. I still wear clothes that are more than five years old and that are still in good shape. Ok, so I am already a fan of the brand, fine.

They have a cool store in São Paulo (I live in a town about two hours from the big city). The last time I went there I was amazed! As I was taking a look at the store and choosing what I would try on, the salesperson was preparing the dressing room with other suggestions of things I could like based on my choices. When I arrived in the dressing room, they had even written my name one the door! Maybe you wouldn’t care less about it, but I do. Who doesn’t like to feel special?

Takeaway: Each client is special in their own way and should be treated accordingly. We should make our clients feel they are unique, because they are. Pamper them whenever and however you can. I send personalized handwritten Christmas cards with a branded little something every end of the year to all my clients. I also send branded handwritten Thank You notes to clients and partners or whomever I feel like thanking. Whatever you do, make sure all your clients feel that you care about each of them and that they are special to you. This simple attitude may be what differentiates you from other equally great translators and what makes your clients not even think twice before requesting your services.

A key aspect to a successful customer experience (and to everything in life, let’s face it) is empathy. Wearing our customers’ shoes is essential to understanding their needs and providing the best service possible. It’s like that old saying by Confucius goes, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.” And vice-versa. It’s as simple as that. No need to overcomplicate or overthink things. No secret formula. No million-dollar strategy.

What have you learned from your own customer experiences?

Guest post: Tradutor de português no exterior

Sejam bem-vindos de volta a mais uma publicação de convidado!

Hoje, recebo o Fabio Said, tradutor de português e alemão residente na Alemanha, que contará como foi conquistar o mercado alemão e como é trabalhar com português morando fora do país.


Fonte: Pixabay

Trajetória como tradutor de português na Alemanha

Quando saí do Brasil e transferi minha atividade profissional de tradutor para a Alemanha, eu já tinha 14 anos de experiência no mercado, trabalhando sobretudo para clientes diretos, inclusive alemães. Além disso, já tinha uma noção clara da mentalidade cultural do meu novo país, pois a mudança não foi repentina. Porém, devido a circunstâncias de mercado e a uma vontade constante de me aperfeiçoar, meu perfil como tradutor de português é, hoje, bem diferente daquele que eu tinha no Brasil. Abaixo contarei um pouco sobre como foi essa trajetória.

Primeira fase: retenção de clientes no Brasil

Nos primeiros anos de minha nova vida na Alemanha, continuei trabalhando para clientes localizados no Brasil. Seria um grande erro descartar os bons contatos e o fluxo de renda conquistado a duras penas no Brasil. A tradução editorial me pareceu ser a área de atuação ideal para essa continuidade, pois o tradutor de livros não precisa estar no mesmo país da editora. Morar na Alemanha e traduzir para editoras brasileiras só foi possível porque mantive conta bancária no Brasil, além de meu CPF brasileiro.

Outro grupo de clientes que possibilitaram minha sobrevivência profissional no novo país foram as agências. Na época, eu trabalhava com algumas agências dos Estados Unidos e Áustria, que não tinham a mesma burocracia das agências brasileiras, além de pagarem tarifas bem melhores.

Segunda fase: foco internacional

As coisas começaram a mudar por volta da segunda metade de 2008, quando a crise financeira estava assumindo proporções mundiais e, aparentemente, os grandes bancos da área de gestão de ativos estavam procurando incrementar sua comunicação com clientes de alto poder aquisitivo investindo mais pesadamente na tradução de materiais de marketing financeiro. Notei que diversas agências internacionais com foco em tradução financeira e corporativa estavam em busca de tradutores e fui aceito por algumas delas. Também fazia muitas traduções de Engenharia Industrial e Gestão da Qualidade, que, na época, ainda estavam entre minhas áreas de especialização. Em pouco tempo, o fluxo de trabalho já era tão bom que me permitiu encerrar os negócios com clientes do Brasil, a começar pelas editoras.

É bom lembrar que o real ainda não estava tão desvalorizado, mas eu definitivamente não tinha a intenção de continuar ganhando em reais para gastar em euros – pagando taxas de câmbio exorbitantes toda vez que sacava dinheiro da minha conta brasileira. Esse é, a meu ver, um dos grandes problemas de profissionais que mudam de país mantendo vínculos financeiros com o país de origem. Além da diferença cambial, há ainda o fator tributário, pois quanto mais vínculos financeiros o profissional mantém com o país de origem, mais complicada se torna a burocracia com a declaração do imposto de renda no novo país.

Nessa minha fase “internacional”, também me dediquei bastante à construção de relacionamentos com o mercado de tradução global, por meio de associações de tradutores, mídias sociais e congressos. Meu antigo blog trilíngue de tradução, o “Fidus Interpres”, foi criado nessa época, dando origem a um livro de mesmo nome. Foi um período de muito aprendizado e troca de experiências. É sempre bom ampliar os horizontes e conhecer perspectivas diferentes – e isso só é possível quando você investe em networking.

Terceira fase: “local is the new global

Com o tempo, trabalhar para agências de tradução internacionais e cada vez menos para clientes diretos já não me trazia tanta satisfação em termos pessoais e intelectuais. O fluxo de renda era bom, mas o ritmo era intenso demais, com condições de trabalho cada vez mais desinteressantes, e eu quase não tinha contato com as pessoas que realmente usariam minhas traduções (afinal, agências são intermediários). Estava na hora de mudar de foco.

O caminho natural foi voltar a atuar na tradução juramentada. Nessa área, na qual eu havia trabalhado durante vários anos no Brasil, como assistente de um tradutor juramentado e depois como juramentado ad hoc, é possível ter um contato maior com os usuários das traduções, aprendendo sobre suas histórias de vida e percebendo imediatamente o benefício que meu trabalho traz para eles. Além disso, minha segunda principal área de trabalho na época era a tradução jurídica, além da financeira, e eu ainda tinha meu grande banco de dados de traduções juramentadas e de terminologia jurídica construído no Brasil, de modo que poderia tirar um bom proveito desse material como tradutor juramentado na Alemanha.

Para cumprir os requisitos legais e obter o título de Tradutor Público e Juramentado em três estados na Alemanha, tive de fazer um curso e prova de linguagem jurídica alemã e obter uma qualificação adicional como tradutor de acordo com o sistema educacional alemão. O título em si não garante nada, pois os tradutores juramentados da Alemanha não têm uma “reserva de mercado” e precisam lutar muito, em razão da concorrência brutal, para conquistar cada cliente. Felizmente, fui bem aceito pelo mercado alemão de tradução juramentada, sobretudo pela comunidade de imigrantes brasileiros, e em 6 anos conquistei mais de 1.200 clientes, sendo que muitos deles retornam com novos trabalhos.

Minha intenção era traduzir sobretudo do alemão para o português, minha língua materna. Porém, devido à burocracia brasileira, traduções juramentadas para o português feitas em outros países geralmente não são aceitas no Brasil. Dessa forma, passei a traduzir mais e mais do português para o alemão. E gostei. Gostei tanto que passei a investir mais em seminários e cursos de aperfeiçoamento em linguagem jurídica alemã, organizados pela associação alemã de tradutores BDÜ, da qual sou associado. Hoje, cerca de 85% dos meus rendimentos são com tradução juramentada; destas, 90% são em alemão (jurídico), para uso exclusivamente no território da Alemanha. Além disso, somente aceito pagamentos na moeda do meu país (euros). Minha empresa não tem mais conta bancária no Brasil e trabalha quase sempre para clientes locais. Meus vínculos com o Brasil e com a língua portuguesa são mantidos, claro, pelas vias de sempre (viagens, leituras), mas no plano profissional faz mais sentido investir 100% no novo país do que manter “um pé aqui e outro lá”.

Para alguns, esse foco local pode parecer temerário. Por outro lado, para citar um bordão muito frequente entre analistas da globalização, “local is the new global”. De qualquer forma, saber se adaptar às circunstâncias e aproveitar oportunidades é uma questão de sobrevivência profissional.

Sobre o autor

Fabio Said é tradutor de inglês desde 1993 e de alemão desde 1999, especializado em linguagem jurídica e financeira. Vive na Alemanha desde 2007, onde é Tradutor Público e Juramentado de português-alemão e mantém a empresa de tradução “Lingua Brasilis Übersetzungsbüro Fabio Said”. É autor do livro “Guia do tradutor: melhores práticas” (2013). Twitter: @fabiomsaid

Living and learning, as always


Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Happy New Year, dearest followers!

I know I’m late to the party, but I wanted to share with you what I’ve been up to.

After more than a half year later (seven months, to be more precise), here I am, writing on my own blog. We did have guest posts and the Greatest Women in Translation interviews (though not with the normal frequency either), but I, myself, haven’t written on the blog since June last year. Time flies, huh?

Although I didn’t feel inspired to write an end-of-the-year post with a review of the past year and resolutions to the year to come (hello, 2019!), I gave it a lot of thought.

Professionally, 2018 was a great year!

  • I earned a dream direct client.
  • I received some amazing and rewarding feedback on my work (as a translator, as a blogger and as a conference speaker).
  • I let go of tasks and clients that were not doing me good.
  • I increased my workflow with a dear overseas translation agency I work for.
  • I worked closely with a dear colleague and friend on two joint projects.
  • I was invited and presented a webinar for the members of PEM (Panhellenic Association of Translators).
  • I curated the TranslationTalk rotation curation Twitter account.

However, as I always say, our work is not everything in life. And even though I am a strong advocate of a work-life balance, even I learned a few things this past year.

  • I need two vacations a year; one is not enough. Apart from taking a month-long vacation in April/May (European trip, attending the BP and the ITI conferences), I will spend a week at the beach with my family next month and plan on taking some time off in the second semester as well.
  • Working from home being single and living by myself silently took its toll this year and I learned that living a balanced life is not enough; we also need to go an extra mile and care for our mental health. Working and living alone is great, but socializing is necessary. Anyone up for a chat or a coffee? For those who live in Europe, I’ll be in the UK, Bologna and Stockolm in April/May. Let’s meet!
  • We should never wait for Monday or a new year to start something. I finally started yoga in December and will start taking Italian classes again next month.
  • We need to reduce our online time. Scrolling social media is not a way of relaxing; on the contrary, it is not doing us any good. I’m trying very hard to avoid scrolling social media for no reason and I keep on turning my mobile off to read a book every night in bed.
  • No matter what people say we should or should not do, either personally or professionally, essentially, we have to be true to ourselves first and foremost. We are the only ones who truly know what works and doesn’t work for us, and we should respect that.
  • Even when we think we have a perfect life, there is always room for improvement.

Since I am still trying to truly get to know myself and identify what can be improved and what needs to be changed, I do not have any resolutions this year. I am going with the flow and changing as I go.

I still believe the New Year is great to revitalize, but even more importantly is constantly living and learning and changing as we go, truly getting to know and deeply understanding ourselves and identifying what is good and bad for us. As a one-man/woman business, we owe it to our professional life, but most importantly to ourselves.

What have you learned in 2018? What would you like to change in 2019?

Guest post: TA First Translation Prize shortlists

Happy 2018, dearest readers!

Thanks for the patience in waiting for new posts! Posts will resume as usual starting from today. And to make up to your patient and kind waiting, here are some words on the fresh announcement of the Society of Authors’ TA First Translation Prize, from Daniel Hahn himself.

Welcome, Daniel!


Source: Society of Authors

Today my fellow judges and I announce the four shortlisted books for this year’s TA First Translation Prize, a prize launched in 2017 and run by the Society of Authors, to reward the best book-length debut prose translation published in the UK. The translation profession is pretty rude health, I think, but the relative shortage of work means it’s still highly competitive, which means it’s hard for a newcomer to break into; so this prize is designed to give those starting out a little friendly encouragement…

The judges for the inaugural prize last year selected Bela Shayevich’s translation of Second-Hand Time (by the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich), published by Jacques Testard at Fitzcarraldo Books. Testard himself shared in the win, as this £2000 prize unusually rewards not only the translator but also her/his editor – in grateful recognition of that invaluable but mostly invisible contribution editors make to our profession.

This year, translator Margaret Jull Costa, publisher Philip Gwyn Jones and I read through all the eligible books – fiction long and short, assorted non-fiction, work for children, illustrated books – and narrowed them down to just four titles. A slightly shorter shortlist than last year, but we took the decision that we didn’t merely want to settle with a fixed number that a majority of us were more or less keen on, rather we wanted a list of books – however many that may be – of which we all felt that genuinely any one could win. Which is certainly the case for the selection we ended up with: very different books, but all of us felt that any one of them would be a worthy winner of the prize. We three judges were delighted at what we discovered. (And we – two translators and a publisher, all very experienced – are a pretty demanding bunch…)

The books we’ve chosen are as follows:

I Am the Brother of XXGini Alhadeff’s translation of a collection of Fleur Jaeggy’s short stories (publ. And Other Stories). This isn’t just a superb collection from Jaeggy herself, it’s also a masterpiece of translatory control. Gini Alhadeff follows every beat of Jaeggy’s prose, matching its subtle modulations and its sharp turns to truly impressive effect. This is writing that’s often restrained, often cool, and yet really gets under your skin, and stays there. I learned after reading this that Alhadeff has some experience translating poetry, which comes as no surprise.

The Impossible Fairy-TaleJanet Hong’s translation of the beautiful and disturbing novel by Han Yujoo (pub. Tilted Axis Press). Any book that needs to grip its reader so tightly for over 300 pages demands great precision from a translator. But a novel that seems to have language as one of its subjects must of course present a particular additional challenge, and Janet Hong has met this challenge brilliantly – with energy, style and often great imaginativeness.

FirefliesFionn Petch’s translation of the book by Luis Sagasti (publ. Charco Press). An unusual book, and – I think for all of us on the panel – one of the real discoveries of our reading. It’s an ambitious novel (is it really a novel?), deeply and cleverly intriguing but structurally fleet-footed (-winged?). Translator Fionn Petch gives us Sagasti in a voice that is just as erudite, meditative and beautifully poetic as it needs to be but conveyed in absolutely readable clarity, too – a lot harder to do than it looks.

Can You Hear Me?Alex Valente’s translation of Elena Varvello’s unputdownable piece of noir (publ. Two Roads). In some ways, this is the most understated piece of translation on the list, which is its own challenge; the particular voice and atmosphere and pacing require something very clear, very clean, very unshowy – a kind of prose with no room for any wrong notes. Which can be as hard, and certainly as unforgiving, as the more virtuosic work – but Valente’s work is impeccable.

It’s quite a quartet, I think. I’d strongly recommend you check out the work of these four brilliant translators – who may just be starting out, but, rather depressingly, can already teach the rest of us a thing or two…

We announce the winning translator and editor at an event at the British Library in London, on the evening of February 13th.

Official announcement: The Translation Prizes 2018 shortlists

About the author

Daniel Hahn

Credit: John Lawrence

Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor and translator with some sixty books to his name. He is a past chair of the Translators Association and the Society of Authors, and currently on the judging panel for the TA First Translation Prize.

Guest post: Stephen King e sua tradutora


Crédito: Editora Suma

O mundo sombrio de Stephen King

Desde 2013, minhas aventuras por esse mundo ganharam uma nova dimensão; no entanto, já o frequento há muitos anos, desde bem antes de pensar em ser tradutora. Quando ainda adolescente, descobri o autor por acaso, em um conto publicado na revista Speak Up, e mesmo aos 14 anos fiquei tão fascinada com a capacidade do autor de se aventurar pela natureza humana usando elementos de terror que simplesmente tive que descobrir mais.

Esse conto se chamava “The Boogeyman” e foi publicado no Brasil com o título “O fantasma”, parte da coletânea de contos Sombras da noite (tradução de Adriana Lisboa). Três décadas se passaram e eu ainda acho esse conto uma das coisas mais incríveis que ele escreveu. Tenho certeza de que há pessoas pensando: “Natureza humana? O cara é escritor de terror!” Mas essa foi uma das descobertas mais incríveis que eu fiz e que tenho certeza de que muita gente não fez por preconceito: o terror do King não é de medinho, sustos e sangue (embora alguns desses elementos costumem estar presentes nas histórias). Porque, afinal, o que realmente pode dar medo não é um fantasma, um monstro, um alienígena. A coisa mais assustadora que existe no mundo é o homem.

Em 2013, recebi a proposta de traduzir It – A coisa, que é uma das obras icônicas do autor. É um calhamaço de pouco mais de mil páginas que conta sobre o horror que assola uma cidadezinha do estado do Maine, nos Estados Unidos, e um grupo de sete crianças que se juntam pra combatê-lo, com trechos se revezando num intervalo de quase três décadas, quando as mesmas crianças, agora adultas, voltam à cidade para o embate final. Para os desavisados, para os que conhecem apenas a capa, para quem viu o trailer do filme, parece a história de um palhaço assassino. Mas It aborda horrores muito mais sombrios: homofobia, violência doméstica, abuso infantil, abandono, racismo, tantos desses horrores humanos dos quais a gente sempre ouve falar e que são sempre contemporâneos e familiares.

O trabalho hercúleo de traduzir um original com 450 mil palavras trouxe frutos; logo vieram outros livros do autor, que eu já admirava tanto e conhecia tão bem. Mas conhecia mesmo? A sensação que tive foi de que comecei a examinar Stephen King com uma lupa, em vez de apenas com meus olhos. Comecei a desbravar nuances, detalhes, recursos, e a conhecer o autor por um viés diferente. A conta até o momento é de 11 livros, um conto gratuito disponível online aqui e o prólogo e o epílogo nunca publicados anteriormente de O iluminado (tradução de Betty Ramos de Albuquerque), que saíram na edição pertencente à coleção Biblioteca Stephen King. O trabalho continua firme, pois o King não para: em 2019, teremos mais.

Curiosamente, quando comecei a leitura, láááá na adolescência, o que mais me fascinava era mesmo o terror puro e simples; meu eu adolescente queria descobrir como sentir medo, os monstros que poderiam tirar meu sono. (Spoiler: não deu certo, eu não sinto medo de monstros.) Acredito que se não houvesse esse outro lado mais profundo nos textos dele, eu teria deixado seus livros para trás, como deixei alguns outros autores; mas a questão da natureza humana é a que mais me fascina agora e é o que me prende quando trabalho em um livro como Outsider, por exemplo, em que um policial eficiente e prático é obrigado a enfrentar suas crenças quando se depara com um assassinato brutal e um assassino improvável, ou como Belas adormecidas, que trata do papel da mulher na sociedade por meio das estruturas habituais e conflitantes de comunidades pequenas (no caso, uma prisão feminina e uma cidade) que são recorrentes do King. A propósito, poucos constroem personagens como o King, e poucos os matam como ele.

Para quem gosta de ler, mas nunca se animou a enfrentar os calhamaços habituais do autor, seja pelo tamanho ou pelo tema, sugiro que experimente. Vale começar por um dos pequenos que fogem da linha terror, como Joyland, ou pelos livros de contos, como Bazar dos sonhos ruins ou o próprio Sombras da noite, que são um ótimo portão de entrada para entender como funciona a cabeça e o estilo dele. Ah, e uma última dica: não usem os filmes baseados nas obras como parâmetro para avaliar os livros, pois eles raramente abordam o viés humano dos personagens que encontramos nas histórias.

Enquanto o autor continuar escrevendo, espero continuar traduzindo seus livros, até o dia em que, quem sabe, os horrores humanos estejam mais próximos da ficção sobrenatural do que da realidade do nosso cotidiano.

Sobre a autora
13346792_1198107916880645_2973286513876119150_nRegiane Winarski é formada em Produção Editorial pela ECO-UFRJ e tradutora de inglês para português desde 2009. Especializada em tradução literária para editoras como Suma, DarkSide, Rocco, Intrínseca, Record e outras, com mais de cem livros publicados. Trabalha com uma ampla variedade de gêneros, como fantasia, suspense/horror e romances para adultos e jovens adultos, de autores como Stephen King, Rick Riordan e David Levithan. Tradutora do premiado livro de 2017 “O ódio que você semeia”, de Angie Thomas, publicado pela Galera Record.

Greatest Women in Translation: Heather Cleary


Image created by Érick Tonin

Welcome back to our amazing Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Heather Cleary, Spanish into English literary translator nominated by Allison Markin Powell.

Heather Cleary

Image created with Canva

1. First of all, it’s a pleasure to be talking to one of the nominees for the inaugural National Book Awards in the category of Translated Literature. Congratulations, Heather! Could you tell us a bit more about the book that rendered your nomination, Comemadre, by Roque Larraquy?

Thank you for the invitation! And for your kind congratulations. Roque and I are very excited about the NBA nomination; the longlist is full of wonderful books that your readers might enjoy checking out. Comemadre is a short novel—very dark, very funny—about our collective obsession with progress and with leaving our mark on the world; it’s about hubris, violence, and love (specifically, the violence inherent to different kinds of love). The title refers to a plant that releases carnivorous spores, which plays a key role in each section.

Comemadre is divided into two parts, the first of which takes place in 1907 in a sanatorium near Buenos Aires, Argentina. A group of doctors has decided to experiment on unwitting test subjects to determine what happens in the moments after death (I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but there are guillotines involved). When they’re not trying to swindle their patients into signing away their lives, these men are busy stabbing one another in the back professionally and romantically; a number of them are infatuated with Ménendez, the Head Nurse. Unsurprisingly, things end badly. We then flash forward a hundred years to drop in on an artist who made a name for himself with a piece involving a two-headed baby, and then teamed up with his doppelgänger to develop performance pieces that involve physical mutilation. Think Damien Hirst on acid. This second part of the novel addresses, through the lens of art, many of the ethical and philosophical questions raised in the first section through science.

This book was extraordinarily fun to translate. It’s grotesque, insightful, and perversely hilarious. It’s full of dirty puns, which I love, and presented other interesting challenges. For example, the “oracles” in the first section of the book occasionally blurt out snippets of text from the second section; finding a way to make this continuity clear without giving too much away or slipping into anachronism was a delightful puzzle.

2. After having two Japanese translator nominees, Allison Markin Powell and Ginny Takemori; a Scandinavian, Nicky Smalley; and a German translator, Jen Calleja, we are back to Latin language translators with you, who translates from Spanish. How did your connection with Spanish start?

It was peer pressure, really. I was in seventh or eighth grade, I think, and my friends were studying Spanish at school. So I joined them. But most of them stopped after a year or two, and by that time I had already fallen in love with the language. I studied it straight through high school, then spent the following summer (and a semester in college) in Spain. After that, I spent some time in Mexico, and later lived in Buenos Aires for almost two years. I kind of stumbled into literary translation in a similar way: I had been frustrated with the shape my undergraduate honors thesis was taking when Richard Sieburth, a professor in the department of Comparative Literature at NYU and a gifted translator of French and German, suggested I switch gears and try my hand at translation. I was immediately hooked, and ended up organizing my life around my desire to do more of it.

3. I noticed your name is placed in a highlighted position on the cover of Comemadre. As far as I know, not all publishers display the translator’s name on the cover, right? At least not in Brazil. So, besides being on the cover, you are highlighted! This is fantastic! Do you think this is something that has been changing lately? What role do translators play in convincing publishers to recognize the translator on the cover of translated books?

Thanks! It has been an absolute delight to work with Coffee House; it really is a press that values translation. As for how common it is here to note the translator’s name on the cover, it varies from publisher to publisher, with independent presses tending to be a bit more open to the idea than the bigger houses. There are always exceptions, though. I think there has definitely been a greater awareness about translation in recent years, and a greater appreciation of what it is that we translators actually do. For this, we have a number of vocal advocates and organizations, like the PEN Translation Committee, to thank.

4. I have already heard of the Japanese term ikigai, which is about finding your purpose in life. Now I see you translated a book called Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, by Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles, also from Spanish. Something interesting is that the authors describe the term as “the happiness of always being busy.” Now I am curious. Could you tell a bit more about this book?

Héctor García and Francesc Miralles both spent time in Japan and discovered a shared fascination with certain aspects of the culture there, above all with the value placed on staying active and engaged with friends and family in some of the longest-living communities in the country. In the book, they combine their personal experience talking with centenarians in Okinawa with research from different parts of the world into the benefits of staying active by finding a passion to pursue. From what I understand, the book has done very well.

5. The books you have already translated vary from non-fiction, fiction and poetry, in diverse topics. Do you have a favorite genre?

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre, necessarily, but rather that there are certain things I look for in a project. I love working on books that are linguistically complex in one way or another: one of my earliest translation projects was of the work of an avant-garde poet from Argentina named Oliverio Girondo. His later collections are full of neologisms and derive much of their meaning from the sound of the words, the way they ricochet off one another. Sergio Chejfec’s novels are marked by long, intricate sentences that require juggling nested clauses, and Roque Larraquy’s Comemadre, as I mentioned above, is full of puns and wordplay. In this last case, I also enjoyed the challenge of establishing two distinct narrative voices that evoked two very different historical moments. One of the writers I’m working with now, Fernanda Trías, is fascinating for a different reason: she writes emotionally charged narratives with absolute restraint and precision.

6. You are a founding editor of the digital, bilingual Buenos Aires Review, where I found a link to Brasília, among other worldwide cities, and other fiction writings from Brazilian authors. Could you tell us a bit more about this project?

Ah, the BAR! I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, though our production schedule has slowed down [clears throat] significantly. In late 2011, I picked up and moved to Buenos Aires, where Jennifer Croft (winner of this year’s International Man Booker Prize for Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights) was living. She and I spoke extensively about all the wonderful writers around us who were entirely unknown to readers of English; we decided that we wanted to do something about it by creating a platform that was more nimble than print publishing, and able to take more risks. She then invited the writer Maxine Swann, who also lives in Buenos Aires, to join us, and Maxine brought in Pola Oloixarac. And so the magazine was born. It was our hope that it would serve as a launching pad for writers and translators, alike; we’ve also had the privilege of publishing new work by luminaries like Ishion Hutchinson, Ada Limón, Mario Bellatin, and Carol Bensimon. We started with a focus on creating an exchange between English and Spanish, and then broadened our scope to include Portuguese, Chinese, German… the list goes on. Every text on the website appears in at least two languages. It has been a (huge) labor of love that wouldn’t have been possible without our rock star editors, Martín Felipe Castagnet (whose Bodies of Summer was published last year by Dalkey), Lucas Mertehikian, Andrea Rosenberg (see Aura Xilonen’s The Gringo Champion, among her many fabulous translations), and Belén Agustina Sánchez.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Elisabeth Jaquette, who—in addition to being a brilliant translator from the Arabic—is also a vital part of the translation community as the Executive Director of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)… and as a member of the Cedilla & Co. translators collective, of course. Her work has been shortlisted for the TA First Translation Prize, longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, and supported by PEN/Heim and several English PEN Translates Awards

Guest post: Boas práticas de interpretação


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Educar clientes de interpretação simultânea: mito de Sísifo ou oportunidade para fortalecimento de laços?

O convite da querida colega Caroline Alberoni para que eu escrevesse um post a ser publicado neste blog, um dos meus favoritos sobre tradução e interpretação, fez com que eu fosse confrontada com os seguintes desafios: medo da rejeição, writer’s block e dificuldade de escolher um tema. Caro leitor, se você está lendo este texto agora, isto significa que, desta vez, consegui vencer o medo, o writer’s block e escolher um tema a ser discutido, ainda que eu esteja chovendo no molhado.

A motivação para escolher esse tema é constatar que o trabalho de educar nossos clientes recomeça a cada solicitação de orçamento apresentada, mesmo quando se trata de clientes antigos. Por muito tempo, eu ficava frustrada por precisar educar clientes, tanto os novatos quanto os veteranos em contratação de serviços de interpretação simultânea, sobre nossas boas práticas. Sentia que explicar e defender nossas práticas de mercado se assemelhava muito à tarefa de Sísifo. O mito de Sísifo, pertencente à mitologia grega, resulta da punição póstuma a Sísifo por traição aos deuses. Na terra dos mortos, ele era obrigado a empurrar uma pedra até o lugar mais alto da montanha, de onde ela rolaria de volta ao ponto inicial. No passado, eu costumava sentir que, por mais que façamos o trabalho de explicar e ensinar as boas práticas do setor, ele nunca, de fato, termina. Além de achar que essa era uma experiência penosa e enfadonha.

Nos últimos meses, me esforcei para mudar a minha atitude com relação à maneira de explicar as boas práticas aos clientes. Em vez de reagir com o pensamento “Lá vem o cliente que não entende do mercado de interpretação querendo reinventar a roda”, comecei a pensar “Vou usar meus melhores argumentos e fazer referência à nossa associação profissional ABRATES (Associação Brasileira de Tradutores) e ao SINTRA (Sindicato Nacional dos Tradutores) para defender as boas práticas do mercado e ter uma negociação favorável a ambas as partes com garantia de boas condições de trabalho para a equipe de intérpretes”. Essa mudança de atitude fez com que eu passasse a ver o momento de educar os clientes como uma oportunidade para fortalecer meus laços com os contratantes em potencial. Tomei as seguintes atitudes nas situações detalhadas abaixo:

1. Argumento do cliente: não preciso de um profissional, só de uma pessoa que seja fluente em português e inglês

Atitude passada orientada pela perspectiva da tarefa de Sísifo (resposta por e-mail): “Sou plenamente qualificada para atender às necessidades do seu evento.”

Atitude presente orientada pela perspectiva de fortalecimento de laços (resposta por e-mail e contato telefônico para reforçar a mensagem do e-mail): “O evento tem valor estratégico para o posicionamento da sua empresa dento de seu setor de atuação. Portanto, é importante garantir a qualidade da mensagem a ser passada ao público que precisa da interpretação simultânea. Intérpretes profissionais são fundamentais para mediar a comunicação entre pessoas que não são fluentes nos mesmos idiomas. Conte com meus serviços de intérprete de conferências profissional para atender às necessidades de comunicação do evento.”

Resultado: orçamento aprovado e evento agendado.

2. Argumento do cliente: Não preciso de um profissional… ser fluente nas duas línguas é o suficiente, pois a reunião para divulgar o produto será superinformal

Atitude passada orientada pela perspectiva da tarefa de Sísifo (resposta por e-mail): “Ser fluente em duas línguas não qualifica uma pessoa a trabalhar bem como intérprete.”

Atitude presente orientada pela perspectiva de fortalecimento de laços (resposta por e-mail e contato telefônico para reforçar a mensagem do e-mail): “O momento de apresentação de um produto para clientes em potencial é único e merece planejamento esmerado em todos os detalhes, desde a montagem da lista de convidados até a escolha do buffet. Logo, um evento tão bem preparado será mais eficaz com o trabalho de intérpretes de conferência profissionais para servir como pontes de comunicação entre pessoas que não falam a mesma língua. Minha empresa está apta a oferecer os serviços de interpretação simultânea necessários ao sucesso do seu evento.”

Resultado: negociação interrompida.

3. Argumento do cliente: a interpretação dura apenas 4 horas, um intérprete sozinho dá conta

Atitude passada orientada pela perspectiva da tarefa de Sísifo (resposta por e-mail): “É contra a praxe dos intérpretes de conferência, segundo recomendação do Sindicato Nacional dos Tradutores (SINTRA), trabalhar sozinho por períodos superiores a 1 hora em conferências e 2 horas em acompanhamentos externos.”

Atitude presente orientada pela perspectiva de fortalecimento de laços (resposta por e-mail e contato telefônico para reforçar a mensagem do e-mail): “De acordo com a recomendação do Sindicato Nacional dos Tradutores (SINTRA), intérpretes devem trabalhar sozinhos por um tempo limite de 1 hora em conferências e 2 horas em acompanhamentos externos. Essa recomendação é resultado de estudos que comprovam queda de desempenho dos intérpretes e perda da qualidade da mensagem após os períodos citados acima. Dessa forma, para garantir a qualidade da comunicação no evento, é necessário que dois intérpretes trabalhem em revezamento.”

Resultado: orçamento aprovado, evento agendado e fidelização do cliente que contratou os serviços tanto em 2017 quanto em 2018.

4. Argumento do cliente: não há diferença de tarifa para contratação de 2 ou 6 horas de trabalho?

Atitude passada orientada pela perspectiva da tarefa de Sísifo (resposta por e-mail): “Em consonância com a recomendação do Sindicato Nacional dos Tradutores (SINTRA), a tarifa de interpretação simultânea cobre até 6 horas de trabalho e é indivisível.”

Atitude presente orientada pela perspectiva de fortalecimento de laços (resposta por e-mail e contato telefônico para reforçar a mensagem do e-mail): “Além da recomendação do Sindicato Nacional de Tradutores (SINTRA) para que a diária de interpretação simultânea contemple até 6 horas indivisíveis de trabalho, é importante lembrar que quando um cliente solicita uma reserva de agenda para mim, deixo de atender outros clientes em potencial para atender o cliente que fez a reserva. Simplesmente não ’encaixo’ dois ou mais clientes ao longo de um dia de trabalho. Portanto, a diária fica inalterada se o período de trabalho efetivo for inferior a uma jornada de 6 horas indivisíveis.”

Resultado: orçamento aprovado, evento agendado e fidelização do cliente que contratou os serviços tanto em 2017 quanto em 2018.

5. Argumento do cliente: seu orçamento está muito caro, poderia recomendar uma pessoa que cobre menos que você? Não precisa ser profissional… só ser fluente em português e inglês

Atitude passada orientada pela perspectiva da tarefa de Sísifo (resposta por e-mail): “O orçamento apresentado se coaduna com a recomendação do Sindicato Nacional dos Tradutores (SINTRA) e prevê a devida emissão de nota fiscal bem como o recolhimento de todos os encargos devidos.”

Atitude presente orientada pela perspectiva de fortalecimento de laços (resposta por e-mail e contato telefônico para reforçar a mensagem do e-mail): “Obrigada pelo posicionamento com relação ao orçamento apresentado. Neste link, você encontra o diretório de associados da Associação Brasileira de Tradutores (ABRATES): https://abrates.com.br/buscar-tradutores/. Esse diretório é uma boa ferramenta para que você possa entrar em contato com outros intérpretes de conferência profissionais. Caso opte pela contratação da minha empresa para prestação dos serviços, o orçamento apresentado anteriormente permanece válido pelos próximos 30 dias.”

Resultado: negociação interrompida.

 A despeito de ouvir questionamentos muito similares de clientes diferentes e de ter o sentimento de repetir o mesmo trabalho de educar os clientes a cada solicitação de orçamento, repetindo a metáfora do mito de Sísifo, hoje vejo com clareza que, quando nossos clientes questionam as práticas do nosso setor de atuação, temos a oportunidade de melhorar a qualidade da nossa comunicação com aquele cliente e, principalmente, fortalecer os laços profissionais com aquele contratante. Todos os argumentos de clientes citados acima foram úteis para que eu mudasse minha atitude e conseguisse manter conversas telefônicas e trocas de e-mail úteis para o cliente no sentido de oferecer melhor entendimento sobre o trabalho e as práticas dos intérpretes de conferência profissionais.

Sobre a autora
2018 06 RoBelinky ABRATES-9Rane Souza é intérprete, tradutora e professora de inglês e português para estrangeiros. No âmbito do magistério, ministra aulas particulares prioritariamente para adultos. No mercado de tradução escrita, atua principalmente nos segmentos editorial, tendo vertido ao inglês as obras Abrolhos Terra e Mar, de Rafael Melo (Editora Bambalaio, 2017) e Ver, de Antônio Bokel (Editora Réptil, 2017); e jurídico, com foco na tradução e versão de contratos. Como intérprete de conferências, trabalha nos mercados corporativos privados e do terceiro setor.

Greatest Women in Translation: Allison Markin Powell


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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Our interviewee today, Allison Markin Powell, was nominated by Ginny Takemori.

Allison Markin Powell

Image created with Canva. Picture credit: Jonathan Armstrong for The Documentist.

1. Japanese is your third language. How have you become a Japanese-to-English literary translator then, translating successful Japanese novels?

Well, where I grew up, it wasn’t until seventh grade that we had the opportunity to study another language, and at that time it was French (or nothing). But I loved learning French, so when I entered university I knew I would study at least one more language, and that turned out to be Japanese. I had been interested in literary translation from the time when I was assigned Le Petit Prince in high school, and ultimately I ran with it in Japanese. I think one of the reasons is that there are fewer Japanese literary translators, and fewer Japanese works that have been translated as well. That said, I feel there are greater challenges in bringing Japanese books into English than from Western languages.

I came to translation from a publishing perspective—I worked in various editorial departments where I learned how the industry works—in the U.S., that is—before I began translating books from Japanese. And now I translate all sorts of books—primarily fiction, but I work on nonfiction projects as well. This past summer, for instance, I’ve had the chance to translate a book on Zen and one on embroidery as well. It certainly keeps things interesting.

2. In this interview you gave to The Japan Times, you say, “I don’t really see the author as more or less of an authority on their book from a translation perspective.” Could you elaborate and explain what exactly you meant by that?

I believe that, once a work of literature is out there, it becomes something like the communal property of readers, open to infinite interpretations. Some of those interpretations may not have been intentional, yet they exist, for better or worse. When I translate something, I always try to convey the myriad possibilities that are incorporated in the original, rather than simply the version that I might prefer personally. It’s also been my experience that an author’s attitude toward their work shifts and changes, so that they may see things differently at one point from what they meant at the time it was written, especially as they mature as a writer or gain a more international audience—and that might change their answers to my questions.

3. In this interview you gave to PEN Atlas, you mention book titles are translated differently in the United States and in the United Kingdom. We hear a lot about different translations of movie titles, but I don’t think I have ever heard the same happened with book titles. Could you talk a bit about that, based on your experience with your own translations? Are the books themselves also translated differently for both markets? If so, how?

The first novel I translated by Hiromi Kawakami was published in the U.S. as The Briefcase, and then retitled as Strange Weather in Tokyo by the U.K. publisher. The Briefcase is a more literal translation of the original title in Japanese, and it was a rather oblique title at that. The author agreed to the change, and the book ended up being much more successful in the U.K. Last fall, it was reissued in the U.S. with the U.K. title and the U.K. cover as well. I think it was confusing for readers, and it’s hard to say how much of the book’s success has to do with the title and the cover—though some would say, “A lot!”—but it’s fair to say that a book’s packaging and presentation has a lot to do with how it is received. As for the text itself, I translate into American English, and the British publisher edits for context. I aim for neutral English, if there is such a thing, but inevitably certain details—like the register vs. the till or the trunk vs. the boot of a car—are adjusted for different markets.

4. As Ginny Tapley Takemori already told us about, you, she and Lucy North formed a collective called Strong Women, Soft Power, which is committed to promoting Japanese writers, in particular Japanese women writers who are being overlooked in translation. What’s your role in this collective? Has it shown any positive outcomes so far?

I don’t think I can overstate how positive it has been to be a member of Strong Women, Soft Power. As translators, our work is most often solitary and isolated. And yet, especially to those of us for whom it is a full-time occupation, the fact is that our work and practices affect one another, either in the form of setting precedents for the terms of our contracts or by the choices we make about which books we translate. The three of us—Lucy North, Ginny Tapley Takemori, and I—are equal members in the collective, and we work to support each other as much as we try to promote Japanese women writers. Our first endeavor was a reading we held during the London Book Fair in 2016; next we collaborated on an article for Literary Hub about ten Japanese books by women we’d love to see in English; then we planned a full-day symposium in Tokyo in 2017; and we have some exciting things on tap for the future. We really are stronger together, and the fact is that, rather than feel we are in competition with each other for the small number of books that are being translated from Japanese, working with each other has had the effect of creating more opportunities. It’s been very true for us that “A rising tide lifts all ships.” And the collective model is tremendously invigorating—we are inspired with ideas and to create new initiatives, especially when we know that we have the others’ support.

5. You have translated both women and men writers. Are there any differences or particularities in translating women versus men or are authors all the same, regardless of gender?

I have translated both women and men writers, including female protagonists written by male authors as well as male protagonists created by women authors. I wouldn’t say there are gendered differences in translating the work itself, beyond the fact that every writer is distinct. With each author, it’s necessary for me to feel comfortable and confident about capturing the voice and style of the piece that I’m translating. But as for how the work is received—or whether it is received at all—I do believe that there are imbalances between male and female authors. I have done some research, and recent data show that women writers in Japan currently maintain something close to parity within publishing in terms of prestige—the number of literary prizes won—and popularity—their representation on bestseller lists. But that equality does not appear in translation—little more than a quarter of the books translated from Japanese are by women—and I have yet to figure out why that is the case.

6. You have a website (which is a searchable database) where you showcase all existing literary works translated from Japanese into English, Japanese Literature in English. Besides this great initiative and the collective Strong Women, Soft Power, in which other ways are you engaged in promoting Japanese literature in translation?

My website has been sadly neglected lately, and I am eager to update the database with recent publications and found titles. Besides Strong Women, Soft Power, I am also a founding member of another collective, Cedilla & Co., and through that initiative I work closely with specific writers to bring their work into English and introduce them to English-language readers. Through my experience in book publishing, I have met many people who are champions of literature in translation, and that enables me to recommend and promote Japanese authors and books that may have been overlooked.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I am thrilled to nominate one of my Cedilla colleagues, Heather Cleary, translator from the Spanish.

On speaking the client’s language (not the opposite)


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I changed my bank accounts – moved to another bank. There I was, at my new bank, signing the endless sheets of contract papers while the manager was explaining how they worked using banking jargon. Besides feeling extremely mad I was losing precious working hours because the manager did not have everything ready, as she said she would, I felt lost a couple of times because I did not understand the specific terms she used. And I felt embarrassed for having to ask her what they meant. When I finally understood, I started asking myself why she wouldn’t use another term, a more commonly-used one with exactly the same meaning.

I struggle to understand financial and banking operations. Whenever I have to deal with related matters, I postpone it to the last possible minute. And when I finally have to take the bulls by the horn, I feel bored and petrified I might do something wrong I may regret later. So why make my life easier and use lay terms if they can show off their banking expertise, right?

I use every single experience as a customer to learn how to deal with my own clients. If I like something, I try to adapt it to my translation business. If not, I reflect to see if I do the same with my clients and, if so, I immediately try to change it.

Do I want my client to feel the way I feel when I have to deal with things I don’t understand?

We should always keep in mind that if a client is coming to us it means they want their problem solved. It doesn’t matter how we do it and the terms we use to describe it. In order to win the client, we need to be as straightforward and clear as possible, and make them feel relieved their problem will be solved according to their needs, so they can go on and worry about other things. We should try to make their lives as easier as possible.

On this note, is it really that important that the client knows the difference between a translation and an interpreting service? Will it really change your entire life to “teach” the client that you are an interpreter, not a translator, for Pete’s sake? In Portuguese, we have different terms for translation into our mother tongue and into our B language (the latter is called versão). Do my Brazilian clients need to know this difference?

Let’s leave our ego aside for a moment and take the focus off us and make it on the client.

First and foremost, we are the language experts – the main reason we should be the ones to speak our client’s language, not the opposite. Secondly, we will be the ones to handle their (written/spoken) words – another reason we should be the ones to speak their language, not the opposite. Thirdly, don’t you just love when, as a client, the service provider truly understands you and doesn’t vomit jargons you don’t understand?

Listen to your client, instead of focusing on “educating” them or “teaching” them. Try to truly understand their needs and talk to them in a language they understand. Do your homework and research more information about them to get to know them even further and understand their language and their world. Always remember the client is king/queen.


Greatest Women in Translation: Ginny Takemori


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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Did you know August is Women in Translation month? Learn more about the initiative here. And follow the hashtag #WITMonth on Twitter.

This month I talk to Ginny Takemori, nominated by our last interviewee, Nicky Smalley.

Welcome, Ginny!

Ginny Takemori

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1. Translators usually like to learn more about other translators’ beginnings. How was yours?

Well, I actually started out translating Spanish and Catalan. I approached a small agency in Barcelona, which took me on despite my lack of experience because they liked the way I tackled tricky designer-speak articles that their regular translators weren’t keen on. They basically taught me how to translate, editing my work and giving it back to me to learn from. Gradually the red ink on the page diminished as I got better. It was through translation that I got to know a literary agent who asked me to translate blurbs and promotional material, then suggested I write them myself from scratch, and eventually took me on as a foreign-rights agent. It was while working for her that I developed a fascination for Japanese language and literature, and decided to drop everything and enroll in SOAS in London to study Japanese with the long-term goal of translating Japanese literature into English.

2. And you have managed to achieve your goal. What advice would you give to translators who are thinking of venturing into another working language from scratch?

I suppose I’m living proof that it is possible to learn a new—and challenging— language as an adult. I should say though that I had learned several languages before this (French, German, Spanish, Catalan), and also the first few years of my life were spent in Tanzania, surrounded by people speaking Swahili as well as English. I think being exposed to more than one language at that critical, most formative time means a child already learns about different worlds, and even if they forget the language later (as I did), the ability to move between languages and worlds is already hardwired in their brain. Having said that, learning a new language as an adult requires a lot of dedication and hard work. Part-time language study was never going to be enough, so I dropped everything and enrolled on a challenging four year BA Honours course at SOAS, with year 2 at Waseda University in Tokyo, which had me living and breathing study for the duration (as well as working to support myself). All my study options were focused on courses that might be useful to me as a literary translator, including classical Japanese. After graduating I went back into publishing, this time as an editor at Kodansha International in Tokyo, where I could continue to improve my Japanese, learn about a different aspect of publishing, and also edit other literary translators, all of which has stood me in good stead as a translator too. Eventually I decided it was time to take the plunge as a freelancer again, and enrolled in a distance learning MA at Sheffield University to get me back into the study mode. The flexibility of the course enabled me to combine it with work, and the most important benefit of it to me was that it gave me the opportunity to focus on literary translation and get feedback from tutors, which was invaluable. At first most of my freelance work was as a literary editor, but little by little I started pushing the balance more towards translation, and now I only translate.

So my advice to translators would be to always have a clear goal in mind, and work hard towards it taking whatever opportunities present themselves along the way.

Also don’t be shy about trying to make your own opportunities: Kodansha wasn’t advertising for staff, but I found out the name of a senior editor there and wrote to him asking for work—and was quite amazed when he wrote back saying he needed another editor.

3. Could you tell us a bit about your latest translation, Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata?

Sayaka Murata is one of the most exciting young women writers in Japan, with an utterly unique voice. I’ve translated a number of her short stories before, but Convenience Store Woman is the first novel to come out in English. It won the prestigious Akutagawa Award before going on to be a runaway bestseller in Japan, with over 650,000 hardcover copies sold, and pocket book edition out soon. It has had an amazing reception from reviewers and readers alike in the US and the UK, and is rapidly becoming an international bestseller with translations into 22 languages. The narrative is from the hyperlogical perspective of a socially awkward 36-year-old woman who is still working in the same casual job in a convenience store that she took on while at university. Despite pressure from family and friends to either get married or start a career job, Keiko takes pride and satisfaction in excelling in her role in the store, which enables her to be a functioning member of society. Her deadpan observations and the disconnect between her thoughts and those of the people around her provide some laugh-out-loud moments, as well as a somewhat caustic look at how society functions and the pressure it places on individuals to fit in. She also has an eye for the grotesque, which can be both hilarious and very dark. My favourite review quote so far was from Dwight Garner in the New York Times: “One begins to spin through one’s Rolodex of loners, and wonder if Keiko is less like Dickens’s Miss Havisham and less like Babette in Isak Dinesen’s “Babette’s Feast” and perhaps more like Norman Bates, without the mommy issues.” He really nailed it!  I’m a huge fan of all Murata’s work and am looking forward to bringing more of it into English.

4. In your opinion and based on your experience, what are the challenges in translating Japanese into English? Do you mind giving a couple of examples based on your translations?

Japanese as a language is absolutely context based, whereas English and other European languages are largely grammar based. This means you often have to pin down details in the original that were intended to be ambiguous. To give you just one small example, there are several dozen words for the first person pronoun “I” which determine a lot about the person using it and their relationships with people around them, the level of formality and so forth—and often it is omitted altogether! English does not allow for the same level of ambiguity and you are often forced to pin down something that was meant to be left open-ended. I think this is true of everything I translate to some extent, but perhaps the most extreme example was my translation of a 1906 short story by Izumi Kyoka, who writes a bit like an impressionist painter. Mimicking the style would have been unreadable in English, so I decided to focus on aspects of the text that I could capture such as the very visual aspect with strong images.

Another problem is when you have words that simply don’t exist in English. In Convenience Store Woman, for example, you have the stock phrases used by store workers—these are absolutely formulaic, set out in the manual, and practiced daily. I decided to keep one of the phrases in Japanese—irasshaimasé—which anyone who comes to Japan will hear every time they go into a shop or a restaurant. It means, basically, “welcome,” but it would sound just too weird to translate it as that in English, and we really don’t have any equivalent. Store workers might call out hello, but not every time somebody comes into the store, so I decided it would be more natural to keep the Japanese word. Other phrases I came up with something more or less equivalent in English, keeping the formulaic feel, but making it sound more or less natural. “Yes madam, certainly madam,” and so forth.

The fact that Japanese people tend to call each other by their family names with “san” (or other title) can be a little difficult to handle in translation, since in English we do not use Mr./Mrs./Miss in the same way – it generally sounds very formal and stilted. I made the protagonist Miss Furukura to her coworkers in the store, since this emphasizes her status as a single woman, but otherwise generally tended to use her first name, Keiko (even when she was called Furukura in the original). I chose to call her coworker, who takes a more senior role, Mrs. Izumi to emphasise the difference between the two of them, although they are similar ages. For the man she ends up living with, we only know his last name, Shiraha, but it would sound very unnatural to have Keiko call him Mr. Shiraha, so I dropped any title for him (which I though suited his character anyway). I had to make similar decisions for all the characters in the book.

5. August is Women in Translation month, so why don’t you tell us more about the event you organized with two colleagues promoting Japanese women in translation, Strong Women, Soft Power?

This all started at the London Book Fair in 2016, when Allison Markin Powell, Lucy North, and I decided to take advantage of the fact that we were all attending (Allison from the US, me from Japan, Lucy from the UK) to organize a reading of our work. This was the beginnings of our collective, Strong Women, Soft Power. It coincided with a big get-together among translators of many different languages to discuss the poor representation of women authors from around the world in English translation, and ways in which we could improve this. When we crunched the numbers for Japanese literature, we were quite shocked to see how few women were making it into translation, especially given the prominence of women authors in Japan. We decided, therefore, to hold a symposium in Tokyo to address this issue, as well as to encourage increased collaboration between translators, and between translators and industry people to better promote literature in translation. The symposium was a great success, bringing together translators, academics, editors, rights managers, and agents together into the discussion. There are so many great Japanese women authors out there, and I think we will be seeing many more making it into translation from now on.

6. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I nominate Allison Markin Powell, who in addition to being a great translator herself has also been a dedicated advocate for translators generally, not least during her stint as co-Chair of the Pen Translation Committee.