Summary of the BP19 Translation Conference

This year I attended the BP Translation Conference for the first time. It was held in Bologna, Italy, on May 1-3.

It was a fantastic experience! I especially liked the app where attendees were able to engage and create activities for everyone to join. It was a great way to get to know people before the conference. When we arrived at the conference, it was as if we were all long-time friends! It’s great not only for newbies and shy and introvert people, but also for everybody who likes networking and meeting new people.

Here is a brief overview on the sessions I attended. The post is longer than usual, but only because there were so many great presentations and insights.

May 1: Workshops

Multilingual SEO for translators, by David García Ruiz

Fresh content is king. Our website’s content should be useful, valuable, relevant (describing what we do and what our clients look for using keywords), competitive (the more specific, the better). Each page should have from 600 to 2,000 words. If your website is in more than on language, you should include language meta tags (hreflang); otherwise, Google will not recognize it as multilingual.

According to a research mentioned by David, “75% [of web visitors] prefer to buy products in their native language. In addition, 60% rarely or never buy from English-only websites.” Therefore, it is important to have a website translated into your working languages.

May 2: Long sessions

Hectic lives + happy clients: four tendencies to rule them all, by Anne-Sophie De Clerq

We develop habits to be able to deal with constraints and expectations, both useful and bad ones.

The big question we should make ourselves is: Who are you? How do you respond to internal and external expectations?

Anne-Sophie’s presentation was based on Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies framework, which helps getting people to do what you want by identifying what type of tendency they have:

  • Obligers: Respond well to external expectations and like being of assistance.
  • Questioners: Respond well to internal expectations and love knowledge.
  • Upholders: Respond well to both internal and external expectations; their motto is “In discipline we trust.”
  • Rebels: Do not respond well to neither and love freedom.

Listen to what clients have to say to understand who they are and identify their tendency in order to facilitate your selling your services to them.

Suggestions of things you can do according to their tendency:

  • Upholders: Send your portfolio and let them judge, do not pressure them, and ask just the essential questions.
  • Obligers: Show how much you can help them; go for the human touch.
  • Questioners: Describe your process and your strengths; answer any questions thoroughly.
  • Rebels: Display your identity and your passion; offer them choices.

Bottom line is: We are all different, so flexibility is paramount.

What legal clients want – As told by a former client, by Paige Dygert

According to Paige, who is a lawyer herself, most lawyers are horrible procrastinators. However, they are loyal clients. They will hang on to you. And they have the budget, so do not be afraid to charge what you are worth. You can charge for being good, and fast!

When communicating with law clients, be polished (reflect what you want from them; it is not about what you like and enjoy or not), precise (detail-oriented), concise (appreciate their time, be straightforward), and complete.

When working with them, just be the translator, know your role. When asking questions, group them, offer solutions, and know when to ask. Be succinct, reliable, and responsive. Provide excellent translations.

Law journals are the best source of reference material and the highest quality one! Their content is, most of the time, perfectly written.

Get a lawyer mentor to help you. LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to find lawyers. If you reach out to them, respect their time!

A killer marketing strategy to win your dream clients, by Sarah Silva

Persistence is key when trying to find dream clients. Be prepared to stand out and be different. Have a long-term strategy (not a one-time sales promotion).

You can use direct client marketing to keep existing clients, contact old clients, or find new ones. Examples: physical post (lumpy mail, letter, postcard), email and digital marketing, and real conversations (phone, video call, in person). Lumpy mail is comprised of a surprise and delight package in order to make a great first impression. Follow-up with a postcard, email, call, etc. People respond better to handwritten messages.

Do not be afraid to dream big. Dream as big as you like and see what happens. Start with whom you want to work with. Ask for referrals from your good existing clients. Get to know your market (better) and have fun!

Keep that in mind this question when prospecting: “So what?” What do your prospects care about? Grab their attention, talk about their problems, and how you can be the solution.

Let your dream clients know that you exist and care, and that they can trust you.

GDPR and translators: easy steps to protect your and your clients’ data, by Irene Koukia

Backup options: Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Google Drive. Backup every day! What to backup: TMs, CAT folders, etc.

Boxcryptor: Data security across smartphones, tablets, and desktops. You can choose what to encrypt and what not.

Whisply: secure and easy file transfer.

A VPN secures your private network. Ideal if you work on the go or use a shared Wi-Fi (almost all of us, right?).

Learn what is what about terminology extraction tools, by Andriy Yasharov

Terminology extraction is like data mining, where terms are subtracted from a text. It can be helpful for creating glossaries, thesaurus, and dictionaries; extracting terminology for TMs, etc. It is important because it also extracts the context of a term. Terminology extraction tools: SDL Multiterm Extract, memoQ TE module, SynchroTerm, Sketch Engine, PlusTools for MS Word, FiveFilters, WebCorp, AntConc, Rainbow.

May 3: Short talks

The very first of the day was mine. I will try to write about it in another future post.

Strategies to get more translation clients in a non-spammy way, Olga Jeczmyk Nowak

How to increase clients and keep them coming? Study the market. Contact prospects with a personalized email. Offer them something they are looking for. Reply to them as soon as possible. Don’t spam! Avoid being spammy by personalizing your emails and writing enough professional content (spam filters dislike short emails!). Be honest. Find your identity and make some noise online.

Be online and be active: If you’re not on Google, you don’t exist. Choose the best platform(s) for you.

How to distinguish yourself? Create a brand and keep improving it. Offer something different and more elaborate. Adapt your service according to each client. Keep reinventing yourself!

How to raise your rates (and still keep your clients), by Susanne Präsent-Winkler

Start raising your rates with new clients, especially when you are busy. Then do it with your current clients. Base your raise on your country’s inflation rate. Set your limit as to how low you can go on the rate to still make a living and stick to it. Don’t work for peanuts, for the sake of the entire industry!

Add all relevant steps of your translation process in the quote, so that the client knows what is included in the price.

Dealing with difficult customers – conflict management for translators, by Peter Oehmen

After a negative client experience, 67% of the customers buy somewhere else, only 33% of them stay. One unhappy client tells 15 other people about their negative experience. One happy client, on the other hand, tells six other people about their positive experience.

Conflicts are based on differences of perspective, so we need to understand others’ perspectives and be able to explain our own. Be clear and factual in your communication. Go for consensus and compromise.

The power of soft skills in a digital age, Jaquelina Guardamagna

We need to get better at being human. That is why soft skills have become essential nowadays. They are personal traits that enable individuals to interact effectively. They can help us win clients, when combined with hard skills.

Essential soft skills in the digital age: Empathy, decision making (decisions are part of human nature), flexibility, creativity (it’s what keep us dreaming), collaboration, self-management. If we use them effectively, we will never be replaced! Soft skills will be the difference between those who get replaced by machines, and those who succeed in a digital age.

Bucking the trend of self-promotion (and still obtain the results you want), by Magda Phili

Self-focused narratives: As translators, if we don’t talk about ourselves, who will, right? However, improve your narrative to avoid being perceived as arrogant: Rephrase it and involve other people.

Magda said that her experience showed her that translators working together and promoting each other see their business grow. Solidarity and collaboration boosts confidence, improves quality and efficiency, and helps you gain perspective.

Humility brings collaboration, collaboration brings more work and excellence, while perseverance brings results.

Are you really a professional?, by Vasiliki Prestidge

According to Vasiliki, prices don’t say anything about you and your services. We’re more than just a number!

“Every package is the golden package,” she said. Therefore, we should treat everybody with the same level of professionalism. In a hyperconnected world, one contact can change our life. Be professional in all aspects of your work. You never know who will be impressed by you and request your services. “You look like a business, you behave like a business, you get the business.”

Productivity hacks for translators, by Sherif Abuzid

Sherif talked about Can Newport’s concept of deep work, which is mastering how to focus on a single task in order to boost productivity and maximize your energy expenditure.

If your laptop battery would last for only one hour and you had to choose one app to use, which one would you choose? Your answer will show your priority. We have a limited amount of energy, like batteries. We need to make the best use if it, setting priorities.

Deep work means working in a distraction-free environment, fully focused. If you totally focus at one task at a time, you are more productive. “Focus is the new IQ.” Focused professionals stand out from others. Start with the most important tasks and keep your main goals in mind.

It’s not only about business. We can apply deep work to our personal life as well. Keep your phone away during family time!

How to follow the deep work principle: Plan for tomorrow; focus on goals, not tasks (do what makes you move forward); and set tight deadlines for all activities

Do you diversify your business?, by Francesca Manicardi

Diversification is for creative minds who can easily switch from an activity to another and who can properly manage their time.

Pros of diversifying your business: More stable source of income; creativity boost; change of perspective; and increased visibility.

Effective time management for translators, by Iwona Piatkowska

The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you are the pilot.

The first step to greater productivity is to create a distraction-free environment, and that is something only you can do, e.g. mute your phone, close the door, have a dedicated office, switch off push/desktop notifications, etc.

Work in chunks and take cycled breaks, e.g. Pomodoro Technique. Take into account that our attention span is of 45-50 minutes. Make your breaks effective: Change constantly, go away from the computer (walk the dog, do the dishes), energize your body, etc.

Track your progress, especially in long projects. It boosts your confidence and keeps you motivated. Do 50-60% of the project as soon as possible. Be a (wo)man of action!

A balanced and healthy lifestyle is the foundation of productivity on a daily basis. Exercise frequently, eat nutritious meals, and sleep well.

Clean your desk every evening, plan your day ahead, set a timer for tasks, and invoice projects immediately.

Running a translation business as a restaurant: tips for a balanced menu, by Carlos la Orden Tovar

According to Carlos, there are four types of restaurant: 1. Just another takeaway: Unbelievably average; rat race. 2. The franchise: Generic, but familiar; safe money; average service = average clients. 3. Luxury restaurant: High-end clients, elaborate services, based on a thorough experience. 4. Classic revisited: Pick classic stuff; add a new, unique touch; charge double; focused on clients who value quality and innovation.

Make a list of your skills, things you are good at. Make a list of what is trending in the market. Score them and craft the perfect menu of your service offers.

Stretch your services by offering, for example, DTP, QA, testing, glossary & TM services, etc. But don’t stretch it too much. Focus on your strengths.

Study your ideal client, engage and find out, list your needs, plan buffer time, and consider investing in proper training.

 

That’s it! I hope you like my brief summary of the conference. As you can see, it was totally worth it. So if I got you into considering attending it next year, it will be held in Nürnberg, Germany, on April 24-25, 2020! Save the date and stay tuned for more information.

If you were interested in any talk in particular or in all of them, their recording are available to be purchased on demand here.

Greatest Women in Translation: Robin Myers

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month, I talk to Robin Myers, US-born, Mexico City-based literary translator and poet, nominated by Charlotte Whittle.

Robin Myers

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1. Could you start by telling us about your beginning in translation?

I first became fascinated with translation in my late teens. At the time, it felt like the natural amalgam of several other interests: poetry, the Spanish language, and Mexico. I was born and raised in the US, but part of my father’s family came from Mexico; I visited a couple times as a child and always wanted to spend more time here. So I studied Spanish as the means to this very specific end. I lived in the city of Oaxaca for a few months after high school, then again halfway through college. It was during those early experiences of real immersion—in the language, in a place I loved, in my first Spanish-speaking friendships, in my first forays into reading contemporary Mexican literature—that I started experimenting with translation. There was something very simple and earnest about those initial explorations: I just wanted to share what I was reading (whether in English or Spanish) with people I cared about. As innocent as this may sound to me now—or at least as far removed as it can feel from certain parts of the day-to-day grind—I still believe that the desire to translate springs from the desire to connect, period. Of course we want that! Of course we want to bring disparate words, disparate worlds together.

In any case, it wasn’t too long before my translatorly hopes and expectations came into contact with more technical realities. In college, I spent a semester studying in Buenos Aires and took a workshop with Ezequiel Zaidenwerg, a remarkable Argentine poet and translator. Ezequiel’s approach emphasized the metrical building blocks of the Spanish-language poetic tradition, and at first I railed against this focus on syllable-counting and form. But I came around, and I started to genuinely enjoy the search for poetic “solutions” within a set of formal parameters. Ezequiel’s mentorship was very important to me as I started translating in a more professional way, and we’ve both gone on to translate each other’s work over the years, which has been a great gift.

2. Besides being a translator you are also a poet. Does being a poet help as translator and vice-versa? If so, how?

It absolutely helps. Both poetry and translation (and by this I mean the translation of anything, not just poetry) are practices rooted in the materiality of language. If you write poetry or translate anything, you are in the business of dealing with words as stuff, as resources, as concrete elements you shape and combine to form certain structures and spark particular effects in the reader. Of course, in translation, you’re using language in response to—in relation to—language that already exists in the world. You’re writing (because translating is also writing) in the service of and in complicity with that language. In this sense, too, translation demands both that you saturate yourself with the original text and that you distance yourself from it. That doubleness has helped me write my own poetry, I think, at least in the sense that it’s made the experience of writing poetry much more interesting. For one thing, it’s made me more conscious of the artifice of whatever I’m doing (and I mean “artifice” not as an insult but as a fact). For the same reason, it’s also made me feel freer to experiment: to think with more curiosity and more gratitude about language as “tools” and how I might try them out. I do feel that writing poetry affects my translations as well, or my approach to translating. For example, I care a great deal about sound when I write poetry, about what happens to words when we string them together and speak them aloud, and I feel a similar need to “hear” what language does in translating both poetry and prose. That said, I don’t mean to talk about this obsession with sound as if it were strictly the domain of poetry, much less of poets, because that’s not the case at all! I’m just musing about what it feels like for me in going about things as I go about them.

3. Could you please kindly share one of your (short) poems with us?

Here’s an untitled poem (they’re all untitled) from a collection called Having, which was translated into Spanish by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg and published as Tener in Argentina, Mexico, and (soon) Spain:

You can have it.

You can have the mad dash
and the mist,
the burned tongue
and honey-slick,
the cup
intact.

The night rage, the gray dawn
forgiving you.

The train,
the track.

The soft hairs
at the nape of the neck,
the thrilled plunge
and the cast.

You can have the rest of it.

You can rest.

It will drive you mad.

You will scald your way through
the days, trying
to have all of it,

having it.

4. In this interview you gave for the Los Angeles Review of Books, you said “translation is a weird, lovely, mysterious, largely invisible relationship, both for the translator and for the translated.” Why is that?

I mean, it’s so intimate! Even if the author and translator never meet, even if the author can’t read the language she’s been translated into, even if the author’s been dead for hundreds of years. No matter what, the translator gets to—has to—inhabit the text, figure out what makes it run, spend an unholy amount of time studying how the author thinks and what she cares about.

The translator invariably has to make tradeoffs, has to figure out what can or should or under no circumstances ought to be sacrificed. It feels like a serious responsibility!

The translator is entrusted with something. With any luck, if she and the author exist on the same mortal plane and can talk to each other and choose to do so, they’ll both view the translation process as something that links them together. And they’ll both register this as an honor: the translator, honored at the invitation to engage with the text, attend to it, and deliver it somewhere new; the translated, honored to have her work—which she, too, once produced in a solitary act of faith—engaged with, attended to, and delivered in this way. But even if the translator and the author walk the earth at different moments in history, or are never in personal contact, or don’t even personally like each other very much, this relationship still exists. The devotion, the attention, the responsibility, the anxiety, the fact that the translator ultimately creates a second work of art that is both inseparable from and necessarily independent of the first: it’s all there, all the time. I find it so strange! Thrillingly strange, though.

5. Your poems are translated into other languages, including Portuguese, right? How is it like being in both sides, as translator and translated author?

It’s been very joyful and moving. Yes, poems of mine have been translated mostly into Spanish, with shorter selections into Galician, Arabic, and Portuguese. Many of these translations have emerged from long-term dialogues and friendships; several of the translators are themselves poets I’ve translated from Spanish into English. So it’s hard to be objective about it; it’s all felt like a series of long, warm conversations, marked by a sense both of deep connection and of distance. Distance in the sense that I always hope a translator will feel that the poems also belong to her, you know? In all her particularities, all her personal styles and tastes and approaches.

If I write a poem and someone else translates it—or the other way around—it’s ours.

Part of what I still find uniquely powerful about the experience of being translated into Spanish, though, is that my books have only been published in Spanish translation. Not in English, and not in my own country of origin. And since I’m based in Mexico, when I take part in poetry readings, for example, I mostly read in Spanish. Which means I’m directly and constantly identifying myself with someone else’s work as my primary form of participation. Which means I’m inhabiting and sharing theirs as much as my own.

6. Are you currently translating any books? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

I currently have three prose projects in the works: by Mónica Ramón Ríos (Chile), there’s Cars on Fire, a wild, free-wheeling, darkly funny collection of short stories set between Chile and New York, forthcoming from Open Letter Books in 2020; Animals at the End of the World, a novel by Gloria Susana Esquivel (Colombia) about a young girl growing up in her grandparents’ house in Bogotá, forthcoming from the University of Texas Press in 2020; and The Restless Dead, a book of critical essays by Cristina Rivera Garza (Mexico) about disappropriation, “necropolitics,” and contemporary literature. I’m also working on various poetry projects in hopes of eventually finding homes for them in English. These include work by Javier Peñalosa, Maricela Guerrero, and Isabel Zapata (three Mexican poets whose recent books take beautifully and radically different approaches to the natural world and its relationship with contemporary humans); Daniel Lipara, Claudia Masin, and Alejandro Crotto (all from Argentina); and Adalber Salas Hernández (from Venezuela).

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

I’d like to nominate Juana Adcock, a Mexican-born, Scotland-based poet and translator. Juana translates between Spanish and English in both directions (a superpower that never ceases to amaze me!). Into English, she is the translator of Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener (with Lucy Greaves) and An Orphan World by Giuseppe Caputo (with Sophie Hughes). I met Juana in person only recently, although we’d been in touch for months before that, because I had the privilege of translating her poetry collection Manca into English. By the end of the process—which involved great openness, engagement, and creativity on her part—I really felt that Juana and I had become co-translators. I feel lucky to know her and learn from her in both languages!

Guest post: The power of introversion

Welcome back to our guest post series, dear readers!

This month, I’d like you to welcome Greek translator and interpreter Vasiliki Prestidge, from Greek to Me Translations.

Welcome, Vasiliki!

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Translators and the secret power of introversion

“Not enough classroom participation.”
“She has the answers to the questions, but she never puts her hand up. The other children are not benefiting.”
“She’s excellent, but she has to try harder to share.”

My parents always received the same feedback from my teachers.

The thing is, there was nothing wrong with me. I was simply an introvert.

There’s so much negativity attached to introversion. So many misunderstandings. Decades later, I am still an introvert. I am also a translator, interpreter, blogger, consultant and founder of Greek to Me Translations. Did my introversion stop me from becoming who I am today? No, to the contrary. It has pushed me in the right direction.

But let’s take it from the start. Reading this, you are probably a translator too. And you may consider yourself an introvert too. Do you feel like not going out, talking to people, or picking up the phone? Are you terrified of conferences, and making contacts during events? Welcome to the world of introversion. Hey, it’s really not that bad.

I want to clarify that I use the word ‘introversion’ within the context of MBTI, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Many of you might be familiar with it, some not. In this framework, introversion is not about shyness. It’s about energy. Some people take their energy from others (extroverts) and some from within themselves (introverts). Think of the sunflower; it always turns to the sun. Now think of a cactus; it conserves its energy within it and requires few external stimuli.

Extroversion doesn’t make you better and neither does introversion. However, what makes you the best is a balance of both traits. Naturally, you are more comfortable with one of the two personality preferences. But perhaps, your job or culture has pushed you toward adopting features of the opposite side. These are your coping mechanisms and they are great. They turn you into a fully-grown personality.

But these definitions are not about putting people in boxes and locking them there. They constitute a common language offering you the opportunity to understand yourself, accept your gaps and find ways to develop. Isn’t that liberating?

There are two tools that can help you identify your preferences. MBTI Step I gives you a first taste of your preferences. MBTI Step II allows your palate to discover the full range of tastes. Maybe you know you like fish in general, but you might not like salmon or maybe you cannot eat scallops.

Similarly, there are different facets to introversion. Maybe you are an introvert who enjoys running their business from home, on their own, but you don’t mind initiating conversation with potential clients at events. Maybe you feel uncomfortable getting to events by yourself, but once you are there, you’re fine. Or, you find it difficult to initiate conversation, but once someone starts speaking with you, you cannot stop talking.

Introversion is far more complex than we think, and it certainly doesn’t put you in an inferior position. Did you know that introverts make the perfect freelance entrepreneurs and great leaders? Introverts thrive in solitude. They read others and they can listen. I mean they can properly listen.

Then thinking of marketing ‒ an important side of running a business ‒ social media has empowered introverted entrepreneurs to share without feeling exhausted. And did you know introverts are better with social media? That’s because they focus on the internal ideas and feelings which means they are more likely to process before publishing. And that sometimes is truly valuable.

But of course, having the best of both worlds requires effort. The first step to achieving balance is acceptance. Accept you are an introvert and that that’s OK. Then, you invest in understanding your introversion. Everyone is different. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures. Sometimes, a temporary life event could be impacting your core personality preferences. So, self-awareness is key.

Then, you can start learning. And you can learn from extroverts. Think of those instances where being an extrovert could benefit you. Do you have gaps? Identify your goals and keep them in a notebook. This can become your extroversion workbook. The important thing to remember is that you can’t do too much too soon. And by that, I mean take it one step at a time.

For example, if your biggest challenge in running your business is networking with potential clients at conferences or trade fairs, then start small. Go to a local meet-up. Find an event with fewer people. Then, you scale up. Find your “event-buddy”; someone you go to events with. But be careful as this is dangerous. You may end up talking only to your “event-buddy” and that’s not helpful.

And remember, you are definitely not alone in this. I have a secret suspicion that most translators are introverts. So, give yourself a pat on the back. Don’t forget your natural preferences. Allow yourself quiet, me-time. It’s how you thrive.

Do you feel exhausted after a 2-day conference? I’ll let you into a secret: most people do. Don’t beat yourself up. You have the secret power of introversion. Own it.

About the author
VasilikiVasiliki Prestidge is a Greek into English and English into Greek translator and interpreter. She specialises in legal, marketing and psychometrics. She is an MBTI Step I and Step II qualified practitioner. She is the founder of Greek to Me Translations and blogs on www.grtome.com/blog. She often gives webinars and talks in conferences and she enjoys networking. (Believe it or not, she is an introvert). You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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: 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!

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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.

Greatest Women in Translation: Heather Cleary

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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

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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

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

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Photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

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: Nicky Harman

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Created by Érick Tonin

Welcome back to our interview series!

This month, I had the pleasure of e-meeting and getting to know a bit more about our first Chinese translator, Nicky Harman, nominated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Nicky Harman

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1. Your latest translated book is Happy Dreams, by Jia Pingwa, one of China’s most celebrated writers. What is it about?

It’s about a pair of migrant workers from a remote village outside Xi’an in China, who come to the big city to make their fortune. Happy Liu and his fellow-villager Wufu find a semi-derelict building to live in and settle into life as trash collectors. We follow them through a series of tragi-comic adventures, but when Happy falls in love, things get more serious: the woman, a prostitute in one of Xi’an’s ‘hair and beauty salons’, is arrested by the Vice Squad and sent to a rehabilitation centre; Happy and Wufu get work on a building site to earn the money to bail her out; Wufu dies and Happy tries to take his corpse back to their village, because the folk belief is that when the body is not returned for burial in his or her home village, the soul will never rest in peace. (This is not a plot-spoiler, the scene actually opens the novel.) Despite the grimness (being a trash-collector in China really is getting down and dirty), this novel is a joy to read. What makes it for me is the character of the eponymous Happy, an unlikely hero who is, by turns, pretentious (he is always ready with an aphorism or a homily), engaging, obnoxious, honest, devious, foul-mouthed and tender (to his best friend and to his lover). Think Charlie Chaplin, Chinese-style. I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing for taking a punt on this novel because, although Jia Pingwa is one of China’s most important living writers, his novels are hard to translate (full of dialect), so have not made much impact in the West. His writing is wonderful but many of his novels are set in the remote countryside where Jia himself grew up, and are long and complex, which is a combination hard to sell to publishers who can’t read the original.

2. I guess the differences between American and British English can be compared to the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. I only translate into my native language, Brazilian Portuguese, and don’t dare venturing into the European one. How about you? Being British, do you translate into American English? If so, do you find it difficult?

You’ve absolutely put your finger on a key issue for me as a translator. I write British English, especially if it’s slang dialogue. That’s another reason why I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing – for having faith in me, and for giving me an editor who was sensitive enough to make useful suggestions when I had no idea how to make my British-sounding slang acceptable to American readers. That said, I feel a little sad that Happy Liu could never be ‘chuffed’, but always had to be ‘delighted’, or ‘satisfied’ or something similar. I think the characters’ voices come from deep inside me, as the translator, in fact, I imagine them as coming from my belly, and it’s difficult to restrain the tendency to use certain words when they seem to fit so perfectly the ‘voice’ as one hears it. But every translation is a process of negotiation and compromise, and my feeling, from readers’ reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, is that our combined efforts paid off.

3. Your next translation, due out in May 2018 is Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China, by Rao Pingru. What was special about its translation?

I signed the contract, opened my working document to start the translation…and my heart sank! This author is extremely well-educated and the book is sprinkled with quotes from classical Chinese poetry, as well as references to history, to his Confucian-style upbringing (he’s now in his 90s), and to folk customs and local food. To say nothing of his war-time career, which required me to get a grip on military terminology. But within a few pages, I was entranced – Rao Pingru has the rare gift of telling his life story as if you and he were sitting in his living room and you were the only listener there. This is the only book I’ve ever done (and I’ve translated some pretty gut-wrenching stuff) where every time I arrived at the final pages as I went through first draft, successive drafts, and edits, I got a lump in my throat. He wrote it in grief after his beloved wife died, but it is full of affection and humour. The book is gorgeous to look at too, because Rao is a painter and there are colour illustrations on every page.

4. And you have another novel translation out in May, The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, by Yan Ge?

Yes, that’s a record for me, two book-length translations out in the same month! I actually finished translating The Chilli Bean Paste Clan three years ago, but the route to publication was somewhat tortuous. (Hats off to Roh-Suan Tung, of Balestier Press, who took it on, and has given it a gorgeous cover too.) It’s completely unlike any other novel I’ve translated: a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, barbed and irreverent, and highly profane. The novel is set in a (fictional) small Sichuan town in twenty-first century China, where Gran’s impending eightieth birthday celebrations are the trigger for growing tensions between the family’s middle-aged siblings. Events take an unexpected turn on the day itself, when secrets from everyone’s past are revealed, including that of the matriarch herself. Yan Ge started writing young adult fiction in her teens and is a well-established and prize-winning author. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan [《我们家》, My Family, in Chinese] was her first excursion into adult fiction, and it is an extraordinarily clever one. The challenges here for me were to express the family bonds and animosities with sufficient subtlety, and the dialect (again!), which Yan Ge herself says is highly local to the small town in which she grew up. In both these areas, she was extremely helpful in explaining things to me. I hope the book does well, because it’s hugely enjoyable. A sort of very wicked Chinese Jane Austen-style story.

5. I think you are our first Chinese translator interviewee! 😊 Why did you choose Chinese as your working language?

There was no contest, really. I do read and speak various European languages, but so do many other excellent translators, much better than me. My degree was in modern Chinese but for many years I let it drop and did other work and lived a completely different life. Then in the late 1980s, I came back to it and re-learnt it. A Chilean translator friend of mine suggested I should try translating because, he maintained, ‘There must be lots of work out there.’ That proved a little over-optimistic and my career as a translator started slowly. But I was instantly hooked on literary translation and I still am.

6. What are the challenges of translating from Chinese into English?

One huge challenge is that you are recreating in idiomatic English a text which in grammar and syntax is just about as far from English as it could possibly be. So the operative term here is ‘recreate’. But at the same time, you have to reproduce exactly what the author is saying as well as being sensitive to how s/he is saying it and the effect s/he is trying to achieve, all the usual considerations of literary translation from any language. So your English has to be extremely good. There’s no way you can follow the source language sentence word for word, you have to make something new, but it has to be an accurate and faithful representation of the original. Of course this applies to translation from any East Asian language, like Japanese, Korean and so on, because they’re all so different from English.

Then, of course, China is a big country and there’s a lot to learn with every book you translate. I think everything I’ve mentioned above just about sums it up: dialogue must sound natural, many writers use dialect, which you have to understand and find a way to express in English, and there are cultural and historical references which are instantly recognisable to the Chinese reader, but which are opaque to many western readers without some sort of a gloss. (Do not mention the word ‘footnote’! These are anathema to most editors nowadays.) Not that I’m complaining at all. I absolutely love this work.

7. What are you most proud of having achieved in your translating career?

My work on Paper-Republic.org is one thing. After all, the work doesn’t end when the translation is finished. I’m passionate about getting readers interested in Chinese fiction and luckily, among Chinese-to-English translators, I’m not alone in that: for the last ten years, I have been part of a core of volunteers on Paper Republic, which works to facilitate both literary and publishing connections between China and the rest of the world. We run online and offline events and publications aimed at raising the profile of Chinese literature among readers, students, editors and journalists. For readers, we provide complete short stories (in our ‘Read Paper Republic’ project) and novel excerpts, as well as public events with opportunities for reading and discussion. For students, translators, and educators, we provide translation-focused educational materials, and facilitate translation-related events and training. The Paper Republic website is also home to an extensive database of Chinese literature and its translation, helping visitors gain an overview of Chinese literature, and its various translations into English. In short, in many ways we have become an effective bridge between Chinese writers and their writing on the one hand, and English-language readers on the other.

With regard to my own translations, I often get involved in promotional work, especially when the author doesn’t speak English. I write blogs, do book launches, and talk at literary festivals. I absolutely love this aspect of translating too, I mean, who would want to sit in front of the computer all day every day, going boggle-eyed over even the best-written book? Not me, I need to get out and about too.

I also feel hugely privileged that I have been able to introduce such a wide variety of Chinese authors in English, and some have become personal friends, which is an added bonus. One area that we all need to work on, however, is a greater focus on Chinese women writers. I tallied up the gender balance in my translations, and it’s about even. But in our annual rollcall of translations from Chinese on Paper Republic, there is a preponderance of male authors, reflecting, one has to assume, men’s greater visibility in the literary world both east and west. Out of the 110 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, only 13 have been women. Only a fifth of winners of China’s prestigious Mao Dun Prize have been women, which is a bit dismal because there are so many good female writers in China.

8. What’s the best way of learning more about Chinese fiction, for people who don’t know where to start?

Well, we run the Read Paper Republic project I mentioned above specifically for readers wanting to dip a toe in the waters of Chinese fiction. We began by publishing a complete short story (or essay or poem) every Thursday for a year. We have since added a couple more series of short stories and will continue to do so on an occasional basis. They are all still online – just click on the Read Paper Republic heading or logo on our home page. Of course, we’re not the only people posting Chinese short fiction online: Asymptote Journal and Words Without Borders post excellent work from Chinese, as well as other languages. If you want something longer and meatier, well, a visit to your local bookstore should produce a good novel. Or try googling for helpful lists such as the one produced by TimeOut Beijing, TheCultureTrip and The Wall Street Journal. I recently made up a list myself, for London’s China Exchange festival.  Interestingly, some of the same books and authors turn up on all four lists, which I think indicates growing recognition and appreciation of Chinese literature among English-language readers worldwide. And of course, those lists are only the tip of the iceberg. There is much, much more out there. For instance, if you like scifi, then you are in for a treat, it’s one genre where Chinese writers have made a big impact. For instance, Liu Cixin, winner of the Galaxy Award and the Hugo Award, has half-a-dozen books in translation; and a number of Hao Jingfang’s short stories and novellas are available online in English. And martial arts, a great Chinese genre which hitherto has hardly been translated, has a gem just out in English, A Hero Born, by the inimitable and much-loved Jin Yong, (MacLehose Press, translated by Anna Holmwood). Dig in and enjoy!

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

Anna Holmwood.

Are translators traitors or heroes?

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Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

I do not like to romanticize our profession, saying, for example, that we have superpowers or the like. We do not. Our uniqueness and importance are the same as those of any other professional. Each one has their own relevance in their own areas. We have superpowers as much as doctors or teachers have: each one with their own value in their own area. We are not better than anyone.

However, I did come across a revelation these past few weeks – something I have not actually realized before – while translating product headlines of a major online retailer.

Have you ever bought anything from online retailers with English websites? Their product headlines and descriptions are horrendous, dreadful, hideous! They are a bunch of words bundled into a sentence with no connection whatsoever. And lots of mistakes. Argh!

Unfortunately, though, this is becoming increasingly common in English, in any field: contracts, business presentations, reports, etc. We are constantly faced with poorly-written texts to translate. I am sure you can totally relate with what I am saying, right?

My aim here is not to point fingers at anyone but to discuss our roles as translators. Do we transpose this horrible English into our own target languages? Never. Or at least we shouldn’t. I know I don’t. We try our best, sometimes working miracles, to understand the disastrous source and beautifully transform it into something – if not close to perfection – great in the target. After all, this is what we do. We craft fluent translations as if they were originally written in the target language, no matter how bad the source is.

And who gets all the credit for it? Most of the times, especially in technical translation, as is my case, the author, of course. We avoid misunderstandings, noises, and bad reputation. We facilitate communication not only by simply translating from one language to the other but also by improving the quality of the source.

Isn’t that beautiful? We praise ourselves for turning something ugly into something graceful. We love turning mistakes into clear sentences that flow easily. And I even dare say translations are usually way better texts than most of the original writings out there because our job is to perfect ourselves, day after day, translation after translation. Our job is to enable communication between languages and cultures, and to do so naturally.

So is the translator really a traitor? If anything, the translator definitely is the author’s best friend, godparent, carer – a trustworthy friend they can blindly count on whenever they have linguistic needs. If you have the right professional translator by your side, that is. 😉 If you do, make sure you cherish and value them because they are a rare find. If you don’t, it would be my greatest pleasure to help. 🙂 And if you are one: kudos to you and keep up the good work!

Guest post: Translator digital nomad

Last April, during the IAPTI Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I had the pleasure of meeting Rea Gutzwiller, already a connection on Twitter, in person, and spending some fun time together. And now I have the pleasure of welcoming her on the blog.

Welcome, Rea!

Snowbuddha in Harbin, China

Image provided by the author.

Taking off from your desk

We’re freelancers, right? So have you ever considered leaving you everyday view behind and take off to a new place every so often? You think this is crazy? Unfeasible even?

I’m with you. Before you’ll be able to fully enjoy your nomadic lifestyle, you’ll need to get a few basics in place. In this article I’ll be sharing the most important secrets I wish I had known before I started, so you can start fully prepared.

I admit, I’ve always been a bit of a free spirit, but at first – even after becoming a freelancer – it did not occur to me, that one could freelance and travel. Just about when I had fallen into a routine and started to get itchy feet, I stumbled across a few digital nomad blogs and thought: Wow, great, I want to go to those places too! And after I took off for China, to improve my Chinese, I didn’t stop.

What is probably most important of all is that you make up your mind. I can understand that on a cloudy, foggy winter’s day you’d rather be at a beach in Southeast Asia, but that doesn’t account for the real thing. Mind you: You will leave your house, your neighbourhood, your friends, your family, your pets, your hairdresser, the shopkeeper at the corner store and other people you have some sort of relationship with. They and mostly you will change. You will meet new people; you will live exciting experiences and scary or downright horrible things too. To give an example, I experienced one of the strongest typhoons hitting Xiamen in 50 years. There was no more water, electricity or any other supply where I lived for two weeks. These things don’t happen where I come from and if you don’t speak the language too well, horrible things can become even scarier pretty quicky. But if you’re prepared, things are mastered more easily. Ask yourself: Do I really want to become a nomad? Or do I want to live amazing things, but 80 or 90% of the time, I am quite happy where I am? You see, if you become a nomad, this isn’t just your regular holiday enhanced. This is a new lifestyle, where tomorrow is often unknown. Do you love routines? Are you okay with last minute changes?

If you think it’s scary, you can gradually start it. Try it out! A couple of months somewhere across the globe will help you decide whether you want to continue or you’re happy to go back home, wherever that is. But once you’ve tried it, you’ll realise that being on the road is not more costly and often even less expensive than renting your permanent place and going on holidays.

Secondly, remember, you can’t bring along too many things. Usually a suitcase and a daypack is the maximum. So you’ll need a base where you can leave your stuff for a while and where your snail mail will get picked up by somebody you trust and scanned for you to deal with. Also, you’ll want to go as digital as possible. I get often asked “but what about your books?” – well, frankly, I don’t have all that many books. I use digital books on a Kindle, PDFs, and dictionaries as software…

Going digital involves a performing laptop, phone and external hard drive. Once you’re fully location-independent, you’ll want to be able to do a lot on your phone. I’ve put together a list of the basics that you’ll find helpful for a fully digital office as a small giveaway from me.

The other thing I can’t stress enough is communication with your clients. Let them know about your plans, use newsletters as a means of keeping in touch with them and always let them know ahead of time when you’ll not be available. There’s Wi-Fi at most airports, Lufthansa even offers it high above the Atlantic and German ICE trains do too. But it might not be available. Think ahead, work ahead, plan ahead.

I think one of the things I actually enjoy the most when working in a different time zone is the quiet hours when the majority of my Europe-based clients have either left for the day or are not yet in the office. That way you get a few peaceful hours of work all while they will have that last minute evening job sit in their inbox the next morning. Tell them about this advantage, they might not have realised before! Set an automatic response when you’re asleep. It will spare you from waking up to 10 missed calls and 20 e-mails from the same person as to why you’re not replying. If you’re worried they’ll turn to other providers, remember, clients are humans. They want top service. They will not run away if you’re still delivering. Be confident!

At the beginning, I’d recommend you keep your actual travelling limited. Stay at a place for a bit longer, so you get to adapt to the new lifestyle and enjoy the experience. Plan enough time. If you’re on a workation, you’ll need to put in a few desk hours every day, which limits your visiting time. Hence, you need more time to enjoy the location. For all of us stable internet is important. Mind you, often these are not the most expensive, luxury places, but quite the opposite; think backpacker hostels and small pensions. For example, quite a few five star hotels still charge for internet, while I haven’t paid for Wi-Fi in a hostel in years. Many hostels nowadays offer private rooms, so if you don’t fancy sharing with 8 snoring party-goers, that’s totally okay! Never underestimate how important sleep is, which leads me to the next point:

Apart from work and play there are three things you should not leave aside on the road: eating healthily, regular exercise and good sleep.

If you follow these few tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your time on the road and work efficiently all while discovering exotic or historically interesting places!

About the author
ProfileRea Gutzwiller translates marketing and technical texts from French, English, Spanish and Italian into German. She has grown up in Switzerland and after graduating at the ETI in Geneva and a couple of years in-house started to travel the world as a nomad translator. She has visited over 20 countries in the last 6 years, which has grown her horizon in many ways and enhanced her world view greatly. Her first article on a nomad lifestyle in a series of four has recently been featured in the first edition of connections. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.