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.

How to become the world’s most translated author

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Image provided by the author

Becoming the world’s most translated author is no easy feat. Many of those in UNESCO’s Index Translationum list of the top 20 most translated authors have held a place in the list for some years. Or decades. Or, in the case of William Shakespeare, centuries. But that doesn’t mean that the list isn’t open to new entrants. Danielle Steel and Stephen King are both within the top ten, giving hope to those still writing away in the hope of making it big enough to need to engage an army of professional translators to spread their novels around the world.

The Index Translationum reveals some interesting information about those whose works have been translated more than any other authors’ in the world. Here we drill down into the detail in search of the winning formula for becoming the world’s most translated author.

Clearly, being an incredibly talented writer is the most important element behind making it onto the Index Translationum list, but analysis of the other factors reveals some interesting results. When it comes to becoming one of the world’s most translated authors, less is definitely not more. All of those on the list are (or were) prolific writers. The most recent entrants have all written dozens of novels, with Danielle Steel being known for writing up to five novels at a time.

Language is also a key factor. Of the top 20 most translated authors, English was (or still is) the language used by nine of them. French comes next, with four authors writing in French, followed by Russian and German with two authors each.

Gender is also relevant. Of the top 20 authors, only six are female. While the literary world has become far less dominated by men – in particular over the last 50 or so years – there are still many countries where women are not encouraged not to become authors (or are forbidden from doing so altogether). Given these facts, that four of the top ten most translated authors are women is actually very encouraging. Men might still have the edge, but the ‘fairer sex’ is catching up fast.

Subject matter is the final important element when it comes to the criteria for making it onto UNCESCO’s list. Six of those in the top 20 wrote books for children, while five chose murder/mystery/suspense as their genre (including the author at the very top of the list, Agatha Christie). Other genres in the top 20 were as varied as religion, romance and politics.

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Image provided by the author

Based on these fascinating insights, it’s possible to identify the key characteristics of the winning formula for becoming the world’s most translated author. If you’re a man who’s writing dozens of murder/mystery fairy tales in English, you might just be in with a chance!

About the author
louLouise Taylor is a freelance writer who writes for the Tomedes Blog.

Greatest Women in Translation: Nicole Y. Adams

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month’s interviewee is the great Nicole Y. Adams, who was nominated by Sarah.

Welcome, Nicole!


Email: info@nyacommunications.com Website: www.nyacommunications.com

1. Your website describes you as an “award-winning German to English language professional”. Do you think that being granted an award or being a certified professional makes a great difference to the client when choosing a translator?

Being certified – absolutely. Having won an award is merely the icing on the cake. If I’m looking for a service provider, or even just a new restaurant to try out, I tend to feel reassured and be more confident that I’ll have a good experience with a business if it has won awards in the past. Although it’s certainly not the only criteria, I’ll be more likely to choose them. After all, they must be doing something right to have been awarded them!

Most of my business awards were based on votes and/or detailed feedback from my clients. It was very satisfying to learn that they were so delighted with my services, and winning the awards certainly motivated me to keep going and do even better. I’m also very proud of my nomination for the 2013 AUSIT Excellence Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Translation & Interpreting Industry’, although I didn’t win. To be recognised by peers was a truly humbling experience.

Back to certification: Although there are, of course, examples of highly successful colleagues who deliver excellent work without being certified, I believe that a professional should ideally have some accreditation or certification in the service they’re offering. In my case, I’d already translated part-time for a couple of years when I decided to become a certified translator to make it ‘official’ (which meant flying to Germany to take the state exam as an external candidate – I wanted to obtain a German qualification first, as all my clients are based in Germany and Switzerland). I wouldn’t have felt comfortable offering professional translation services without having a piece of paper showing I’m qualified to do so. In an unregulated profession such as ours, I feel that’s the least we can do to reassure clients and demonstrate professionalism.

2. You have quite a wide list of remarkable marketing and business qualifications! How important do you think it is for a translator to take courses in order to specialize in a certain area?

To be honest, I just love learning. The courses and qualifications I’ve listed on my website are only a small fraction of what I’ve completed and obtained. I also have a number of qualifications in subjects unrelated to my areas of specialisation, taken purely out of personal interest and ranging from airport operations to nutrition. ☺ In terms of my areas of specialisation, I like to know what my clients are talking about and stay on top of the latest jargon, which is why I regularly participate in relevant courses. With the range of free and low-cost online courses out there these days (just think MOOC!), there’s no excuse for anyone not to take courses to keep abreast of current developments in their specialist fields, or simply to brush up their general knowledge. A couple of years ago, I completed ‘An Introduction to Marketing’ by the Wharton School of Business via Coursera, and although it was classed as an introduction, I found it very interesting and certainly learned a new thing or two. It’s probably not ideal to complete a degree in a certain subject area and then work as a specialist translator in that area for the next 30 years without ever engaging in any further professional development in that field.

3. You are a member of incredibly 12 associations! Well, I’m guessing you are an advocate of professional associations. Why do you think it is important to be a member of professional associations? And in which grounds should a translator choose the associations they can be a member of?

Is it really that many? I must admit, I’ve never counted them! ☺ Call me crazy, but I’m actually just about to join another one that I’ve been considering for a while.

For me, there are a number of criteria for deciding to join a professional association. First of all,

it’s a given to join the translators’ association in your country of residence to meet and network with local colleagues and stay informed about the state of the industry on your home turf.

In my case, this is purely out of interest, as I don’t work in the Australian market at all.

Next, I like to be a member of translator associations in the countries of both my source and target languages. It is amazing how different these associations are, and what different advantages they offer translators (or not, as it may be). Being a member of the BDÜ, CIOL and ATA, for example, gives me insights into the different approaches to the profession in each country, which is extremely interesting. I also subscribe to the paper versions of all associations’ magazines, and I love reading them to relax at the end of a working day – although, being in Australia, I usually only get them about a month after they’re published! 😉

Thirdly, it’s a must for me to be a member of at least one association in my areas of specialisation, where I can network with (potential) clients and stay informed about what’s going on in my clients’ industries. These associations also usually offer courses or webinars with discounts for members. I particularly enjoy the courses offered by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, where the prices for members and non-members differ hugely.

Finally, there’s being listed in professional member directories. I see being listed in such directories as a pleasant side effect, but by no means the main criteria for joining an association. Yes, I am sometimes contacted by potential clients who found me in an association directory, but the frequency of these enquiries is not the main reason I’d join or leave an association.

4. You have a great deal of positive testimonials on your website, but one quality in particular called my attention: reliability. It is probably the most mentioned one. Why do you think is this such a key skill to have as a translator today?

This is a great question, and I’m glad you are asking it! I’ve always considered it a given that reliability is non-negotiable. Informing the client you’ll deliver late at the last minute or not responding to enquiries promptly are just not an option. To most professional translators, these things are a matter of course – at least that’s what I had always thought until more and more clients told me how pleased they were that I’m ‘so reliable’ as that wasn’t the experience they had had with other translators.

I still couldn’t quite believe it, until a small (two-person) agency I used to work with regularly many years ago asked me to become their preferred translator for a certain end client. I knew that their regular translator always delivered outstanding quality work, so I was more than a little surprised why he wasn’t working for the client any longer. When I enquired, they told me that although he delivered superb quality, they could never be 100% sure whether he’d deliver on time, and often they couldn’t reach him when they needed to follow up on something. So a lack of reliability was his downfall. That was a real wake-up call for me and clearly demonstrated how highly clients value reliability.

We’re not ‘just translating’. We need to offer a full package, and that includes customer service and, of course, reliability.

Clients need to know they will get a text when we say they’ll get it. They have enough on their plate and need to be able to relax without having to worry about the reliability of their translation partner. Reliability is also a sign of respect in a successful business partnership. (By the same token, I expect to be able to rely on timely payments!)

5. One of the questions you ask on your A to Z of Freelance Translation course is “Do you have what it takes right now to be self-employed?” What does it take to be self-employed? Can’t simply anyone work as a freelancer?

Well, certainly anyone can work as a freelancer, but not everyone will be successful. ☺

As most of us know, working as a self-employed freelance translator requires a certain mindset. It’s essential to be versatile, flexible, adaptable and to never stop learning. Freelance life is not predictable and we need a huge amount of self-discipline and, most of all, resourcefulness to deal with unexpected issues (from power cuts to hard disk failures to clients going bankrupt).

I’d also say it’s important to never be afraid to ask questions of peers and more experienced colleagues. Many people shy away from this, which can hold them back.

So, being able to produce great-sounding translations is wonderful (and should be a given), but by no means all that is needed to be successfully self-employed. At the start of The A to Z of Freelance Translation course, which you mention, participants take a test to ascertain whether or not they’re in the right place to commence self-employment, or whether they should consider another path.

If you don’t have the right resources and mindset, no amount of training will help you succeed – it has to come from within you.

My own freelance journey has certainly been a crazy ride, and I’m pretty sure this career path is not for everyone. When I first started out (or rather, when I happened to stumble upon translation as a professional career by chance ;-)), I was a complete novice and had to learn everything from scratch without any help, from pricing to what a CAT tool was. I needed to be very resourceful and did a lot of research, and I even joined a large London-based language services provider as a project manager for a few months to learn how things work from the other side of the table. Fast forward a few years, things were going well and I had the glorious idea of starting my own agency, with a new company name and website. But I quickly realised that outsourcing and being on the administrative side really wasn’t my thing, so the idea was swiftly shot down again. Today I only ever outsource work to a trusted couple of colleagues when my working hours are limited due to school holidays or my children being sick.

Speaking of children, when my boys were born, my husband turned stay-at-home-dad for almost four years, making me the only breadwinner. In hindsight, this created quite a lot of pressure, which many freelancers may not expect or may not enjoy. You should be prepared for this kind of financial pressure, in case your partner, for example, can’t work for a while, or your children get sick and you have to cut down your own working hours.

Next in my freelance lifecycle came what I call my experimental phase. I’d started mentoring new colleagues a few years before and thought I’d venture into coaching – and even completed a certificate in business coaching and mentoring! However, I only ever coached one client for exactly one session before realising that it’s not my cup of tea and that I wasn’t comfortable charging people for sharing my experiences in one-on-one relationships. I generally prefer to work alone and from the comfort of my home office – one reason why freelance translation suits me down to a T. So I’d say as a freelancer

it’s also key not to get sidetracked but to remain focused on what you enjoy doing.

Today, I still work solely as a freelance translator, and I couldn’t be happier. Putting together Diversification in the Language Industry – a snapshot of how colleagues have chosen to diversify and offer additional services beyond translation proper – in 2013 made me realise that I enjoy translating more than anything else, and that I personally have no desire to diversify into other areas. I’m glad I got all those distractions out of my system and can focus 100% on my clients. My final advice to fellow freelancers is:

do what feels right to you and don’t ever go down a path you’re not comfortable with because others think it’s a good idea or simply because the opportunity arises – just say no! 😉

6. You are one of the few translators who state the prices you charge on your website. Why do you prefer to do so? Do you think that makes a difference to the client?

Interesting question, Caroline. First of all, I should say that I’m quite lucky that most of my clients are either personal contacts I’ve made in-house or through networking, or direct referrals by existing customers, so most of my business comes from word-of-mouth and I don’t primarily rely on my website to attract new clients.

In general, I usually charge a flat rate per project and don’t give clients a per-word price in either quote or invoice. I also state this on my website, but give them a rough guide as to the price range they can expect (which is based on per-word ranges for information only). This is mainly because I hate wasting time, both as a consumer and as a service provider. Clients with price expectations that are wildly different from mine are kept at bay (except for the ones who fail to check the prices before getting in touch!), saving everyone a lot of time wasted on fruitless negotiations and multiple email exchanges. Serious clients obviously still ask for a custom offer, but at least they already have an idea of what to expect.

Putting my consumer hat on for a minute, I can safely say that if I want to hire a professional service provider, say, a web designer or typesetter, I always look for a pricing page on their website. Often, I’ll choose to contact a provider who displays prices (or at least a rough price guideline) over one who doesn’t, simply because it saves me the hassle of having to contact them especially to enquire about prices. Keeping it simple and providing as much information as possible works best for me! On my website, I also refer to the Australian Society of Authors’ (of which I’m a member) price guidelines, which reassures more sceptical clients that I’m not just pulling numbers out of thin air, but that there’s some justification behind them. It also reminds them that they’re hiring a certified professional who is backed by a professional association (which brings us back to your earlier question).

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next interviewee!

First of all, thanks to Sarah for nominating me, and to you Caroline, for hosting this interesting series! ☺ (And I second Sarah’s invitation to come and visit us in sunny Queensland!)

I’d like to nominate our lovely colleague Giselle Chaumien on the other side of the world in Germany. Giselle is always more than happy to share her wealth of experience with peers, both on social media and through her blog (in German), and is a great role model for new and experienced translators alike. And her office companion, Filou, is just too cute ! 😉


Wow! I loved your answers, Nicole! Even though I handed the questions last minute and you were not working as usual the last few weeks, as it seems, you managed to answer my questions in a very thorough and thoughtful manner. I really really appreciate that! 😀

I especially loved some parts so much that I took the liberty to highlight them on the text.

You can reach Nicole via email (info@nyacommunications.com) or her website.

I’ve already reached Giselle, and she has kindly and promptly accepted Nicole’s nomination. Stay tuned, because Giselle’s interview will also be amazing! 😉 I already have interesting and thought-provoking questions coming up my mind.

Guest post: Common misconceptions about translators

Welcome back to our guest series! If you are from Brazil, you must be enjoying our Carnival holiday somehow. How about relaxing and reading the contribution of today’s guest? If you’re not enjoying it in Rio or in Salvador, that is, in which case you must have more interesting things to do. I don’t blame you. Just bookmark it for later. 😉

Our guest today is Emeline Jamoul, a translator from Belgium.

Welcome, Emeline!

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Reclaiming the truth about our profession

It’s a universal truth that freelance translators are misunderstood creatures. Yes, translators have been around for thousands of years and we are probably doing one of the oldest jobs on earth, but that doesn’t mean that people are aware of our existence and purpose. If you’ve ever told someone what your job was, I’m sure you have faced a couple of answers worth their weight in gold. People always assume certain things about your career choices: either you are working as a freelancer because you are scared of the real world (hey, we have responsibilities too!) or because you happen to be bilingual.

I have been a freelance translator for 1 year and a half now, and in 18 months, the number of ridiculous comments I have heard regarding my job has done nothing but increase. Here are some of them, which I’m sure most of you must have heard too!

  1. We only translate novels
    To the eyes of common people, translators can only translate one type of material: novels. When I went to my doctor’s office last year, she asked me what I was doing now that I had graduated. When I told her I had become a freelance translator, she looked at me in awe and asked which novels I had translated. I had to disappoint her though – most translators don’t have the luxury to translate literature on a day-to-day basis even if that’s the dream of many!
  2. Translators and interpreters are the same thing
    We all cringe when we hear that someone is looking for a professional to “translate” one of their meetings. Blasphemy!
  3. “Okay but… what is your real job?”
    Because of course, working from home (in our PJs) is too good to be true. 🙂
  4. “You’ll only translate user guides.”
    One of my high school teachers told me that one. I still remember that day in class when we were all asked what we wanted to become when we were grown-ups – I was hesitating between journalist, translator or teacher. You can all imagine how naïve I must have been at the age of 13 – gullible enough to believe her when she told me that I would either translate user guides for the rest of my life or…
  5. “Work at the European Union”
    But this of course, was the job of a very select few. Okay, I’ll admit that she wasn’t too far from the truth on this one. But what about translating marketing documents? What about interpreting in hospitals? And translating international contracts? There is more to translating than user manuals and interpreting European affairs!
  6. “Working from home is really not the same as working in an office.” (to be read that with a condescending tone)
    No, in fact, it is much better. 🙂

And the list goes on and on. But what can we do about these common misconceptions about our job? If you look at the comments I have listed here, all of them stem from the same problem: ignorance about our profession. It is also our responsibilities to raise awareness about what it is really like to work as a freelance translator.

We should remind ourselves that many people are actually curious about what we do, and that it’s not so bad. Whenever I see question marks on my interlocutor’s faces, I make a point of elaborating, instead of saying “I just translate English texts into French.” I’m usually asked what and who I translate for, which clearly shows that most people don’t have any idea how and why translation is used. What better opportunity than to give a good (and accurate) first impression of our wonderful profession?

What about you, dear readers, which type of comments regarding your job have you faced so far?

Thank you for your kindly contribution to our blog, Emeline! 🙂 It’s a pleasure to host you here.

People indeed don’t quite understand what we do. They don’t understand the translation part neither the freelance part. It’s quite difficult to try to make them believe we don’t actually work on our PJs (I tried last Saturday to family – who should already be used to it – but it didn’t work). :/

About the author
portraitsmallerEmeline Jamoul is a passionate English and Spanish into French translator. She mainly specializes in marketing, business and health. A self-confessed multitasker, Emeline is addicted to social media and has a soft post for African-American literature. You can contact her through her website or on Twitter.

Guest post: Blogging for translators

Hi, dear readers! Hope your beginning of the year is as productive and full of great news as mine. So much so that I’m even struggling to find the time to blog! So sorry for not writing last week’s weekly post! 😦 Let’s keep our fingers crossed I can find the time to write this week’s.

Meanwhile, luckly, we have our lovely guests who never let us down. Aren’t I lucky to have them? 😀

Today’s guest, Else Gellinek, will talk about blogging for other translators.

Welcome, Else!

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Why blogging for other translators can be worth your while

To blog or not to blog?

For some years now, word on the street has been that blogging is a marketing and SEO must for solopreneurs. So I began blogging. At first I thought I had to blog for potential clients. Don’t get me wrong: If that’s the target audience for your blog, that’s wonderful. It just wasn’t really my conversation. I gravitated towards topics more of interest to other translators. Unfortunately, translators are often criticized for keeping to themselves on social media and blogging for each other instead of connecting with clients. I don’t see why you have to choose between the two. Neither am I convinced that blogging for our peers is a lesser option – unless you view blogging solely as a means of generating leads.

Reasons to blog for other translators

My blog – my rules

In her Pillar Box article Don’t blog, just write, Karen Tkaczyk explains why she thinks that we shouldn’t blog just because everyone else is. Indeed, if you don’t feel that you have anything to tell the world, then there really is no reason to blog. Nobody wants to read listless posts written from a dull sense of commitment. Instead, Karen says we should add to forum discussions or write for the bulletins published by translator associations, I think that’s a great idea.

But: Other people’s houses, other people’s rules. On my blog, I am the creator and initiator of content. I decide what I want to write about, how I want to write it and what I regard as valuable information. Excellent translator blogs covering many angles of our diverse profession abound. They could never all fit into existing channels and I don’t think that they have to. On the contrary, they complement the established platforms.

Easy access to information

Translators are spread all over the world. Blogs are one way of keeping up a conversation that is not confined to translator associations or other membership-only clubs. We’re always complaining about translators driving down prices or acting unethically. Establishing a public, easily accessible dialog on translation issues can provide information and thinking points for those who need it most. A simple Google search will turn up a wealth of resources provided by dedicated peers. If this information were communicated in specialized forums, mailing lists or similar channels, it would effectively be hidden from the public eye. Many blogs also feature carefully curated blogrolls and resource lists that point translators to the more specialized channels.

Keeping up the conversation with our peers

Freelancers can easily slip into isolation. Online conversation keeps us connected and in the loop. Sure, we can attend local networking events and conferences or use other forms of social media. But we can also read blogs, which are less ephemeral than Twitter conversations or mailing lists, thus transcending differences in work schedules and time zones. Tuning in at a later time won’t necessarily mean that you missed the chance to chime in.

Adding to the conversation with our peers

Blogging nourishes my introvert soul. It’s public but delivered in a fashion that feels private. For me, blogging has been the best way of tentatively testing the waters of public discussion. Some can show and share their expertise by offering training sessions or webinars, others will enrich forums and mailing lists with what they know and yet others will choose to blog.

Blogging also allows me to take my time before commenting on issues. Discussions in forums or Facebook groups flit by and dart back and forth. Writing a blog post at my own pace affords me the luxury of thinking everything through before committing my thoughts to writing and publishing them. There has been many a time when my initial take on a subject changed due to other people’s thoughts or simply after a good night’s sleep. The slower pace of blogging can protect us from the trigger-happy judgments encouraged by faster forms of communication.

Sharing your view of the world

Finding new topics to post about takes me from the sidelines of the translation community and offers me opportunities to add my voice. We all have a unique take on issues and that is reason enough to be worth listening to – whether an expert or not. Something caught your eye that no one else has noticed yet? By all means, share it with us.

Translators blog about professional development, CAT tools, social media, marketing, cultural issues, associations, good and bad experiences and their personal situations. Their blogs are lighthearted, solemn, scholarly, sarcastic and sometimes angry. Some will share their thoughts through other channels, but these channels may be unknown to me. Were it not for their blogs, I would never have heard what many translators have to say.

Finding clients

Lately, other translators have asked me whether blogging has paid off – and by that they mean financially. A number of direct clients have actually told me that my blog made a good impression when they were initially researching my services. Good stuff, right? I’ve also met a number of other translators through my blog who have referred clients to me.

I’ll add a caveat: If your blog exists primarily to get you clients, then blogging for other translators is probably less effective than targeting paying customers. Of course, for translators who offer marketing services or professional development for other translators, blogging for translators IS blogging for clients. For the rest of us, blogging won’t replace other marketing efforts.

Should you blog?

If you feel you have something to say, then go ahead and blog. It’s a low-cost, low-threshold way of letting the world know you exist. Blog the way that feels right to you and find the readers that are right for you (what Simon Berrill concluded in his post on blogging). If blogging doesn’t feel right for you, then don’t blog or stop blogging (Keep reading blogs, though!). There are other ways to join in and you can pick and choose what suits your personality and expectations. And we all benefit from a wealth of channels offering us information and inviting us to be part ofthe conversation.

Thank you, Else, for accepting my invitation and kindly taking the time to write to our blog. I totally agree with you on your opinion about blogging for translators. I’m one of those bloggers and just love doing it. Being able to help colleagues somehow is just rewarding and totally worth it.

What’s your take on the subject?

About the author
Profilbild Else GellinekElse Gellinek ist a certified German to English translator specializing in marketing and corporate communication. She is based in a smallish German town and has been providing full-time freelance translation and editing services since 2013. She holds an M.A in theoretical linguistics and was a bookdealer in her previous life.  When she isn’t translating, she blogs at Sprachrausch Blog and is active on social media. You can find her on Twitter (@Else_Gellinek ) and Google+.

Guest post: Fernando Pessoa translator

Are you ready for another lovely guest post? Today, I’ll keep a bit of a secret and will not introduce our guest. Read on and you’ll find out who she is at the end. 😉

Welcome, my dear secret guest!

pessoa_reduz

Fernando Pessoa: Portuguese writer, poet, literary critic and… freelance commercial translator

When Caroline asked me to write something for her blog, I was happy but also a bit undecided. What could I write for her blog? I needed something that would resonate with her readers. Definitely not the kind of things I blog about… J It had to be good, serious, interesting and relevant to the blog of a talented young lady translating to Brazilian Portuguese.  And then it struck me. It had to be about a writer that has always intrigued me: Fernando Pessoa. Considering that the 30th of November marks 79 years from his death and we are in November now, I told Caroline I would write about Pessoa.

Fernando Pessoa, one of the world’s most significant literary figures, a writer, poet and critic, was born in South Africa on the 13th of June, 1888 and died on the 30th of November, 1935.

Do you know him?

I am sure you do.

But do you know he was also a translator?

Okay, many writers translate. It’s in the nature of translation. Translators write. Translation is the par excellent conduit to writing.

But, as I did some googling around to see any interesting facts about Pessoa, I stepped on an article about a slogan… yes, a slogan, he wrote for Coca-Cola!

And at that moment I was sure this was the topic I would write for Caroline.

So, let’s take a gander at some facts about him as a person and a writer that I think could resonate with most translators and, of course, writers.

  1. Pessoa was trilingual. He spoke Portuguese, English and French. According to Wikipedia he translated from English and French.
  2. He was raised in South Africa and moved to Lisbon, Portugal when he was 17.
  3. While attending the Durban Commercial School, he started writing short stories in English, some under the name of David Merrick, many of which he left unfinished.
  4. Pessoa used pen names from an early age. He later called them heteronyms instead of pseudonyms. Besides his own name, he made up round about 72 more!
  5. In a letter to a schoolfellow Pessoa complained of “spiritual and material encumbrances of most especial adverseness.”
  6. Pessoa was a loner and he was fearlessly communicating this through his writing. I have been considering Pessoa to be an extreme pessimist but it depends on how you want to look at it and on whether you are a pessimist or an optimist yourself. This is one of the things that strike you evident in his writings and his choice to create characters and heteronyms.
  7. The same schoolfellow writes that Pessoa “took no part in athletic sports of any kind and I think his spare time was spent on reading. We generally considered that he worked far too much and that he would ruin his health by so doing.”
  8. A turn of events forced him to drop his studies and following his return to Lisbon at the age of 17, he complemented his British education with Portuguese culture, as an autodidact.
  9. In 1909, he set up his own publishing house, the «Empreza Ibis», with money he inherited from his grandmother. His business closed down one year later.
  10. Along with other artists and poets, he created the literary magazine Orpheu. He also founded the «Art Journal» Athena (1924–25).
  11. Pessoa worked as a freelance commercial translator but he was also a writer and a literary critic, contributing to journals and magazines.
  12. He never left Lisbon since the day he moved there. He wrote a poem “Lisbon Revisited” (1923 and 1926), by his heteronym Álvaro de Campos.
  13. After his family left Pretoria to come to Portugal, Pessoa found himself moving from one rented place to another because of financial troubles and the troubles of the young Portuguese republic.
  14. Bernardo Soares, one of his heteronyms supposedly lived in a world that Pessoa knew quite well due to his long career as freelance correspondence translator. From 1907 until his death in 1935, Pessoa actually worked in twenty one firms located in Lisbon’s downtown, sometimes in two or three of them simultaneously.
  15. “The Book of Disquiet” (Livro do Desassossego: Composto por Bernardo Soares, ajudante de guarda-livros na cidade de Lisboa) is perhaps the most famous book by Pessoa and a best-seller. It was published 47 years after Pessoa’s death. Pessoa was 47 years old when he died. His book was signed under Pessoa’s semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares and it includes a preface by Fernando Pessoa. “The book of Disquiet” is a fragmentary lifetime project and according to Pessoa a “factless autobiography”. Pessoa never edited his book.
  16. According to an article from The New York Times from 2008 Pessoa “remains one of the trickiest and most voluminous legacies among the great writers of the modern era.”
  17. The vast majority of Pessoa’s papers belong to the National Library. The remainder, some 2,700, to the heirs.
  18. Eduardo Lourenço, Portuguese literary critic, said that Pessoa “had a way of being that is distinctly Portuguese… It has to do with everything and nothing — that we Portuguese can have everything, but still feel we have nothing.”
  19. According to Lourenço, Pessoa is “the most tragic of the Portuguese poets…the pleasure of unhappiness is particularly Portuguese.”
  20. His surname in Portuguese means both “person” and “people”.
  21. Pessoa wrote a slogan for Coca-Cola (true!) which had a bad fate. When Coca-Cola decided to launch in Portugal, they asked a company who had exclusive rights to import products from the USA. It so happened that future poet and writer Fernando Pessoa worked in that firm as a translator. The slogan he wrote was “Primeiro estranha-se, depois entranha-se” which would translate to First it amazes you, then it gets into your veins. Pessoa’s slogan was not welcome and had a similar fate to Coca-Cola who eventually didn’t launch in Portugal during that time. This “slogan” story was never revealed until 1992 when a heir of the Portuguese firm where Pessoa worked talked about it during an interview. Pessoa actually risked to be fired because of his slogan (according to this article – in Italian). 

His introversion, solitude, narcissism and inclination to avoid all action and the futility of this world should not be taken heavily. The “Book of Disquiet” is so personal that people who find themselves feel even remotely like Soares might sulk into a psychological state that reverberates that way of thinking.

For this reason, I highly recommend to read this article here. It’s about a writer who gives a very beautiful account on his life through his experience as a reader of this book.

Whatever one might say about this book, I prefer to see beyond it and towards the man who wrote it. A translator, poet and writer, someone who was raised in South Africa but who spent most of his life in Lisbon, an introvert (I’d keep that), a mysterious personality (is Soares really Pessoa?) and Portugal’s most famous modernist poet.

Pessoa’s writings are a reflection of the human soul in its most bare nature. Pessoa is true. He is not lying. Even if he spoke through the voice of the 75 or so characters he invented.

To conclude this rather long post, here are some of his quotes that I find powerful.

No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it.

There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful.

I’ve always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I’m not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect.

We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our own concept—our own selves—that we love.

In order to understand, I destroyed myself.

At this point, and after reading the last quote which brings to mind that translators are always trying to “understand” things and often stay up all night translating nonstop, I wonder to what extent did Pessoa’s career as a translator influenced his writing… I fear it kind of did but it’s time to call it a night. See?

Thank you, Caroline.

P.S.: To write this post I used Wikipedia, this article here from the New York Times and this one here from Il Post in Italian.

Thank you, Magda, for kindly accepting my invitation and for taking the time to research and write such an interesting post!

Did you know Fernando Pessoa was also a translator? Would you like to add anything to Magda’s words?

About the author
F5Dv6eTrMagda Phili lives in Italy and works as a freelance translator. She loves writing, creating slogans, coffee, the mountains and the Greek islands. She can be found at her blog and on Twitter.