Greatest Women in Translation: Sabine Lammersdorf


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series – the last one of 2015.

As it’s been happening with this series, I didn’t know today’s interviewee. So I’ve been thinking that it has been a sort of networking for me. I get to e-meet the person and to know more about her in order to make up the questions. Fantastic, right?

Now, let’s welcome today’s interviewee, Sabine Lammersdorf, nominated by Giselle Chaumien.

sabine lammersdorf

1. You have two ferrets, Luciano and Mephisto. How is it like to have them around the house being a freelancer?

They are pure joy, fun and distraction. They allow me to escape from my desk and take breaks, although this is not the reason for having them around. I spend many hours at my desk and so Luciano and Mephisto provide the much welcomed mischief, laughter, carefreeness in an otherwise serious work environment. As any other pet would wish for, I take good care of them and attend to their needs; in other words: They enable me to forget work for a little while and help me clear my mind.

2. After your son was born in 1993, you used your long-term maternity leave to attend lectures in mechanical engineering as a guest student and do your Abitur (A levels). How did you manage to study and raise a kid?

Doing my A levels and attending guest lectures in mechanical engineering was part of a long-term plan. After giving birth to my son and at the time I was convinced that he would be content with someone looking after him for several hours, I put a schedule together and started looking for a babysitter. I was very lucky to find a wonderful elderly lady who not only agreed to take care of him whenever I attended night school or lectures, but also became an additional grandmother for my son.

3. What made you decide to attend lectures in mechanical engineering after having worked for 11 years as an in-house translator and interpreter in IT?

My father was a passionate mechanical engineer and I used to spend the better part of my childhood together with my father at his drawing board. I was fascinated to see the sketches on his drawing board come to life, first as small scale models and later as huge and live equipment. He constantly encouraged me to experiment, to play with the most basic laws of physics explaining why they worked – or not (more often than they did).

After completing my studies, I happened to land my first job at a company selling and servicing, including repairing, hard and floppy disk drives. Back then in 1982, hard and floppy disk drives were very expensive, so they actually repaired them. The parent company was Indian, supplying all the then big players in the industry with their hard and floppy disks. My main task was to translate the complete documentation into German and act as an interpreter for the trainer during training sessions and conferences. In order to understand what I was talking and writing about, I spent quite a while in the workshop actually repairing disk drives. Admittedly, I enjoyed this combination of “theoretical” and hands-on work – which is entirely based on physics and mathematics, just as mechanical engineering is.

As disk drives became more affordable and the development focussed more and more on software it was fascinating to learn how strings of electrical impulses made things happen on the screen, offering the possibility to scale down the necessary hardware. I never got round to learn how to programme; at that time, I still worked as a translator and interpreter with a gradually changing focus on software, as I did not feel that my knowledge was sufficient enough at that point to specialise in mechanical engineering. It was really fascinating to learn how computers and large machinery items were combined, especially in the area of high precision machinery.

4. Why have you decided to relocate to Spain after your son was born, after having lived so many years in Germany?

Well, the long-term plan had always been to work as a translator and/or interpreter for a major multi-national company and to relocate to Asia. For many reasons, I found this too difficult with a small child, so I began thinking about European countries which could provide career opportunities for me and a stable, safe environment for my son. As I did not want to learn another language and because I loved the Mediterranean, Spain and France were on the cards. The dice fell on the Spanish Mediterranean Coast which is where we now reside, within a multi-national environment which I actually enjoy. The internet and computer era not only liberated us from typewriters, they also granted us the opportunity to allow us to live and work wherever we wished or to travel the world whilst working, as some colleagues actually did.

5. You and Giselle Chaumien have a blog together, Wissenswinkel, where you both share lots of information for newbies in the translation industry. Why do you feel it is important to welcome and help newcomers in the translation industry?

“Wissenswinkel” is in fact the result of a failure. It all originated from a discussion about mentoring in general on Facebook and as a result of some newbies informing us that they would appreciate guidance and support when starting their own careers. And thus I founded a mentoring group on Facebook, which was in fact far too spontaneous – without any planning in advance. Giselle Chaumien became a member of this group, this is where we actually met and soon discovered that we both felt the same about sharing our knowledge with newcomers. The former Facebook mentoring group failed, and Giselle Chaumien and I decided to find another way of relaying our knowledge and experience free of charge – that is how “Wissenswinkel” was born.

Generally speaking, newcomers leave university or any language institute with plenty of theoretical knowledge; they usually learn everything connected with the translation and /or interpretation process, but are not introduced to real-world practicalities such as company procedures, processes, organisational issues which inevitably arise when being self-employed. This has not changed since I passed my exams, and having had something like “Wissenswinkel” at hand would have saved me a lot of time and would have helped me to avoid many mistakes. 

There are countless workshops, conferences, webinars, etc. subject to attendance fees. However, a newcomer with very little income, if any, might not be able to afford to attend them. The number of limited resources available which are free of charge mostly focus on marketing aspects. Marketing is undoubtedly an important topic, however, there are many more equally important topics which are hardly ever covered and newcomers might find it difficult to obtain further information or answers to their questions. I had the opportunity to learn so much, gather so much information, sharing this is my pleasure and joy.

“Wissenswinkel” continues to grow at a steady pace. We want it to become some sort of knowledge database covering topics from advice and pricing to case studies to explanations of technical terms and terminology. Our aim and hope is that it shall be helpful and that newcomers will not find themselves completely lost at the beginning of their own working careers. Besides that, newcomers are always welcome to contact us via other channels.

6. Giselle describes yourself as “very reliable”. Do you think reliability is an essential quality as a translator? Why (not)?

Well, the translation industry belongs to the service sector and everything related to service in its broadest sense is based on trust and reliability. This is even more important if someone works in a field where they never (or hardly ever) meet their clients. As we all expect our clients to pay our invoices, so they expect us to deliver our product – the translation – as to the specifications agreed beforehand. 

Reliability, trust, and the delivery of mutually objectives are the foundations of any business – and the translation business does not differ from any other business within the service sector.

7. Contracts and other legal documents were always part of your work, so you recently decided to study Business Law. Do you think it has helped doing a major after already working in the area?

I adore legal language and I very much like translating such documents. Legal language is beautiful and sometimes a challenge, as one single sentence may cover an entire page. The more contracts I translated over the years, the more interesting they became and I began researching the possibility to broaden my horizons without having to interrupt my career. Thanks to modern technology and “newish” types of study courses this is now possible, providing me an option to further dig into this very interesting subject, and to explore new fields of business in the long run.

Contract translation work is the somewhat logical consequence of technological product translation work, as whatever the result of a development is going to be sold. I would not say that this helped to take this decision to study, but love of legal language was certainly its root and the beginning of a very interesting open-ended journey 🙂  

8. One can hardly find information about your business online. Your website is still under construction. Do you think that not being visible online hinders your possibility of being found by potential clients?

Actually, I do not think so. A website is nothing but an extended business card or an extended entry in the yellow pages. Just as back in the pre-internet days nobody would actually file through the yellow pages to find a translator, nobody, nowadays looks at the numerous translator websites available. For sure, access to a website certainly makes it easier to showcase one’s work and capabilities, and thus the marketing element becomes easier; however, I personally do not consider it as a major pre-requisite. I do believe in the principle of meeting potential clients where they are visible, for example, at conferences, trade fairs, specialist forums, etc. My approach might be very old-school, however, this approach allows me firstly to establish the client contact and then explore the needs of a potential client somehow more detailed than just being contacted through a website without really knowing anything about the background of such an enquiry. I find it easier to establish long-term business relationships via my old-school approach, many of my clients come through recommendation anyway.

Nevertheless, my website will be completed sometime next year, and I will then see what it can do for me and how to use it. 

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

I would like to nominate Allison Wright, she is a German, French and Portuguese to English translator based in Portugal and an accredited member of SATI/SAVI (South Africa), and more recently became a member of the Association of Portuguese Translators and Interpreters, APTRAD. Besides her translation work, she has her own blog “That elusive pair of Jeans” and I really enjoy her eloquent writing.

I feel a bit like standing on the red carpet and I would like to thank you, Caroline, for this forum and also I would like to thank Giselle Chaumien for nominating me. A special thanks goes to Isabel Wilkins, who took on the task of putting my “Germlish” thoughts into proper English. She is a market researcher, a true professional in her own field and a very dear friend.

Thank you, Sabine, for promptly accepting Giselle’s nomination and my invitation to be interviewed for our series! It was a real pleasure e-meeting you and getting to know you better. 🙂


Greatest Women in Translation: Giselle Chaumien


Welcome back to our interview series Greatest Women in Translation! This month the interview is a bit later than usual because yesterday was a local holiday here, so I took the day off. 😉

Please welcome this month’s Greatest Woman in Translation, Giselle Chaumien, nominated by Nicole Adams.

Welcome, Giselle!


1. Your mother is German and your father is French. Was your upbringing bilingual at home? If so, how was the experience?

Yes, we spoke both languages at home – with our dogs as well, who understood the commands in both languages. I believe that bilingual upbringing works well only when both parents speak both languages well and use them with the family. Time and again we hear or read that it’s difficult for children, but I can’t confirm that for me and my siblings. My mother told me that we spoke a mishmash of both languages in our first few years, but then at the age of 3-4 everything straightened out. We lived in Germany, and I attended a private boarding school in France. Today, when I count or do arithmetic, it’s always in French, but I dream in both languages. Oh, and with my office assistant Filou I speak only German. Do you think that’s a mistake? 😉

In my opinion, there’s something that’s much more important than a bilingual upbringing: our parents taught us that random acts of kindness enrich your life. That’s something that’s much more widespread in the United States and the United Kingdom than in Germany. This principle has come to play an increasingly important role in my life – perhaps it has to do with my age. The life that we share with everyone else is like a big pot of soup, with chunks of meat, slivers of vegetables and noodles floating in it. You pick something out of the soup that you like or need, and that makes you happy. And you should put something else back into it, so that others find something good as well. Thus, in my own small way, I try to give back some of what helped me in earlier years and from which I still benefit today. This approach to life is the real legacy of my parents.

2. You studied in Germersheim, at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Faculty of Translation Studies, Linguistics and Cultural Studies (one of the best universities for translators and interpreters in Germany), where you later became a lecturer. What was it like to switch roles and become a lecturer where you were once a student?

I had already held a teaching position while I was studying there, as one of the instructors who headed the tutorial for German/French legal translation became seriously ill and it was not possible to find a regular substitute so quickly,  so that was not a problem for me. In the early 1980s I then had a half-time position on a two-year contract; my employment contract with Michelin was reduced to 60% during this period – otherwise I would never have managed such a full schedule. I was teaching German/French legal translation and French commercial correspondence to 3rd and 4th semester students on the one hand, and on the other I was in charge of the tutorials in German/French technical translation for those students taking their comprehensive examinations. I also supervised a number of diploma theses. I greatly enjoyed working with the students. Unfortunately there are hardly any permanent positions at German universities. Teaching people, awakening their enthusiasm for a subject, accompanying them through a part of their professional development – that’s very fulfilling.

3. You have been working for Michelin for nearly 30 years! You began as a French and German teacher for managers, but then had the chance of implementing a translation department there. How cool is that? You programmed CBTs (computer-based training courses) for factory workers, organized professional development courses for managers, installed an intranet for Michelin Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and implemented an Internal Communications department in those three countries as well. I clearly see why Nicole nominated you! How does this impressive professional experience help you nowadays as a freelance translator?

I had the privilege of pursuing an unusual path at Michelin. I gained incredibly valuable experience from the implementation of the projects you mentioned as examples, and I still reap the benefits from that on a daily basis. When you manage a project and you’re responsible for a budget of six figures or more, and you have to procure external services and manage and monitor the implementation in multiple plants, you learn what doing business with an entrepreneurial approach really means. Nobody can ever take that away from you. I should add that Michelin is a very special company, in which people are given numerous opportunities regardless of where they come from, their gender, their disabilities, etc. I had the great good luck and the honor to accompany the executive directors at that time on numerous business trips in Germany and to interpret for them: François Michelin and his son Edouard, two unique and impressive human beings. And yet I took the risk of going into business for myself, because I wanted to put myself to the test once more.

4. Giselle, you have your “Rüsterweg” blog, the knowledge database “Wissenswinkel” and the “Tips for Translators” on your website; recently you also began your newsletter “Café Umlaut”. Honestly, that’s an amazing amount of work. What motivates you?

As I just explained, I had the good fortune to learn a lot and gather valuable experience over the course of my career. I’d like to share all this experience with those who are interested, or, to return to the example of the pot of soup, I simply want to put a few good pieces of meat into the broth so that others benefit from it as well.

It all started with the section “Die Welt des Übersetzens” (“The World of Translation”) on my “Rüsterweg” blog. At some point I wrote about a subject specifically for translators – that was the article “Langatmig, aber zielführend” (“Tedious, but Productive”), about customer acquisition, and suddenly I had loads of subscribers. My post entitled “Honorarfreie Übersetzung” (“Pro Bono Translation”) – an article that was translated into English, Italian, Spanish and Russian and which I translated into French – is surely the most popular of my blog posts with 1,660 “likes”. In spring 2015, I launched the “Wissenswinkel” website – a knowledge database for young language professionals – together with my colleague Sabine Lammersdorf. And then in July 2015 I began writing my “Newsletter”. None of this is aimed at customers – it is neither sales-oriented nor is it financed by advertising or similar means.

Since you asked about the time involved – yes, of course it is a lot of work, but it’s worth it, because in the meantime so many interesting contacts to younger and older colleagues in the translation industry have developed that I really enjoy it.

5. You don’t use CAT tools and never have – why not? Don’t you think it could help you be more productive?

Well, many of my texts are simply not suitable for them, and in many cases my translations are adaptations. Quite honestly, I can’t say much about CAT tools. I hear about “segments” and imagine that in the end, the work of the translator consists of inserting the missing pieces of the puzzle – that’s not my style at all. My translation memory is my brain, and yes, a few glossaries I put together myself. I’m an avid user of the voice recognition program “Dragon Naturally Speaking” and with that I am extremely productive. In my specialist fields such as tire technology, financial reporting, plastics technology, etc., I rarely have to do any research any more – I can simply start dictating and wander around my office while doing so – yet it’s not at all boring. Besides, translation is only one of my sources of income. I also work as a freelance author for several companies, e.g. for corporate blogs, customer and online magazines, and so on, and for many years I’ve done intensive writing coaching for top-level managers. I’m currently expanding the two latter activities and reducing my translation work slightly. And I’ll let you and your readers in on a secret: I’m also working on two of my own books. I can’t tell you anything more about that at present.

6. You are an advocate of high(er) rates, premium markets and the like. Could you tell us a bit more about those topics?

Well, I’m firmly convinced that there’s a place for everyone in the global translation market: the big full-service agencies for the so-called bulk market, the smaller SME service providers that operate in defined market segments and/or have their regular customers in niche markets, and of course for the individual translators who provide their services in their (premium) market, in their own particular playground, so to speak. The market has all those elements, no question about it – just like there are premium tires and low-budget tires. And here we’re not debating what’s “better” or “not as good” or “worse”. As a customer, I have to decide what I want, no matter what the product is: a 13-cent roll from a discounter or bread from a baker who still grinds his whole-grain flour himself; a low-priced tire, because I only drive my small car to town, or a premium tire for a powerful car and long drives on the autobahn; an 11-euro haircut by a hairdresser who doesn’t give appointments, where I have to blow-dry my hair myself; and last but not least the translation of an internal working document or of the financial report that’s sent to shareholders, the customer magazine that’s really an adaptation rather than a translation, and so on.

What makes the difference (and I am speaking here exclusively for “non-literary” translators, as I have no experience with literature translations), is, in addition to the talent required for this profession, outstanding qualifications in the relevant field and above all specialization, which however becomes increasingly differentiated and narrowly focused. I don’t work for agencies, but once in a while agencies contact me because they can’t find anyone for certain niche specialties in my language combination (French/German or German/French – I don’t work in any other languages). Then they are willing to pay nearly my direct-customer price.

Of course, the so-called soft skills are just as important. I conducted a small, non-representative survey on this subject in summer, and described the results over the past few weeks in a three-part blog post on “Rüsterweg” (in German). The major German professional associations and even the FIT shared the article in the social media. This series has now been reprinted by the magazine of the German professional association ADÜ Nord.

In general, the following can be said of the market: there are more and more translators willing to work for very low prices. I’m not talking about countries or continents where the prices are low due to the low cost of living. The agencies are under pressure and competing with platforms via which even students are offering their translation services for little money. On the one hand, I believe our colleagues have an obligation to persuade customers to accept reasonable prices using appropriate arguments. That is possible – I am speaking from experience. But there are many agencies as well that need to educate their customers about the complex process of translation. If all of the discounters in Germany priced their rolls at € 0.26, i.e. double the present price, they would still be cheaper than the rolls of “real” bakers, but the producer and his employees, suppliers, etc. would be happy. The key word here is fair working conditions. I always ask myself how it affects us when we see a T-shirt for € 2.99 in a shop. Doesn’t anyone think about that?

7. On this same topic, it seems that your opinions, even though they are similar to Kevin Hendzel’s and Chris Durban’s, for example, are sometimes criticized quite harshly by some people. Do you think people are more influenced by what “famous” translators say as compared to what we, for example, say? If so, why do you think that happens?

It’s not my ambition to become “famous”. And by the way, I don’t count myself among the “greatest women in translation”. Over the course of my career, I’ve been an employee, as a department manager in an executive position as well; I’ve also been an employer and I am an entrepreneur – in my heart I always have been, even when I was working at Michelin. Against the background of this comprehensive experience, I’d like to highlight a few subjects and problem areas, make people aware of options for optimization and provide a bit of support to young colleagues. Some of our colleagues forget that before you can optimize anything, you have to determine where progress can be made and how shortcomings can be rectified. Why do people attack me, even though I don’t do anything differently than Kevin and Chris? Several highly esteemed colleagues have asked me that recently. It’s certainly easier to throw punches at someone who’s within arm’s reach. 😉 I’m “close” to my colleagues, I’m accessible, and therefore attackable. Those who take a public stance have to expect that. I can live with it – my motto is “Strength lies within serenity”. In the end, my professional success shows that my strategy and my way of doing things can’t be wrong – which of course doesn’t mean that it’s the only way. Lots of different roads will take you where you want to go.

Criticism is important when it’s constructive. Discussions that bring together very different opinions and experiences are extremely interesting when they are conducted in a factual, objective manner. But there’s the rub: critical reactions are not always factual or objective – apparently some people (only a few – I’d like to emphasize that) think that in the virtual world of social media they can just chuck all of the basic principles of respectful interaction with one another out the window. That’s not my style.

But to be honest, I receive so much nice feedback, colleagues call me up and ask for advice or tell me about their success in implementing one of my suggestions, ask interesting questions… it’s wonderful! Whenever my work gives colleagues food for thought and helps them professionally, I’m happy. And that’s all that counts.

8. During the time you worked at Michelin, you also worked as a freelance translator and consultant in your spare time (in the evening, on holidays, weekends, etc.). What advice would you give someone who has a full-time job, but wants to become a freelancer? How can they make the most of their spare time to start their freelance work?

When I started working at Michelin as a German and French teacher for managers at the end of the 1980s, I didn’t earn very much, so I went looking for a second job. I taught at language schools and translated. And yes, I worked very long hours, but I must admit I’m a workaholic. To me, the word “work” does not mean an oppressive burden or stress, but rather passion and joy. I’ve no idea where this mindset came from.

During all the years at Michelin, I held other jobs on the side, and thus built up a solid customer base, pursued my specialty fields in-depth, talked to experts, developed a network, long before the term “networking” in its current form became a buzzword. You mustn’t forget that when I started out, there were no computers, no Internet, no e-mail, no mobile phones. Of course I had leisure time, weekends and vacations, but probably not to the extent of most of my colleagues. I don’t regret that at all – on the contrary. Thanks to all that hard work (and solely that hard work) I am now in a position in which I can lean back, to help my colleagues with tips and suggestions, to reduce my customer base (which consists only of direct customers), and to focus on personal projects like a planned foundation and my books, and I don’t have to worry about what comes after my active professional career.

You asked what I would recommend to our colleagues. I’d like to start by saying that there are simply too many people who become freelancers immediately after completing their studies or give up a salaried position without having any financial reserves. They then accept practically “every” job, even at low prices, work under great pressure and end up in a vicious circle because they don’t have the time to acquire better-paying customers. That’s not a good situation for anyone. I think it’s better when you prepare your entry into the world of self-employment from a secure position, i.e. from a salaried position. That doesn’t have to be in translation.

9. Now it’s your turn. Who, in your opinion, is one of the Greatest Women in Translation?

I could name several colleagues who do great work and successfully reconcile their family and professional lives. They have my full respect. I’d like to nominate our dear colleague Sabine Lammersdorf as one of the Greatest Women in Translation. She raised a son, developed her customer base, specialized in her fields and is pursuing a university degree “on the side” as well. Chapeau! Sabine and I share not only the love of our wonderful profession and our mindset in that regard, but a friendship as well and a pet project – the knowledge database “Wissenswinkel”. I could not possibly imagine a better partner for this project!

Now I feel a bit like I’m at the Oscars, but I’d like to thank you, dear Caroline, very warmly, for giving us Women in Translation a forum here, and Nicole Y. Adams for nominating me. I hold her work in high esteem. Thanks also go to my colleague Monique Simmer for putting my Franco-German thoughts into English. Without a doubt, she is also one of the “Greatest Women in Translation”, a genuine professional.

Thank you, Giselle, for kindly accepting Nicole’s nomination and my invitation to answer my questions for our interview! It was a pleasure connecting and getting to know you better.

Greatest Women in Translation: Nicole Y. Adams


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: Website:

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 ( 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.

Greatest Women in Translation: Sarah Dillon


Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

It’s with a great pleasure that I introduce you to our next interviewee, Sarah Dillon, who was nominated by Lucy.

Let’s hear it from her!

Welcome, Sarah!

Lauryn born 1986 is an accomplished

1. You are a wife and mom of a cute 3-year-old daughter. Some women entrepreneurs may struggle with the ability to balance working at home with their family responsibilities, especially if the children are around. How you keep your family close while also staying productive?

I do what every other working parent does: I get clear on my priorities, I narrow my focus and I do my best to work smart as well as hard, by making full use of whatever support systems I can create around me. Sometimes it works better than others.

2. What encouragement do you have for a woman with children at home who is thinking of starting a business and is feeling guilty, terrified, or completely inadequate?

Starting a business is an emotional rollercoaster, even for those who are relatively certain it’s the path they wish to take. It also involves varying degrees of risk. It’s not the right decision for everyone, nor is it always suited to every stage of life. So I think it pays to be at least reasonably secure in your decision before embarking on that journey.

What strikes me in this scenario is the degree of emotional turmoil this person is feeling around starting a business. Maybe this person is justified in feeling those things – who am I to say otherwise?

One way I test my decisions is by asking plenty of hard questions of myself. For starters, what makes me think doing this scary thing right now is going to bring me closer to achieving my goals? What, exactly, am I feeling bad about? Are there steps I can take to reduce the degree of risk to myself and my family?

Everyone who starts a business feels fear and inadequacy at times, and there’s certainly no perfect set of circumstances to take on such a challenge. But being the boss (like being a parent) means taking responsibility for managing yourself as well as your business. If that’s something that’s not happening very easily at the moment, that’s fine – but maybe that’s what needs addressing, before racing down the rabbit hole of business ownership.

I’m not sure I’m being encouraging in the traditional sense here, but I’d hope my perspective would be more useful than meaningless cheerleading! (That’s what Pinterest is for ;)).

3. On one of your videos on YouTube, you mentioned your career wouldn’t be where it is if it weren’t for blogging. Why do you think so? How do you think blogging can help translators?

I started blogging in 2005 and it was my introduction to the world of content marketing (although I’m pretty sure no-one was calling it that then!). I realise now that content marketing was the cornerstone of how I developed my business as a translator.

I also had an opportunity to build my content marketing muscles at eCPD Webinars in the early days as their marketing director, a role I loved. I’m pretty certain it will also be a mainstay of anything I do in the future 😉

As part of a wider marketing strategy, relevant, useful content published to a blog or indeed any other platform that gets noticed by your target audience makes huge sense for translators. But to give ourselves the best possible chance of success, it’s important to understand where we sit in the wider business ecosystem. We’re service providers, often speaking to other businesses (as opposed to direct consumers), and that means we can’t expect to behave in the same way that someone selling a product to a consumer might, for example. Luckily there’s lots of great examples online of those who have gone before us.

4. On your Instagram, you posted a picture of the book “Fluent in 3 Months: Tips and techniques to help you learn any language”, by Benny Lewis. Did you read it? Would you recommend it? If so, why? Could you also list any other books every small business women should have in their library?

Benny is a friend and a great guy. I’ve followed his journey over many years, and been completely inspired by the way he’s grown his business around his blog which is the most-read language learning blog in the world (Fluent in 3 Months).

I did read his book and picked up lots of great ideas for maintaining my source languages beyond the usual old “watch foreign movies” and “travel to the country” drivel you see everywhere else. Benny has some great methods for busting through excuses to just get things done, and he also addresses lots of language-learning myths that I often hear even translators and interpreters say. If you’re looking for a well-researched but accessible, practical read to give your dusty old translator brain a bit of a shake-up, then this is definitely it!

Other business books I’ve learned a lot from include Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port, Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra and Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson.

5. Still speaking of books, I understood you prefer paperback copies (me too!). Is there any particular reason why? Do you also read e-Books or do you really stick to the traditional print ones?

I like paper, certainly, but don’t necessarily prefer paperbacks. I don’t read a lot of ebooks currently but I do listen to a lot of audiobooks. That way, if it’s non-fiction, I can get through a lot of content very quickly, but if there’s a lot of juiciness in there and if I’m really enjoying it, I’ll order the paperback so I can do things like this:



I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like these days, but when I do, I still prefer audiobooks. They allow me to really relax, give my eyeballs a break and exercise a different part of my brain.

6. You are Irish and have lived in six different countries (Ireland, of course, France, Germany, Spain, UK and now Australia), but ended up living in Brisbane. Any particular reason related to your career made you choose Australia as your home? In your opinion, is Australia somehow a good place for freelancers and/or translators?

Coming to Brisbane 8 years ago was a decision made entirely for love! To be honest, career-wise, it was probably the worst possible decision for me at the time – the third-largest city in an English-speaking country, on the other side of the world from all my target markets, not known for the quality of its internet access, support of knowledge workers, or even language learning… But I like to keep life interesting, so they were all challenges I was willing to embrace 😉 And I haven’t left yet, so I guess that’s a good sign!

In short, no – Australia is not a great place for translators, and certainly not native English speaking ones. The market is small and tightly controlled, so unless you’re willing to work very, very hard to get and keep clients overseas, it’s an uphill battle to make a living on translation alone. What it means to be a translator here looks very different to what it means to be a translator in Europe, for example. Saying that, no translator anywhere has the perfect set of circumstances, so it’s about getting on with minimising the challenges that face you, and making the most of the opportunities you have going for you.

What I think Australia has lent to my career is a spirit of give-it-a-go entrepreneurship that may have been harder to tap into in a place where translation was a more well-worn option. It has also helped me hone my “outside-in” perspective on the industry, which I’ve found incredibly useful and I think will ultimately be the key to my career longevity.

Obviously, translators’ circumstances in Australia can differ depending on their language combinations and so on, so there may be those who disagree with me (they should feel free to comment, if so!), but that’s my opinion after 8 years of working and talking to lots of translators here.

7. You offer free Weekly Action Emails for those who subscribe on your website. Could you mention a couple of the most important instructions on how to grow our business beyond our own borders?

First of all, a clear overview of your business goals is essential, as is an understanding of your target buyer. This isn’t always easy when you’re deliberately trying to attract an audience in a country other than your own, but there are some simple things you can do to help you along the way.

For example, Google Analytics can provide some very useful information on who is already visiting your website from your target market. You can use that as a basis to determine what you’re doing right, and therefore what you need to do more of. Facebook also has a free feature that allows you to find a “lookalike” audience. This basically allows you to find similar sets of people in different countries, which you can learn a huge amount from and use as a basis for your marketing decisions.

Ultimately, as a service provider especially, growing your business beyond your domestic market is a lot like growing your business into any new segment: you need to set a few goals, try a few things, see what happens, and then adapt based on your results. And keep trying! You just need to be more deliberate in your actions and more conscious of the assumptions you’re making along the way.

8. Last, but not least, which role model do you nominate to be interviewed next as one of the Greatest Women in Translation?

I’m going to stay in Brisbane and nominate Nicole Adams of NYA Communications. The way Nicole manages her business and indeed herself has been a great source of inspiration to me over the past few years. Definitely role model material!

Thanks to Lucy for nominating me, and to you Caroline, for hosting the interview. It’s been fun ☺ Come visit us in Australia some time, we love showing translators how we do things Down Under!

Thank you, Sarah, for accepting Lucy’s nomination and my invitation to be interviewed by our blog. It was a real pleasure to host you here and lovely getting to know more about you.

Nicole Adams has also kindly accepted Sarah’s nomination and my invitation, so she will be our next interviewee in early October.

Now I’m off on vacation. Don’t worry, I’ve already scheduled our guest post for the 10th and I’ll be back in time for our monthly post on the 20th.

Have a great beginning of September! 🙂

You can already access Nicole’s interview here.

Greatest Women in Translation: Marta Stelmaszak


Hey, I hope you are excited as I am with the launch of this series! 😀

For those who missed it yesterday, I wrote a post telling all about the series. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out in order to understand how it works. 😉

Surprise, surprise! The first interviewee is Marta Stelmaszak. Some of you were indeed right on your guesses, so we probably share the same opinion. The reason I chose Marta is because she is one of my role models since my early days as a freelance translator, when I decided to dedicate part of my time to the internet as well, especially Twitter. I don’t remember how exactly I came across her, but she always inspired me, and still does. Her passion, professionalism and dedication to all her projects motivates and stimulates me to always be better and reach higher.

So let’s hear from her!

Welcome back, Marta!

marta stelmaszak

1. You are an incredibly diverse woman, Marta! You are a translator; you give speeches all around the world; you run a blog, a YouTube channel and your other social media channels; you and Valeria Aliperta run The Freelance Box; you are the Business School for Translators course tutor; you have just written a book — just to name a few! Tell us more about what you do and how you first got started.
I think you covered it quite well! Of course, I spend the most of my time translating and, more occasionally now, interpreting. Indeed, in the past few years I’ve been active on a variety of media, from my own YouTube channel (still out of my comfort zone) to publishing a book. It was all part of a plan to give back and pay forward. I’ve received some excellent advice throughout the years and I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without meeting and speaking to some of the most wonderful colleagues, often not in the limelight at all.
However, diversity and multi-passion approach has its price. It took me time to realize that I have to focus and concentrate and this explains why 2015 is the last year where you’ll see plenty of me. Part of being a responsible business owner is to decide what’s best for you and your business at any given time. I’ve already planned my last conference presentation for a while, and decided to scale down on my blog.
How did I get to this point? Since I first started, some 8 or 9 years ago, I’ve always been working at full pace, giving it 100%. I was a very determined student (I left my whole country behind to study translation in London – lots at stake, you see!), then a very determined business person (working against the odds) and I’ve always been striving to be a resourceful colleague.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Giving it 100% is the only way forward, but it’s important to make sure you give 100% of yourself to the right thing.

2. The impression I personally have is that your day has way more than 24 hours – or that you are a superwoman who can do magic with the time you have. How do you do that?
I’m no Hermione, I wish! I think it’s a mix of a couple of personal characteristics I’ve grown over time with careful business planning. I learned that time is the scarcest of all resources and I’m very disciplined by nature. Add some time-management tricks to this, like time boxing or backwards-planning and there you go, you’ll see that you can fit in more things than before.
To be fair, I do have a virtual assistant and I can’t imagine running my business without her. I think I get some 3-4 extra hours a day thanks to her dedication and hard work. I can definitely recommend having a VA to any freelancer. You’ll see how much time you can save by outsourcing non-core tasks.

3. Break down a typical working day for us.
Don’t judge me, but I do get up quite early. On a typical day in July, I’d get up around 4-4.30 and dedicate the first bit of the day to reading or studying. Then I go to the gym to be back before 8 am. I take about an hour to reply to emails and send proposals, do a bit of business development, prospecting, active marketing and reach out. I work from 9 to 4 or 5, depending on workload, with a lunch break in between. I often have meetings or events in the afternoon, so that requires a trip to central London. I use travel time to catch up with social media. If I don’t go anywhere, I spend this time blogging, writing, or doing other hobby-like bits. By the end of the day, I usually read or study. This year it’s Norwegian that’s keeping me busy at night.
All in all, I do go to bed early. It’s been a going joke at conferences: I’m a very bad conversation partner after 10 pm.

4. What is the biggest challenge you face on a day-to-day basis running your own business?
Finding balance. I think it’s extremely easy to go overboard as a freelancer and just work all the time. All work no play makes Marta… you know how the saying goes. Working 12, 14 or 16 hours a day should never be the norm, but it’s just all too tempting if you’re doing it for your own business. Saying no, saying stop, saying enough – this is the biggest challenge.

5. Besides your computer and the internet, what could you never, ever, in a million years run your business without?Purpose. There’ve been so many occasions where I’ve been that close to thinking that it would just be so much easier to find a job and let all worries and insecurities and problems go. But the feeling of purpose is what keeps me going. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it and I can’t imagine running my business without having a clear idea of my mission. Purpose is the thing that keeps you going though the hardships and you need it even more than wifi.

6. You usually like to ask “Why do you translate?” to translators in your presentations. Now I’m the one who ask you,“Why do you do what you do?”
I’ve always liked riddles, quizzes and puzzle. I learned English doing crosswords and reading Agatha Christie. My passion for problem solving in business made me do a whole degree in it (“to learn the causes of things”, that is). Enigma has always inspired me (not only because it was “solved” by a team of Polish mathematicians).
Recently, I read a thought somewhere on Twitter that perfectly captured why I do what I do: translation is a problem-solving exercise. Every word, every phrase, every sentence gives me the chill of a puzzle, of a quiz or a problem that needs solving – here, now and only I can do it. Translation makes me feel a bit like a language detective, investigating all possible solutions, looking up traces in books and dictionaries, checking linguistic fingerprints here and there. And when the case is solved, the next one is right there on my desk.

7. As I have already said, you were and still are my role model in translation. You are a great inspiration! Now who has influenced you the most?
Thank you, it really is an honour! Without the slightest doubt I can say that every colleague I’ve ever interacted with has left a mark. Every person has taught me something. But there are three role models in my life that have influenced me the most and really contributed to career-changing moments. I’ll let you guess based on short descriptions.
First, it’s my lecturer from my BA degree who has taught me the basics of professional translation and also – maybe even more importantly – humbleness when working with language.
Second, it’s someone I’ve been working closely with and who actually came up with the idea of creating the Business School for Translators course. It was – and still is – one of the best things I’ve done in my life and I wouldn’t be here without this person’s contribution.
Third – don’t laugh – is a translation scholar. I’ve been really influenced by her books and research and I wish I can meet her in person one day. She’s a German translator and in 2008, she’s been named Profesora Honoraria da Facultade de Filoloxía e Tradución, Universidade de Vigo.
You have all the tips you need to find out who they are!

8. Lastly, nominate an amazing woman in translation who you think should beinterviewed in our series.
Now, this is a puzzle to solve for you, Caroline! I nominate woman number 2 from my previous answer.

I got two of them wrong and one right. Marta gave the fun idea of letting you guess as well. Do you have any idea who her role models are and who she nominates as the next interviewee (I’ve already talked to the person and s/he accepted it)? Let the guesses begin.

Marta has also written a guest post for us a while ago: Freelance translator as a sole breadwinner: opportunities and challenges.

Here’s the link to the second interview.

Who run the world? Girls!

New month, new editorial calendar, new series… Great times are coming indeed!

The time has come to disclose our new editorial calendar with the special feature of our brand new interview series: Greatest Women in Translation.

So here it is:

Editorial calendar

On the 1st of every month, we’ll have the brand new interview series, starting tomorrow. On the 10th of every month, we’ll keep having guests writing about diverse and interesting topics on translation (our next guest will be Tess Whitty, from the Marketing Tips for Translators podcast). And on the 20th, we’ll keep having our now monthly posts (previously weekly), written by yours truly, Carol. 😉

If any of those days falls on a holiday or on the weekend, I may anticipate for the previous day or postpone it for the next day.

Since the interview series is new, I’ll explain how it will work.


The idea is to feature women translators who are someone’s role model because they inspire and motivate us to reach higher and be better. Since this is a very personal opinion, my role model may not be yours, I’ll let the interviewees themselves choose the subsequent translator to be featured on the series. At the end of the day, we’ll have a group of professionals who are among the greatest women in translation. And I say “among” because the world is pretty large and it would be impossible to feature all the amazing translators who inspire and who are great role models out there.

That being said, tomorrow, the first interviewee will be someone who inspired me, since the beginning of my career, and who keeps being my inspiration. However, I won’t say another word, because it’s still a surprise.

The questions won’t be the same for every interviewee. I’ll try to make them as personal as possible, so we can have a customized interview. If you have any suggestions of questions or if there’s something you’d like to know about a translator, please let me know. I’m open to suggestions.

Last but not least, the hashtag of the series is #gr8testwomenxl8. So feel free to use it whenever you like.

“See” you tomorrow!

P.S.: June is the blog’s 2-year birthday. Stay tuned because there will be something to celebrate soon. 😉