On Being Wrong

On March 2nd, 2017, I decided to be wrong.

More concretely, I decided to give up being right for Lent. I was motivated by several different things, both abstract and pragmatic. There was my frustration with what I see as a potentially fatal barrier to productive discourse in American society today—widespread self-righteousness—and my desire to change it. There was my interest in how philosophical concepts like self-doubt and self-righteousness interact with religion. And there was my identity as a translator.

Wait, you may be thinking, what does being a translator have to do with any of this?

Well, I’m glad you asked! This is a translation blog, after all. And my view is that a healthy, consciously wielded self-doubt sits squarely at the heart of the translator’s best practices.

TheDetailWoman tweet from 4:26 PM - 4 Mar 2017.

Less than a year after I turned translation from my hobby into my profession, I was put in charge of reviewing other anime translators’ work. I was so young—just 23!—and so unestablished that this was a pretty shocking development. I mean, I knew translation was the career for me, but I didn’t think I’d already achieved unparalleled genius in the field or anything. I’m sure that if any of the people whose work I was correcting back then learned my age, they were quite shocked too, if not actively offended.

As it turned out, the fact that I didn’t think I’d achieved genius is exactly what made me a good reviewer. In the beginning, when I looked at a translation of anything more complex than sentences like “Please” and “Thank you,” I’d try to verify, because I didn’t trust my own authority over the other translators’ in any inherent way. I looked up words. I looked up all the words, including the words I already knew. I reread my grammar books to make sure I wasn’t misremembering obscure usages. I asked my mentor when I wasn’t sure I’d figured something out correctly. And I rapidly discovered that this is exactly what the people whose work I reviewed weren’t doing, and therefore the work was riddled with errors. And so I learned that the self-doubt I felt wasn’t just “beginner’s jitters” that more time in the career should alleviate. Instead, it was the most powerful tool a translator can have at her disposal. When we know how easily we can be wrong, we take the steps to try to be less wrong. It might take a few days of bravery to really internalize that you’re constantly teetering on the edge of wrongness, but once you get there, it’s not only empowering: it’s an enormous relief.

You can’t be both a good translator and a self-righteous translator. It’s just not a thing.

Human fallibility, on the other hand, is definitely a thing.

So in the last couple of years, as I’ve seen self-righteousness overcome more and more of society in our religious, political, and social conversations and realized how little we are willing to listen to each other from that place of “healthy, consciously wielded self-doubt” so that we can truly understand and solve problems, the more I’ve thought that this wrongness principle should apply outside of translation. It should apply to our lives across the board: humans are fallible, which means we could be wrong in our convictions at any time. My premise, then, at the beginning of my Lenten experiment was, “You can’t really see the truth about anything until you acknowledge that you might not have looked at it properly yet.”

self-righteous. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/self-righteous

self-righteous. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved May 5, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/self-righteous


Since I want to see everyone practice this, I started by trying to practice it myself. I wrote several friends-only follow-ups on Facebook throughout Lent, and promised to write up my notes on the whole experience at the end… which is what I’m doing now.

So, how did it go and what did I learn?

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Tech Tip: Changing the Commenter Name for Comments You Already Made

Many of us translators work with clients who have very specific privacy requirements. If we don’t start our projects exactly right for those requirements, it can be quite time-consuming to fix everything individually later. But I’m happy to report that I’ve found a great solution for changing commenter names, so I’d like to share it for anyone who may have encountered the same thing.

I have one client who requires translators to leave comments in various situations, but the comments in Microsoft Word must be labeled “Author” (instead of my name) with initial “A” (instead of my initial). This is no problem if Word is set up that way before I start, but what if forget to check that, I do the whole assignment in memoQ or another TEnT, and then discover only when I export the document that it has my name in all the comments instead of the anonymous “Author”?

I could delete all personal data from the document, which would make all the comments labeled “Author,” but this would also delete document properties saved by the original author whose work I’m translating. That shouldn’t be done without asking the client first. So, do I have to manually replace all of those comments?

Happily, no! Allen Wyatt has a macro which allows you to change just your name and initial in the comments. Here’s the link:


Happy comment editing!

“Leveling Up” Presentation PDF

Thank you to all the attendees who came to my “Leveling Up” presentation at IJET-27! You were a great audience, and I loved hearing your comments afterward. As promised, here is the PDF of my PowerPoint slides.

If you attended and you have suggestions for how I could improve the session, please feel free to comment or drop me a line.

If you weren’t able to make it to this weekend’s IJET in Sendai, you can catch the Level 2 version of this presentation at ATA57 in San Francisco. The specific examples will still be in Japanese, but I’ll be presenting in English, and about 80% of the content will apply to practitioners in all language pairs. The ATA version be 15 minutes shorter, but I promise I’ll try not to talk any faster. ^_~

FAQ #5: How Did You Get Your First Translation Job?

A lot of aspiring translators email me and ask me, “How did you get your start in translation?” or “How did you get your first translation job?”

It’s a smart question to ask. I’m sure they’re hoping the answer will give them a hint for getting their own start as translators, and with someone else, that might be true. But I’m afraid that my answer is just about the least useful one you’ll ever hear!

Nonetheless, to satisfy this curiosity if nothing else, I give you…

The Tale of the Accidental Translator

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ATA56: Getting the Most out of Miami

This year’s American Translators Association conference starts tomorrow!

If you’re going, I hope to see you there. I’ll be recruiting translators working to and/or from Japanese, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and more. So if you work in one of these languages, please do say hi!

Here are some last-minute tips for how you can get the most out of your conference experience:

  • Check out ATA President-Elect David Rumsey’s Top 5 Tips for Preparing for ATA’s Annual Conference. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t done #1 yet–perhaps you can do it on the airplane! And even if not, the tips about being brave and reaching out are great.
  • Be respectful at the Resume Exchange. This will be my third year recruiting there, and I’m still longing for that magical year when all freelancers are respectful of the recruiters. Each year, there are a few freelancers who almost assault me with their resumes, or who try to monopolize my time even after we’ve established that they don’t have the qualifications I’m looking for at the moment. This actually reduces my chances of hiring them, because I perceive them as not respecting my needs. Keep your pitch brief if you think you may not be a match! Please understand that your recruiters are stressed out, because they need to speak with as many translators as possible in a very short amount of time, and if you try to monopolize their time when you don’t have what they’re looking for, they’ll remember you for the wrong reasons. If you keep it brief, though, and say “Well, I don’t have the experience your looking for, but may I give you my resume in case you have different needs in the future?” then I am happy to accept, and you may very well get a call from me if I do have those needs. See ATA Conference Notes from a Buyer’s Perspective for more information.
  • Don’t be afraid to skip a session if you’re feeling overwhelmed. I usually end up skipping one or two of the session time slots over the course of the weekend. There are sessions I planned to attend, but end up skipping just because I’m tired and need a change of pace. That’s okay! Maybe you need a nap, or a quiet sit somewhere, or want to chat with someone. Don’t worry about it. Recharge so that you’ll be alert for the next session.
  • Kick back and have fun! You’ll meet some very interesting people this week, so don’t let yourself get stressed out by your to-do list. Enjoy!

FAQ #4: What Should I Major In?

“What should I major in?”

This is definitely the #1 most frequent question I get asked by young aspiring translators, so the only reason it wasn’t #1 in my FAQ series is that I’ve always resisted answering it. Why have I resisted answering it? The short answer is that I have no answer–I don’t know what you should major in!

The long answer is that there are all kinds of pros & cons to different majors, and lots of different ways of looking at this decision. After another recent flood of emails about it, I think it’s finally time for me to attempt the long answer. Aspiring translators, I hope this helps. Existing translators, please feel free to add your own thoughts (or refute mine)!

Here we go…

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memoQ Light Resources, and a Freebie

Apologies for the delay in the next installment of the emergency series–I have not forgotten about it, I promise! It just turns out tech-related emergency planning takes a lot of research. But, speaking of technology and emergencies, here’s a Tech Emergency Quickie for memoQ users!

Do you have all your term bases and all the little hacks to your TEnT tools/CAT tools backed up? (And your invoices? See Backing Up Your Records in TO3000 Version 10; the first half of that post also applies to Version 11.) I’ve gotten pretty good about backups, but there are always a few little things that I miss for my memoQ setup. Term bases? Check. TMs? Check. Light resources? …Well, shoot, I didn’t think of that!

Luckily, others can learn from my mistakes. If you, too, hate having to figure out complicated “memoQ Web Search” settings and whatnot for each new computer, read on. These are more complicated to back up than you might think, but it can be done!

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Life Happens

I’d planned to end the week with a tiny update of miscellanea on emergency planning. I’m still doing that, but originally it was going to be upbeat, and it hasn’t quite turned out that way. Still, here’s your emergency planning quickie:

1. And lo, planning works!

Almost a year ago, I had a hard drive fail on me that left me without a computer for a day or two. Luckily, I was not mid- freelance assignment, and the awesome IT department at my workplace helped me out with the full-time assignment! Still, it left me realizing I needed to plan for catastrophic computer failure. What if this had happened on the due date of a freelance assignment? So, I immediately ordered a relatively inexpensive, non-customized backup laptop, which later became my main laptop for non-video use. I installed a new hard drive in the old laptop with help from IT, and I resolved to keep BOTH laptops up and running, just in case.

At the beginning of the week, Main Laptop’s screen failed! Luckily it was under warranty, so the fix is free, but it will still take a week. Am I freaking out? Nope. Thanks to having a second laptop that I’ve kept most of the same programs and templates on, when a client came along with a $750 job, I was able to accept with no problems. Yay planning!

2. Life happens. (Also, here’s a PayPal tip.)

Like I said at the beginning of this series, emergencies can and will happen to anyone at any time. This morning, I got the call that an emergency is happening, and I need to get my butt on a plane tomorrow morning. I think many of us have been there. So yep, this isn’t just something I blog about. It’s all real!

Also, here’s a fun fact about plane tickets: American Airlines will now let you buy tickets via PayPal if you buy through their site. This is important because if you have PayPal Credit added to your PayPal account, purchases above a certain price generally have suspended interest for six months (check at time of purchase). So as long as you’re responsible and keep track of how much you’ve paid each moth, you can pay for that expensive ticket in installments instead of all at once. Which, in cases of emergency, is pretty awesome.

3. A timely video.

Remember how last time I was talking about finding a trusted colleague for emergency backup? That would sure be useful right now for this $750 project that’s getting interrupted by my second emergency of the week. I think I’ll still be able to finish it, but this is a good reminder to me of why having trusted colleagues is so smart. And here’s a video Corinne just posted on exactly that. Go check it out!

Emergency Business Planning: Illness & Injury

In my first post about emergency business planning, I asked the question, “What can go wrong?” That was a little terrifying, but now for the good news: Once we know what can go wrong, we’re ready to start strategizing!

You will probably have noticed that some disasters I listed on the “What could go wrong?” list were qualitatively different than others. #4 in particular is in a category of its own: “I could become sick or injured.”

Hopefully none of us will spend too much of our time so ill that we can’t work, but both short- and long-term illness/injury can happen to anyone, of any age. So we need to prepare for this. We don’t want short-term health problems to impact our client relationships, and we don’t want long-term ones to tank our businesses!

In preparing for this piece, I put together my own knowledge, my research, and notes from an interview with a friend who has unfortunately encountered this particular emergency. Here’s what I came up with:

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