Happy 2015! Do You Have an Emergency Business Plan?

Happy New Year! Yes, it’s January, that month when many of us think about what we want our lives to be like. We ask ourselves, Do I need to lose weight? Do I want to quit a bad habit? What do I want to accomplish most? We all know the “resolutions” drill.

But if you’re a freelancer or you run a business, there’s an urgent question that you may not be asking: Do I have an emergency plan for my business?

Any month is a good month to safeguard your business, but I’ve decided to devote this January to blogging about my emergency-preparedness plan for my translation business. Today’s post is all about the first step: admitting that eventually, there’s going to be a problem.

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“Pictures and Sound” Presentation Slides

As many of you know, last month, I gave a presentation at the 55th annual American Translators Association conference called “Pictures and Sound: Translating Television and Other Audiovisual Media.”

After the presentation, a few attendees asked me for copies of the slides. At the time I replied that I had no plans to release them, due to the fact that they contained video clips which I had copyright concerns about distributing.

However, I’ve now decided to release a PDF version of the slides, so that no video will be distributed but you can still see some of my notes, including parts of the presentation that I did not have time to get to. Just click here: ATA55prezi.

This is my work, so please do not distribute this PDF, but feel free to give anyone who might be interested the link to this blog post.

Thank you to all who attended the session, and especially to those who’ve reached out to me since then to share your thoughts about it! When I heard from two people that it was their favorite presentation of the conference, it made my year. :)

FAQ #3 Followup–Another Perspective on Translator Education

In my previous post, FAQ #3: Did Your Bryn Mawr Education Prepare You For Your Career?, I discussed how a liberal arts education prepared me for a career as a translator.

My colleague Frode Aleksandersen, an English/Danish/Swedish/Japanese to Norwegian translator who specializes in technical translation, checked in with me afterwards to offer a contrasting perspective. Since my FAQ series is intended to answer questions that aspiring translators ask me, I feel it’s helpful to present multiple sides to these issues. Happily, Frode’s given me his permission to share his thoughts with everyone.

Here’s what he has to say:

“How much [a liberal arts education] helps depends on what kind of translation you’re going to be doing I think – I do mostly technical translations, and having an IT background has been invaluable for getting into that fast, whereas the subjects I took at the university in Oslo [have had] zero impact on it. Being an expert in the fields you’re going to be translating is what really matters. I think the only thing that had an influence is that I audited (didn’t have time to do the homework or take the exam) a class in translation theory, while already working as a professional translator. It got me thinking a bit more about things such as “who is the customer”, and also being able to explain different types of translation to other people, even though I don’t actually do those kinds of translations.

For translation of popular media such as books, manga and TV I completely agree that you need a very solid background in both the culture and history you’re translating from and to. Knowing a little about a lot of things also helps, but you do get a part of that simply from working on translations and researching different things as a result. Most important is knowing how and where to look.”

My take on this? Like Frode says, subject expertise really matters. And having research skills–“knowing how and where to look”–is certainly the most important thing. It’ll make or break you, both in translation and in life. But you’re not born knowing how to research; it’s a skill that most of us need to specifically learn (see “Research, research, research” on the So, You Want To Be A Translator? page).  I’ve argued that you can acquire it very well through a liberal arts education, but the route you acquire it through is not what’s most important. What’s most important is that you acquire it.

FAQ #3: Did Your Bryn Mawr Education Prepare You For Your Career?

Another FAQ!

Much as I love my alma mater, the question “Did your Bryn Mawr education prepare you for your career?” is, I think, actually a bigger one: “Did your liberal arts education prepare you for your career?” Because Bryn Mawr is a liberal arts school, and I think the practical usefulness of the liberal arts is what people are really getting at here.

The short answer: yep, it did.

The long answer: Here’s what a liberal arts education is, and why it’s useful to a translator’s career even though it’s by definition not career-specific.

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Pictures and Sound: Audiovisual Terminology

Click to learn more about the ATA Annual Conference!

Tomorrow November 8th, I’ll be presenting my first-ever American Translators Association conference session. If you’ve ever wondered what translating audiovisual content is all about, come join me for session T-10: “Pictures and Sound: Translating Television and Other Audiovisual Media” from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

So that attendees don’t have to give themselves hand cramps scribbling down new vocab or carry around yet another sheet of paper, I want to make a short list of the medium-specific terminology I use here. Please enjoy!

  • Dubbing/ADR吹き替え – Recording over a source for which audio has already been recorded, but is unusable or in another language.
  • Recording – アフレコ – Though the Japanese comes from “after recording,” this is recording voices for the first time to a video source (think cartoons in their original language).
  • Lip flaps (or “flaps” for short) – 口パク – The movements of the characters’ mouths onscreen. This term is mainly for animated video.
  • Subtitles – 字幕 (**Caution: サブタイトル in Japanese often refers to an episode title in a TV series or the secondary title/”sub-title” of a work.)
  • Script/screenplay – 台本/脚本 – We’ll be talking lots more about this in the presentation!
  • Dialogue/lines – 台詞
  • Licensor – English term for the rights holder of the TV or film. Licensors license distribution rights to other companies.
  • Licensee/distributor – The entity to which the licensor grants rights to distribute the film.

I look forward to meeting many of you. And if you translate from Japanese, Korean, or Chinese into any other language, don’t forget to bring your business cards!

A Personal Appeal to My Fellow Americans

It’s voting season right now in the United States–a fact you’ve probably been unable to escape if you live here. Next week we’ll have local, state, and federal midterm elections, and we’ll even have elections in the American Translators Association.

This blog isn’t about politics. I don’t actually want to talk about the people running in any of those elections right now, so don’t worry. But since some things are so universally important that they deserve a personal appeal, I want to get personal for a second here, and I want to do so publicly. Here’s the thing: every day now we hear the words “vote,” “voting,” “voters.” These are big words for me personally, because in 2006, I had the vote taken away from me.

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memoQ & OmegaT Shortcut Unification

Like a lot of translators, I use more than one CAT tool (TEnT tool) in my work, deciding which one to use based on the type of project I’m translating. In my case, it’s memoQ and OmegaT.

I don’t know about other translation tool combinations, but the one thing that drives me CRAZY switching between these two is that the important shortcuts are completely different. But after some digging around and experimentation, I have achieved shortcut paradise.

All I wanted was for the “go to next untranslated segment” and the “add term to glossary/term base” shortcuts to match so that I wouldn’t keep using the wrong one in the wrong program, but memoQ only allows certain shortcut customizations, so I couldn’t get its shortcuts to match OmegaT’s. Happily, if you’re willing to venture into the bowels of your file system, you can get your OmegaT shortcuts to match memoQ’s. Here’s how.

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Guest Post: What Exactly Is Literary Translation? by Lisa Carter

At the ATA‘s 54th Annual Conference in San Antonio last fall, I had a chance to chat with Lisa Carter of Intralingo, one of my favorite blogs on literary translation. One thing led to another, and we got to thinking about how everyone probably defines “literary translation” differently. Lisa tackles the question of “What is literary translation?” in her online course First Steps in Literary Translation, and I tackle it whenever people wander into my office asking “What do you do in here, anyway?”

So hey–why not each have a go at it and let our readers share their thoughts, too? And lo, a guest post exchange was born. Please welcome acclaimed Spanish>English translator Lisa Carter as she gives us her take! (You can see mine on her blog at http://intralingo.com/what-is-literary-translation/.)


What exactly is literary translation?

By Lisa Carter


Have you ever asked yourself this question? I have. And I’ve asked it of others, too. Quite often. The answer to this one simple question is never as straightforward as it would seem it should be. You see, the answer changes, depending on who you talk to and when you talk to them.

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Word Usage Quiz for Writers #2

It’s baaaaack… Following up on my first quiz on commonly confused words, here is a second set of ten word-pair errors I see during proofreading. As always, the theory is that even if you already know the difference between the words in each pair, practice making deliberate choices may help prevent mistakes in the future.

New for this quiz: by reader request, you can now see the link to more information when you answer correctly too, instead of only seeing it if you answer incorrectly.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  


Note: If you’re concerned that I’ll be able to see your answers, don’t be! I turned off that functionality. The only way your score will be published is if you choose to click one of the share buttons next to your score, and even then the info will not be stored on this site.

If you have any trouble with the quiz functionality, let me know!

Setting Boundaries with Freelance Clients

I’ve read a lot of excellent posts from my fellow freelancers talking about setting boundaries with clients: establishing what type of deadline is okay and what price you’re willing to work for, or even establishing when you will be available via email throughout the day (I could swear I remember Corinne McKay giving that advice, but I can’t find it just now, so apologies if I am misattributing!). Like most of us, I sometimes have trouble saying “no” to either the client or myself, so it’s always great advice to hear.

I’d add one more type of boundary that’s helpful for freelancers: boundaries concerning the source content. I recently set a boundary with a prospective agency client that felt really good to me. The agency contact and I talked price and workload, and it was all going very smoothly, but he mentioned that sometimes his company was pitched content with “adult themes.”

Now, all of you who’ve been in the entertainment biz in the US–and also most of you who haven’t–know that the phrase “adult themes” is code for “nudity and/or sexual content.” Most of us TV/film staff have worked with it on and off since day one, and it’s just part of the job. But there is one variation on this theme that I am extremely uncomfortable with, and that’s the sexualization of children. I decided to be very upfront and honest with my new client and simply say that while I’m happy to work on most projects, I may not be able to accept a job if it sexualizes children.

Of course the client understood my position perfectly! There really aren’t many people who don’t understand that particular discomfort, so it’s certainly not a conversation to be afraid of. But all the same, sometimes in my first conversation with a prospective client, I feel hesitant to bring up content-related concerns that might not be immediately relevant. So for anyone out there who also hesitates to set content-related boundaries early, I just want you to know that coming to this understanding so quickly put a smile on my face for the rest of the morning. I highly recommend it!

Encouraging food for thought:

  • Your client will probably understand and respect your position. And even if they don’t understand it, they’ll probably still respect it.
  • If your client doesn’t respect your position, you probably don’t want that client anyway, so best to know that now!
  • If you don’t set a boundary right from the beginning, you don’t get to set it until your client unknowingly tries to cross it. That will be super awkward and you will feel worse! If you do it now, neither you nor your client have to have that awkward conversation later.
  • If you set the boundary right away, and someone later offers you a job that crosses the line, you won’t have to explain yourself again. You can just say, “Thank you very much for the offer. As I mentioned when we began working together, my policy is not to do assignments which sexualize children [or whatever].” Perfectly professional, and not embarrassing at all.
  • Setting the boundary up front is a huge mood boost and instantly makes you feel good about your future relationship the client when they respect it. Stating even your very simplest needs and feeling they will be met is a big deal in all areas of life.

One last thing–It’s good to keep in mind that when any project manager offers you a job with uncomfortable content (while of course you’re not psychic and you don’t know what they’re thinking), there’s a good chance that they are uncomfortable about it too. The difference is that unlike you, they may not be allowed to tell you how uncomfortable they feel about the content. Frankly, they may not even know what the content actually is–maybe this sounds incredible, but it’s true! Project managers don’t have time to watch every single piece of content they assign before translation, so there will usually be at least a few scenes in the middle of things that they have never seen, and if it’s a TV show, obviously they can’t watch the episodes that haven’t been made yet. So if they assign you something that crosses one of your boundaries, maybe they’re trying to test those boundaries, but it is just as likely that aren’t trying to test you at all–they just didn’t realize that content was there!

So, try not to fall into the trap of assuming things about either their position or how they might feel about your position. Just say what you need to say as professionally, calmly, and non-judgmentally as possible.

And finally, try not to be too judgmental of yourself, either. If you accept a project and then it turns into something other than what you thought it was, that happens. It really does happen to everyone. You may decide that you started the project and you’ll see it through to the end, even though if you’d known what it was up front you would have said no. Maybe you’ll find yourself evaluating what to do based on whether the line crossed is a moral one or a “this is creepy and I don’t like it” one, and ask to stop the project if it’s a moral line. Maybe you’ll realize it’s your own fault that you’re in this mess–you didn’t fully evaluate the project before agreeing to it–and therefore you’re obligated to finish it no matter what. Maybe you’ll realize there’s no way you could have known. Maybe your contract is such that it doesn’t matter either way; you simply have to finish it. Every person and project are different, but as you’re working out what to do next, remember: you didn’t know. You didn’t sit down one day and think, “Today, I will sexualize children [or whatever].” That is not the decision you made, so don’t blame yourself for it. Just do what you have to do with this project, and then use what you’ve learned to handle these issues better next time.