A reputational story

Introduction

Companies are concerned about their image, their brand, their standing. It’s nothing new. Old problems with new words. What was described as affecting the reputation and the good name of a company is not adjectivized as reputational.

If a company enjoys a place of high esteem among its peers and in the community, domestically and internationally, then that good name becomes valuable and acquires a monetary value. It is then used as currency to extend its influence, increase its market share and cement its reputation.

Translators and translation agencies have depended on name dropping (“IBM is one of our customers”) and certifications (“Member of ASETRAD” or “ATA-certified translator”) to preestablish their status and foster trust. Testimonials started to appear in the late 90s on company websites as well as on individual translator’s webpages. The problem I always saw with those testimonials was their anonymized nature. Here’s a current example:

Straker translations testimonials

First names, or initials, with no company affiliation. Hm, does that approach foster trust? Some fabricated reviews at websites such as Amazon created a bit of an uproar a few years back, what we would call escandalete in Spanish or furore in British English (or Italian). Compare this with an exemplary use of testimonials below:

Advanced language translations testimonials

The company Advanced Language Translations is using testimonials the way I think they should be used: who said what about your company. The downside? Testimonials may have a short shelf life because project managers, localization managers, purchasing staff and others in similar positions come and go. The main advantage of a testimonial is its focus when it is properly written. Keen eyes may have also noticed that none of the testimonials refer to competitive pricing or low rates but to “reasonable cost” and “on budget.” As a translator myself, I would love to work on one of their projects!

Reputation and references

Speaking of working for a company as a translator, I recently had a telephone interview with a headhunting agency for an 8-week project involving technical writing and Spanish translation (two of my specialty activities). I was required to provide two professional references, as the best practice in these interviews go. I keep a list of at least six, so I provided two of them within minutes. I was promised to get a call back that afternoon.

The phone rang as anticipated and the interviewer thanked me for the references, but made some comments about one of them, saying that they couldn’t use it because my reference wouldn’t divulge what kind of projects I had taken part in. Then, I offered other references, which I emailed immediately. Coincidentally, the person who turned out not to be an adequate reference for this job called me to tell me about his experience. This is a personal friend and a long-time client, mind you. His reason for not giving particulars to the interviewer? He considered the details of his projects to be confidential and he left the impression that he was a competitor of the interviewer’s company.

Although he gave the interviewer very positive comments on my professionalism and dependability, his earnest and strict approach to giving detailes as requested by the interviewer backfired. I did not get the job. The moral of the story for me: be selective about which references to offer for a particular job. Did my reputation suffer? I think not, since the headhunting agency was working for the actual customer and is contractually bound to find the most adept candidate for the project, not for themselves.

Branding the profession

Translators and translation agencies earn and lose customers by word of mouth, directly and indirectly, all the time. This does not necessarily mean that a particular translator or agency is incompetent or a poor provider, but that their fees or rates are outside the budgetary boundaries of a customer, or that the customer used other economic or social criteria to choose a different vendor (“Our new translator is easier to work with”). Due to the globalizing nature of the Internet and its tools, market encroachment, client poaching and the downward pressure on services fees have given reputation a sometimes undesirable fluidity.

This impermanent state of affairs has taken some old hands by surprise: accustomed to decent pre-Internet translation rates, they complain and lament the way clients come and go looking for the most competitive rates. And this is happening regardless of the translation provider’s solid reputation. What a translation company or a translator has invested decades in developing, their good name and good professional standing no longer seems to hold the same reputational value. Seasoned translators in developed countries such as Great Britain, France and the United States have groaned in hushed whispers, then in loud complaints, about the influx of so-called cheap providers from developing countries, as if there is some conspiracy behind them to undercut their market share and, of course, their reputation. If a customer prefers a Spanish translator living in China over another living in Spain, what’s the point in cultivating your good name?

Among the answers given to this dilemma by translation associations and so-called language consultants, I have seen an increase in presentations, webinars, brochures and similar vehicles to help translators and similar providers with marketing their services better and, lately in the first years of the 21st century, with branding their services. As an example, the American Translators Association’s conferences have held an increasing number of marketing sessions. Based on a visual assessment of ATA’s past conferences, we have the following:

ATA sessions for indep contractors over 14 years

In the span of 14 years, we see a dramatic increase in sessions targeting independent contractors (individual translators and interpreters) to educate them on the use of sales, marketing, branding and business techniques and tools. This development shows two things in my mind: a) an increased preoccupation on better ways to sell translation services and b) the transformation of ATA conferences from an educational event to a marketing one.

Of course, I agree that translators should cultivate a good professional name in order to optimize their word-of-mouth approach to finding and retaining customers. In my experience, customers worth retaining prefer a reliable service, a personal touch and negotiation skills to find a reasonable price worth paying. In the field of professional reliability, I’ve been intrigued by other online tools that might be of service to a translator or translation company.

The branding aspect works best with companies than with individuals. A brand is usually tied to a logo, a slogan and a single word to convey a positive image. Take IBM’s Think, for example. An individual translator or interpreter (or similar professional) would do better in creating and maintaining a good name or good reputation, however, as the branding approach is kind of silly and oversized. A translator who is too concerned about her brand risks projecting an unfocused view, a pretentiously sized corporate image that isn’t really there, just as the “We” statements in individual websites.

Separate but successful business endeavors

During the summer of 2015, when work volume was low, I started to sell items on eBay: electronics, audio equipment and other second-hand items, such as vinyl records. Selling successfully on eBay is mostly a matter of personal image: how fast you ship and how accurate is your description of the item being offered for auction or sale; in short, what good your word of honor is. Consequently, good eBay sellers take very good care of their reputation by fostering a climate of trust that will engender good reviews and addressing any problems with the customer as they arise.

I started to think about the reputational and economic value of my eBay reviews when I read the following from a recent buyer:eBay positive review

This positive feedback surely feeds one’s ego, but there are many potential buyers who read these reviews in order to guide their purchasing decisions. Would then it be appropriate to route potential translation customers to my eBay feedback page? From a business standpoint, I don’t see why not.

Conclusion

For individual translators, professional and personal references are still being used, along with a CV or resumé and sometimes a cover letter, to assess a candidate for a job or project. Although websites and directories are being consulted to find competent translators, they are just a couple of several components in an effective business strategy to find and retain customers by word of mouth and good reputation. Branding and marketing listicles are gimmicks that only benefit the consultant who offers them. Not all social media are amenable to foster trust or a good name, but try them you must in order to find for yourself —not by others’ opinions— whether these are tools worth using. In my long experience as a translator, a good reputation is built every time a project is delivered to specs or beyond expectations, every time I exchange polite and on-point communications, every single time I telephone a customer who is frustrated or who needs to discuss a delicate aspect of a project. No fancy website and no extensive blog nor Facebook posting can do that.

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Filed under Brand awareness, Branding, Customer relationship, Customers, Marketing, Negotiations, Reputation, Selection of language providers, The business of translation

Safely disposing of confidential media

You’re familiar with confidential agreements asking for the return, disposal or destruction of confidential information belonging to the client. This information may be found in electronic files, paper files, emails, graphics, and media such as USB drives, CDs and DVDs. Getting rid of paper confidential material is pretty easy: you shred it. I use a crosscut paper shredder, the Black & Decker BD-890A. That way, every page and scrap of paper gets reduced to mulch.

But, what to do with DVDs or CDs containing client files? There are a few options for our peace of mind:

  1. Chuck them in the trash
  2. Shred them in a special shredder (which is more expensive)shredder
  3. Scratch the silvery side of each disk with a knife to make it unreadable
  4. Drill holes into each disk (what I’ve done)

Putting confidential DVDs or CDs in the trash is the half-way method because someone hunting for stuff in your garbage may end up reading proprietary material. It’s a minuscule possibility but it’s better not to do it. I’ve seen paper shredders that can also destroy CDs and DVDs, but they employ high-torque motors (6 to 9 rpm) that increase the price of the shredder. For the occasional disposal of confidential media, it’s too expensive an option.

I’ve applied method #3 above and felt good about myself, confident that I’ve met the spirit and the letter of the law in keeping confidential information out of the hands of unauthorized third parties. However, drilling holes into the media started to seem a more elegant solution. Here’s how I did it:

Use a slender drill bit, like the one shown in the picture. I’ve used a 2.38 mm (3/32 inch) bit to avoid cracking the polycarbonate of the DVD.slender drill bit

Insert that drill bit into your power drill and use a high torque setting. That way, you don’t have to press too hard onto the media to make the holes and you won’t risk ruining your drill bit.

Drilling into a plastic substance like polycarbonate carries a very low risk of having shards fly into your face and eyes, but use some wrapping material or sandwich the disks in a way that any pieces and bits are contained inside the wrapping. I used a very low-tech material: newspapers (see below).newspaper coverage

The result is confidential DVDs with several perforations that make them unusable and unreadable. Then I tossed them in the perforated DVDstrash, making sure that I crossed out any identifying markings.

Making sure that you take proper care of confidential and proprietary materials from your customer is not just good business practice and a polite way of maintaining your relationship, but it is crucial in this day of cybercrimes affecting companies big and small.

The same destructive method can be applied to hard drives. Regardless of the erasure method employed, data can still be retrieved by determined information thieves. Since it’s better to be safe than sorry, use a power drill on a high torque setting, mounted on a conventional power drill clamp to make those orifices safely on a hard drive. Remember to wear goggles.

 

 

 

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Filed under Confidentiality of information, Customer relationship, Disposal of confidential information, NDA

Seeking customers and the animal way

I have had time to listen to marketing experts at ATA conferences and I have also read their advice on well-written articles, listicles, self-promoting tweets and blogs. To most of these experts, the situation is binary: either you seek customers or you don’t. In the former, they’ll guide you through the steps, but you’re risking your future if you ignore their advice, meaning that you aren’t that keen on seeking new customers.

In this world of the marketing expert, you’re either actively seeking new customers, promoting your practice through ongoing blogging and social media and attending trade shows, or you aren’t really serious about acquiring new targets and raising your income. Their collective advice is to seek out new prospects aggressively. Even a self-professed introvert who works as a life coach told me recently on Twitter that public speaking (that is, the art of speaking in public) also involves networking and self promotion. I’d hate to prove her wrong, but I will.

Even marketing experts who trawl (or troll, depending on your definition) the world of professionals have advice for those of us who don’t feel comfortable with networking. I have read their arguments and techniques, which are ultimately an extrovert’s advice for extroverts about marketing themselves repackaged and labeled “Networking for Introverts.” Again, this binary or, rather, tunnel vision, is disappointing, coming from people whose livelihood depends on teach others how to network. Sometimes I think they are living and preaching a religion called networking.

Unlike them, however, I find great guidance in the animal world.

Puma lion of the Andes

Having spent countless hours watching documentaries by National Geographic and the BBC, especially those beautifully narrated by the late David Attenborough, I have found that some traits animals, big and small, display to feed themselves, procreate and raise their young, and to survive, are worth observing and, to a reasonable extent, applying to our professional lives.

The African lion eats every 6 days. Other large cats (the cheetah and tiger) have similar eating habits. Large herds of antelope and wildebeest roaming the plains on their annual treks are often followed by prides (groups of lions) waiting for their chance to strike and score one of these large preys. There is a rhythm to these movements tied to how often the lions hunt and eat, but it’s not just the travel of moving prey that govern how these large cats hunt to eat, but also the rains and droughts. Drought in one place means herbivores like wildebeest and elephants have to move elsewhere for grass; hence, lions have to follow these rolling restaurants in order to secure sustenance and survival.

These hunters don’t advertise their intentions, however. They don’t come to an antelope and say “Hi, there; I’m a lion and I’d like to take you out to dinner. Or lunch, whichever you prefer. I can put you down for, say, 11 a.m.?” No, these hunters hide, their spots concealing them in the tall grass, their soft-padded paws allowing them to approach their prey unnoticed, at least until it’s too late for the stalked herbivore to escape unharmed.

Lions do announce their presence in at least two ways: when a lionness calls her young and when a lion rumbles his powerful growl, which goes on for miles, to intimidate other prides and to sow fear among prey animals in the dark.

Eagles, vultures, frigates and owls, among other bird species, take on projecting a powerful presence, with some variations in their approach. Peregrine falcons, for instance, attack bats as these exit their safe caves, but the falcon singles out one bat, not several, to hunt down. By contrast, a spider casts an almost invisible net to hunt not just one, but several insects. There’s even a spider species whose web can snag a bat!

Speaking of spiders, some, like the jumping spider, observe its prey from a distance, then jumps to catch it. Other spiders, like the trapdoor spider, hide in a hole on the ground covered by a trapdoor. As soon as the victim crowls by, the spider catches it fast. These are some of my observations, but are the parallels to seeking customers that I’ve gleaned?

  • There is no universal way to find a suitable customer; find the ways that you feel most comfortable with and excel at them.
  • Customers come in different sizes, so you might need to do some self-examination to find out what size you are so as not to overextend your efforts in going for the wrong size.
  • Customers aren’t just economical targets; they are human, like you. Instead of being aggressive, how about being persuasive?
  • Customers, like roaming wildebeest and elephants, don’t like to be followed around as they can smell your networking intentions and will likely flee in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s best to observe and learn about them from afar, then approach with caution when they show their vulnerable side.

Some hunters hunt in packs, other hunt alone. Likewise, some of us translators like to approach a prospect alone, at our pace. We are not “wasting” an opportunity nor are we being “too slow.” Some translators work best in pairs or small groups while others prefer to do it all themselves. Different strategies are applied according to their nature.

Pumas are solitary

We can learn a great deal from animals, insects and others among our fellow inhabitants of this planet. Nature spent millions of years refining their survival skills and their lifestyles, and so it did with us. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we could start listening to nature and find ways of applying what we learn to our professional and personal lives.

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Filed under Advertising, ATA, Customers, Marketing, Networking

The damage “translator training” is doing to the profession

A recent Proz poll asked whether we translators attended courses to improve our expertise. Most of my colleagues answered that, yes, they have attended courses or training sessions. I was reminded of some thoughts I’ve been pondering regarding translator and interpreting training, views that I have been revising mentally since May this year after a series of job interviews with a private American university.

I was being interviewed for the position of adjunct professor of translation and interpreting. I made it clear that I do not know how to teach interpretation but they were interested in seeing me personally because of my years of translator experience. I was to give a 45-minute class which was to be monitored by the hiring manager and program director. That evening, she gave me this assessment:

“Mario, your class was good but it was more like a lecture, not the kind of classes we teach here. Here we apply the student-centered approach to teaching. Your teaching style is more instructor-based, the European kind, but I’m certain you will be able to adapt.”

-What preadmission exams students are required? —I asked.

-TOEFL, of course, for foreign students. For the MA students, the GRE.

-I understand that both TOEFL and GRE tests have a vocabulary and a writing component for English. What about Spanish, since the position is for English-Spanish translation education?

-We currently do not have a Spanish writing evaluation.

Back home, I considered these answers. I was surprised at the absence of a writing test for Spanish since this is an English-Spanish translation and interpreting undergraduate and graduate program.

About a week ago (mid August 2015), the current ATA president shared her thoughts about foreign language education and whether we will fund the next generation of interpreters and translators. Her June 2015 opening paragraphs are a call to action:

ATA Chronicle June 2015 - Ms Walsh remarks about foreign language education

The proportion of high school students who have studied formal courses in a foreign language is indeed quite low. The first sentence is a gentle reprimand to the states that do not require a foreign language as high school graduation requisite. What worries me is the rest of the percentages being inserted in strange ways. More on that later.

In that LinkedIn discussion opened by the ATA president, I wrote that “fluency in foreign languages does not necessarily equal or include writing skills in a foreign language. We keep singing the same bilingualism song. How about the ATA foster a more writing, less talking in foreign languages so we can prepare future translators better?” My criticism encountered what I consider a baffling response:

Fluency in a foreign language includes reading, writing, listening and speaking ability. Much of the predicted growth is already materializing in interpreting sectors, making the spoken v.s written debate moot.

So now being fluent in a language automatically implies writing ability? A high school course covering French or Spanish may focus on the basics, just like a continuing education language course in college. Last year, I took a college French course that required attending a 3-hour session twice a week for almost 3 months. I was happy with the challenge of learning a new language and practicing it with my fellow students. The teacher is an engaging instructor who spent some years in France. I came away with a certain degree of fluency in French, situational bilingualism I call it: what to do at a restaurant, how to find a train station or ask questions to get to the post office, how to address younger or older people, friends and strangers alike in France, etc. But was the course geared to teach me how to write a letter in French? No, it was not. So, I was functionally bilingual but only in the verbal sense.

Back to the private university I interviewed for last May. Prospective students are expected to be fluent in a given language (Spanish in this case), and that implies knowing how to write in Spanish. However, there is no test to assess that competence. Moreover, the courses are designed to get the students to translate from day one and to familiarize themselves with the technology tools of the trade, such as translation memories, glossary creation and maintenance, as well as specializing in certain areas such as medicine, finance, software localization, etc.

In my view and with the benefit of having undertook years of formal translation courses and seminars, this kind of instruction is doomed to fail because it just tries to fit the bilingual circle into the square of actual translation education. There is no theory, no stylistics, no writing practice to speak of. If Spanish grammar is taught, students are already expected to have an advanced knowledge and practice of it. But without a way to assess it, how well prepared are they to absorb college-level Spanish grammar classes, let alone put them to work in a translation context?

In my years of being a member of the American Translators Association, I’ve indeed associated myself with very bright individuals and colleagues, several of them holders of MAs and PhDs in their chosen field and/or in translation or interpretation. However, whenever there has been discussion of preparing future translators or improving current ones in their knowledge of translation techniques and methods, the umbrella word, the operative term is training, which I find utterly simplistic and misleading.

By definition, training is the method to acquire mainly technical skills and takes place in a short period of time, from a few hours to a few weeks or months. In the professions, training is often called professional development. If you wanted to learn how to create floral arrangements, your training would probably take you a few weeks. On the other hand, a complex procedure such as Lasik surgery requires a degree in medicine, in Ophthalmology, a residency and further training. However, the word training in the latter context does not present the problems I’m citing in the area of translation for a number of reasons, mainly because ophthalmologists are a special kind of eye doctor (i.e. they are not optometrists!) and their profession is highly regulated. They are not considered medical specialists just because they pepper their conversation with cataract this and presbyopia that. People do not hold them in high esteem and pay high fees to see them because they wear white smocks or fancy nametags.

Think of the last plumber or electrician you hired for your home. Did you ask for a copy of his certificate or license? Electricians, for one, have to have a license number to practice, and many of the workers in the construction trades, from HVAC technicians to welders, need to be bonded. These are visible signs attesting to the practitioner’s training and knowledge. But if you take an interpreter or a translator, how does she prove her competence? Do you ask for an educated conversation in French or German, a letter of recommendation from a teacher or professor, or a writing test or a diploma? Chances are you only take her word for it. Maybe you ask her if she is a member of the corresponding professional association. A detailed person may offer her business card with the association’s seal and membership number but, do you call or write the association (NAJIT for interpreters, ATA for translators and interpreters) to verify the practitioner’s credentials? No, you will just take her word for it and focus on her being bilingual and fluent in a foreign language that you do not understand.

Hiring someone to perform a service based on this criteria would be irresponsible for a business owner, wouldn’t you agree? However, that’s exactly how many American businesses and organizations hire translators and interpreters: on the strength of their bilingualism and foreign language fluency.

I would propose that, in the field of preparing and educating current and future translators and interpreters, we take a step up and leave the word training behind. In practice, a translator or interpreter hits her stride on her fifth year of full-time practice, with or without a college degree. Right now, my proposal, my challenge, is for translators and interpreters associations and groups to take translation and interpreting education very seriously, acknowledging the inadequacy of current so-called certification programs blithely given at many American universities and colleges. I also want to make this challenge extensive to the American Translators Association to help dispel the misassociation people have between the word bilingual and the professions translator and interpreter. If the ATA is truly concerned about foreign language degrees in America, it should start going beyond the buzzwords of bilingualism and translation training and focus on the actual competencies required, mainly excellent writing skills in the languages involveds and the means to assess those skills in a way that a member of the public, a business owner, a government official, a hospital administrator who does not write in that language may find useful and purposeful.

Finally, a word or two about the misuse of statistics. In the “Fewer than 8% of college students study a foreign language” paragraph I cited above, I saw two important data points: that only 10 U.S. states require a foreign languages as graduation requisite for high school, and that 8% of college students (or a lower proportion) take up to studying a foreign language. We are not told what level these foreign language courses are: are they beginner level (such as the French course I took in 2014)? Are they mid-level or advanced level? What are the goals or expected outcomes?

The opening argument is that high school graduates with no foreign language skills represent “a skill level far too low with which to work.” We are left to guess what the author meant by that: what skill level is far too low with which kind of position or area to work? We are left in the dark.

Then two more statistics are thrown in to close the argument, the growth rate in translation and interpreting jobs since 2005 (a floating statistic I call it, because the reader is not given any reference framework to compare) and the US BLS prediction of 46% growth for these professions from 2012-2022. If you and I were government officials, we might be impressed with such large percentages…but we are not. Let’s see the actual statistic with some context:

US BLS Occupational outlook for translators

Notice the following:

The entry-level education (a BA degree), none as work experience in a related occupation, short-term on-the-job training as on-the-job training (remember what I said about training?) and the paragraphs under What interpreters and translators do and How to be come an interpreter or translator. Especially troubling is the statement: “the most important requirement is to have native-level fluency in English and at least one other language.” So it circles back to what I was saying regarding fluency in a foreign language.

At ATA conferences I’m always hearing talk about how little people and companies and governments understand our role to be, what little professional respect we are given, how demeaning it is to be considered just another bilingual professional. One immediate step or campaign the ATA’s Public Relations Committee could take is to contact the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and start correcting this wrong image. Otherwise, the ATA in practice is more like the American Bilingual Professionals Association.

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Filed under ATA, Misinformation on translator role, Professional development, Translation as writing, Translator Education, Writing skills

The Google-Oracle debacle, Weird Al Yankovic and translation

The software giants Google and Oracle have been in a legal scuffle over the last few years. Oracle, owner of Java, a set of programming instructions that allow software to work with different platforms, argued that any company, including Google, should pay royalties for it whenever they used Java. Google contended that subjecting software to copyright protection would amount to stifling innovation:

The high court’s decision Monday left intact a prior ruling that certain kinds of programming instructions are entitled to copyright protection, as Oracle argued. Google and some other industry groups argued that treating the instructions as creative works protected by copyright could hurt the ability of companies and programmers to take advantage of standard software functions and make different programs work together.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/supreme-court-denies-google-appeal-on-oracle-suit-1435585873

The Supreme Court hands Oracle a legal win

The Supreme Court hands Oracle a legal win

Current copyright law protects the expression of an idea, whether this is conveyed in written, visual or software form, or a variation thereof. Fortunately for Oracle —and for the world of commercial translations— the Supreme Court left a prior finding standing: software can be copyright protected.

However, current copyright law protects translations as derivative works in the sense that they are not equal to the original:

However, it could be argued that a commercial translation (as opposed to a literary one) still carries the distinction of being an original written work. The late Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges famously wrote that “the original is unfaithful to the translation.” Whether a translation is a poem, a novel, a blueprint or an employee manual, it is a separate creation, a fact that is more markedly evident the better the translation is executed. For example, if you were to peruse the Spanish version of a U.S. hospital brochure, chances are that the Spanish translator may be quite bilingual but not necessarily a good writer in her native language. Hence, a separately created text or written work cannot be considered derivative in any sense, any more than Weird Al Yankovik’s song “Amish Paradise” is of “Gangsta’s Paradise” by rap artist Coolio. That Al Yankovic’s song was inspired by Coolio’s original work is true and cannot be denied, but Yankovic created a new original work, whether you like Weird Al’s work or not.

Naturally, it was lawyers and similarly learned men who conceived of copyright legislation governing intellectual property, including original works and derivative works. Not knowing the true nature of the concept and product of translation, they likely went for the very obsolete concept that any translation is a literal interpretation of a written work. Has the world changed since? No, because translation is not valued higher than an impromptu bilingual interpretation of a statement, an email or video. Another fact: government agencies and hospitals, to name a few, seek translators while operating under the assumption that a bilingual person has automatically acquired excellent writing skills. To make things worse, the American Translators Association does nothing to clear this confusion.

Our copyright laws and international conventions to that effect are based on society’s conceptual interpretation of what translation is or is supposed to be. They are not based on scientific observation or empirical theories. Therefore, it could be proposed that current legislation protecting original work, whether it’s text or software or video or song, need to evolve with a more accurate concept of the objects under the law and their purpose in society.

Society right now considers literary translation quite separate from any other kind of translation, the latter being viewed as purely utilitarian and bereft of aesthetic value. I would contend that that is not the case, especially if the parties buying translation services secured the services of highly competent translators. The better and more competent the translator, the more original the translation will be.

For an enlightening discussion of intellectual property, copyright and translation, you are welcome to read Dr. Lenita M.R. Esteves article published in the Translation Journal.

 

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Filed under Copyright law and software, Copyright law and translation, Writing skills

Translation Myths —Putting bilingualism to the test

As translators, we often are asked to do terminology research, as if translation involved only the word-for-word exchange of specialized terms. But this is a myth to discuss some other time. Let’s talk about bilingualism.

Bilingualism is the ability to speak in two languages. Knowing a few phrases in German while your native language is English or Italian does not count; you have to be able to express yourself freely and richly in two languages. Many European citizens have done this since childhood: growing up in a geography inhabited by multiple languages and dialects makes learning more than one mother tongue unavoidable. From my conversations with people from different European extractions, being a polyglot or multilingual speaker is the norm.

Some colleagues of mine tend to pooh-pooh Americans in general because they seem disinclined and disinterested in learning other languages, but this is an incorrect perception as well as a sweeping generalization. Because language learning is highly dependent on geography, we can’t blame a guy in Idaho who never cared to study or speak Croatian, especially if the number of Croatian residents in Idaho is small.

But then, you will say that that is not excuse! You know many monolingual Americans in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago who are surrounded by thousands of Latinos, Chinese or Russian-speaking folks yet they never cared to learn those languages. Point taken. But let’s discuss an often neglected characteristic of bilingualism: orality or the distinct activity of expressing oneself verbally in more than one language. Translation is writing in a foreign language with the flair, style, vocabulary knowledge and grammar capabilities belonging to that foreign language. Being bilingual has nothing to do with having the ability to write in a foreign language properly, or to write in it at all. Let me demonstrate.

I am a bilingual person because I can freely express myself in both English and Spanish. Here’s a small proof: explaining my bilingualism

Before you click on the YouTube link, can you easily “see” or “read” how bilingual I am? Of course not. Why not? Because they are spoken words. And the way we all speak words is far different from the way we commit them to paper. If you were to meet me at a coffeeshop to tell me about your latest vacation adventure in The Poconos (NY),  your speech would be full of ums, ahs, ohs, what-did-I-says and other filler expressions. Because the content is so illustrative, emotional and personally colorful, and because the communication is instantaneous (ergo, I am listening as you are speaking), we don’t need full stops, commas, semicolons or paragraphs, none of those structural strictures. It all makes sense, right?

Then why do you insist on calling me a bilingual translator? Why are your job postings inviting submissions from native Spanish/Chinese/Dari/Pashto speakers to work as translators, when you know full well that it’s apples and oranges? Translators write; interpreters and bilingual individuals speak.

Speaking of writing, how difficult is it for you or your staff to compose a sensible sentence to say what you really mean? If you want an interpreter for a call center or for tech support, say so, don’t ask for a translator. If you want a bilingual who can translate your documents, software, etc., use the word TRANSLATOR. Repeat after me: translators translate and write.

American businesspeople pride themselves in being pragmatic, direct, sensible and in delivering for the bottom line. That’s why I’m speaking to you in your pragmatic and direct and sensible language: call us for what we are and what we do. When in doubt, speak to us first. Thank you.

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Filed under Bilingual staff, Bilingualism vs. Translation, Misinformation on interpreter role, Misinformation on translator role, Writing skills

If you fall down, don’t cry and go to your mommy

Most translators are avid readers of printed books. I recently received an email alert from one of my public libraries, the Bay Village Public Library, to tell me a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had finally arrived. I was walking to the entrance when I noticed a tall young mother and her 4- or 5-year-old boy gently chatting while walking in front of me to the entrance door. The boy suddenly tripped and hit his knee. He started to cry just like little tykes cry when they fall without serious consequences.

The mother helped him up and picked him up in her arms, consoling him while walking towards a small reading garden instead of the entrance door. For some reason, that moment immediately made me think of what the boy’s father would have likely done instead: dad would have stopped to turn towards the boy and say something like:

– Are you okay, David? It’s just a scratch on your knee.

– You ok, buddy? (helping the kid up and observing the scratch) It’s okay, just a scratch. Let’s go to the library!

Or phrases to that effect. Or maybe the father will turn the little painful event into playtime or downplay it with fun. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal pointed to the role fathers play in child development when they (the fathers) are allowed to engage in hyperactive play. Another article I read a while ago spoke of how children learn emotional strength by playing with their dad. The article, which also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, points to the element of risk in fatherplay and its value in child development:

Many fathers walk a fine line during play between safety and risk, allowing children to get minor injuries without endangering them, says a 2011 study of 32 subjects in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Researchers say this can instill emotional intelligence under fire, and an ability to take prudent risks and set limits with peers.

The hyperactive play of fathers is beneficial for child development.

The hyperactive play of fathers is beneficial for child development.

Going out in the world as translators, businesspeople, doctors or athletes, we encounter situations that will cause minor and major hurts, from breaking up with a girlfriend to losing a cherished client. When a painful situation is a first for us, we take a bit longer to process our newfound feelings and thoughts on how to move forward. As we gain experience, we learn to control those feelings of pain, frustration, disappointment, etc. and also learn to heal up faster.

Learning to stand for oneself with father-play.

Learning to stand for oneself with father-play.

I recently lost a dear client after two years of successful engagements. It was my fault. I made the usual amends: apologies in writing and on the phone, offering to provide a discount on my next project, even go on “probation” for a few months as “punishment.” I didn’t wallow in self-pity nor did I slump in a deep depression, despite the fact that losing this client meant losing 30% of my annual income. Supported by the mental discipline learned since childhood, I thrived and prevailed. Sadly for the customer, he decided to do the politically correct thing and stick to some obscure principle of severely punishing a vendor for a minor mistake.

Like I said, it was my fault and I corrected the error. And this was not an error of the magnitude usually contemplated in Errors & Omissions clauses or policies, even though I keep an E&O insurance policy current at the request of this particular client. Which brings to mind an interesting thought experiment: let’s assume that I had provided a faulty translation that was printed on costly paper and distributed to this client’s customer base. Let’s assume this error cost my client $5,500.00 in extra printing costs, for which I would be responsible through my E&O —or professional liability— policy. Fine. What do businesspeople do in this instance? Client invokes the E&O provision, vendor assumes responsibility, E&O insurance company pays for the damage and possibly raises vendor’s policy premium a bit. In the end, both client and vendor keep doing business. Otherwise, what is the point of an E&O policy anyways? Wouldn’t it be an act of bad faith to ask your vendor for an E&O policy or some other remedy in case of an error or omission, only to let the vendor pay up and then cut him off?

So, I tend to view my lost-client experience as a mother overly comforting a child who just peeled his knee: the hurt was not catastrophic and the kid was able to get up and walk without any lasting injury. The excessive comfort provided by the mother seemed to say, in this parallel, that the injury was greater than it really was. What would happen when the kid becomes a man and his mom is no longer around? Who is going to be the biggest comforter? An insurance policy? The government? A punitive contract clause?

Speaking of contract clauses, agreements entered by clients and translation vendors have the simple purpose of stating the scope of products or services provided by the vendor, performance conditions and rewards, as well as consequences for nonperformance. Some customers, afraid perhaps that an error or omission in a translation would be catastrophic, tend to include a harshly punitive clause in their NDAs (nondisclosure agreements) or translation agreements with contractors, making the latter 100% responsible for all claims and damages resulting from agreement noncompliance. If you were the translator doing a job worth $550 for your client, how does that clause square with a potential error in that translation job? If the translation is faulty, are you, the translator, subject to a lawsuit, legal expenses and such?

To be able to foster and maintain healthy business relationships between clients and translation vendors, a sincere discussion of errors and remedies should take place, as well as what-if scenarios and how each party would act. We could take the overprotective, “hovering motherly” route (no offense to the mothers out there) and ask for full protection in case of error or injury at the expense and to the detriment of a business relationship…or man up and proceed in a way that is fair, disciplined and trust-building to both parties.

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Filed under Customer relationship, Customers, Errors and omissions, Fairness in agreements, NDA, Negotiating contractual clauses, Punitive clauses, Translation contracts