In a previous post (“Have you overlooked something from your professional experience that may reveal to be useful to your career as a translator?”) I approached the question of specialty fields as a translator, and shared part of my experience on how I developed my first specialty, medical translation.
I now have 3 specialties and two working areas in development. The reason for this post is that I wanted to share something with aspiring translators or newcomers in the translation business.
Developing a specialty, besides training, research and experience in a particular field, requires the acceptance of the fact that things may not always work the way you expected. Part of the process is a trial and error one, and whether a specialty you’re trying to develop isn’t really working because of a lack of previous research (Is there a market for it? Highly demanded? Rare specialty? Already too many competitors in your language combination? Doesn’t pay well?) or simply because you discover you don’t really enjoy it, or that it’s not profitable –don’t forget that as a business, you need to make some profit- you may need to drop it and focus on other areas that work better and bring you more projects.
But first if you’re still looking for a niche to develop, or are developing one, remember that you need to give it enough time – and work- to reach cruise speed.
However there may also come a time, when you’re starting to realize that this one is not working for you, and it’s OK to quit something that isn’t really working for you. Better do that than stubbornly stick to something which consumes your time and doesn’t pay. Now understand, I’m not talking about changing your course according to your mood, yes, consistency is important for your business image and your brand. I’m talking about adapting to circumstances and do the necessary adjustments. It actually recently happened to me, so I switched the specialty that I enjoyed but wasn’t working really well (not profitable) back to a simple “working field”, and upgraded a working field for which I do get more steady traffic, and that is more profitable, to the status of specialty field, as I acquired enough experience in this latter now to do so.
It’s like moving furniture around in your house, to make room, or render it more functional. Or, you know, when a store you go to, quits carrying an item because it doesn’t sell well or there is not enough demand for it.
This is about making the right decisions for your business. So focus on what works for you.
* Get certified or accredited: Yes, it makes a difference. It certainly did for me when I got certified; being listed in a professional online directory did bring me more clients.
* Adhere to professional associations, (including outside your country or geographic area). Being on a professional directory is a must for potential clients to be able to find you.
* Create a website and a blog, preferably integrated to your website, update them regularly, and share content on your social media networks. Monitor which posts gain the most visibility, which are the most popular, which days of the week, and timing; don’t forget that your readers can be anywhere in the world. You’ll eventually find out which are the best days of the week to publish and share your posts to have the maximum visibility. The statistics on your Facebook page for example can be useful for that purpose.
- Don’t neglect the human factor, be personable, but remain professional.
* Have a LinkedIn profile regularly updated, a Facebook page exclusively for your business
* Your social media pages shouldn’t be only about you: share interesting content from colleagues, comment on their posts.
* Participate in online forums, interactive discussions on LinkedIn groups, etc.
* Train, train, train! You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on travel for that, check classes at your local university or community college, and there are lots of training sessions and webinars online, some of them are even free (another advantage of belonging to professional associations).
* Start developing a specialty field/niche. And use all means available to get there: training, internships, reading about the specialty field in source and target languages – start with your local library- you’ll find there not only books but many professional magazines. Many of those resources are also available online.
* Be proactive, be curious, don’t isolate, this is computer and cyberspace age. But! Don’t neglect the traditional ways (Phone book, business card, personal face to face contact whenever you can)
* Once you start getting some experience, start contributing to publications. Scary? Start a blog, that’s excellent training, and some of your blog posts may end up developing into articles for professional reviews. Don’t forget to share your blog posts on social media.
Now I know that doing all those things on a consistent basis is not always easy, we do get overworked sometimes and for a few days we may not have much time for blogging or social networking as we are too busy working. It's up to you to determine the amount of time you need to dedicate to projecting your business out there, and the amount of time you can actually do that.
- IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters)
Profile page/professional directory, online training, professional forum, student forum, etc…
- ALTA (American Literary Translators Association)
- Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT)
- Asociación Española de Traductores, Correctores e Intérpretes (Asetrad) / Spanish Association of Translators, Copy-editors, and Interpreters
- Conseil des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes du Canada
For a more exhaustive list of associations by country:
Have you overlooked something from your professional or personal experience that may reveal to be useful to your career as a translator?
If you’re looking for answers on how to find and develop a specialty field or niche as a translator, you may have looked back at your formal training and thought you didn’t have any special training, apart from your language degree, so how do we get there?
- I remember in my early days as a freelance translator narrowing my CV for example, only to training or experience relevant to my job as a translator, partly not to end up with a resume that would have been too long. I usually included in my resume, for example, my credentials and years of experience teaching languages.
- However in this digital age, your resume is not the only area where you can showcase your skills. Your website, LinkedIn profile, or Facebook business page are also excellent media to display additional knowledge or skills you may have acquired, because it is easy, and recommended, to add content on the go, if you want to gain visibility. So all I’m going to do here is share with you an example of skills that may turn out to serve you in your current career as a translator, which you may have overlooked.
- My first specialty field (medical translation) I developed both because of my interest in it, and through circumstances. Though I didn’t receive any formal medical training in my academic years, I had a family member who worked all her life in the medical field so I had some (little) insight into the subject, combined with a genuine interest in all health matters. So when I started as a freelance translator here in the US, I just trained and got accredited as a medical interpreter. I soon found out however that in my region there wasn’t many opportunities to exercise that specialty with my main language combination, English to French. But, gradually, having that qualification mentioned on my business card, resume, and online profiles, I started receiving more and more written translation jobs in the medical field. Over the years, between my readings, continual education, and practical experience, I gained – and still do gain – better knowledge in that field. I also discovered quickly that this field is too vast and that I needed to narrow it down to a few specialties within that specialty, if I wanted to do a good job at it.
- Recently I started working on a project translating anatomy books. I soon realized this particular job turned out to be considerably facilitated for me by the fact that I received, many years ago, a formal training in Anatomy, fact which I had never mentioned in my profiles or resumes because I hadn’t thought it relevant for my translation career: In my twenties and early thirties I studied ballet and became a ballet teacher till the birth of my daughter. My formal training as a ballet teacher in Paris, which lasted 3 years, included, among other subjects, History of music, and Anatomy applied to Ballet, which I received from the respected Georgette Bordier, then Professor at the Ecole de Danse de l’Opéra de Paris, who published her “Anatomie appliquée à la danse” (Editions Amphora) which was our textbook.
- For those who may want to know practically what I’m talking about, here a short video demonstrating the importance of knowing your anatomy, whether as a dancer or as a ballet teacher:
In English, a demo of the muscles involved in the battement jeté:
In French, an excellent demo of the best way to arch the foot, or rather, to stretch it, and then on how to get the best “real” turnout of the feet in first position, which will not damage the ankles:
That theory training was of course followed and enhanced by years of teaching ballet to people of all ages, and sensitizing my students to the importance of body alignment and better understanding of how their body worked, how to make the best of it, and avoid injury.
- So when I started working on this anatomy book translation, most terms were already familiar to me, and I was very comfortable with the project.
Many translators nowadays come from extremely diverse backgrounds and have previous work experience in areas that had nothing to do with languages, let’s say, whether as engineers, chemists, flight attendants, selling solar panels, you may have worked several years for a travel agency or an airline company, etc.
* Look back at your personal experience, you may have knowledge or experience that you didn’t think you could use in your translator career, either occasionally, or to develop as a full specialty.
* Don’t neglect your hobbies: Do you have in depth knowledge and experience in Photography equipment? Boating? Boat equipment? Exotic plants? Extreme sports? Scuba diving? Organic gardening? Even if you’re only an amateur in one such thing, you can always find some classes you can take in your area or online, and get credit for. You need to start somewhere.
This is only part of my own experience, so all translators are welcome to share here their personal experience on how they developed their own specialty fields, hoping that this may help newcomers or future translators find their own niche.
In the past year I have learned a lot about the business aspects of freelancing, through online training, and through my own personal experience. One of the main issues often talked about is the feast/famine cycle. Like many freelancers I sometimes have to deal with that as well. This past year was a progress in that I managed to get a “safety cushion” for the down times, so that when they came it was not such an issue.
Other ways to diminish the impact of those down times is to figure out ways to decrease your overhead. Preparing my taxes and looking at the pattern of the past two years I realized I needed to do so, down times or not. After all, as freelancers we are primarily a business, like it or not. So if we want not only to survive as a business, but also to make a profit, we need to find ways to reduce our overhead. For me, the big obvious one was rent. Some freelancers may choose to share an office space with another business, have a roommate to split rent and utility costs, but I already had my office set up at home, in a separate room, so I didn’t need to rent a dedicated office space in town. What else could be done?
Remember one thing, we can work from anywhere, provided we have a reliable internet connection. As far as I was concerned, though I was considering moving to a different geographic location eventually, I was not ready to do so yet and wanted to remain in the same town. Sometimes we need to be a bit creative.
So my significant other and I decided to move to our boat, which is sitting here in town at the marina. And off we went, getting rid of all unnecessary possessions and reducing our belongings to what we actually need and use. My main concern was to make sure I could get an optimal internet connection on board to be able to work. As liveaboards we did have a WiFi connection included in our rent but it could be sketchy at times, especially at low tide. There’s a solution to every problem, I got a range extender/booster, and I now have a perfect connection, as good, if not better, than the one I had from my apartment! My office area is facing the waterfront, great way to rest my eyes from the computer every now and then. No traffic noise, and I have a walking trail right out my door on shore, that leads to a gorgeous view of the bay from a bluff. No excuses now not to take those salutary breaks!
This is a great solution that works for me and will allow me to save a lot of money while working in a great environment.
The next step I’m considering now to reduce expenses and simplify my life, is to gradually go paperless, especially as my space is smaller now. The obvious direct benefit would be to save money on paper and ink for the printer, and de-clutter the office space. Where to save paperwork, in the Cloud, on disks, maybe both? I’m kind of old school and like to have physical access to important “must keep” paperwork.
What about you? Willing to share how you manage to reduce your overhead without sacrificing the quality of your workspace?
What I like about my freelance job, what I learn from it, and last but not least, what my clients bring me
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT MY JOB:
* Not being in a routine: From one project to another, I enter a different world, I learn and deepen
my knowledge about different topics. Each project is an opportunity to grow.
* I’m my own boss
* I can choose which projects I want to work on.
* No commuting
* I love the research part of my job
* I discovered, against my expectations, that I’m getting to like some aspects of the business part
of my job (marketing, web design)
* Infinite opportunities to learn – through projects, training, reading, research - and to grow
* No dress code
* Even though I prefer to work at my home office, I can work from anywhere in the world, provided I have an internet connection.
* My office environment is tailored to my needs and to my tastes
* I like working independently, but I don’t have to isolate in my ivory tower either. Today I can
connect and communicate with colleagues from all over the world, thanks to my membership in
various professional associations and to online networking or participating in events and
WHAT I LEARN FROM MY JOB:
* I learn to run a small business, on an ongoing basis. There is always room for improvement!
* I constantly improve my language skills and subject matter knowledge. No, translators are not
walking encyclopedias, they do not memorize everything they translate. But I do put the effort into
improving my knowledge and skills, striving to always better serve my customers. As an example,
in addition to the research I am bound to do in direct connection to a translation project, I spend a
fair amount of my free time reading articles related to my specialty fields, such as medical articles
in specialized magazines, newspaper articles, etc. I also seize the opportunity, whenever I can, to
do some training related to one of my specialty fields.
WHAT CLIENTS BRING ME/ WHY I VALUE ALL OF YOU:
* As I said earlier, every project, every client, is a window into a different world, and
an opportunity to learn. I am a curious person and I therefore welcome every one of you.
* You all bring me something and you all contribute to my development. There is no small
client. I value all of you, no matter what the size of the projects you submit. Small
projects are just as important as larger ones, they are easy to place between large
projects, and they actually pay bills. And there too, I get to learn and grow as a business.
Actually a non-negligible part of my customers are ones who regularly send me small projects.
I’ve come to realize that some end up being among the top income sources. For fellow translators
who doubt that idea, just check your 1099 forms by client. You might be surprised.
* I like the process of gradually establishing trust between me as a business and you, my
customers. It does take time and effort, but it’s worth it. The fact that we do most of our
work on a computer does not mean we don’t have to put any effort in the human factor, on the
Trust is to be established, primarily, by providing quality services, yes, but also by
treating your client well, and adding a human touch to your interaction that shows your
appreciation. Just like you’d do for any relationship. If you doubt this idea, just think of
what makes you come back to a store, or service provider? I don’t know about you but
for me, the quality of the product is not enough: after sales service, the way I’m treated
as a customer, the feel of being welcomed and valued, no matter how much money I
spend, will also determine whether I come back or not. Are you going back to a
restaurant where you wait too long for the hostess to acknowledge your presence, or if
she obviously doesn’t look too happy to serve you, is unable to provide answers about
items on the menu? I don’t. Do you go back to a customer or service provider, that
doesn’t have the courtesy to answer your request or email or return your phone call? No?
- Neither do I.
* One of the unexpected bonuses is, some of my clients are very inspiring. Yes. I
occasionally end up “following” some of those people or businesses on social medias
because what they do is inspiring.
Let’s imagine this situation: Do you see yourself, coming in a restaurant, asking for the menu, wanting to order one of the main courses, and telling the waiter, “I’d like to have this, but I can’t pay 12.00 dollars for this, my budget is only of 8.00 dollars.” Or imagine yourself proposing to pay 4.00 dollars for a plate that is tagged 12 dollars on the menu. Or proposing to pay in 60 days. Or asking for a rebate because you’ve come with all your family and you’re ordering 12 meals. Seriously.
Here it is:
You got my point.
So why is translation not cheap? Because it is a highly skilled job that not everyone can do. Because it requires time. Because it requires expertise. Because what a translator does for you, beyond translating your content, is providing you with an opportunity to expand your business by marketing yourself globally. In other words, your translator gives you value, added visibility, recognition, credibility. He/she is also a bridge between you and the target audience you want to reach. Your translator is not only a linguist, but a communication expert.
Why not discuss rates with a translator?
Because your translator runs a business. Like any other business, it has to be profitable in order to thrive. A translator did not spend all these years in college, plus all the ensuing experience and continuing education and training, to just survive. A translator has a business to run, which means expenses for renting an office space, stationery, computers, software, printer, utility bills, training, reference material, and that is for the business part, for a translator is also a human being, who like everyone else has a family to feed, rent and utilities to pay, car repairs, groceries, etc.
- Now let me ask you a question: How often do you have to pay bills such as rent/mortgage, utilities, etc? Yes, you got it, monthly. Do you imagine yourself telling your landlord or mortgage company, bank, etc, that your “ payment terms” are 60 or 90 days? Try that!
How to respond to client's complaint about your translation, an ego deflating experience to be addressed in a professional manner.
So you’ve delivered that translation project on time, thought you did a good job on it, and a few days later here comes the shocking email or call from the client, relayed by the agency if you got the project through an agency: The client has some complaints about your translation. Yes, no matter how good you are, this is bound to happen some day. What an ego deflating experience. You thought you had done your best, and here it comes.
* First take a good deep breath, and read the email thoroughly. Never answer hastily. Before to send an angry email of denial, reopen the file and carefully compare the client’s complaints to the passages incriminated. Now often times, the complaints will be vague “the tone doesn’t sound right” “the terminology is not consistent with our internal guidelines” “it doesn’t sound like it’s been written originally in the target language”, and what not. In that case you need to ask for specifications, precise examples, possibly comments on the file with track changes. Make sure to let the client know it’s a necessary step to help you serve them better.
* Rule number one is not to take it personally, always keep in mind that the complaint might be justified – yes, you aren’t perfect and you may have bad days when you don’t do as good a job as usual – and it’s not the end of the world, but take it seriously, always assume the claim might be legitimate.
* So send a short polite mail saying you’re going to look into it and come back shortly. The client needs to know you’re taking care of his claim. That is part of your after sales service, quality assurance process, whatever you call it, so gracefully accepting to examine the client’s claim is paramount to your reputation. No, you haven’t lost that client yet. Actually it happened to me once with a new client and it was a matter of getting adjusted and used to their preferred internal terminology, so after I corrected the terms according to their preferences and acknowledged that I had taken note so as to serve them better in the future, guess what, I kept the client who regularly sends me projects.
* Whether the client’s claim is based on real translation errors, stylistic preferences or internal jargon preferences, however, you need to address that and correct them if it’s not too late. Otherwise swallow your pride, admit your errors, apologize, and propose some compensation, and what compensation is up to you, depending on the gravity of the claim. You can propose a discounted rate for the payment, no payment at all, a free translation job in the future. Yes. You heard me right. Remember, what do YOU ask when you buy a product and you find out it’s deficient? Yes, you return it, exchange it, or ask for a refund. And you appreciate when the service provider or store gracefully proposes to compensate you and does so promptly.
So here you go, you claim to be a professional, act like one. Remember that the client who is not satisfied with your after sales service will not return.
One of the specialties I came to develop, I’d say, gradually by a series of opportunities, is translation for dubbing (not to be confused with subtitling, that I won’t talk about in this post because it has different specificities).
But first of all, what is dubbing?
Dubbing is basically the localization of a foreign movie, a post-production process that consists in the translation of the dialogues in a different language, that will then be read by voice artists.
Here is Merriam Webster’s definition:
1: to add (sound effects or new dialogue) to a film or to a radio or television production —usually used with in
2: to provide (a motion-picture film) with a new sound track and especially dialogue in a different language
3: to make a new recording of (sound or videotape already recorded); also : to mix (recorded sound or videotape from different sources) into a single recording
So for this post I’ll share with you only my own experience in this field, which most of the time involved translating the film for dubbing with the final script, or from the video only without a script. Sometimes it also involves time-coding and spotting.
- An important part and specificity of translating for dubbing is that it is not only
translation, but adaptation: The words you choose for your translated segment
must match the time it took the actors to say their lines.
- Then another factor is whether you are adapting a script for lip-sync (lip-synchronization) or for
My personal experience having been mostly with adaptation for lip-sync lately, that’s what I’ll be sharing with you today.
What I need to do when translating a script for lip-sync is to adapt so as to match not only the number of lines and syllables – and there are constraints on the number of lines per dialogue - , but to match the actor’s lip movements, so that the voice artist can read the translated script moving his/her lips in sync with the actor’s. Now that’s where the translation process here is different from other types of translation work. Because of the time and space constraints imposed on you, you need to adapt in order to make the script in the target language fit. Translating literally often times won’t do. As an example, with my first language combination, English to French, English being often more concise than French, when you translate into French you often end up with a longer sentence in French. So in order to make the French script fit you’ll need to adapt, by translating the essential, the gist of it, or/and choosing shorter words.
The other difficulty is, we’ve seen that the words chosen must match the lip movements of the actor. What that means, for example, is if the last word of a dialogue ends with a certain vowel sound, you’ll need, whenever possible, the last word of the French dialogue to end with that same vowel sound and/or lip movement, or as close as possible. You may have to change the order of the words to accomplish this, or find synomyms that will fit. It is altogether a technical work, and a creative one.
Very creative: when translating without a script, directly from the video, it obviously takes more time, but you can be confronted to other challenges when working without a script: what to do when you have a dialogue with half a dozen people yelling at each other at the same time? – believe me, it happens. The first difficulty here will be to identify who speaks, who says what, because everything each character says needs to be translated, and if you can’t distinguish all of it, well you have to make it up, using the context, because you need to fill that space. It’s a guessing game. Some of the characters might not be facing the camera, or be too far for you to be able to even see the lip movements clearly.
One challenge I’ve encountered was while translating a soap opera, for which I was to handle the Arabic dialogues and translate them into French, without a script. The Arabic spoken in those scenes was Moroccan Arabic and that was familiar grounds, except for some of the actors who were not native speakers of Arabic and who had learned their Arabic lines phonetically…It was sometimes very challenging to understand what they were saying, because it was mispronounced. I guess having previously been a language teacher helped a bit in this case. So you may end up having to listen to the same line over and over again to figure out what is being said, and if you can’t, you need to find something that makes sense with the context, and matches the lip movements of the actors. Fun, huh?
So if you’re considering translation for dubbing as a possible specialty field, you’ll need some specific technical training, you’ll need to be able to conform to the specific time constraints and format, and you need to be creative with challenges, as all of these are different from the ones you encounter with other type of translation work.
For other aspects of localization when translating books or movies, see previous post:
Language is not everything: Localization and cultural awareness.