Streamlining translation specialties

As the pandemic has hit many people and businesses, it is no surprise it affected me as a freelance translator as well. It also gave me time to reflect on which way I wanted “my baby” a.k.a., my business, to go. So I looked at the trend of the past few years and figured I that out of the 3 specialties I had, I should keep only the specialty field that gave me the most work, that I had gained the best experience in over the years, and had the most interest in. Therefore I decided to keep only Medical translation as a specialty field. – While I will still be handling general translations such as certificates (birth certificates for immigration and other official purposes), transcripts, labels, manuals, as well as proofreading and editing, Medical translation will remain my only specialty field.

Breaks in your home office

If like many people Covid 19 has forced you to start working from home, it might have taken you some time to adjust: Set up a home office if you didn’t have one yet, some just use a laptop, some require space dedicated to that. Then you had to set up a schedule that would work best for you while keeping you productive. You might have less work than usually, but if your job involves working on a computer, you nevertheless do need to take breaks from it. When you are engrossed in a project, especially if it’s time sensitive, you might be tempted to push and neglect taking breaks. I found out more than once at my expense that this didn’t help productivity, on the contrary, and of course would take a toll on my degree of fatigue and therefore on my productivity and the quality of my work – I’m a freelance translator – Taking frequent, short breaks made a huge difference for me. From taking a short walk, or simply do a few stretches, go get some juice or take a coffee break, go check on your garden, there are plenty of ways you can get away from the computer for a few minutes and come back refreshed, including short naps – I have a couch in my home office – Now we also have considerable resources online to help us take a break, such as yoga videos for example.

Here is one that is short and sweet, for yoga exercises you can do on your chair:


And I discovered this little gem the other day for a little Qi Gong to strengthen the lungs:


I also have an old elliptical machine I found in a thrift store that I installed in my office so I can still get some exercise on rainy days. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be just as simple as go sit on the couch with a coffee or tea and browse a magazine, go empty the dishwasher, whatever takes you away from the computer. A break for your body, but also for your eyes. And your mind.

Paris, France, and Buenos Aires, Argentina: Two forms of slang with striking similarities, Verlan and Lunfardo

I recently came across a couple of interesting posts on a blog called “transpanish” about the Linguistic features of  Rioplatense Spanish from Buenos Aires, more specifically the use of Lunfardo slang.
One of the features I found most interesting about Lunfardo was the fact that it uses vesre, which is the reversal of the order of syllables in a word. An example was given with “café” that then becomes “feca” in Lunfardo.
-That immediately rang home to me, as in French we do have a similar form of slang called “Verlan” (reversal of “ l’envers”, which means reverse).

-The other similarity between Lunfardo and Verlan is their origin: Both slangs appeared first among the lower classes, more specifically were used by criminals as a code language.

Through reading that article and doing a little bit of research I found out that Lunfardo developed in the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century and had its roots in the wave of European immigration to Argentina from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. (Post on Lexiophiles, “Behind Verlan”, Oct 24, 2009). Those immigrants came from Spain, Italy, and France. Tiens, tiens, France!
Verlan interestingly followed a similar evolution pattern:

French Verlan’s first appearance can actually be dated back to the 12th century in the book “Tristan and Iseult” Tristan used the name “Tantris” to conceal his identity. But a wider use of Verlan appeared in French prisons in the 19th century.  Later on French resistants also used it as part of their code.
Since the 1980’s, Verlan has spread in usage in the French suburbs first, then also via popular singers and hip-hop music among the general population and has now become common usage in informal speech.

Here is a short video animation (in English) about Verlan and how it works, with a few examples.

To have a better idea of what Verlan sounds like, a funny video of some of the most commonly used Verlan words and expression.

An example of Lunfardo slang explained in English, with spelling and right pronunciation


Article in English about Lunfardo in transpanish blog.

And an article in English about Verlan in lexiophiles.

6 reasons you may want to refuse a translation project.

Refuse work?    

Oh yes you can. Whether you are relatively new in the translation industry, or planning to become a translator, you may want to ponder on the possibility to refuse work. Even early in your career. Yes, the temptation can be strong when you start as a freelancer, to accept almost anything that comes your way, thinking it will help you build up a customer base.

– Wrong: Accepting projects with unreasonable deadlines or poor rates for example, will only attract the bottom feeders to your business. Then further down the line when you finally decide to start increasing your rates you will lose those clients who are not willing to pay for the value you bring them anyway.

But let’s get to the 5 reasons you may refuse a project:

  1. The project is beyond your capacity, skills or specialty fields.

First, do not ever accept work sight unseen. This, is an important factor in building a reputation as a professional translator. It would be very unprofessional to accept a project that is beyond your scope or in a specialty that you do not master. This would end up being detrimental to your reputation as a business. So be honest with the client, and tell them you cannot accept the project because it is beyond your skills, or too specialized, etc. Even better, refer them to another translator you know who may have the right specialization, and do not forget to let them know they are free to contact you for future projects more within your scope. The client will thank you for your honesty and will trust you as a result.

  1. The deadline is unreasonable

This usually happens with the ‘bottom feeders’’ we mentioned earlier. Some are translation agencies, some are individuals who have no idea of what it takes. If it is a translation agency, chances are they are one of those huge outfits who think only in terms of profit, and subcontract a huge pool of translators so when they have a project on their desk they’ll send it over to a bunch of them and will give the project to the first to accept their deadline, no matter how tight. I’m not saying all large agencies function this way, but some do.

-If it is an individual person, there comes your job to educate the public, explain why it takes time to do a translation, and walk them through the process.

  1. The rate is ridiculously low

Here come our bottom feeders again. If it’s a translation agency, just state your rates and stand your ground if they try to get you to accept a lower rate. Yes, they will walk away, but all the better for you.

– It would be much more profitable for you to spend the time you would have dedicated to that rush low paid project on marketing your business to more valuable potential clients. It’s all a win-win for you: you may end up with less clients, but more interesting projects with people who respect and value your work and do not discuss your rates. Often times those bottom feeders will try to negotiate a lower rate because of a ‘large volume’ of work.

-Let’s say it here: Discounts for large volumes is not a rule in the industry, it is entirely at the discretion of the translator to occasionally offer such discounts to a customer they value if they wish. Not the reverse. And if you do offer an discount, carefully choose who you give it to: some clients may then expect you to do so for each of their projects, so that is not always a good thing to do. Remember you are a business, not a charity.

-If it is an individual person, chances are they’ll ask you your rate first, and then say it’s ‘too expensive’ for them, or that ‘they had no idea’ it was that expensive, and there comes your job to educate again, explain why translation is not cheap, and explain why it is in their best interest to hire a professional. Explain to them what value, and what guarantees you bring them.

  1. The agency is known as a bad payer

Here’s the good news: If it’s an agency, often times they are already known in the industry as bad payers. So do your research, there are resources online where bad payers are listed, or you can ask fellow translators in forums if they have worked for that agency if you can’t find it listed. Sometimes it can also be useful to go check their website, are staff members listed on the website? Do they have a profile online, etc.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

This is where scammers come in. There are quite a few of those who try to trick inexperienced translators. Most of the time, they are easily recognizable for one or several of the following signs:

  • Poor spelling or syntax
  • Name that sounds fake
  • No indication of function, outfit, contact number
  • Often times, either huge volume as a bait, or ‘article’ to translate.

Whenever you encounter such a suspected scam, immediately report it to translators forums so the word gets out. Yes, they often change names, but the above signs are the first ones to look for.

  1. You are already booked up

Good for you! Beware however, especially for newcomers, do not accept more than you can chew. It can be very tempting early in your career, especially if the project is interesting, but this would only be detrimental to your reputation as it may end up in missed deadlines, or poor quality translation. One can only do so much in a day. So try to figure out your maximum daily output (not your colleagues, yours), and do not stray from it. Always try to include a bit of leeway in your turnaround time estimate, that way if any issues occur during the process you can still meet your deadline.

Sophrology? What’s that?

Since one of my specialties as a translator is medical, and that I am particularly interested in alternative medicines, I wanted to write this post about a holistic therapy that is well developed in Europe, particularly in Switzerland, France, Spain, and now the UK, but doesn’t seem to be as present in the US, and that is Sophrology.
What is sophrology?
Sophrology, practically, consists in a structured body of physical (i.e breathing techniques) and mental (i.e visualization) exercises that help restore or produce better mind/body well-being and health, and can be helpful in dealing with pain, sleep problems, or enhancing such things as self confidence and performance.

Here is a video of the Sophrology Academy that explains it pretty well, which includes practical illustrations and testimonies, interviews, of people who use sophrology in different fields: a dancer, a person going through a career change, a yoga teacher and mother.

The word “sophrology” comes from the Greek:
SOS  Harmony PHREN  Consciousness and LOGOS  Study of

Brief history:
Sophrology was founded by Professor Alfonso Caycedo, a neuro-psychiatrist who originally was seeking a way to help heal victims of the civil war in Spain with the least possible drug use. After researching in Switzerland using phenomenology, he travelled East to study yoga, zen and Buddhism. He borrowed from these techniques to build up his core exercises “aiming at an alert mind in a relaxed body”. Theses techniques and exercises are “at the crossroads between Western relaxation en Eastern meditation” (The Sophrology Academy, What is sophrology).

Current uses of sophrology, a few examples:
-Hospitals use sophrology to prepare patients for surgery or childbirth.
-Performers such as athletes, dancers, as well as students use it to reduce stress, overcome difficulties, and enhance performance.
-International organizations and companies also use sophrology to reduce stress.

I happen to have had first hand experience with sophrology myself: in my youth I was a professional dancer and ballet teacher for a few years, and one of my instructors, who was trained in sophrology, used it for relaxation purposes in her teaching. It allowed me, among other things, to get some effortless progress in my stretching, that had been somewhat blocked by putting too much will and too much tension in it. I was taught to visualize the result I wanted to get as already accomplished, visualize success. And it worked really well.
  The second time I used sophrology was for childbirth in France. My midwife prepared for childbirth with sophrology, which was really helpful in dealing with pain.

A few facts:
-Sophrology is recognized in Spain, France and Switzerland, and is now recognized in the UK and has for many years been recognized, recommended and re-imbursed by Swiss health Insurances.

In French:

The Ecole des Hautes Etudes de Sophrologie et Bio-analyse website proposes a bibliography in French on the subject :

In Spanish: 
This website in Spanish also has an excellent bibliography which lists articles and books on the subject in Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

6 tips to find the translator that’s right for you

1. Do yourself a favor: Hire a professional. What is a professional translator? Someone who has majored in language studies or has a translation degree and has been trained as a translator and can show credentials for it. Someone who is actually currently working as a translator. No, your bilingual niece or friend cannot do the job. Being bilingual is not enough. Translators are highly trained, often specialized professionals who offer expertise. If the documents you need translated are to be published, handed over to authorities, or serve professional purposes, you’ll be much better off hiring a translator that has some accreditation or certification.

2. Where to find a professional translator:                                                                    Online directories of professional associations of translators such as ATA (American translators association), NOTIS (Northwest translators and interpreters society), IAPTI (International association of professional translators and interpreters). Those organizations have a listing of translators by language combination, with their credentials, specialty fields, and contact information.

– Professional online profiles such as LinkedIn.
– Remember that this is computer and cyberspace age, therefore the geographical location of your translator does not matter. Especially if you live in a rural area, don’t limit your search to your little town or county. Nowadays most translations are sent and delivered electronically.

3. What kind of translator do you need?                                              Do you need to translate a birth certificate for immigration purposes, or your website, or a PowerPoint presentation for a lecture or conference you’re giving, or the manuscript of your novel, or some highly specialized medical or technical translation, some training materials, or do you need your corporate video to be subtitled, the type of translator you’ll hire will depend on that. So when you start your search, your first criteria will be:

– the language combination (for example Spanish into English) and then

– the specialty field. If any translator can translate a simple email or press release, the translation of a medical device manual will require someone specialized in that field.

– Another thing to remember, to get the best results, it is preferable to hire somebody who translates into their native language. If you need a translation of a medical device manual from Spanish into English, you want to hire preferably a translator whose native language is English.

4. Establish contact and be as specific as possible about your needs
So you’ve been on one of those online directories and you found a translator who seems to correspond to what you’re looking for. You email the translator, or call, about your translation project.

What your translator needs to know:
-The language combination, the volume (approximate word count, number of pages) the format (Word doc, Excel file, PowerPoint, PDF file, etc.) and your turnaround time. Then your translator can give you a quote/estimation of the cost. Yes, if it’s a rush job you may be charged more.

What may help your translator serve you better: 
– Purpose of the document (for publication?)
– Target audience (i.e, if you want a translation from English to French, will that be French for France, or for Canada? And more specifically, who is going to read or use the document: students Physicians? Immigration authorities? Readers of a popular magazine? Consumers?
– Reference documents? You or your organization, corporation, may have similar documents previously translated or even glossaries of preferred terms, in which case you may want to provide them as well.

5. Negotiating etiquette
Now let’s come to pricing. You have received a quote. You may not have been aware of the cost of translation services. But in this industry as well as in many others, the “you get what you paid for” principle applies. Just remember what you’re paying for is expertise. For example, hiring a bottom feeder translator, or using machine translation for your website translation may ruin your chances of expanding your business. I have seen many instances of websites in two or three languages where the result was at best hilarious, if not incomprehensible, and therefore those customers you were hoping to reach abroad, gone! You don’t want
to hire an amateur electrician to wire your house, well it’s the same for translation jobs.
So, negotiating price is often not a good idea, especially if it’s your first contact.
One sentence that serious, professional translators don’t want to hear: 
“Would you translate a sample for free?” Seriously, when we go, to the doctor let’s say, do we ask him/her to provide us with our first consultation for free? Or to reduce the cost for that X Ray? Do we ask a licensed plumber to fix our kitchen faucet for free “to test his skills” before to entrust him with redoing all the fixtures in the house?
On the bright side, translators will often be more than happy to provide you with existing samples of their work. I always have some ready just in case, it’s like a portfolio.

6. Questions or doubts. better ask than be sorry!
And this goes both ways, if you have any doubt or question, ask, ask, ask! Don’t assume anything. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Clear communication and understanding lays good foundations for a good collaboration. So you’ve hired a professional translator with some accreditation or certification, congratulations!

Resilient work stations

My office when I was a liveaboard

The nice thing about being a freelance translator is that yes, we can work from anywhere. Though I may use my laptop when I’m travelling and often use my phone to email with my clients when on the move, my main work station remains my home office, which has been in several different locations in the past few years. My first years in the US I lived on a houseboat where I used my laptop, and also had an office on shore. Then I moved in town and had a home office installed in my living room, but soon found out if I wanted to work in peace I needed a dedicated room for an office. That was much better. Then I moved to live on a boat again and had my office on board.

Then 3 years ago I moved back ‘in town’, understand our tiny town of la Conner, Washington, in a regular home and installed a new home office. This one even includes a couch to get away from the computer or do some reading, have coffee. 

-But the best is the sit-stand desk I purchased about a year ago now, and I can say it makes a big difference on those days when I stay long hours on my computer. This is the best investment I made for my back and my neck, that used to get really sore. The one I chose has a bamboo top. I added a dual monitor arm for those times when I need to have source and target text side by side: One arm for the main monitor, one arm for the laptop. You can have a dual arm for 2 regular monitors too. I also got the casters to be able to move the desk easily, since I like sometimes to move things around.

My bamboo top adjustable sit-stand desk

Those desks exist with a hand crank or you can choose the electric version like I did. Some outfits also offer other types of wood for the top.

Book review: A business guide for translators by Marta Stelmaszak

As I have been following Marta’s posts about the business of translation, I couldn’t wait to see what Marta had prepared for us this time and here it is, a thorough, practical, “Must have”, business guide for all freelance translators, written by a translator.
Because I am usually rather resistant to Economics in general, the first thing that kept me reading this book at least to start with was its structure: small, “digestible” chapters, perfect for busy people who cannot necessarily engage in long reading sessions at a time. It therefore gives you the time to reflect on, and digest even the most complex concepts exposed. It is also a perfect blend between economic and business concepts and practical information that we can actually use.

– In part 1 about economics and how freelancing works, each chapter exposes the concept or theory, then asks and explains how it applies to the languages industry, with resources at the end of each chapter.
– Part 2 about strategy starts each chapter by exposing the topic, then explaining how it applies to the languages industry, then following with an “invitation to act”, that is, an invitation to try and apply the principle in our business, for the benefit of our business as well as for our clients. For Marta never looses sight of the ultimate goal, to better serve our clients.
– Part 3 examines business management on a freelancer’s point of view, going through concepts such as goal setting, creating value, and diversification.
– Part 4 deals with business practice, and how we can make freelancing work for us, followed by extensive resources. Topics explored a vast range of skills, from visibility to quoting, invoicing, customer relationship management, negotiating skills, etc.

Among the most interesting principles or notions explored throughout the book were the ones of Strategy, Scarcity, Added value, Unique selling point, the Value chain, Negotiation “Stand your ground!”, and many more, all with practical examples, including some from the author’s personal experience.
Now the question is, am I going to use some of the information Marta shared, and try to apply it to my business? Definitely yes.
This is the advantage of having such a vast and arduous topic dealt with by a translator for translators: close to our reality, usable information that is relevant to our freelancing careers.

The book is available here:

Entretien avec l’auteur Dominique Lancastre

Q : Dominique Lancastre, vous publiez votre deuxième roman, « Une Femme Chambardée » aux éditions Fortuna. Pouvez-vous brièvement nous dire de quoi il s’agit ?

Une Femme chambardée raconte l’histoire d’une femme aux prises avec de nombreux problèmes dans sa vie quotidienne. L’histoire se passe aux Antilles en Guadeloupe sur fond de l’éruption de la Soufrière 1976 qui vient chambouler une île en apparence calme.

Q : Cette histoire avec le volcan de la soufrière en toile de fond a-t-elle été inspirée par un personnage réel ?

Comme dans tout roman il y a toujours une part de vérité. Le personnage d’Héléna est inspiré d’une photo. Une femme habillée de noir marchant la tête baissée tenant à la main un sac à main noir. Cette photo m’a renvoyé quelques années en arrière et j’ai eu l’impression de voir en elle une dame de mon enfance appelée Héléna. D’ailleurs, des souvenirs très clairs me sont revenus en écrivant ce roman et j’ai pu transcrire certaines scènes de mon enfance. Mais, ce n’est qu’une infime partie du roman.

Q : Qu’est-ce qui vous a initialement poussé à commencer à écrire ?

Je suis passionné d’histoire et en particulier l’histoire des Antilles. La façon dont ces îles se sont crées, donnant naissance à un phénomène de multiculturalité sans précédent, est tout à fait remarquable. En se plongeant dans cette histoire on se rend compte que c’est un vivier culturel impressionnant, voire une sorte de mine ou l’on découvre chaque jour des informations ou des bouts d’histoire inconnus. Pour un écrivain c’est fabuleux. Puis, je me suis intéressé aux auteurs antillais. Il faut dire qu’il faut vraiment faire cet effort. La littérature antillaise est classée en littérature francophone, ce qui est d’une stupidité abrutissante. Car peut-on vraiment dire qu’Aimé Césaire est un poète, écrivain francophone ? Cela n’a aucun sens. Ce classement ridicule a pendant longtemps porté préjudice aux auteurs. Car, il faut vraiment aller chercher ces auteurs et s’y intéresser. Cette littérature ne se limite pas à cinq ou six auteurs connus comme on veut bien le faire croire. Il y a une multitude d’auteurs aux Antilles et plus je les lis plus cela me donne envie d’écrire.

Q : Quelle place la culture créole tient-elle dans votre vie par rapport à la culture de la métropole ? 

La culture créole n’occupe aucune place, je suis la culture créole, je me déplace avec, je la transporte avec moi, je vis avec elle selon les circonstances. En résumé ma créolité est en moi. Je n’ai pas de besoin de la souligner ni de la comparer. C’est ma créolité bien ancrée qui me permet d’absorber la culture des autres et de la digérer.

Q : Comment gardez-vous un contact vivant avec votre terre et votre culture d’origine ? 

C’est une question intéressante mais je ne me la pose pas. Car, comme je l’ai dit ma culture d’origine (créolité) est en moi. Je crois que le fait de voyager de part le monde a développé encore plus ce sentiment d’appartenance à une terre. Sachant d’ou je viens je sais exactement où je vais. Je sais que tôt ou tard je retournerai au pays. Je n’ai pas la nostalgie du pays car je suis toujours avec le pays. C’est très important pour moi. Car la nostalgie correspond souvent pour moi à un non-développement. On reste bloqué sur une période qu’on idéalise et qu’on aimerait bien retrouver quelque part. Le passé reste le passé et bien qu’il soit important de ne pas oublier le passé il est important de regarder vers l’avenir. Je parcourais le net l’autre jour et je suis tombé sur cette citation :
John Cage : “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” Il a parfaitement raison en quelque sorte. L’innovation, je ne vois que par cela.

Q : Un de vos romans, La Véranda, est étudié dans les collèges et lycées et vous avez même organisé un concours de collégiens en Martinique avec Ernest Pépin et José Lemoine, pour trouver une « suite » à La Véranda. Est-ce là votre façon de rendre à votre terre d’origine ce qu’elle vous a donné ?

C’est tout à fait dans mon optique. Transmettre à la génération future mes propres expériences sans la bombarder de préceptes inutiles me semble très important. Cette nouvelle génération vit déjà dans un monde multiculturel. Il est très important de leur apporter des connaissances sur leur propre culture dont ils doivent être fiers. Nous ne sommes plus dans les combats de reconnaissance. Ces jeunes gens ont Internet, des réseaux sociaux, les échanges se font à une vitesse impressionnante. Ce qui manque je pense c’est de susciter l’intérêt pour cette culture enrichissante qui est la leur. La littérature doit rester un plaisir. Le plaisir de lire, de se retrouver dans des personnages, de s’identifier à l’environnement dans lequel l’auteur nous plonge. Elle ne doit pas être en permanence un instrument de combat ni un instrument du pouvoir. Ce n’est pas non plus raconter une histoire pour raconter une histoire.

Q : Diriez-vous que Une Femme Chambardée est aussi un roman féministe ?

J’ai toujours eu un grand souci avec le mot féministe. L’histoire du féminisme avait un sens dans le temps. De nos jours, même s’il existe encore des disparités entre hommes et femmes surtout au niveau des salaires, on ne peut parler vraiment de féminisme. Héléna a autant d’aversion pour les hommes quand ils se comportent de façon outrageante (Monsieur de Malmaison) que pour les femmes qui se laissent faire (les caissières) dans le monde du travail. J’ai fait d’elle une sociologue. Elle est là elle observe et ne dit rien. Mes propos pourraient sûrement porter à confusion. Je ne dis pas que c’est l’avènement du féminisme parce que des femmes sont aux commandes de Boeing et d’Airbus de nos jours. Mais, je dis simplement que les temps ont changé. Héléna est une combattante. Elle combat tout, de l’ignominie des hommes à l’ineptie des conceptions religieuses. Elle, en tant que femme, ne voit pas ce que tout ceci va lui apporter et dans quelle mesure cela va améliorer sa condition. Sa révolte à elle ne concerne qu’elle, une sorte de révolution intérieure. A vrai dire c’est une femme sous pression qui pourrait exploser à n’importe quel moment. On me demande beaucoup, et surtout les lectrices, s’il y a une suite à ce moment. Peut être que les lectrices s’attendent à plus de révolte.