Weighing up translation degrees: two oft-overlooked tips

Professor LeviSome of the best translators I know don’t have a degree in translation, so they are certainly not a requirement to becoming a translator.

However, an  increasing number of newcomers to the profession are opting to pursue a formal (usually postgraduate) qualification in the field.

So when translator Lloyd Bingham put out the following call a few months back on Twitter, it set me thinking:

What should you keep in mind when weighing up whether a translation degree is for you? Continue reading “Weighing up translation degrees: two oft-overlooked tips”

53rd ATA Annual Conference: In Pictures

I’m just back from the 53rd Annual Conference of the American Translators Association (ATA), which was held in San Diego 24 – 27 October this year. Here is a little conference round-up in images (written report to follow).

In the meantime, check out the conference Twitter feed and associated quotes, links and photos here.

Taking advice gracefully

It’s easy to look at a piece of advice and come up with a hundred reasons why it won’t work for you. There are as many ways to be a translator as there are translators, after all.

But maybe none of our professional problems are that unique. So if a suggestion doesn’t fit your situation 100%, rather than dismissing it entirely, I think it’s worth thinking about the ways in which it might fit.

For example, Fire Ant & Worker Bee are big advocates of the idea that translations appearing in print should bear the translator’s name as a matter of course, and that it is the responsibility of translators to ensure this happens. In their online column and book, they put up a good argument in support of this idea and offer easy-to-follow advice for translators wishing to pursue this option.

I think it’s a great idea. But given my current portfolio, it would be easy to dismiss it and focus on how it doesn’t suit me. For example, I don’t often work on translations that are destined for print, and as such, my work can be tweaked and updated by any number of people over its lifetime (which isn’t to say the work is any less critical or lucrative, of course).

But I can still see the merits of the suggestion, and there’s no reason why I can’t apply the principles behind it to all my translations. What translator wouldn’t benefit from taking concrete steps to ensure proper accountability, due recognition, rigorous standards and appropriate control of their work? These are lofty ideals and not easy to reach with every job, but that’s not to stay I should stop aspiring to them.

Regardless of our individual circumstances, I think we can all learn something if we keep our minds open and our brains turned on when we hear about the ways in which other translators work.

Translators do more than "just" translate

At the AUSIT Biennial Conference in November 2010, Tineke Van Beukering shared her thoughts and practical experience of post-editing machine translation output. It was a great session so I was delighted to attend another more indepth talk by Tineke on the same topic a few weeks ago.

Among other things, she covered:

  • the role of the MT post-editor.
  • the advantages of using MT + a skilled post-editor (i.e. it’s not just about the money).
  • the differences between MT post-editing and checking.
  • a typical MT workflow, including other emerging sources of work, e.g. MT optimisation.
  • how to make a lucrative income stream out of MT post-editing.
  • how and why she got into this line of work.
  • what she finds most satisfying about it.

Machine translation: not a question of good” or bad”

Something that particularly interested me was Tineke’s discussion of her initial resistance to working with MT output, and how she came to terms with that.

She said it posed an ethical dilemma for her when she was first offered this work, because she didn’t want to contribute to practices which she believed might lead to the end of her profession. These initial concerns reflected many of the usual fears we  hear bandied about when the topic of MT makes an appearance, and I was impressed with the way in which Tineke went about  testing her fears, before coming to her current and ultimately more informed conclusions.

What constitutes a “real” translator?

I also got the impression that Tineke felt she had to strongly defend her decision to work with MT output to her peers. I sensed that she may have been at the receiving end of explicit or implicit criticism for her choice in the past. (To be fair, I didn’t get a chance to talk to Tineke about this so I could be way off base.)

It caught my attention because I’ve seen this kind of snobbery rear its ugly head in the profession before.  And it’s a shame that some translators feel they can look down on peers who apply translation skills in a way that may not fit the traditional “word-in, word-out” model of translation.

To stay relevant, translators need to be able to apply translation-related skills to a range of communicative tasks. I see it as an extension of the poverty-trap mentality which Jill Sommers refers to here, when those who dare to earn a living and adapt to a changing profession are somehow deemed less of a “proper” translator for doing so.

Translation professionals vs. people who translate

I didn’t entirely agree with all the points Tineke made though. For example, she drew some comparisons between the use of translation technology today and the automation of tasks during the industrial revolution, which saw so many workers lose their jobs.

For me, this doesn’t sit well for a couple of reasons, primarily because it compares translators to workers who were often unskilled and who did low-level, repetitive manual labour. While many such workers were indeed replaced by technology during the industrial revolution, some jobs were retained, and many new ones were created for supervisors, managers, skilled technicians, and so on. In my view, professional translators are more akin to these managerial, skilled and/or specialised roles.

Tineke spoke too about the financial benefits of working in this emerging field. This reminded me of an ITI salary survey from 10 years’ ago (the most recent one, as far as I’m aware). Those who reported generating the highest income were referred to as “language professionals”, while all other categories of earners were “translators”. At the time I hypothesised that maybe this was because these professionals applied more to their work than their (not inconsiderable) translation skills, and viewed themselves more broadly than through the prism of translation only.

Crystal-ball gazing has never been my thing. But I’m now more convinced than ever that this is how the careers of professional translators will look in the future. There will always be work for those with highly developed translation skills, but very few of us will work with words in a way we recognise today. This is not something to be sad about, any more than we should feel sad that accountants now use Excel instead of abacuses. Because as our roles become increasingly sophisticated and complex, we evolve, and professionalise, and gain greater recognition.

Above all, we need to be careful with our judgements and our snobberies (and I include myself in that). We need to encourage more translators like Tineke to stand up and share what they’re experiencing at the wordface, without making them feel like their commitment to the profession will be called into question in the process. Because we can’t prepare for the future if we’re not even aware of what’s happening around us in the present.

Book Review: The Prosperous Translator

The Prosperous Translator: Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee, compiled and edited by Chris Durban, is simply jam-packed with wisdom. It answers questions on every imaginable scenario under the sun, including many you may recognise but would never dare to admit. It’s not a guide to translation, nor is it a manual on getting up and running in business. What it does offer though, is a realistic, well-balanced view of the profession and the wider industry in which we operate.

The Prosperous Translator
My well-thumbed copy of The Prosperous Translator

The book is based around problems, yet these sticky wickets are transformed into golden opportunities. Challenges are re-framed in a practical and insightful way. Advice usually comes with suggestions of concrete actions or scripts, which apply regardless of language combination, specialism or circumstance. Every path, every option, every scenario is considered with the following in mind: Is this where I want to be as a professional translator? And I kid you not, this mindset alone could change your life. (Or your bottom line, at the very least.)

I got this book late last year with the intention of reviewing it before Christmas, but it was a victim of its own awesomeness. When it came to writing up a review, I needed some serious time and liquid preparation before I could even attempt to do justice to the quantity and quality of information contained within its covers. But enough about me: you’re here for the book.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Prosperous Translator”

Getting over the hump. Or: long-term career development for translators

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One of the best things about being a freelance translator is that it is entirely up to you how your career develops. I’ve always found that very empowering. But of course, one of the worst things about being a freelance translator is that it is entirely up to you how your career develops. It’s not always easy to handle that degree of choice.

Jed Schmidt, the original globe-trotting translator, says that translators have three options when it comes to developing long-term careers in translation. They can go deep, and immerse themselves so thoroughly in a particular area they become the go-to translator for that niche. They can go wide, and expand into providing other translation-related services. Or they can go fish: leave translation itself behind but move into a job that is still part of the wider translation industry. Continue reading “Getting over the hump. Or: long-term career development for translators”

Conference report: Transparency in subtitling

Add subtitles to video podcasts

What happens when your audience is constantly reminded that your work is a translation, and your words are only a small part of a much bigger picture of meaning? This heightened level of transparency adds an interesting dimension when it comes to translating for subtitles.

Dr Jing Han is a Chief Subtitler at SBS TV, Australia’s extraordinary multilingual and multicultural public broadcasting service. Her paper on cross-lingual & cross-cultural communication in subtitling at the recent AUSIT Conference made us all reflect on how we facilitate the transfer of meaning between cultures. Continue reading “Conference report: Transparency in subtitling”

Happy International Translation Day

Saint Jerome and a skull, by Lucas van Leyden.
Saint Jerome and a skull (purportedly a late-paying client), by Lucas van Leyden.

St Jerome: a man as relevant to translators today as he was in 420AD!

International Translation Day has been promoted since 1991 by the FIT. The day coincides with St Jerome’s Day, who was recognised by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of translators, scholars and editors, as well as libraries and librarians.

Check out this post for a full run-down on the man who was “no admirer of moderation, whether in virtue or against evil”.

Incidentally, this year’s theme for the day is translation quality for a variety of voices. (And no, I’m not entirely sure what it means either.)

So without further ado, let me point you to some special posts in honour of International Translation Day’s past:

Celebrate in style, colleagues and friends. I know I will.