Six Survival Techniques for Translators during a Slump

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Since freelance translation came into existence, there has been no recurring topic than surviving during a “slump” or a “dry spell” in the life of a freelance translator. Since the beginning of my career, I have been challenged by many people to find a suitable way to escape from this problem, and I have always said that “you have to go through this throughout your career.” I have always read translators having more than 15-20 years of experience going through this too. It doesn’t mean they are any less efficient or effective than others. Neither it means they are poor in business skills or are unable to attract new clients.

Like any other businessman or self-employed professional, a translator also has his “highs” and “lows”. The idea is to change your paradigm. I have always seen this period as an opportunity to make the best use of my time by following some simple techniques:

  1. Keep learning: Having fewer projects means lesser confidence in yourself. As the period extends, you may also feel bored and may resort to idleness like unnecessary TV watching or unwanted sleep or never ending useless phone calls. This is the way most of us deal with the stress of having no work. Instead of doing this, you could learn a new software which could help you later in your business (like software related to DTP which is a value add skill for a translator) or any other skill which could add into your existing repertoire and help in attracting new clients and retaining the old ones. The idea is to always be a student.
  2. Feed the mind: If we want our bodies to remain healthy, we have to eat good food. Similarly, if we want our minds to remain alert, healthy and active, we have to feed it with “good thoughts”. A dry spell could really affect the nutrition of your mind. You may feel “no longer required” in this industry. This is the right time to feed your mind with some inspiring literature like reading biographies or people who have gone from “rags to riches” in their life such as Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Harrison Ford, etc. Though these people were not in the same profession, but you will observe that they have also faced many hardships to reach to the top.
  3. Revisit your mission statement: At the start of the career, everyone develops a mission statement or goal statement which defines the self-made path of a translator to achieve success. But in the midst of generating leads, landing on potential clients, adhering to client’s deadlines, doing projects continuously for months, one may tend to forget to think long-run and just gobbles up the opportunity right in front. Having some time off projects provides you the opportunity to revisit your mission, your goals and measure up your success so far. Furthermore, it may give you some great ideas to take your career further, to diversify yourself, to challenge yourself, etc.
  4. Spending time with your loved ones: When we are feeling low about ourselves, opening up to someone who loves you, who believes in you not only helps but also makes the bond stronger. I always discuss with my brother during these times because I know he always believes in me, even when I do not. It’s time to have a friend or a family member by your side to help you stay on track.
  5. Diverse your interests/income streams – Although freelancing is quite an enjoyable and lucrative business in itself, but in order to make the most out of your slump period, it is good to develop diverse interests. I personally teach French language at some institutes near my place at a very reasonable price and I blog too. Not only these activities are useful alternatives to mindless activities, these also develop your language skills and give an opportunity to meet new people.
  6. Go on a vacation: May be this slump period is here to remind you that it has been a long time since you have gone for a vacation. Go to a nice place with family and friends and rejuvenate your mind and body.

Ten Common Myths about Translation Quality

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The world of translation can be a quite confusing place, especially when you are the one buying the translation. Due to the invisibility factor of our business, coupled with less face-face conversation, it can be a tedious job for the buyer to select the best vendor for his/her translation needs. It’s like when I go to the mechanic to get my car fixed. As I have very little knowledge of the workings of an internal combustion engine, I feel absolutely blank when the mechanic tells me about the details of the problem.

This confusion leads to the perpetuation of some tactics which the buyers usually employ when they choose their translation partner. Though these may seem logical to them, but often it does more harm then good. Here are ten widespread misconceptions related to translation that can actually get in the way of ensuring the best quality.

Nine myths about the profession of a translator

Translation is a sunrise industry in India. Here, supply outweighs demand. But the nature of the work is such that the professionals remain invisible to the general layman. When somebody looks at a catalog describing the working specifications of a mobile phone, which is given is 6 different languages, he/she never thinks of the origin of these translations.

True ignorance of the working methodologies of a translator together with the invisibility nature of our profession leads to cropping-up of several myths among the general public. Here are some of them which have been busted in this blog post (nine-myths-about-the-profession-of-a-translator).

Some practical tips for Freelance translators

Translation industry in India , as I stated earlier, is in its nascent stage. There is a lot to be learned from our Western counterparts and also from our native senior professionals who have been, for last 30 years, running this industry. In order to learn from our experiences, we have to look back, we have to dig our past working experiences so that the mistakes once (or twice) made are not repeated.

Therefore, every now and then I come up with some easy practical tips which if used effectively, can work wonders:

1. Virtual and Physical presence: In general, advertising industry in India is growing at a rate of 12% every year and is expected to reach 1427 billion INR by 2016. That, in itself, clearly states that carving a niche for your brand has many long term benefits. The same applies to our business too. Making yourself known physically and virtually is very important. It allows potential clients to locate you easily and also helps you to showcase your talent on a global platform. Thankfully, it is not that costly for us freelance translators. A lot of “find a translator” directories are there (Proz, TranslatorsCafe, Traduguide, etc…) where you can get yourself registered for a minimal fee of less than 6000 INR per year (that means only 500 INR per month) and you are set. Now not only you can get in touch with all global clients, but also with many veteran professionals out there for constant tips regarding your career, software, associations, projects etc.

As for physical presence, there are a lot of conferences held by Proz (which mainly happens outside India) which can provide you with global exposure and make you realize that you are an actual, active part of a global economy. ITA (Indian Translators Association) also organizes conferences for its members as well as non-members.

2. Pro-bono translation: Pro-bono means public good. In other words, any professional work undertaken voluntarily without a fee or at a reduced fee. I know that it is somewhat against our motto for progress, but its like the phrase, “a great leap forward always requires two steps back”. Working pro-bono opens up wonderful opportunities, especially for beginners. There are several charitable organizations, NGOs, new start-up companies that requires interns working pro-bono. The experience one gets from working in this format is worth the effort. You get the chance to showcase your language talent for an actual client. It also enriches your whole working experience and is a great tool for contact-building. But working pro-bono does not mean that you extend this courtesy to dubious agencies who are giving you actual paid work to be translated for free.

3. Sharpening the saw – Freelance translation is a business with a feast and famine effect. Therefore, continuously updating you skill-set is not only beneficial but mandatory. Translation industry, like any other, is changing at a quick pace. Thus, we all have to go with the flow in order to remain active and working.

Beyond language learning

“So you have learnt XXXX language. Wow! That’s great. You can become a translator now”  

“It’s so easy, learn XXXX language. Somebody told me that there is a two year diploma in XXX University, and then you will be a translator”

“You have a great job. You get XXXXX rupees for just typing 4000 words. That’s awesome. I should be a translator too”

These are some of the statements I have heard during my last seven years of translation (although there were many more, but they are not worth discussing). It is weird. People in general do not know the difference between translation and language acquisition. Sure, language learning is the first step towards building a career in translation but that is it. This is just the first step. There are several other steps to be taken, many concepts to be learnt before one can call himself/herself a translator. To name a few, here it goes:

  1. Specialization: “So you have completed a Masters in French from XXX University. Now you are a translator. You know everything about this language. Build a business.” …..No! This is not how it works. Language specialization is one aspect. Knowing French, for example, does not mean that you can translate all that is written in French. From my experience, I can tell you that a Rack and pinion linear gear specifications document (Automotive domain) is very different from a toy manual about Rattles and Cuddly toys (Toy manual), though both of these may have been written in the same language. You have to target those sectors in which your interests lie and learn about those sectors, how they function, their assembly lines, the terminology they use daily (for e.g.: If you want to specialize in Automotive sector, you should know at least the working knowledge of gears, clutch, steering wheel, hubcaps, fenders….etc.).
  2. Learning on the job: Translation is a very new industry in India. This is why it is often called as a sunrise industry. It has not reached its boom yet. Although hearing this gives me a great deal of satisfaction that the best has yet to come, but it also hits me that as we are new, we still have a lot to learn. Also, we have only a few mentors. As you will agree, there are not many courses in translation taught in universities in India. The Indian Translators Association has only 10 translators registered in French<>English domain. Mr Sandeep Nulkar, CMD, Bits Pilani Limited has said “Presently, the translation industry is quite disorganized in the sense that there are immense job opportunities in the corporate as well as government sectors but the supply of skilled and efficient manpower to fill the vacancies is lacking. The novice translators with inappropriate training and partial understanding of language do more harm than good in their field of work”. The term novice translators refers to those translators who have just come out from language schools and claim to have all the knowledge required for translating any document, without even having the slightest idea that what this entails. We must not forget that it is our responsibility to make this industry organized and to lay the groundwork for us and our future colleagues. A lot of work has to be done. But is a not a futile endeavor. As I have said earlier, the best is yet to come.
  3. Target Audience – Being a translator is more like being a writer. A writer writes his work keeping the audience in mind. It is the same for us. Translation does not mean we put the English (Target Language) sentence in place of a French (Source Language) sentence and the work is done. We have to keep our audience in mind. For e.g.; In case of manual of a washing machine, the target audience will be consumers; common men and women who are more likely to have no knowledge of the specifics of a washing machine, its parts, the connection between them, etc. So the language has to be very lucid along with clear diagrams explaining its working so that they can properly operate it themselves in compliance with the company’s standards. A document of a software program, which will most likely be read by fellow developers, must be in a language that is straight, simple, with less use of idioms and proverbs and more detail should be given to the translation of the coded language (in many cases the codes are not even translated).
  4. Sharpen the saw – Dr. Stephen Cover, in his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effectively People”, named his last habit sharpening the saw which serves as the base for all other habits to function properly. I think it is an important activity if you want to be best in your field. A translator’s learning never stops. He is continuously learning; about new software, new words and idioms in their respective source and target languages being added every year, new ways to market themselves…etc. In a nutshell, you always remain a student with your mind always active to grasp new concepts.

A competent translator is not only bilingual but bi-cultural. A language is not merely a collection of words and rules of grammar and syntax, but it is also an interconnecting system of cultural references whose mastery is almost a lifetime job. Hence it is a misconception that a person fluent in two or more languages can easily become a translator. Language is a road map to a new world, translation is the journey.