Thursday, December 12, 2013

Guest post: a report from Trikonf 2013

We all know that CPD and networking are an essential part of a freelance translator’s professional life – and they can be really enjoyable on a personal level, too.
I am happy to post a Conference report from a colleague who, like me, enjoys keeping in touch with other translators and sees them as team mates instead of competitors.

Nelia Fahloun is a qualified English and Spanish to French translator, specializing in legal and marketing translation. She runs her own business Babeliane Traductions.
At Trikonf13 she was also a speaker, presenting a seminar about the freelance translator’s working environment and network.

Thank you Nelia for your report!

It has been a few weeks since I came back from the Tri-National Translation Conference, or TriKonf, which took place on 18-20 October in Freiburg em Brisgau, Germany. 
Elisa and I connected on social networks a few weeks before the TriKonf and then started chatting on Skype on a regular basis. Elisa then offered me to write a guest post reporting on my experience of the conference, and I am happy to oblige her! I should add (as I did during the conference) that my Skype exchanges with Elisa prior to the conference were a great moral support as I was struggling to find time to actually write my presentation, so kudos to you, Elisa!

My experience at the TriKonf can be summed up with a few words: it was brilliantly organized, the sessions were diverse and inspiring and most of all, the participants were friendly, open and all willing to network. 
The TriKonf was a unique conference in many ways:
- sessions were held in three languages: German, English and French
- the organizers managed to obtain support from major European professional associations of translators and interpreters
- the event attracted around 140 participants from Europe and beyond, which is admirable considering that it was privately organized.

The conference was organized in a single location, the Historisches Kaufhaus, which is worth seeing in itself. 
The actual conference took place on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October, with masterclasses in English or German organized on the Friday. 
I would have loved to attend the Friday masterclasses, but due the long travel hours, that would have meant leave home on Thursday morning.

The programme catered for all tastes and specializations and I think the luckiest ones were attendees who could understand English, French and German as they were able to choose among all sessions. You cannot imagine how much I now regret not learning German during my school years!

Attending this conference has confirmed what I had previously noted at previous translator events: even if the travel is long and the programme packed with sessions, even if I come home physically tired, I enjoy every minute of it and have the impression to go back to work with a newfound energy. Everyone I met at TriKonf has been very positive, and also eager to learn and happy to connect. Some people see other translators as competitors, but I don't. I may be naive, but all I saw in Freiburg was a great bunch of very intelligent people with a lot of experience, diverse opinions, backgrounds, language combinations and specializations and so much to give to the translation community, be they speakers or participants. 
There was discussion over the term of "translation industry" and I have to admit I have no ready opinion on whether we are part of an "industry" as such. I like the word "community" a lot better.

For photos and archives of TriKonf 2013, feel free to visit The next TriKonf will take place on 9-11 October 2015 and the website will be updated in due course.

By Nelia Fahloun - Babeliane Traductions

Thursday, September 19, 2013

International Translation Day: let's celebrate!

As many of you know, International Translation Day is celebrated every year on September 30, traditionally St. Jerome's day, who is considered the translator of the Bible and is celebrated as the patron saint of translators. In 1991, FIT (International Federation of Translators) promoted the idea of an officially recognized Translation Day, inviting the whole world to acknowledge and show appreciation for the profession. 

As the date is getting close, I am pleased to share a beautiful project by Belgian translator Emeline Jamoul, who kindly contacted me to ask if I am willing to participate. Of course I am!

To support our profession, raise awareness about its importance, and share the love, Emeline is planning to:
- ask as many translators as possible to write down what translation means to them, and publish all the answers on a dedicated blog on Sept. 30;
- create the hashtag #Translationis which we can use to tweet a sentence beginning with “Translation is...”;
- publish an interview with a translator every day from Sept. 20 to 30.

For more details on the project and to contact Emeline, please click here.

Fellow translators, proudly participate and make it a great day!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

E-mails: writing and replying

As freelancers, communication and networking are an essential part of our strategy; getting it right is key to our professional image and success.
Whether you’re contacting potential clients or networking with new colleagues, writing and replying to e-mails (or other messages) is routine in business; I would like to share my top tips and insights about this (only apparently) simple and straightforward task.

- Do your research. Be informed about who you're addressing: this lays the foundations for your communication (and reputation, too: you cannot build trust if you don't care enough). Also, say you appreciate what they do.
- Address people by name. If you’re pitching to a prospect and want to stand out, you certainly shouldn’t treat them as if their name didn’t even matter. Starting a conversation as if the recipient were someone anonymous or random is annoying to who’s actually reading. And looking up a person’s name is a basic sign of respect. It also takes just a few seconds: most “Contact” pages also list staff names and positions in the company.
Be careful with names that may refer to both male and female: take a few minutes to check elsewhere, for ex. social profiles or articles about that person, to find out (I had to do this recently).
- Be concise but relevant. If it's your first message, a few lines are really enough to introduce yourself, state why you're writing, and indicate what they shall do (contact you if interested? Answer a specific question? Collaborate on a project?). Don't put in too much information, its not necessary at this stage and it wouldn't get the attention you're hoping for. You need to be able to select the appropriate relevant info to appeal to your contact, then leave them with the option to reply and find out more.
- Don't sell just quality, sell benefits. You're an oustanding translator/proofreader and that's fine - that's a must actually. But people often remember that we exist only when they actually need something translated (urgently, of course), or they don't even know they need our services, for example they have a badly translated website or other material that needs editing without them being aware. State why and how your services should benefit their company.
- Thank the person for taking time to read your message. This is is not just a formality for me - it is something very important. I believe that acknowledging each other's contribution makes everything nicer and healthier.

That said, let me take the whole issue to the next step: we all write and receive e-mails, but what about replying?

My opinion is that when an e-mail is properly written, i.e. it's kind and respectful, it is a matter of politeness and professionality to reply and to do it accordingly (that is, being equally kind and respectful). No matter your interest or availability – a "Sorry to say no [we don't need your services / it doesn't fit our budget or schedule right now / I don’t have the answer to your inquiry / whatever], but thanks for your time and interest" is perfectly fine and, in my opinion, way better than no reply at all. If someone takes the time to show interest in you/your company, then they equally deserve the time of a couple of lines. How long does it take after all? You don't have to do it immediately; we're all busy and we all need to organize our daily schedule and prioritize. But I am sure we can all squeeze in a few seconds within a reasonable timeframe - some days are still ok if the matter is not urgent.

As for myself, I value very much people who do respond and I am much more willing to work or keep in touch with them, for a simple reason: they prove to be polite, open, and reliable. Three qualities I am daily committed to, and that - in turn - I would really like to see in others too.

In a very interesting SDL webinar called "Conflict and Resolution:unreasonable customers and tricky situations", linguist Judy Jenner pointed out that replying or not replying may also depend on culture; for example, her twin sister and business partner Dagmar finds that not replying as a way to say (or, to avoid saying!) "not interested" is much more common in Europe than in the USA, where – Judy says – it's more likely that the person had actually forgotten about the message and even appreciates a reminder.
I am European and I must say Dagmar has a point here: it often happens. Still, it never fails to surprise (and disappoint) me.

It would be interesting to hear more perspectives on this. Any comments? Share them here!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Coursera: my own experience

Image from the course "Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life" offered by Coursera

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about some great opportunities for free high-quality online education. Because CPD is so important (natural sciences is one of my specialization areas), and out of genuine interest for the subject, I signed up for the 5-week course “Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” on Coursera, offered by the University of Edinburgh and the UK Centre for Astrobiology and taught by professor Charles Cockell. I successfully completed the course and got a certificate with distinction, having scored 100% in the weekly quizzes.
I would like to share my own experience, which is very positive.
Far from having to do with some science fiction stuff, the course dealt with some concrete issues with scientific rigour: astrobiology is a rapidly developing branch of science that aims at understanding the origin and evolution of life on our planet and investigating the possibilities of life elsewhere, whether it’s microbial or intelligent. Of course there are still a lot of unanswered questions, things we still can’t understand. The lessons were structured so that scientific data and reasonable hypotheses were effectively balanced –  I would say, science with an open mind.
Astrobiology is also a very multidisciplinary subject involving astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, genetics, geology, even philosophy.
The course was designed to be accessible to a wide audience but did not lack detailed insights, so my subject-matter knowledge turned out to be helpful to grasp concepts better and link the dots.
Some of the things I especially appreciated are:
- you can pause and replay the videos as often as you like;
- you can take extensive notes and use them as a reference to carry out further research on the issues that pick your interest, and to compile a glossary (very helpful for translators!);
- scripts and videos of the classes are available in an archive and can also be downloaded, and stay there in your personal course record even after you have completed the course, so you can get back to them anytime;
- the teacher regularly interacted and answered some of the most interesting questions from students in a dedicated forum, and the course staff was very open to feedback;
- for those who take courses in one of their non-native languages, it’s a great chance to keep your ear trained.
As for the quizzes, I think the difficulty level was quite appropriate; what I especially liked was that some questions were not strictly related to this or that sentence or slide from a given lecture – instead, they required further research or, at least, an effort to go beyond a single concept and try to grasp the bigger picture behind it.

Since February, Coursera has some news: 29 new universities joined the platform, which means more courses on different subjects and 4 more languages available: Spanish, Italian, French and Chinese, even if for a very limited number of courses (the vast majority are in English).

Like I said, the classes are offered by different universities and institutes, so the course logistics can vary a lot. I had a very enjoyable experience with the Astronomy course and have already signed up for more courses – I’ll report back!
What about your own experience with MOOCs? I’d like to hear from you.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday fun... and reminder!

Taken from IAPTI Facebook page
A golden rule for freelance translators: network, network, network! Go out and meet people. Soak in your specialisms in person - readings and online resources are great, but you need to be out there, too. Let potential clients know how you can help them. And always have your business cards with you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spot...ify the mistake!

Last week the famous music streaming service Spotify made its debut in Italy after being around for some years already in other countries. Being a born musicaholic, I downloaded it on my pc and started browsing the official website to know more about the options offered. That’s when I came across the following page:

Ouch! The Italian speakers will immediately notice the glaring mistakes there: from accents that don’t belong to the Italian language (panorámica, piú... Looks like some weird sort of... Itañol?!?) and shouldn’t be there at all (quí), to clearly unnatural phrasings that a native would never use (to mention only a couple of examples from my screenshot, vista panoramica refers to a nice landscape, not an “Overview” of a website, and Impara di più has a flashing red flag on it saying “Literally translated from the English Learn more”).
I did a quick research and found out that the staff has opened a forum thread where users can report typos in their own languages. It turns out there are plenty of them in many languages. Well, not typos actually – utter mistakes.
Now, I don’t know who or what translated it, and I’m aware that the aim here is not to present a product professionally and enhance its sales, but rather to make the menu readable to users worldwide; yet I always cringe when I see language misused that way. I am sure Spotify accurately planned its international releases and checked that all its services were working properly, so why shouldn’t language be worth a little more effort?
Language matters, and any occasion should be a good one to state so!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"You're a native speaker? Then you can translate!"

A profession is not something you improvise: you build up skills and experience by investing time and money, by working hard, and by being committed to continuing professional development. I think this can never be overstated, that’s why the following story had me in one of my best fighting-modes ;-)
A Russian girl who lives in Italy was asked by an Italian travel agency to translate some texts into her native language. She has never translated before and she is clueless about it (her own admission; I don’t know her at all), nonetheless she accepted and then asked some people about how much they think she should charge. I was asked too through some common acquaintances, but my answer was not what they expected. First of all, I couldn’t help pointing out that before even starting a discussion on rates, it should be clear that the travel agency shouldn’t have called a non-professional in the first place (unless they’re ok with a bad self-image). Also, I stated that the girl should have turned down the request because that isn’t her job, or at least she should warn the client that the quality of her work is unlikely to match professional standards. Finally, I added that if the parties choose to agree for the job anyway, she should do it for free.
I simply don’t take work I am not qualified to do, let alone being paid for that. It’s a basic ethical principle for me, and it honestly annoys me when I see it overlooked.
My interlocutors argued that I was blowing things out of proportion. “She’s a native speaker and desperately needs money, why should she turn down that assignment or do it for free?”. Because being a native speaker alone means nothing. Because by accepting she steals work from those who have invested a lot to qualify. Because blurring the line between quality and amateur work spoils the market for us, and our image too. Because it’s simply unfair.
Even worse: “I’m sure those are easy texts”. Yeah, anyone can do it, right?
I know the girl is probably unaware of all of this, but that doesn’t mean we should just let it go instead of clarifying things.
I made an example to support my point: if a specialized magazine asked me for a photo report just because my cell phone has a camera, one would immediately think this magazine is not quality-oriented. If I accepted to do the report, one would think I am doing someone else’s job (and blame the magazine for its poor commitment in choosing its contributors). If I even asked for money, some people would think I don’t deserve it, while others would feel entitled to earn money too by selling poor quality pictures. And a professional photographer would feel robbed of his own job (and skills, and efforts).
The point here is not that we should close the door to people who may build up their career from less than academic paths; you’re always welcome to learn, but until you’re not qualified you shouldn’t step into professional territories.
The most disappointing thing was that I actually talked about it with a professional in another field, and while he agreed when taking his own job as an example, he failed to see the point as far as translation is concerned. Being a native speaker who picks up a foreign language is still widely seen as a stand-alone criterion for translating. This is a serious cultural issue that we have to face.
Any comments? Please share them!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Free online courses by top-notch universities

I would like to spread the word about a great initiative by some of the most prestigious universities in the world (thanks to Judy&Dagmar at Translation Times for the info!). It’s an open-source online education platform called edX, founded by Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and now expanding to include more world-class institutions, where anyone with an internet connection can enrol for free and take MOOCs (massive online open classes) on a series of different subjects. Upon successful completion, students get a certificate from the university that offered that course.
The program aims at reaching a very wide audience, so there are no admission tests, but some courses are highly technical and there is a list of prerequisites for them. As for class schedule, some are fixed, others allow for more flexibility; the estimated effort (hours per week) varies for each course. Also, free online textbooks and sources are available, and there is a chance for group discussion. Check the website for more info.
Among the courses currently offered for the Spring, I am especially interested in Human Health and Global Environmental Change, and The Ancient Greek Hero. Both good for my professional development and personal interest too! Let’s see when more info are available for them.
Another popular platform is Coursera, which partners with 33 top-class universities to offer more than 200 online courses in a wide range of categories, including sci-tech, humanities, business, economy, law, social sciences, music, film and audioengineering etc. Just browse through the list and see what sparks your interest.
If anyone of you has some experience with these platforms or some tips/comments, please share them here!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy New (Translators) Year!

Busy days! I am focused on my business, working on improving my marketing and pricing strategies, getting my website ready, reading a lot to keep up to date with the industry and my specialization fields, and drafting new blog posts to keep the conversation going about interesting subjects. And just enjoying the creative flow along the process!
Also, I wish to say a big thank you to all the wonderful colleagues out there who regularly share their expertise, advice, and experience with a smile. Such a precious contribution!
So, let’s make it a great year for our profession. Here’s a nice way to keep up the inspiration: Marta at Want Words has designed this badge which you can grab to share the positive thinking! :-)