A day in the life of a translator – Sure, I am in control

Plan Your translation project if you don't want to end up in the loony bin

Recent experiences as a translator have led me to reassess my performance in terms of productivity when faced with long translation projects. I noticed that I like to dive straight into every new translating project and, like the vast majority of what I do, I go hard at it for the most part of 3 or 4 days. My productivity is then very high. But on any project that extends more than 2 or 3 weeks, I start to get bored or interested in other activities.

Facing the problem of a big translation project

I’ve translated a few long documents recently and invariably my productivity is sky high in the first 3 or 4 days, while I get the impression that I’m going to end well before the deadline.

So I relax, start accepting other smaller translation projects. Suddenly, I’m into low productivity until finally realising that with the remaining time, it seems like it will be almost impossible for me to complete everything.

Luckily, I panic about delaying the delivery of the translation, so this always saves me.

So in a matter of two weeks, I output everything I have not produced in two months.

Happy ending, but I finish exhausted.

After some 4 or 5 recent experiences like this, I spent a year fulfilling my promise to myself that I would not face long projects any longer.

Until a good customer of mine offered me an interesting project, and then I needed to rethink my productivity and the way I work my translation projects.

Planning your translation project

And this is what works for me:

What I recommend for anyone who has ever seen panic weekends is: be pessimistic. Just because you produced 5,000 words on a great day does not mean you can keep that average for a month. I always do my best to negotiate comfortable deadlines, and in the case of my last big translation project, the secret was to establish and meet a relatively low average, which I could accomplish in half a day’s work, but with constancy. Even though I spent almost two weeks in the project, every day, I would open a worksheet I created and mark another business day, monitoring the average number of words that I would have to output, which was still viable without ending up being committing to the Loony Bin.

If necessary, weekends can be used to increase the average without increasing a working day.

Also, don’t forget that it takes time to review your work. I like to review slowly, not everything at once in the end. You can choose to review on the weekends or just at the end of the project. In this case, I suggest that you calculate a smaller number of business days for the translation, leaving a certain number of days for review only.

In short: plan yourself well and try to be consistent. Leave the adrenaline to the amusement park.

Get A job! (in subtitling)

subtitling video

Translation Markets for Subtitling

In the “subtitling market”, like the field of translation, there is no uniform market, capable of being synthesised under one label. There are many sub-fields, which include different specialisations within subtitling (which in turn is a specialisation within the field of audiovisual translation).

So there is no simple answer to those simple questions I am often asked:

“How does the subtitling market work?” or

“Are there many subtitling jobs?” or

“Do I need to attend a subtitling workshop?”

Subtitling in the old days

As with translation, the various niches of work with subtitling have been developed from necessity. The existence of companies specialising in the translation of audiovisual materials is recent – until very recently, it was the film producers and distributors who were in charge of the translation, as the demand arose. The task was not always performed by properly trained professionals.

Cinema is the oldest medium for movie viewing. As the need for film translation around the world increased, a standardisation was developed, with relatively uniform methods worldwide. It is worth remembering that cinema took decades to spread, establishing its own language, conquering space. The translation of films had time to establish standards of work and quality.

Explosion of Audiovisual Translation

Companies began to focus on translation 20 or 30 years ago

The global explosion of audiovisual translation came with the advent of VHS, when it became necessary to relaunch – and retranslate – all the production already launched in 35 mm. In addition, the costs of production and especially of film distribution were much lower, which increased the production of new materials. It was then, 20 or 30 years ago, that companies began to appear more focused on the tasks of translation. VHS involved other physical materials, other devices for editing, and other medium for its display – the TV screen rather than the movie screen. This forced the translators to adopt methods and techniques, as they were not able to use the translations made to the cinema and not even its methodology. Different producers, in different places, were adapting the working methods. There were a lot more VHS than film producers, the demand for translation increased, and translators for the film industry started to emerge.

Markets in Subtitling

There were already two big markets, each with its producers, their methods and their translators. The cinema continued to grow, but the VHS increased the commercialisation of films and the demand for translation exponentially.

Translation for the DVD Market

Then came the DVD revolution as part of the new digital media movement. Again, the old catalogues needed to be re-released. Many new programs started to be produced directly using digital media. The audience reached became even greater than all of the previous ones. And, this time, each DVD movie could include several translations, in different modalities (subtitling and dubbing, for example) and more than one language. Again, there was a radical change in media, technique, technology, and therefore translation methodology. The universe of producers would shrink because the digital world would require a smaller infrastructure than that of VHS and much smaller than that of cinema – nowadays a producer may consist of a man with a powerful computer.

Audiovisual translation becomes erratic

The enormous demand for translation associated with the fragmentation of the film industry and distributor made the entire translation process – from selecting a translator to quality control, and working methodology – more inconsistent: a serious producer could invest more in the quality of the translations while video editors would be looking for an inexpensive service, regardless of quality.

In addition, sometimes the original distributor of the film would be in charge of the translation. Occasionally, a producer under contract would carry out editing or distribution tasks in the target culture. Sometimes, a company specialised in translation would do so.

More Independent Producers, More Dissociated Translation

And then there was cable TV

And let’s not forget the fact that digital resources had increased the production of non-commercial films, which were invisible to the cinema and TV audience: those made by companies and organisations for institutional, educational and technical purposes, I mean. The market would become “independent”, with a rapid growth and usually offered a very good remuneration for translators.

And then there was cable TV, which again led to the development of specialised producers, which often contracted translators, in addition to outsourced ones. There would come different materials, other audiences and goals for translation. As of today, it is a market that continues to grow.

Distribution of a movie in 5 different markets would lead to it being translated 4 or 5 times

So as you can see, we already have 4 or 5 subtitling markets. If the same movie were to go through all of them, it would probably be translated 4 or 5 times, by different companies and translators. Each of them does not constitute a specialisation itself, nor are they totally independent or detached from each other, but it is common for translators to become more involved with one, sometimes having little contact with others. It all depends on which of these niches opens the first door and how everything unfolds from there. If a translator starts providing services to a Blu-Ray company and works, it is more likely that he will continue in that niche, getting to know and interact with other companies in the industry. In a similar way, a technical translator who already has contact with companies of a certain sector and has mastered subtitling techniques is more likely to be successful translating technical films for companies of that sector.

In recent years, the Blu-Ray and cable TV markets, which are the most unstable in terms of translation quality, have been investing more and more in selecting the right translators, in training and quality control, particularly in response to complaints from consumers and subscribers.

Pricing in subtitling

Prices depend on the supply-demand relationship

Just as there was no unified market, there is also no standardised pricing in subtitling translation. As with the entire translation market, prices depend on the supply-demand relationship, the degree of expertise and experience of the translator, and how many intermediaries exist between the translator and the end customer.

Bill Gates do not hire translators to translate the next Windows, nor does Dan Brown look for translators around the world for his next bestseller. Nor is Spielberg coming to France to choose a translator for his films. There are a lot of companies and people between them and us – and as translators, we are almost at the end of the production and distribution stages of any material, including the audio-visual ones.

Of course, the less gap between the translator and the people who order the translation service – for example, the distributor of a certain film in France or the company preparing a specific technical video – the more one is able to charge appropriately.

There are many variables when pricing subtitling

When dealing with a large producer who has been contracted by the final customer to take care of editing, distribution and translation, the producer will absorb most of the client’s budget and will offer the translator something between half and a quarter of the price ​​suggested by the industry. Yet, there is a lot of variation, since each producer has its own grid, which can take into account either the duration of the films or the number of characters of the subtitling, or the degree of difficulty of the material, the languages ​​involved and even the level of experience of the translator.

There are many variables. It is impossible to know ​​how much a translator earns. For the same feature film, one can earn from $400 to $1500, depending on the conditions. The job can vary from 3 to 10 days. Of course, the higher the productivity, the more earnings the translator gets, so a more specialised and experienced translator usually earns more – his client base is larger and his work more efficient.

Current Situation of the Subtitling Business

The film industry remains active, but the number of titles released does not increase (at least significantly) every year. Therefore, it is a more stabilised market, which does not actively search for new translators very often.

The opposite occurs with newer markets, Blu-Ray, cable TV, and institutional and technical films. They keep growing and searching for more skilled translators. The concern with quality has led to the proliferation of instrumental courses for translators. Today, there is a great offer of subtitling courses, with different objectives. The industry, for its part, has given preference to translators with some experience or at least who have taken some courses in the field.

New subtitling software come up every year

Technology is developing at an increasingly crazy pace. Ten years ago, almost all translators specialised in the field used * a * subtitling software, available in the “free but horrendous” or “professional and expensive” version. Now new programs come up every year, also with different offers. A video producer may employ expensive software for editing, while their translators work with inexpensive or even free (but modern and excellent) applications that generate formatted files that are compatible with customers’ requirements. Therefore, one of the essential tasks of service providers is to keep abreast of new technologies and resources available.

It is worth noting that it is not essential to use specific software for subtitling. Many writers prepare text files so that their translators work using only a text editor, such as Word. The film business also does not work with specific software, and translations are also done in Word. However, the translator who is proficient with certain applications has access to a wider range of clients, especially those dealing with newer technologies. Nowadays, a translator who wants to enter the subtitling market will have much fewer opportunities if he does not master subtitling software.

Subtitling translators can now translate from a distance

Digital technologies have also freed customers and translators of space constraints. There is no longer a need to be around to pick up and carry stacks of VHS tapes and paper scripts. Currently, the most common method of working is from a distance: the producer generates a low-resolution digital copy of the film and transfers it to the translator via the internet. This system also sends the translation when it’s ready (in text format) over the internet to the client. Therefore, the physical location of the translator and the client is no longer relevant, and even the selection process can be carried out at a distance.

Early Career in Subtitling

The major producers of Blu-Ray and cable TV – several of them fully dedicated to audiovisual translation – have for years had an increasing demand for subtitling and are always looking for good translators. Pricing tends to fall, but there is a great deal of demand, so this is a good entry point for professionals who do not have other contacts in some higher paying niche. Subtitling is a good place to learn and gain autonomy.

Personally, from my experience, I gain more or less the same by dedicating myself exclusively to providing services to video producers than to publishers or translation agencies (three types of clients notorious for the great service offering and for “weak” remuneration). Whenever the opportunity arises to provide direct services to final clients – or to smaller and more specialised intermediaries – the pay is better.

Make yourself known in the subtitling market

Does “subtitling pay well?” It is not possible to say because as mentioned previously, there is no standardisation. In my opinion, the subtitling market is a true example of what the universe of translation is all about: there are better and worse customers, and better and worse translators. It is up to us to make our way in the market, making contacts, making ourselves known, seeking to improve, and thus finding the best projects and clients. Much comes with time and dedication.

We are always knocking on doors, and not always those that open are the ones we imagined. It takes a good dose of “elbow grease”. The more tools we have at hand and the more techniques we master, the better we are prepared to grab an opportunity when it comes.


Is it possible to live well with subtitling?


Although what could be considered as “living well” is a personal and non-transferable issue. In addition, most translators are “multitasking” and not restricted to one translation market – it’s my case.

Do you have to be in France or in Paris to work with subtitling?

No need.

Everything goes through the web. Translators interact with one another and with clients through various resources. Not knowing or making good use of these resources means losing most job opportunities.

Do you need any type of certificate or formal study to work in the market?


Customers want performance and quality. When reviewing your service proposal, they want to know if you have any experience. Of course, having studied, attending a subtitling workshop and prepare yourself helps a lot. Taking a subtitling course means you already have some hands-on experience, and that’s usually enough for any potential customer. What really counts, in practice, is your first experience working with that customer. If it is satisfactory, it does not matter if you have four PhDs. So be prepared to meet the demands of the market with quality – which, in the case of subtitling, are mostly practical.

A Translator’s Life: The Edge of Reason

procrastinating with facebook

Motivation vs. Procrastination in the Life of a Translator

In recent months, many things that I have done and seen have made me think on productivity. What motivates and what hinders our work routine, and how all this reflects in our image and our professional success as translators. Today, I will gather some thoughts and information on this.

From translating an inspirational book

Recently, I completed the translation of a booklet about self-help for a customer, which had a great impact on me (Cannot give you its title at this stage as it is waiting for publication).

I loved doing this translation, with which I also learned a lot.

Small, with tiny chapters, written in simple and direct language, permeated with illustrations, it is intended for businessmen or people who wish to start a business, or maybe not even that. Yet, this one is very different from any other kind of self-help business books out there. It demystifies many notions about business we hear. yet, always with a lot of common sense and almost excessive frankness. Virtually all the topics covered in the book can be applied to freelancers as well, especially to translators who have a business. I’ve found myself reflected in many chapters – or saw my past, my background, past jobs, colleagues. Even in typical day-to-day situations in an office, which have nothing to do with me, I saw relatives and friends there.

To Gaining Valuable Insights Into My Translation Business

There are valuable insights on preparing and launching new ventures, outreach, business concepts, use of technology, distance co-operation, competition, and much about productivity and motivation. I do not want to give away too much here, but a lot of things stuck with me. Not everything is new, but said in such an eloquent way, with great real examples. The text ends up reinforcing what people in the background already know, besides giving us some well-deserved slaps in the face. For example:

— Everything you do, say, write, every phone call, every invoice, every email – everything – is marketing.

— Being a workaholic, turning nights and weekends, sleeping little and eating badly, and still being proud of it, ultimately is being incompetent, disorganised, clumsy. Working a lot has nothing to do with working well.

— Having brilliant ideas or making big plans is no merit; What really makes the difference is in actually realising a succession of little good ideas every day.

— Current interaction tools have revalued writing – emails, text messages, websites, blogs. Communication should be efficient, clear, informative. Writing well is the fruit of the clarity and organisation of thoughts; therefore, when recruiting partners, give preference to those who write well.

— Want to be immune to competition? Make your product your own, something that only you can do, your way of being, something inimitable. Not just the result of your work, but the whole experience of working with you. (Another that applies even more to translators, as opposed to entrepreneurs from other areas.)

— To excel and have a differential, share and teach. The more people want to do what you do, the way you do, the more you establish yourself as a leader.

— Our great enemy is interruption. We only surrender when we can work for a while without any kind of interruption, so you have to schedule work periods like this.

— What drive productivity is motivation, and this is the result of many factors, including a favourable environment, attainable goals and small daily successes – more on this issue next.

— And much, much more.

How people procrastinate

More motivation to be a better translator

Also recently, I attended a convention for small entrepreneurs. I confess that at first I did not give it much credit – such a public thing, for free… What do I know, right? But it was exceptional. Great lectures, beginning with one of Google’s directors in Australia, and with many panels on digital media, marketing and business tools, etc. In a hall filled with computers, volunteers helped those who wanted to learn and open accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn and other networking sites. At the end of the day, I left full energy to improve my productivity, choose better customers, and make more productive partnerships.

And I cannot say why, but I have the impression that only this motivation, this desire to be effective, to reinforce the things that I clearly have been doing right and to correct what is not, already generates positive results. I think that just setting certain priorities or having clearer headings already translates into productivity – and effectiveness. And productivity translates into praise, better services, more money, more time to do what we like, and all this produces more motivation, of course.

Speaking of motivation, I discovered today, through a Twitter link, this beautifully illustrated lecture on the results of a research on motivation – what kind of reward yields good results, makes us win challenges. In a TED Talk, Dan Ariely does not say anything that we do not already know, but watching and reading him filled me with enthusiasm.

Professional Satisfaction as a Translator

I have seen dilemmas, debates and experiences about unattractive professional choices with huge monetary compensation versus choices that give more personal and professional satisfaction with little financial return. And increasingly I am an unconditional partisan of the second option. Because in the long run, a job that generates a good dose of motivation, which is a priority, that makes sense, inevitably generates financial return as well – and from a certain point, a higher financial return alone does not increase the motivation, quite the opposite.

There is also a crucial difference in the different positions I see in aspiring translators – for example, in the numerous emails I receive from beginners in translation asking for all kinds of opinions, advice or help.

Benefits of being a translator

There are people who, before even trying to translate something, soon show that they are anxious to know how much they will earn. It has to be a lot. It has to be now. In general, these same people want to know which areas are easy to get into, requires a small amount of customer service and guaranteed high salary. It is not uncommon to hear some well-publicised myths out there, such as those sworn translators who earn abysmal sums of money each month translating some nonsense driver’s licence.

Yes, of course! Gee, that must be why so many of my colleagues and my fellow sworn translators live on yachts, and only I have not realised that yet.

The Real Winners of the Translation Industry

The fact of the matter is that – almost always – those who have this type of concern when planning their career are not the ones who will spend half an hour immersed in dictionaries trying to get the perfect translation for an expression. Nor would they usually “waste time” studying in depth, or begin their translation career willing to translate for very little money in the beginning. It is not by chance that these “translators” are not the ones who tend to achieve the kind of professional success they were hoping to get.

Others want to perfect themselves. They want to study more, read more, do more exercises, want you to recommend other courses. There is a passion behind what they do, as well as the relentless pursuit of technical improvement – which is a lot duller and less exciting than the “passion for languages.” I often keep in touch with these people, and I am happy to see how successful they are in the profession. They are great colleagues. And the interesting thing is that they are often surprised, think they were lucky or do not think they work too much.

After 25 years of experience as a translator, now that I have a different perspective, the difference is very clear. People like that are a minority, yes, and they succeed because they have the motivation driven by the right priorities, which lead them to make no effort to improve. They embark on the profession aiming to be excellent professionals throughout their lives, not aiming for a cash-filled savings and early retirement. The difference between these values ​​is huge.

The Worst Enemy of the Translator

To conclude, let me talk about our worst enemy: procrastination. Who does not suffer from that throws me the first stone. We have to be connected all day, easy to be found by clients and colleagues, attentive. Emails need to be answered quickly. We need to be aware of the latest news and debates. Help someone to solve a problem on Facebook. Watching a photo album of our latest trip or someone laughing at a bad translation in a video on YouTube … 1h45 later, you wonder why you are still watching this new episode of the Game of thrones.

Not to mention that Monday morning, when you take a deep breath and open the directory of the next 35-page review of a text on IT, and suddenly that’s the ideal time to mow the lawn (Or update the blog…)

Sometimes, procrastination is more blatant. Sometimes, it is camouflaged as research or confused with coffee time. Anyway, if we’re honest, we all know that we don’t roll up our sleeves more than we should, that we often lose control over the time of rest. Then the blame hits and we work until 3 o’clock in the morning, we skip meals. And when we see it, we fall into the vicious cycle of inefficient workaholism, which can end up compromising quality.

Applying These Reflections to the World of Translation

It was just when I was thinking about these subjects that I came across this article, about the evolutionary, neurological and behavioural reasons behind procrastination, and why it seems to sabotage us in such effective ways. It brings some clues to cheating our own brains, or at least not letting ourselves be fooled. Another read is worth very much.

This text quotes Dan Ariely, a scholar of human behaviours associated with economics who has given excellent lectures in TED. On his site there are links to podcasts he has done on the various chapters. I still do not know how to relate all this to the universe of translation, but all this discussion has attracted me immensely and I feel it will still bring me something useful – even if it is good reflections and reading recommendations.

Now, to work!

Trial and tribulations of a translator – some thoughts

Starting a new business is like Walking on thin ice

I started Extra Speech in 1995 while I was a student in Portsmouth, in the UK.

I had that famous, you know, “aha moment”. I had all the images in my head about what the business would be like and I knew that is what I wanted to do.

For me, the business made sense. I had that idea to start a translation business because I had a passion for languages and cultures. Also, I had an interest in business. Similarly, I wanted to have control over shaping my future and being able to make a difference in the world.

Consequently, within a few months, I did the legal paperwork to officially start my business. And so, in 1995, I was in business as an English to French Freelance translator.

In the early days, I started working for a small translation agency, which was fun and interesting, and challenging too. At the time, I was mostly translating user guides and manuals, marketing and sales literature, and interpreting.

Yet, the vision I had already for my business was not just translating. In addition, I wanted to help companies by improving their image and the perception of their product via translation.

As of today, that vision still remains, and I can safely say that I’m as excited about the business today as I was back then in 1995. Most importantly, I’m still helping clients succeed overseas and here at home.

Translation and work ethics

The code of ethics for translators contains all kinds of values: confidentiality, respect, dignity, privacy, accuracy to name a few.

All the items on the code of ethics are equally important. They really set the foundation for the training that soon to be translators and interpreters need, to be effective. Yet, one of the three that standout is translating accurately.

Knowing that translators, when they are dealing with different cultures, have to still convey the meaning of what is being said and translate everything that is being said.

On top of that, they have to keep everything confidential.

Moreover, they also have to keep an impartial attitude when they are translating and remain neutral.

This applies two interpreters as well.

That is important because sometimes non-English speakers might ask an interpreter for advice such as ‘What would you do? Would you have this procedure done?’ and the interpreters are in a powerful position because they speak multiple languages and they understand both cultures. Yet, they have to remain impartial in that scenario.

Having that code of ethics is really important as a foundation.

There was a study recently that just came out talking about the challenges of working with an untrained interpreter and a trained interpreter.

It was really interesting. They quantified the impact of errors that were made by highly trained interpreters compared to errors that were made by less trained or untrained interpreters. What they found is that for interpreters who had very little or no training – volunteers for example in a hospital – that over 20% of the mistakes that those interpreters made could have had a negative impact on the patient.

On the other hand, on the errors that the highly trained interpreters made, only 2% of those errors were likely to have a negative or harmful impact on the patient.

Furthermore, they found that the highly trained interpreters made many fewer mistakes, so that the total impact of training was very obvious.

Examples of difficult translations

Translation case study 1

I had a case that I had found really difficult, which involved a human resources manager of a local manufacturing company. She requested a price quotation for translating their entire human resources and safety procedures.

After they’ve received a quote about how much that would cost them, the human resources manager said that the price was higher than she had budgeted. And why couldn’t you just translate the last page of the manual? Which was sort of the knowledgement of receipt and understanding, just a sign off page.

Well, this was a challenge because to be asked to translate just the knowledgement and understanding page vs. the entire training and safety manual is a little disturbing. When clients are looking to get something translated, it is really thinking about who the audience is and how it is going to be used. At the end of the day, though, I could help this customer. I advised her to reduce the amount of text to be translated so as to budget for translations while still making sure that employees were safe in the workplace.

The question being, is there anything that I can do to make the document more internationally friendly? If it it is a training manual or an instruction manual, perhaps some of the lengthy text could be replaced by some diagrams or some charts so that makes it less wordy to translate? So it is more cost effective to translate that way. There are different strategies that I can work with clients to make a document easily translatable so that the message is getting across accurately and on budget.

Translation case study 2

Another situation involved a doctor who had a patient.

The patient said he couldn’t speak English. Yet, the doctor said, “Yes, you can speak English. You’re just sort of faking it.”

The client had requested an interpreter for this patient. It was documented in the system that the patient had a French language limitation and needed an interpreter. When the appointment was scheduled, I arrived early for the appointment. Yet, surprisingly, the meeting was already taking place. Everyone had got a little ahead of schedule.

They were already meeting. Therefore when I went into the room and was told that I wasn’t needed. Yet, when I would look at the patient, his body language clearly showed that he didn’t understand what was going on. The purpose of this appointment was – as a matter of fact – a pre-surgery consult – going over what was going to happen with the surgery. How to prepare for surgery, the usual – not to eat anything, not to drink anything within a certain amount of time. Because there would be serious complications that could result if the protocol is not followed.

Therefore when I realised that the patient didn’t speak French, I intervened with the provider. He was very insistent that the patient did in fact speak French. There was obviously a cultural competency of cultural awareness that was lacking. Surprisingly, the provider was an immigrant who was from a non-French-speaking country.

Nevertheless, I stepped more in the role, in this case, of an advocate, to be able to make sure that the patient was able to get the care needed. Yet, the provider was still again insisting on just going forward. He said I could leave and go help someone else. Before then, I – as a matter of fact – verified, asking direct questions to the patient, ‘do you understand?’ and the patient said, ‘No, I do not understand.’

I then politely went out of the room and was able to come back in with a supervisor. This in some way resolved the situation. The provider later worked with the supervisor. They got additional training and information about how to be you culturally appropriate and culturally sensitive and the importance of being able to accurately communicate.

That was a very complex situation.

The importance for the translator or the interpreter of maintaining objectivity

It is very important to maintain objectivity, to maintain both parties or all participants in an interpreting session, to trust that the interpreter is going to be impartial.

However, if the outcome is being jeopardised at some point, the interpreter then is allowed to advocate or intervene in a way that can get things back on track. The next case demonstrates that, where confidentiality is still being protected, I was able to intervene indirectly but very effectively to save a situation that was in jeopardy.

A “delicate” interpreting situation

I had interpreted for a number of appointments for a patient who had previously been in a gang.

Yes, you heard me – A gang.

Through the course of some previous appointments I had shared, it was interpreted that he had taken illegal drugs in the past. So during this particular appointment on that day, the provider needed to find out if the patient had taken drugs previously because that would hinder the treatment plan going forward for this other scenarios that he was dealing with.

It could have been dangerous.

And in fact, if he had taken illegal drugs before, then this new treatment plan would be very detrimental to his health.

So when interpreting, the provider said, ‘Have you taken any drugs previously?’ and the patient very quickly said matter-of-factly ’No, I didn’t’.

Of course, I am interpreting everything that is being said. Yet, in my mind, I’m thinking, oh my goodness, I know that is not accurate.

Now, I have the dilemma of knowing this information that is confidential. Yet, if I don’t share it, then what is going to happen to the patient’s health?

So again, I try and act very strategically and carefully, then realised: Okay, in order to not divulge confidentiality, I can as the interpreter, ask the provider to ask the question again and to explain the reasoning behind the question.

So the provider asked the question again, ‘Have you taken any drugs previously?’ and then why that was important and fortunately, the patient said this time, ’Well yes, to be honest, I have.

Yet, in my mind, I’m thinking, oh my goodness, I know that is not accurate. Now, I have the dilemma of knowing this information that is confidential. Yet, if I don’t share it, then what is going to happen to the patient’s health?

So again, I try and act very strategically and carefully, then realised: Okay, in order to not divulge confidentiality, I can as the interpreter, ask the provider to ask the question again and to explain the reasoning behind the question.

So the provider asked the question again, ‘Have you taken any drugs previously?’ and then why that was important and fortunately, the patient said this time, ’Well yes, to be honest, I have.

So they were able to find a new course of treatment for him. And his confidentiality was preserved.

Also, they didn’t report him. Everything went well. It could easily have gone off-track.

To conclude, I would say there is a very ethical tight. What is important for people to realise is that you can be bilingual, you can even be bicultural. Yet, it doesn’t mean that you can be an effective interpreter. So to make an interpreter effective, you have to have a lot of training.

After all, being bilingual and bicultural doesn’t mean that you are a good interpreter.


The same is true also on the translation side. An interpreter is someone who focuses on the spoken language and verbally and this is done by telephone by video, face-to-face, or in person. On the other side, there is document translation. Translators tend to focus on written words, working in their homes, all over the world.

It is not contextual.

And they also have a bit more time to find the exact words. Translators have to have training in the skills to be able to translate accurately, or the message can be completely missed.

Translation for Businesses

Whenever an organisation has language or cultural obstacles to overcome, they have a choice to make. If they decide to tackle those issues head-on, then they are going to have an opportunity to reduce costs, reduce risk and have better outcomes.

A wonderful study came out recently that – as a matter of fact – looked at CEOs from global companies. The study asked them, ‘Why do you think you are losing business opportunities overseas?’ or ‘How have you lost these contracts overseas?’ One of the things that they say was a primary reason, 49% of the time, the CEOs said that they lost big international deals because they did not have the language and cultural competence in that organisation. 85% of them said that they would have greater revenues, greater market share and increased profits if they had the translation resources.

In conclusion, it shows the importance of being culturally aware and culturally sensitive in business.

15 tips to increase your chances to work with translation agencies

How to be a successful freelance translator

My freelance translation business hardly ever advertise for translators, since I do most of my work in house or with the help of a tiny team of trusted other translators.

However, nearly every day, I receive an average of a dozen emails from translators offering their translation services with different language combinations and areas of expertise. Unfortunately, these types of emails are written in such a way that it ensures they very often end up in my spam folder or in my trash folder.
Here are some of the tips you could find helpful to increase your chances of getting translation jobs from translation agencies.

Research your translation agencies

Find out who they really are and to whom your email should be addressed to. If you are sending your message without specifying whom you are sending it to, it is very likely to be sent to the spam folder. Most of your prospects are translation agencies? Try and find out their email address: many translation organisations prefer candidates to fill out a questionnaire on their web site for new translators to contact them. If this is the way they like it and this is how they want to gather data from freelance translators, if you contact them by email, you’re wasting your time.

Find out the type of translation the translation agency does

You need to know what areas of expertise they are looking for in their translators. This will help you create an even more targeted email with a better chance of success. A translation agency will be more interested in receiving an email that says ‘I’m an English into French freelance translator with a degree in civil engineering and more than 15 years’ experience in translating user guides for the automobile industry’ than a standard ‘I translate from English, French, German and Portuguese into Greek’.

Keep the Subject of the email as brief as possible

A great subject, for example, might be ‘English > French translator with many years (15) of experience, specialised in civil engineering’ which is absolutely better than, let’s say ‘French Freelance Translator/Proofreader’ and far better than ‘Seeking opportunity at your esteem company’, often a subject line I receive from misguided translators

Write your message very carefully

If it happens that you are not a native speaker of the language that you are writing into, I suggest that you have a native speaker proof read your copy. Keep in mind: the goal of your email is to persuade your translation agency to open your CV.

Don’t say that you translate from your language – French – into a second language

Doing such a thing will guarantee that the translation company thinks that you are not a professional. Unless you are one of those extremely rare people who are native speakers of several languages, that is to say you are a true bilingual, you should say so but you must be prepared to explain how you became a true bilingual. For example, ‘My mother is French, my father is British, each of my parents decided to speak to me in their native language from my very early age and while I was living in Switzerland, I studied from grade 1 until high school in an international school where most subjects were taught in English.

Mention your language pair and your name within the heading of your CV

For example, “Olivier Den Hartigh, English into French translator”.

Keep your CV as brief as possible

No further than 1 page if you don’t have a considerable experience and no more than 2 pages in other circumstances.

Don’t include your translation rates in your email or your CV

If you want to speak about rates, that should come later.

Do not include any references

Provide them at a later stage if the translation agency requires them.

Ensure your CV is written without errors

Once again, if it’s written in a language that is not your native language, envisage having it proofread.

Localize your CV according to your target

For example, a CV for a prospect who is French should really contain your photo, but not for an American company.

Make sure your CV contains all the information that is important

Forget the irrelevant information. If you have a very small experience, it is all right for your CV to include information concerning other types of work that you have done. As soon as you start having experience in translation, delete the unnecessary information.

Make certain that all the given information you provide in your email and in your CV can be verified

Information you should include in your CV

Your working language pairs, how to contact you, your translation experience, other work that is relevant, education, expertise with certain applications (as an example, CAT tools or DTP programs – don’t mention in the various applications that you know how to use Word or Excel – translation agencies will assume that you know how to work those.

Information you should not include in your CV

Private information such as your age or marital status. If you find out that the translation agency you are targeting usually includes this type of information, I suggest you use your best judgement and decide by yourself whether you wish to include this information or not. Moreover, you should not include information such as your interests and your hobbies unless your hobbies contribute to your area of expertise. For example, “I play golf, that is something I am passionate about and this experience helps me when I translate notices about golf equipment”.

Finally, something utterly crucial:
You must remember that you are the person who decides about your rates, not the translation agencies. In the same way, translation agencies are free to simply accept your rates, or refuse them or try to make you lower those rates. This is simply business.