Thursday, 3 November 2016

Life happens

It's been a while...

Where have I been? As some of you will know, we moved to the beautiful west coast of Scotland in May and I've been busy doing up our new flat which just happens to have a stunning view over the Firth of Clyde.

When you wake up to this every morning, it's hard to get into work mode but, a few weeks ago, I realised it was time to get real. But how was I going to get myself motivated?

A trip to Paris maybe? 

Sounded like a good idea. And imagine my excitement when I discovered I could combine it with a trip to the world-famous Salon du Chocolat. A few clicks of the mouse later I was booked on a flight and had sorted out my hotels (including one night at my absolute favourite, Citizen M at Charles de Gaulle airport).

I moved to central Paris the next morning and set off for the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre. It was a complicated journey due to a bomb scare so this photo celebrated my eventual arrival.

A feast for the eyes and tastebuds

There was chocolate from every corner of the world, talks by chocolate experts and - la piece de résistance - the chocolate fashion show. I can't pretend this wasn't the real pull. I read about it in the press and social media last year and couldn't believe I was actually there to see it with my own eyes.

The photo isn't great (it was very busy) but will give you some idea of the fabulous chocolate creations which graced the runway. Apparently it can take up to 100 hours to create one outfit. I wonder how much chocolate they eat in the process.

Was it worthwhile?

Apart from eating my way through my own body weight in samples, it was great to chat to exhibitors and get a feel for what's new in the industry. Raw chocolate is big. I listened to a talk by an eccentric raw chocolate maker and sampled raw cacao beans, one totally unadorned and the other coated in a chocolate powder. If I'm honest, it's obviously an acquired taste, but quite possibly the biggest future trend.


Well I couldn't leave without making a few purchases, purely for research you understand. A beautifully-packaged 75% Venezuelan, dark chocolate 'fish' made with olive oil and almonds and - my ultimate favourite - these gorgeous Paris Perles (crunchy caramel balls coated in milk and dark chocolate) by Paris Chocolat.

However, for me, the biggest takeaway was a boost to my confidence. When you don't live in your source language country it is not always easy to find opportunities to test your fluency in the spoken language. I thoroughly recommend you 'go solo' as lots of people will speak to you, although next year I don't think I'll be able to sneak away on my own. I've already had a few offers to keep me company. I wonder why?

Monday, 11 July 2016

Continuous Professional Development

A professional translator will have many years of study and/or experience behind them and also many years of learning ahead of them. In the industry we call the latter Continuous Professional Development (CPD).


Like many other professions, it is actively encouraged by our professional associations and is in fact a requirement of some of them.

But that's not the only reason.

It makes our work more interesting and our job easier. It also helps us to understand  our clients' business and the language they use.


Methods vary from the simplest (reading) to the most demanding (but arguably most rewarding) in terms of time and money: going to client events and conferences.


The first of the month is always a special day for me. This is when all my magazines drop through the letterbox.

I specialise in fashion and cosmetics, food and drink and the arts so I subscribe to a variety of magazines. Each and every one of them is a pleasure to read. And I don't just read them. I take notes and write down the latest buzz words for future reference.


eCPD is a specialist webinar provider for the translation and interpreting industry. In April 2016, I presented a webinar for eCPD: Translating for the creative industries: fashion, beauty and wine.

We also tune in to the many non-translation webinars we find on social media.

Another great way to improve our skills from the comfort of our own homes.

But I also like to get out of the house regularly to keep my business brain switched on. 

Local events

Some translators belong to local associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, a BNI chapter or similar. Others find local events which help them learn more about their specialist area.

In November 2015, I learnt how to improve my sense of smell at a Perfume Society event in Glasgow.

Translation industry events and conferences

In my first post I said that we like to speak to each other. Translation events and conferences are the perfect opportunity to meet up with colleagues and learn the tools of our trade.

What's more, we build networks and refer work to each other. So if you have a specific translation request I can't handle I will most likely know - or be able to find - a colleague who can.

Specialist industry conferences

Have you ever met a translator at an event? I suspect many of you will shake your heads in answer to this question but it may not be long before you do.

More and more translators are working in specialist areas and joining associations and attending conferences in their specialist industries.

And so...

I'll be writing about some of my CPD events and courses in future posts. But so it's not all about me - and the creative industries - I'll be asking colleagues to write about how they keep up to date with their particular specialisms.

Would you like to talk to a translator?

If you'd be interested in talking to a translator about your current or future language requirements, then write a comment and I'll do my utmost to find you the person you need.

Friday, 18 March 2016

How do you know you've received a top notch translation?

Your translation has just arrived back on your desk.

Can you assess it?

The big problem with many translations is that the finished product will be in a language you don't understand. How do you know if it's good or bad?

  • Trust: if you've chosen your translator carefully or used a translator who was recommended to you, perhaps you can simply trust the translator to do a good job? 
  • Four eyes many translators will work in pairs, with a second translator checking the work of the first. This will be an additional cost but is highly recommended. Even great translators can make the odd typo or misunderstand something.
  • In house review: maybe you could have a native speaker in your company check the translation? 


Suspect your translation is simply not up to scratch? 

What not to do
  • Don't ask a non-native speaker who 'speaks' or 'understands' the language of the translation to review your document. They will often be looking for exact equivalents in both documents and good translation is not about word-for-word replacement. This is especially important with creative texts where the finished article can be quite different but still convey the same message. 
So what do you do?
  • Perhaps you could ask an in-house native speaker of the language to review the translation? If you do this, don't let them simply cover it in red pen. Ask for specific examples. And remember that your native speaker may be out of touch with their own language if they have been living abroad for many years. 
  • Contact the translator to express your concerns. Be constructive, provide concrete examples and ask them to respond. If justified, a good translator will take the comments on board and help you find a solution.
  • Request or arrange an independent third party review. How this happens will vary with each individual case.                                                                      

Prevention is better than cure

As I said in my previous post, the best way to avoid any problems occurring in the first place is to:
  • take the time to select the best translator for your job,
  • plan ahead to avoid a last minute rush job,
  • involve the translator as early as possible in the process,
  • provide as much relevant information as you can...
Better still, use a translator who has been recommended to you. 

Contact me and I'll do my utmost to find you a suitable translator.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Working with a translator - what to expect

Found your translator? What happens next?

I have described a typical scenario below. Not all translators will operate in the same way but it may give you an idea of what to expect.


The first step will usually be to ask for an estimate (a non-binding idea of the cost involved) or a firm quote. To deliver either, the translator will:
  • ask to see the document/website/copy to be translated, The format of the files provided will influence the cost: 
    • Word is ideal,
    • PDF, PowerPoint and Excel will normally incur a surcharge,
    • not all translators will be able to work direct in HTML. 
  • ask how quickly you need the translation. Two things to bear in mind here:
    • to avoid a last-minute panic and an urgency surcharge, it's best to plan ahead
    • involving the translator early on in the process can iron out translation and/or cultural issues later on.
NB: It is not easy for the translator to quote accurately direct from a website unless it is a simple series of pages,

Price: Translators operate in different ways. Some will base the quote/estimate on wordcount, some charge an hourly rate and others will quote an all-inclusive project price.

Happy with the quote? 

Time for work to begin. 

At this stage it is really helpful if you can provide the translator with as much information about your company and/or project as possible. The more they know, the better they can tailor your translation.

The translator may request:
  • a glossary or style guide, if available,
  • images where appropriate,
  • the name of a contact person for resolving queries,
  • and for large projects for first-time clients, advance payment of part (or all) of the fee.


Don't be alarmed if a translator asks questions: 
  • even specialist translators can't be expected to know everything in their chosen field,
  • company-specific terms or abbreviations will need to be clarified,
  • not everything that is clear to the author is necessarily clear to the reader,
  • translators often pick up inconsistencies and errors in the source text which can be corrected before the text goes to print.



Notice I used capitals here? It may mess with the synergy of the document (neat freaks look away now) but let's face it, ADDED VALUE is what you're looking for, isn't it?

So, because you have:
  • taken the time to select the best translator for your job
  • planned ahead to avoid a last minute rush job
  • involved the translator as early as possible in the process
  • provided as much relevant information as you can...
... the least we can do is offer you something in return. How about?
  • a fabulous translation that:
    • is true to your corporate style
    • says exactly what you want it to say
    • flows naturally in the second language
    • and won't go viral for all the wrong reasons
  • PLUS all the added benefits this brings your company:
    • increased sales
    • visibility in new markets
    • your message in the language of your prospects
    • new export opportunities 
    • ...
You know what they are because you set the objectives!

Next time I'll be talking about feedback. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Finding the right (wo)man for the job

Where to begin?

Your text is ready and you're pretty pleased. All that extra time and effort devoted to getting every detail right and conveying the right message has really paid off. Now you need it in one or more foreign languages but where to begin?

Your options

Free translation tool:

Let's keep this nice and simple: it's free and it's instant.

BUT - be honest - have you ever laughed heartily at a translation error/gaffe/disaster (take your pick) online? We all have. Just imagine if you or your company was the butt of the joke.

Unless you really just want to get the gist of a very informal conversation, then steer clear. In every likelihood you won't understand the translation produced and have to assume it's fine. If it isn't, you might not find out until it goes viral on social media... for all the wrong reasons!

Translation agency:

A good agency will have the skills and tools to handle large multi-lingual projects that most individual translators can't take on. But not all agencies are equal.Bear in mind:

  • if an agency is promising you the earth (20,000 words overnight?) it is obvious the job will be split among several translators (in terms of output, most translators give a guideline of 2,000 to 2,500 words a day depending on the text). 
  • if the agency is cheap, it can't possibly be paying its translators a decent rate and good translators don't operate in the low end of the market.

Finally, if your text is highly specialised you will probably want an agency that works with translators who specialise in your field.

Freelance translator:

There are many advantages of going direct to a good freelance translator:

  • you get the same translator every time. If your project is ongoing, this is the best way to ensure consistency of style
  • the translator can contact you direct for clarification and becomes familiar with your business, preferred terms and house style
  • you can build a relationship of trust which is satisfying to both parties

Be aware, however, that good translators are busy translators. The best way to avoid disappointment is to plan ahead.

And not all translators are equal so here are a few pointers:

  • professional translators work into their mother tongue. With a very few exceptions, translations produced by a non-native will have some giveaway signs, however minor, which spoil the overall effect 
  • like other professionals, translators specialise. Specialist translators may have a background in the particular field or, at the very least, will have spent considerable time learning the ropes and keeping abreast of developments. 
  • if you're looking for a nifty piece of creative copy, you need a creative translator or transcreation specialist. 
Looking for a professional translator? You have several options:
As I mentioned in a previous post, translators network and can often refer you to a colleague if they can't do the job themselves. Feel free to contact me if you need any help.
Hopefully, you now know where and how to look for a translator. Next time I'll give you an idea of what to expect when working with a translator.

If you have any questions in the meantime, fire away in the comments.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Why pay for something when you can get it for free?

The burning question: man versus machine

It would be naive to suggest that the Google Translate and other similar tools are not affecting the industry.

The internet is awash with hilarious mistranslations and young developers who don’t even speak languages themselves are creating apps which allow you to communicate with someone in another language.

So should you always use a human translator?

Of course we translators would rather you did but I'm going to explain the difference and let you decide.

Google Translate

GT and similar tools use different algorithms to mine translations which are already available on the internet. Most simply replace the words with an equivalent word in another language. Sometimes they get it right, or nearly right, and sometimes they get it so wrong it’s hilarious. If you just need the gist of a document then they can serve a purpose.

Machine translation

This is more sophisticated and is often used by companies who feed human translations into their systems for future use. It can really boost productivity when used in the right context and is post-edited by a translator.

The human advantage: the brain

Translation is about so much more than understanding the text and translating it word-for-word into another language. I particularly liked a saying I saw on social media recently:

"Translation starts where the dictionaries stop"

In other words, we translators add brain power, experience, a feel for the language and an understanding of context, which machine translation can't do.

But not all humans with brains – even exceptionally good bilingual brains – can produce great translations. That is why you need a professional.

My next post will help you find the right (wo)man for the job.

Meanwhile, do you have a translation experience to share? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments.

Busting the myths

If I were to ask you to visualise a typical translator would they look like this?

If you answered yes, then you wouldn’t be totally wrong… but you wouldn’t be totally right either.

Let me explain.

Rolling back the years

Back in the early 80s it was fairly common for translators to find employment with a company. Indeed, freelancing was still in its infancy.

Then in 1997, when I took the plunge into the world of  freelance, I worked almost exclusively for agencies and by working 9 to 5, five days a week, I could earn a decent(ish) living.

That was then…

Fast forward 30 years

Oh how the world of translation has changed!

In-house jobs are now few and far between and the arrival of the Internet has changed our lives considerably. Many translators have:
  • embraced social media
  • adopted one or more specialisms, and
  • ventured out from behind their computers.

-        So I thought it would be fun to spread the word and dispel a few myths.

Your questions answered

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a translator?

Have you ever wondered what a translator does all day?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with a translator?

Would it surprise you to meet a translator at your next industry event?

Would you like to know how to find a translator who is perfect for you?

Did you know that some translators offer additional services?

This blog aims to answer these questions and more... and you won’t just be hearing from me, either.

OK, I admit it. I love talking about what I do so I will permit myself a little self-indulgence. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in the more creative side of translation, I’m your (wo)man.

But what does a financial, medical or technical translator do? What sort of clients do they work for? Where are you likely to meet them?

My colleagues who work in these fields will be only too happy to share their experiences with you so look out for the guest posts too.


Translators do spend a lot of time at their computers but they also love talking to each other and talking to you.We love learning about your industry and what you do.

Of course we love to work with words but we also love to solve language and communication problems. Your language and communication problems…

So, I hope you will sign up for the blog, engage in the debate and ask your own questions.