translation, translators

Zen-style sanity

I originally posted this article on 21 February 2011 under the very long title of Educating the Client, or Zen and the Art of Sanity Maintenance the platform. As part of the clean-out of my physical and digital space, I have finally closed my ProZ account, something I have been meaning to do for several years.
Translators, particularly those new to the profession, might find the checklist below useful. It is strange to think that this was my first “translation blog”, written two years before I ever went to a translation conference.
This blog is part of the #flashbackfriday series of older blogs I republish here from time to time, although very rarely on a Friday.

Educating the Client, or Zen and the Art of Sanity Maintenance

With partial reference, and apologies, to
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
by Robert M. Pirsig.

Most experienced freelance translators have an armful of responses to make when clients ask questions. There is a chance that the exchange between a new client and a translator might go something like this:

New Client: What, X cents for every word? Even the “ands” and “buts”?
Translator: Especially the “ands” and “buts”. 
(Translator smiles here, whilst thinking of the possibilities of removing all “ands” and “buts” after translation, then discounting the appropriate number of words from the final charge.)

New Client: This is a pretty straightforward text; it should be easy for someone like you.
Translator: There is no such thing as an easy translation.

New Client: Do you have a good dictionary?
Translator: I have many excellent resources, including dictionaries and my own experience. But you should know that translation begins where the dictionary ends.

New Client: Can you have this [unrealistic number of pages] ready by 09:00 tomorrow?
Translator: Does your organisation employ anyone who can even type that many pages by 09:00 tomorrow, let alone translate them? (Notice how Zen is no longer working in the sanity maintenance department.)

New Client: Well, when can you have it ready?
Translator: I can complete it by close of business tomorrow, but I shall have to charge my urgent rate on this job. 

New Client: Why? You were going to do it by the end of tomorrow anyway?
Translator: Well, because achieving the deadline of, say, 17:00 tomorrow, will mean working outside of my usual business hours.

What has the translator, taught the new client so far? To summarise, the client now knows that the weirdo in his office:

  • finds “ands” and “buts” difficult to translate;
  • types really slowly;
  • wants to rip him off with urgent rates because she does not like doing overtime; and
  • thinks she is special because she knows more than what is in the dictionary.

He is privately shaking his head because he cannot understand why his best golfing friend recommended her.

This is the gist of a real-life discussion I had face to face with a client in the early-Nineties, when a lot of work was still received in hard copy. Surprisingly, I got the job and the client was pleased with the result duly delivered on time, even though he had to pay a premium for it. 

I would guess I got the job, because after this ridiculous exchange, I quickly sprung into action by showing enthusiasm, asking what he hoped to achieve with the translation, who the document was intended for, and why it was important to his business. On the basis of his answers to those questions, I asked one or two pertinent questions of my own. This was the “education” session – his and mine.

I left his office with my prize – a thick wad of papers, and left the client with the impression that his golfing buddy was right, after all. On the way down in the lift, I think to myself, “Ach wie gut, daβ niemand weiβ, daβ ich Rumpelstiltzkin heiβ”- the turning straw into gold part, anyway. This does not translate very well into English, even though it is quite straight forward. Roughly: I am so glad that no one knows my [real] name is Rumpelstiltzkin. 

Not all clients are like that. I certainly would not recommend the above as a normal introduction of oneself as a professional with a service to offer. It is, however, indisputable that clients do need educating. And they need educating right from the very first contact.

Before we educate the client, we have to define this entity so central to the translator’s livelihood.

In the driest sense of the word, the client is the one for whom the translator works, and the one who pays the translator.

Common types of client are:

Direct clients, divided into a number of categories:

  • One-off, short-term clients
    Out of the blue, this client has something to translate, which may or may not result in future work;
  • One-off long-term client
    This client may require the translation of a book, or novel, or defined project which has little likelihood of engendering further work.
  • Regular clients
    There is always the possibility, even if not initially apparent, that one-off clients may become your regular clients. This underscores the need for a solid client education programme. Both client and translator have to establish and maintain a good understanding of each other, for their mutual benefit.

Translation agencies

  • Translation agencies have direct clients as described above, and are normally owned and managed by someone who is a translator, or by a team of translators. Successful agencies have a flair for marketing, delegation and coordination. Translation agencies run two education programmes: they educate the client, and where necessary, educate the outsourced translator.
  • Quite rightly, many translators view agencies they work for as “clients”, since the end client, properly speaking, is a client of the agency. The outsourced translator is honour-bound to keep the agency’s client at arm’s length. In many instances, this means that the translator has to keep two clients in mind. Working through an agency demands more communication, not less, on the part of the translator – and this sometimes involves the translator imparting a little education in the direction of the agency!

Translation agencies and individual translators, then, both compete for the direct client. 

Not Zen or a motorcycle, but Maimonides, 1138 –1204 , a Sephardic Jewish philosopher and polyglot who made a few inquiries into values himself, to put it lightly.

How agencies educate

How agencies educate the client is interesting, and there is ample evidence of this on the Internet. When I look at a translation agency website, I often look at the website from the customer’s point of view first, to see whether I agree with the general ethos of the agency. In other words, if I agree with the way in which the agency educates its potential clients, then it is likely that I would like that agency as my client. If there is little similarity in our way of thinking, then all I am is a customer doing a bit of window shopping. 

Translation agencies put their client education in their shop window. Some agencies may even have spent a considerable sum of money, now in the pocket of the marketing consultants and web designers, to ensure that potential clients become actual clients. Many have well-designed websites, with user-friendly interfaces, and a reassuring “we will take care of all your translation needs” message. I sometimes get the impression that translation cannot be that exacting a task after all. The customer is king. From a translator’s point of view, the agency provides the service, the translator provides the translation. From the end client’s point of view (and the agency’s, to a large extent) the agency provides the translation, and the translator is invisible (i.e. not the chief educator of anybody).

I came across a fantastic sounding translation agency on the web the other night. I received an acknowledgement right away of my desire to register. It was very encouraging, until I realised I was the central character in a sci-fi movie who was receiving monolingual automatic messages from a defunct and uninhabited transcombobulator* in cyberspace. The lights were on, but the crew and all its translators had either disintegrated or dematerialised.

* My made-up word for the entity responsible when things go linguistically awry. Etymologically derived from a 
combination of the words "translate" and "discombobulate".

The reason I mention this is because I am sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer force of professionalism which seems to radiate from the computer screen when visiting such sites. In this case, it turned out to be mere smoke and mirrors. I came out of the experience positively: At least, I realised once again that I am a real live human being with a definite set of skills. These skills have been developed with the combined aid of innate passion for the act or process of translation; training; and constant, diligent expansion and refinement of my general and specific knowledge, all frequently tempered with the ever humbling factor of experience. I am sure I am solid and real – and have no intention of dematerialising any time soon! I am certain that this is true of most other translators too.

When translators say in discussion, “We need to educate clients”, we all agree. Yet what does this mean? Primarily it means that without the client knowing the value of the skill we possess, the client cannot possibly be willing to pay a professional fee for the translator’s service. Ergo, the client needs educating. Where does the client education process begin? Perhaps education is the wrong expression, which not only undermines the very entity from which we derive a living, but also implies a certain amount of arrogance on the part of the translator. Perhaps orientation is a more appropriate term?

So, where does client orientation begin?

Your client’s orientation begins with you.
(Notice how Zen has returned to the sanity maintenance department)

Whilst individual freelance translators could do well to pay attention to the kind of information that agencies publish on their websites, energy would be better spent upon careful examination of precisely what skills, knowledge, and experience you as the individual translator bring to the client-translator negotiating table. 

Translators form a diverse group. We defy uniform definition as a group. How we can be defined individually has already been laid out in template form by our illustrious predecessors and fellow translators. We have all prepared profile pages, and some have websites. We have drafted and crafted our curricula vitae – normally when we would much rather be translating, or walking the dog, or washing the dishes. Anything, but focus on ourselves! 

Orientating yourself first

Nevertheless, it is a good exercise – even for successful, experienced translators – to take a few minutes to do just that. Focus on ourselves. Clear the deck. Start afresh. Without referring to anything else at all (no Internet, no previous documents), write a few notes down. Tools for this job: 1 x A4 sheet of paper, a pen, and utter honesty.

The idea is to get to the core of what you are.
Orientate yourself. It sounds silly, but it works.
This is your private orientation. It is not for disclosure to anybody else.

Your checklist

Your list can include, but is not limited to:

  • Your favourite language pair;
  • Your favourite subject fields;
  • Your best job – and why.
  • Your worst job – and why.
  • What makes you special? If you want to include statements such as “I am bloody good at advertising slogans”, do so.
  • Note down your good qualities which you bring to a job (concentration, interest, experience, perfection)
  • Note down your bad qualities (impatience, poor posture, lack of planning – you know what they are!)
  • Define your parameters by what you are not, if you have to (e.g. not a legal or pharmaceutical translator, not a machine, not capable of more than 2,000 words per day).
  • Who are the other freelance translators you admire, and why?
  • what makes a good client in your opinion?
  • The names of the good clients you have had (or have) and why?
  • Were your best clients the ones who gave you the best jobs?

Now that you have re-orientated yourself, everything is clear, right?
Keep the list. Put it where you can see it. Revise it. Rewrite it. Give it a title, if you like. Something that reminds you about which department Zen should be working in, perhaps?

With your redefined core orientation of self, you now have the bare bones of what is important for you to convey to your clients, whether on their initial encounter with you, or during the course of your relationship.

How much of the above can you fit into, say, a five minute phone call with a client, or an e-mail message ten lines long? Remember that clients are often busy, and have their own professions and businesses to take care of. They need your respect, just as you need theirs. Now that you have discovered exactly who you are representing (yourself!), you are well placed to direct the orientation of your client using as much diplomacy and sensitivity as you wish. 

Once you are crystal clear, you need to ensure that your client orientation pack stands up to scrutiny. If you say you offer a professional service then you must always offer a professional service even if your dog has just died and you have a bad headache. Your sanity maintenance checklist could be useful in such situations.

More client orientation

I do believe that practising a system of referral is one way of demonstrating your professionalism – and a way of re-orientating clients. If I go to a general practitioner, and during the course of our consultation I tell him that I have toothache, it would be wrong for the good doctor to reach for a pair of pliers. I am sure I would rather appreciate a referral to a competent dentist! Similarly, if someone insists that I should translate from a language of which I have no knowledge, or equally absurdly, translate a document in a field where I am at a complete loss, my best option is to spread the love – and take ten minutes out of my busy schedule to assist what could have been a client (if I knew the language and the subject field!) to find someone suitable to the task. This helps give someone else’s new client a good impression. We want everyone to know that “translators are good people”. If all it means is pointing “someone else’s new client” in the right direction, then I have lost nothing. I also know that a fellow translator somewhere on the planet is now giving the re-directed client a whole new education.

©2011 Allison Wright

revision, translation

Revision and the Quality Crate

Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag.  I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material. This blog on revision originally appeared on Nikki Graham’s blog on 30 August 2016.  Fresh discussions recently in social media forums on how to find a suitable revision partner prompted me to haul this blog out of the archives.

Revision goes beyond

This post cannot possibly say everything about revision and does not need to. Nikki Graham has already grouped together a number of revision-related blogs worth reading here for your convenience.

This means I am free to skip all the usual definitions and give you instead a hotch-potch of impressions and experiences which might give you some food for thought about how you approach revising your own work, how to refine your response to revisions by others of your work, and how you, perhaps, perform revisions on the work of others. I have written from the perspective of a revisor; a revisor whose own translation and revision work has come under harsh scrutiny where some revisions made and conclusions drawn have been justified, and others not. I continue to hope that insights thus gained serve to make me a better translator and a better revisor.

judging quality remains subjective in nature despite numerous attempts by humankind to enclose this dynamic, amorphous beast in a big crate

Far from being rules to follow, the considerations below are intended to prompt you to pay attention to areas where you realise you could enhance your own revision methods in order to improve and sustain the quality of the (target) texts you have a hand in.

Nikki - pic3 - computers

The quality spectrum

In his TED talk on cognitive surplus, Clay Shirky made a secondary remark which caught my attention and had me pondering – certainly not for the first time – on the range of quality in our performance, hence our work, on a daily basis. He said:

There is a spectrum between mediocre work and good work, and as anybody who’s worked as an artist or a creator knows, it’s a spectrum you’re constantly struggling to get on top of. The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.

Apart from competence – which I shall leave you to define – most translators would agree that it takes a good deal of hard work to produce indisputably good quality all the time. A host of internal and external factors conspire against our achieving this tall order. And that is before anyone else has even seen the text we have produced!

By and large, I am not given to using superlatives. When I refer to “a good translation”, I most often mean “an extremely good translation”, but am hesitant to say so because there could very easily be, and very often is, a better translation which simply has not surfaced yet. I am not alone in this view.

This brings me to an important point: judging quality remains subjective in nature despite numerous attempts by humankind to enclose this dynamic, amorphous beast in a big crate (labelled QC, QA, LQI or EN15038, EN17100, or whatever), with a packing list as long as your arm and lots of little checkboxes which are systematically ticked.

A far more erudite professional than I by the name of Gérard de Angéli wrote a detailed article in the Translation Journal in 2008 which poses the question, “Do We Really Need Translation Standards After All?” After a rigorous comparison of standards for translation services in Europe and the USA, he makes the observation that focusing too much on the quality control process and not enough on the text (the translation) itself may not be entirely desirable or, indeed, result in the quality so very much desired in the first place.

In a similar vein (or perhaps tangentially), despite our attempts and those of others to maintain a reasonable degree of objectivity when we approach the practicalities of revision, there are many instances where we fail to, or choose not to, adopt such a clinical methodology.

There are situations where the Quality Crate loses relevance because the far more nebulous, intuitive but useful adjuncts of experience and savoir-faire take precedence.

Subjectivity, I would argue, has its place in the revision spectrum, in that one has to employ judgement and discernment to keep that creature we call Quality alive. As an echo of that famous line in the film Calendar Girls, I think we need a bigger Crate.

Nikki - pic4 - books translated or revised


All of these factors make the subject of revision a very tricky one, chiefly because the other factor which splays itself out on a spectrum is that of expectations. A girl at school once walked into the classroom and asked her fellows, “Does anyone have Great Expectations for me?” She did not get the response she expected.

To illustrate a point about expectations – and, at the same time, the inappropriate, tight-arsed use of the subjunctive – I shall tell you a joke in what purports to be a Yorkshire accent*:

A Yorkshire farmer owned a sow*. His neighbour had a boar. Every once in a while he took the sow in his ‘barra’ (barrow) to be covered.
Every time after natural insemination had occurred, the next door farmer would say,
*If she be took, tomorra mornin’ she’ll be eating grass. If she baint eating grass, she’ll not be took. Bring her back and they can ‘ave another go.”
The farmer took his sow back home.
The next morning at breakfast the farmer told his wife to look out the window, and asked her, “Be she eating grass or baint she eating grass?”
“She baint eating grass,” replied the farmer’s wife.
So the farmer bunged the sow back in the barrow and carted her off to his neighbour’s boar again. They had at it a good long while to make sure she were took.
The following morning the farmer had the same conversation with his wife, and made a third trip to the next door farm, now getting quite impatient at having to push the sow in the barrow all the way up the road.
On the third morning, again at breakfast, he asked his wife to look out the window.
“I can’t bear it,” he said, “Tell me quickly. Be she eating grass or baint she?”
His wife turned to him with a look of utter surprise on her face.
“Weel,” she said, “she baint eating grass —she be in the barra!”

*For ease of understanding, not all features of the stereotypical Yorkshire dialect have been graphically reproduced.

Strictly speaking, the use of ‘be’ in the above story is not in the subjunctive, with the arguable exception of ‘if she be took’. Be that as it may, please bear the above joke in mind while you cast your eye over the following random bit of text I came across while researching something a couple of weeks ago, and which I have redacted to minimise interest in its source:

The […] methods […] have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot [projects] or more significant numbers [for large] commercial [operations].

I don’t know which is funnier or sadder – the joke about the randy sow or the sentence above. You be the judge.

For revisors like me, before you can say ‘she be in the barra!’, the highlighted words jump out at us even if we have American sensibilities when it comes to the subjunctive.

Straight away, our eyes dart back to the source text to see what prompted such pedantry on the part of the translator, although we already have a fair idea: it is not only the start of the subordinate clause which has got our goat (pardon all the animals in this here blog), but all the other literal expressions preceding it. They have all the lightness of a ruddy great sow as she lands with a thump in the barrow.

One can argue that

The methods have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot projects or more significant numbers for large commercial operations.

is a perfectly good sentence.

The translator who wrote that can readily defend this sentence by saying that it can be understood, and most importantly, she (an arbitrary assignment of gender) has employed the subjunctive mood exactly as it should be in the best of all possible worlds, apologies to Voltaire and Leibniz and all that. Fair enough. Let’s accept, for the moment, that it is a passable sentence. Except that you might already have forgotten about the swathes of guff I removed for the purposes of providing an example. This abridged sentence has 33 words. The original target text was 46 words long.

Clearly, the translator and revisor are not quite on the same page. The translator’s text should be eating grass; instead, it has taken up residence in the barrow. The revisor, somehow, has to persuade the text to return to nibbling the green stuff.

It seems that the translator and the revisor do not have the same expectations of what a sentence in English should look like, and more than likely have understood the expectations of the client differently.

A revisor, however, is not a casual reader. A revisor makes it possible for other readers to be casual readers.

And that is part of the point, and part of the problem. This sentence is part of a rather long (translated) article which is already in circulation on the Internet: this is the final product. The point is — and this is conjecture on my part — that this article has not been revised. Checked and proofread, yes. Checked and proofread by a person other than the translator? Possibly. If the translation went through an agency, have all the Quality Crate boxes been ticked? I bet they have! Revised? Not really.

Nikki - pic2 - bookshelf

Interior monologue

Casual monolingual readers of the target text place comprehension, appropriate word choice and something called ‘readability’ high on their list of things that determine the success or otherwise of a text. A revisor, however, is not a casual reader. A revisor makes it possible for other readers to be casual readers.

Revisors correct translation, terminological and typographical errors, insert omissions, punctuate, make essential stylistic changes, and so on, and ask that very important question, “Yes, but does it mean anything?” From feedback I have received on my own work over the years, I suspect that most revisors do something else, as I do, before they reach that stage in the revision process: they look at the bones — the structure — of things.

What I see is not consciously step-wise so much as occurring almost simultaneously. I am happy to reveal my thoughts purely because they will probably strike a chord with many of you. Here is that sentence again:

The methods have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot projects or more significant numbers for large commercial operations.

And here is my stream-of-consciousness response to those 33 words with my special revisor spectacles on:

… subject of the main clause immediately grabs onto a passive verb, blah, blah, followed by a conjunction… plus a demonstrative pronoun in the singular instead of the plural (‘this’ instead of ‘these’, referring to ‘methods’ and ‘they’)… and cherry on the cake, a verb in the anal retentive subjunctive!… ‘few’ versus ‘more significant numbers’… source text has subjunctive… yes, word for word, how quaint!… why ‘conceive’?… why is everything so, you know, productive?

Then, without changing a thing, I continue reading, because the same thought (about compatibility) may be expressed differently elsewhere in the text, and may trigger a more constructive revision than the one I am currently capable of making.

It is also possible, when dealing with other types of translations, that I would continue reading the source text on its own, to get additional impressions of my own from it, without interference from the target. There are lots of approaches. That is one I use when I need to.

Why, why, why?

Let us pause here to speculate why the translator (to whom I have arbitrarily assigned the female gender) chose to write this sentence this way.

Possible explanations:

  1. She always writes this way, and is convinced that this is the best she can do, since it is near-perfect anyway.
  2. She is afraid to depart from the source text and venture into the real world of the target language.
  3. She is working for peanuts and therefore is pressed for time because so many thousands of words need to be churned out every day.
  4. The peanut factor means she gave up long ago on revising her own work thoroughly and might not have read this sentence more than once before hitting the Send button.
  5. She is lazy. The work is for an agency; the revisor can fix it, if so inclined.

Something is wrong with this picture. If you are primarily revising texts like this, the chances are that you are very unhappy. How about suggesting to the agency that you translate the texts instead? There are many translators who refuse revision work because they end up asking themselves “Why, why, why?” far too often.

A while back, I was sharing my own frustrations as a revisor within that intimate space known as a chat box, and a colleague known for her competence and precision in translation had this to say:

Translator training these days seems devoted primarily to learning to use software. Translators are unable to translate without the benefit of any tools, meaning they are unable to see a text as an integrated whole, not a grid in which they only see disembodied segments. They are unable to intuit a rendering based on the context and not resort to dictionaries to piece their translations together word by word. They don’t bother to edit their translations in the final formatted form (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and leave their mess for someone else to clean up.


My response at the time was to say that not only do I find a lack of placing the text in context worrisome, especially in work revised for agencies which insist on the use of a specific CAT tool, I also find the broken feedback loop problematic. All the Quality Crate processes in the world serve no useful purpose unless the translator has the freedom to offer some feedback on the meticulously provided feedback created as part of the agency revision process – because sometimes the translator is right, and the revisor needs to know this.


I take feedback on my work very seriously indeed. Having said that, I do not think I devote enough time to examining revision changes. In the context of work I have done for one agency in particular, where institutional uniformity of style is often at loggerheads with ‘the better translation’, it has taken over four years for me to gain perspective on all the red ink returned.

If I do not earnestly examine the feedback I get, then I cannot improve.

I do not like some of the things one particular revisor at this institution does to ‘my’ texts, although I can see the reasoning. In the early days, I used to reply occasionally, especially if, during the process of revision, an error which was not present in my original translation had been introduced. I stopped doing that about a year later when I discovered that my translator feedback on this feedback was not being forwarded by the agency to the institutional revisor. It should be noted here that the agency has never used the profusion of red ink to penalise me financially.

It is with discipline and a certain weariness that I open the bilingual feedback files from this agency, but I do it because I am aware that in order to become a better translator, I have to modify the way I think; I have to make adjustments in my thought process on the treacherous path between source text and target. If I do not earnestly examine the feedback I get, then I cannot improve.

Sometimes the agency includes in its covering e-mail a brief comment made by the revisor, which might include such dry comments as ‘Note plural noun in Segment 123’. At the beginning of this month, however I achieved a three-word breakthrough: “Allgemein gute Übersetzung.” (Generally, a good translation). Finally, a positive comment from the revisor I do not like, but whose revisions of my work I have studied for over four years. Upon opening the file to see what fabulous things I had done, I had a good old belly laugh: the text was covered in just as much red ink as it always is!

tramping through semantic fields

Collaborative feedback

Whereas realisations on feedback from agencies can take years, collaborative feedback in translator pairs where each revises the work of the other is instantaneous – and if both parties play the game, offers the possibility of a continuous feedback loop, which no agency in my experience has ever been able to provide.

there are translators who crave feedback on their work and are either not getting any or not getting enough of it

I know that a big biography I revised last summer benefited enormously from the mere fact that the translator and I already had around 200,000 translated and revised words under our belt before we started. How do I know? Because last night I re-read two or three chapters in particular that I recall as having required extensive revision. How beautiful it was to note that I could not see where my revisions were (even though I have a memory of what they were). The collaboration between us achieved a good result: a stylistically consistent text with one voice. This kind of result can, of course be achieved on much shorter texts too.

At the other end of yet another spectrum, there are translators who crave feedback on their work and are either not getting any or not getting enough of it. Even in this age of social media, many, many translators are finding it hard to identify colleagues with the same language pair, the same or similar specialist fields, and a similar degree of competence. These are basic prerequisites for a translator pair, to which a whole lot of other criteria have to be added, such as similar work ethics and a similar sense of humour. If you have not yet found someone to match up with, keep looking, keep asking.

Pairing up with colleagues for mutual revision is, as someone recently said to me, ‘a hit and miss affair’. Even if we want it to work, sometimes it does not, or it does not work in the way that we may originally have envisaged. This does not mean that we should stop trying to find someone with whom such an arrangement would work to better advantage. There are lessons to be learnt from every experience.

by far the greater risk lies in not having someone revise your work

With any new association, there is a risk for both parties. That’s one more risk to add to the bucket-load we already have to consider as translators. From my relatively short experience in working in various collaborative pairs (to cater to my strange group of subject fields and different language pairs) over the last few years, I am firmly of the opinion that by far the greater risk lies in not having someone revise your work. I am all for a honing of my craft in a mutually supportive environment under the hyper-watchful gaze of a colleague who, in turn, is only too glad that I have ‘a good eye’. (Yes, we still joke about the way she said that.)


All the best translators I know all work with revisors. All the best translators I know would not think of working without one. All the best translators produce work of consistent good quality because they have an extra pair of eyes on the text at hand, and exchange insights and criticism in ways which most often lead to learning on both sides, and most certainly lead to better quality texts. I am talking about the kind of quality texts which have little use for the metrics applied in translation standards, because the standard of the texts produced in collaborative revision far exceeds the benchmarks set in such standards.

Here’s the thing: Not only do all the best translators have years of experience translating; they also have years of experience in honing their craft. Don’t you think it is time you did something to get to that level too?

©2016 Allison Wright
In the spirit of revision, Simon Berrill – a translator, revisor and former journalist by trade – kindly agreed to revise and comment on the above article before publication. I thank him for his insights and contribution. Other anonymous colleagues, quoted and otherwise, also helped me focus and produce a better text, for which they have my respect and gratitude. I like collaborating on blogs, by the way.


Miguel Torga on translators

I first translated this quotation from Miguel Torga (1907-1955, an important twentieth-century Portuguese writer and poet) about three and a half years ago. I mistranslated the last sentence. Here is the re-hash. Aside from the corrected last sentence, I made a couple of other stylistic changes.

Miguel Torga
Miguel Torga, portrait on canvas by Botelho 2012 (Carlos Botelho II)

Traduzir é, primordialmente, um acto de amor. Só quem for tocado na mente e no coração pela singularidade radical de uma voz sente a necessidade e o gosto de a alargar aos ouvidos do mundo. E o pobre poeta de qualquer S. Martinho de Anta, que sonha com o seu canto a ecoar para além das fronteiras que o limitam, é nessas almas sintonizadas e mediúnicas que confia. São elas as difusoras mágicas das suas palavras, que procuram entender em todos os recônditos sentidos e preservar vivas e equivalentes na transplantação verbal.

Nunca será por demais exaltado o serviço que prestam à humanidade esses obreiros de uma outra comunicação dos santos, terrena, encarnada, naturalmente oposta à sobrenatural do “Credo”. Se nos faltassem, ficariam sem respostas inimagináveis interrogações, apelos e desafios.
Miguel Torga em Diário XVI, Dezembro 1993

To be a translator, fundamentally and first and foremost, is an act of love. Only those whose minds and hearts have been blessed by that radical singularity of voice feel the need and the desire to open up the ears of the world. The poor poet, from an insignificant parish like my native São Martinho de Anta, dreams of how his song will echo far beyond the frontiers which hold it back. And so, it is to these attuned souls, who intercede on his behalf, that he entrusts his spirit. They are the magic diffusers of his words who seek to understand them in all their hidden meanings and preserve them transformed, alive and whole in the transplanted word.

Never can the service to humanity performed by these workers be exalted enough; these intercessors who immerse themselves in that other earthly communion of saints, the one naturally incarnate as opposed to the supernatural incarnation of the Creed. If we did not have them, unimaginable challenges, questions, and invocations would be bereft of response.

Miguel Torga, Diário XVI,
December 1993

Translation: ©2018 Allison Wright


Comma removal

Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag.  I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material. This blog on revision and the “comma removal process” was originally posted on my previous website in September 2015.

 comma removed

I have written this post in an attempt to convey just one nebulous aspect of the translation process simply because I happened to come across a sentence which serves to illustrate something which is quite hard to explain without examples. The sentence is taken from a biographical article on José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize In Literature in 1988. The full article can be found here. The English text is a translated one. I have been unable to find the original Portuguese.

Saramago - tracked changes
Messy tracked changes!

From a reading of the English target text, I cannot detect any obvious errors in the translation from the Portuguese cited above, and only one place where I could immediately see the source text shining though. The sentence discussed below is a good example of how faithfully transferring sentence length and punctuation from the Portuguese into English can make the English rendition clumsy.

I was so excited when I first discovered this particular subtle shift required during the Portuguese to English translation process because it demands a much more elegant performance of acrobatics than, say, German to English translation where seeking out the constituent parts of verbs and relative clauses take precedence. My discovery occurred about 2.5 years after I started learning Portuguese, in case you are interested.

I don’t know if you can spot what I mean by “too many commas” in the following sentence taken from the article. To me, it has several possibilities for the re-ordering or re-grouping of the information to make it more readable for the English reader; more intelligible to the English ear:

Saramogo sentence

I will re-do the first half of this sentence to illustrate how to eliminate two commas and make it more “English” (with only one word change – “during” instead of “in”):

Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided….
Do you see? It’s the transforming of the four-part or three-part structure into a two-part one.Now that the first section has no “little humps in the road”, we can continue:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman.
There is nothing wrong with “for which job were required…” It is just that the English reader needs some time to process all the information in the sentence so far. A breather; a full stop. You can see that this is necessary merely by looking at all the complications in the final stretch of the sentence: inverted commas, brackets with continuation marks… the second half of a comparison, and a list!

So, here is that original sentence (also a paragraph), slightly rewritten:

Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.

What we now have is two sentences instead of one. The only changes made have been at the level of punctuation and word order.

But we are not finished, because there is still something sticking out like a sore thumb which we could not possibly have dealt with until we had got the main structure right. So, let’s do that now:

Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known surroundings other than those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Just so that you do not have to scroll up again, here is the original sentence for comparison with the thoroughly revised one:

Maybe because he had served in World War I, in France as an artillery soldier, and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman, for which job were required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known  surroundings other than those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Now, read both versions of this sentence aloud. Follow the punctuation (i.e. pause appropriately when you encounter commas and full stops). Which text is easier to read? Which text is less confusing? From which text is it easier to extract information?  I think the revised text is the better one, don’t you?

The original sentence was 65 words long. Do you think the changes I have made are worth more than €1.95 (or the most often offered rate of €0.03/word)?  What about what the overall effect would be if you had a short story – or even this entire article, say? Or a novel? I think these changes are most definitely worth more than the rate most often paid, and make a strong argument in favour of applying an hourly rate to such work.

And if I had the original source text to hand, don’t you think I would check straight away to see what alternative translation could be found for ‘”literary qualifications”‘ in an attempt to eliminate those horrible inverted commas?

We know that José Saramogo has a particular writing style, very similar, unsurprisingly, to the style and feel of the paragraph I have revised here. But if you look carefully at the second half of the article, he himself departs from this style, so that the article loses its overall coherence. You also have to remember that the sentence structure employed by Saramago in the Portuguese is fairly normal for a Portuguese text, so in this case, it behoves the writers of the English version (the translator and the revisor) to produce a sentence which is fairly usual within the norms applied to English texts.  I was not really criticising a Nobel Laureate; I was merely pointing out that his trademark storytelling style was not employed throughout the article. Admittedly the text as a whole does not lend itself easily to a nice, rounded feel given the list of all the works published.

My question, therefore, is this: Surely, tightening up the prose in the initial paragraphs to match the latter ones will render the whole article more palatable, and give a better overall impression? If the reader wants to read Saramogo purely for his written style, there are plenty of works to choose from, both in the original Portuguese and in translation.

Two other considerations:

  1. I wonder whether a non-native speaker of English can see the difference between the original sentence and my revised one?
  2. If I had translated this text from the original Portuguese (which I have not seen), I wonder how close to my revision above it would have been?

Perhaps I should mention for those who do not habitually work with texts that all the changes described in detail above normally happen at speed. There are times, however, where changing just one word in a text might take half an hour, a good deal of research, consultations (while maintaining confidentiality) with colleagues or, indeed, an entire night’s sleep before the correct replacement word or phrase is found. This is true for all sorts of texts, and not just literary ones.

These are some of the things that run through my mind when I translate and revise, and have done so for years. It is called constantly honing one’s craft – an obligation which translators have to themselves and to their readers.

©2015 Allison Wright

translation, viticulture

Translating the Vine Atlas


Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag from now on. The first flashback post, Passionate about getting things right, appeared here last week. I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material.


The following was originally published on 10 May 2012 as a guest blog on Catherine Jan’s  Catherine Translates and entitled, “Translating a 125,000-word book: connections and corrections”. There is no available link, since her website has been disabled for some time.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a LinkedIn message today from Catherine enclosing a Word document containing the original blog post. For about the last five years, Catherine has been employed full-time as a copywriter and plans starting blogging again on digital strategy and communications. My original guest blog will reappear on her site once her new blog is up and running, but will also remain here illustrated with badly taken photographs of a set of prints I purchased when I did whispered gisting for the keynote speaker at a Sustainable Viticulture Symposium held at the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon in January 2015 during all proceedings except his keynote address.

CIMG7356 (2)
To mark the centenary of the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, the Portuguese Institute of Vine and Wine published a series of 21 prints giving ampelographic detail of 15 of the most important Portuguese grapevine varieties at the time. A leading agronomist and oenologist of the day, one Bernadino Camilo Cincinnato da Costa suggested that his friend, watercolour artist Alfredo Roque Gameiro, provide the painted illustrations for a French and Portuguese bilingual edition of the oenological study O Portugal Vinícola|Le Portugal Vinicole published by the the Portuguese National Press especially for the Exposition Universelle, which ran to 3,018 copies. The work won a Grand Prix at the Exposition, and earned B.C. Cincinnato da Costa honorary membership of the French Viticulturalists’ Society. [My English summary of the Portuguese narrative contained in the above-illustrated booklet.]

Here is the guest blog, together with a blurb constructed a full year before I went to my first-ever translators’ conference, believe it or not. Dead links have been updated, and one new link to a presentation on collaboration essentials added, so that you can see it was the experience described below which gave rise in the first place to the ideas in the presentation. It should be noted that these 125,000 words were translated without the use of any CAT tool.

Translating a 125,000-word book: connections and corrections

[Photo deleted]
As one of many scatterlings of southern Africa, 
Allison Wright, a German/French/Portuguese into English translator, finally put down roots a few years ago in the Algarve, Portugal, from where she relishes every single day working now as a full-time freelance translator. Translation of this work of non-fiction was somewhat of a departure from her more usual engagement in financial, corporate, marketing and non-governmental texts since 1987.


Touriga   —   Notice on this and the names of other grapevine varieties that I have included the URL related to this variety in the Ampelography of the, a portal I translated either from the German or the Portuguese into English and which contains the 125,000 words referred to in the original title of the guest blog.


This guest post is about my German to English translation of a book entitled Rebsortenatlas Spanien und Portugal – Geschichte – Terroir – Ampelographie by Hans Jörg Böhm. I am going to discuss aspects of collaboration on a large non-fiction translation project and the idea that a combination of careful research, passionate interest and insistence upon perfection can result in a successful outcome.

Work began on 2 March 2011, and I signed off on the final proofs on 28 July 2011, about five weeks after submitting the “final” translation to the English revisor.

So, how, you may ask, does one get to translate such things in the first place? Am I a specialist on the subject of indigenous grapevine varieties on the Iberian Peninsula? No. Am I well-connected in the publishing world? No. Am I well-known in wine circles? No, once again. Is this even the book (or the language) I proposed to translate when I submitted my formal proposal to the author at the end of January 2011? Why, of course not! How, then?

Pardon the pun: I heard it on the grapevine.

I live in a village in the Algarve in Portugal. A series of haphazard connections and information that the author wanted an English translation prompted me to submit a proposal to him to translate his previous book, O Grande Livro das Castas (The Big Book of Grapevine Varieties) from Portuguese. This book (approximately 100,000 words) was, if you like, the precursor to what I ended up translating. It was a question of asking and receiving – albeit something entirely different to what I had envisaged.

My motivations

My motivation to translate the precursor to the Vine Atlas was two-fold. I know enough Portuguese to say that there are many bad translations from Portuguese into English being published daily in the local press and in countless brochures for the benefit of tourists. The bulk of this work is being done by people for whom English is not their mother tongue, and whose chief vocation in life is certainly not that of translator.

The thought of one of these “translators” getting their hands on O Grande Livro das Castas was like receiving a double dose of aspirin without the benefit of an accompanying glass of water! This general impression was rammed home by the fact that the published translation into English of the Abstract was unfortunate on so many levels that it presented me with a prime opportunity to show the author what a good translation should look like.

The second motivating factor stemmed from the gradual realisation that much of what is glorious and great and incredibly interesting in Portugal remains “hidden” from the English-speaking world. For want of translators, the English-speaking world does not benefit nearly enough from the cultural, historical and scientific wealth Portugal has to offer. In short, I believed the content of the book I wanted to translate needed a wider international audience.

Tinta Cão

Meeting the author

The author contacted me by telephone in response to my carefully drafted written proposal. Thus began our collaboration.

I first met the author in Lisbon 17 days after I had begun the translation in order to negotiate my contract (in Portuguese) with the publisher. The author collected me from the train station, and by the time we had reached the publishers, we had exchanged basic personal information and opinions on a wide range of subjects.

Working with the author, query by query

One month after the start of the translation, the author visited me at my home. We sat in my study for two hours while I went through all the queries I had with regard to the completed Part I of the book. He rather disparagingly called me a perfectionist. I took it as a compliment, of course. He left me with Parts II and III. I did not see the author again until mid-June, during which time he and I spent almost five days at his wine estate going through Parts I, II and III with a fine tooth comb.

Going through the German revisions with the author

His German editor had made extensive revisions to the German, and it was important to ensure that the two texts corresponded. I had the singular pleasure of reading out aloud pages 88 to 162 of my translation, while the author followed the German text. Clearly his bilingualism was an advantage here. Queries and anomalies I had discovered in Part IV were also covered. As a test of my stamina at this late stage, I also received about another 2,000 words to translate by way of extra tables and text boxes (Surprise!) and the jacket cover (which was in Portuguese; I never saw the German!), and we had endless fun ensuring the figures and tables were correctly numbered and labelled.

Socialising with other collaborators

The author hosted a lunch at the end of this five-day marathon, attended by one of the collaborating authors who contributed much of Part I of the book, and the two layout and design men and their wives. This socialising stood us all in good stead when it came to signing off on the final proofs.


Making a plan

The translator has a job. It is, simply, to translate the book for a fee by a certain date – to satisfaction. In this case, to the author’s satisfaction. How you do it, and what you suffer in order to accomplish it, is of no consequence or interest to anyone. You do, however, need a plan.


The first prerequisite is to be able to quantify what you have to do. I have been translating since 1987, so I have plenty of practice in estimating how many words are on a page. The trick is to learn what 100 words looks like, no matter what font is used. Then it is easy to gauge what 1,000 words looks like. It turns out that my estimate of O Grande Livro das Castas was accurate. What I did not anticipate is that the German successor book was going to be longer. And most of that extra length was contained in the last part of the book – the ampelography. This brings me to the fortuitousness of my next piece of advice.

Base output on 75% of your daily capacity

Before starting the project, plan your own delivery programme based on 75%, at most, of your average daily capacity. And I mean average. For instance, if I translate 1,000 words for nine days in a row, and 100 words on the tenth day, my daily average is not 1,000 words, it is 910 words. Do not be ambitious. Be honest. You will need this 25% contingency. It is easily soaked up by time spent on research, and the necessity for housework, foraging for food, and very occasional relaxation.

Keep track of daily progress

On a large project it is important to have a clear idea of your own progress – every single day. Determine in advance the number of hours you can sensibly work per day. Then you will know how much you can reasonably expect to translate per day, and per week. It is very motivating for me to mark the place in the text I need to get to by the end of the day, or the week. If bright pink highlighting works for you, use it. It is essential to pace yourself in this way to prevent feelings of disorientation and frustration. This is the “eating an elephant one bite at a time” approach.

Malvasia — Note that there are many varieties named Malvasia, which accounts for the differences in the morphology of the leaf and berry colour between this image and the one on the Vine to Wine Circle link.


Days off

You will also discover how many days in a row you can work full-time without a day off. My range is between 18 and 23 days, but it is probably best to make sure you have an entire day off once a fortnight at least. Burn-out is not an option.

Timesheets and scorecards

I kept a timesheet for the first month of the project. After that, it was not necessary; there was not much variation in the number of hours I worked, or the number of words I translated every day. I did keep a “scorecard” though and privately celebrated every time another 5% of the job had been completed.


As a translator of a big book, you are one tiny little cog in a giant machine. You have your part to play, and you do it. For most of the time, however, you are working alone. What you need to do is set up your own private collaborators, who have nothing to do with the contract itself.

Your collaborators are the people around you. Your partner, friends and family need a broad outline of your plan and regular updates on how things are going. I showed my landlord (not that he is a literary man) my complimentary copy of O Grand Livro das Castas to give him an idea of what I was doing and to advise him that money would be coming to him at strange times of the month. Collaborators are support people who help you achieve your objective.


I immediately employed a proofreader. Not a professional proofreader, but someone with a wide general knowledge whose honesty I could rely on. This person was briefed to find obvious typos, but more importantly, to mark passages of my translated texts that still sounded “too German”.

Every Friday, I would print out the week’s work and take the pages to her. In return, I would receive the revised pages of the previous week. Sometimes the thought of this brief “reality check” and chat over coffee was the only thing that kept me going.

Bastardo  — I had to include this image here, since under “Homonyms” at the link provided, there appears the one single snippet of humour in the entire work of 125,000 words: “The drafting of the official Portuguese grapevine variety list and the revision of variety names of 2000 have resulted in there being fewer Bastardos: the Bastardo Branco (Nº 36), the Bastardo Roxo (Nº 37), and the Bastardo Tinto (Nº 38) still exist.”


Other commitments

Minor collaborators include your routine activities. If you always do something at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, continue to do it, especially if it gives you a chance to get away from the desk. Life does go on after completion of a large project; there is no reason to stop everything during the project. You do, however, have to achieve your daily targets, even if this means having a longer day to fit in your Wednesday afternoon commitment.

Existing clients

One other important consideration is collaboration with your existing clients. At the start of the project I only had a few clients I could call regular. Once I was certain that the project was mine, I let them all know. When the project was definitely over, I informed them. Some of those clients continue to give me regular work; others do not. If you think you can take on a project of this magnitude and continue with your regular clients, do bear in mind that a large project has a way of consuming your every waking moment (and half your dream life). This, I believe is a necessary part of the process we call achieving excellence. Sustained focused effort judiciously and intelligently applied produces excellence. Believe me, any distractions you allow will reflect in your work, and detract from achieving your objective.

Crazily, though, I did take on a new Pt-En client in early May, and spent a day and a half doing the job. Different subject, different language pair. A change is as good as a holiday, I thought, and indeed it did prove to be a sanity-preserver.


On a project on a specific subject, you have to determine your main sources of research. I already knew from my “sample” translation of the Abstract that there were more than ample resources online. If I could not have found what I needed online, my first port of call would have been the author (who has an extensive private library). In fact, one term had me doing my nut in. I asked the author, and he had the term straight away – with conviction. Job done.

Online research, however, is not always free. Were I to negotiate the contract now, I may well have insisted on about €300 to be used specifically for subscriptions to trade journals for more rapid access to the answers I needed.

Moscatel Roxo


Immersion and active learning

Collaboration with one’s author is a fine thing indeed, but it is no substitute for work on one’s own – the kind of work which pushes the boundaries of your knowledge zone, your comfort zone, and even your method.

Immersion in the subject matter while conducting your research is a process of active learning. Even if we learn something in a foreign language, some part of our brain helps us understand it in terms of our mother tongue (hence the need for sleep!). The discernment one acquires as a result of active learning as well as the filtering process our brains do during sleep contribute to the quality and precision of the translated text. The effort can be enormous; the results are worth the effort.

Judging quality

One can never lose sight of the simple objective in this case: to produce a volume in English. The work has to pass the following standard: Would another professional translator in the same language pair, or a discerning reader familiar with this subject be able to tell that this is a translation? If the answer is an unequivocal “no” then – and only then – has the translation been successful.

Dealing with the quality of the source text

The other equally harsh question one must constantly ask: Would another specialist in this field accept this text as valid? Would he or she pick holes in it? Now, as a translator, one cannot be criticised for the quality of the content of the source text, but if the content is erroneous in any way, this has to be raised as an issue.

This is where research and collaboration meet. Simply put, if what you are translating does not make sense, you have to find someone (the author, or someone in his collaborative constellation) who can rewrite the passage so that it does. I can hear some people saying, “I am just the translator – that is not my responsibility”. Yes, it is. Your name is on the title page. Whatever is wrong with the translation – even if it is finely translated nonsense – will be your fault, and yours alone. Channels of command have to be observed in these cases, because this is what engenders the greatest amount of co-operation with you, the translator. This kind of collaboration requires tact, firmness, good timing, and a solid basis of fact (research backup). This could be one of the things that chews into your 25% contingency on time.

Bringing all past experiences to your translation

Collaboration does not only occur with people. In the translation process, it occurs with aspects of yourself.

You bring your whole life’s experience to each and every new experience you have, whether or not you are conscious of it. Similarly, with every new text you translate, you bring to that translation the experience of every single translation you have previously performed in your life. You also bring every other (non-translation) experience you have had.

On the surface, I was contracted as a German to English translator. The text itself has a sprinkling of French and Latin, and has Spanish and Portuguese placenames and names of historical figures, and others throughout. If there was an accent missing on a Portuguese place name, I put it back in. Typographical errors in all of the above languages were corrected and verified. Part of the job of a German to English translator? I do not know the answer to that question. Perfectionism? You bet!


Understanding how the author thinks

Next, a rather nebulous factor: The native German author has lived in Portugal for the last 40 years, and his German has suffered somewhat as a result. He speaks Portuguese and English. The key to occasional strange word use was to say the word out loud as if it were Portuguese. Bingo! He had simply germanicised a Portuguese word. If I did not have the habit of reading aloud problem sentences, and if I had no knowledge of Portuguese, I would not have thought of that.

This phenomenon was not confined to the lexical level either. Sometimes, the ordering of thoughts in sentences followed a Portuguese pattern more than a German one, as did those lexical items which join thoughts from one sentence to another. This required an intuitive approach. I never raised this issue with the author, and I will not criticise him for it, because we all have our own linguistic idiosyncrasies which contribute to the dynamic nature of language itself. Being able to meet the author, converse with him on matters not necessarily related to the book and listen to how he spoke in English and Portuguese gave me an inkling as to “how he thinks” and was a valuable tool in deciphering a number of passages in this work.

Doing research in different languages

Now to the language of research. Let us remember that the broad subject was grapevines, not wine, yet the two are closely linked. Collaborating authors on this work were Spanish and Portuguese. Historically, it is not only these two nationalities which have contributed to the literature, but also the Italians, Germans and French in no particular order, and well as many others. This means that frequently I had a choice of language in which I could read background information. A typical route may have been to go from German to French and thence to the English term I required. Sometimes the only background information available to me was in Portuguese or Spanish. As I have already mentioned, Spanish is not one of my languages, but as many who know Portuguese will tell you, one can have a rudimentary understanding of Spanish if one knows Portuguese. There were various brief incursions into Latin poetry too, and these sorely tested my memory of fragments learned over 30 years ago. The latter also made me realise that only the dullest excerpts are chosen for the school syllabus.

Had I not been able to understand these languages, I would have been forced to engage in more collaboration with someone who could tell me in a language I understand what the information said. This would have been potentially tiresome and costly in terms of time, and may not have yielded the best answers.

Le mot juste

As translators, we conduct research for two basic reasons: to ensure we have a proper understanding of the text to be translated; and to ensure that we use the correct terminology in the target text.

The Yes! feeling of piecing the puzzle together is a very private one, and short-lived. Private, because, once again, no-one wants to know how long it took you to find le mot juste; short-lived because of the next terminological query further down the page. This is the painstaking part of translation where the only collaboration is between the text, you, and the text you are crafting into a translation. Woe betide anyone who disturbs you in these, the purest of moments!

My most valuable partner

My most valuable and cherished experience in the entire process was the true collaboration I experienced with the English revisor who was originally employed by the now bankrupt publisher, but whom the author himself paid to proofread the final translation.

As translator, I had the final say on the copy; something which I insisted on during contract negotiation. This meant that the revisor proofread the entire text, made occasional queries as to content, and returned the documents to me to accept or reject changes prior to my sending the final to the design and layout team at the publishers. She was efficient, professional, meticulous, and had a good sense of humour.

We met first on the telephone, had countless e-mail exchanges, and met in person at the launch. As a Portuguese and Spanish to English translator, she brought a wealth of cultural and linguistic knowledge to her work. Her relative distance from the text provided the impetus needed for it to become truly polished. This is something I freely acknowledge I could not have done on my own. In the spirit of collaboration, we both duly expressed to the author the excellence of our co-operation and the high mutual esteem which had developed as a result.

The final proofs

The next collaboration was perhaps the most difficult for me; signing off on the final proofs. The language shared by me, two layout and design men and the author was Portuguese. Any changes, therefore, had to be documented in Portuguese. This meant a fairly sharp learning curve for me. It is one thing to translate from Portuguese into English; it was quite another for me to express myself clearly in Portuguese when the state of the final proofs depended on it!

This was a type of mental gymnastics I had not performed before. I am glad of the experience and know that the two I collaborated with found it rewarding too. I am sure I made several linguistic gaffes; we all needed a bit of laughter by deadline stage and I did not mind being the one providing the humour. The fact that we had met in person at the author’s home in mid-June reveals that the author certainly knows a thing or two himself about successful collaboration.

Launching the German- and Portuguese-language versions

The launch of the published hardcover German and Portuguese versions took place at the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon on 15 September 2011.

Roupeiro (an historical designation, now listed as Síria. Synonms for SÍRIA:


In search of a publisher for the English-language version

Lack of funding has meant that the English translation, Vine Atlas of Spain and Portugal – History, Terroir and Ampelography is still seeking a publisher. I did as much as I could to help to promote this work, including the crafting of a summary of what the book is about.

I have a soft cover copy of the English volume. Some discerning (English) readers have read it and given positive personal reviews.

Vine Atlas - jacket sign your work
What would have been printed on the jacket of the Vine Atlas of Spain and Portugal had it been published in book form. Although my name appears on the copyright page as the translator, I felt it was important to place some additional biographical detail elsewhere, as part of the sign your work” ethos long upheld by Fr-En translator Chris Durban. This was easily agreed with the author. My advice: have your blurb ready; if you can say it convincingly all in one breath, all the better. In the event, my name appears on portal at the bottom of the Collaborators page.


I have continued my collaboration with the author and one or two others in the search for a publisher. Now, all the book needs is for the head of a major publishing firm to holiday in the Algarve this summer.

The grapevine can do the rest.

©2012–2018 Allison Wright

Post script

The trilingual BETA version of the Vine to Wine Circle portal was launched on 3 January 2013. It contains the Vine Atlas of Spain and Portugal, and its German and Portuguese counterparts, substantial content from O Grande Livro das Castas (in all three languages), and an extra section on the wine regions of Portugal drafted especially for this portal. Work on the portal involved translating a further 80,000 words, more or less.

Glossário Ilustrado do Vinho
Glossário Ilustrado do Vinho

My collaboration with the author and co-ordinator of this work continues to this day. Late in 2017 the quadrilingual Illustrated Wine Glossary picture above (primary language: Portuguese) was published. I revised the English terms (and made a good many corrections elsewhere, but not before I travelled up to Montemor-O-Novo to the author’s wine estate and thence with the author to Tomar where we spent the day working closely with the same man co-responsible for the layout work in all books mentioned in this blog (except the one for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, of course) and the Vine to Wine Circle.

I also got to do really interesting things, such as a guided tour of the winery just for me given by the marketing manager (reward: seeing the interior of an empty 2,000 litre fermentation tank), working for a couple of hours feeding bottles into the bottling plant at the author’s wine estate (reward: a bottle of wine), examine the stationary mechanical wine harvesters to my heart’s content (reward: curiosity satisfied), and, best of all, agreeing the plan of action with the author for his next book over a couple of bottles of some of the best French white wine in the world; the author’s attempt in vain to convince me that that exceptional white wines do exist. Give me an Alentejo red any day. I am particular about which varieties I drink, but that is another story.

©2018 Allison Wright