translation, viticulture

Threat to Portuguese wine exports

The following is a translation and adaptation into English* of an original article in Portuguese by Sérgio Aníbal in the Público at 13:50 on 9 April 2019 . Permission obtained from the author.

Original article here

New Trump taxes threaten Portuguese wine

Aeroplanes, cheeses, olive oil and wine are all likely targets of possible US tariff increases. That is bad news for Portugal.

The threat of increasing customs duties made last night by the United States to the European Union could affect Portuguese wine export performance. In 2018, the United States was its second most important market, representing over 10% of wine exported.

In a retaliatory move, the United States is threatening to increase import tariffs, following the World Trade Organisation (WTO) arbitration ruling against the European Union’s public aid given to Airbus that it claims was in breach of international trade rules. The US intends to increase customs duties on a range of products imported by the USA from the EU, to a total value of USD 11 billion. Goods affected relate to the aerospace industry, such as aircraft, helicopters and components, but also includes food products such as wine, olive oil and cheese.

Higher customs duties on Portuguese wines could have a significant impact on the sector. According to the National Statistics Institute (INE) Portuguese wine exports to the US in 2018 amounted to EUR 80.8 million, some 10.1% of the total. This figure made the US the second most important market after France for Portuguese wine exporters

The USA has been an important growth market in recent years for the Portuguese wine sector, with significant earnings recorded.

Bottling plant for premium quality Portuguese wine destined for export

All Portuguese exports to the USA in 2018 totalled close to EUR 2.9 billion, or 5% of the value of all products exported from the EU, of which Portuguese wine constituted a mere 2.8%. Other products that feature more significantly, such as refined fuels, wood, cement and textiles have not been targeted for a US customs duty increase, for the time being, at least.

On the list released by the White House, there are also other goods, which if subjected to an increase in import tariffs, could affect specific Portuguese industries. Aircraft exports to the United States earned Portugal EUR 749 million in 2018, slightly less than wine, but a substantial chunk nevertheless, representing 24.1% of total foreign sales of this type of product during the past year.

As for olive oil, Portuguese sales to the USA last year amounted to EUR 6.7 million, or 1.2% of all exports of the product, while cheese earned EUR 2.7 million, some 7.1% of Portugal’s total cheese exports.

Translation/adaptation ©2019 Allison Wright.
*An adaptation is a translation which has been adapted for the target language readership.

Guest Post

ISO certification success

Like any market in the global economy, translators work in a competitive environment. If we don’t differentiate, we´ll get lost in the crowd.

Specialising, and finding a niche market is sound advice. But is it enough? There are dozens of translators who offer the same services, in the same specialist field, at varying rates. Many clients don’t realise that such a thing as specialisation exists, and  believe that any translator can (and will) translate any text, no matter what it’s about. So, how do we get potential clients to choose our services over those of another translator?

I believe that one way to tip the scales in our favour is to become ISO certified. Complying with the International Standards Organisation standards requirements for translation and related activities not only helps us be more organised but also, more importantly, lets those who are shopping for translation services know that we strive to ensure they get the best possible product.

My first step was to get ISO Qualified via the ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting), something which was easy to do (for a small fee of GPB 29 during their introductory offer period, now GBP 49), given that I am already Qualified MITI, which, by the way, is another way to increase visibility and add to your professional credibility. Information on becoming ISO qualified is available to ITI members on its website, and this prompted me to participate in the “ISO 17100:2015 – raising the profile of the translation industry” webinar presented by Raisa McNab, Lead on Standards at the UK Association of Translation Companies (ATC).

ISO 17100-2015 cert - facsimile
ISO17100:2015 (Translation services – Requirements for translation services)

One of the things I was most curious about was whether an individual freelance translator could get certified, or if it was only limited to companies. In addition to answering this particular question, Raisa McNab gave a great talk about the demands of ISO 17100:2015, an overview of how standards are developed, and why they matter.

Following the webinar, I contacted the ATC to get the ball rolling. Why the ATC you may ask, given that I am based in Portugal and there are local certification companies? Simply put, the ATC knows the translation business and I thought, who better to certify my workflow than someone who understands it? And they offer remote auditing services. Another decision I made when contacting the ATC was to not limit my application to ISO17100:2015 (Translation services – Requirements for translation services). Given that post-editing is likely to be a significant part of our job in the future, I decided to be proactive and get certified to ISO18587:2017 (Translation services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements) too.

ISO 18587-2017 cert - facsimile
ISO18587:2017 (Translation services – Post-editing of machine translation output – Requirements)

After an initial free consultation to discuss exactly what I required, so that the ATC could provide a quotation, we scheduled the three stages of the audit: Stage 1 for the electronic supply of data; Stage 2 for the closing meeting, and Stage 3 for the remote audit.

The timing, I guess, is fairly well spaced out. However, I am an Aries (i.e. impatient) and generally quite organised, so the process seemed a little too long for my liking. Following the initial consultation, in which the person I spoke with helped me understand what I would need to have in place to comply with the requirements, I immediately drafted the workflow that would need to be submitted; this made having to wait two weeks for the electronic supply of data frustrating. I had to wait a further two weeks for feedback on what tweaks would need to be made to my workflow, and then yet another two weeks for the audit itself, at which point the ATC would check that I actually practise what I preach. All this waiting left me a little antsy! But, of course, I do understand that the ATC has other applicants and other things to do and, so, I simply waited my turn.

I already had copies of the standards which I had previously purchased when looking into certification (I’m impatient remember?), but this was not entirely necessary, since the ATC offers access to assessment tools when you sign up to the service to prepare for certification.

The people at the ATC are all extremely friendly and helpful and make the process a breeze. The process itself isn’t complicated, if you get organised, and getting organised shouldn’t be that hard to do. Most of what is needed is probably already part of your general workflow. Basically, you just have to map it out step-by-step according to the standard, and have evidence and examples to back it up.

This is the “easy” part. What could be a little harder to digest is the cost. Of course, going in, I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap. Getting certified never is. As mentioned, quotations are tailored to the individual, so cost will vary, but be prepared to spend between €800 and €1,000, plus an annual fee every year of half that amount for annual audits. Plus VAT, of course.

You’re probably wondering whether the investment is worth it. Since I have only just received my certifications, it is a little too early to tell, although I believe it will be in the long run.

Either way, by having ISO17100:2015 and ISO18587:2017 certification,  I’m letting my existing and potential clients know that I am serious about delivering the best service I possibly can.

The sense of accomplishment I feel at having obtained ISO certification has also motivated me to continue to improve as a translator. I would heartily recommend ISO certification as a way to stay ahead of the pack!

©2018 Rossana Lima

Rossana Ferreira Lima - circle
Rossana Lima

Born and raised in South Africa, Rossana Lima has been a translator since moving to Portugal in 1998; first as part of her functions as an executive assistant, and then, later, in parallel to being an ESL teacher.
Now, dedicated to translating full-time, she specialises in translating contracts and other legal documentation, as well as in translations for the venture capital, finance and business and tourism sectors. In addition to translating, she revises and edits documents written in English.
She is a Qualified (MITI) Member of the Institute of Translations and Interpreting (ITI) in both the Portuguese-English and English-Portuguese pairs and certified to ISO17100:2015 and ISO18587:2017. She is also a member of the CIOL and APTRAD.

revision, translation, viticulture

Girona m’ha conquistat

Health warning: If I had written this post sooner, it would have been much shorter. Roughly 4,700 words follow.

We linguists of the twenty-first century converged on the city of Girona that had some sort of heyday in the fourteenth, and saw nothing unusual in taking photographs with our smartphones of city walls, churches and convents and intricate wrought-iron work of centuries past.

Conferencing on the state of the art and science of editing & translation against a spectacular backdrop of history intertwined with cultural interest is something of a METM tradition, and METM18 was no exception. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern sculpture exhibition in the quadrangle of the former convent, now known as Centre Cultural Le Mercè, as well as various interesting pieces populating other spaces.

An equally pleasant surprise was the bowl of fruit greeting my hungry eyes on the way to my first workshop on Thursday, 4 October 2018. I do hope it was not someone’s preparation for a still life composition; it’s not every day that you get a free banana, you know.


Quadrangle at Centro Cultural La Mercè, Girona. Photo credit: Virve Juhola, Cape Context Oy/Ltd.


One could say that I crossed the better part of the Iberian Peninsula via a series of non-synchronised modes of transport from a sleepy little village near Faro, Portugal to attend METM18 in Girona, Catalonia, a place, which as the title of this post suggests, won me over completely. More than 170 attendees travelled from further afield, and willingly, moreover, to immerse themselves in the intense learning from and exchange with their peers and, of course, the social catch-up with many who have become friends over the years.

The three-track programme means that each participant has a slightly different experience of METM.

At MET Meetings, I make a concerted effort to plug gaps in my knowledge, and use the weeks and months afterwards to draw parallels and weave what I learn into the already fragmented and somewhat eclectic body of knowledge that life has presented to me thus far.

With the getting of knowledge in mind, I kicked off my METM18 with what seemed like forbidden fruit in the form of a well chewed banana, a slug of cold water, and a front row seat in Alan Lounds’s workshop on the subject of Research Article Abstracts and Introductions: A genre-based approach to editing and translating. I felt like—and probably was—the least experienced participant in the workshop, which meant that I learnt a lot both from the presentation and the exercises we did in groups, as well as the discussion among more learned participants after each exercise.

You might well wonder why research article abstracts and introductions would be of any interest to me at all. It so happens that I have been translating rather a lot of material for a legal academic this year (and I have had my fair share of editing non-native Masters theses written in English in the past), but there is only so far I can go relying on innate pernicketiness backed up by hours of unguided study on my own. Such focus on territory relatively uncharted by me led to my having several light bulb moments, and by the end of Alan’s workshop, to continue the electrical metaphor, I was beaming with such radiant intensity that I could have sworn my complexion changed briefly to the bright yellow of that long since discarded banana skin. Be that as it may, I was certainly on the right wavelength to squash myself into the lively translation slam which followed.


Here some are of us at the translation slam, looking studious; arguably, our natural way of being. Photo credit: Cesc Anadón ©2018 MET


My knowledge of Spanish is sketchy at best, and propped up chiefly by my knowledge of Portuguese, with a few rusty Latin nails for good measure. Fertile ground for very interesting discussion came from the Spanish to English translations prepared by slammers Maéva Cifuentes and Tim Gutteridge of a short text chosen by moderator Kymm Coveney, with the slam itself coordinated ably by Aisha Prigann. But, wait, I am getting ahead of myself.  I settled into my seat with all the excitement I invariably feel when I receive a new text to translate. This year, I am pleased to say, there were more than enough copies of the text for everyone, so before the proceedings got under way, I was able to read the Spanish undisturbed and think about possible translations of my own into English before performing two quick comparative analyses from the typewritten offerings of the respective slammers. I guess that is what everyone else in the above photo was doing too.

I have attended the translation slams at all three METMs I have been to (15, 16 and 18), and would not miss this Off-METM activity for anything except, perhaps, a translation slam in a language pair with which I am more familiar. The Spanish text came alive for me when Carlos Mayor read it aloud, for it gave me a better sense of extra-linguistic elements which needed to be conveyed in the target English. The beauty of translation slams lies in the marked differences between the translations each slammer has prepared – and then, through audience participation, the potential third, or even fourth possible rendition of the prose in question. I love this aspect of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting stuck in; I love it even more when esteemed colleagues do the same in a positive spirit of focused collaboration that produces concrete results.

METM differs from other translator conferences in that we are not there merely to be educated and entertained: we are there to participate. As one of the lazier worker bees to date on The Hive, a MET archive of tools and resources (see RHS sidebar on the MET homepage), I left the translation slam inspired, and buzzed off to a nearby restaurant to The Hive’s Off-METM dinner, which doubled up as a meeting by way of final preparation in advance of The Hive’s panel presentation two days later. We had an hilarious time, and the fact that we got to the end of the agenda is due solely to Queen Bee Emma Goldsmith’s sheer determination. Emma also managed to photograph us in one of our more serious moments.

L to R: Allison Wright, Kymm Coveney, Wendy Baldwin, Alan Lounds, Ailish Maher, Heather Hamilton. Photographer: Emma Goldsmith

I had not registered for any workshops on the Friday morning, since the only one I was interested in was fully booked almost immediately registration for the conference opened. That was Translation Revision and Beyond, a workshop facilitated jointly by Simon Berrill, Victoria Patience and Tim Gutteridge. Nevertheless, I am gratified to see that the translator-revisor collaboration idea is spreading, and has become part of mainstream discussion among translations professionals. This type of workshop has the potential to grow in usefulness and impact, especially when narrowed down to specific language pairs, both within MET and beyond. My informal sources of information have given me the impression that there is nowhere near enough translation and/or revision practical components in translation degrees currently offered my most universities. This, together with the fact that a high proportion of MET members had a different career before becoming translators or editors, makes the concept of interactive learning while working together all the more attractive.

It is pertinent here to remind readers that all abstracts submitted for presentations at any METM are subjected to two blind peer reviews before being considered for acceptance. These are not revisions, but reviews on content and suitability. I will confess here that the abstract for my own presentation was given a rigorous going over by one very kind and knowledgeable soul. It was only thanks to her help and vigorous questioning that I was able to whip my blurb into shape so that it passed muster. Such a process is both humbling and educative. And that is how is should be. All content on the MET website, and content for individual METMs undergoes a similarly rigorous process: it benefits from the sharp eyes and professional experience of many before being published.  I feel precocious and cheeky—as well as honoured—to call such MET members my peers but will do so, since, in principle, we all strive to attain and maintain standards of editorial excellence in the texts we produce. And that, too, is how it should be.

Another best practice that I heartily support is the “sign your work” movement, first thrust on to the translation landscape a good fifteen years ago by Chris Durban, and this imperative has been almost a mantra of hers ever since. As I mentioned obliquely earlier, we are all at different stages of development, so it is worth reminding people regularly why putting your name on work you have done is a good idea. I touched on this in my presentation, but I might well have been preaching to the converted if the “Show and share” table is anything to go by.  All participants had the opportunity to display samples of their work on the table. Their portfolios were available for anyone and everyone to scrutinise. My intention was to spend much longer perusing the material on display, but each time I started looking at something interesting, I would see someone else I needed to greet, and we would end up chatting instead. I am sure that those who participated in this initiative, originally proposed by Valerie Matarese, would agree that the chief benefit for them came from the act of preparing material to put on show. This was certainly the case for me, since I needed the permission of several clients in order to get my portfolio together. I came to MET buoyed by their good wishes.

Show and share table. Photo credit: Jackie L. Senior

The METM Choir practice at Friday lunchtime meant that I could not participate in any Off-METM lunches on specific topics, but after giving our vocal chords some exercise, I shared a pleasant tapas lunch with four other choristers, and reacquainted myself with the pleasures of vermut. Translators are never short of conversation topics, in my experience.

The complexities involved in obtaining acknowledgement for your work, and how language service professionals are perceived, particularly in the academic sphere, was the subject of panel discussion moderated by Valeria Matarese, with panelists Wendy Baldwin, Mar Fernández Núñez, Jackie Senior, and Kate Sotejeff-Wilson. It confirmed my experience in non-academic spheres: each situation, and each client, is different, and while a certain amount of flexibility is desirable, acknowledgement is always something which should be part of the discussion before taking on an assignment. I twinged privately, since it made me realise that I had not had this discussion with the legal academic I mentioned above, so it was enlightening to learn of the various strategies that panelists had employed.

I was somewhat disappointed with John Linnegar’s presentation on modal verbs, possibly because I had so enjoyed his presentation at METM16 on what constitutes a “light edit”. And perhaps because early mastery of modal verbs is essential for any German-English translator, I felt that I had been transported back to some dingy “O”-Level classroom on a hot summer’s day.  It was, however, worth hearing John confirm my own observations of the recent shift in usage from “shall” to “will”, and from “should” to “must”, where the latter in each case now signifies what the former always has. Reference to the abstract at the time of writing this blog reveals that John did intend this session to be particularly instructive to those for whom English is a second language. This presentation might have been better as a mini-workshop, in that case.

I spent the coffee break after that in a “meeting” discussing a potential collaboration with another MET member. Arranging such things before METM is useful, and in-person meetings always have that little something extra that is lacking in other means of communication. That “something extra” more than makes up for all the tasty-looking snacks I missed out on because of the meeting, but it might also have been penance for having pinched that banana the day before.  While on the subject of consumption, I applaud the strategically placed water coolers in the quadrangle. Definitely an excellent addition to METM!

Rose Newell’s emphasis on communication with one’s clients to ensure their content transcends cultural difference when either writing, editing or translating copy made a whole lot of sense to me. Being the person to bridge that gap as part of the service you provide is an aspect to which many translators fail to devote sufficient attention. All translators, especially those living in the country of their source language, should highlight these matters with clients when appropriate – and yes, this can and does apply to so-called technical texts too.

Daniel Hahn, as one of two METM keynote speakers, wowed the audience by his sheer breadth of achievement and his thoughtful and wide-ranging address. What I was unprepared for, but loved all the same, was his generous, gentle and elegant sense of humour. His speech, entitled In Praise of Editors (the translator’s view), had me riveted. It was hopeless taking notes, so I simply enjoyed listening attentively.

The riveting Daniel Hahn, with Kymm Coveney looking on. (Do I really want credit for this photo I took?)

He left pretty smartly for the next engagement in his busy schedule, so I was unable to tell him that his founding of a translation prize that also gives recognition to the book’s editor had already had an impact on my professional life. So, I shall tell the story here.

In January 2018, a translator whose work I have often revised over the last seven years got in touch with me asking whether I would like to be her revisor for the Portuguese to English translation of a novel by Cristina Carvalho. Naturally, I said I would, since I do like the collaborative experience with this translator. Discussion immediately turned to the issue of price, since the author herself was initially going to pay for the translation and its pre-publisher revision (by me). Via the translator, I suggested that the author contact Daniel Hahn (with a link to the article announcing the founding of his prize) to discover whether there were any other funding possibilities. In the event, I do not think the author contacted Daniel Hahn, but it did motivate the author to seek funding elsewhere, in this case from the Instituto de Camões. The surprising upshot was that the Institute agreed to pay 60% of the costs of translation and revision, with the remaining 40% (paid as an advance to the translator and myself) being paid by the author, at a rate that was acceptable all round. One further benefit was that the Canadian publisher has now made an important business connection with the Instituto de Camões, and this augurs well for the future. I am therefore grateful to Daniel Hahn for more than his excellent speech.

After the welcome reception at the impressively decorated Saló de Descans at the Teatro Municipal, a group of us who, for the most part, had only known each other online, went off to find a bite to eat, and spent more time than was sensible having a jolly entertaining conversation. For those of you who are interested, I still have not got the knack of sleight-of-hand with wine corks. At this point, I could launch into a monologue in praise of taxis after midnight, but shall refrain.

Suddenly, it was Saturday, and in consecutive presentations, two of my favourite speakers, Valerie Matarese and Joy Burrough-Boenisch, examined slightly different aspects of acknowledgement and contributions to research articles. Two somewhat surprising facts to emerge from Valerie’s presentation were that crediting authors’ editors is a very recent development, and that the struggle to standardise giving credit, thereby ensuring greater transparency, is by no means over. Some of the results from Joy’s survey (to discover the answer to the question, “Do freelance editors for non-native-English academic and scientific researchers seek acknowledgement?”) were startling: Only 14.5% of respondents always seek acknowledgment. 76% of respondents in the Social Sciences never seek acknowledgement, and 45% in Science are similarly averse to proactive behaviour. Overall, when those in the Humanities are included, the figure evens out to a depressing 58% of respondents who never bother to ensure that they are duly acknowledged.

It would not be entirely unreasonable in my view to speculate that a broader survey of a much greater sample than freelance editors who are MET, SENSE or NeAT members working for non-native-English academic and scientific researchers would garner similar results. The clear message to be derived from the two presentations above, and others on offer at METM18, is that language professionals (in all sorts of areas of specialisation) need to step up to the plate and at least try to hit the oncoming ball before calling it quits because in their eyes the innings is already lost. In other words, each language professional needs to become part of the solution, and not simply sit back and watch the problem grow in size and complexity. A basic METM message, I suppose: Do your bit!

I went to David Cullen’s A translator’s decalogue out of curiosity. There is an overabundance of advice for (young) translators splashed all over the internet about what they need to bear in mind when practising their craft. I had no argument with any of the points on his list, and was enormously amused, once contributions were invited from the audience, to see that this list cannot possibly be confined to a mere ten, or even twenty, basic points. I did like the piece of advice regarding the need for translators (who work for agencies, in particular) to realise that solving translation difficulties is not “someone else’s problem” and to “take ownership of their work”, and not simply give up and lump the Project Manager, or someone else, with the unsolved problem. I cannot remember, but I might have applauded when David made that remark.

The idea of transparency and clarification of the rules of authorship in what could sometimes be described as a hostile, competitive environment in the academic “publish or perish” arena was expertly and comprehensively dealt with to a packed auditorium by keynote speaker Iria del Río in her call for an ethical publishing culture. At least that is what I thought, as a relative stranger to academic circles. Even so, it is good for someone like me to be aware of the dynamics involved as a translator or editor when occasionally nibbling at the periphery of this mountain of paper that I loosely refer to as academic research.

Based on the idea that hunger serves to sharpen the mind, and shorten the meeting, the programme coordinators had a stroke of genius in scheduling the MET General Assembly after a keynote address and in the middle of the day, immediately before lunch. It was sad to see Chair Anne Murray step down after thirteen years of service, and Alan Lounds leave Council. What is encouraging, however, is that the new Council comprises eight MET stalwarts, including new MET Chair, Kim Eddy. Collectively, they give members the assurance that MET affairs continue to be in good hands. Anne’s last official duty, as I recall, was to make sure we all followed her on a winding route to the top of a hill where lunch was served in the cloisters of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Girona, and a jolly good job she did of that, too!

Our clients in the world at large also need to know that they are in good hands, and this was the core message contained in Karen Neilson’s presentation, To oak or not to oak… profiling the wine translator. It was refreshing indeed to hear her stating that there is a whole lot more to being an effective translator in the wine sector than merely getting the terminology right. Key points included selling yourself to the client on your knowledge of all aspects of wine making, from the vineyard to the final product and the markets for which the wine is destined. Clients need to feel confident that you, as the translator, know the ins and outs of their business. Clearly at home in this terroir, Karen covered a lot of ground in this twenty-minute presentation: she pulled out a bunch of production and export statistics; touched on the influence of climate and soil and how they relate to wine tasting; recounted how she has watched expert oenologists at work in the vineyard selecting before harvest which grapes would go to oak and which not; retold with some humour and suspense of the hunt she pursued, when discussing rootstock, for the English term “crown”, referring to the basal region of the trunk slightly below and above the soil level, and she emphasised the need for knowing a good deal about gastronomy, as well as cultural differences between two languages and how these impact on consumer attitudes towards wine and determining appropriate approaches to marketing. She mentioned the necessity of communicating  with clients when a straight translation of their Spanish text would result in negative connotations in English as being one of the many reasons for the sensitive adaptation of a text. It was a treat to listen to Karen advocating quality translation in the real “world of wine”.

No one is quite sure how it happened, but somehow the wine translators at METM18 managed to get together for another brief moment around midnight at the closing dinner long enough to have their photograph taken against what is known for its blankness in current parlance as a “selfie wall”.

Back row, L to R: Linda Turner, Elizabeth Garrison, Allison Wright, Simon Berrill, Karen Neilson. Front row, L to R: Ruth Simpson (Ruth Gicqueau-Michel), Aisha Prigann, Karin Rockstad Photo credit: Tim Gutteridge

After my presentation on Marking your digital territory and the rapidly vanishing rules on acknowledging one’s source in the crazy copy-and-paste culture of the Internet Age, I missed out on yet another coffee break – but did help myself to a pear (legitimate fruit – as was all the fruit so considerately on offer in the Centre during the conference, so I discovered later), on which I managed to break a filling in a back tooth, before a brief interview with MET member Lisa Agostini and her radio producer partner, Julian Mayer, of Yada Yada. The two volunteered to produce a podcast of a few of the presentations at METM18, and more observant participants would have noticed them in action, albeit mostly in the background.

That treacherous but juicy pear provided me with sufficient sustenance to hurl myself back into the old convent building to listen to Nigel Harwood speak on Using metaphors to explore the role of the proofreader of L2 student writing in the UK context. The sample of proofreaders at a UK university who were interviewed was small, and his focus entirely academic. As stated in his presentation abstract, “Fourteen proofreaders in a UK university were interviewed about their practices, speaking to a prompt card offering definitions of the proofreader’s role as a cleaner or tidier, a helper or mentor, a leveller, a mediator, and/or a teacher. Some informants were institutional insiders (e.g., lecturers, PhD students); others were freelancers with no connections to the university.” The body of his presentation, and research results, did indeed show that very few guidelines for such proofreading exist, and the playing field is by no means level. Not being a native of this particular planet, I was taken aback that someone in the audience expressed “shock that some L2 students had paid for proofreading services”. For those of us in the commercial world, it makes perfect sense that someone should pay for the benefit of our native linguistic expertise. I understand that one has to consider the entity known as “academic integrity”, but if L2 masters and doctoral theses are revised—or even translated—as a paid service, and, from without the walls of the ivory tower at least, this is common knowledge and seemingly accepted practice, then why can the same not apply to L2 master’s essays?

As a freelancer who makes a living from not only my translation abilities, but also my skills as a revisor, editor, or proofreader – and primarily in non-academic contexts, I hasten to add, I baulk at the idea that I should be expected to waive my fee simply because the client is a student. Indeed, whenever I hear in conversation that someone is embarking upon a master’s degree, I advise them to get a part-time job at the same time and start saving money to pay for a native English editor for their master’s thesis. I realise that there might be a lot of worms in this particular can, and that many students probably do not finish writing their thesis in sufficiently good time for their supervisors to give them proper advice (this is the impression I have received from several such texts, and my impression alone), but I do have to question whether universities in general are doing their students justice if radical editing (including the pointing out of factual error, mathematical errors when calculating percentages, graphs that are not consistent with the interpretations given, omissions in bibliographies, etc.) by a freelance language professional is so obviously required three or four days, say, before the thesis submission deadline. I am also very much aware of the fine dividing line that exists between producing comprehensible English and improving the quality of the thesis, thereby potentially influencing the grade such a thesis might obtain, and I am careful not to cross what I imagine that dividing line to be. I voiced none of this during Nigel’s presentation; I was tired, and anything I might have said at the time in response to the shock expressed that some L2 students pay for the proofreading of their essays could well have come across as fractious at best. If anyone can point me to substantial literature on the matter, I would be very grateful!

Speaking of resources, my final session – not before a quick refill of my water bottle at one of those wonderful water coolers, was one in my role as laziest worker bee to date: a review of The Hive – one year on. The session took the form of a panel presentation, with Emma Goldsmith, Wendy Baldwin, Alan Lounds, Kymm Coveney and Ailish Maher each taking a few minutes to review what The Hive is about, what is in it, and what is Beside The Hive. Heather Hamilton (my lovely presentation moderator) and I were the only other members of The Hive Team at METM18, and neglected to bring pompoms all the way to Girona for the purposes of cheerleading. Suffice to say, the session had the desired effect: more MET members have entered the Hive as worker bees, and we now number twelve in total. The Hive is a resource base and platform for MET members only. I would urge you head on over to the relevant page on the MET website and read all about it, browse around, and remember to contribute as appropriate. Like any good METM, The Hive has something useful, and something of interest for everyone.

There were several presentations at METM18 that I was sorry to have missed for one reason or another, but that is how it always is. All that remained at this point was to enjoy a jolly good final dinner, and the final bit of fun: singing in the impromptu METM Choir – not bad, after only two hours’ worth of riotous practice!

METM18 Choir singing “Jave Jive” and a Catalan song, “Himne dels pirates” Video credit: Julian Mayers of Choir director: Christina Koch, Choir assistant: Ruth Simpson. Click on the image above to go to the video on Youtube.

My week’s holiday after the conference, followed by almost two weeks of solid work, is the reason it has taken me so long to publish this post. I don’t know yet whether I will come to Split, Croatia next year; if I do, I plan to enjoy it every bit as much as I did this year. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a success and a true pleasure!

©2018 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.

Guest Post

Time Out to Translate Better

Thirteen: four on my left leg, one on my little toe; three on my right leg, four on my left shoulder, one on my left palm.

Thirteen is the unlucky number of mosquito bites I got while attending Translate Better 2018 in Groß Behnitz, a village dominated by a once innovative and then dilapidated farm a few kilometers from Nauen, a few kilometers from Spandau, a few kilometers from Berlin. It is dilapidated no longer: an industrious family has turned the erstwhile farm into an impressive conference center called Landgut Stober – far from urban distractions, yet easy enough to get to, even for international guests .

Gross Behnitz
The view from my window for the three nights in Groß Behnitz. Note the locomotive in the courtyard: the previous owner of the estate was a son of August Borsig, whose company was Europe’s premier manufacturer of steam locomotives in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.


It’s not like I didn’t see and feel the mosquitoes biting, but, you see, it was the price to be paid for this idyllic setting—and let’s face it, if you’re going to attend a conference in the middle of a sweltering German heat wave, choosing one on the banks of a large lake in the middle of nowhere is probably the way to go.


path along the lake
The path along the lake invited to leisurely walks—though not too leisurely, given the number of mosquitoes waiting to alight on unwary passers-by!


Most of the mosquito bites came on the last evening, when I sat out on the terrace among friends new and old until nearly midnight, gamely batting the pesky critters away from my face.

In my previous life as a hard-core summer camp counselor, we gathered on the last night around a campfire singing “Mmm, mmm, I want to linger here, a little longer here…” While a two-day translation workshop is hardly the same bonding experience as writhing your way through a muddy cave or canoeing a mountain river in a sudden thunderstorm, there was a palpable sense that those around me on that terrace were “my people.”

I mean, who else can commiserate about the trials and tribulations of rendering “im Sinne von” or “Spannungsfeld” into elegant English? Or the difficulties of navigating the ever perilous “du/Sie” divide, not only in our professional and personal lives and correspondence, but even when translating a work of fiction in which the distinction plays a crucial part in the story? And let’s face it, even when we might quibble with a presenter’s example of a refined text, who doesn’t delight in the accompanying discussion or at least take comfort in the fact that, as translators, we have the opportunity to improve upon the original?

page 8 DLG - Translate Better
Information taken from

For those glorious two days at Translate Better 2018, the utmost question on the minds of these freelance translators was not whether or not Google Fonts on a business website is a terrible invasion of consumers’ right to privacy GDPR-style and prone to bring down the draconian data police on our heads. Instead we examined the fine distinctions between bolts and screws—observing, at least in my case, that I would be proverbially screwed should I ever venture too far into the field of technical translation.

After a session including a group assignment on specifications for the hinge attaching an automobile hatchback to the frame, or an attempt to render into English instructions on how to sit and stand after hip-replacement therapy, I am more than happy to retreat to my ivory tower of arcane academic jargon. Give me convoluted German noun constructions to unravel any day, but please get someone else to tell you how to go up steps one at a time with crutches!

Stephen Powley - expert habits
This part of Stephen Powley’s talk on nuts and bolts actually did make sense to me.


Those who planned the Translate Better workshop—a joint project of the ATA and BDÜ held during the last days of May 2018—set out to provide a somewhat exclusive atmosphere with top-notch language training, a Teutonic counterpart to the widely acclaimed French<>English “Translate in…” series. Registration was limited to fifty individuals, evenly divided between native English and German speakers, and the information published about the event stipulated that the workshop was for experienced professionals. We translators are a diverse bunch and in a room of fifty translators, there are bound to be at least a hundred fascinating Werdegänge (educational and career experiences) and Lebensläufe (curricula vitae). A few of these entertaining personalities got to go front and center in a series of three long sessions held on each of the two days.

The sessions—covering everything from art history texts and literary translation to “style in the age of digitalization” and the aforementioned “nuts and bolts” of translation—were 90 or 120 minutes long, but most of them could have been double that, given the amount of material the speakers had prepared and the audience’s willingness to engage with it.


translators linger on the bank
Groß Behnitzer See: Translators lingering lakeside


While none of the sessions provided quite the attention to the fundamental characteristics of good writing that I expected going into the workshop, all of them provided food for thought.

Even if Translate Better 2018 felt less revolutionary than I had—perhaps unrealistically—hoped, it was a high-caliber—klein aber fein (small but excellent)—conference that left me looking forward to the next one, and, two weeks later, I’m still dreaming about lingering around a table with a congenial group of translators, talking shop and life and all things linguistic.

©2018 Ellen Yutzy Glebe

Ellen - circle

Dr. Ellen Yutzy Glebe decided to spend her semester abroad in Munich, to take advantage of her year of introductory German before she’d forgotten it all; England could wait. The rest is history, as they say.
History, incidentally, is Ellen’s passion. While she only discovered German as an undergraduate, she spent hours even as a young girl curled up reading museum catalogs and biographies of important historical figures. She majored in History and German, spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Marburg, and went on to earn her PhD in Early Modern European history at the University of California-Berkeley.
Somewhere along the way, she fell in love with Germany, and then with a German (or was it the other way around?). These days, she lives, loves, and works in Kassel, Germany. She worries at times about forgetting her English. She has yet to make it to England.




Passionate about getting things right

In the spirit of the aphorism attributed to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”, I thought it apposite to start hauling blogs out of the archives in advance of the Aptrad’s second international translators’ conference, 17–19 May 2018. The theme of the conference is centred on issues we need to address in the decade ahead; this post is a half-decade retrospective.
When you have ploughed through the article below, there are some more thoughts about the process at work when you attend conferences aimed at professional translators on my other blog, entitled, What your translation business deserves, written in September 2014.
This blog was originally posted as a guest blog in June 2013 on Moira Monney’s blog, The Successful Linguist. Since then, although still running her translation business, Moira has decided to focus on her other passion in life – nutrition and an holistic approach to wellness. I was pleased to have met her in person in September 2014 after working together with her for almost three years, when her enthusiasm for what she does beyond the sphere of translation was more than evident.
Allison-Scatterling-Head facing left


What was the common denominator among delegates at the 2013 International Conference held on 8 and 9 June 2013?

If anything – apart from a love of good coffee, fine wine and fine food – it is that they are all passionate about getting things right.

For many, this was probably the main motivation for attending the conference. It certainly was for me.

Whether you are new to the game, or a seasoned translator with so many tricks up your sleeve that your jacket is bulging, there is always room to improve some aspect of your translation business.

Your translation business

When many of us started out, people seldom uttered the phrase, “translation business”. It was a rather foreign concept, for which no formal training existed. We simply learned the freelance ropes as we went along, and got by with a little help from our friends – as the line from that song goes.

I have vague recollections that I made a conscious decision to refer to the place at home where I work as “my office” rather than “my study”. Concepts, as translators know, are incredibly important. Active visualisation of concepts, together with their integration into the activity from which we earn a living, is even more so.

The simple implementation of efficient administrative systems, is one thing; having a business model which works for you is quite another.

Business models

This is why I found the first of the workshops I attended at this conference interesting. Daniela Zambrini’s presentation entitled, “Drafting a business model canvas: First steps towards personal branding”  was based on the methods advocated by Alexander Osterwalder, whose published works are available on Given the plethora of business models on the market, it could have been tempting to dismiss this model as just one more.

Yet, fresh perspectives are just that: Fresh. The first element of freshness was the “canvas” itself presented to us in the form of a sheet of A3 paper divided into rectangles with headings referring to various interactive elements in a business. We each received two little pads of adhesive notes, each of a different colour upon which to write things which we thought should be assigned to the different building blocks, or categories, of our translation business. Once we had defined for ourselves what should go in each rectangle, the placement of low-tech sticky labels on our own canvas became quite satisfying.  The idea behind using sticky labels is that you can reassign them to a more appropriate rectangle as your understanding of the process – and your business – improves.

I heard someone saying after the presentation that he was disappointed that Daniela had to explain in such detail what a business model is, since everyone should already have one. Really? Is that a prerequisite to being an excellent translator (my primary, and constant, objective)? I, for one, would rather employ a good translator with a fuzzy business model or none at all than a mediocre translator with a fantastic business model. I am not a fan of the dismissive approach; it is, quite simply, no fun at all. It is no fun because it curtails the possibilities to be discovered simply by following the steps.

Be serious about what you do

I admire Daniela Zambrini for having tackled such a huge subject with such a large and diverse group of people whose degree of experience in managing their translation business was just as diverse. Within the allotted 90 minutes, Daniela even managed to get us working in groups effectively. I delighted in the enthusiasm of those in the group I was part of and the lively, cheerful discussion which ensued. It confirmed my long-held theory that being serious about what you do is fun.allison-scatterling-head-319x435

Daniela gave the 54 registered participants a wonderful gift, for which I heartily thank her: A handout. If you read the handout, you will discover that it is part of a larger document to be found at where you can download a 72-page preview of the book entitled Business Model Generation for free. You will also discover that you do not need to design your own canvas on your own computer. A web-based app for this purpose already exists! Yay! No more real-life sticky labels!

Just as soon as you have factored “making a good business better” into your “Cost Structure” building block, you can take full advantage of it. Explore the website for yourself. You owe it to yourself to invest in yourself and your translation business.

You are part of the business model generation, after all.

Take my breath away

If I had to take a deep breath after Daniela Zambrini’s presentation, then it will come as no surprise to learn that my breath was completely taken away by what Marta Stelmaszak had to offer under the title of “Exploring the Freelance Advantage” in the first session on Sunday morning.

Marta had also prepared a hands-on presentation. She is an ardent time-keeper, and passionate about her profession. These two facts were immediately evident.

Her first step was to give us about 180 seconds to write down on a piece of paper why we translate. And then we had to hand her our scribbled bits of paper. Marta says she pins these statements to a board and uses them for inspiration.

I wasted a good 20 seconds fishing out my favourite purple roller ball for this important statement, and then got nervous – inexplicably, perhaps, because this piece of paper was destined to be read more than once by a fellow translator! Then I panicked about legibility!

These stages of the creative process were peppered with Marta counting down the seconds left until completion of the exercise. This was not entirely conducive to a well-crafted sentence, but I suspect that it was intentional. Even though I had done some early-morning brainwork before the 9:00 start, this rapid-fire writing under pressure was a shock to the system. A jolt of Marta-energy!

Why I translate

You are all curious, now, so here is my why:

My why
Why do I do this?
I translate and edit because I love the process and the outcome.
It is creative, demanding and precise.
I love the structure of it all.
I do this better than any other thing!

I am happy to share this inelegant statement publicly precisely because it is raw, honest, and passionate.


Marta’s targeted, well-structured advice

We each offered up a few words in exchange for the wealth of targeted, well-structured and motivational advice Marta has to offer. She packed plenty of activities onto the six-page handout spanning her well-devised three-part presentation. More of these gems can be discovered at Wantwords.

With deft precision, Marta led participants through the basic activity of defining their “why”, describing the “how”, and finally saying “what” they do. The simple graphic shows three concentric circles, with WHY in the innermost circle, HOW in the middle, and WHAT in the outermost one.

Despite the plainness of the diagram, I found myself thinking back to those old cut-away models of what lies beneath the Earth’s crust. So, when Marta exhorted us to “rediscover the why”, and tells us that “clients buy the why, not the what”, and that “inspired leaders think, act and communicate from the inside out” (i.e. starting with the why and progressing to the what), I am thinking “magma”. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me simply say that my why – at the core of my being – could be likened to magma; molten, fluid, powerful, brimming with actual and latent energy, ready to burst forth with force at every opportunity! What a hot image! You may think it grandiose. Grandiose, but necessary. Powerful images sustain you.

Marta’s dynamic presentation  elicited a strong response in me. One week later, I am still trying to cope with it.

A strategic graph

The second activity pertaining to the “translator” section of this workshop tempered my fiery daydream somewhat with an ingenious graph which invites you to work on your “strategy canvas”.

This is the place where you rate yourself against others on such diverse aspects as price, personality, customer services, brand, pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase performance, additional services offered (upselling/cross-selling), payment terms, specialisation, and seriousness/formality – and any other quality which may be relevant to you. It is a personal, translator-centric vision of your very own world. Use the Internet to evaluate how “others” (your competitors) measure up.

I love this graph!

My reason is this: I am well practised in the art of eschewing the very idea of being competitive. I much prefer pursuing excellence for its own sake.

This graph, though, makes excellent sense. It is a SWOT analysis and market-positioner all rolled into one. I delight in the fact that I have very many coloured pens, and I quickly realise just how different the markets are for my different language pairs, and how different my strengths are in each language pair. My coloured pens allow me to plot a profusion of coloured dots representing others and me. There should actually be six different colours on this graph. So far, only three. I am working quickly, but Marta is speeding right ahead.

She has an image on the screen of the Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy® and is telling us that this concept and the little dots on her personal graph have enabled her to create her own “blue ocean” in which she no longer has competitors, but collaborators.


Unique selling point

I hear her mention “homework”. Our homework (and the very word assumes an ongoing collaboration with those of us in the workshop) is to do the same, and define our USP (unique selling point). Much to my utter surprise, I actually come up with a decent USP from my haphazard, off-the-cuff graph exercise – and  the plump seeds of an idea are beginning to germinate. I have been inspired by a legal translator, the phonetics of whose mother tongue (Polish) are a complete mystery to me. Life is beautiful.

Quick sketch

Imagine my horror as we seamlessly slide on to the second part of Marta’s presentation which deals with the Client. We are tasked with drawing our “Ideal Client Avatar” (ICA). Our worksheet has a blank outline of an androgynous human being. I am flummoxed. I draw a hat on my politically-correct gingerbread person, because, at least a hat does keep the humour dry, and an optimistic open expression, with a smile which could be the way someone smiles when in the act of speaking at the same time. We have questions to answer about our ICA which force us to attribute human, personal characteristics to this avatar. In the five minutes of time allotted to this task, I get hopelessly lost in a sea of madness.

Allison-Scatterling-Head facing leftI question which of my current clients are, in fact, ideal. As I think of the attributes of some of my clients, I become confused trying to marry a liking for the works of Bob Marley to the intricacies of certification of manufacturing processes in the logistics industry. I also wonder about the ethical correctness of drawing what will, in my hand, inevitably end up being a caricature of a leading figure in Portuguese viticulture. It would only serve to strip away the very great respect I have for this person. Oh, dear! Hopeless! Clearly, I need more than one avatar. A close-knit multi-culti bunch of good-looking people – and a portal or two for good measure.

I mention my stumbling block because I am fairly certain that I was not alone in my dilemma at this point in the presentation. It was also the most depressing ten minutes of the entire conference for me.

Know your client

The Big D-word notwithstanding, Marta does make a compelling and important point: You have to know your clients in order to be able provide them with what they need. Knowing your clients includes knowing what motivates them, their strategies, and even their dreams. One should add that knowing your clients means knowing as much as possible about their business, their industry, and where relevant, their origins. For what it is worth, I agree. You simply cannot be a stranger, or a casual observer, and hope to produce translations that work for your client in the best way possible.

Likewise, in order to do your job to best effect, you need to acquire knowledge which comes from cultivating a relationship with your clients. This knowledge is every bit as much your stock-in-trade as your linguistic expertise.

Marta is of the view that you need a well-defined Ideal Client Avatar (hers is in giant Technicolor® and still has some of his real human hair) because this will determine such things as your business name, business card, your clothing, your e-mail signature, and what your website looks like.

My non-conformist nature prevents me from agreeing wholeheartedly with this view. I do agree that you do need to win your clients over by adopting their world view to a large degree. Where you as the translator differ from your client is that you have at least two different world views with which you deal every single day – more, if you work with more than one language pair. This is the value you bring to the relationship; this is the difference you need to accentuate. This is your sacrosanct why.

A kind of magic

The third part of Marta’s presentation deals with the place where translator and client meet; where the magic happens. The level of precision required to complete the three activities on the worksheet is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Rigorous self-examination is part of the deal. The reward? Success in your translation business.

Both Daniela Zambrini and Marta Stelmaszak gave workshop participants concrete, practical suggestions for improvement of their translation businesses. These are methods which have been proven to work on a sustainable basis.

All the exercises and activities require effort and application. This kind of visualisation has nothing to do with the beach, a hammock between two palm trees and a goodly supply of  pina coladas. It is the vision of a much bigger picture which you as a freelance translator determine yourself.

It is worth a try, don’t you think?

Besides, Marta’s closing words were, “Be ready in two weeks”. You have less than one week left.

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me simply say that my why – at the core of my being – could be likened to magma; molten, fluid, powerful, brimming with actual and latent energy, ready to burst forth with force at every opportunity! What a hot image! You may think it grandiose. Grandiose, but necessary. Powerful images sustain you. 
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©20132018 Allison Wright
Illustrations ©20132018 Toni Le Busque (except for the bottle of ink ©Allison Wright)