Reflecting on Industry 01 B

This new post on my blog is not a new one. In fact, it already appeared in two widely read blogs for translators – Kevin Lossner’s and Steve Vitek’s.

However, I think it worthwhile to publish it here again as a kind of reflection on the current state of the so called translation industry. Attila Piróth, an English-French-Hungarian translator with a PhD in theoretical physics, penned this post as a comment on FIT’s (this acronym stands for the “Federation of International Translators”) position statement on crowdsourcing. But there is more to that than mere feedback.

Like in every other paper by Attila Piróth, his conclusions are drawn on the basis of keen observation and ingenious research. As an example, Attila's seminal article on Translators without Borders was conceived based on the results of a large-scale survey about pro bono translation. Like in every other paper, Attila’s insights shed light on specific aspects of today’s industry (e.g. pro bono translation, translation into a non-native language or crowdsourcing in this case), but at the same time provide a critical reflection on wider issues, ethical (or unethical) practices being one of the key ones.

I, for one, have always found it difficult to speak of the translation industry. The divide between translation as a profession and craft and, on the other hand, the so-called translation industry has been widening ever since. This divide has also an ethical dimension. As part (and symptom) of the translation industry, crowdsourced translation is also part of a wider, global issue. Amazon’s Mechanical Turks can serve as an example – both Mechanical Turks and professional journalists belong to the publishing industry, the divide as obvious as it gets.

However, in the translation business the line gets constantly blurred, the FIT’s position paper posing such a striking example of unawareness of this context. That is what makes the comments below all the more valuable.

In case you wonder about the pictures for this post – they were taken early this May in North Rhine-Westphalia (Zeche Zollverein and Zeche Ewald). For some reason, I believe that the German former industrial sites provide a fitting background for these “reflections on the industry”.

Comments about FIT’s position statement on crowdsourcing #[1]

Crowdsourcing is certainly a very effective term; calling some of the practices it enables “digitally distributed sweatshop labor” – for this seems like a much better description of what’s happening on crowdsource-for-money platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk – wouldn’t accomplish half as much.
– Evgeny Morozov#[2]

Digitally connected mobs will perform more and more services in a collective volunteer basis, from medicine to solving crimes, until all jobs are done that way.
–  Jaron Lanier#[3]

In the past few years, crowdsourced translation and machine translation have received a great deal of attention. Both are frequently called “disruptive technologies”, and are claimed to drive growth for businesses. Professional translators are often advised to get used to the idea that machine translation and crowdsourcing are “here to stay” and to adapt “to the changing landscape of the profession”. Machine translation post-editing is frequently cited as a new “niche” for translators.

The topic choice for the two FIT position statements thus reflects important and interesting realities. However, in its stated role as the “voice of translators worldwide”, FIT should not shy away from discussing some crucial issues that go beyond the simple technicalities presented in the paper. And if FIT is to reasonably call its paper a statement of position, it should dare to state one.

Reflecting on Industry 05

Finding a consensus on the more contradictory aspects will not be easy within FIT. The socio-economic issues that lie at the heart of the heated debates around crowdsourcing and machine translation boil down to the conflict between value creation by independent professionals and value extraction by those who own certain technologies (e.g., MT), linguistic resources (e.g., TMs) or platforms. Once again, we are faced with the labor versus capital debate – which is perhaps one reason why the corporate side likes to use the term translation industry. Effectively, crowdsourcing and machine translation aim to ensure the necessary ingredients for the industrialization of an intellectual activity, and (by redefining expectations) to propose alternatives for the scarcity of the required competences. This is precisely why both trends have attracted major capital investments.

 Example: Duolingo is a language-learning website that received 15 million dollars of capital funding at an early stage of its development. The core idea as represented to students was to teach languages through translation exercises. The more advanced the learner, the more difficult the sentences to translate. Peer-to-peer voting provides feedback on the participants’ performance. Courses are free, because the core idea as represented to financial backers is that the company generates its income by selling the translations produced by the crowd. The patchwork translations thus provided were meant to be sold to major content creation hubs – gawker, huffpost, etc. This “disruptive” model would thus enable the translation of a huge amount of text (for which “there would have been no traditional budget”). If one consults individual professionals such as language teachers and journalists, they will also add that this platform creates competition not just for translators but for them too – thereby disrupting several professions at once.

This model gives a clear translation-related example to the main thesis of Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Throwing rocks at the Google bus: how growth became the enemy of prosperity#[4]. Crowdsourcing does not enable a sustainable professional career for those who perform it: crowdsourcing is fundamentally a winner-takes-all scheme, in which the only real winner possible is the entity that owns or controls the platform. As the casino business knows, the house always wins.#[5]

In the introductory quote, Evgeny Morozov calls crowdsourcing “digitally distributed sweatshop labor”. Given that recent reforms to the French labor law have lead to massive protests, this is also an opportune moment to assess the sort of legislative treatment this digitally distributed sweatshop labor receives.

The short answer is: it is entirely overlooked. Crowdsourcing’s diffusely distributed nature – it is literally everywhere and nowhere – seems to cast an impenetrable veil that obscures it to any physical jurisdiction.

Consider a brick-and-mortar bookstore, which, to increase its profit, invites volunteers to unload the delivery trucks, fill the shelves, clean the floor, etc. The volunteers bear their own costs and have no protection with regard to health, safety, work hours and insurance; they contribute because they identify in some way with the company and its products, and may hope to be offered some kind of paid work eventually.#[6] In most countries, that has long been against the law: the company should hire the workforce, pay them at least the minimum wage, pay the various contributions/taxes after the employees, etc. When a company makes a profit, workers are paid, and the state also gets a share in the form of taxes and other contributions.

Over the past several years, many brick-and-mortar bookstores have been driven out of business by a virtual bookstore that has developed one of the most sophisticated platforms in the world: Amazon. As explained in Wikinomics by D. Tapscott and A.D. Williams,#[7] hundreds of thousands of volunteer programmers participated in the “collaborative effort” to build the Amazon platform – which debuted as a bookstore, then added consumer electronics (bankrupting Circuit City and Best Buy), and only continues to grow and diversify.

Since the boom of the digital knowledge economy, numerous volunteer ‘community’ projects have been launched under the banner of “harnessing the unused intellectual capacity of the community (the cognitive surplus#[8]) for the benefit of all”. But who will extract that ’cognitive surplus’? Will the resource extraction models developed in the 20th century for oil, gas, minerals etc. be followed – with notional ‘competitors’ forming close alliances behind the scenes to control ownership of the resources? Cognitive surplus may be even more attractive to mine than physical resources because there is no sovereign owner and there are no cross-border issues requiring negotiations, contracts, royalties or trade agreements. But are nations really OK with having their workers deliver free, untaxable labor to, among others, private foreign interests?#[9]

Reflecting on Industry 02

A typical example is when major IT companies can slash customer support costs because an enthusiastic user community is at their disposal to provide peer-to-peer help for free. IT giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Symantec, etc. all benefit from such volunteer help. For these companies, the potential to use unpaid labor in handsomely paid (or even publicly subsidized) projects is not some kind of unexpected but fortuitous glitch: it is a system feature by design.

A perfect example along these lines is the ACCEPT project, in which crowdsourcing meets machine translation. Through this project, the EU generously offered a million-euro check to US digital media companies Symantec and Acrolinx and French translation company Lexcelera to cover some of their machine translation R&D costs. One of the promises these companies made was to scale up the volunteer operations of Translators without Borders (TwB), a nonprofit organization that they control,#[10] and whose actual work is completed by unpaid contributors sourced from all over the world. Thus, although the charitable efforts of the volunteers constitute the most publicly visible aspect of this apparatus, certain companies represented at the top of the hierarchy also benefit much less visibly by deriving privatized profit from free socialized labor.

In a remarkable article, published over five years ago, the Northern California Translators Association (NCTA) unveiled the real character of crowdsourcing. That analysis – and hopefully the present one, too – shows that the translation profession is not isolated: it is as strongly affected by social (media) trends as any other profession where telework has become the norm. Legislation lags seriously behind technology, and to close that gap, representative bodies of freelancers have to act.

A “position statement” by an international federation of professional associations can be a good step in that direction – but as noted at the outset, such a paper will accomplish little if it fails to take a clear position.

Professional associations whose member base is comprised solely of individual professionals are in a much clearer situation than those associations in the FIT family that also admit corporate members. The former should accordingly step forward and raise the issues that are omitted from the FIT paper and negatively affect their membership base. Raising these critical questions may ultimately mean that no FIT-wide consensus can be reached about crowdsourcing (or machine translation). But that is a much healthier outcome than remaining a silent signatory to the current position statement – and hence tacitly agreeing that there is nothing to see here and we should all move along.

Reflecting on Industry 04

Acknowledgement: Some ideas presented above have emerged or crystallized in conversations with colleagues, in particular with Vivian J. Stevenson, who also read the manuscript.

[1] FIT Position Statement on Crowdsourcing of Translation, Interpreting and Terminology Services.

[2] Evgeny Morozov, To save everything, click here. Penguin, 2013. ISBN: 978-0241957707.

[3] Jaron Lanier, You are not a gadget. Vintage, 2011. ISBN: 978-0307389978.

[4] Douglas Rushkoff, Throwing rocks at the Google bus: how growth became the enemy of prosperity. Portfolio, 2016. ISBN: 978-1617230172.

[5] “The bigger, centralized solutions offered by corporations with traditional, extractive, and monopolistic strategies are more attractive to investors, who are themselves betting on winner-takes-all outcomes.” D. Rushkoff, ibid.

[6] Interestingly, this kind of effort looks similar to sweat equity. According to Investopedia,sweat equity is contribution to a project or enterprise in the form of effort and toil. Sweat equity is the ownership interest, or increase in value, that is created as a direct result of hard work by the owner(s)…” The difference is that with unpaid crowdsourcing, the owners get the equity increase while the crowd contributes the sweat for free with no guaranteed return. Appearing on Stephen Colbert’s talk show in March 2014, Jaron Lanier gave a brief overview of his book, Who owns the future (Simon & Schuster, 2013, ISBN: 978-1451654967), and noted that “…we talked ourselves into this weird double economy, where if it’s about stuff, we believe in markets, if it’s about information, then we think it should be shared, it should be open…”. He also outlined a possibility of how those who contribute to the improvement of Google Translate could be rewarded through a micropayment system that logs the reuse of individual contributions.

[7] Don Tapscott, Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio, 2006. ISBN: 978-1591841380.

[8] See for example Shirky, Clay, Cognitive Surplus. Penguin, 2010. ISBN: 978-1594202537.

[9] This is especially interesting in view of the various tax minimization strategies that have also proliferated with globalism. Many of the same corporations that stand to benefit from a given nation’s cognitive surplus can sell back into the same population while enjoying minimal exposure to the domestic tax system. While all this is legal, it nonetheless poses a clear potential strain on any national economy.

[10] For a detailed criticism of the ACCEPT project and the conflict of interest in Translators without Borders’ board, see

Reflecting on Industry 03

Translation agency - new management structure

I was reading a blog article about photography, when I stumbled upon this sentence: "[The photographer] uses strong colors, ambient light, and emotion to capture beautifully complex images".

Whereas I understand and can explain in technical terms what strong colors and ambient light mean, "emotion" sounds a bit too abstract for my taste. You may know it at first sight, but how exactly do you use emotion? Is it just another ingredient to put into your photography product?

The way I feel about "emotion" in the above statement is similar to how I feel when I read about "skills" in translators' blogs or social media posts. Especially of late.

It is difficult to keep up with the relentless flow of posts on the subject of "what does it take to be a successful translator". However, there are increasingly two trends that dominate the discourse.

The first, and more recent, focuses on being an entrepreneur and developing the right attitude that is seen, more and more, as a prerequisite for success. In its most constructive form, it is about marketing and sales. Today, though, CPD courses and anything offered as "marketing for translators" has a tendency to turn into "marketing to translators", with a surprisingly high number of translators happy at being discovered as a new target group.

The opposite trend is about professional competence. Some may call it “pro skills”, and that is exactly what reminds me of a photographer using "emotion to capture images", again and again.

What exactly are our skills? To be a successful translator reads to me as to be successful as translator, not as an entrepreneur in the field of translation. However, most of us work in a market environment where only few have in-house positions, and for some, the word “entrepreneur” seems to sound more flattering than “small business” or “sole proprietor” even if it is not exactly the same*.

I cannot say that I am happy with such terms as “enterprise” or “company”, but any of them offers a certain advantage over “entrepreneur”: they assume a structure, a set of responsibilities divided between functions, persons and departments.

Indivisible as a sole proprietor is, it doesn’t mean that an individual translator should ignore the multi-function structure of a company. A typical organization chart won’t trigger a multiple personality disorder when applied to a one-person business. In fact, I believe it can be rather helpful. Especially when we are talking about skills.

Freelance translator - organizational chart

Whenever the subject of translators’ skills comes up, we can ask the question: Who in a typical company structure needs the skills or would benefit from them. In a typical company structure, we would have a CEO (that would be our “entrepreneur”), a strategy or business development department (somehow entrepreneurial too), an HR department (looking after the staff with the right attitude – and skills), a planning department, an accounting department etc. Those are management and administrative functions that drive the overheads. But the revenues that fund them come from a triad: purchasing – production – sales.

Whereas the two functions on both ends of this triad – purchasing and sales – make up the core of many a typical translation agency’s business, an individual translator’s doesn’t have much to do with purchasing (I consider it the Biggest Mistake That Freelance Translators Make, though this is an entirely different matter).

Sales is a different story, too. Knowing how to sell is crucial, no doubt. If you treat yourself as a business, it makes no sense to produce anything before you make sure you can market it properly.

Having said that, it is worthwhile to remember that essentially we are translators, not salespersons. We are what we are, and most of us will be never able to beat those who were trained and hired as salespeople. Especially those with a natural talent and corporate resources. Those whose core skill is to sell.

So each time I hear that the difference between success and failure in translation lies with sales, I don’t only think it is a simplistic and slightly anachronistic statement. I think it actually might do more harm than good in terms of what concepts and skills need to be prioritized for freelance translators.

It is slightly anachronistic because “the balance of power has well and truly shifted from seller to buyer in recent years”. Not only has the perception of sales and salespeople become more negative, creatively disruptive websites, platforms and apps make the idea of a traditional salesperson obsolete.

And it is rather harmful, too, since it brings us back to the discussion about lemons and used-car salesmen. If the difference in translators’ rates stems from the differences in the quality of selling, as recently stated by a poster in “The League of Extraordinary Translators” on Facebook, it implies that the quality of product fails to be a prime differentiator. Hence, brush up your sales skills, colleagues. Become entrepreneurs!

I for one think that if you treat yourself as a business, it makes sense to map yourself as a business with a functional organizational chart. I see the core function of our profession in production. As for skills, I think that translators need the skills to provide the quality of their products (and services) first. And then learn to communicate it instead of simply “go out and sell”, as the commenter put it on Facebook.

Translation companies - translators and managers

So what are our core production skills? I was used to think that these are mastery of subject and writing excellence. However, the first is specialist knowledge rather than skills. It can be learned, not necessarily through training, but through knowing how to research and communicate with the client. Doing research may indeed be one of the most essential methodological skills.

What about other core skills? A couple of weeks ago I received one of the best compliments from a colleague. I outsourced to her a translation into a language that I can only read and understand, but would never translate into on my own. However, I read the translations that I outsource and, if need be, do some changes. This time, after I emailed the slightly revised version to my colleague, she told me that she “learned a lot from the revision”. Given the circumstances, I believe that it may be partially true.

Those rather minor changes I did were not about terminology or style – I cannot write well in that language, so writing excellence was completely out of place. My usual focus is rather on the audience and the message to bring across. Sometimes you can adjust the theme-rheme relationship or shift the focus on the main idea just by adding a logical link.

Interpreters who learn to take notes know how to insert the so called “transitions” or “link word” like “if…then”, “tho”, “cos”, “to” (for “in order to”) etc. to achieve coherence and make the speaker’s ideas more memorable. I think translators, too, can learn a lot from their techniques.

So many translators learn to translate words, sentences and segments instead of learning how to make their words, sentences and segments make sense. Perhaps the one skill they need to focus on is simply thinking while translating.

You don’t have to find a translator to teach you all kinds of support and auxiliary skills. E.g. touch typing or using CAT tools. The same is true of many administrative, business or entrepreneurial skills.

But the only way to learn your core skills is to learn from other translators. There are lessons best learned in an apprenticeship. Or in a network of experienced and knowledgeable colleagues. Or together with the client who does the revision of your translation. Or in the Catskills.

Again, conference interpreters who work in teams and consecutive interpreters in direct contact with their clients are in a better position. They learn from one another, from the audience, from the source.

That is another difference between how you learn core professional skills and everything else.

But of course, we need to learn business skills and how to sell. Otherwise we risk finding ourselves rather low on our industry’s organizational chart.

Translation industry - top and bottom

Remember what George W. Bush said about the French: They don’t have a word for entrepreneur. Translators seem to be in love with this word. They are taught more and more to develop “entrepreneurial skills” and “get out and sell”. It is all very well but perhaps they’d need to learn – and upgrade – their core professional skills, too.

* See Wikipedia: The term "entrepreneur" is often conflated with the term “small business”. While most entrepreneurial ventures start out as a small business, not all small businesses are entrepreneurial in the strict sense of the term. Many small businesses are sole proprietor operations consisting solely of the owner, or they have a small number of employees, and many of these small businesses offer an existing product, process or service, and they do not aim at growth.







Wines of Bordeaux - IAPTI Translation conference

TRAFFIC POLICE OFFICER: Sir, would you mind taking an alcohol test?
DRIVER: Thank you! What drinks do you have on the menu, officer?

When thousands over thousands of people (including myself) hear of Bordeaux, the very first idea that comes to their mind is wine.

Those who associate Bordeaux with translation might be a few dozens, perhaps a hundred-plus people, but there are some. As a participant in the IAPTI's Third International conference that was held last September in Bordeaux (and was absolutely great!), I surely belong to this numerically insignificant group. Yet I have no idea how many in these two statistical sets, if asked about the ideal conference venue, would come to think of Bordeaux.

I started thinking of the largely untapped potential of this region for conferences yet to come after I went to La Winery, a few days after the conference closed. Set in a lovely location some 25 kilometers from Bordeaux, La Winery is a modern oenology tourism center for those who are eager to learn about viticulture, do some wine tasting and, hopefully, buy wine. La Winery houses a showroom, sales areas, conference and seminar rooms, all in cool modern premises of wood, concrete and glass, surrounded by a green park with ponds and orange and maroon chaise-longue chairs.

La Winery in Bordeaux - Translators Conference 2015

I drove to La Winery in the evening. The sunset glow flooded the road and made the scenery look like a beautiful French val. Unfortunately for me, when I think val I automatically think of the German Wahl, as in Qual der Wahl, rather than of gently sloping hills and curvy roads. Because Qual de Wahl, the German for agony of choice, describes pretty accurately how I feel in a French wine shop-cum-exhibition boasting “1001 wines from all over the world”: having a hard time to choose.

I am sure, though, that the difficulty applies to both sides: the huge variety makes it hard both for a customer to identify the “right” product and for wine producers to make their products shine among hundreds of other, similar specimens. The park around La Winery covers more than 20 hectares, but both for customers, and especially for producers, it might still feel like a cluttered space.

Or so I imagine. A participant of a professional conference would relate to a professional in another area rather than to a consumer client, no matter how important the client’s perspective may be, for every industry or field. A customer visiting La Winery can choose from hundreds of wines, all fine Bordeaux vintages. If you are a winemaker, I wonder how you feel in this giant showcase, alongside your competitors and colleagues. How do you make your product stand out?

Translators tend to stick together, all the more so in virtual places. "In a profession where so many of us are self-employed, I believe it is critical to have a forum where ideas can be exchanged," as my colleague Lisa Simpson wrote the other day on her blog. The problem is that too many translators cling to their sheltered concepts and don’t step outside their comfort zone.

Bordeaux Translators and Interpreters in La Winery

There is no arguing that, for many of us, it would be much more profitable and maybe healthier to hang out on different forums, above all those of our clients, provided there are such, both with a view to find new business prospects and hone our specialty knowledge and skills. Perhaps it would make things easier to bring together a whole lot of translators in a dialogue meeting with experts from a completely different domain. Unusual as such an out-of-the-box dialogue can be, isn't it likely to open new perspectives and perceptions?

It is true that translation and the wine business don’t have much in common. B2B and B2C don’t mix together well, but I don’t think that is so relevant.

Mondovino, a highly-acclaimed 2004 documentary about the impact of globalization, industrialization and corporatization on single-estate, quality-driven, boutique-type wineries, has a message that is meaningful to any freelance business. But regardless all the parallels, controversies and ideological debates, I am simply curious to learn more from other industries. When in Bordeaux, it might just as well be the wine business.

Do winemakers flock together in online communities to say things about wine merchants they would otherwise keep to themselves (it happens to translators in regard to translation agencies, for example)? Do winemakers (or any other professionals, save novice translators) seriously think that lumping together in a blogging community would increase their SEO visibility and help them get more translation jobs? Do winemakers outsource to other winemakers? Does Mouton Rotschild ask them to sign NDAs?

But seriously, I think even a strictly B2B, ultra-specialized technical or legal translator can learn a few new insights from someone from a quite different domain, in terms of market approach and customer focus. Or value propositions and mastering your skills.

For some reason I believe that viniculturalists have definitely something to share e.g. on the topic of Deep Work. And hearing them talk about quality, productivity and “focused success in a distracted world” can be quite an inspiring experience, provided the talk is held in a feel-good environment, rather than via a CPD webinar.

La Winery Interior in Bordeaux

I thought it was a great idea to have a wine tasting at the IAPTI pre-conference party. After visiting La Winery I started thinking that it would have been perhaps an even better idea to have a Bordeaux winemaker (or any other wine business professional) among the conference presenters.

Lisa is right. “In a profession where so many of us are self-employed”, online forums are critical. But sometimes, online places "for translators only" strike me not only as essentially monocultural places of disagreements (with the world outside in general or other fellow translators), but also places of repetitive discussions, as topics reproduce themselves over time. Cross-pollination or, in plain terms, listening to someone outside your field might be a welcome antidote to a tunnel vision and inbred ideas. A different monoculture has its benefits, especially when it helps reframe problems and connect non-obvious dots.

Bordeaux looks like a monoculture to outsiders only. It doesn’t matter. You can swap Bordeaux with any other seemingly monocultural space. Luxemburg, for instance, could make a perfect conference venue, if translators get a chance to talk to, say, a few open-minded investment bankers. Though a niche conference for financial translators on the Isle of Islay would have its benefits, too.

Jokes aside, and whatever you choose, there are places (or terroirs, as they might call them in Bordeaux) you’d never associate with the translation business. “The more you look the more you discover”. Since it is exactly such places that are worth a look.

Bordeau La Winery Chaise-Longues Outside

P.S. The Wine of Bordeaux retro-style ad campaign hinges on a combination of wine bottle silhouettes and unlikely environments, e.g. a wine bottle forming the tube of a telescope pointed up at a night sky. I find the idea quite cool.

Standing Out

I started travelling before the Internet was born. To book a flight ticket or a hotel room, you had to go to a travel agency; to learn about a country, to a bookshop. As the Germans say, “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude” and a thrill of anticipation (“better than the real thing”) materialized in front of shelves with travel guides arranged alphabetically.

In line with the saying, the “real thing” usually turned out to be far less colourful than the pictures in the travel books. The pictures reframed the reality so that most of the “real thing” remained outside the frame. Usually, it was the less thrilling part.

At that time, I discovered that travel books fall into two categories. The predominant type was books that described an ideal world or dealt with the country’s heroic history, extant monuments and age-old culture. Books offering practical advice were few and far between, with only a handful standing out like a sore thumb due to their no-bullshit attitude and deliberate understatement or mildly ironic undertones. I developed an immediate liking for Let’s Go, The Rough Guide and The Lonely Planet, which seemed to celebrate the bright side of travel for easy-going, positive-thinking and low-cost backpackers.

Today, I can understand the criticism of the “lonely planet-ization of travel”, though I still prefer no-frills, feet-on-the-ground paperbacks over all the academic, glossy or kitsch panegyrics so popular during those pre-Internet travel days.

It was the “lonely planet-ization of travel” that became the object of a parody in 2003 when a book by three Australians was published. The book became a huge success in Australia and a cult classic elsewhere provided that Monty Python had already become part of the national cultural DNA.

The guide’s three authors made up an entire country – and wrote a seriously hilarious travel guide about it. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc, Molvanîa opened to foreign tourists, though the risk of visa denial for vegetarians was still high, as was the risk of leaving the country with only one kidney. The Great Wall of Lutenblag, Molvanîa’s ancient capital and home of the bubonic plague, fell down (due to inferior construction materials), meaning backpackers can now follow in the footsteps of invaders from the past: Molvanîa was previously conquered by Goths, Tatars, Huns and militant Spanish nuns. The Romans were scared off by a description of Molvanian women and the taste of the national beverage – a mixture of garlic brandy and beetroot juice.

If you have never heard of Molvanîa, you will now have an idea of this country. You may also guess how the sequels to “Molvanîa” unfold – mock travel guides for Phaic Tăn (a country that went through many political changes from Enlightened Feudalism to Post-Communist Yoga and Pilates) and the Democratic Free People’s United Republic of San Sombrèro (where you can get arrested without a warrant for calling the country just “San Sombrèro” as an abbreviated form).

From a linguist’s point of view, all three countries are quite interesting. In Molvanian, for example, articles change their form depending on whether a noun is masculine, feminine, neuter, or a type of cheese. Phaic Tănese is a tonal language with quite a few unusual sounds (the use of certain tones is governmentally restricted) and an average speed of 192 syllables per minute, whereas San Sombrèran is a fascinating dialect of Spanish that is spoken really, really fast (it is considered impolite to take a breath during a sentence).

However, it is not linguistic idiosyncrasies that motivate me to recall these books. My memory of Molvanîa is tied to a number of bookstores where “Molvanîa: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry” (Jetlag Travel Publishing, 2003) landed on the shelf alongside travel guides for Mongolia and Montenegro or among other books in the “Balkans” section.

Yet, my brightest memory of Molvanîa goes back to a further education academy in Germany where I used to work as an interpreter for foreign students. One day, the Head of the Eastern European Department discovered the book in the staffroom. Why didn’t we mention Molvanîa in our image brochure, he asked the teachers who were grading their students’ papers or drinking coffee in front of their computers. “Actually, the Molvanian students I met at the reception ceremony a month ago would make for a perfect cover picture if we want to update our booklet next time,” he added.

I have no remembrance of the reaction of the faculty members in the staff room. Quite probably, there was none. The Boss may be wrong or even embarrassingly wrong, but he is still the Boss. Perhaps, you had better keep a serious poker face if your boss seems to take this or that seriously. Or sit on the fence and wait until someone else spots the bluff.

Molvanîa is a very clear-cut case, though. A clearing in the jungle of far more intricate cases and borderline stories. Today, you never know if the emperor truly puts on his new clothes or puts on an act and plays an haute couture spoof.

Similar to "Vorfreude" ("joyful anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures"), another German word that you have to describe verbosely in English is "Fremdschämen”. According to the Wictionary it means “to be embarrassed because someone else has embarrassed himself (and doesn't notice)”. It was certainly embarrassing to take Molvanîa for a country somewhere in the Balkans, but far more embarrassing to witness your boss praising the Molvanian emerging market. My feeling of “Fremdschämen” would have probably been most acute, if someone had tried to sell tickets to Molvanîa. Or if I had happened to encounter people willing to buy some.

No industry is immune to selling and buying into the Molvanian stuff. Ittakestwototango, like they say in San Sombrèro. Regardless the industry, it takes both sellers AND buyers to make it happen, preferably more buyers than sellers. In the translation business, for example, a rough how-to guide for selling tickets could be like this.

Start up a forum for freelancers, welcome your visitors as friends and colleagues. A community of colleagues is great for recruiting customers. But first, you should show that you can teach them a few things.

Your fellow translators might not realise that teaching something may be easier than practicing something. Contrary to what they may think, teaching is possible with no expertise in the subject. You don’t have to talk about the nuts and bolts of translation, you can craft your pitch like a translation guru with any translation-unrelated, general, positive and uplifting insights. Cues like "invisible energy" or "secret toolkit/mindset" won't impress those who are way too familiar with motivation teachers (or esoteric book shops). But to tap into a new, unspoiled Molvanian market, they will be the real thing. Call it personal development.

Personal development works much the same for aspiring real estate agents, amateur traders of the E-Mini S&P futures or freelance translators just starting out. Start teaching your colleagues (now hopefully followers). Teach them Attitude. Teach Authenticity. Throw in a couple more “A”s (but avoid “Amateurishness” or “Agency”). Now you have a philosophy with a nice combination of the “A” characters in place.

You can never be too generic or hollow. Turn your style, your mood, your pitch up to 11. If your followers are willing to stand out, they should stand more. Feed them truisms about a life-enriching freelancing lifestyle (with or without dabbling in translation). Keep the advice to hug trees to become better translators for later, though.

Use images, ignore what professional photographers and graphic designers tell you about Terrible Photography Clichés Like That One Full Color Item In a B&W Photo and other no-nos. Kitsch works. Share some of the Molvanian art.

Use videos. Some people might take them for a parody of psychobabble. Others, more impressionable, will take them at face value. Add some easy-listening sounds – someone will find them Zen or phaic-tan-tonic. Compile reviews and testimonials. Still better, essays. Your followers would be happy to contribute: when you are done with coaching translators you can start teaching feel-good copywriting instead. Or wholesome typesetting. Or Traveling through the Seven Circles of the Freelance Mandala. Above all, capitalize the opportunity to sell books and webinars. Later, you can think of diversifying into therapeutic gardening. Or growing olives and making goat's milk cheese at home instead.

Now you are all set and ready for the journey. Tell your followers (now hopefully your clients) that your journey will be a fascinating one. Say: “I want you to come with me to Molvanîa. We will travel through your Inner World first. Then we will go to Phaic Tăn. I think that Phaic Tăn is a really good place for us to travel together.”

You can add, as an afterthought: “By the way, did you know that the country’s name means “fruitful ground deep beneath the waterline” in Molvanian? Actually, they grow nice olives there. Be sure to taste some. In Phaic Tăn they grow papaya. Green AND black. We should try both.”


Die Konsolidierung schreitet voran. Das gilt gleichermaßen für viele Branchen, ebenso für unsere „Sprachindustrie“. Darunter verstehe ich nicht nur die üblichen Verdächtigen, sprich Übersetzungsagenturen, traditionell eher auf den Handel mit Sprachdienstleistungen aller Art spezialisiert, sondern vielmehr die Produzenten, die eigentliche industrielle Kraft unserer Branche. Mit anderen Worten: Die fortschreitende Konsolidierung umfasst auch freiberufliche Dolmetscher und Übersetzer, genauer genommen, deren Verbände.

Vor einigen Wochen haben sich Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland zu einem Landesverband (LV) zusammengeschlossen. BDÜ Nord (die Seite vom LV Bremen und Niedersachsen wird demnächst überarbeitet) ist ein überregionaler Landesverband unter dem Dach des BDÜ, der zahl- und einflussreichsten Vereinigung deutscher Sprachdienstleister. Die Gründung war überfällig: Warum der BDÜ, als der Bundesverband qualifizierter Dolmetscher und Übersetzer bundesweit agierend, nicht auch in Hamburg und Schleswig-Holstein formal präsent war, ist für Außenstehende nicht nachvollziehbar.

Im neuen BDÜ LV Nord gilt mein Interesse primär der Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, insbesondere den Netzwerken und sozialen Medien. Zwar habe ich bewusst die Entscheidung getroffen, für den Vorstand für PR und Social Media zu kandidieren, jedoch war ich wenig vorbereitet, mich vor der Mitgliederversammlung in Bremen vorzustellen. Umso mehr meine Dankbarkeit an all diejenigen, die mir ihr Vertrauen geschenkt und ihre Stimme gegeben haben. Ein paar einleitende Worte zu meinem Aufgabenfeld (und wie ich es verstehe) bin ich ihnen schuldig. Soviel zum Anlass dieses Blogeintrags.

Eine hohe Mitgliederzahl bedeutet eine große Vielfalt, aber auch große Unterschiede. Unter anderem in bezug auf die Einstellung zu und Nutzung von sozialen Netzwerken und Internet insgesamt. Laut einer informellen Facebook-Umfrage des schwedischen Übersetzers Erik Hansson haben etwa 60 % der freiberuflichen Dolmetscher und Übersetzer keine eigene Website. Mein Eindruck ist, dass der gleiche Prozentsatz, wenn nicht sogar ein niedrigerer, auch im Falle einer Umfrage in unserem Verband zustande käme. Die Anzahl derjenigen, die in sozialen Netzwerken beruflich und privat unterwegs sind, ist vermutlich noch geringer.

Eben kommt eine Meldung vom BDÜ-Landesverband Sachsen-Anhalt, der die Meinung, die sozialen Netzwerke würden beruflich wenig taugen, als Irrtum darstellt. Ob die Nutzenargumentation pro Xing und andere Plattformen ausreicht, die zweifelnden Mitglieder umzustimmen, sei dahingestellt. Zwar wird die unten zitierte Empfehlung zum Irrtum erklärt, doch ist es einfacher, ihr zu folgen (was viele KollegInnen ohnehin, mit oder ohne Empfehlung, tun): „Verlieren Sie … nicht zu viel Zeit auf solchen Websites, sondern knüpfen und pflegen Sie Kontakte lieber persönlich. Besuchen Sie Kunden, melden Sie sich zu Seminaren an, gehen Sie auf Messen etc.“

Meine Meinung dazu ist ganz pragmatisch. So wie in dem Posting von unseren Kollegen aus Sachsen-Anhalt taucht der Begriff Social Media immer häufiger im Zusammenhang mit „beruflichen Zwecken“ auf: Es geht um Neukunden und darum wie man „Aufträge an Land zieht“. In der Tat: Kaum ein anderes Thema beschäftigt uns, Freiberufler, mehr als die Kundenakquise. Und jedesmal, wenn die Frage gestellt wird, wie kommt man an neue Kunden, wird über Werbekampagnen, Networking, WOM (word-of-mouth, neudeutsch für Mund-zu-Mund-Propaganda), Kundenansprache auf Messen usw. hin und her diskutiert. Dabei muss ich immer an einen augenzwinkernden Chinesen denken, von dem ich mal den Spruch hörte: „you hunt, we catch“.

Ich weiß nicht, wie es euch geht, aber ich bekomme ständig Anfragen von potentiellen Neukunden, die mich über meine Website finden. Diese „Entdeckung" schulden sie den Suchmaschinen, allen voran Google. Dass die Suchmaschinen meine Website als Treffer anzeigen, wenn der Kunde nach bestimmten Kriterien sucht, liegt daran, dass die Inhalte auf dieser Seite offensichtlich als relevant eingestuft werden. Und das wiederum liegt daran, dass auf meine Seite von anderen Seiten verlinkt wird und die Inhalte mit den Themen bzw. Schlüsselworten auf anderen, ebenso relevanten Seiten korrespondieren. Zwar gehören die Google-Algoritmen angeblich zu dem meist gehüteten Geheimnissen unserer Zeit, jedoch ist die Rolle der Foren und der sozialen Netzwerke dabei unumstritten.

Auf das Risiko hin, dass das Fazit etwas plakativ-populistisch klingt: Keine ausgeklügelten SEO-Tricks, sondern Inhalte und Aktivitäten in Foren und auf anderen Seiten, darunter auch in sozialen Netzwerken, sind entscheidend, ob potentielle Kunden euer Angebot im Netz finden und auf euch aufmerksam gemacht werden. Im Falle unseres Verbandes ist es ein kollektives, in seiner Vielfalt kaum zu schlagendes Angebot, dass sowohl nach innen (an seine Mitglieder), als auch nach außen (an alle Kunden und Interessenten) gerichtet ist. Es hängt also von uns allen ab, ob der BDÜ als die erste Adresse für qualitativ hochwertige Sprachdienstleistungen auffindbar und sichtbar wird.

Im Klartext: Ich finde es schon nett, wenn unsere potentiellen Kunden auf der Suche nach einem geeigneten Dolmetscher oder Übersetzer nicht in erster Linie das vermittelnde Gewerbe, sondern unseren Verband auf der ersten Trefferseite finden. Das ist gut für unsere Kunden und für unsere Mitglieder (obwohl zugegebenermaßen die Online-Datenbank der BDÜ-Übersetzer und -Dolmetscher stark verbesserungsbedürftig ist).

Je präsenter der Verband im Internet ist, je häufiger die entsprechenden Webseiten erwähnt und referenziert, sprich verlinkt, werden, desto größer die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass der BDÜ und seine Mitglieder von Kunden gefunden werden. Ob man auf solchen Seiten wie Xing „zu viel Zeit verliert“ (siehe Zitat oben) oder nicht, hängt also davon ab, wie konstruktiv man seine Zeit und diese Seiten nutzt. Auch davon, ob man gelegentlich an die Wirkung von keywords und backlinks denkt. Selbstverständlich gilt es für alle öffentlichen Netzwerke, ebenso für die eigenen BDÜ-Foren, vorausgesetzt dass sie offen sind. Noch wichtiger ist es, nicht nur dort präsent zu sein, wo sich überwiegend Übersetzer und Dolmetscher austauschen, sondern wo unsere Kunden – unsere Zielgruppen – sozialnetzwerkmäßig unterwegs sind.

Die sozialen Medien heißen „social“ und nicht „corporate“, weil sie von vielen Individuen, mit ihren persönlichen Stimmen und Meinungen getragen werden. Das Potential eines mitgliederstarken, von gemeinsamen Interessen geleiteten Verbandes ist gerade in diesem Bereich enorm. Das Bedürfnis, eigene Privatsphäre zu schützen und bei dem einen oder anderen Meinungsaustausch unter sich zu bleiben, ist verständlich und legitim. Dass einige Bereiche nur für Mitglieder zugänglich sein sollen, steht außer Frage. Nichtsdestotrotz: Alle Inhalte, die aus dem einen oder anderen Grund unter der Decke gehalten werden, sind für das Ziel einer pragmatisch betrachteten, am Marketing orientierten Öffentlichkeitsarbeit – Bekannt- und Gefundenwerden – kontraproduktiv. Bleibt man unter sich, verschließt man sich gegebenenfalls auch den potentiellen Kunden.

Betrachtet man die Suchmaschinenoptimierung als die Gesamtheit all der Maßnahmen, die helfen, eigene Webseiten im organischen Ranking nach vorne zu bringen, so besteht für unseren Verband die wichtigste SEO-Aufgabe darin, möglichst viele Mitglieder zu einer offenen, aktiveren Nutzung von Social Media und zu mehr Präsenz im Internet zu animieren. Allein dadurch entsteht mehr natürlicher, relevanter Content, als was die SEO-gesteuerten Seiten durch eine höhere Suchwortdichte künstlich zu generieren versuchen.

Also nochmals, liebe KollegInnen: ganz pragmatisch bedeuten soziale Netzwerke in ihrer Folge mehr natürlicher, relevanter Content und ein höheres Ranking, im buchstäblichen und übertragenen Sinne. Daraus ergeben sich bessere Chancen, von Kunden gefunden zu werden, als Verband, als Einzelmitglieder, als ÜbersetzerInnen und DolmetscherInnen für entsprechende Thematiken, Spezialisierungen und Sprachkombinationen. Selbstverständlich schließt das „passive" Gefundenwerden all die anderen, „aktiven" Marketingempfehlungen (Kontakte pflegen, Kunden auf Messen besuchen…) keineswegs aus. Aber denkt daran: Marketing, ähnlich wie Tourismus, kann sowohl „outgoing“, als auch „incoming“ sein. Die chinesische Weisheit, finde ich, bringt es auf den Punkt.

ADÜ Nord, Assoziierte Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland

I was extremely pleased to find out that my impressions of the IAPTI Second International Conference virtually coincide with those of Kevin Lossner (“Surprises from the IAPTI 2014 conference in Athens”). The same goes for my understanding of IAPTI, its role and place among professional organizations and, generally, in the language services industry nowadays. In contrast to my friend Kevin, I wouldn't call it a surprise. Today, IAPTI is probably the only global and most vocal representative of hopes and concerns shared by translators and interpreters worldwide – that has been my conviction ever since I became an IAPTI member and long before the Athens conference.

The element of surprise that I had in mind when titling this blog post refers to another organization. “In the past when some friends asked my advice about joining professional organizations, I consistently advised them to focus on the large, established groups such as the ATA, ITI, IoL, SFT, BDÜ, AdÜ Nord, etc.“, wrote Kevin. Whereas my knowledge of the first four in this list is only from hearsay, my experience with the other two is first-hand. In fact, I have been member of BDÜ and ADÜ Nord in Germany for many years. The organization that gave me a surprise, just a few days ago, is ADÜ Nord.

Here are some basic facts for reference, before I start my account.

ADÜ Nord was set up as a spin-off from BDÜ, Germany’s largest association of language professionals, some twenty-plus years ago. The spin-off was caused by internal strife with BDÜ, a David’s fight against Goliath, and resulted in then Goliath’s, that is BDÜ’s, complete withdrawal from Hamburg, the rebellious city-state. The relationship between both associations has been loaded with tension ever since. In particular, BDÜ’s recent plans to re-establish its regional subsidiary in Hamburg were sharply criticized by ADÜ’s board and even branded as “expansionist ambitions” of André Lindemann, BDÜ’s president. At the moment, ADÜ Nord is clearly positioned as a regional association of translators and interpreters in Hamburg and North Germany and has a membership of about 350. The current chairperson, Georgia Mais, was elected at the 2013 general assembly where 41 members (round 10%) were present for the vote. The annual membership fee is €190.

I have been an ADÜ Nord member for more than 10 years, but the story I am writing about started last summer, when I went to a meet-up of fellow translators in downtown Hamburg. There and then, I had a lengthy talk with Georgia Mais, ADÜ’s chairperson.

My growing concern about ADÜ Nord was the organization’s inability to make its presence felt, even on its home ground. If you google up Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland, what the association's name in German actually stands for, the websites that show up in the first search results will be those of Across (!), BDÜ, etc. Respectable municipal and University websites like “” or “” will be followed by rather dodgy, but obviously SEO-savvy translation agencies. It is highly unlikely, though, that you find ADÜ Nord, the association of translators and interpreters based in North Germany, on top of the list of Google searches.

If you look up translators and interpreters, members of ADÜ, it's unlikely the association's website will shop up on the 1st page of search results

Although ADÜ has an online directory of translators and interpreters on its website (only in German), you won’t easily come across it when looking for a professional translator or interpreter, even if limiting your search to Hamburg. As an individual professional, you have far better chances to be found by prospects if you are listed in an online directory of BDÜ, but ADÜ… To tell the truth, with quite a decent double digit number of new enquiries monthly, I have yet to meet a direct client who ever heard of ADÜ.

Unfortunately, the issue of visibility – resulting in the marketing opportunities lost – never seemed to be a concern for ADÜ. I remember contacting the association’s board about the database project that we were so thrilled about in late 2012 (“Something A-Changin’?”). At that time, there was no response. All my ruminations about ADÜ’s zero visibility were met with sheer incomprehension of why it matters to be found in Google searches!

Another concern that I tried to address when talking with Georgia Mais a year ago was lack of communication channels for ADÜ members. In fact, ADÜ’s zero visibility to external parties went hand in hand with its inability to communicate within the organization and provide an open communication platform or have a presence in social media. Again, the subject of internal communication is usually brushed off with arguments that indicate a failure to understand the significance or, at worst, sheer ignorance of what today’s networks mean, both for the organization and its individual members. In their email dated October 3, the association’s board plainly states: “We cannot understand that ADÜ lacks communication channels”. Well, “you cannot not communicate”, as Paul Watzlawik once said. But it looks like ADÜ’s leading members with their bold “yes, we can” have set out to refute this statement.

Since our first meeting in summer 2013, I had several telephone conversations with Georgia Mais. I had to explain the difference between an online discussion forum and a Yahoo mail list. I felt compelled to press the case of Facebook users who, contrary to Georgia’s belief, were not necessarily a bunch of teenagers gossiping or being nasty about each other. I felt like I had to dispel fears (that I never suspected to exist) and point out benefits (that would seem too obvious for most fellow translators and interpreters who I am personally familiar with). I even sent Ms Mais an email with a link to my blog post with a record of the discussion of CAT tools that took place in one of the popular Facebook groups.

Again, there was no response. In fact, the conversations that I had with Georgia Mais (and several other ADÜ members) made me increasingly feel like an O’Henry-esque character promoting the railroad as a revolutionary means of transportation. “Well, you can board a train in Chicago in the evening and arrive in Cincinnati at 5 a.m. next morning, what d'you say to that?”, argues the preacher of the steam-powered age. The reply leaves no room for further argumentation: “But what the hell are you supposed to do in Cincinnati at 5 a.m.?!” It would have been funny if it were not so sad. I am no preacher nor a motivational speaker. I simply have no answers to such questions. The conversation ends.

An overnight trip might be not a good simile when talking about an organization with a history of twenty-plus years. Nevertheless, ADÜ’s history is also a journey of some kind. Whereas the point of departure still remains a memorable event, the further route becomes fuzzier and slower, the destination unclear. The days when the journey started are bygone, but the move into a new age is never made. More and more travellers get off the train.

There is something charming about the stubborn refusal to move with the times, but this charm is better suited to fiction, not the reality of a globalized industry and the challenges that a professional association has to tackle today. Yet, being stuck in the glorious past of a David’s fight against a Goliath and confining itself to the narrow, provincial and rather irrelevant, scope of a “regional identity” seem to be the two only noticeable core assets of ADÜ. You cannot add zero visibility and the lack of a discussion culture (or opportunities for an open discussion) to the list of benefits to the association’s members nowadays, can you?

Having failed to make my points clear in our first conversation more than a year ago, I promised Georgia Mais – if I make up my mind to resign from ADÜ – to write an article about my experience and reasons for Infoblatt, ADÜ’s bimonthly magazine. And so I did. That is to say, I both resigned and wrote my article explaining the reasons for my resignation. On September 1, I submitted my article to the editorial board of Infoblatt, which, as it turned out, is now headed also by Georgia Mais as editor-in-chief.

Infoblatt, Fachzeitschrift des ADÜ e.V., Verband der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Hamburg und Norddeutschland

Well, any editor is free to accept or decline a publication offer. ADÜ’s board didn’t care to inform me of their decision to publish (or not) my article, titled “Why I Resign – Open Letter to ADÜ Nord”, in Infoblatt. Instead, they used it as a PDF attachment to their mass email with the invitation to a “strategy workshop” and the board’s official reply to my “open letter”.

I am not going to fret over the fact that this mass emailing of my article was done without my consent, though this may be quite shocking for any author and journalist, especially in Germany, a country with an obsession about proper handling, use and dissemination of digital data and intellectual property. I probably spend 90 percent of my working time as a German to Russian translator, but when I write a magazine article, I do feel as an author and journalist. Considering the thinning out of meaningful content in Infoblatt, anyone who volunteers deserves to be treated as such, in the very least.

Imagine someone submitting an article for publication in a magazine that the magazine’s editor decides to email to everyone on her email list.
Imagine a magazine editor who refuses to see the difference between a publication in her magazine and mass emailing of the submitted content.

My apologies for my lack of imagination. In my case, that turned out to be a surprise!

But enough of that…

I am seriously convinced that the future our profession lies in effective communication. As translators and interpreters, we don’t merely replace words and idioms of one language with those of another. We help our clients communicate with their audience, get the message across and achieve the desired results. An organization that fails to embrace the value of communication or the organization’s board who openly admit to have “no time” for that (as they did in their reply to my article) cannot lay claim to represent their members, professionals in language communication.

Luckily, ADÜ seems to be an exception among professional organizations that I have first-hand experience with. I started this post with a reference to IAPTI, but BDÜ in Germany, too, made decent headway toward more openness and professionalization. Like Kevin, if asked about professional associations, I would recommend “to focus on the large, established groups”. I just think Kevin’s list needs a bit of an adjustment. And I think this list would become shorter over time.

IAPTI Athens - 000 - TitelbildIt didn’t cross my mind that there is something I would like to change about the agenda of the second conference of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) that took place in Athens, Greece, on September 20 and 21, 2014. The program was as balanced and well-rounded as the Doric columns in the conference logo. Presentations on important aspects of the translation and interpretation business were held parallel in two conference rooms, crowned by general sessions with keynote speakers (e.g.. Kevin Lossner’s “Confessions of an American MpT User” and Aurora Humarán’s “Cons and Cons of Post-Editing for Third Parties, Pros and Pros of Post-Editing for Our Own Business”), insightful and inspiring reports (including a major survey on translation into a non-native language by Attila Piróth and Maria Karra) or topics of general interest like an entertaining final act with Nikos Sarantakos, a seasoned translator for the European Parliament in Luxembourg (“Loanwords, Idioms, False Friends and Other Curiosities in a Translator’s Life”).

It was a great conference attended by great colleagues many of whom I had known previously only through emails or Facebook groups. There will probably be more detailed (and far more comprehensive) reports on the topics and issues discussed at the conference. So it didn’t cross my mind that there was something to be improved about or rather added to the conference program until I found myself listening to Maya Fourioti speaking about “The Secret Code and Meaning of the Greek Alphabet”. A casual question from Aurora Humarán, IAPTI President and mastermind, concerning the Greek letter in the word “taxi” made me realize, all of a sudden, “Hey, we are actually in Athens, Greece”. The demonstration in Syntagma Square only five minutes from the conference venue could mean using a taxi instead of public transportation (yes, the Metro station was closed), but what was the demonstration about? Didn’t the recent discovery of a sensational tomb rescue Greece from all economic worries? What is the name of this popular coffee drink that everybody seems to sip at? And does the Greek for “taxi” have something to do with the Greek for “taxes”, which might be similar to a linguistic revelation that I made in Italy two years ago?

In short, I suddenly felt that some background information about the here and now could be welcomed. “Translation is not about words but about what words are about”, as Kevin Hendzel put it. Greek might be the richest language to describe the cosmos according to Maya Fourioti, but what about more simple, casual things?

Since the tour of Athens was set for the day after the conference and I already had other plans for that day (read on…), I thought I just had to guess “the secret code and meaning” and rely on personal interpreting. After all, translating is interpreting, so, for the lack of better knowledge, why not try and translate the visual into the verbal myself?

In retrospect, a more timely opportunity to compensate for the lack of trivial information was perhaps the only thing that I would like to change about the conference agenda, but in the meantime I managed to somehow bridge the information gap. I cannot guarantee any accuracy of the results. The future of our profession lies “beyond accuracy”, here I totally agree with Rose Newell (and her presentation “Writers Worth Paying For” in the Business/Marketing panel).

So much for the disclaimer, now on to the facts!

  1  My arrival in Greece started with a few serious disappointments. There was no VIP pickup service on arrival.

001 - Black Limo Pickup Service with IAPTI Logo

At the port of Piraeus, we were offered only very basic means of transportation.

IAPTI Athens - 002 - Donkeys

Against all expectations, the donkeys were completely unbranded, so that not every donkey driver was in the know about the IAPTI conference that was to take place (“Conference? What conference?”, as quoted by Marta Stelmaszak immediately upon arrival).

But the worst thing was that IAPTI had to change the conference venue. Greek construction workers, true to their unfortunate reputation, simply failed to rebuild the Acropolis by the 20th of September. Instead of overhead projectors and LED displays, overhead cranes and scaffolding still dominated the site on the conference eve. We had to move.

IAPTI Athens - 003 - Acropolis

  2  One of the poshest hotels and the former residence of Aristotle Onassis were proposed to serve as an alternative conference venue. The hotel management were smart to incorporate the hotel’s USP into its name – Electra Palace Hotel. Since most of Greece’s electric power resources are used to operate the lighting equipment at the Acropolis building site at night, not every hotel in Athens can boast of electricity in its rooms. Luckily, the power outages during presentations in the Electra Palace Hotel conference halls were few, and even if they were, I finally learned how to use my iPhone as a torch (that came in very handy when dealing with the Greek menu during the night dinner, the menu was fully enjoyed).

  3  Greeks are an Olympic nation. Once, I had a translation job for a German lawyer firm specialized in sports betting. The lawyers were approached by a new betting company from Russia to help them set up offices in Cyprus and Greece. As far as I remember it was vital for the Russian client to have “Olympic” in their company name. I didn’t realize at that time it was more a local target group than a figure of speech. A typical Athenian day starts with a visit to a sports betting office and ends when the lights of the “Play Zone” go out. (Unluckily, there was no “Play Zone” at the Electra Palace Hotel.)

IAPTI Athens - 004 - Play-Zone

  4  The next big thing among the Olympians are bicycles. The IAPTI conference was by far the most important, but not the only show in town. The bike festival at Technopolis/Gazi not very far from the conference venue was huge.

IAPTI Athens - 007 - Bicycle Festival - Technopolis - Fuji

This year, over 34,000 visitors were reported to be fascinated by a novelty called “bike helmet” (more than 250 helmet brands were featured at the exhibition). Rumor has it that the tremendous success of helmets for bike riders may even force the Greek government to lift the ban on helmets for women riding on the back seat of scooters and motorcycles in the Peloponnese part of Greece.

  5  The Greek translation market is huge. Virtually everything ever published abroad is already translated into Greek. But not the other way around. I didn’t find a single book in any language other than Greek at the Book Festival in Zapeion (also within a five minutes walk from the Electra Palace Hotel) that ended on September 21st simultaneously with the IAPTI conference.

IAPTI Athens - 005 - Book Festival

  6  The only exception for translations from Greek into other languages is the poetry of the great Konstantinos P. Kavafis (1863-1933). On the second day of the conference, Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez (“Increasing Quality in Retranslations? Cavafy’s Swift Conquest of Spanish”) compared 8 various existing Spanish versions of one famous poem and arrived at a conclusion that no one translation was perfect. Provoked by the remark that it took a translator of Greek classics, Robert Fitzgerald, 11 years to accomplish his work, Mr Kirti Vashee immediately announced in his blog (“eMpTy pages”) that his company, Asia Online, already achieved, through use of a special Kavafis-trained MpT engine in combination with automatic pre-, post- and meta-editing, more efficient results. Once again, as numerous times in the past, Mr Kirti Vashee was proven wrong. The Acropolis Museum's collection of stone carvings with Greek letters convincingly shows that post-editing was never an option, not now and not in the past. Many botched post-editing jobs done by Alexandrian scribes could be remedied only by a new translation from scratch.

  7  Asia Online’s machine translations of Kavafis will be touched upon in an IAPTI webinar to be held soon. This time, Aurora Humarán and Valeria Aliperta will join forces to give an informal presentation under the working title “Pros and Pros of Post-Editing Kavafis for Your Brand, Cons and Cons of Post-Editing Kavafis for Nescafé”. Registration will be open soon!

  8  For translators in a very competitive environment like translating into Greek (see above), there is no better place for studying marketing than the Central Market in Athens. Whereas the famous Fischmarkt in Hamburg, Germany, stages workshops only on Sundays, between 5 and 9 a.m., the Athens fish market provides courses in a variety of disciplines, including diversification and anti-commoditization techniques, each day with a focus on direct clients.

IAPTI Athens - 006 - Fish market

  The Day After  

As soon as the conference was over, Athens returned to its serene and peaceful self. There was no better time to start a healthy lifestyle change!


On the last conference day Sara Colombo came to Athens from Tokyo London to persuade the audience of the “Business Benefits of Living a Healthy Lifestyle”. After hearing about various relaxation techniques, I was now confronted with a dilemma (δίλημμα): what should I do? Go fishing or go to Mt. Fuji Olympus. I chose the latter.

The way up Mt. Olympus was a very steep way. It was also scorching hot. But advanced origami techniques and a Greek paper make a great combo!

IAPTI Athens - 008 - Valerij Tomarenko

The view from the top makes up for everything. From here, Greece looks as if the conference never took place, although to state this would be the most blatant inaccuracy in this reportage.

IAPTI Athens - 009 - Greece

In order not to multiply inaccuracies, I will refrain from claiming that this was the mountain where they usually light the Olympic torch to transfer it to another city to host the next event, in our case the IAPTI 2015.

All kidding aside, it was a great conference, and as a conclusion I would like to say a big thank you, ευχαριστώ, to all those who made it such a tremendous success. I am looking forward to meeting you at the next IAPTI conference. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

IAPTI Athens - 010 - Colleagues - Heidi

Silvestrov - ECM

Apart from my Ukrainian-sounding name, I don’t have any affiliation with this country. Although I have been to nearly every post-Soviet republic, my only – very short – stay in Ukraine lies many years in the past. I spent two days in Kiev to visit Valentin Silvestrov, one of today’s greatest maverick composers, and this explains the iconic ECM cover picture above (Valentin Silvestrov’s Silent Songs, ECM New Series 1898/99). The reason I mention Ukraine of all things has to do with the fact that AIT, Advanced International Translations, is a software development company based in the Ukraine. So needless to say, my non-affiliation statement for the country goes for the company as well. Also needless to say, I think both Ukraine and this particular Ukrainian company deserve our support, perhaps now more than ever. AIT builds quality software that delivers value. Since years, Translation Office 3000 has been a popular solution for managing language service projects. However, despite a very good support of AIT’s team, this highly versatile and customizable tool is seldom utilized to the full of its potential. Many convenient functions remain largely unknown and unused. The idea of this blog post is to show a few things that help make the software more usable and useful (the following tips refer to Version 11, Advanced Edition).

1. How to make up for the lack of network capabilities

Translation Office 3000 is intended for individual translators and is designed as a single-user desktop system. However, it still can be used in a team.

With Translation Office 3000, all your data are stored in a Firebird SQL file called TO3000.fdb. The path to your database is shown at the bottom, in the right corner of the Translation Office 3000 window. You can move the file to any other location on your PC, but the software won't be able to access the file once it is placed in a network folder or on a virtual drive. That pretty much describes what the lack of network capabilities means.

To make up for the restrictions and make your database accessible from various machines, AIT suggests using “some folder synchronization software like Dropbox”. Alternatively, if you have concerns about cloud storage, you can sync and always keep updated your database in a local network.

To do so, I recommend that you set up a dedicated folder on your local drive where you want to store the database. After you repeat the procedure on every machine in your network, you will have a series of TO3000.fdb files. Now you only have to sync them. A good idea is to create a central node, e.g. on a NAS device.

First of all, make a backup copy of your database and copy the TO3000.fdb (the path will be shown in the bottom of the Translation Office 3000 window), say, to your desktop. Set up your dedicated folder, e.g. on your C: drive, and copy the TO3000.fdb in this folder. Now go to Settings -> Database -> Set Database Folder:

Tutorial for Translation office 3000 - Translation project management software - Screenshot

In the window Destination path to TO3000 database, identify your dedicated folder, press Set database folder and Close to return to the normal view:

Translation Project Management Software - Screenshot No. 2

After you set up your dedicated folders on every computer in the network (and copied the TO3000.fdb to a dedicated folder on a NAS drive, if using it), you can define the synchronization rules in your synchronization software.

You can use any software like SyncToy (Microsoft's supremely understated, free utility), Allway Sync or GoodSync (my tool of preference). Basically, you simply align your dedicated folders in the left and right windows, the rest is self-explanatory.

However, I would warn against using any auto functions like “Newer files win” in GoodSync. Translation Office 3000 assigns a timestamp to the TO3000.fdb file each time you close the program. As soon as you merely open and close your Translation Office on one of your computers, you “update” your local TO3000.fdb file at the risk of overwriting the node database that might be more up-to-date. To prevent any accidents, remember to manually synchronize your aligned folders before you open Translation Office and after you close it, that’s the deal.

2. How to customize your invoice templates

Unlike many other invoicing tools out there, Translation Office 3000 enables to customize your invoice templates in endless ways. In fact, a plethora of possibilities and options might seem overwhelming. Although AIT provides a comprehensive, detailed guide on how to create your templates (click on RTFTemplatesGuide.pdf to download the PDF), I heard many fellow translators complaining about their difficulties to cope with all those variables listed in the manual (and ending using the default templates instead).

That is why my advice is to start from the opposite end. Instead of trying to adapt one of both default templates, open an empty Word document (you can use PC or Mac, it doesn't matter) and create a dummy invoice. You can start from scratch, take one of your past invoices or reproduce any available invoice form to your liking. Or download some generic invoice form and save it in RTF format.

Now identify the obvious placeholders that you are going to replace with TO3000 variables. For example, if you want the address part of your invoice to look like this:

Custom templates in Translation Office 3000

you can use the following variables in your RTF template:

Project Management Software for Translation Agencies - Translation Office 3000

The central part of my English invoice template –

Translation Project Management Software

never fails to generate nice, round numbers –

Translation Office 3000 - Invoice example

If you wonder about this weird variable:

Invoice Templates for Translators

It is a simple trick to put any number in the field Notes (Edit Invoice, tab Notes) to be used as the current invoice number:

Translation Project management Software - Screenshot

The possibilities are endless. But finally, after you have designed your RTF template, go to Settings -> Personal settings -> Templates -> CLIENTS -> Invoices to check the list of your templates and the path to the templates folder:

Translation Office 3000 - Custom Templates Window

Copy your newly designed template to the folder displayed at the bottom. Now, when producing invoices you can choose Your newly designed template.rtf from the dropdown menu:

Translation Office 3000 - Custom Templates

3. How to include your suppliers, subcontractors and colleagues in your database

If you outsource or run a translation agency, you should probably consider purchasing another AIT’s product, Projetex. However, you can still include your suppliers, subcontractors and colleagues in your TO3000 database. In fact, the Advanced Edition of Translation Office 3000 has the potential to serve as a fully fledged ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.

The most logical place for your subcontractors would be Business Expenses:

Translation Office 3000 - Suppliers and Subcontractors

But before opening your Business Expenses, first go to Settings -> Advanced -> Custom Fields -> Business Expenses. Press the green plus button left from Group of fields to create a new group. For simplicity’s sake you can call it Vendors or Subcontractors. Now in the new group (it will be highlighted blue), press the green plus button (&New Field) on the right to create a New Custom Field. In the pop-up window you can start creating new custom fields:

Custom fields for including your suppliers in Translation Office database

One big advantage is to use Multiple Text Lines as a field type and assign 15 as the maximum line number in the field Lines count. As a result, you will have a fairly large field to enter free text information regarding your subcontractor (notes, remarks, copies of emails, etc.).

For my purposes, I compiled a series of custom fields that are self-explanatory even in German:

Translators database for Translation Office 3000

You can find additional information on Custom Fields in the Help file of Translation Office 3000, but I don’t think you will really need it. It is a no brainer as far as I am concerned. There is only one tricky thing you should bear in mind when entering information on your subcontractors. After you opened Business Expenses and pressed New, make sure you (1) enter some number other than 0,00 before you (2) click on the Custom Fields tab:

Translation Office 3000 - Creating Custom Fields

Otherwise you will receive the following error message after you have filled all your fields (and you will probably want this message to be more specific about where on earth – among all your fields – you should enter your value?!):

Translation Office - Custom Fields - Enter Message

Well, you are set to go. In this way you can enhance the functionality of Translator Office 3000 with the addition of a very flexible “vendors” database which I find quite sufficient for individual translators who outsource part of their jobs as well as for larger translator teams or small to medium boutique translation companies. The next step from here would be to configure the calculation of contribution margins, set up an automatic notification system etc. In this case though, you are probably ready to look for a more powerful ERP system. Or upgrade to Projetex (I am not familiar with this software).

The three small how-tos illustrate the multitude of ways Translation Office 3000 can be used to improve your translation business. TO3000 has numerous other features that could come in handy for GTD (Getting Things Done) and keeping your work organized. I would appreciate any further tips and comments on this practical tool. Thanks for reading!


technical translation - tecom

A giant toy airship with the logo of one of the exhibitors was floating across the Rhein-Main-Hallen in Wiesbaden where the tekom fair – the largest global event for technical communication – took place. Sometimes it looked like it was arbitrarily moving by itself, but sometimes you could see the man underneath who steered and guided the Zeppelin with a small remote control unit.

This “wagging the dog” provided the perfect backdrop for a series of questions that I was going to ask Don DePalma, the founder of Common Sense Advisory (CSA), “the preeminent market research firm in the language services sector”, according to the exhibition directory.

Can stock market analysts move stock prices? Do securities prices go up and down because rating agencies create a certain market sentiment? Can market observers maintain objectivity if the market responds to their observations and depends on their judgment?

Some months ago I asked Nataly Kelly, the co-author of “Found In Translation”, about a CSA statement on translation rates. It turned out that she was no longer with CSA, but luckily, Don DePalma kindly suggested to answer my questions and also meet for a discussion. I was very grateful for the opportunity to talk with the mastermind behind many survey and research reports, often quoted verbatim by large translation companies and no less often perceived as controversy by translation professionals all over the world.

It was a very interesting and very long conversation. It is certainly worth reproducing more faithfully and fully that I will do at some point later and elsewhere, probably for the BDÜ’s magazine. In the meantime, I can offer only an abridged version that would fit in a (still very long) blog post. (My blog is called Anmerkungen des Übersetzers, German for Translator’s Notes, so I also allowed myself a few comments, highlighted yellow.)

This conversation took place at the tecom/tcworld fair and conference on technical communication in Wiesbaden, Germany, on November 8th.

Mira Vozreniya, a funny Russian-sounding character in your popular book “Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing" made me think about your language background. Did you learn Russian or work as a translator?

Don: As a child of the Cold War, living within miles of a nuclear station, the West Point military academy and many Fortune 500 companies’ headquarters…

…the military-industrial complex…

Don: Right, I still remember the air raid drills. Once I asked myself why we were doing all this. It’s because of the Russians – the answer stuck in my mind. Later in college I chose Russian, the language of those people who wanted to destroy us, and also had an opportunity to go to the Soviet Union. My bachelor’s degree was in American and Russian literature, my master’s in Russian literature and language. I did a doctorate in Slavic linguistics. I did comparative analysis, generative grammar, computational linguistics, historical phonology… My dissertation was on the ablaut in Czech which is called přehláska. There were no jobs in Slavic linguistics at the time, so the option was technical documentation, and from there on technical marketing. I became an analyst, but still carrying my language gene. I was hired by Forrester [a technology and market research firm] because of my technology background, and because I knew more than most Americans about things outside the US at that time. In 1999, I originally started Common Sense as an e-commerce consultancy, but it was difficult to grow, we were bootstrapping. I went to work for Idiom [Idiom Technologies Inc., bought by SDL in 2008], and later on I left Idiom because of my book contract with Wiley [the publisher of “Business Without Borders” in 2004]. When I finished the book, I said why won’t we do consulting…

As a translator and interpreter, I worked for consultancies a lot. One of the German business trainers who I worked for is fond of telling his students about the American optimism and positive look at things. Americans, he used to say, always find a way to talk themselves out of a crisis. They keep telling you that things are going to get better until things start to look better and, finally, turn good. Your consultancy, CSA, is known to spread the word about the decline, telling how things are going down, at least in terms of translation rates. Why this un-American stance?

Don: Well, that is the data. We don’t make this stuff up. We collect the data, we normalize it, we clean it up, we sit down with the statisticians, we develop models, and if the data says this we cannot say that. We have to say what the data says. Otherwise, it would be irresponsible.

A colleague translator from Canada complained that the public Translation Bureau, the largest purchaser of translation in Canada, based business decisions on CSA and was driving prices down. Many fellow translators I know have the impression that Common Sense Advisory effectively caters to its target group, that is large translation companies, and helps them drive purchase prices down. As a business consultant, you should keep in mind the interests of your target group, shouldn’t you?

Don: We don’t cater to any group. The data comes in, we analyze it, we calculate it, we say importantly what it means. How a company, buyer or supplier, uses the data, it’s up to them. If somebody says I am going to use it to drive the market down, there is nothing we can do about that. But there is one thing that I am going to tell you.

One of our clients, a large translation buyer, was sitting down to do a tender. It turned out that several LSPs were Common Sense Advisory readers as well. They said it was the best negotiations they had ever had, because both sides had access to the same pool of data. This is a very important part of the practice. It is something that I have been saying for years. What we do is we try to help companies deal with information asymmetry. Any time there is a discussion among two individuals or groups, typically one side knows more about the issue at hand than the other.

Somebody like Donald Barabé, the former managing director of the Canadian Translation Bureau (CTB), now retired, sits down with all of the data that he has, and uses that to make his decisions. SAP does the same thing. They make their decisions based not only on our data, but they look at the economic data from the markets they are in, they look at the company’s earnings.

Here is what we know about ourselves and about the market. The best buyers are also ones that have specialized procurement teams, best in terms of getting the best deal for the buyer. These companies hire individuals who understand how to buy. Unfortunately, what happens in some of these cases, they don’t understand the translation business. They know how to buy rolled steel to make Škodas. They say I know how to buy landscaping or building services, air conditioning, electricity or whatever. Now I am going to apply the same buying. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing.

Ignacio Lopez, the purchasing manager at General Motors…

…who later went to Volkswagen…

Don: … and got arrested for stealing… In the States, he went to the GM suppliers and said, “Every year I want you to take 3 percent, 5 percent, out the cost of the part that we’re buying from you.” It works if you build efficiencies into the manufacturing, so that the cost of the part doesn’t go up. But with humans, you get to the point of diminishing returns. The big challenge across the market is, given the drop in translation rates, that it makes the practice of translation much less desirable than it used to be. With all this downward price pressure…

Well,allow me to disagree. Talking about tenders reminds me of this famous saying by the American astronaut, John Glenn: “As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind – every part of this capsule was supplied by the lowest bidder.” Also, the data that we see in your reports are of such a macro character, it is like trying to determine the average temperature and blood pressure across the hospital. Does price really matter? Do you take into consideration that the markets are different – a bulk translation market is not that similar to the high-end translation market. Rose Newell, a colleague of mine, just wrote that “competing on price when you sell a service that requires intellect shows that you lack the intellect required to sell or indeed provide that service well.” My impression is that CSA data might apply to big players or purchase managers at large corporations. On the other hand, they are of not much relevance for top-notch freelance translators or boutique translation companies.

Don: I agree. It is much more nuanced. But we don’t only measure the average temperature, we do look at the morbidity rate as well, to continue the metaphor. We see companies that died because of the average temperature in the hospital.

But generally, you agree that there are several markets, you wrote that the whole industry is highly segmented…

Don: Highly fragmented, right…

The figures of professional associations like BDÜ in Germany show upward trends. I know many translators whose rates are going only higher…

Don: … in high quality, precision, professional translations. Those are the kind of translators who will succeed in the future. There will always be opportunities for better translators. Higher visibility services, like transcreation, very specialized marketing kinds of things. Customers ask for different levels of quality. One company that I talked to uses an airline metaphor: they’ve got Coach, Business and First. The larger companies realize that, depending on the application, they don’t need the same level of quality. For FAQ or some knowledge base, they may say that can be a little rough, but the availability is important. If it is marketing material, it has to be absolutely perfect.

Translation rates and quality


Once again, the airplane metaphor came in handy. I didn’t change my mind about various grades of translation ("Add garbage to diversify!") since I wrote that post, but other companies have other motivation.

Don: Then we also have the changing nature of translation. We found a high percentage of respondents who didn’t include all the features like T – E – P (translating – editing – proofreading) in their rates. Some companies provide translations with very little editing, that explains low prices.

So basically you agree that there is a divide…

Don: Oh, absolutely.

… and it would make sense to have a more differentiated look at the market, also subject-wise? Do you poll literary translators or include journalism translation in your surveys?

Don: We tried to do a breakdown, but it didn’t work. The longer the survey, the more dropouts we have. To get the level of detail that you are asking for would be to double the length of surveys. One of the next things I am going to include in our next surveys is the reseller factor [the percentage of services that LSPs provide to other LSPs].

Another question that I had when getting prepared for this interview: Do you think the principle of economy of scale can be applied to the translation business?

Don [laughs]: Well, this is a great question. For an individual translator there are certain economies from gaining large jobs. You get the capital to buy the tools, services, a bottle of wine to feel good, at the end of the day. For an LSP, it is important to understand that they are an aggregator of supply and demand. There are thousands of translators like you who can provide services to potential clients around the world, but – they don’t have the access to those clients around the world. It is not a problem for you personally, but a lot of translators are not that visible as you are. Agencies make them more visible not directly, but provide them an outlet to the world.

So an individual translator outsources such functions like marketing and sales to an agency.

Don: Precisely.

Do you, an expert in globalization, see disintermediation as a trend? After all, globalization also helps to eliminate intermediaries.

Don: Some companies are going directly to smaller suppliers. SAP is looking for smaller, single language vendors. There are companies like Computer Associates (CA) that go directly to freelancers, there are various other companies. But can you buy directly from the supplier eliminating all the risks and costs that may make you go to an LSP in the first place? If they go to you for a precision Russian translation, best in the field, and you decide to go on holiday, so you’re gone for two weeks? They have to ensure availability, the 24/7 coverage. Another issue might be security, that is everyone is working within the same framework. True, it is safer to work with a single supplier, but when everything is in the Cloud, and the translator doesn’t have any content on his or her machine… These are concerns that come up: availability and variable cost, it is probably the biggest issue. If multiple freelancers require management by the buyer of translation, for each individual that they engage with there is some percentage overhead. Somebody has to oversee this work. It is a calculus. That said, there is a change going on: professional services that were going to India or China ten years ago are coming back. It was found to be inefficient to send them to another time zone and also inefficient to send them outside the company if the company was losing intellectual value.

These are apparent advantages for a client to deal with a bigger translation company instead of with a freelancer directly: availability and volume. Turnaround time is getting ever more important, more than price. The biggest mistake that freelance translators make is to turn down jobs (being unavailable) and, generally, fail to increase their visibility for a potential, preferably direct, client (otherwise they have to deal with intermediaries).

Did you discover new trends at this exhibition? Are there any new fields that you are going to research?

Don: Our goal with Common Sense Advisory is to provide an independent, objective view of the market. We care about all the participants, but we don’t cater to any particular group. We sell our research to buyers, we sell to LSPs. It is not just quantitative data, it is also qualitative data, benchmarking and best practices. Project management, production models, marketing methods by service providers. On the buyer side, I just finished a report on machine translation. Another research will be focusing on software localisation in an Agile environment. The Cloud is critical, from the technology viewpoint.

Companies are getting away from plain old translation. They want to increase their value to the enterprise they serve. They don’t provide just translation. You do a better job than any of the vendors on the floor for Russian to German or German to Russian translations. You can provide better services. They realize there are hundreds of thousands of freelancers and 28,000 other language services providers. They cannot compete on translation alone, they need to show more value, to become strategic. A couple of weeks ago, Lionbridge announced a global email campaign management system. If you want to send out a thousand of emails to people in 40 countries in the right language, that is a service that previously might have been provided by an email house. But now Lionbridge says this is something that we can also do for our clients. If translation can be provided by so many companies, let us see what we can do on top and, if the client decides to cut cost, they cannot cut us, since we are critical. Be strategic – that is what everyone would like to be.

As a photography enthusiast, I was lucky to be a participant in a three-day workshop held by one of today’s most talented photographers, a month ago. He mentioned, en passant, that there is so much talk about the photography business, technology, software and devices, etc., but very little about photography itself. My observation is that there is so much talk about the language industry or translation technology, but very little about translation skills and quality translation. Don’t you think all this technology is a little bit overrated?

Don: That’s an excellent observation. At the end of the day, when you stop, v kontse kontsov, the whole thing is about what you are doing, that is communicating things to the reader. There are various levels of communication. There is clearly an artistic form. I hope that people like you who have a passion for languages and translation will never lose it, because it is important. But there is too much stuff to translate, that is the bottom line. So much stuff is created every day and never ever leaves the language in which it was created. Some day, machine translation might reach the point that somebody might be able to improve the output. Other companies don’t need machine translation at all, because they have something like over 90% leverage on their translation memory. They are building products that are similar, from version to version.

Also, there is an enormous number of languages into which no content is translated, because companies don’t have the budget. There is no money for it.

Another issue is that today’s university students don’t want to go into languages. I don’t know what it is like in Germany, but in the United States and in the UK, they are shutting down language programs. One thing is a perception that it is not important. The other thing is less interest on part of students. The big question is where is the next generation of translators who can do high-quality work going to come from? Instead of making cuts in university departments equally, across the entire university, like the sequester in the US, they cut modern languages. Kent State University that offers PhD in translation studies and other universities are constantly under pressure.

Did they look into CSA research to underpin their decisions?

Don: They looked into our research. But they say they don’t see the enrollments or they don’t see the upside to the investment as compared to sciences. In an export economy like Germany that would be really dramatic if the companies wouldn’t be able to get their materials translated…

To be true, I don’t think that an exhibition like tcworld could be very inspiring for those who want to study languages and become a translator. Big LSPs are striving for independence from individual language professionals. A perfect translator is an easily replaceable, eventually expendable “translation vendor”. As big Zepellins try to hover ever higher over the anonymous “crowd” ("There's big money in crowdsourced translation", wrote Nataly Kelly, when she still worked for CSA), the skies for quality translators are getting cloudier. The market is split between high and low. It is not much different in other sectors. But translators need to get more aware of the divide. They also need to raise the awareness among their clients.

Common Sense Advisory - Don DePalma

I am very thankful to Don DePalma for being extremely open and comfortable with my questions. It was fun to have such a conversation. At the end I asked how it feels like for an American company to have a three-letter acronym in its name (you don’t have to be an expert in historical phonology to get the idea) and be engaged in data collection. Don told me about an email he received from somebody who thought CSA might sound like a cover for another three-letter organization.

I think Common Sense Advisory does an important work. It is international, and that is what various national professional organizations still lack, although I seriously think that IAPTI could make up for it. Independent translators and interpreters need to have independent research, and CSA has definitely something to learn from. I, for one, have learned a lot from our conversation, so thank you very much once again, Don, for the opportunity to talk about today’s language industry, its highs and lows.


Opactwo Benedyktynów w Tyńcu          
“It is nice to put a face to a name.” Those who attend today's professional conferences might find this saying useful, when aligning names of their friends on Facebook or LinkedIn with real persons in real life. One of the first persons I met in the courtyard of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, where the international Cracow Translation Days conference took place (September 6-8, 2013), happened to be Siegfried Armbruster, who I have virtually, that is online, known for ages.

It is equally nice to be able to put a name to a face. In case with Steven Sklar it was not a problem, but a nice surprise. I first met Steven, a French to English financial translator, at the TM Europe conference in Warsaw last year. We agreed that Cracow would be the ideal venue for a next TM Europe conference to be held in Poland and that we certainly would like to visit this city, if the occasion arises. So nice that the wish came true, even if TM Europe 2013, unexpectedly, didn’t pan out.

Steven Sklar

Last year in Warsaw, I realized that translators need to become more visible. Anonymity kills. Putting a name to your translation (please click here if you never read this interview) is the message that Chris Durban, the famous author of “The Prosperous Translator”, never fails to spread.

Chris enjoys a star status not only as one of the top-notch translators but also as a strong opinion leader and a highly respected business consultant in our global community. Needless to say, every event where Chris Durban is present, is destined to become special indeed.

This time Chris started her keynote address with the opposite of “the Prosperous”, that is “the Frugal”. The word “frugal” used as an antonym to “prosperous” may come as a surprise, but the reasoning behind it, as regards certain (quite a few, I am afraid) language professionals, is convincing. Why do so many "frugally" undercharging translators fail to recognize the true value of their work? My own guess is, if there is some rationale behind this self-sabotage, that they think of their work always as of something secondary to the source. The original already produced by the client, a translator can only try to copy and reproduce what is already there.

However, translators' inferiority has certainly to do more with psychology rather than rational thought. Listening to Chris Durban’s description of “literate, but not numerate“ translators, I was asking myself what came first: the specific, negative mindset which “helps“ to choose the career of a (certain type of) translator or the experience of working as a translator that forwards the development of certain traits.

However, Chris doesn’t stop at observing behaviours ("The Seven Deadly Sins") and merely stating facts. She is best known for her practical advice. The next day, Chris Durban presented a great workshop (“Working the Room”) with plenty of tips and tricks for finding and working with premium clients.

Chris Durban

As we all know, those Luddites who still have doubts about the universal applicability of machine translation will have to take a vow of silence as of tomorrow or a few minutes later. The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec agreed to consider what other limited means of communication could be granted to the poor souls. I am not in a position to disclose any details of late night clandestine meetings that took place behind this door and confine myself to stating that the discussion was held in a friendly, constructive atmosphere:

Translation Conference in Poland

Unaware of the ongoing talks, a few participants still preferred to think outloud and even openly speak about MT rather than to preventively engage themselves in monastic works. Others took the middle road. Jerzy Czopik, in particular, demonstrated through hard physical work how the age-old, underground machine translation technology can still be used in the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Granted, the fine English distinction between "translation" and "transmission" might get lost in translation, if an inadequately trained machine would try to process the German "Übersetzung", but Jerzy, a native of Kraków and a professional motive power engineer, must know better, right?

Wieliczka Salt Mine

All jokes aside, language technology and machine translation certainly had a prominent place on the conference agenda. Siegfried “Siggi” Armbruster, whose GxP medical translation company is now busily organising the coming TriKonf conference in Freiburg, told about how he “aligned the Internet” to build up huge TMs and AutoSuggest dictionaries in order to improve productivity. His claim that “machine translation belongs in the hands of professional translators” certainly runs contrary to the general expectations. It is a noble call, though. Those who look to benefit from MT systems are MT system vendors themselves, in the first place. But, as another speaker at the conference, John Moran, mentioned, ask yourself why MT vendors never provide demo versions of their wonder working tools.


John Moran, who I have a tremendous respect for, presented some facts and figures about machine translation and post-editing. Most research of this kind focuses on speed and productivity, taking quality out of the equation. However, one result is worth quoting: “One could intuitively expect that fast translators make fewer changes than slow translators. In our test, however, the post-editor who made the highest number of changes was also the fastest. The graphs indicate no clear correlation between edit distance and throughput” (Productivity Test of Statistical Machine Translation Post-Editing in a Typical Localisation Content, by Mirko Plitt and François Masselot, 2010).

The reason I called this reportnon-inclusive” is not only my skipping other interesting sessions and inspiring, talented speakers – there were so many of them, and the genre of a rather impressionist blog post like this is not the most appropriate medium for a more comprehensive report. The other reason I decided to use "non-inclusive" in the title of this blog post was the Sunday morning session. Sabine Dievenkorn from Chile spoke about “non-excluding” translation and the “Inclusive Bible”.

My decision to attend a talk called “Translating a Religion” was very spontaneous, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting subjects of the Cracow Conference. I never realized the role that translators play in shaping our perception of history, religion and humankind. Since no human translator can work unideologically, machine translation could provide, theoretically, a more objective means for the interpretation of the Bible’s Urtext. However, remembering John Moran’s definition of MT output being only a visualization of matches from a corpora compiled by human translators, I don’t think it would be a good idea.

Sabine Dievenkorn Chile

The Translation Days Cracow 2013 was a very exclusive event at a spectacular and secluded venue, excellently organised by Lisa Rüth, Jerzy Czopik:


Christof Kocher and Ralf Lemster (Ralf Lemster Financial Translations GmbH):

Ralf Lemster and Christof Kocher

THANK YOU all very much for this memorable, truly unique event!

It's a pity I didn't have much time to enjoy Cracow. I realized what I missed when I was leafing the inflight magazine on board the plane back to Germany. I flew RyanAir, the company that used Blue Ocean strategies (mostly reduce/eliminate) to create another Red Ocean market (attendees of Marta Stelmaszak’s workshop “Blue Ocean Strategy – Can Translators Make Competition Irrelevant?” will hopefully know what I mean). I never realized RyanAir had an inflight magazine. It’s rather good. Mine had a very informative and entertaining article about Cracow.

Recapitulating the Cracow conference on board the plane, I was wondering if RyanAir would ever use MT for this stuff (you would think this low-fare company is candidate no. 1 to do so and they certainly know how to cut cost of all things). I don’t think it would happen though, neither for journalism, nor advertising. There is still pretty much content written by humans for humans, where MT simply fails and post-editing is rather a hindrance, not a help. Cracow definitely was not the site of one of the the Last Suppers for these Human Translators, but this astounding image by Stefan Gentz (very smart, Stefan!) gives me a chance to get back to my initial saying about aligning names and faces:

Stefan Gentz - Translators' Last Supper in Cracow

The Last Supper of the Translation Days Cracow 2013, courtesy of Stefan Gentz.


Jessica Schulz, Spanish to German translator, recommendable for simultaneous interpretation of Cracow guided tours and for translation of highly specialised, technical and scientific content in the field of transport and logistics (using the latest language technology, e.g. special CAT tools for mobile phones)


Financial translation, especially in the language combination English and French, seems to be in good hands: Chris Durban, Steven Sklar, and now Jon Olds.


Katarzyna Slobodzian-Taylor aka Kasia aka MasterMindTranslations, English to Polish (via Indonesian), from Glouster, Gloustershire, GB


The lovely Anne Diamantidis is so busy these days with the TriKonf conference in Freiburg. And I grew so accustomed to the fact that she is French, not Greek, that I felt more and more the urge to call her Marianne.



View from the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, where the Translation Days Cracow 2013 conference took place.

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