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Wrestling the muse: 5 creative rituals for the freelance translator

Posted on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 @ 09:01 AM

freelance translator writing ritualsDespite popular opinion, translation has much more to do with creative decisions and imaginative acts than it does swapping out Word X in one language with Word Y in another language. Creative “wordsmithing”—as opposed to mechanical word exchanging—means that you have to find a way to set your creativity in motion.  Doesn’t it?

We once read an interview with Ernest Hemingway where he was asked about mnemonic devices, ritualistic acts that set him on the creative path. Hemingway may have been at the Ambos Mundos in Havana or the Finca in San Francisco de Paula. Regardless of where he was, he would begin the creative act with the same ritual:  He’d take out seven No. 2 pencils and sharpen all of them. Only then would he write.

One of our colleagues, an agnostic without a religious bone in her body, ritualistically lights five candles every morning before she practices her forty-five minute yoga routine. When a candle burns down after several weeks, a new one replaces it. Every day she repeats the act. For her, the candle has absolutely no connection to spirituality or the yoga routine. It’s simply a habit, a ritual that sets the day and the creative act in motion.  

Regardless of what your ritual is, it should be habitual and practiced unswervingly. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are 5 suggestions to get you started.

Wrestling the muse: 5 creative rituals for the freelance translator

Write in Bed
According to Monica Ali, author of Untold Story, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Marcel Proust all wrote in bed. Writing, or in your case, translating, is serious business; it’s “stuff” of the mind, so writing from bed might seem a bit irreverent. But if it works, why not?

Provoke Tiny Moments of Awareness
While we were browsing the shelves in Barnes and Noble, we came across a book by Roger-Pol Droit called Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. It’s a playful book, but we’ve found that some of the exercises do in fact help us discover the ways in which small, ritualistic acts can become the starting point for a sort of “astonishment” that can take you out of the moment and inspire creativity. Here’s one such example, an exercise called “Empty a Word of Its Meaning”:

Make sure that you are in a place where no one can hear you. Take an ordinary object—in the past, we’ve picked up the very object that is intimidating us or hindering creativity. Now take the object in your hands and say its name. Repeat its name over and over again as you look at it. Keep going until the familiar word detaches itself and starts to become a series of strange sounds, meaningless noises that mean nothing, indicate nothing and take little form. Once this happens, you’ll notice that the object, too, has become much less startling, more crude and present. Did you notice the exact moment when the meaning dissolved, when the object became no longer something to intimidate, but a simple thing? Now go about your business creatively!

Learn to see the blank computer screen as a beautiful, clean canvas
What’s so bad about a new beginning? “Starting off with a clean slate” is one of the most frequently uttered colloquialisms around. Why not apply it to your work? Remember, the words you put on it don’t need to be perfect—especially since it’s a digital canvas that can be written on, deleted, copied, pasted, printed  and saved for later.

Go to your creative space
You may be familiar with Maya Angelou, author of I Know How the Caged Bird Sings? Here is how she describes her writing ritual:

I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday. About once a month, the management slips a note under my door and they ask, ‘Please, Dr. Angelou, may we change the sheets? We know they must be moldy.’ But I’ve never slept there. I just go in and sit down and work.

Stop trying to be a genius and write only for X amount of time every single day
In a letter to Cecil Dawkins, author Flannery O’Connor said,

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.” 

These creative rituals may not be every freelance translator's cup of tea. Just remember, it doesn’t matter what the ritual is as long as it’s something that works for you and becomes a habitual part of the translation process itself.


Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

Topics: writing strategies, Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, freelance translation, Translation Agencies, writing rituals

5 Painless Ways to Maintain Foreign Language Skills

Posted on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 @ 14:09 PM

Foreign Language IllustrationSince language is a translators’ livelihood, they can’t afford not to maintain their foreign language skills. Sure, translators regularly work with their target/source language, but time constraints and never-ending deadlines often keep them from keeping up with the latest colloquialisms and cultural trends. Here are 5 simple ways you can keep your second, third or fourth language skills sharp:  

5 Painless Ways to Maintain Foreign Language Skills

Watch foreign films
Translators are in front of text—whether digital or print—all day long, so taking a break with a foreign film and a big glass of red wine is a great way to wind down the day. Netflix has taken quite a beating in the media over the last year, but I still stand by them. For $8 USD, you can stream thousands of foreign films. Although you can’t directly search by language, you can go to the foreign section (under the genres drop down menu), select languages and then choose your language preference. In my experience, Netflix doesn’t always have the exact film I’m looking for, but more often than not, this has been a blessing in disguise that’s exposed me to countless foreign gems that I wouldn’t usually watch.  

Listen to international music
Thanks to the Internet, finding great foreign music has never been easier—or more economical. Try Spotify, a completely free music-streaming service that gives you unlimited access to more music than your ears will ever have time to take in. The catch? You’ll have to put up with an ad or two for the service—unless you download Blockify, an app that will sit snug in your system tray and mute Spotify whenever it detects an audio ad. Once it’s over, you can get back to the music.

Read online newspapers and magazines
The Internet also offers a variety of newspapers, trade magazines and journals that will help keep you informed on your specialty and help learn new expressions.  One example is onlinenewspapers.com, which offers “thousands of world newspapers at your fingertips.” Say your specialty is medical translation, you can visit freemedicaljournals.com and find tons of articles from pediatrics to gerontology. 

Network with other translators
Very often, translation is solitary work, which is precisely why many of us took up the profession in the first place! But interacting with people who speak your second language is crucial for maintaining your foreign language skills. An added bonus is that you’ll meet like-to network in a tasteful and genuine way:

  • Don’t expect anything
    Recently I received a mystery email that said, “Hi, I just wrote a blog post on such and such and I’d love it if you reposted it to your site.” This is a poor attempt at networking. I would have been glad to give this blogger a “shout out” had she not initiated our “relationship” by asking for a favor. A much better approach would have been to say, “Hey, I’ve been enjoying your blog. I am interested in similar issues and if you’re interested, I would love to guest blog for you sometime. If you’d like to see my work, check here.”
  • Get to know the right people
    Have you ever noticed how many Facebook or LinkedIn “friends” people collect? I’ve seen people with hundreds, even thousands of “friends” and “connections.” Networking isn’t about quantity so much as it is quality. Find 10 people who share your interests and nurture a relationship with them instead of the 100 people you may (or may not) know by name. For 24 other tips on networking, visit James Clear’s website, Passive Panda.

Plan a yearly visit to a foreign country
It’s easier said than done, but international travel is important for your professional development—and your sanity. If you hire an accountant like we recommended in our earlier post, you should be able to deduct some of the costs by simply attending a conference or visiting a client or two. Also, the American Translators Association (ATA) offers their annual conference in October in a different US city. The Language and Regional Divisions also offer affordable opportunities to learn and network.

You don’t have to go into debt to travel either. If you’d like some advice on how to cheaply, try TripAdvisor or Virtual Tourist—and if you’re traveling to the states, check out Yelp. Not only are these sites FREE, they cover any destination or travel style. Lonely Planet guides are good, but not always up to date.   
 

For more advice on cheap lodging, you might check out an article from Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

 

Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Topics: Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, freelance translation, Translation Agencies, Translation and interpretation studies, Translation Classes Online

5 Tips for Becoming a Freelance Translator

Posted on Fri, Sep 07, 2012 @ 13:09 PM

Freelance FontOne of the most appealing things about becoming a freelance translator is the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. Of course, freelancing has its own set of challenges, time management being one of them, but we thought it might be wise to backtrack a bit and provide some food for thought to those who are interested in becoming freelance translators, but haven’t yet taken the plunge.

5 Tips for Becoming a Freelance Translator

1. Don’t quit your day job just yet

To work full time, you’ll need a lot of clients; this will take a bit of time and tenacity, so it’s best to ease into the profession, supplementing it with another income source. In her book, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, Corinne McKay reveals that she contacted as many as many as 400 translation agencies in her first year as a freelance translator. If you browse translation message boards and other blogs, you’ll notice that it is not uncommon for beginning translators to send out five times that.  

Although lots of translators—including Corinne McKay—earn the ATA estimated income average of $50,000 (not bad for working 30 hours a week and taking at least 4 weeks of vacation), it was not always so: In McKay’s first year of freelance translating, she earned a mere $9,000.

2. Put together an informal business plan

Don’t let “business plan” intimidate you. Yours doesn’t have to be complicated. Just keep in mind that freelance translating is a business venture, so it’s best to think of yourself as a business owner—not simply a linguistic athlete.

Consider supply and demand, for example: Say you want to be a court interpreter. The first thing you need to do is determine the supply and demand of the market and then compare that potential revenue stream to your immediate (and long-term) financial needs. But don’t stop there: consider other “revenue streams” that are associated, but not directly related to court interpreting. There are places outside the courtroom where you can put your judiciary-translation chops to good use, but you have to be proactive if you want to find them.

3. Find an accountant

    As we said in our last post, a freelance translator is also a business owner, so you’ll want to be sure that you’re maximizing your deductions. Keep a detailed list of records, invoices and receipts so that you can deduct part of your house, your cell phone and internet connection expenses…amongst others. Don’t wait. Don’t wing it. Find an accountant. If you’re not sure where to find one, try Angie’s List; you’ll find reviews and verified reports for accountants in your area.

    4. How Much are You (and Your Translations) Worth?

      Like all of us, the freelance translator needs to eat. Since you’re new to the trade, you may need to be flexible when setting your rates and wooing new clients. Freelance translators are usually paid by the word and the going rate is around 7 to 10 cents a word for translating a foreign language into English and 8 to 12 cents a word for translating English into a foreign language.

      This doesn’t sound like much, but if you maintain a strict adherence to deadlines, do good work and slightly undercharge clients the first few times, you will be pleasantly surprised when the same client comes back, this time with another job and an urgent deadline. This is the time to charge a higher rate. It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many freelance translators don’t do this. 

      5. “How Long Should a Translation Project Take Me?”

        Every translation (and translator) is different. Experienced freelance translators will obviously translate more quickly than new translators. We’ll defer to Corinne McKay, who estimates that translators who are relatively quick on the keyboard or use speech-recognition software can translate 400-600 words per hour or 2,000-3,000 words per day. This is only a rough estimate, of course, as projects vary in difficulty. If you are, say, translating a technical document, McKay explains that you might only translate 150 words per hour. If you know how to find the right work, though, you’ll balance the technical stuff with the easier stuff. Calculating your translation speed/pay rate ratio should all factor into your business plan.

        In addition to considering these 5 tips, you might read one of our other blogs, 5 Golden Rules For Finding Entry-Level Translation Jobs and pick up Corinne McKay’s book (amongst others). It should also be said that there’s no one way to become a freelance translator,  but something that will give you the necessary experience and help distinguish you from all the other freelance translators is Marygrove College’s online program in Modern Language Translation. Our online translation certificate programs expose students to the linguistic and cultural aspects of language transfer; we also use a hands-on approach to translating journalistic, commercial, legal, and scientific texts that will give you an advantage over other uncertified translators.

        Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

        Topics: Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, freelance translation, Translation Agencies

        Talking Translation with Marygrove Professor, Dr. Lourdes Torres

        Posted on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 @ 09:08 AM

        Lourdes_TorresIf you are an aspiring translator or interpreter and you’re thinking about plunging head first into the field, we thought you might first be interested in hearing a few helpful words of advice from a seasoned expert: Dr. Lourdes M. Torres, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages (Spanish & French) at Marygrove College.

        Q: How were you introduced to translation?

        Lourdes Torres: My father took me to an Engineering conference when I was sixteen; I saw the interpreters working in booths, going back and forth in 5 different languages. I was impressed with their abilities. Since then, I knew that I wanted to work in translation.  

        Q: Could you talk a bit about your experience as a translator/interpreter? What kind of work have you done?

        Lourdes Torres: As most translators from my generation, I found work in translation because I had an academic foreign language background. Even though I had taken a translation class in college, I learned translation through practice, trial and error. While in graduate school, during the summer, I would do temporary work. I started in a hospital, translating correspondence for patients who did not speak English. I also worked in an engineering department, translating construction procedures. This experience led me to working in a translation company, translating ISO manuals for the automotive industry.  

        Q: How likely do you think it is for translators/interpreters make a sustainable living in this line of work? Do they need to supplement the profession with another source of income?

        Lourdes Torres: Most beginning translators will find temporary work right away, but they must continue to work with two or three translation agencies before finding full-time, permanent work. A new translator must build a relation with clients—and that takes time. I know language teachers who work part time as translators to supplement their income; I also know translators who work as language instructors while building their translation career.  

        Q: Is it necessary to pursue a degree or certificate in translation studies? In other words, can translators still be translators without a degree?

        Lourdes Torres: There are still many companies and organizations that are not familiar with the translation profession and will hire a bilingual person to translate. But knowledge of another language does not imply proficiency in translation.  

        The companies and agencies that pay well require a translation degree or passing the ATA certificate exam. In order to be able to take the exam, the student must have taken courses in an ATA accredited program.  

        Q:  Why is translation important to you? How does this line of work impact the world?

        Lourdes Torres: With businesses and organizations expanding to other countries and continents, communication is key to success. To be able to transfer knowledge from one language to another is the most important aspect of translation. It impacts individuals as well as communities. 

        Q:  Do you have any advice for aspiring translators?

        Lourdes Torres: To master a craft such as translation, it requires constant work. It is important to read a variety of texts to augment vocabulary in both languages. Languages are constantly changing and one must keep abreast of these changes. Being a new translator sometimes means working unpaid internships in order to gain more experience and build a professional network.
          
        Q: Is there any information or advice you think a prospective student should be armed with before jumping into the field?

        Lourdes Torres: Knowing the linguistic differences between languages is vital and so is being able to convey meaning. To become a recognized member of a profession one must belong to a professional network, such as attending translation conferences or being a member of a professional association.  

        Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

        Topics: Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, Translation Agencies, Translation and interpretation studies, Translation Classes Online

        Professional Language Translation Service: A Passionate Profession

        Posted on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 @ 16:07 PM

        Ever hear the “one” about the Chinese restaurant nTranslators Without Bordersamed Translate Server Error? If not, read on:

        Once there was a restaurant owner who wanted to attract more foreign customers, so he decided to have the name of his business written in both Mandarin and English. The problem, of course, was the owner did not speak English—nor did any of his friends or acquaintances. So he enlisted the help of a free (but ultimately moody) translation website. Whoops. The server was down at the time and, of course, you know the rest of the story…

        This is an amusing example of translation gone awry. But providing accurate, professional language translation services in places like Kenya’s Kibera slum—a community of close to 1 million of the planet’s poorest people—can literally mean the difference between life and death.

        In Kibera, Translators without Borders, a non-profit professional language translation service, is teaching women how to translate documents and educational materials that will save their lives.

        Just a brief aside: It has been estimated that in Kenya alone, up to 20 percent of the country’s population has been diagnosed as HIV positive. To complicate matters further, the UNICEF estimates that there are some 50,000 orphans as a result of the HIV pandemic.

        In her blog, Lori Thicke, one of the co-founders for Translators without Borders, describes her experience teaching Kenyan women how to translate documents on HIV prevention, fitness and diet. Thicke’s blog is not only inspiring to us, but it gives us another reason to continue saying that the world needs passionate—not to mention compassionate—folks who can offer accurate, professional translation services to those who need it most.

         

        Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

        Topics: Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, Translation Agencies, Translation and interpretation studies, Translation Classes Online

        5 Do's and Don'ts When Branding Yourself for a Translation Agency

        Posted on Fri, Jul 06, 2012 @ 09:07 AM

        Translator SignIt is true that translators are in demand, but translation is also a competitive industry, making it more and more difficult (and important) for translators to distinguish themselves from the pack. These days, it’s not enough to simply showcase your ego and make vague promises about what you can do. A translation agency needs to know exactly what you offer and how you can help their business prosper. 

        If you want to work with a translation agency, and are looking for ways to distinguish yourself, here are five strategies that can help you shine.

        1)  DO Market Yourself As a Business.
        Yes, translation is an art form and yes, translators are artists, but if you want to be profitable, you must start thinking of yourself as a business—or more specifically, a product. Hone in on exactly what you offer that a translation agency doesn't have, but needs. If you can find a way to be a solution in the problem/solution-based paradigm, you are on your way to a job. Ask yourself the following questions:

        • How will you save them money?
        • How will you make them more money?
        • How are your abilities going to strengthen a weak link in their services and/or product(s)?
        • Ultimately, how will you benefit them?

        Unfortunately, the hiring process isn't about you anymore. It's about how you, The Product, are going to help their company.

        2)  DON'T Blather On About Your Amazing Capabilities.
        As a professional, you are supposed to be presenting a translation agency with a quality product. So talking about your unprecedented skill and the pedigree of your work is not only redundant, but not a differentiator. If you waste time talking about your process or method, prepare yourself for glazed eyes. 

        3)  DO Start Designing Your Brand & Logo
        We all know which brands of products we prefer for certain experiences or desired outcomes. Once you view yourself as a product, it's time to brand yourself for easy recognition from a translation agency. That's a lot to process, but here are some ideas to get you started:

        • What's your niche?  Are you a Spanish translator? What region? Do you understand the nuances of Quichua words and phrases that have become a part of Ecuadorian and Columbian Spanish? These are all things to consider as you go about the business of defining who you are, what your product does, and how it will help niche markets of translation.
        • How do you see yourself and how do others see you? Are these consistent? If you are in the market to sell yourself (a.k.a. "your product") then you need to make sure these are the same persona to ensure brand consistency.
        • Identify your competitors and see what you have that they don't, then sell it to the right market.

        4) Don't Be Inflexible.
        Like all of us, translators need to eat, which means that you’ll need to be earning money on a steady basis. That said, you’ll need to be flexible when setting your rates and wooing translation agencies.

        Translators are usually paid by the word and the going rate is about 7 to 10 cents a word for translating a foreign language into English and 8 to 12 cents a word for translating English into a foreign language. This doesn’t sound like much, but if you maintain a strict adherence to deadlines, do good work and slightly undercharge clients the first few times, you will be pleasantly surprised when the same client comes back, this time with another job and an urgent deadline.

        This is the time to charge a higher rate. It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many translators don’t do this. 

        5) DO Become Fluent in Social Media
        You're a language star so this should be your next language to learn. Social media is used everywhere and for everything. The more you know how to use it to your advantage, the more attractive you will be to a translation agency. Start a blog, Twitter away and connect to the world via Facebook, all the while be a living example of your brand.

        Invest the time now honing in on who you are and what you do best, and you will be rewarded with the right translation job for you.

        Like any profession, translation takes practice, experience and proper training—and if you were to ask ten translators how they got into the translation profession, you’d hear ten different stories.There’s no one way to do it, but something that will give you the necessary experience and help distinguish you from all the other freelance translators is Marygrove College’s online Modern Language Translation Certificate Program. In our program, students will not only study the linguistic and cultural aspects of language transfer, but they will take a hands-on approach to translating journalistic, commercial, legal, and scientific texts.

        Download our exclusive guide:  Translation and the Empathetic Imagination

        Topics: Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, Translation Agencies, Translation and interpretation studies, Translation Classes Online

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