Here are a few editing tips and tricks I’ve gathered after editing and proofreading other people’s writing and having my own work fixed up countless times.
1. Make sure sentence structure varies
You wouldn’t write three declarative sentences in a row, would you? Of course not. That would make your writing sound choppy.
Why not mix up interrogative, declarative, imperative and exclamatory sentences? And throw in a sentence fragment from time to time if your writing is informal. Like this. Variety is the spice of life.
2. Make sure sentences are not too long
According to Daily Writing Tips, sentences containing more than 20 words can be considered difficult to read. Agreed. Readers don’t appreciate long-winded sentences, which are often a manifestation of muddled thoughts.
If your sentence runs over 25 words, consider chopping it in half.
If your French could use some fine-tuning, you may want to follow these Twitter translators, bloggers and editors. Nit-picky they are. They tweet out tips for English to French translators, giving mini-French lessons for francophiles like me. Enjoy!
Rédacteurs, pourquoi vous obstinez-vous à écrire : 1ère, 3ème, 7ème, alors que la muse Typographie vous demande seulement : 1re, 3e, 7e ? — Le Monde correct (@LeMonde_correct) March 15, 2015
“Voilà” reprend, “voici” annonce : « Tu as raison, voilà ce que j’en dis. » « Voici ce que j’en dis : tu as raison. » http://t.co/Ib1U7ZUvaW — Le Monde correct (@LeMonde_correct) February 6, 2015
Gardez-vous de « partir à zéro », vous n’arriveriez nulle part. Il est préférable de « partir de zéro ». On part de pour aller à. — Le Monde correct (@LeMonde_correct) March 14, 2015
On écrit “Eh bien” et non “Et bien”. Un “e” et un “h” et non un “e” et un “t”. — Le correcteur (@lecorrecteur) February 12, 2015
J’ai une tâche à accomplir, mais j’ai une tache (sans accent circonflexe) sur mon pantalon. — Le correcteur (@lecorrecteur) February 5, 2015
“En vélo” est incorrect : en = dans. On ne roule pas “dans” le vélo, n’est-ce pas ? Correct : “à vélo”. — Le correcteur (@lecorrecteur) January 24, 2015
It takes guts to propose translations to our peers. Translation is subjective, and when we don’t pick the best word, our errors can get publicized to dozens of people on social media. So hats off to translators everywhere who share their suggestions in public and sign their names on them.
If this post took your French up a notch, you can:
follow these people on Twitter
leave a comment here in English or French
share this post on Twitter or Facebook or your social media platform of choice
And stay tuned for more Twitter recommendations, this time for French to English translators!
Since my job is to write websites for small business owners, and I myself wrote copy, blogged and used social media for my own translation gig, a friend asked me for help in revamping his website. His goal: become known as the go-to French teacher in Toronto by marketing his services online. With his stale website and on-and-off presence on social media, this was a tall order.
Marketing tips and tricks for all trades
I had a look at his site and gave him a few pointers based on my experience, reading and instincts. This advice might be helpful for anyone running a business, whether you’re a dog groomer, interior decorator, electrician or freelance translator.
Come up with a tagline that you can use on your website and across all your social media platforms. I continue to use my tagline “Every word matters. Chaque mot compte.” on Twitter, LinkedIn and this blog.
Put a nice photo of yourself on your website, blog and social media profiles if you’re comfortable. No recent headshots? Get one. Don’t grab a picture that’s fifteen years old. That’s what sketchy real estate agents do.
Services: Highlight the benefits (win contracts from Swiss clients, order food in Montreal, go sightseeing in Paris) not just the features of your service (conversation practice and grammar exercises).
Testimonials: Include maybe five reviews from satisfied students or their parents. Use a subheading to introduce each one, and either use keywords or grab an evocative snippet from the review. It should either have keywords for SEO reasons (“After school French lessons for Toronto kids”) or be evocative (“I learned French, met a boy from Montreal and married him.”)
Marketing 101: Be useful to whomever would need your services.
Update your blog regularly with tips and tricks from your field (maybe French grammar, spelling, slang, regional differences and so on).
Again, be useful.
Remember that people need a reason to follow you, so tweet out your tips and tricks.
Start by tweeting once or twice a day.
Do this for a month, and only then should you start following people. Nobody will follow someone who has no tweets.
Follow your audience. This could be fellow language teachers, students, tutors, Toronto francophiles.
Retweet useful tweets from your peers. It’s good karma, and you’re providing a service to your audience.
Never advertise your services on Twitter. That is lame marketing unless your tweets are extremely relevant and helpful to your customer: I’ve seen translators publish tweets like “For affordable English to Italian translations, contact ABC!” every third tweet. I cringe.
I can only talk about Twitter since this is the social media platform I enjoy and use the most.
If you’d like to add your two cents on online marketing for small business owners, please share in the comments.
One huge advantage of blogging: You get to know WordPress.
Knowing WordPress might come in handy
Speaking from experience, having some WordPress experience has proven to be useful:
Listing WordPress on my résumé helped me get interviews for writing jobs
I use some WordPress knowledge at work
I use it for personal writing projects with some ease
A good warmup for future professional or personal projects
WordPress unexpectedly became my friend. Could it be worthwhile for you too? Thanks to the WordPress dashboard, I’m not lost when editors or web designers or SEO people make these references:
H1, H2 and H3
Read More tag
I get by with a little help from my friends
Knowing nothing about blogs in 2010, I had an experienced WordPress user set me up. I now maintain this blog mostly on my own, for better or for worse, asking friends for help when I get stuck. I’ve made my share of technical mistakes on this blog, but I know how to publish a post, add images, edit the URL, move around widgets, and even change the code.
Those moves might be useful for translators and writers in certain specializations.
If you don’t need to be tech-savvy, I get it
For some language pros, knowing how to send an email and use good ol’ Microsoft Word is enough. I can understand that. I’ve never used a CAT tool myself and I never saw the need.
WordPress: A skill worth investing in?
If your WordPress experience has been helpful or completely useless, I’d appreciate hearing from you.
I have learned many new English words since I resettled in Toronto a year and a half ago.
When I lived in France (my source language culture), I took yearly flights from Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle to Pearson. But these summertime visits to Canada (my target language culture) didn’t turn me into a 100% full-on native speaker of Canadian English. Neither did my daily reading of English-language press.
Being exposed to English a few hours a day isn’t the same as interacting in English for twelve hours a day with all kinds of Toronto souls — coworkers, neighbours, seniors, new graduates, schoolteachers, sales clerks, bus drivers and everyone else.
So I’ve pumped up my vocabulary.
I think I’ve figured out the following words.
1. Meet ‘n’ greet
You choose someone to become your doctor. Then you make an appointment a month later to do a “meet ‘n’ greet.” You shake hands with your physician, talk about your medical history for 15 minutes, and fill out administrative papers.
2. Pay it forward
You do a good deed. The receiver of the good deed will “pay it forward” and do another good deed for a different person. So your good deed will not get “paid back” to you, the original do-gooder. Instead, it gets “paid forward” to the third person, the do-gooder in the making.
3. Senior moment
You have a few white hairs and you’ve lost your keys, forgot the punchline of your joke, put on mismatched socks, or committed some other embarrassing offence. Congratulations, you’ve had a “senior moment.”
Free stuff! This is usually branded merchandise that you get at an corporate event. Swag could be a free T-shirt, keychain, hat or some other thing that the company’s logo can be printed on.
From my understanding, “campy” is used to describe something that has been taken to an extreme, but is amusing. For example, a play could be “campy” if the story is unbelievable, the actors are overdoing it, but the audience enjoys the whole experience.
6. Ridiculous (and terrible in French)
Revelation: “ridiculous” can have a positive connotation. Your friend calls an action movie “ridiculous” and says you have to see it.
“Ridiculous” = really, really good.
“Ridiculous” reminds me very much of “terrible” in French.
“Terrible” = really, really good.
A French friend recently said, “Le logo de Roger Federer est terrible.” Could we say that Federer’s logo is “ridiculous”?
7. Ugly laugh
“That story was hilarious! I did an ugly laugh and almost peed my pants!”
8. One-trick pony
You’re good at only one thing. You make delicious banana bread, but you make horrible cookies, pies and squares. So you stick to the banana bread and become a “one-trick pony.”
I lived in Montreal in my early twenties, so poutine and I are buddies. Poutine is an unhealthy mix of fries, gravy and cheese curds. I’m including it on my list of new words, because back in the day, poutine belonged in Quebec, not in Ontario.
10. Push back
Warning: corporate-speak. You “push back” when you are asked to do something at work and you don’t think you should. So you say, “Our web design department wants me to call our client. But that’s not my job. Why doesn’t Customer Care do that? I’m pushing back.”
You’re a millennial if you were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Toronto’s The Globe and Mail publishes articles about “millennials” ad nauseum:
The Globe and Mail writes as if everyone over 35 thinks of young people as entitled brats. I work harmoniously with many “millennials” who have proven to be a generous, hard-working bunch.
Keeping up with ever-evolving English
Personally, I never felt that living outside of North America made me less of an English-speaking translator. I always did my research and tried my best to use the right words and capture the proper tone for each industry.
I didn’t understand “selfie” and “twerking” at first, but these words never found their way into my translations.
Expat translators, how do you stay on top of your target language?
And if anyone would like to correct me or add clarification about the newly learned words above, please chime in.
Holy smokes, it’s been a year since I last blogged. Time to get my act together.
Why I stopped blogging
I neglected this blog because I am not working as a freelance translator any more.
There, I said it.
I’m no longer a freelancer like the majority of my blog readers (whoever is left). A bit over a year ago, not long after leaving Paris for Toronto, I put an end to my self-employment and took on an in-house position as a copywriter.
It’s a 9-to-5 job that requires over 1.5 hours of commuting a day by public transit (*gasp*).
It’s not as bad as it sounds.
My new position as a bilingual senior copywriter
Nowadays, instead of translating for direct clients as a one-woman show, I do other fun stuff:
write website copy
edit website copy
translate a little
work with colleagues in customer service and web design
lead a team of really awesome French- and English-speaking copywriters
While I miss so many things about freelancing, I’ve been having a blast at my new job.
Dusting off Catherine Translates
What’s bugging me now is not this career choice, but my lame blogging.
I just paid about 150 bucks to renew this blog for another year. Goddammit I will either blog again or cancel this in 12 months.
Future blog topics
Since I can only blog about what I am going through, I’ll be switching gears at Catherine Translates and I may never say another word about marketing for freelance translators (well, maybe a few words from time to time).
Instead, I’ll likely address what is truly on my mind:
writing for online readers
translation (my first love)
speaking French in Canada
adjusting to life back in Canada
Thanks for reading
I’ll work on my blogging endurance. Please stay tuned. Comments welcome
I get a bit crazy when it comes to capitalizing as you may have seen in Brand names and internal capital letters. It irks me to see MasterCard and PayPal misspelled. I equate this lack of attention to detail with downright sloppiness. As writers and translators, it’s our job to keep our eyes peeled for what is capitalized and what is not.
My current gig involves using title case on headings of Canadian English-language websites. So when do you press that shift button and use that mighty capital letter? Titlecase.com has the answer. Thanks to a colleague who recommended this magical converter, my capitalization conundrums are over.
Titlecase.com to the rescue
Insert your title into the text box. Let’s type “Bringing fresh produce right to your doorstep” and see what happens.
Then press “convert” and your decision about what to capitalize is made for you.
The resulting title: Bringing Fresh Produce Right to Your Doorstep. So only the word “to” does not get capitalized.
Easy, right? Well…
Is titlecase.com 100% fool-proof?
No. Enter compound adjectives.
Let’s try “Promoting eco-friendly lifestyles” and you’ll see where it errs (in my humble opinion).
This is how it converts.
I’d rather see the letter F capitalized: Promoting Eco-Friendly Lifestyles. This title has more visual appeal.
Let’s experiment a bit more: Prosecutors expect more arrests in art-fraud scheme.
Press “convert” and see what happens to the compound adjective.
Oh no. That sentence doesn’t sit right. The latter part of a compound adjective should be capitalized.
Thankfully, The New York Times doesn’t put all of its faith in titlecase.com.
Fraud gets a capital F. Much better!
Title case folly
Some writers over-capitalize. (This hurts me as much as seeing French headlines in title case. Just say non.)
Woo-hoo! Dominique Dufour, a Paris-based freelancer par excellence, published my submission to his book Jesuisfreelance.com. We’re talking print here. Print!
Electronic versions are also available, but who cares, who cares, who cares—the book is available in actual paper made from actual trees.
And those papery pages (as opposed to virtual pages) automatically increase, by about tenfold, the quantity of glory in which even the smallest of contributors can bask.
When I heard about the upcoming launch of Jesuisfreelance.com, this went through my head:
I hope I did not get rejected.
I hope I did not get forgotten.
I hope I did not get deleted.
With these fears in mind, I silently praised the superiority of e-books over print books (hypocrite!) and hurriedly bought a Kindle version from amazon.fr so I could read it on my tablet within a matter of seconds.
My piece was included!
And so were articles from two or three fellow translators. More great contributions come from such a colourful world of freelancers—you can read how a shiatsu therapist, art teacher, creativity coach, and nutritionist use social media.
Cet ouvrage est un guide pratique pour aider ces entrepreneurs à utiliser les médias sociaux pour communiquer autour de leur activité et la développer. Les réseaux sociaux sont d’extraordinaires accélérateurs pour le business : ils facilitent les contacts, les rencontres, ils permettent de communiquer à moindre frais, à veiller, à créer du contenu, à valoriser nos expertises. Mais quels outils utiliser, comment BIEN les utiliser quand on est entrepreneur solo ? Comment se sentir à l’aise sur les réseaux sociaux quand on n’aime pas trop se “mettre en avant” ? Comment ne pas y passer des heures sans aucun résultat ? Comment s’y faire repérer par des clients potentiels ? Comment y construire sa notoriété, créer du contenu et le diffuser au bon moment sur les bons canaux ?
How do you feel about seeing your work in print?
Now I just got two pages of my own writing published and I am one happy camper. Two pages.
I cannot imagine how literary translators must feel after their book-length translations get into print!
I was so happy to have Jennifer Bikkál Horne drop by for a visit during her last trip to Paris. Jen is an Atlanta-based French<>English translator and interpreter and an ATA and AAIT member. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Arts, a NYU Certificate in Simultaneous Interpreting, and she is pursuing a certificate in translation. Her website is at Translations by Jen.
Catherine: You’re a translator and an interpreter. What kind of work do you do most?
Jen: Right now, I do more interpreting than translating. It’s probably because I have completed my interpreting certificate but have not yet completed my translation certificate.
Catherine: How do clients find you?
Jen: Clients and agencies generally contact me for interpretation because I’m listed in the ATA directory as well as my local translator’s association directory (AAIT). So when an agency or client needs an interpreter for an event, and they consult these directories I will pop up on that list. I’ve also been lucky enough to be hired directly by translators and agencies that I know. Otherwise, I sometimes get some referrals for jobs from colleagues.
Catherine: What are your biggest challenges?
Jen: Confidence is one of my biggest challenges. Being new in the industry I lack confidence sometimes but I have learned that it is necessary to “fake it till you make it” especially in interpreting. Having hesitations can happen to anyone but the key is to keep going and not let it bring you down.
Catherine: What kind of marketing efforts have paid off for you?
Jen: Without a doubt: networking! I joined the local ATA association which means that people in my area know me as the local French translator/interpreter so they send me jobs if they hear of any. I also created a blog and Facebook page, but those have not yet paid off for me in terms of business.
Catherine: What do you like most about our profession?
Jen: I love working from home, being able to have my own hours, work in my yoga pants but I also love traveling and meeting people. Interpreting enables me to travel, and translation lets me work from home… It’s really the perfect balance!
Catherine: How do you see your business developing in the future?
Jen: In the future I see myself doing more translations and less interpreting. My husband and I want to start a family, so in the future I’d like to travel less, and work more from home.
Johanne Benoit-Gallagher is a Quebec-based freelance translator. In addition to translating, she provides cultural adaptation services to clients who wish to communicate effectively with Canadian francophones. Through Prima Translation, she is able to combine her English-French language skills with her sound knowledge in life sciences, education and corporate communications.
I have recently been approached by translators who are starting their careers or who are making a shift to freelance work. Their first question usually goes like this, “If I want to work from home, where and how do I find clients?”
There are, of course, many possible answers. In this post, I’d like to discuss how ProZ can be a useful tool as part of a translator’s marketing mix. For the record, this information is based on my personal experience as a paying member. I do not represent ProZ in any way.
How I used ProZ in the beginning
In 2005, I had just completed my translation degree and did not have any professional experience. I had a few local clients who provided me with occasional work. I really wanted to gain experience and work full-time. I was actively looking for a point of entry into the translation industry.
After using a few different online translator databases with little success, I stumbled upon ProZ. What initially attracted me was its many features and ease of use. I built a profile and tried to make it as complete as possible by following the guidelines. In a nutshell, this is what I did:
I submitted an initial profile that was at least 80% complete and revised it regularly.
I initially chose to participate in site activities such as answering translation questions.
I submitted a portfolio to receive the Certified PRO status and I adhered to their professional guidelines.
I made it easy for clients to reach me and I described my services clearly.
I soon started to ask clients to submit a review of my services (a feature called WWA).
In the first six months after becoming a paying member, I sent one application a day to an agency or other contact I wanted to work with. I found many of those contacts on ProZ. I did this every day, one week per month. Many people did not respond, but some did and became regular clients.
I soon realized that I no longer needed to look for clients because they were now finding me through ProZ. This made it possible for me to focus on translating. I was selective from the start, choosing to work with clients who met my criteria. It took me about two years to achieve my objective of working full-time. During that time, I sometimes looked for clients, I improved my online presence and I sharpened my translation skills. Ever since then, I have been improving my client base, letting go of some clients and taking on new clients that better fit my career objectives.
It is important to understand that ProZ, as valuable as it can be, becomes a more powerful tool when it is linked to other online platforms such as LinkedIn and a professional website. While it is possible to use ProZ exclusively, that would limit the types of clients you attract. I would caution you against putting your all your eggs in one basket.
How I use ProZ today
At the moment, I have a full slate of reputable international (mostly) and local clients, some of which are agencies. I now use ProZ in the following way:
I update my profile a few times a year as needed.
I check a potential client’s rating on the Blue Board, read the comments, and only work for clients who consistently get a perfect or almost perfect score.
I regularly mark my availability on the calendar; some clients refer to it to see how busy I am.
I ask regular clients for WWA.
I refer to various forum topics for help (technical mostly) or contribute to them.
ProZ still plays a significant role in my marketing efforts. In fact, most of my clients first find me on ProZ, before going to my website. I see ProZ as a tool among others. Tools are designed for a specific purpose and cannot meet every need.
ProZ may be for you if…
You want to enter the global marketplace.
You like the idea of networking online with peers, creating or using content (through forums and answering questions) or connecting for social purposes.
You are looking for a way to gain experience as a translator and to learn about the translation industry.
You would like to work for agencies in particular.
You want to be visible online and do not yet have your own website.
ProZ may not be for you if…
You are looking for direct and local clients exclusively.
You have no interest in investing some time in building an online profile.
What I learned from ProZ
Over the years, I have seen the “ProZ” and cons of the translation workplace. I sometimes cringe at the way translators present themselves or at how they answer translation questions, but overall, I can say that ProZ has been very useful.
By answering translation questions, I’ve learned how to justify my point of view and discovered reputable sources used by experienced translators. This skill has proven to be invaluable in my work because some of the projects I am involved in require in-depth language analysis. When potential clients view my profile and the answers I have provided, I am confident that this is a positive factor in their choice of a translator.
I have also gained an appreciation for what not to do as professional translator. It shows when someone answers a translation question poorly, asks several easy questions or when a profile is incomplete. Every online interaction can add to, or diminish, the quality of your online presence.
I have been able to solve technical issues and to learn about the translation industry by consulting the forums. For someone who works with a CAT tool, the technical forums are very helpful. They have helped me save time and money on several occasions.
I have not used and still do not use ProZ to bid on projects. These jobs typically offer very low rates and this is not the type of client I am looking for.
Is ProZ for you?
It is important to maximize your time and networking efforts. In this respect, ProZ can be a good investment. Like other profiles or sites you may have online, it will tirelessly represent you around the clock.
You get to choose which tools work best for you. After all, like me, I am sure you’d rather be translating.
Because of some repetitive strain injury (RSI) issues, I haven’t been blogging. I developed a truly adversial relationship with my computer and concentrated solely on client work, letting my blog and social media accounts slide.
All is well now, so stay tuned for more regular blog posts this fall!
I needed some repairs done in my home in France, and the workers I wanted to hire were not available until September.
Good help is hard to find
So I studied the estimate again. It was for €300. After a couple of days, I called the company back.
I explained how genuinely urgent this job was and added,
Madame, can I pay you a surcharge for a rush job, and then can you send someone here within two weeks?
She was A P P A L L E D .
« On ne fonctionne pas comme ça ! »
That is not how we operate!
Paying a rush surcharge seemed perfectly normal to me
As a translator, I have occasionally given two different quotes for the same project: Price A for delivery on Tuesday and Price B for delivery on Friday.
So while the surcharge was natural to me, it seemed to have caused offence.
A French thing or a home repair thing?
In Canada and probably in the States, you can sometimes pay extra for government services when you have a special request. In North America, we can get personalized license plates for an extra fee, whereas in France, that would never work.
In Ontario, you can pay a 30 CAD surcharge to get your birth certificate in 2 days instead of 2 weeks. France would certainly turn up its nose at that.
Imagine someone butting in line just because they’re willing to pay a bit extra.
Do you think the woman in home repairs was in shock because
she has never heard of charging a rush rate before?
rush rates are undemocratic, unfair, elitist?
she thought I was trying to bribe her into doing something unethical/corrupt/fraudulent?
As one of many scatterlings of southern Africa, Allison Wright, a German/French/Portuguese into English translator, finally put down roots a few years ago in the Algarve, Portugal, from where she relishes every single day working now as a full-time freelance translator. Translation of this work of non-fiction was somewhat of a departure from her more usual engagement in financial, corporate, marketing and non-governmental texts since 1987.
This guest post is about my German to English translation of a book entitled Rebsortenatlas Spanien und Portugal – Geschichte – Terroir – Ampelographie by Hans Jörg Böhm. I am going to discuss aspects of collaboration on a large non-fiction translation project and the idea that a combination of careful research, passionate interest and insistence upon perfection can result in a successful outcome.
Work began on 2 March 2011, and I signed off on the final proofs on 28 July 2011, about five weeks after submitting the “final” translation to the English revisor.
So, how, you may ask, does one get to translate such things in the first place? Am I a specialist on the subject of indigenous grapevine varieties on the Iberian Peninsula? No. Am I well-connected in the publishing world? No. Am I well-known in wine circles? No, once again. Is this even the book (or the language) I proposed to translate when I submitted my formal proposal to the author at the end of January 2011? Why, of course not! How, then?
Pardon the pun: I heard it on the grapevine.
I live in a village in the Algarve in Portugal. A series of haphazard connections and information that the author wanted an English translation prompted me to submit a proposal to him to translate his previous book, O Grande Livro das Castas (The Big Book on Grapevine Varieties) from Portuguese. This book (approximately 100,000 words) was, if you like, the precursor to what I ended up translating. It was a question of asking and receiving – albeit something entirely different to what I had envisaged.
My motivation to translate the precursor to the Vine Atlas was two-fold. I know enough Portuguese to say that there are many bad translations from Portuguese into English being published daily in the local press and in countless brochures for the benefit of tourists. The bulk of this work is being done by people for whom English is not their mother tongue, and whose chief vocation in life is certainly not that of translator.
The thought of one of these “translators” getting their hands on O Grande Livro das Castas was like receiving a double dose of aspirin without the benefit of an accompanying glass of water! This general impression was rammed home by the fact that the published translation into English of the Abstract was unfortunate on so many levels that it presented me with a prime opportunity to show the author what a good translation should look like.
The second motivating factor stemmed from the gradual realisation that much of what is glorious and great and incredibly interesting in Portugal remains “hidden” from the English-speaking world. For want of translators, the English-speaking world does not benefit nearly enough from the cultural, historical and scientific wealth Portugal has to offer. In short, I believed the content of the book I wanted to translate needed a wider international audience.
Meeting the author
The author contacted me by telephone in response to my carefully drafted written proposal. Thus began our collaboration.
I first met the author in Lisbon 17 days after I had begun the translation in order to negotiate my contract (in Portuguese) with the publisher. The author collected me from the train station, and by the time we had reached the publishers, we had exchanged basic personal information and opinions on a wide range of subjects.
Working with the author, query by query
One month after the start of the translation, the author visited me at my home. We sat in my study for two hours while I went through all the queries I had with regard to the completed Part I of the book. He rather disparagingly called me a perfectionist. I took it as a compliment, of course. He left me with Parts II and III. I did not see the author again until mid-June, during which time he and I spent almost five days at his wine estate going through Parts I, II and III with a fine-tooth comb.
Going through the German revisions with the author
His German editor had made extensive revisions to the German, and it was important to ensure that the two texts corresponded. I had the singular pleasure of reading out aloud pages 88 to 162 of my translation, while the author followed the German text. Clearly his bilingualism was an advantage here. Queries and anomalies I had discovered in Part IV were also covered. As a test of my stamina at this late stage, I also received about another 2,000 words to translate by way of extra tables and text boxes (Surprise!) and the jacket cover (which was in Portuguese; I never saw the German!), and we had endless fun ensuring the figures and tables were correctly numbered and labelled.
Socialising with other collaborators
The author hosted a lunch at the end of this five-day marathon, attended by one of the collaborating authors who contributed much of Part I of the book, and the two layout and design men and their wives. This socialising stood us all in good stead when it came to signing off on the final proofs.
Making a plan
The translator has a job. It is, simply, to translate the book for a fee by a certain date – to satisfaction. In this case, to the author’s satisfaction. How you do it, and what you suffer in order to accomplish it, is of no consequence or interest to anyone. You do, however, need a plan.
The first prerequisite is to be able to quantify what you have to do. I have been translating since 1987, so I have plenty of practice in estimating how many words are on a page. The trick is to learn what 100 words looks like, no matter what font is used. Then it is easy to gauge what 1,000 words looks like. It turns out that my estimate of O Grande Livro das Castas was accurate. What I did not anticipate is that the German successor book was going to be longer. And most of that extra length was contained in the last part of the book – the ampelography. This brings me to the fortuitousness of my next piece of advice.
Base output on 75% of your daily capacity
Before starting the project, plan your own delivery programme based on 75%, at most, of your average daily capacity. And I mean average. For instance, if I translate 1,000 words for nine days in a row, and 100 words on the tenth day, my daily average is not 1,000 words, it is 910 words. Do not be ambitious. Be honest. You will need this 25% contingency. It is easily soaked up by time spent on research, and the necessity for housework, foraging for food, and very occasional relaxation.
Keep track of daily progress
On a large project it is important to have a clear idea of your own progress – every single day. Determine in advance the number of hours you can sensibly work per day. Then you will know how much you can reasonably expect to translate per day, and per week. It is very motivating for me to mark the place in the text I need to get to by the end of the day, or the week. If bright pink highlighting works for you, use it. It is essential to pace yourself in this way to prevent feelings of disorientation and frustration. This is the “eating an elephant one bite at a time” approach.
You will also discover how many days in a row you can work full-time without a day off. My range is between 18 and 23 days, but it is probably best to make sure you have an entire day off once a fortnight at least. Burn-out is not an option.
Timesheets and scorecards
I kept a timesheet for the first month of the project. After that, it was not necessary; there was not much variation in the number of hours I worked, or the number of words I translated every day. I did keep a “scorecard” though and privately celebrated every time another 5% of the job had been completed.
As a translator of a big book, you are one tiny little cog in a giant machine. You have your part to play, and you do it. For most of the time, however, you are working alone. What you need to do is set up your own private collaborators, who have nothing to do with the contract itself.
Your collaborators are the people around you. Your partner, friends and family need a broad outline of your plan and regular updates on how things are going. I showed my landlord (not that he is a literary man) my complimentary copy of O Grand Livro das Castas to give him an idea of what I was doing and to advise him that money would be coming to him at strange times of the month. Collaborators are support people who help you achieve your objective.
I immediately employed a proofreader. Not a professional proofreader, but someone with a wide general knowledge whose honesty I could rely on. This person was briefed to find obvious typos, but more importantly, to mark passages of my translated texts that still sounded “too German”.
Every Friday, I would print out the week’s work and take the pages to her. In return, I would receive the revised pages of the previous week. Sometimes the thought of this brief “reality check” and chat over coffee was the only thing that kept me going.
Minor collaborators include your routine activities. If you always do something at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, continue to do it, especially if it gives you a chance to get away from the desk. Life does go on after completion of a large project; there is no reason to stop everything during the project. You do, however, have to achieve your daily targets, even if this means having a longer day to fit in your Wednesday afternoon commitment.
One other important consideration is collaboration with your existing clients. At the start of the project I only had a few clients I could call regular. Once I was certain that the project was mine, I let them all know. When the project was definitely over, I informed them. Some of those clients continue to give me regular work; others do not. If you think you can take on a project of this magnitude and continue with your regular clients, do bear in mind that a large project has a way of consuming your every waking moment (and half your dream life). This, I believe is a necessary part of the process we call achieving excellence. Sustained focused effort judiciously and intelligently applied produces excellence. Believe me, any distractions you allow will reflect in your work, and detract from achieving your objective.
Crazily, though, I did take on a new Pt-En client in early May, and spent a day and a half doing the job. Different subject, different language pair. A change is as good as a holiday, I thought, and indeed it did prove to be a sanity-preserver.
On a project on a specific subject, you have to determine your main sources of research. I already knew from my “sample” translation of the Abstract that there were more than ample resources online. If I could not have found what I needed online, my first port of call would have been the author (who has an extensive private library). In fact, one term had me doing my nut in. I asked the author, and he had the term straight away – with conviction. Job done.
Online research, however, is not always free. Were I to negotiate the contract now, I may well have insisted on about €300 to be used specifically for subscription to trade journals for more rapid access to the answers I needed.
Immersion and active learning
Collaboration with one’s author is a fine thing indeed, but it is no substitute for work on one’s own – the kind of work which pushes the boundaries of your knowledge zone, your comfort zone, and even your method.
Immersion in the subject matter while conducting your research is a process of active learning. Even if we learn something in a foreign language, some part of our brain helps us understand it in terms of our mother tongue (hence the need for sleep!). The discernment one acquires as a result of active learning as well as the filtering process our brains do during sleep contribute to the quality and precision of the translated text. The effort can be enormous; the results are worth the effort.
One can never lose sight of the simple objective in this case: to produce a volume in English. The work has to pass the following standard: Would another professional translator in the same language pair, or a discerning reader familiar with this subject be able to tell that this is a translation? If the answer is an unequivocal “no” then – and only then – has the translation been successful.
Dealing with the quality of the source text
The other equally harsh question one must constantly ask: Would another specialist in this field accept this text as valid? Would he or she pick holes in it? Now, as a translator, one cannot be criticised for the quality of the content of the source text, but if the content is erroneous in any way, this has to be raised as an issue.
This is where research and collaboration meet. Simply put, if what you are translating does not make sense, you have to find someone (the author, or someone in his collaborative constellation) who can rewrite the passage so that it does. I can hear some people saying, “I am just the translator – that is not my responsibility”. Yes, it is. Your name is on the title page. Whatever is wrong with the translation – even if it is finely translated nonsense – will be your fault, and yours alone. Channels of command have to be observed in these cases, because this is what engenders the greatest amount of co-operation with you, the translator. This kind of collaboration requires tact, firmness, good timing, and a solid basis of fact (research backup). This could be one of the things that chews into your 25% contingency on time.
Bringing all past experiences to your translation
Collaboration does not only occur with people. In the translation process, it occurs with aspects of yourself.
You bring your whole life’s experience to each and every new experience you have, whether or not you are conscious of it. Similarly, with every new text you translate, you bring to that translation the experience of every single translation you have previously performed in your life. You also bring every other (non-translation) experience you have had.
On the surface, I was contracted as a German to English translator. The text itself has a sprinkling of French and Latin, and has Spanish and Portuguese placenames and names of historical figures, and others throughout. If there was an accent missing on a Portuguese place name, I put it back in. Typographical errors in all of the above languages were corrected and verified. Part of the job of a German to English translator? I do not know the answer to that question. Perfectionism? You bet!
Understanding how the author thinks
Next, is a rather nebulous factor: The native German author has lived in Portugal for the last 40 years, and his German has suffered somewhat as a result. He speaks Portuguese and English. The key to occasional strange word use was to say the word out loud as if it were Portuguese. Bingo! He had simply germanicised a Portuguese word. If I did not have the habit of reading aloud problem sentences, and if I had no knowledge of Portuguese, I would not have thought of that.
This phenomenon was not confined to the lexical level either. Sometimes, the ordering of thoughts in sentences followed a Portuguese pattern more than a German one, as did those lexical items which join thoughts from one sentence to another. This required an intuitive approach. I never raised this issue with the author, and I will not criticise him for it, because we all have our own linguistic idiosyncrasies which contribute to the dynamic nature of language itself. Being able to meet the author, converse with him on matters not necessarily related to the book and listen to how he spoke in English and Portuguese gave me an inkling as to “how he thinks” and was a valuable tool in deciphering a number of passages in this work.
Doing research in different languages
Now to the language of research. Let us remember that the broad subject was grapevines, not wine, yet the two are closely linked. Collaborating authors on this work were Spanish and Portuguese. Historically, it is not only these two nationalities which have contributed to the literature, but also the Italians, Germans and French in no particular order, and well as many others. This means that frequently I had a choice of language in which I could read background information. A typical route may have been to go from German to French and thence to the English term I required. Sometimes the only background information available to me was in Portuguese or Spanish. As I have already mentioned, Spanish is not one of my languages, but as many who know Portuguese will tell you, one can have a rudimentary understanding of Spanish if one knows Portuguese. There were various brief incursions into Latin poetry too, and these sorely tested my memory of fragments learned over 30 years ago. The latter also made me realise that only the dullest excerpts are chosen for the school syllabus.
Had I not been able to understand these languages, I would have been forced to engage in more collaboration with someone who could tell me in a language I understand what the information said. This would have been potentially tiresome and costly in terms of time, and may not have yielded the best answers.
Le mot juste
As translators, we conduct research for two basic reasons: to ensure we have a proper understanding of the text to be translated; and to ensure that we use the correct terminology in the target text.
The Yes! feeling of piecing the puzzle together is a very private one, and short-lived. Private, because, once again, no-one wants to know how long it took you to find le mot juste; short-lived because of the next terminological query further down the page. This is the painstaking part of translation where the only collaboration is between the text, you, and the text you are crafting into a translation. Woe betide anyone who disturbs you in these, the purest of moments!
My most valuable partner
My most valuable and cherished experience in the entire process was the true collaboration I experienced with the English revisor who was originally employed by the now bankrupt publisher, but whom the author himself paid to proofread the final translation.
As translator, I had the final say on the copy; something which I insisted on during contract negotiation. This meant that the revisor proofread the entire text, made occasional queries as to content, and returned the documents to me to accept or reject changes prior to my sending the final to the design and layout team at the publishers. She was efficient, professional, meticulous, and had a good sense of humour.
We met first on the telephone, had countless e-mail exchanges, and met in person at the launch. As a Portuguese and Spanish to English translator, she brought a wealth of cultural and linguistic knowledge to her work. Her relative distance from the text provided the impetus needed for it to become truly polished. This is something I freely acknowledge I could not have done on my own. In the spirit of collaboration, we both duly expressed to the author the excellence of our co-operation and the high mutual esteem which had developed as a result.
The final proofs
The next collaboration was perhaps the most difficult for me; signing off on the final proofs. The language shared by me, two layout and design men and the author was Portuguese. Any changes, therefore, had to be documented in Portuguese. This meant a fairly sharp learning curve for me. It is one thing to translate from Portuguese into English; it was quite another for me to express myself clearly in Portuguese when the state of the final proofs depended on it!
This was a type of mental gymnastics I had not performed before. I am glad of the experience and know that the two I collaborated with found it rewarding too. I am sure I made several linguistic gaffes; we all needed a bit of laughter by deadline stage and I did not mind being the one providing the humour. The fact that we had met in person at the author’s home in mid-June reveals that the author certainly knows a thing or two himself about successful collaboration.
Launching the German- and Portuguese-language versions
The launch of the published hardcover German and Portuguese versions took place at the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon on 15 September 2011.
In search of a publisher for the English-language version
I have a soft cover copy of the English volume. Some discerning (English) readers have read it and given positive personal reviews.
I have continued my collaboration with the author and one or two others in the search for a publisher. Now, all the book needs is for the head of a major publishing firm to holiday in the Algarve this summer.
The grapevine can do the rest.
I wonder if any of the above strikes a chord with fellow translators who have dealt with a similar project. We would welcome your comments and stories!