UEA was frequently observed in my day (doesn’t that make me sound old!) to stand for the University of Endless Acronyms, so it was a fitting venue for a CPD day with the ITI EARG (East Anglia Regional Group) on Saturday 7 February. It was very strange to find myself back in a seminar room in the James Platt Centre a good 12 years after graduating for the second time! (That makes me feel even older…)
Following introductions, Dr Joanna Drugan gave a talk on ‘What happens to your translations when you have handed them back to the client or the agency?’. This was based on her extensive research on applied translation in a real world context. Jo asked us about our expectations and experience of what happens when a translation is handed over to an agency or direct client, and also whether we ask about these things when we take on a new client. The subsequent discussion illustrated that there are considerable differences in approach, and that many of us were making assumptions or unsure what actually happens to our texts. Those people who had previously worked in-house at translation agencies were able to give us a valuable insight into the way they work, for example in terms of the different levels of checking, depending on what the client has paid for and the level of trust in any given freelancer. Some agencies use an approach called “linguistic validation” where the text is then translated back into the source language to see if it still conveys the original ideas, while others carry out “proofchecking” which involves project managers looking for number errors, typos etc even if they don’t know the languages involved.
Other issues raised: what about direct clients who don’t speak the target language? Do they just take translations on trust? What happens when a translator and proofreader disagree? Who has the final say? Do translators get to see the text after proofreading and before publication/handing over to the end client? Agencies and end clients often observe that translators improve the source text (ST) by picking up on errors that have previously been missed, ambiguities etc.
Then there is a lack of shared understanding of the meanings of and differences between editing, revising and proofreading – using differing terminology can result in a job being far more work than originally expected, for example. Does a client edit/revise/proofread a TL language text in isolation or with reference to the SL? A frequent approach is known as “sampling”. This involves detailed checking of a section of text and using that as a basis to decide how much scrutiny the rest will need. Problems can arise if changes are made and then not communicated to the translator. Where changes may be justified, it would be useful to know for professional development. Where unjustified – do we want our name attached to the end result?
Then there is the impact of international translation standards – these may be very cumbersome making it impractical/inefficient to be compliant for every job. Not everything relevant to quality is actually quantifiable. Sometimes standards lead to a focus on the wrong aspects, as we see (often to our cost) with other watchdogs, such as Ofsted, which often end up “counting what can be counted, not what counts”. Mari says this is a cliché in data circles, but it’s certainly worth flagging up.
Direct clients may not engage with quality – they may consider that they have outsourced translation to an expert and leave it up to us. Agencies sometimes make assumptions on a client’s behalf about the level of service/quality/checking they require.
Jo’s take-home points were: technology is changing approaches in many ways, not just machine translation and its pre- or post-editing. We should not assume that any quality control will be carried out and this has implications for ownership, responsibility and potential for reputational damage. *
We then adjourned for an excellent lunch at the Sainsbury Centre (it has a fantastic climbing tree outside it, maybe we could use that to get the boys there while we look at art…!) before returning for an afternoon of more informal discussions. The first topic was the perennial issue of negotiation and rates. Are there legitimate reasons to give an agency or client a discount? If so, what are they? Are volume discounts OK because a bigger project means less admin, or do they mean that we are doing more work for less money and potentially losing other projects by turning clients down? Some people prefer to offer a discount on smaller projects because it means losing out on less. Others offer a discount for a longer timescale as it allows time to take on other jobs at the same time.
It was pointed out that low rates mean working more to make a living, resulting in a lack of time for CPD or funding for CAT tools, professional memberships etc. This argument might not go down so well with direct clients, who are interested in quality – somebody else might do the job cheaper, but will they do it well?
Several people said that they charge extra for PDFs and other non-editable formats. This sometimes results in the file magically turning up in a different format after all… Similarly, there was discussion of higher charges for evening/weekend work and rush jobs.
When it came to raising rates with agencies, it was noted that this might result in a freelancer being dropped down the order in a database, but that doesn’t necessarily equal losing out. You might end up getting more money for less work. Not being VAT registered can make a difference when working for agencies in countries where nationals have to register. They might then afford a higher rate if they aren’t paying VAT on top.
Tips for raising rates: quote higher prices to new clients. Keep applying to new agencies so a few lost ones make less difference. Send out a service presentation of what you offer rather than a CV. Drop bad payers. Build rapport with clients/PMs. Find other networks as a source of work, e.g. web designers who can then suggest you to their clients as they build them a new website.
The other topic was literary versus commercial translation and specialisations. I found myself explaining (my understanding of) how the literary translation world is different from commercial translation, how to find out about translation rights, approach publishers etc. Other areas of specialisation discussed were song translations – something maybe done less commonly these days, (last year’s ITD conference touched on opera translation though) – tourism and green energy/ the environment.
Tips for building up a specialisation: go to trade fairs in the subject area, read trade publications, concentrate on areas you’re already familiar with, learn as you go, do pro bono work for charities etc to gain experience, Translators Without Borders, research. Mention to existing agencies that you would like to move into a new area so that they add that to their databases. Consider doing short courses or diplomas in the subject area. Another suggestion was that where specific terminology is hard to find, it can be worth writing to senior academics in the field who are often happy to help.
And of course, after a hard day’s talking, some of us repaired to the pub for drinks, dinner and socialising. There we collided with a large wedding party and established that cycling is faster than the number 25 bus… All in all, it was an enjoyable and rewarding day, and further proof, if any were needed, that Norwich is the centre of the translation universe. Many thanks to the organisers, and here’s to the next one!
If you have any tips to add to those I’ve got here, do share them in the comments.
* For further reading, see: Dr Joanna Dugan, Quality In Professional Translation, Assessment and Improvement, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.