Janet Rubin has been working as a German language translator with her business Language2Language for over a decade now, and has a long list of satisfied clients. Currently based in Australia, Janet has also lived and worked in Germany and the USA, and travels to both these countries each year. She specializes in legal, financial, insurance, corporate, and marketing translations.
(Interview Part 1) / Part 2....
Do you use a CAT tool, such as Trados? Has a CAT tool revolutionized your work as a translator?
I have used Trados, STARTransit (for one client), WordFast (for one agency), and now MemoQ.
I fell off the Trados wagon way back when they switched from the .lic file to the “returnable” license (you always need a paid license to use the “full” version of a CAT tool). There were all sorts of problems reported and I just did not want to be restricted to having to “return” my license to the server before being able to reinstall.
I kept using my old version of Trados for several years and had no significant problems or need for the upgrades.
I used STARTransit mostly for its terminology database, and I never saw the need to migrate to it; I had started using Trados at around the same time, anyway.
I found the functionality of WordFast Classic very similar to Trados, but I tried out WordFast Pro a few times and it didn’t seem like a good fit for me. I only had one client “requiring” it, and I worked for them very rarely, so it just wasn’t necessary to keep it.
I did eventually want a newer version of a CAT tool though, so on the advice of a colleague I migrated to MemoQ a little over a year ago. I’ve had pretty good results with MemoQ, but my requirements are also pretty simple, I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.
As for CAT tools in general, I find that they can be very helpful to the translator as exactly that: tools. But in my particular specialties (legal, financial, insurance, marketing texts) – and especially with translations involving the German language – they simply don’t provide the productivity increases that agencies are always hyping, and I rarely if ever offer any discounts based on the use of a CAT tool.
As a matter of fact, although “comparing” similar, previously translated sentences (so-called “fuzzy matches”) can provide a wonderful opportunity to improve consistency and learn and/or evolve from earlier phrasing, language use or style, the process itself can actually *increase* the time it takes to translate a particular sentence in comparison to translating from scratch – especially given the idiosyncrasies of the German language.
Before I used CAT tools, I used my memory for the same functions, and my memory itself probably functioned better. I could remember where to look for a translation of the same or similar German text in previous projects, and I could simply use the “Find” function within a single document or project to do the same for the language used there.
For me, the greatest advantage of using a CAT tool is that I don’t need to rely on my memory that way anymore – and I think that after nearly 13 years of working as a German translator, that’s probably a good thing!
How aware are your clients about the work involved in translating? Do customers understand that prices can vary according to timing, format or the nature of the translation, or are they only interested in line rates?
Most of my current clients are agencies, and although most do prefer to have a “set rate on file”, most also understand very well the work that’s involved in translating from the German language into English, and the fact that a translator may need to charge a different rate depending on various factors (type and difficulty of the document, format, timing, etc.).
They aren’t always able to convince the end-client, but the agencies I deal with are all very professional and will not argue with me about the basic principle.
There is one agency I have been working with for probably over a decade, and they used to tell me that they simply didn’t charge their customers different prices based on these factors. If you could fit a translation into your schedule (overtime, overnight, over the weekend, whenever), then you either did it for the same price, or you could politely decline.
Over the last several years, however, I noticed that things definitely have changed on that front – possibly even because of me, who knows? Because any time I am asked (for example) to work outside of normal business hours or to do anything out of the norm (for example, formatting a translation because only a .pdf document is supplied), I will apply a surcharge – if that is not agreed to, then I will definitely “politely decline”.
As we say on the forums, your head will spin when you see how fast an “urgent” translation loses its urgency when a surcharge is imposed. Suddenly the request is not “how quickly could you get this back to us?”, but “when could you get this back to us at your standard rates?”.
By the same token, Word documents often suddenly become available after a surcharge for .pdf-related formatting is mentioned.
By the way, although charging by the line has been the standard for years in the German-English language pair, many agencies and especially end-clients now ask for quotes by the word (often per source word) or even a flat price.
So aside from charging appropriate rates for extra or overtime work, I would also advise translators out there to be prepared to quote in different pricing formats, and to know the difference between your source and target text pricing.
I see you've moved from blogging to post regularly on Facebook. Has this paid off? Are you getting to the audience you want? What tips do you have for other translators using social networks to promote their work as German language translators?
To be painfully honest, I don’t think I was ever going to be much of a blogger.
Oh, I have a lot to say, but not all of it is suitable for the public domain (you have to be really careful about that!), and mostly I just don’t have the time.
Moving over to Facebook has allowed me to simply “post” and “link” things of interest to me, things that I feel might also reverberate with colleagues or clients, in short snippets, whenever I have a moment or two.
It’s also fairly popular, which means a lot of people are already “there” and they don’t have to go to a separate website or “subscribe” to find out what it is you have to say.
I don’t really use social networks to promote my services, so I’m not the best person to ask about that specifically.
What I’m interested in is learning about what’s going on, and in having a dialog with my colleagues. The forums I mentioned above help me do that, and I would definitely recommend joining online groups and networks similar to the ones I mentioned for that purpose.
If done right, raising your profile among your German language translation colleagues is definitely not going to hurt, and may actually help you gain business, because it is often those same colleagues that will lead you to new projects and new clients.
With business contact numbers on 3 continents - Europe, the US and Australia - you are truly international. Do you feel you are representative of a new breed of translator?
I don’t actually know many translators like myself, so I’m not sure I can answer that.
I do know that many translators have become “transplants”, no longer living in the country of their birth or of their education, so I would guess that’s becoming rather more common now.
I think what I am truly representative of – for better or for worse – is the new, somewhat workaholic attitude that has seemed to come pre-packaged with the Internet and the cell – sorry, mobile – sorry, smartphone.
Now we can all be “plugged in” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That can be a terrible temptation for marketing purposes. “Hey, look at me, I’m here! Contact me any time, day or night, I’ll help you out!”
Of course, I don’t think any of us really want to do that, so it’s something to be wary about offering or even implying.
In my particular case, I kept my numbers from the various countries I have lived in mostly because I didn’t want my clients (and prospective clients) to feel that my move halfway around the globe was going to make it more difficult to work with me.
I wanted to show them, “Hey, look at me, you can reach me in the same way and at the same time as you always have, I’m here for you!”.
Is this reflected in client locations? Are they truly global? Do you feel location is irrelevant when buying German translation services these days?
I think translation services in general – buying or selling – can be “truly global”, but those involved need to think very carefully about how they go about this.
parties need to think about – and find out as much as they can about – who they
are dealing with on the other end. If you’re a buyer,
how can you be sure that you will be receiving the “product” that meets your
Translators working with the German language also have to deal with a number of similar questions.
There are a lot of risks and complications in being in different time zones, different countries, and different legal systems, so I don’t think location will ever be completely “irrelevant”.
What I do believe (from experience) is that it can be reduced to a “manageable factor”, and the key here is to pay close attention to the management.
I'm very impressed by the professionalism of your website and the way you market your German translation services. Do you see a trend to increasing professionalism amongst freelance translators?
Well, first of all, thank you very much for the compliment! A lot of time and money went into that website, so it’s always nice when it’s appreciated.
The fact of the matter is, I was pretty appalled a few years ago by most of the translator websites I found online, and I made a conscious decision to try to stand out from the crowd, as it were.
Most translators I knew were extremely professional, but when it came to their websites, it was an entirely different matter.
I couldn’t honestly tell you if things have changed since then, because I no longer spend hours trawling through the Internet looking for ideas or comparable sites.
What I believe, though, is that most translators simply don’t have the resources that (for example) an agency has, and they’re not eager to spend money they could be using for their business, their families, their living expenses, their health insurance, their vacation, or simply their savings.
They have different goals and use different methods of promoting their services than agencies do, so a flashy website is just not a priority.
Not only that, there are also special legal requirements for German language websites run in Germany (for example), which can potentially create yet another design hurdle.
I took it upon myself to create something different with my website, something more “professional” than many of my colleagues, because for me personally, I just felt this was very important as my calling card, my Internet “presence” as the Germans like to say.
But I was lucky to have been able to set aside the money – a lot of money – to do just that.
It’s not for everyone, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing some of my colleagues enhance their websites with at least a nice business-style template.
I think the more of our colleagues have professional, business-like websites, the better impression this makes on behalf of the profession as a whole.
Where do you see the translation industry in 20 years?
No industry is static, and ours is no exception.
I think a lot of people are fearful that the industry will be reduced to cheap, third-world (i.e. low-quality) translations and mind-numbing, low-paid post-editing projects.
It’s a scary proposition, and it would certainly seem in that situation that “translators” as we understand the word would no longer be needed. I know many translators faced with that as a reality would seek other forms of work, myself included.
I don’t know if that will happen, and I don’t want to forecast that it will or even imagine that it will – but I do sense danger here, the fact that it is a distinct possibility, if slightly less so for translation work involving the German language in particular.
Right now, IMHO it is definitely more difficult to command good rates and to find clients that are willing to value quality over price, despite claims to the contrary. Some of that is due to the recent financial crisis, and so things may still change for the better. The industry is growing new muscles and is in the early stages of learning how to flex them, but with growth spurts comes the need to relearn how to balance.
Our opportunities as translators working with the German language will come in guiding the industry back to a place where it can balance – efficiency and productivity versus reliability and quality – and above all, a price that is fair for those doing the work.
For the long term I can’t predict either a more positive or a more negative outcome, but like most people, I fear for the worst and hope for the best – and work toward making the latter become the reality.
Now, if you were to ask me what I think the industry will be like in 100 years, I would say that it will definitely be unrecognizable from what it is today – and yes, the profession of “translator” as we know it will likely be extinct.
But then, at that point we will be “communications officers” and – who knows – we might be specializing in xenolinguistics at Starfleet Academy!
Any pet translation hates?
Clients that insist on “their” terminology even when they are wrong, especially when provided with evidence about the correct terminology.
Translations that have become “standard” and therefore “expected” even though they are obviously literal translations that have no comparative/common meaning in English.
Clients who ask seemingly unending questions about the specific target language used because, for one reason or another, they seem to think that they know better than the professional translator who is a native speaker of the target language. (Unfortunately, not uncommon among speakers of the German language who think they “can English”)
With regard to marketing texts in particular: Clients who ask questions after a project has been completed about “just a few more words” they want to translate, not realizing or understanding that sometimes coming up with or choosing the right translation of just a few words for marketing purposes can take hours – hours that they apparently don’t think they should pay for.
One thing you'll never hear me say about translation:
I don’t think you will ever hear me say that translation is boring. Apart from being fun and challenging, it can be frustrating, nerve-racking, stressful, difficult, complicated, exhausting, and even maddening – but never boring!
My favorite translation joke:
When I was looking for interesting factoids and funny bits to put into my website (shameless self-promotion: See the “Serendipity” section!), I found quite a few amusing comments from Mark Twain about the German language, here are just two about verbs I like in particular:
“Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.”
“The Germans have an inhuman way of cutting up their verbs. Now a verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it's all together. It's downright inhuman to split it up. But that's just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between these two limits they just shovel in German.”
(More from Mark Twain about the Awful German Language)
Many thanks Janet, you’ve provided some extremely valuable insights for all of us translators.
If you’re interested in Janet’s services as a German language translator, please contact Language2Language.
(Return to Part one of my interview with German language translator Janet Rubin)