Books on My Shelves – Diversification in the Language Industry

Honesty is the best policy, so I will admit that when I first heard of this book my reaction was firmly in the “why is diversification necessary” camp. After all, I gave up teaching to translate because heading off to classes for a few hours every day was not compatible with being available to translate for clients full-time, at least not as far as I was concerned. And I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to teaching part-time out of necessity. It might surprise you then that I bothered to buy it if that was how I felt. Why did I feel the need to read a book that announces on the back cover that it “will inspire today’s translators and set them up for success beyond translation” (their italics, not mine)?

Curiosity would probably be the best way to sum up my reasons. I was attracted by the long list of contributors, most of whom are on the conference circuit, and I was eager to discover their views on our constantly-changing industry, especially as machine translation looms larger than ever before, and the recession is still having a huge impact on the market most of my work comes from (Spain), with the subsequent pressure on prices and drop in the volume of work.

I was surprised to learn that, according to some contributors, I already diversify by offering revision and review services, i.e. checking other translators’ work and editing papers and articles written directly into English (in my case by non-native speakers). According to others, however, the fact that I want to branch out into proofreading and copy-editing is hardly diversification at all. This difference in opinion highlights one of the most refreshing aspects of this book. With so many views there is bound to be at least one you can relate to.

As mentioned by some of the contributors, diversification can be seen as failure. Spreading your wings because your earnings from translation alone do not suffice may imply there is something rotten in your core business. Yet for others who have diversified, the income they earn from the new activity is not necessarily enough to make it worth their while. They do it because it gives them personal satisfaction and/or raises their profile. Making money from something you start as a hobby or a bit of fun is merely an added bonus.

I was also quite shocked to read so many doom and gloom messages between the lines. For many contributors diversification is essential since making a decent living from just translation in our day and age is no longer feasible. This is partly because our industry is “sadly dominated by agencies and a downward pressure on rates” (Clare Gallagher), or as Jane Freeman bluntly puts it, “translator rates are being cut”. For some the answer to this is to increase productivity, although I do not personally share Anne-Marie Colliander Lind’s view that “translators, with the help of technology, can generate outputs of 5,000 to 10,000 words per day”, unless, of course, “the share of ‘acceptable quality’ and ‘for information purposes only’ translations” (Oleg Rudavin) does indeed continue to grow.

Will we all become post-editors in the future, acquiring a “different mindset” so we learn “to use as much of the machine translation as possible”, and “only change what is incorrect or inappropriate” (Tineke Van Beukering)? No, definitely not, especially if we are specialists in fields where accuracy and style are paramount. Yet we cannot ignore advances in technology, and throughout the book we are encouraged again and again to embrace the new rather than dismiss it out of hand. As Judy Jenner says, “all entrepreneurs must adapt to change to be successful in the long run”.

There are a number of pressing issues in our industry of late, and whether to diversify or not is certainly one of them. However you decide to go forward in your own business, this book will, at the very least, give you much food for thought. If nothing else, even though you may have no intention of diversifying and are already successful in your niche, I would recommend you read Diversification in the Language Industry by Nicole Y. Adams just to gain a glimpse of how varied the lives of our fellow translators can be.

 This post was first published on 10/02/2014 on my previous blog.

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