In August I rediscovered what an exceptionally beautiful part of the world the Lake District is (we were blessed with sunshine throughout our stay, however). Now that Brexit has probably scuppered my plans of moving back to the Continent to retire near the lakes in northern Italy to be close to family, I might just end up in the Lake District instead.
Back home trying to work in the heat of what has been a scorching summer, desperately trying to screen out the annoying tittering laugh of the young man on one side, who seems to have spent his entire summer kicking a ball against our fence (thunk, thunk, thunk), the older man on the other side running his business outdoors on the phone with his gravelly voice, chucked out of the house by his wife so he doesn’t fill it with his chain smoking, and the holidaying teenagers on the inside of mine with their endless calls of “mum!” I’ve been dreaming of a quiet country house by the lakes when the kids have finally moved out where I might actually be able to hear myself think. I cannot imagine how people can concentrate enough to get things done in open-plan offices or why attending jellies is popular since I always seem to gravitate towards the quietest part of our property.
I also learned, if you care to believe everything you read, that there are only:
“two ‘breeds’ of translators: Those who work with MT and serve the bulk market via agencies … The others are translators … focusing on high quality translations … They tend to work for direct clients.”
To be quite honest, I find this remark by Tanya Quintieri on the Open Mic quite offensive and an oversimplified view of the current market situation. I have long been bothered by some of the rhetoric that gets bandied about and I feel the time has come to take a stand and stop this colleague bashing. However “premium”, high-earning, successful and absolutely brilliant a colleague is, that does not give them the right to tarnish everyone they view as beneath them with a broad-sweeping “bulk” brush and to accuse others of not caring about quality, working with MT as post-editors, or being intrinsically bad.
the time has come to take a stand and stop this colleague bashing
I appreciate that some high-end translators take the time to give us advice on how to improve; I read their viewpoints with interest and try to implement the aspects I feel apply to me. But telling complaining translators to just get off their backsides and seek direct clients is not the panacea so many claim it is for us all. In fact, it’s only a long-term solution for the individual that has the wherewithal to do so.
We need a different solution, one that improves the working conditions for everyone in the profession/sector/industry, whichever way you care to look at it, from the bottom up rather than merely opening the door for a few at the top. I believe there’s room in translation for us all, from the shining stars we all admire to those still finding their feet and including those of us who are good at what we do but aren’t as adept at business, marketing, negotiation and perhaps don’t (yet?) exude that sparkle of brilliance that makes our work burst into song.
As Kevin Hendzel, Chris Durban and a few other premium practitioners so rightly reiterate, our sector contains an entire continuum (also mentioned in Kevin’s comment on a previous post of mine on this same topic) or spectrum (read the comments below Martin Boyd’s post) of translators. And we all have every right to make a living from translation, do so in good conditions and be respected by others within and outside our profession.
not every client can be properly served by an individual translator
Tanya’s is the first article I’ve seen giving advice on how to poach a direct client from another translator. Perhaps it won’t be long before trade shows are flooded with translators working the venue and sidling up to stalls offering to undercut the price quoted by the colleague they’ve just seen leave their business card. The direct-client route might work for certain clients, in certain languages and in certain situations. But not every client can be properly served by an individual translator, either because a high volume, multiple languages or different specialisms are required within the same company.
If you land a direct client who can offer you the amount of work you are capable of handling to keep you happy, or a one-off assignment, that’s fantastic. But as soon as they want more, you’re going to find yourself having to outsource and control others’ work and payments, etc., or recommend colleagues to your client, which can also be fraught with difficulties, especially if they then don’t meet your client’s expectations. Personally, I don’t want to turn into a boutique agency. I don’t want the hassle of dealing with clients, setting up face-to-face meetings or chatting on the phone. This isn’t me and I don’t see why I should be made to feel wanting because this is not the avenue I pursue at all costs.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the crème de la crème charging premium rates and working for the best clients. They have earned and deserve their success through their studies and efforts and I admire them for it. I do object, however, to the condescending attitude that everyone else is “bulk” and deserves their “crappy” lot: low rates, awful conditions, uninteresting jobs, etc.
Given that agencies aren’t going away anytime soon because companies need the services they provide, and high volume into multiple languages doesn’t necessarily equate to shoddy quality, agency work is a path many want to follow (please see Ted R. Wozniak’s post in the ATA’s Savvy Newcomer on unashamedly working for agencies and the advantages this entails). That’s why we need to focus on improving our relationship with agencies by honing our translation skills and fighting for our rights to good rates, decent payment terms, suitable deadlines, respectful contracts, etc.
the art of translation is the one skill translators can’t do without
On the subject of becoming better translators, I was lucky enough to go to a dinner in the hall at King’s College during Translate in Cambridge and rub shoulders for a short while with some of our profession’s greats. I had toyed with the idea of attending the whole event despite only translating from Spanish into English, but I had been put off by the language-pair field in the form as it only gave two options (FR-EN and EN-FR). With hindsight, I shouldn’t have let that deter me as there were quite a few observers specialising in other combinations and they managed to gain a great deal of insight into the translation process and valuable tips (see for example Kari Koonin’s post).
Translate in … events are in the pipeline for a larger selection of language pairs so more of us can take our work to the next level. And as many are now calling for and providing (see this post by Oliver Lawrence – and again, read the comments), translation slams and workshops, webinars, conference talks and even blog posts focusing on the art of translation are going to become more common in future. It is, after all, the one skill translators can’t do without.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you’ll find all the instalments listed on the Reflections & Resolutions page.
Photograph of dinner at Translate in Cambridge taken by Nelia Fahloun and used with kind permission.