Professional Suicide

The internet is a great thing, but it comes with many dangers, and too often we've heard of and read about professionals committing what amounts to professional suicide online. We aren't just referring to professionals in our line of work, but in any other. 

This can come in a variety of shapes and forms, including leaking confidential information, writing mean things about clients, colleagues, and vendors, spreading rumors, etc. It can seem very easy to vent on Twitter, Facebook, listservs, LinkedIn groups or any other public (or even protected) forum, but our short piece of advice here is: don't do it. Resist the temptation to make anything public that you might regret later. We don't want to scare you at all, but here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to netiquette. Remember that your reputation is one of the only things you have. Let's delve into some more specifics here:

  • It is completely normal to be mad/annoyed/incredibly ticked off once in a while. It happens to us, too. However, as tempting as it may be, the internet is not the place to air your grievances, especially if you are going to be naming names. There are, as always, no black and white rules, but while we think it's of course completely acceptable to tweet that you are exhausted and not having a great day, we'd say it's not acceptable to say you are exhausted because annoying client XYZ won't stop bombarding you with e-mails. Without clients, you have nothing, so be careful what you say about them. We generally don't ever have anything negative to say about our lovely clients, but if and when we do, we discuss this in person with each other or our inside circle.
  • Use the newspaper rule. If it could potentially make you unhappy to see anything you are about to type in next morning's newspaper, then don't do it. If you hesitate about whether you should post something, don't do it.
  • Think twice before sending an angry e-mail. Invasion of privacy and computer hacking issues aside, e-mail can be viewed as a somewhat private form of communication. However, e-mails can be forwarded and shared, and while it's tempting to fire off a snarky response to an e-mail, we suggest thinking twice before hitting the send button. Better yet: have someone you trust read your e-mail to make sure it's acceptable. While it's entirely person that the person who sent you the e-mail is rude and unreasonable, you don't need to respond the same way. Being nice is always better.
  • Stay away from gossip. We don't see any good reason to gossip about others. Nothing good ever comes out of talking badly about others. A good rule would be: if you don't have anything good to say about someone, just be quiet and try to surround yourself with positive people.
  • The beauty and danger of listservs. We truly love the listservs of the many professional associations we belong to, but they can also be a minefield. E-mail certainly isn't the best form of communication, especially when there's conflict, so we avoid getting into any sort of argument via e-mail. These lists are meant to be a positive place to exchange ideas and to solve linguistic puzzles, and everyone tends to be very, very helpful. However, once in a while 1,000+ people have to witness a personal spat between two members, and that's not a great idea. There's never any reason to air any grievances on a forum that thousands of people can read. Our tip: if you have a dispute with a colleague, take him or her to coffee and talk about it privately. If you don't live in the same city, set up a phone call. It's sad to see that some users have to get banned from listservs because they cannot stick to the netiquette rules, and unfortunately, others remember very clearly who they are.
  • Go for a walk. Again, we all get angry and annoyed. Customers and even colleagues can be unreasonable and treat you poorly, which is a fact of life. Before you make your next move, clear your head, go for a walk and ask yourself: "Will this matter a year from now?" It probably won't. Pet a friendly dog while you are out on that walk and remind yourself that no matter how tough business can be, working for yourself is truly marvelous.
What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any other recommendations on this important topic? What's the behavior that should be avoided? We look forward to your comments.

Just Pay Me!

Sooner or later, every professional linguist will be confronted with a customer who doesn't pay for services rendered. While this is highly annoying, it's important to remember that it's usually not personal, but it sure does feel personal when you aren't compensated for your hard work, doesn't it? Now, just like most of our colleagues, we have been very lucky that in more than a decade in business, as we've only had a few non-payers. 

Photo by Judy.
We've had this great payment record because we ask for payment in advance when we work with non-corporate clients, only work with people we trust, and make sure that we have addresses and contact information for all new customers in case a dispute arises. In addition, every customer has to sign a contract agreeing to our price and terms, and that document would come in really handy if we had to go to court. In addition, in the rare case that we work with an agency for an interpreting case, we check their rating on the invaluable Payment Practices website. In spite of all these precautions, once in a while a customer hasn't paid, and here are some of the steps we've taken to remedy the situation.

  • Our payment terms are usually net 30, and if payment has not arrived after 45 days or so, we send a kind follow-up e-mail in very nice terms. Sometimes the check is in the mail (whether that's true or not) and sometimes something has slipped through the cracks, which can happen. If the customer did not have the intention of paying us promptly, this e-mail serves as a nice reminder that we are very much on top of our accounts receivable. In those cases, the situation is usually remedied very quickly.
  • If we don't hear back after that first e-mail or the customer is not too responsive, we call a few days later and/or e-mail and calmly remind the customer that we had a signed agreement, that services have been rendered and that we would like to get paid for our services in accordance with said agreement. If we don't get the response we need via e-mail or phone, we send a certified letter that the customer has to sign for and include the overdue invoice.
  • If there is still no appropriate response after several e-mails, phone calls and the certified letter or if we get an excuse along the lines of "the check was lost in the mail" and more than 90 days or so have passed, we send another letter saying that we need to resolve the matter by X day before getting a third party involved. We've only had to use that strategy a few times, and it's worked.
  • If all else fails, we take the matter to a collection agency (the ATA partners with RMS; we once referred an account to them that they did not manage to collect, so there was no fee) or, if the client is in the same jurisdiction as we are, another option is to take the client to small claims court. With a signed contract in hand, the case should be relatively clear, but even if you win, it's up to you and not the court to collect the outstanding amount. We've never taken anyone to small claims court, but in Europe, one of our clients filed for bankruptcy and we have a collection agency representing us in the bankruptcy proceedings. We are basically a low-level creditor to the company, and the odds of collecting are low, but it's worth the try.
  • On a few occasions, and if the client is in the same city, we have asked someone we trust to go the client's office and kindly tell them that they would wait until the check is issued. This is uncomfortable for all parties and usually yields the intended result: payment.

What about you, dear colleagues? How have you resolved non-payment issues? And how do they make you feel? As much as we know non-payment is not personal, it's still tough to deal with. We'd love to hear your comments and ideas. 

Fall Conference Schedule: Michigan

We are delighted to announce that Judy will be one of the two keynote speakers at the  MiTiN 2014 Regional Conference on Interpreting and Translation (Michigan Translators/Interpreters Network) on Saturday, October 2. She is quite honored to join Lori Thicke, founder of Lexworks and, most notably, the lovely Translators Without Border, which we proudly support through donations. In addition to her keynote titled "10 Habits of Highly Successful Interpreters and Translators," Judy is also giving a workshop titled "Pricing Strategies for Language Professionals." The motto of the 5th Annual MiTiN conference is "Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone," which should make for very interesting sessions. The MiTiN conference committee has been working very hard to put on this one-day event, and we hope that many of you can join us in Novi, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Please help us spread the word! The conference, which includes lunch and a networking session, will take place at the Crowne Plaza hotel, and there will also be some exhibitors.

Here's the conference schedule with all the sessions, and you can also visit the conference website.

Two Hands = Violinist?

Today we'd like to discuss one of our favorite topics -- why the simple fact that being bilingual doesn't automatically make anyone either a translator or an interpreter. There's significant training involved, but oftentimes outsiders to the profession equate bilingualism with professional translation and interpretation because writing and speaking is something we already know and do, so they don't perceive it as a learned skill. We've spent a few years trying to collect some convincing analogies, and depending on who we are talking to, we select from this list. Some might be more direct analogies than others, while others might be funnier. As always, take some of these with a grain of salt.

In addition, we like to add that just because you like to do something, it doesn't mean you do it well or that others would pay you to do it. For instance, just because you like to crochet doesn't mean that it's good enough that anyone wants to buy your work. Just because you like to dance doesn't mean that event planners will hire you as entertainment for their events. Passionate chess players might very well not be good enough to play payed exhibition matches -- but the professionals are. Enjoying something doesn't necessarily mean you are good enough that others will pay you for it, or, in other words, that it will have value in the marketplace. However, oddly enough, this is what the general public usually incorrectly assumes about languages skills and translation or interpretation. We rarely hear anyone say that they like numbers, ergo they are an accountant, perhaps because there are significant barrier to entry to becoming an accountant, but we digress.

We've written about this many times before, but we'll state it again: being bilingual is the minimum requirement for this job, just like having two hands is the minimum requirement for being a violinist. But having two hands doesn't automatically make you a violinist. And being bilingual doesn't automatically make you an interpreter or a translator, but all interpreters and translators are bilingual.

Now, without further delay, here are our analogies. Some might be better than others, and we look forward to hearing which ones you like!

Being bilingual doesn't make you a translator just like.....
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you a journalist.
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you an advertising copywriter.
  • being able to write in English doesn't make you a public relations professional.
  • being able to type doesn't make you a court reporter.
  • enjoying cooking doesn't make you a professional chef.
  • driving every day doesn't make you a race car driver.
  • being tall doesn't make you a basketball player.

Being bilingual doesn't make you an interpreter just like...
  • speaking English doesn't make you an actor.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a TV anchor.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a professional comedian.
  • speaking English doesn't make you a voice-over talent.
  • liking to argue doesn't make you a lawyer.

I Was Bored Before I Even Began

We created this image on
Many times, we hear from newcomers to the profession that they want to become translators and/or interpreters because they love languages and really enjoy working for themselves. Those are two excellent reasons, but of course those two things don't make anyone a translator or interpreter, nor do they guarantee success, but we digress. Today we wanted to address some lesser-known facts of the business: much of it won't have anything to do with language at all, and some can be, well, a bit boring. We are not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that all adminstrative tasks are boring, but it does make for a catchy title. 

Most readers of this blog are experienced linguists and will certainly know that self-employed translators and interpreters have to devote a significant portion of their time to tasks that have absolutely nothing to do with language. These are neither fun tasks nor tasks that you can romanticize at all: they are the nitty-gritty basic tasks (some very easy, some challenging) that are necessary to run a business. They include highly interesting (yes, we are being sarcastic here) things such as:
  • Logging our mileage and our business expenses so we can deduct them from our taxes 
  • Calling customers who have not paid their invoices (does not happen very often)
  • Sending customers the requested paperwork (W-9s, confidentiality agreements)
  • Dealing with tax-related paperwork
  • Paying our bills and your vendors
  • Renewing business licenses and dealing with government bureaucracies
  • Going to see our accountants and lawyer, etc. 
On the other hand, there are many routine tasks that we enjoy very much, such as:
  • Issuing invoices
  • Working in our trusty accounting system, Translation Office 3000
  • Corresponding with clients
  • Depositing checks
  • Checking the online balances of our accounts
Others are not boring, but can be taxing, such as:
  • Dealing with computer challenges
  • Doing software upgrades
  • Calling the bank again to deal with an incorrect charge
In addition, we frequently outsource work to a small group of our superstar contractors, so we oftentimes do project management and edit others' work, which is not boring at all, but can be quite cumbersome on the administrative level.

The point of this post is the following: newcomers to this profession must realize that while of course we work with language on a daily basis, all linguists devote part of their time to administrative tasks. Sometimes it's 30% of our day, sometimes it's 50%, sometimes it's even 100% (as happened during a recent computer crisis). We think it's important that newcomers know about this reality, which is why we share it here on this space as food for thought.

What about you, dear colleagues? How much time do you spend on boring (read: administrative) tasks every day? Which one is your least favorite? Do you have one that you actually like?

And surely music fans were quick to recognize the title of this post: it is a favorite line from an 80s song by The Smiths. The name of the song is "Shirtlifters of the World Unite." Yes, Judy is a huge The Smiths/Morrissey fan.

Spanish Grammar and Writing: In Pictures

Our friends over at Ortografía Real have been tweeting up a storm and have been sharing a large amount of interesting tidbits about the Spanish language. We really enjoy their tweets and their Facebook page, and highly recommend you follow them.

They recently tweeted two images that nicely illustrate some very common mistakes. If we had a penny for every time someone sent us an e-mail with Hay nos vemos (correct: Ahí nos vemos) or Haber si te quedas a cenar (correct: A ver si te quedas a cenar), we would be rich. Perhaps this will clear up some of these common errors. Enjoy!

Thank you, Ortografía Real, for this gem.
Simple and priceless. A ver si se acuerdan.

Should I Sign This?

Today's brief post is about a topic that we consider vital to your success: documents that require your signature, specifically, documents that either an end client or a translation/interpreting agency sends you before you have an agreement and before services are rendered. Remember that we are not attorneys, although one of us is married to one. The following is not legal advice, but rather our advice on what we have learned in the T&I trenches. Here it is, in easy-to-read bullet format.

  • Read everything. Even if the client insists that you need to sign this right now or the world will come to and end (yes, this is the sense of urgency that's sometimes communicated to the translator or interpreter), take your time to read everything. Also be sure that you understand what you are reading. If you don't, consider asking. 
  • If you don't agree with something on the document, be it a confidentiality agreement, a purchase order, or a non-compete agreement, don't sign it. These documents can be considered drafts of contracts, and they are not court orders with which you need to comply. We occasionally get non-compete clauses that are so completely egregious that we simply can't agree to them. So we go into the document, delete/amend the portions we don't like and send it back to the client for their review. Initially, we used to be a bit nervous about this, because just like many service providers, we want to make everything easy for the client. That said, we also have to protect our business interests, and sometimes that's a thin line. However, pretty much all of the time, the client has agreed to our changes and we've signed the redacted version of the document.
  • Even if the client claims that this "is just completely standard," it still has to be a standard that works for both parties. A contract is an agreement between two parties, and if you don't agree, say so. Don't be afraid of potentially losing a client. If the client isn't willing to respect your business interests, then perhaps this is not a good basis for a work relationship. We assure you that there will be other, better clients. We recently turned down a hugely lucrative contract with a tech giant because their terms were so outrageous (especially their terms in case of any errors and omissions) that our entire business would have been at risk. The client said that the contract was just a formality, but after having two attorneys review the terms, we decided to decline. It was a tough decision, but ultimately we thought it was the right one.
  • One of us (Judy) spends a lot of time in legal proceedings as a court interpreter, and it's never fun to go to court if it's about you. Save yourself the trouble of having to litigate anything and negotiate everything before you sign. Once your signature is on the document, it's official, so think twice before you sign.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive and is only meant as initial food for thought. What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any other advice on handling this issue? We'd love to hear from you.

3000+ Translation Glossaries

A few weeks ago, our colleague Alina Cincan in the UK (managing director of Inbox Translation) contacted us to let us know that she was working on a list of more than 3,000 translation glossaries (yes, 3,000). This very well-researched list is now live, and we have to say it's quite impressive indeed.

It's divided into a wide variety of categories (120 to be exact), including such diverse topics as medicine, weights, printing, beauty, mythical creatures, text speak, gambling, nutrition, noble titles (yes!), food, measurements, math and much more. This is quite possibly the most extensive list of translation glossaries we have ever seen, and would like to thank Alina very much for undertaking this massive project for the benefit of all! The vast majority of these are monolingual and are very helpful.

Here's the link to the 3,000+translation glossaries.

Getting Conference Interpreting Work

A few days ago, we received a message from a lovely colleague here in the US who is also a fellow legal interpreter. However, he is under the (correct) impression that conference interpreting is a more glamorous field, and asked us how to get into conference interpreting. As is so often the case, the answer is a bit long, so we thought we'd answer his very good question here for the benefit of all readers. For ease of reading, we will list our (useful) advice in bullet-style format. Please note that this advice is based on the US market for conference interpreting, as our colleague resides here.

First things first. Let's talk logistics and details:

  •  We have never met an interpreter who doesn't love conference interpreting work. It's (sometimes) glamorous, exciting, and a nice change of pace for medical and legal interpreters. We do know quite a few full-time conference interpreters who are not medical/legal interpreters as well, but they are mostly in Europe and tend to work with the European Union. Here in the US, we know few freelancers who can make a living just doing conference interpreting work, but there certainly exceptions (in-house at the State Department, United Nations, etc.)
  • Getting conference interpreting assignments can be hard. They require a lot of legwork. Don't expect to get a conference interpreting assignment every week as a freelancer in the US. We know very few people who get that many assignments. And every interpreter we know would like to have more conference interpreting assignments, including us.
  • You don't get paid to prepare for the assignment, and you need to factor that into your price quote. You thus shouldn't accept to interpret at the annual meeting of the American Association of Ventriloquists unless you know something about the field. 
  • Conference interpreting is limited to mostly larger cities. Not all conferences are large and not all conferences happen in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago or Las Vegas, but as a general rule, you have a better shot at being a conference interpreter if you live in a larger city. Most conference organizers are usually not willing to fly in interpreters from Boise to Omaha when there are perfectly good interpreters in Omaha, which makes sense.
  • Conferences are planned a long time out -- we know because one of us lives in the conference capital of America, Las Vegas. That said, we have yet to encounter one single hotel in Las Vegas that has permanent interpreting booths installed and most hotels rarely work with booths and equipment, so it's oftentimes a struggle to get this all organized. And yes, we've shown up to events with no booths at all. That's not the case in most of Europe, where even small hotels will have conference facilities with interpreter capabilities, which is nice.

  • Now, how do you get these assignments? Let's start with a few basics.
    • Many conference interpreting assignments come through agencies. We don't work with agencies at all on the translation side, but will take occasional conference interpreting assignments if the terms work for us. The good part here is that these LSPs are relatively easy to find, and you can contact those in your area who specialize in conference interpreting. Perhaps you can take the project manager to lunch and let him/her know that you are really interested after you pass the initial screening and traditional CV review.
    • Other conference interpreting assignments come from tourism bureaus, convention centers, individual hotels, and destination management companies. Market your services to them. Get out in the community and talk to the decision-makers.
    • Team  up with a good equipment provider who can take care of the A/V and all the equipment so you can recommend someone you trust to the client. It's usually best to let the client deal directly with the equipment vendor, unless you want to act as project manager/agency.
    • Find a top-notch booth partner. Conference interpreters always work in pairs, so nothing is more essential than a superstar booth partner. You might have to kiss a few frogs before you find your ideal partner. Remember that you will be sharing a small space for extended periods of time, so make sure you choose wisely.
    • Request documents ahead of time. Many conference organizers struggle to get the presenter's PowerPoints or even the outline, but trust us: you do need some material to prepare properly. If nothing can be found, you should still spend several hours compiling vocabulary based on the client's website and general company information that's available to the public. We usually include a disclaimer in our price quotes that we cannot guarantee our usual quality if we do not receive pertinent materials XYZ days before the event. Sometimes we still don't get any materials, but the show must go on.
    • Finally, the best way to get conference interpreting clients is to do a great job at any interpreting you do in any field and to let clients know what you are also interested in conference interpreting assignments. Get the word out.
    This brief list is not meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. We merely wanted to get the conversation started and would love to hear from conference interpreter colleagues (and anyone else!). Please do share what you know by leaving a comment below. Happy conference interpreting!

    The Interpreter Ethicist: Should Interpreters Accept Tips?

    Tipping is big here in the US, and pretty much everyone expects a tip in the services industry: the barista, the hairdresser, the cab driver, the guest room attendant at a hotel, the waitstaff at any restaurant, even the guy who opens the door for you at a fancy hotel. However, professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants are customarily not tipped. So where do interpreters fit in? Do interpreters ever get tipped? Should they? Is it ethical to accept tips? If yes, when is it and when isn't it? Let's explore this interesting topic today.

    In all the years we've been working as interpreters, we've only had a few situations in which clients wanted to tip us. Here are two:

    • One time Judy was interpreting in court for a private client in a civil case (this means that the client was paying and not the government, as in Nevada the government only pays for interpreters in criminal cases). This particular client won his case and was very grateful for Judy's services. Even though Judy had been invoicing the law firm that was representing the client, he told her she did such an outstanding job that he insisted on tipping her. He pulled out his wallet, took out $20, and offered the bill to Judy. She didn't know what to do, as that was the first time it had happened. So she followed her first instinct, which was to decline, and that's probably never a bad decision. The client insisted for a bit, but Judy told him that she was already invoicing his law firm at her regular rate and that tips weren't necessary. The client finally put the $20 back in his wallet and thanked Judy once again. Now, would it have been ethical for Judy to accept the tip? Maybe; or maybe not. We consulted the codes of ethics of both California and Nevada, and as is typical with codes of ethics, there's no specific information about a situation like the one that Judy was in. Accepting a tip from a private party after the assignment is over doesn't violate the impartiality clause, as the client was already paying Judy (through his law firm) in the first place and she still remains impartial. So, the extra $20 wouldn't have affected that pillar of our code of ethics one way or another. However, could accepting the tip be a violation of another one of the elements of our code of ethics, such as professionalism? We aren't sure, but we'd love to hear your opinion.

    • The other situation occurred during a business interpreting assignment. Judy had spent five days with a lovely couple from South America during a tradeshow, and she enabled communication with the client's vendors. She learned a lot about their business during that week, and they established an easy rapport. This type of interpreting is completely different from court interpreting, where one has to remain impartial, and on the last day, the couple invited Judy to lunch. They had already paid a 50% deposit for the interpreting services, and Judy had agreed to invoice them for the rest at the end of the week. However, they pulled out an envelope with cash at the end of the meal and said they wanted to pay the balance right away and threw in an extra $100 for the great service (but of course still wanted an invoice and a receipt). Judy had never been paid in cash before, but was happy to receive the payment. She wasn't sure about the extra $100, and hesitated a bit. The client insisted she accept the money and told her that she'd helped him and his wife have a very successful business trip. Judy finally did accept the extra $100, but remained unsure. Was it ethical to do so? We think it was.

    We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, dear colleagues. As with so many questions on ethics, there are really no clear-cut right or wrong answers. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Join the discussion! Commenting is a great way of becoming part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media are all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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    The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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