Oct 152010

I’ve just finished the “back-end” work for my latest eBook launch.

Business Success for Freelance Translators

Business Success for Freelance Translators

Finally got the system sorted out. It’s been a bit of a slog, but quite exhilarating to get so much done in the last couple of weeks.
OK, so I choose to do self-publishing the hard way, by doing absolutely everything myself, but that’s just the way I like it. And anyway, since I acquired all the programming skills in the late 90’s, it seems silly to give away a large share of the benefits to a firm like lulu when I can do it all myself. 🙂 I would use them if I ever publish a printed book though.

Oh, it’s our 17th wedding anniversary today, so it’s nice to have the system up and running before we go out to lunch to celebrate.

Oct 062010

I had a fairly scary experience yesterday when I was making a new index for the latest version of my ebook Business Success for Freelance Translators (the new title for How To Earn $80,000+ per year as a Freelance Translator.) Basically what happened was, after updating the index with the new concordance file, some of the links in the book were mangled.

And after generating a PDF of the text, the original Word file could no longer be opened. 😥

“Eek.” 😮 I hear you say. All that work lost? Well not quite. Only about an hour’s work lost actually. I’ve been using computers for over 30 years and I don’t really trust them an inch. So when I’m working on something really important I usually save a new version of the file every time I make substantial changes (say more than an hour or two of work). Consequently, I had a version of the file that had been spell-checked, but not paginated or indexed. So all I had to do was repaginate, save the file as a new version and then do the indexing again.

Once indexed, and saved, the file wouldn’t open. :teeth: No problem. Back to the spell-checked and paginated version. I found a macro to strip out all the previous index entry codes, applied this, made a new index from scratch, saved the file, made a PDF version et voila. PDF version is fine, but the indexed file still will not open in Word 2007.

I’ve got no idea why this is, and it’s not the end of the world, but it is a bit of a nuisance. Perhaps it’s something to do with it being a legacy file that’s been updated and updated since the orginial version in 1998 through various different versions of Word (including Mac versions from my US editor).

It doesn’t really matter. No significant amount of work has been lost, and I got to my destination (a publishable PDF). But it was a bit scary for a while, until I thankfully realised I had oodles of older versions to go back to.

Computers are great, but don’t trust them an inch when it comes to valuable work.

Oct 012010

ProZ Virtual Conference

I celebrated International Translators’ Day (September 30th) by visiting the Proz virtual conference called – translation3.


There were 9,900 registrants and just over half of them showed up for some of the day. I signed up last year and didn’t manage to take part because I was ill on the day, so I was determined to have a look this year.

This virtual conference is free to the end user. That is to say, you do have to agree to receive some emails from the sponsors during the year, but it’s a relatively small price to pay compared with what’s on offer.

In general the conference went pretty well. There were a couple of minor technical issues from time to time, (mostly speakers on panel discussions not setting their sound levels appropriately).

I ended up missing the first session (problem between keyboard and seat) because I clicked the wrong link and ended up watching Henry’s (interesting) presentation on the next 3-5 years. I clicked the “on-demand” link instead of the live content link. Clearly it wasn’t quite idiot-proof. (Did I just call myself an idiot? Is that good marketing? You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve had a head-cold this week)

Overall I attended 3 full sessions and “popped in” on a couple of others for short periods. Each one I looked in on had around 1000 attendees. Very few complained of technical issues, so I think the system was generally pretty robust.

One feature of the system was a real time chat window, which allowed people to ask questions and interact during panel discussions and talks.

I was quite surprised at the enormous level of stupid comments in the chat window. Some of them were very funny though. Perhaps a bit of moderation would be appropriate? Or maybe it’s just a part of the flavour of an online conference, where you can’t get physically lynched for saying something rude? Or perhaps it stops the panellists taking themselves too seriously? It’s a tough call to make.

There was also quite a lot of promotional plugging by Proz itself in this area – mostly pushing their online training courses. Some of the sarcastic comments were hilarious, but if I had been a panellist, I doubt I would have been blessed or impressed by them.

One or two panellists were difficult to understand because of very strong accents or incorrect microphone settings. That’s one possible area where a small tweak could have a big impact. Most people could be heard and understood pretty well most of the time.

It was the same for the content. Most of the people taking part were good and competent. With one or two, I wondered what they were doing there but most of them were very good.

There was also quite a lot of “on demand” content. I haven’t yet finished going through the sessions that interest me there. Some of them are pretty good. Although some do have rather poor sound quality (uncomfortable to listen to). I aborted one or two “on demand” sessions because my ears wouldn’t allow me to listen to the rasping noise of sound which has been downsampled too much. (It’s either that or poor quality recording in the first place – hard to forgive either way.)

I hope the sound quality for the paid-for training courses on Proz is of a generally higher standard.

There were other conference areas with prize draws and promotions. Some of the major translation memory packages were available for purchase at 50% discount.

There was an area to interact with other translators and also some online Pow-Wows.

There was an awful lot to offer and I’m glad I took part. I think it will probably be an annual thing now, so I recommend you stop by next year and check it out. It was fun.

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a Freelance Translator
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Sep 142010

Will Computers Replace Translators? tranfree 73


I received some feedback about last month’s “email reliance” article. Some good points were raised, so I thought I’d share them.

  • Skype and Yahoo Messenger can be used for direct peer to peer file sharing. This is a useful backup if email systems are misbehaving.
  • Sites like yousendit.com can also be used for delivery of large files.

Thanks to Marie-Hélène Hayles for raising these points. smile

Touch Typing

I’ve been helping my son to learn to touch type over the summer. He’s 8 now and I felt it a good idea for him to learn properly now before he learns, the “wrong” way. It’s been hard work, but worth it. He’s now the proud owner of an Acer ONE netbook.

I also got interested in the idea of touch typing and I went through the program as well (http://www.kaz-type.com/). I’ve managed to get myself up to 23 words per minute and 98% accuracy. But it still feels really slow. So, for a bit of fun, I decided to do the speed test my “normal” way.

I was a bit blown away by the results. I managed 82 words per minute and 99% accuracy typing my way, using about three fingers on each hand. I didn’t know I could type that fast. To be honest, it makes me wonder whether it’s actually worth persisting with the touch typing? I don’t really feel like giving up, but that’s a short-term potential productivity cut of over 75%. 82 words per minute is good enough for most applications. But it would be nice to be able to type that fast without looking – and that’s why I hope to persist.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames
tranfree editor, Author –
How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator and
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Will Computers Replace Translators?

By Alex Eames

It seems that, every year, our lives become increasingly enmeshed with our computers. Unless we rebel by going to live in a swamp somewhere with no electricity, that looks set to increase rather than decrease.

Last week I renewed our house insurance policy. One of the items covered in the accidental damage section was £2500 GBP worth of electronic downloads – that’s a sign of the times.

After my brief review of GT4T in the last tranfree, it seems clear that some translators feel threatened by the existence of free machine translation (MT) in the form of Google Translate.

Computers Acting Up?

It looks as if professionals in other areas are also feeling threatened by the ever-increasing proliferation of advanced computer software. A recent BBC article about animation and motion capture (a way of recording and simulating human and animal movement) had this to say…

“Some of the biggest movies of the last few years haven’t
actually featured any actors in the flesh.
Is technology stealing their limelight?”


Having said that the results of computerised motion capture are not good enough, the technical director of DreamWorks said…

“You want expressiveness, you don’t want
literal translation. It’s come a long way but in terms of using it for animated films it’s not what we’re looking for.”

And this gives a very interesting parallel with human versus machine translation. In the main, the results of MT simply aren’t good enough.

Human Threats?

We are living in interesting times. Virtually everyone has a computer and access to the internet. Add to that the fact that many people find themselves out of work in these economically challenging times of the “post greed” era. It’s not surprising that many people with language skills hit upon the idea of earning some money doing translations. So there are more human providers entering the marketplace.

Add in the global economic squeeze and you find companies trying to minimise costs, either to stay in business or make (more) profit.

So it’s hardly surprising that some companies might be sorely tempted to cut their short-term costs by using Google Translate. It’s human nature. They will try this. And let’s be honest with ourselves, for some applications, it is perfectly appropriate. Human translation is expensive – that’s the point of translatortips.com after all – to help you juice the full worth out of your translation skills. You can’t have it both ways. You want human translation to be expensive!

MT Has Its Place.

Some of you may not like this, but machine translation definitely has a place in the mix.

MT might be useful for assessing which portions of a large document need translating properly, or for getting the gist of what’s written. But unless the documentation has been written for MT in the first place, it’s unlikely to be usable for any other purpose.

But now for the good news. I hope you’re listening…

The kind of clients who would be looking at cost cutting in this way are not the kind of clients who would want to pay you decent rates, on time, and treat you well. Yes. These are not the clients you want. So don’t worry about the lost opportunity. Just as you can’t compete with 2 cent per word translators in low wage economies, you can’t compete with MT either. So don’t even try. Forget about that market segment and concentrate on clawing your way up to the top end.

You Don’t Want To Work For Idiots Do You?

I remember when I was an employee. It didn’t suit me at all. The boss was an idiot. I realised that the only (legal) way to eliminate the idiot was to become my own boss. People who want free or cheap translations of important documents using MT are idiots. You don’t want to work for them. They see you as an over-expensive bilingual typist. So, if you don’t want those kind of clients anyway, why is Google Translate a threat? Put simply, I don’t really think it is. It’s in your head. In the long term, I expect it will generate even more work for human translators.

Worthwhile Clients

At university, one of my roommates was studying marketing, which I found much more interesting than analytical chemistry. I remember commenting on a TV advertisement – saying how unappealing I thought it was. My roommate’s reply was a bit of a revelation…

“It probably wasn’t designed to appeal to you.”

…and this is a mistake many people make. Not every potential client is a client worth having. Some clients will not be profitable. Some will. Which do you want? The ones who will value your services, or the others?

So we have a few challenges in the global translation market…

  • Increasing numbers of “wannabe” translators
  • MT causing a decrease in the perceived value of translation
  • Economic squeeze causing a “get it done cheaper” mentality

So What’s To Be Done?

What can you do about it? Actually, I think there’s very little you can do about this apart from focus on your own area. But here’s a few suggestions…

  • Only accept profitable work
  • Educate clients and potential clients, but be discerning how much time you spend on this
  • Look at market trends, but don’t obsess about them.

You don’t need the whole global translation market to grow and thrive.
You only need your business to grow and thrive. (Although it will obviously be easier in a buoyant market.)

That reminds me of the two guys in the bear forest. One says to the other…

“Can you run faster than a bear?”

The other guy pauses for thought and replies…

“I don’t need to run faster than a bear.
I only need to run faster than YOU!”

Terminator Scenario

Avatar was one of the films (mentioned in the BBC article) that didn’t use actors “in the flesh” on screen. So it’s ironic that another James Cameron film – The Terminator –  paints an apocalyptic picture of a time when the computers take over and see humans as a threat. That’s a long way off. But let’s keep a cautious eye on what they’re doing without wasting  too much time watching our backs.

So let’s look forwards, get out there, find some real clients with real business needs and meet them.

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a Freelance Translator
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web
ISSN 1470-3866

***End of issue 73***

Aug 102010

Testing out GT4T

By Alex Eames

GT4T stands for Google Translate for Translators. It’s a neat little software application written by English to Chinese translator Dallas Cao. Dallas has also assisted Wenjer Leuschel with some translation of the last few tranfree editions into Chinese.

Two things are under test here.

1. How well the program itself works
2. How well Google Translate works

The download is only 741 kb from here…


It installed fine in Windows 7. I opted for the pro version, which works in all programs. It is “nagware”, which means after the first 100 uses, it will periodically ask you to register ($48 Pro version, $28 Word version) but will still continue to function if you don’t.

The only issue I had with it was that, once installed, when I tried to run it from the start menu, it was already active. What I should have done was click on the clover icon in the system tray to set up the language pair and settings. (Within a few hours of sending a preview of this review, Dallas has updated the installer to give you a choice whether or not to launch the program after installing.)

So, once I’d set it to English-Polish and unchecked the “Load on Windows Startup” box, I did a quick test.

In Firefox’s built-in search box, I keyed in “weather in lodz”, selected it and hit CTRL-J. It instantly substituted “Pogoda w Łodzi”. Good result! (Also note it corrected the capitalization smile)

Butterfly Names?

So far, so good. I’ve been photographing butterflies recently and am interested in furthering my knowledge of their Polish names. So how does it cope with “red admiral”? Not very well, as it happens. This is an issue with Google Translate, not GT4T. This time, testing from Word 2007, it instantly returned “Czerwony admiral”. It completely ignored “admiral” and left it in English. The Polish for red is “czerwony” and admiral is “admirał. Sending the word admiral on its own works correctly though.

The correct Polish term for a Red admiral butterfly is “Rusałka admirał”. In Latin it’s Vanessa atalanta. How does it cope with Latin?

Oh, it doesn’t do Latin. That’s a shame (although perhaps not as commercially valuable as living languages).

GT4T is still working perfectly and Google is highlighting the pitfalls of machine translation (MT). I’d thought common butterfly names might be in the database, but no.

So I then wondered what would happen if I punched in “Vanessa atalanta” (as if it were in English) and tried to translate that into Polish. It came back with “Rusałka admirał” whahay – it worked smile into Polish, but not into English frown.

Hmmm – so Google does have some Latin text in the database, somewhere, but just won’t admit it razz.

Now Let’s Try To Break It

Looking for trouble, I tried it in Eudora when typing an email. GT4T doesn’t work very well in Eudora – returning a bunch of HTML text (but does work properly in the email subject line).

You can redefine the hotkeys in GT4T to make them compatible with any applications you use. Since CTRL-J is used for junking an email in Eudora, I thought that might be the issue, so I changed the hotkey. It still didn’t help.

No matter. It’s doubtful I would ever want to use GT4T in Eudora anyway, I just wanted to test a few different applications to see what would happen.


Overall, I am impressed with GT4T. It’s such a simple little tool, but gives you quick and easy access to a large online multilingual dictionary, with one key press, from any application. And it works without slowing down the computer or taking up lots of system resources. I suggest you give it a try and see if it suits you.


... ...

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a
Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

... ...

Aug 102010

Fed up of staring at your screen? Listen to tranfree 72

tranfree 72 – Email Over-reliance & GT4T

You can also download this edition of tranfree 72 as a PDF


Taking advantage of the long school holiday and the “freelance factor,” we’re currently in sunny Poland.

I was in full “work flow” when we got here, but when the temperature hit 38 degrees C, I took a break for a couple of weeks. During this time, I tried to get out photographing insects, which is a particular interest of mine at the moment.

Butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies are all quite difficult to get close to, unless approached slowly and stealthily. Once you get close, as long as you make no silly sudden movements, you have a good window of opportunity to “get your shots”.

“So what?” I hear you say. “What’s this got to do with translation?”
Well, clients can be a bit like butterflies. You have to approach them on their terms. You have to earn their trust. You have to avoid sudden silly “movements” or they can beat their wings and you’ll never see them again. But if you manage all that, the results can be quite beautiful.

You can see some of the results in the photography section of my blog.

But here’s just one where I got very close to a young Red admiral

Red admiral – Vanessa atalanta
(click image for enlargement)

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Are We Relying Too Much On Email

By Alex Eames

I think we might be. I bet most of you use email to send and receive work files most of the time. And most of the time, it probably works just fine.

But every once in a while an email does go missing. I used to advocate sending a quick fax over to the client to let them know when you’ve emailed a file across. But hardly anybody uses fax nowadays – we cancelled our fax line about three years ago because nobody had sent us a fax for a couple of years.

This helpful little method overcame the problem of undelivered emails. If the client knew the email had been sent, they could chase it up if it didn’t arrive within a short space of time.

But with fax technology’s fall from grace, and apparently increasingly reliable email systems, this became unnecessary…

…or so we thought.


Email is not 100% reliable.

The truth is that email has never been, and never will be, 100% reliable. Spam filters, system glitches and crashes, viruses, malware etc. all contribute towards making life increasingly difficult for emails to get through. It’s actually amazing that the systems work as well as they do.

A couple of months ago we submitted a job file by email on a Monday evening because we were going to be unavailable on Tuesday. Imagine our surprise when we returned on Tuesday afternoon to a voicemail message asking “how are you getting on with the file?” OUCH! An email delivery issue. Worse still, once the docx file was received it couldn’t be opened, so another round of communication was required. We ended up downsaving it to Word 2003/97, which could be opened by the client.

How do you get around this reliability issue? I doubt if project managers (PMs) want to be texted to their mobile phones.

Some clients use ftp based systems to get around this, but that sort of setup may not be appropriate for small clients. If it’s a regular problem for you, you might consider something like http://lsp.net/ as an integrated solution.

Should we just wait for PMs to chase us if the files don’t arrive in time? Should we get the fax machine out of the attic and revert to our old confirmation method? Or do we just accept, as the client calmly did in this case, that emails are not 100% reliable and live with it?


What about email security?

We don’t really want our clients’ confidential data being shared around the internet do we? We don’t want our own email accounts being hacked into do we?

If you have set up a new email account in the last couple of years, chances are it’s using SSL or TLS as standard (but it’s worth checking).

But if you’ve been in business for a while, what about that email account that you’ve been using for the last 10 years and haven’t changed because it’s become a part of your business brand?

Is it set up to use SSL or TLS security? If not, you will be transmitting your username and password in unencrypted plain text every time you log in.
The same goes for the full contents of your emails and attachments. If you’re not using SSL, TLS or some form of encryption, it’s possible to intercept your communications.

That’s a serious potential vulnerability. It’s worth checking all your email accounts to be sure. OK there’s a certain amount of safety in numbers because of the vast bulk of email traffic – the chances of your data being intercepted illegally are slim – but they do exist.

Even these measures only protect your data between your computer and the mail server. Between mail servers, your messages and attachments are not protected from snoopers unless you encrypt them. If you are dealing with highly sensitive, confidential information, you should seriously consider strong encryption software (e.g. pgp.com) to protect the data.

For a full-blown essay on the subject of email security see…


... ...

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a
Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

... ...


GT4T Review next

Jun 302010

Tools That Have Brought Smiles To My Face, Cheer To My Heart, And Success In The Mind-Over-Matter Department (in no particular order)

By Jost Zetzsche


I love Skype. It may not be the coolest thing to be in love with a wildly popular tool, but I can’t help myself. No tool has changed my work habits in the last few years more than this one.

Skype is primarily a VoIP (Voice-over-Internet-Protocol) service that allows you to make free calls from computer to computer if the person you are calling also has Skype installed. In addition, it allows you to make cheap calls to regular telephones, organize telephone conferences (free if everyone is using Skype, cheap if people are using telephones), send text messages, send large files, make video calls, or easily share your desktop.

True, there’s always a risk with programs like this that you’ll waste time by chatting too much with your friends, but for me Skype has been a real productivity catalyst. It’s so much easier to text message or call with Skype when you are working in teams, want to talk to a project manager, or do some consulting with a client. And because of the mind-blowing success of Skype, chances are that your colleagues and friends use Skype as well, thus circumventing the non-compatibility problems of other chat and VoIP programs.


IntelliWebSearch would probably be the winner of the popularity-among-translators award for the last few years.

This humble little application copies highlighted text from any Windows application with a number of user-definable shortcut keys; strips the text of paragraph marks, line breaks, or any customizable characters; opens your default browser and sends the copied text to up to 10 customizable search engines, online dictionaries, or dictionaries that you have installed on your hard drive. Once you have set up your search engines and dictionaries for your language combinations, it’s incredibly easy to use. I promise that your fingers will think in IntelliWebSearch terms from then on. (Mine automatically go Ctrl+Alt+D for the Duden dictionary that I have in my computer or Ctrl+Alt+D for the über-search engine/dictionary Linguee. I’m always terribly disappointed when I am doing something on someone else’s computer that may not have it installed.)

Teleport (or any other webspider)

Teleport is a website copier or webspider. While this is actually an “antique” tool from the early days of the Internet (people used it to download complete web sites so that they could browse them offline) it has proved very helpful for translators. It does what you would expect a “website copier” to do: it copies websites (including image or multimedia files). This is wonderful when we have to quote for the translation of complete websites. It’s important to remember to ask for the actual source files before the translation is started, but it is an invaluable tool for getting an overview of a website, including its file structure or files that you would surely miss if you were just to browse through the site or to make a word or image count.

Another very helpful use for this tool is when you need to align (convert separate source and target documents into a translation memory) data from websites. For instance, you can choose to download only PDF files in all the different available languages and then continue to align them on a site such as YouAlign or NoBabel.

PractiCount & Invoice (and most other word count programs)

Since we just talked about word counts, I would strongly advise you to invest in a word count tool. Without going into the whole complexity of word counts, here’s what I think you should look for: a tool that allows you to count in a variety of formats (including a minimum of all MS Office formats, PDFs, and tagged files) while using MS Word parameters without the MS Word problems. As most of us know, MS Word’s word counts are notorious for their problems. (In versions 2003 and before, text boxes, footnotes, and endnotes were not counted; some items, such as WordArt, are still not counted in the current versions.) However, chances are that your client will still use Word to count words and check your invoice. So the tool should use the same logic for counting words that Word does while including the parts that Word blithely ignores (which we have to explain to the client). I use PractiCount & Invoice for this task and love it, but there are a good number of other tools that do very similar things.

Translation Office 3000 (and any other invoicing and accounting program for freelance translators)

Everyone has strengths, and accounting is definitely not one of mine. So it’s not too surprising that I love the program that takes care of most of my invoicing and accounting, while at the same time requiring little more than the most basic data entry. Translation Office 3000 does all that, plus job-tracking, profitability reporting, and many other things. All this can also be done with various tools such as Excel, Outlook, and Project – but why spread yourself thin over three tools when you can do it with one?

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

I like to “think with my fingers” and I’ve become a reasonably good typist over the years, but I gotta tell you, if I’m under pressure to get a translation done on a crazy deadline, or if my medical condition keeps my hands from working the way I want them to, there’s nothing like speech recognition. Dragon NaturallySpeaking, now available in most major Western European languages and Japanese, is stunningly accurate, requires little or no training, runs well on computers with fast processors (no need for superfast processing), works with essentially every Windows program, including translation environment tools, and is surprisingly inexpensive. (Windows Vista and 7 also have an internal voice recognition feature for Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and English; in my tests, these did not score much worse than Dragon.)

Translation Environment Tool (aka CAT tool)

Well, how could I leave this one out? Truth be told, my translation environment tool is by far the one tool that has given me the most joy during the past 10+ years. How else would I have accessed my translations and terminology that I stored last month, last year, or even five years ago for my project today? How else would I be able to work in virtually every file format without needing to become a master of each? And how else would I ensure that my translations are consistent, free of formatting and other errors, and adhere to my clients’ glossaries?

My main tool for many years has been Déjà Vu, but I have used many other tools in production situations, including Trados, SDLX, Transit, memoQ, Heartsome, Wordfast, Across, Lingotek, Multitrans, and others. I had good reasons for starting to use Déjà Vu in the first place, but I have come to the conclusion that it hardly matters which of the available tools you use as long as the tool can fulfill your client’s needs. It supports exchange formats such as TMX and XLIFF so you can access data that originated with other tools, and you can make the tool work for you, rather than feeling caught by the idiosyncrasies of the tool.

Jost Zetzsche is a freelance translator. He also publishes…

The Toolkit – A biweekly newsletter for people in the translation industry who want to get more out of their computers.


ISSN 1470-3866

***End of issue 71***

To subscribe to tranfree, visit http://www.tranfree.com/

Jun 292010

tranfree 71 – Avoiding & coping with Staleness.

You can also download this edition of tranfree 71 as a PDF


As I sit and type, it’s a beautiful sunny day here – perfect for the second week of Wimbledon.

We’ve got two articles for you this time. The first is about getting the balance right between work and other aspects of life. This is an area I have been constantly challenged in – having spent time at both extremes and in the middle. In the article we explore ways of coping with and avoiding staleness and burnout.

The second article is by Jost Zetzsche on the theme of translation tools. Jost is well placed to write such an article, as he publishes his own newsletter “The Tool Kit” about software tools for translators.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames
tranfree editor, Author –

How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

Getting the Balance Right – Preventing & Coping With Staleness

By Alex Eames

Do you ever get stale1? Do you ever find, when you’ve been working on a large project for a long time, that you just get fed up or bored with it? Does that ever happen to you?

Deadlines Can Help, But They Can Also Push You Over the Edge

It’s almost impossible to get stale on a job that’s “for tomorrow” because you’re only working on it for one day and you’ve got no choice. You have to get the job finished by the deadline date or bye-bye client.

But when you’ve been working intensely on a project for a while – burning the candle at both ends for a sustained period of time – eventually you can find yourself getting “stale”. You sit down at your computer and it feels like you are two similar magnetic poles repelling each other. It’s as if your computer says “not you again?” and the feeling is mutual.

You think to yourself “I want my life back”. That’s when you’ve got to sit up and take notice. You’ve been overdoing it! You’ve become stale and you need some time off.

You really need to listen to that, and take some time off. If you’re a “deadline junkie” – going from one adrenaline rush to another, with a string of tight deadlines – one day you might find yourself stale. You sit at your computer and you think “I can’t go on”.

So how is it possible to get the balance right? To be really honest with you, I’m not quite sure. But let’s explore a few possible solutions together.

1. Schedule Slots For Leisure Time (and protect them vigorously but flexibly).

Translation work can be somewhat sporadic – unless you’re busy ALL the time. (That can be a good problem to have, but not always. You’re more likely to get pushed into burnout if you’re too busy for too long.) Is there a way that you can schedule in some leisure activities as “Immovable Objects”?

Any kind of social, hobby or leisure activity that gets you away from your computer will work. Can you do that? Will it work for you? Can you say…

“Right! Every Friday I’m going to take the morning
off and go and play tennis”
(or whatever it is that you like to do).

Of course, you need to reserve the right to be flexible about it. If you know a job is coming in on Friday, take the time out earlier in the week. Just don’t make a habit of skipping the “time out” altogether.

2. Negotiate Better Deadlines (a lot of them aren’t real anyway).

“Sorry I can’t fit that in as I am fully committed this morning.
How about Friday early afternoon?”

OK, so you’re “fully committed” going to the gym smile, but they don’t need to know that! Quite often, deadlines are somewhat arbitrary, and if you care to challenge them, there can be a degree of flexibility.

3. Learn to say No (and resist the call of Mammon).

If a proposed deadline doesn’t offer any flexibility and threatens to rob you of your sanity…

“Just say No”

I’ve deliberately chosen that phrase from Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drugs in the 1980s. You see, I think you can get addicted and trapped in a “continuous earning cycle”, which can lead you to ignore other needs – both yours and others’. That’s a dangerous place to be. Adrenaline addiction is real and there are several different types. It’s not just people who jump out of planes and do crazy things. See adrenalineaddicts.org for details.

4. Improve Your Productivity (but share the extra spare time with yourself).

Productivity enhancing methods and tools can be a great help. But instead of always using them to earn more and more money, use them to work less hours and fit in some refreshing non-business activities. I bet you never thought you would hear me say that!

5. Increase Your Rates and Work Less (yes you can).

This one might ruffle a few feathers. razz Increase rates? Impossible! You must be mad!

A big hint here is that if you want to charge more, you’ll need some (more) direct clients.

6. Predict Your Working Time Realistically.

Everyone hates wasting time looking through a document to either count words or estimate how long it will take. It needn’t take a long time. A few minutes spent really looking at a sample of the text might stop you from grossly underestimating how long a job will take you. We’ve all done it! You work on a job that looked great for the first ten pages, but the next five were a complete nightmare, taking twice as long as the first ten. Having a proper look at the job in advance can save you having to pull an all-nighter and tiring yourself out.

7. Sub-contract work and start an agency. (That’s a joke by the way).

We’re after less stress here, not more. big grin

What To Do If You Do Get Stale

Despite the above preventative ideas, there is still a likelihood that staleness will appear at some point. There is a tendency to take all the work you can get because of uncertainty over the future.

When you’re stale, you may try to force yourself to carry on regardless. Or, you can accept that you are stale and say…

“I’m not going to get anything useful done sitting at my
computer today. I’m going to take the day off and do
something fun; something I want to do; something I enjoy;
something for somebody else.”

As long as it’s something that changes your focus, away from your work and earning money, it will be refreshing. (Preferably something not involving your computer.)

It’s hard to be prescriptive about this, so I won’t even try. What is refreshing to one person will be a burden to another. But “a change is as good as a rest”. It really can be. Just find something that suits and refreshes you.

One of the main advantages of being a freelance is the total freedom. But, as I said in tranfree 69, you have to use it wisely. You also have total freedom to mess yourself up physically and mentally, if you abuse that freedom by working 24/7.

When you’re busy, there can be a very strong temptation not to have an abundance mentality but to be locked into the “feast or famine” mentality…

“I’ve got this glut of jobs right now so I’m going to work
my tail off, get all of this lot done, and then have a rest.”

But, the thing is, that your rest doesn’t actually materialise unless you schedule it in and stick to it. You’ll keep saying YES or agreeing to artificial deadlines to get your next adrenaline rush.

Most religious faiths recognise the Sabbath principle, which means having one day in seven free from work. I believe the underlying “earthly” reason for that is that it’s simply not good for you to work all the time. Yes you can get away with it for a while, but it will catch up with you at some point – and you’ll pay for it later!

Even if you aren’t a workaholic, adrenaline junkie (and not everyone is) I expect you know someone who is. I hope you found this useful and thought-provoking.

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com,
editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a
Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

1 Stale: having lost freshness, vigour, quick intelligence, initiative, or the like, as from overstrain, boredom, or surfeit: He had grown stale on the job and needed a long vacation. (dictionary.com)

For the second article visit http://alexeames.com/blog/?p=533

May 312010

listen to tranfree 70 or download the mp3 for later if you prefer.
You can also download this as a PDF

Editorial – Giving away our translation work?

The Times newspaper has decided that enough is enough and is ending free access to its content on the web.

According to this BBC news story

“Times Editor James Harding said it was time to stop “giving away” journalism in the two newspapers.”

I see parallels here with the translation world, with…

  • pressure on translation rates
  • abusive translation memory practices
  • the “valueless” perception the world has of translation

These are results of globalisation – a process in which translators usually stay in the background like ghost-writers. Let’s remember there would be no globalisation without translation.

James Harding went on further to say…

“Our feeling is that it is time to stop giving away our journalism. That’s because we feel that we are undermining the value of our journalism, undermining the value of the Times and undermining the perception that journalism and news has a value.”

Does this overtone of undermining sound familiar? Isn’t that what we do when we agree to a low rate or disastrous terms for a translation job?

“Localizing” that quote for “the translators’ market”, I came up with this…

My feeling is that it is time to stop giving away our translation work. That’s because we feel that we are undermining the value of our translation, undermining the value of the profession and undermining the perception that translation and documentation has a value.

Well, it’s food for thought anyway. Be careful how much you are giving away in terms of discounts, lowered rates and ever quicker turnaround.

It looks to me as if the Times are moving towards a web-only publication, as printed circulation dwindles and people spend more time online. It will take a few years for people to get used to the idea. This makes me ponder the question “How can we take steps to ensure that our work is valued?” This fits in very well with the article I had planned for this edition, which is all about resisting rates erosion.

tranfree in Chinese

Thanks to Wenjer Leuschel, we now have the last couple of tranfree editions in Chinese. I have had one or two technical hurdles to get this published in HTML but it works beautifully in PDF.


Site Revamp

One other thing I almost forgot to mention is that I have given the www.translatortips.com web site a new look. This is the first revamp for a long time. It’s a much cleaner look. I’ve still got lots of sub-pages to go, but the main ones are done. Feel free to check it out and let me know if you like it.


I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile


Alex Eames

tranfree editor, Author –

How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator

Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

13 Ways to Resist Rates Erosion

Erosion is a gradual creeping process. In the UK we have had a steady erosion of civil liberty for quite a long time. frown Because it happens gradually, in small, digestible steps, “they get away with it”.  It’s the same with rates erosion. It happens in small steps and is only hindered when people see it for what it is and resist. But just because one person resists, another may not. Then we find ourselves being undermined – just like in the BBC article about the Times. So resisting rates erosion is something which needs to be done collectively if it is to be effective.

In general, the only good reasons I can think of for working for low rates are:

  • Working for a cause you believe in. In this case you might donate your work or work for a reduced rate. But don’t let them push you around – fit it in around your paid work.
  • Long-standing direct clients who you can see are experiencing hardship.
  • Gaining experience at the start of your career to get you out of the “we only work with people who have experience and references” catch-22

Pretty much any other reason just allows someone else to collect the profits on your work. So don’t do it!

“But I am constantly bombarded with stories about low rates

and translators without work on the internet.

How can I resist and stay strong?”

Well firstly, you need to be a little bit careful about taking everything people write on internet forums too literally. Some people exaggerate, some people lie and others are sociopathic. Talk is cheap in cyberspace. Try to filter what you read and only accept advice from people who have a record of giving good advice.

Here are a few pointers to help.

1. Can you live on it?

Do not accept work for a rate which is lower than you can comfortably make a living at. (Unless this is a charity or pro bono project). It is better to write off a working day and decide to relax and enjoy being FREE, than to work for a ludicrously low rate.

2. No fuzzy discounts.

Do not accept any reduction for fuzzy matches or for the use of any translation technology that you had to pay for yourself. You should reap the reward from your investment. Don’t give it away! I would make exceptions for the following reasonable scenarios…

  • the client provided you with an expensive productivity-enhancing tool.
  • a long-term ongoing project with 100% matches (like a product manual that is updated annually).
  • where the client provides you with a significant translation memory which contains plenty of 100% matches.

…but observe the golden rule. Anything I work on, I get paid for. wink

3. Build up your client base…

…so you have too many clients. Then dump the ones who are fussy and resistant to decent rates (usually the same people). This is an ongoing business development process. As you get busier, you can afford to dump the clients you prefer not to work for (for whatever reason).

4. Go after some direct clients…

…instead of always working for agencies. A healthy freelance business has a mix of both in the client portfolio. Clearly there is a lot more income potential in working for direct clients, but their expectations are different too.

5. Charge direct clients more.

With direct clients, make sure that you charge significantly more than your agency rates. Otherwise you are guilty of spoiling the market for agencies and, in-turn, other translators. Yes, you might find you are partly responsible for spoiling the market because you lack the confidence to ask for more.

6. Know the “going rate”

Be aware of approximately what other translators working in your language combination charge for the sort of work you are quoting for. If you don’t know, find out. Ask people, read surveys, or ask for quotes from other translators. It needn’t be difficult to get the information you need.

7. Don’t expect to get every project you quote for.

If you get everything you quote for, you’re charging far too little. If you are charging what the market will bear, you should get somewhere between 30-60% of the work you quote for.

8. Don’t feel like a failure when you don’t get a project you quoted for.

If they chose someone cheap, they probably got what they deserved and you avoided working for a client with poor judgment. That means you WON! You don’t want a portfolio chock-full of cheapskate clients do you? I don’t.

9. Don’t be afraid to talk about rates.

It is neither unethical nor likely to result in anti-trust action – despite what some people in the US would have you believe. But be sure you don’t breach client confidentiality. Some people say it is unprofessional to talk about rates.

That’s easily disproved. What do you say when a potential client phones and asks you how much for 2000 words into your target language? Do you say…

  • “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that, it’s unprofessional”, or
  • “$150 / thousand words ($0.15 / word) of source language.”

So it’s OK to talk about rates with a complete stranger, who might have a job for you. So why would it be unprofessional to compare notes with others in your profession? Simple answer – It’s NOT! If it were, why do so many professional translators’ associations around the world produce rates surveys? Is it because they’re unprofessional?

10. Stop listening to lies…

…propagated by people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. Talk is cheap. There are people out there who hang out on internet forums for the sole purpose of annoying, disturbing, disrupting and making others feel uncomfortable. They are the terrorists of the online community. If it weren’t for them, there would be no need for moderators. They are the only reason that we embrace the self-imposed censorship that is moderation.

11. Develop an abundance mentality.

“There’s plenty of work out there – I’ve just got to find it.” Leave the low-paying jobs to those just starting out and those trying to scratch a living in developing countries. Spend your time more productively…

  • Seeking out new clients.
  • Learning about marketing and experimenting with new ways.
  • Learning new skills to make you more productive.
  • Learning new specialisations to give you an edge.

12. Be a mentor to “younger” translators…

…and encourage them to set their rates at acceptable levels. It takes a certain leap of faith to do something like this, but believe me, what goes around comes around. If you help people, you will benefit from it.

13. Educate clients and potential clients about translation.

  • What it is.
  • How long it takes.
  • How involved it is.
  • How difficult it is.

Make them understand how dangerous it is to treat it lightly. Get hold of and distribute the excellent booklet “Translation – Getting it Right” (US version or UK version)

So that’s the 13 ways to resist rates erosion that I thought of. Not all of them will apply to all people. I’m sure there are plenty more. If you’ve got one to add, or you’d like to discuss or comment on this article, feel free to add a comment below.

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com,
editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a
Freelance Translator


Selling Your Professional Services on the Web

May 262010

A few weeks ago the majority of Europe’s airspace was closed for a week because of the Icelandic volcano eruption. Many people were forced to consider other travel options. Some people in the blogosphere have been pondering what the world would be like without air travel. Life would not be the same at all.

It’s not until something we take for granted is taken away from us that we realise just how much we rely on it. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to imagine what freelance translating would look like if we took away our equivalent of airspace, which is cyberspace – i.e. the internet. Eeeeeeeeeeek! Don’t go there!

Many of us probably do experience broadband outages from time to time. They are very annoying and inconvenient. But that’s more like a delayed flight than a cancelled one. How would we cope if they actually took our internet away? I’m not going to be too cruel to your imagination and take our computers or cell phones away, just the internet. So let’s see how it’d be. There’d be no…

  • Email
  • Web sites
  • Google
  • Skype/Yahoo Messenger internet telephony
  • Software Downloads
  • Online collaboration
  • Social networking

If you wanted to buy an ebook, you’d have to make a phone call or send a letter and we’d have to mail you a disk. That business model would no longer be viable. We would not be able to publish tranfree because there would be no email. You would probably have never heard of either of translatortips.com anyway.

No Email
Having no email would hurt translators even more because it has become the mechanism for sending and receiving work. Before that, we had to use the postal system, fax, or direct modem to modem file transfer through phone lines. That only stopped about 10 years ago. Anyone remember the Zmodem protocol on WinComm? And the painfully slow 28.8 kbps file transfer?

Of course, the upside of losing email would be no spam. D’you know what? Annoying though it is, I’d rather have email with spam than none at all.

No Web Sites
Having no web sites would be equally traumatic. What would you do when you want to find out the usage of a term you’re not very familiar with? Go to a specialist bookshop? Phone a friend? (Fifty fifty? 😉 What would you do when your five-year-old asks you a hard question? No google, no answer. Go to the library? Yes. The web allows us access to all sorts of stuff we could only find by going and looking in the physical world before. It saves us a lot of time. But the internet giveth and the internet taketh away. For every time-saver on the web there are loads of time wasting activities that spring up to fill their place.

No Skype
Without Skype or Yahoo messenger (and all the others) we would be paying full price for all our international phone calls. Actually, I think we’d be making a lot less phone calls altogether. This would make collaboration harder and more costly. We’d also be in touch less often with friends and family abroad. Perhaps this would make us more efficient in our communications? Is it possible that we are in touch with others too often and too much these days because it’s cheaper? If we had no Skype or email, perhaps we’d write more letters? When was the last time you sent someone a personal letter? I can’t even remember.

No Software Downloads
Without web-based software, and free trials, we would miss out on a lot of excellent productivity enhancing tools. Many of those lovely software applications that make our lives more productive would probably never even have been created because there would be no viable publicity or distribution system for them.

No Online Collaboration
No web-based TM sharing or software. If you wanted to share a glossary or TM with someone, you’d have to mail them a CD or suffer direct modem to modem transfer (shall we allow memory sticks in this scenario?)

No Social Networking
No facebook, no ProZ, no internet forums to discuss work, hobbies or whatever floats your boat. These sites are all useful in their own ways, but the inability to network with others would make translation an even more isolated profession. Being able to talk to other people – even through text-based forums – is a really helpful way to develop relationships with people you would otherwise never “meet”. It’s also a great way to have a short break when you’re half way through a translation that makes you want to go to sleep. They are the fun side of the business.

Freelance translating without the internet would still be possible, but it would be…

  • much more difficult
  • much more time-consuming
  • more expensive, and
  • a lot less fun

I vote we keep the internet. It’s pretty useful!