The Quality Dilemma_

OK, you need a translation into Portuguese, but you do not speak Portuguese. How do you go about it?

– Well, I will look up providers online, ask someone I know, get some quotes…

– Yes, but how will you determine whether you are getting a good translation if you do not speak the language?

– I guess I have to trust the provider.

This is a conversation I was having with a friend this week who is not from the translation industry. It turns out that the conclusion she came to, i.e. you just have to trust the provider, is the same conclusion that most translation buyers come to. Another common thing that happens is asking someone who speaks the language, but is not a professional translator, to take a look at the translation. What is the problem with those approaches?

You will never know for sure…

First, you cannot just trust someone’s stated or real credentials. I have recently begun a process of selecting a team of highly skilled Portuguese <> English translators to work with me at EAP. I have received hundreds of CVs, selected about 30 or so who had impressive stated and proven experience and, so far, I am about halfway through, I have a 50% approval rate. I am an experienced reviewer, which means I do pick up on more things than your average reader would, but still you cannot trust a 50% chance of your translation being right.

My test is an exert from a clinical trial report, which is standard for a medical translator. Brazilians are not native speakers of English and many grammatical constructions in English are very difficult for us, especially when they involve long sentences with several adjectives, etc. Now let us imagine that a Physician is reading a clinical trial report in English and finds himself unsure about a sentence on adverse events. So he looks for the translation, and in 50% of the cases, finds a misleading or partially correct translation. The potentially serious implications of this are obvious.

In the second approach, if you ask someone who happens to speak Portuguese to check the translation out for you, you may get an inaccurate assessment. Would you trust someone who is not in the healthcare industry to write your clinical trial report in your own language? Probably not, because that person is not familiar with the style and terminology used in the healthcare industry. The same goes for any other language, if someone just happens to speak that language, it does not qualify this person to write extremely technical and sensitive documentation in that language.

There is one third approach that some companies use, which is back translating. Back translating is getting a different translator to translate the text back into your source language. I will not go into details on that, because I have mentioned this before in my posts, but basically if your back translation says word for word what your source says, it is probably wrong. The reason for that is that, in order to translate meaning into another language, you often have to change the wording. Back translation can help iron out a few issues, but will not guarantee a quality result.

In many instances, when translation buyers are faced with this dilemma, they lose interest. They just go with a quote that fits their budget and hope for the best, because they won’t know anyway unless there is a very obvious error. But think about how much time and effort has gone into writing your original copy? You probably employed specialist writers, edited and revised your copy several times…Why would you then waste that effort on your foreign audience by presenting them with a poor translation?

In short, quality is essential to your success, you know that when you write your copy, and you need a method for ensuring that your translations reflect that quality.

How do you do that?

  1. Look for a provider who is looking to partner with you.

First, you should look for a provider with good credentials and a good track record, but you should not trust that alone.

In addition to looking good on paper, when you ask for a quote, look for signs that the provider is willing to revise the translation, will be available for questions, and seems as invested as you are in ensuring the final quality of the product. For example, a provider who is upfront with you about a deadline being too tight for a quality job, or the price being too low to pay for a reviewer, or who asks you questions about the nature of the job and other terminology management issues, e.g. are there any terms not to be translated? These are signs that the provider is invested and takes pride in the final result, which means he/she will work with you.

  1. Get feedback from your target audience.

The best people to tell you whether a translation is clear and resonates with them is your target audience. If you cannot do that before the translation goes out, make sure you do it after so that you at least have some feedback on that provider for future projects, and you can mitigate the impact of a bad translation, if it turns out so.

For example, if you had a market research questionnaire translated, ask your moderator about how clear the questions are to him/her. If your moderator is unsure about some questions, go back to your translator and ask him/her to find a way of saying that more clearly.

Also, if your translation is a website, then use a popup quick survey. If you had a clinical trial report translated for your medical audience, get your sales reps to ask physicians for feedback on particularly technical areas of that report, or ask your sales reps how well they understand the translated report.

There are many ways in which you can implement a feedback mechanism for your translated documents and this can go a along way into building a trusting relationship, both with your target audience and your translation provider.

  1. Take the feedback back to your provider and see how he/she works with you to implement it.

When you get feedback from your target audience, your translation provider should be willing to comment on that feedback and discuss with you what changes are/are not appropriate. Ultimately, your provider must be flexible enough to accommodate the changes that you deem appropriate and work with you to make them work linguistically.

If you are a translation buyer, you should always have in mind that your efforts in your field are only as good as you can communicate them. When you work across cultures, this applies to your translations as well.

At EAP, we will work with you, we do our utmost to ensure that your tone and message are conveyed seamlessly, because, for us, we only succeed when you do. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you communicate with your medical audiences across borders.

I have recently read quite a few rants online from translators complaining about “bad” clients. Mostly the complaints went something along the lines of clients making changes and reducing the quality of a translation, clients expecting unreasonable turnaround times, clients telling you that they could do your job if they had time, clients questioning your terminology choices, clients wanting to use Google Translate, etc. Who has not had one of those?

Nonetheless, I believe that the only bad client is a client that does not pay for a service delivered; in which case that is not just a bad client, but a criminal one. All other clients are either good clients, potentially good clients or not a good fit for your business.

I will not argue that every translator who has been in the business for a few years or so will have had the odd tough experience with a client. I get it that every now and then we get a client that tests our limits and our patience, but I believe that we, the translators, are responsible for most of these experiences and I can explain why.

First, a client who attempts to mistakenly correct a translation is a potentially good client, because this client is giving you an opportunity to showcase your expertise when you explain why they are mistaken. If they insist on changing the final translation anyway, then as long as you have noted your objections and they do not attach your name to the final product, there is no reason why this should bother you. I mean, they did buy the translation to do as they see fit after all.

A client who expects an unreasonable turnaround, may just be someone who has never translated anything and has no idea how long it takes. The same goes for a client who offers a very low rate. In both cases, you have an opportunity to explain your quality process and why your translation may take a little longer or cost a little more than they expect. This is also a potentially good client.

Clients who cannot be persuaded when they have unreasonable expectations in regards to deadline and rates, clients who do not believe you need to be a professional to do your job, even after you have shown how different a professional translation is from an amateur one, and clients who want to use Google Translate are just not a good fit for your business.

Many of us seem to operate under the premise that business is business and we need to take whatever comes our way. I think that is a massively flawed premise, and I am not the only one who thinks so. I have recently read an article summarizing the main trends arising from the Localization World Conference in Dublin, Ireland, and basically the third main trend is saying no or “firing” clients who do not fit into your business model.

I think firing is a harsh word, but, as a service provider, working for someone for whom you do not wish to work for, or do not have the competence to work for is doing both your business and your clients’ a disservice. For example, I do not wish to work for someone who has unreasonable expectations. If a client comes to me with an unreasonable deadline and cannot be persuaded that either the quality of the job will suffer, in which case we may need a “work in progress” approach to the translation, or the deadline has to be flexible, I will kindly advise this client to find another provider.

The problem is, if I take this job and deliver within the deadline, the quality will indeed suffer, and it is my name and my business that may become known for poor translations. This client, who was expecting a high quality product, may become unhappy with the final work delivered and choose to never come back, or worse, bad mouth my services. It is likely that this client will have a hard time too, because he will have to find another translator, thus overextending his deadline and budget anyway, or “make do” with a substandard translation. In short, no one will have a positive experience.

Some clients may be ok with a poorer translation, in which case I am also happy for them to find a cheaper provider. It is only fair, and I do not feel bad when they do not choose me for budgetary reasons. I cannot help but care for the outcome of my work, and I would not accept much less money, because I know I would work just as hard.

As business owners, we need to determine the kind of business we want to be and who we want to serve. In other words, what characteristics make a client a good fit for our business.

Client is potentially a good fit for your business

The clients who are a good fit for my business are those who want a personal service, who want an open channel to talk about their expectations and questions, who want quality and understand that this may take a little more time or cost a little more.

They want flexibility from me, in terms of deadlines, last minute changes, etc., but they are also prepared to be flexible if necessary and work with me to ensure the best possible outcome.

The clients who are a good fit for my business want to have a relationship with their translation provider, they want to know that they do not need to recruit a new translator each time they have a job in my language pair, and they want to know they can trust that they will have a product that I, and they, will be proud of.

The clients who are a good fit for my business know that a good translation will boost both their business and mine, and they know they can expect that commitment from me.

Clients who want different things, may be better off finding a different provider.

When we adopt a “good fit approach” we feel more at ease, because we work with people who want to work with us. Everybody has a positive experience that fulfills their expectations and no one feels like they are being over charged, underpaid, treated unfairly or unappreciated. The final product is actually final and of good quality and both businesses thrive.

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Marketing for translators

In 2014, I wrote a post on e-mail marketing for translators. Since then, I have learned a lot, both from courses and experience, and I would like to share an update to that strategy using LinkedIn.

In my original post, I mentioned creating a list of potential clients to contact. You will still need to do that, but, with LinkedIn, I find that you can make it more effective. Instead of using google to find your target companies, use LinkedIn, because when you do that, you also automatically find the people who work in it, and that makes it easier for you to pinpoint the relevant person that you want to contact.

In my case, I run a simple company search for companies in my target industries, i.e. pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, medical device companies and market research companies; basically any type of company that may require medical translations.

Then, find the people that you should be talking to on LinkedIn. Every type of company will have a denomination for the person who manages translation services, larger companies with a high demand will have translation vendor managers or perhaps translation project managers. You can find the right people using the advanced search tool. Look for people by specifying their current company and the keyword translation. In many cases, you will find someone who has something to do with translation, and you can contact this person. Even if the person is not the decision-maker, the person is likely to be able to point you in the right direction.

When you use the search function on LinkedIn, if a particular person is in your network as a 2nd degree connection or as part of one of your groups, then you can easily ask to connect with them. Otherwise, check out the groups that the people you are interested in have joined and join them. Joining relevant groups creates a great opportunity for exposure, for finding opportunities and for networking.

Next, if the person accepts your invitation to connect, which in my experience most people do when they realize that you have something to do with their industry (make sure your profile is strong). Then you can send a brief message thanking the person for accepting your invite, introducing yourself and the reason for your contact.

It can be as simple as, “Thank you for connecting with me. I am a translator between such and such languages and I am looking to expand my network of contacts in this industry. If you are aware of any demand for translations in your company, I would be very grateful if you could refer me to the appropriate individual. I hope both of our business can benefit from a professional connection.” Naturally, if you have interacted with this person in a group, if you know someone they know, if you have been to their school, i.e. if there is any connection between the two of you other than your interest, make sure to mention that as well, because people are more likely to respond when they are personally engaged.

If you get a positive reply, you follow up from there. You may send them your marketing brochure, ask them if they are available for a quick call to discuss what their needs might be, or they may have directed you to someone else that you may contact about your services.

If they do not reply, do not worry, because you are now in their network and they will see all your updates, etc.

If they do not accept your invite, do not worry either. They are now aware of you and if you keep present in the same groups where they are, etc. Eventually, if they need your services, they will remember.

In either case, once the initial contact has been established, do not pester people. The advantage of having them in your network is that you can be visible without directly contacting them all the time to follow-up. Now your work is to be present, by participating in group discussions, engaging with content from people with whom you may want to work and creating content that is valuable for your target clients.

Make it a rule that your presence should add value, never comment on a topic in which you have no interest, do not praise if you do not think people deserve it and really only write article or updates when you think you have something valuable to share.

If you truly strive to provide value, people will know you for your expertise and will cherish that. They will not automatically overlook whenever they see something that you have posted, and, more importantly, they will remember you when they need your services.

This strategy can have immediate benefits, for example, I have signed up with several translation agencies by contacting their vendor managers within days of the initial contact. Nonetheless, bear in mind that this is for the long term and you want your audience to be familiar with you, so that when they come to you for your services, they feel like they know you and they can trust you.

Good luck and please share your ideas with me. How else do you promote your translation business?

Dear readers,

The following post is a review of the second edition of Tradusa, an event for translators and interpreters in the healthcare industry, held in Brazil. I was not involved in it, but one of my readers has asked me to publish this review and help promote the event. If you like what you read, by all means support the event and make sure you are a part of its next edition.

Happy reading!

Karen

TRADUSA Round Two: More Than Skin and Bones

The second iteration of TRADUSA, Brazil’s event for translators and interpreters specialized in healthcare and medicine, was held at the Instituto Phorte in São Paulo on April 1-2, 2016. Fruit of the organizers’ arduous labor and an ever-increasing demand for quality language services in the health sector, this year’s participants enjoyed a balanced combination of hour-long presentations and hands-on workshops–a note-worthy improvement over TRADUSA’s speaker-heavy inaugural edition.

Right from Friday’s opening pitch, participants were offered their choice of a mini-course in neuroanatomy or various translation workshop options, allowing them to grab their bull of interest by the horns from the outset. In his neuroanatomy mini-course, Dr. Altiere A. Carvalho managed to get everyone’s neurotransmitters firing due to his engaging, participatory lecture style, accessible explanations, and plain good nature. Everyone left the workshop with a voluntary appreciation for the body’s involuntary intelligence.

Following a caloric refuelling in the company of new and old colleagues, a round of presentations kicked off with Val Ivonica’s plunge into the controversial topic of machine translation. Ivonica’s talk was practical, product-oriented and properly prudent, but the overarching take-home—embrace these tools, if for no other reason than for sheer productivity’s sake—was the most valuable reminder for a field in disruption.

Pharmacist and translator Beatriz Araújo guided her audience through the dense forest of Brazilian healthcare legislation, stopping to highlight those laws that affect which and how medical texts make their way into the hands of translators. Some of the material was also relevant for those of us from the interpreting world who would like to see limited Portuguese proficient patients access their constitutional right to healthcare—as guaranteed in article 197 of the 1988 constitution (thank you Beatriz!)—via hospital and clinic interpreting services.

Adriana Dominici offered more grist for the translator mill in her presentation about the translation of pharmaceutical package inserts. Though the presentation was tailored to the German-Portuguese combination, the larger message about differing publication formats and regulations among countries was relevant to any pharmaceuticals translator.

The day rounded out with a presentation from the Colectiva team, Cecilia Tsukamoto, Daniele Fonseca, Livia Cais and Suzana Gontijo
who reengaged any interpreters who may have been drifting off following the translation heavy stretch of speakers. Both warm and professional, the squad delineated a roadmap to the demanding world of medical conference interpreting. Though they responsibly reminded aspirants that the field is not one to be taken lightly, the overall message was non-exclusive and grounded: hard work over time can indeed build expertise. No silver bullets were nor could be peddled, but the veteran interpreters did offer a useful introduction, outlining the types of assignments one might encounter and preparation tips for the booth.

Day two’s format mirrored its predecessor: a workshop or mini-course in the morning followed by afternoon speakers (with plenty of breaks for coffee and snacks throughout the day, claro!). Your author attended Rosario Garcia’s workshop on Portuguese-English medical translation intended for translators with little to no experience in the specialty. Garcia proved to be very at home in the classroom, adeptly guiding students through a bit of theory and moving straight on to practical exercises, allowing for immediate experimentation and application of the information presented.

First up to bat in the afternoon round of presentations was conference circuit speaker Ana Julia Perrotti-Garcia with her presentation on medical terminology equivalency pitfalls. Though heavy on the lexical side, Perrotti-Garcia also took the time to revisit fundamental medical concepts—background knowledge valuable to newcomers and seasoned professionals alike.

William Jacob de Lima then exposed us, unprotected, to the evolution of radiology and just about every type of imaging process possible. Though our thyroid glands emerged unscathed, the deluge of isolated images did provoke a sort of vertigo among the uninitiated. Though Jacob de Lima could not be faulted for his completeness, a more detailed pathological contextualization of fewer slides would have been helpful for the layperson.

TRADUSA’s final speaker, Andresa Medeiros, shed light on an interpreting setting nascent in the Brazilian market but long ubiquitous in many other parts of the world: the so-called public service or community healthcare interpreting setting. Medeiros focused on the special considerations that must be taken when interpreting for immigrants, making apparent the jarring differences between this sort of public service interpreting work and that of its sister setting: conference interpreting.

Though arguably lacking the depth or vibrancy that will evolve in later editions, this second iteration of TRADUSA has proven that the event is right on track for future stardom. The conference is a valuable hub for an interpreting sub-specialty that merits and demands apt professionals. After all, the stakes are, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

http://www.tradusaencontro.com.br/

The author

For nearly a decade, Laura Vaughn Holcomb has been the conveyor of intimacies passed between embattled cancer patients and their oncologists, transplant candidates and their care team, and midwives and new mothers. Healthcare interpreter by heart and conference interpreter by hat, in the booth Laura specializes in coffee and cacao.

Laura co-developed and currently runs the Glendon College Virtual Healthcare Interpreting Practicum (VHIP), an online internship program for advanced students preparing to enter the healthcare market. She also trains conference interpreting students for the fully online, Brazil-based Interpret2B. Laura holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College in Toronto. More at: LauraHolcomb.com

 

In global market research, translation and localization are major components of producing quality insight. When you make your research global, you need to ensure that you get quality and actionable insight from each market. There is no point in spending a lot of yours and your client’s time creating the clearest and most insightful questions, if in the end your questions are not going to be asked anyway, or your questions will not be fully understood, or worse, if the insight that you end up with does not reflect the actual data that you collected. Hence, global market research agencies often spend a lot of time and effort recruiting their strategic staff and moderators, but not as much time selecting and briefing their translators.
In my experience as a translation editor for market research agencies, this often leads to poor translations, and outputs that require a lot of effort from analysts before they can be converted into quality and actionable insight for end clients. For those who are not bilingual, here is a little caveat, we do not think the same in different languages. Apart from the obvious differences in lexicon and grammar, the way we structure language in our minds also shapes how we structure our thoughts. Hence, translators do not translate words, they translate concepts and ideas. In other words, you do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant.

“You do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant”

In order to get the most out of your market research, I have put together 5 tips that will dramatically improve your relationship with translators and the outputs that they produce. I promise.
1. Choose translators with the right expertise
This is crucial to the success of your international market research. Your translators need to be knowledgeable about the field of your market research. In the same way that you want your content producers to be knowledgeable and ask the right questions to yield the best insight, you want your translator to be able to convey all that knowledge and expertise in a way that also sounds knowledgeable and is comprehensible to your target audience. For example, in healthcare, the translator has to know enough about medical issues to be able to word the same question appropriately for a layman audience and a medical audience. Doctors in Brazil are literally offended if you “dumb down” medical terminology for them. It is often the case that when healthcare market research materials are translated by a non-medical translator, the translator struggles with the terminology and either produces questions that are unintelligible to physicians and to the moderator; or produces questions that are “dumbed down”, because the translator himself did not have the vocabulary to word the question appropriately for a medical audience. Furthermore, a medical translator will have knowledge of the healthcare system in the target country, potentially even in the country where the question is being created, which means that the translator will be able to localize concepts regarding the source healthcare system, for example, to reflect the target healthcare system. In summary, you want your translator to be familiar with the terminology and market that you are addressing, because this will not only ensure better outputs, but will also potentially save you quite a bit of time in desktop research.

2. Establish partnerships with your translators
The translator is an individual from your target market and, assuming that you followed my first tip, who is knowledgeable about the specific industry that you are researching. Hence, the translator is not just someone who can put your words into another language, the translator is someone who potentially has knowledge that you can capitalize on. In other words, you want the translator to be as invested as you are in the final outcome of your project. The only way that you can achieve that is by establishing partnerships with your translators, thus, giving them a sense of ownership over the final results and ensuring that you capitalize on their local knowledge. Let your translators know that they are your preferred providers, and encourage your project managers to ask them questions about the target market and establish good working relationships with them. This creates a win-win situation; translators benefit from being your preferred partners and from the steadier work stream, while you benefit from their commitment and knowledge. What’s more, if you make them a preferred partner, the chances are that they will make you a preferred client and will try their best to always accommodate your needs and deadlines.

3. Get your translators involved in as many steps of the process as possible
By getting your translators involved in the project from its initial stages, and in as many stages as possible, you ensure that the translator is familiar with the particular terminology of your topic of research and, what’s more, the translator is aware of your goals and committed to them. A translator who has translated your questionnaires and visual aids is familiar with your research and, therefore, able to guarantee a fast turnaround for your outputs, because there will be no need for further terminology research. Furthermore, let us say that your moderator misunderstood a question, when the translator is translating the first output, the translator will be able to spot that, because he/she is aware of what you meant. Hence, he/she will be able to point this out to you before you conduct an entire project asking the wrong question. If the translator offers other services, even better! For example, a translator who also offers content analysis is someone who will be able to choose the quotes and translate the insight of your outputs in a way that is most meaningful to your goals. This reduces the time that your in-house team will have to spend on “translating” those data into actionable insight. This is another win-win situation, because you dramatically improve the quality of your outputs, and the translator gets commissioned for more work.

4. Allow appropriate time for translations
Market research is often a time-bending exercise. It always starts with a good plan, timings and schedules look great, but often these are tossed away and everyone is just working towards the final deadline. Whatever the reason, a translator who works with market research agencies needs to be aware that more often than not, this means that the time allowed for translations is usually short and often unpredictable. In these circumstances, market research agencies often resort to translation agencies, who have a large pool of resources and can split the translation into as many people as necessary to get it done in time. However, this is far from ideal, because different people with no prior knowledge of your research will translate the same things in different ways. In such cases, it is beneficial to have a preferred partner who is familiar with your project, because even if ultimately you have to outsource the translation to an agency, you can always have your partner harmonize everything and ensure that it is all in line with the terminology and goals of your project. Having said that, if you make it part of your MO to allow sufficient time for translations, you can work with your translator to ensure that everything is done in time. For example, you can keep your translator informed of your scheduling and rescheduling activities, so as to ensure that the translator is available to translate your outputs on a rolling basis. Hence, your final deadline may be months away, but the translator is working with you all along. This allows the translator sufficient time to produce a quality translation, and enables you to catch potential language issues in initial stages of the research, as exemplified in tip 3.

5. Appoint a dedicated point of contact to answer the translators’ questions
If you work directly with translators, or if your translation agency has a quick feedback process, you can dedicate someone who is deeply knowledgeable about your project to be available for questions. This is extremely important to ensure that the translator can clarify what you mean, because you do not want your carefully crafted questions to be translated based on a translator’s hunch. This dedicated person can liaise with the translator, brief the translator and ensure that the translator understands not just your project as a whole, but each specific question. Asking the right questions is the basis of market research, and you do not want your efforts lost in translation.

In short, make sure that you work closely with your translators. Make sure that every member of the project team is aware of how important good translations are to the overall success of your global market research project. This may be challenging at times, because most market research agencies employ freelancers, who may be based in different time zones, etc. However, if you put in the effort to establish good relationships with your preferred translation providers, you will streamline your project and you will dramatically improve the quality of your data.

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I have had some time recently to reflect upon my trajectory into becoming a medical translator. I have always said that I did not choose translation, but translation chose me; because my first translation jobs came through people who asked me to translate for them. However, I may have been wrong about this initial assumption.

When I look back far enough, I see myself as a young child begging my mother to put me in English classes. I was convinced that if only I could speak English, I would be able to communicate with the whole world. My initial drive to speak English was so strong that when I was not in school, my whole days revolved around opportunities to learn and speak English. I remember talking to myself and in front of the mirror in English, sticking sheets of paper on the TV to cover movie subtitles and watching them several times. I remember being fascinated by foreigners; I wanted to know them, hear what they had to say, as if they had something different and magical that I had to tap into.

At 14 years old, the school where I learned English had no further advancement courses left for me, so they gave me a job as a teaching assistant. Still, I wanted to actually communicate in English, so I volunteered to translate for the South African swimming team that came every year to attend swimming competitions in my local town, and I volunteered with an organization that hosted exchange students.

When I was 17, I was fortunate enough to go on an exchange program to Australia, where my English really transformed thanks to a host of wonderful people who helped me literally mold it into what it would become. Later, when I went back to Brazil from Australia, I needed to earn some cash as an undergraduate Biology student, so I started teaching English and translating for professors from my university.

My English skills have always been my bread and butter. In addition, they afforded me opportunities to travel, meet people and experience things that would not have been possible if it had not been for them. I am even married to a native English-speaker and, since Australia, I have  also lived in the UK and Bermuda.

“In short, I can categorically state that my English skills have been the most predominant factor in shaping my life as it is today.”

From the moment I became aware that there were people saying things that I could not understand, I decided that it was crucial that I understood them. More importantly, I learned that I could facilitate the communication between people who could not speak the two languages that I could speak. That gave me an immense sense of empowerment, and of being able to empower others to do business or have relationships with people who would normally just bypass them.

When at university, I became aware of how much scientific research is misunderstood or misconstrued due to being in English. Both journalists and researchers have ready access to international journals and news, but poor language skills often mean that scientific discoveries take a long time to be fully comprehended and incorporated into the collective knowledge. Conversely, there is a lot of very interesting research being conducted in Brazil that is not going to reach the international community for many years, because the translations are often so poor that articles get discredited based on their language rather than on their scientific accomplishments.

I became increasingly passionate about facilitating this exchange, because medical and scientific information becoming readily available and understood worldwide is crucial to scientific development, public health and well-being.

In other words, no, translation did not choose me; I chose translation. I chose to empower people and companies by enabling them to communicate well and effectively across cultural and language borders. I chose to turn my passion for English into a marketable skill that others may benefit from. I chose to speak with the whole world and to allow the world to speak to Portuguese speakers through me.

 Thus, if you are looking for a medical translator, who is truly passionate and has dedicated her whole life to perfecting the art of communication, I am your woman. I not only have 14+ years of professional translation experience, a 4-year BSc in Biology and 4 years of actually working as a medical researcher, but I also have a lifetime of meticulously learning and carving my language skills. I have been preparing for your project all my life; I am ready.

When you decide to embark on a career in translation, one of your first road blocks is that every agency you get in touch with requires experience.  Even when getting in touch with direct clients for the first time, you may feel that your CV is not yet something to be proud of and may feel discouraged and overwhelmed.

You are then faced with the dilemma, how will I get experience if I cannot get work? This frustrates many beginner translators, who may start wondering if they will ever get any decent work.

The reason why I am writing this post is because I have a different perspective on this, which took me some years to realize, and I think it may help you feel more motivated and ready for the challenge.

Unlike being a doctor, for which your training starts when you enter university, being a translator involves a lifetime of training. Acquiring language competence in two or more languages takes much longer than it does to train a doctor. So even if you never go to translation school, all your years of learning both your native(s) and foreign language(s) were preparing you to work as a translator. Thus, not for one second allow yourself to believe that you have not been preparing and, therefore, have no experience in translation.

When you read something in a foreign language about a topic of interest of yours and then relayed this information to a friend or relative, you were translating. When a song in your foreign language moved you and you shared it with someone for whom you had to explain it in a different language than it had originally been written, you were translating. Translating becomes such a natural part of our lives when we speak more than one language that we often forget how often we do it. This is something that is not readily obvious to someone who does not speak more than one language, but when you are competent in at least two languages, you have a lot of translation experience.

What you lack is formal training and experience on how to translate professionally, such as best practices, computer-assisted translation tools, memory and terminology management, etc. All of this can be learned, through formal training and/or experience, but it does not mean that you cannot start working now.

This may sound like I am undermining the role of an experienced professional translator, and that is not at all my intention. An experienced professional translator has the benefit of years of working with particular topics, has the advantage of in-depth knowledge of vocabulary in that translator’s particular specialist fields, in addition to being more knowledgeable about resources, tools and practices that can facilitate the translation process. Hence, from a client’s perspective, ideally you would want the best of both worlds, a professional translator who is highly knowledgeable about the topic of your translation. Nonetheless, my intention is to encourage and empower beginner translators to leverage their life experience, instead of being discourage by their current lack of specific professional translation experience.

In practice, what this means is that if you have an interest, a hobby even, or formal education in an area other than translation, and you have been using your language skills to further your knowledge of these topics, you have the leverage of being familiar with vocabulary and the style of communications used in that particular field. You may be a beginner translator, but you are not a beginner in that field and this can be used to leverage your CV when introducing yourself to agencies and direct clients.

Agencies may be more stringent in their criteria, but direct clients, once they see how knowledgeable you are about the topic of their translation, and how linguistically competent you are, they will be pleased to allow you to translate their materials.

Hence, I do advise you to follow the traditional route of studying, doing volunteer work, maybe creating some high visibility translations of topics of interest to you and promoting them online, etc., but also, make sure you do promote the knowledge that you have. Do not undersell yourself, just because you have not been a translator formally for x number of years.

 In other words, follow the traditional route, but do not be discouraged in pursuing the direct clients and high-end agencies as well, because if you are linguistically competent in more than one language, you are  no beginner!

In my most recent post: Why should freelance translators spend some time standardizing their processes? I discussed briefly the value of having some standardized processes to free up brain space and time to do the things you love, such as translating. I will not go into too much detail on that at this point, but feel free to read the post if you are interested.

The aim of this particular process is to ensure that you keep track of your clients and rates. If you are a beginner translator, you may not be feeling the need for such a process just yet, but this is the ideal time to begin.

Over the years as a freelance translator, you will work with many clients and for varying periods. Some will get on board at the beginning of your career and stay with you for many years; others will hire you for one-off projects, and some of these seemingly “one-off” projects will come back after a few years with a new project. Keeping track of who they are and how much you charged them for your last project with them is crucial to your business development.

Here are the two main reasons why:

  • Consistency and opportunities for increasing rates

Needless to say, even if you start out with the same rate, you will have different rates for these clients over time. Your rates will hopefully increase as your experience increases and you become more knowledgeable about the market. You can charge more from new clients coming on board now than for clients who have been with you from the beginning and paid your initial lower rate. In addition, you will have varying degrees of success in your negotiations with other clients, which will mean different rates as well. If you keep track of how much each client paid you for your most recent project with them, whenever a client comes back requesting a quote, all you have to do is quickly check your spreadsheet and you know what your negotiated rate with that client was. This information enables you to provide a quick quote, or start negotiating a new rate from your first reply.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, some clients will disappear for a few years and come back unexpectedly with a large project. In such cases, it is handy to know how much you charged back then, so that you can decide, before they ask, whether you need to charge them more or not. Also, you may have charged them a higher rate at the time than what most of your clients are paying now, e.g. because they are a direct client and you are currently working predominantly with agencies, and if you just go ahead and charge your must current rate, you may waste an opportunity to earn more for that job.

Conversely, if your rates are much higher now, when a client comes back to you after a few years expecting your original rate, you are able to decide whether to go with the original rate, increase your rate slightly so as not to scare them, or gently let them know your current rate. Many clients will agree a project with you assuming your original rate, without even asking for a quote, so you are better off always making sure the rates that you are charging for a particular project are clearly stated in every case. Again, in any case, not having to go back through your files to try to find how much you charged originally is extremely handy.

  • You have a ready-made list of leads

Sometimes we work with clients, they come and go, and over the years, we forget to check when we last worked for them. This will not happen in the beginning of your career, but after a few years, you will see that you actually forget certain clients, because you were busy with other projects.

When you keep a list of your clients, your contacts in their companies and rates, you have a ready-made list of marketing leads. Whenever you have a low period, you can go through your list, identify those clients with whom you have not been in touch in a while, and send them a friendly reminder that you are available, or just say hello. This is incredibly effective in making sure that your clients remember you and whenever they have a project in your language pair, you will be the first person they think of.

In addition, if you decide to offer a discount for a limited period or any other deals, you can contact all of these people easily and it will not be cold emailing, because they are already familiar with you and your work.

In order to do this, I use a spreadsheet that I created (picture below), which I call Client Database. My spreadsheet contains:

  • Client: company or person
  • Last job: date of the last job
  • Service: translation, revision, proofreading, transcription, content analysis, etc.
  • Rates currency: GBP, USD, EUR (depending on what I negotiated with the client)
  • Rate: amount/unit, e.g. 40/hour or 0.1/word
  • Status: Active or inactive. If I am currently working on a project for this client, or if this client regularly contacts me for projects, I consider this an active client. Otherwise, I classify the client as inactive. The reason for this item is that I can easily filter my spreadsheet by active or inactive clients depending on my marketing strategy. For example, I may want to contact all clients with whom I have not been in touch in a while, so I filter my spreadsheet by inactive clients. If I decide to offer a discount to my current clients, I can filter the spreadsheet by active clients.
  • Last contact: date of last contact with a representative of this client, perhaps when they offered a project that fell through, etc. This may or may not be the same as the last job date, but it is useful for you to know that you may have been in touch with them, but unable to secure work with them for some reason.
  • Contact person: name of project manager or direct client
  • Contact details: e-mail address. I am unlikely to call my clients, so I use e-mail, but if you like calling on occasion to make it more personal, then also add a phone number.
  • Notes: this is more for inactive clients and, basically, I add any information that might be useful if I were to engage with this client again in the future, such as tried to negotiate rate down or delays payments, etc. For example, if I have a promotional discount for some time, I may contact a client who negotiated my rates down and ask if they want to take advantage of a limited discount offer.

Client database printscreen

I update this spreadsheet at the end of every month. Updating your spreadsheet regularly is essential to ensuring that you have recent data on when you last worked for a client, etc. In addition, it helps you remember all those clients and reach out to them when you need more projects. It is very easy to panic and look for new leads every time you find yourself in a low period, and forget that you have a ready-made database of people who already know you, know your work, and who would probably be willing to work with you again.

This is a simple enough spreadsheet and a simple enough process, so make sure you implement it and you will reap the benefits from having this data compiled before you know it! Do you have any better processes for keeping track of your clients and rates? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy translating!

As freelancers, we take pride in managing our own time, being our own boss, and theoretically being able to choose our jobs and clients. However, when it gets down to it, being your own boss also means being your own IT department, being your own human resources department, your own accounts department, and so on. The tricky part is, we are only paid for the translation work, all the other jobs that we carry out are either unpaid, or you have to factor that time into your translation rate.

Even if you are a “boutique” translator, who charges a hefty fee for your services, factoring the cost of all the hours that you put into invoicing, learning how to use translation resources, figuring out IT problems, chasing payments, prospecting clients, etc. into your per hour or per word rate, would likely make you prohibitively expensive. Hence, there are two options, one is outsourcing some or all of these tasks, and the other is reducing the amount of time that you spend on each of these tasks.

In either case, you can benefit from standardizing some of your processes to ensure that you or the person who will perform a service for you is able to perform tasks quickly and keep appropriate records. If you think of yourself as a company, you may take some initial time (start-up) time to create certain documents and tools, but these will pay off later in time saved that you can use to earn money from translating or relax and enjoy the money that you have earned.

If you choose to outsource all of your non translation-related tasks, you need to find affordable services and determine how much of your earnings you are prepared to spend on “business costs”. The advantages of outsourcing services include freeing up brain space for translation, freeing up time, and not having to actually spend time doing things that you dislike versus translating, which you love. The disadvantages are primarily the cost of outsourcing, giving up some of your control over important aspects of your business and having more people to manage, which means that you will also have to manage their deadlines, deliverables, etc.

I particularly prefer a combination outsourcing and doing it myself. There are tasks, such as filing tax returns, which can be outsourced for a relatively low cost. Other tasks, such as your marketing, are potentially more effectively done by you. More importantly, if you chose to become a freelancer, you probably believe that you work well independently and are used to “figuring things out” for yourself. Hence, you probably do not think that you need to spend money on many of these tasks. Well, I believe that too, and in the very least, if you do spend some money, you should really only spend where necessary.

As freelancers, we do not operate as companies, and when we “hire” someone, we usually pay another freelancer on an hourly basis as well. Hence, it is important that the other freelancer is able to hit the ground running and do as much as possible for you in the hours that you are hiring them.

For example, if you hire someone to do your client prospecting for you, he or she will be contacting potential clients on your behalf. This is obviously great, provided that their approach truly represents how you want to portray yourself, and how good they are at recordkeeping. Let us say that you hire a sales person and give them a list of potential clients to contact, you tell them to create a template for initial communications through e-mails and letters, and send them off on their trail. Two or three months down the line, you may be a bit short on cash and decide that you do not need their services right now, so you fire them. How do you know who they contacted and what their responses were? How do you know who you need to follow up on? In a few months, when you decide to hire a new sales person, how will they know where to start?

In this example, you should have provided or had the first sales person create a brief on what to put in their communications, a list of contacts, a spreadsheet to track who had been contacted, and a results-tracker. Furthermore, you should have arranged periodic monitoring of their work to make sure that they were using your tools appropriately and that they were having some success. This would have meant spending a few hours initially, either creating the materials and/or briefing the sales person (paid hours). After this initial time, you would have to meet with the sales person for 1-2 hours per month to keep track of their progress and use of your materials.

 I know that not many translators will go as far as hiring a sales person, but this concept of having an outline of what you need from a task, templates to streamline accomplishing the task and a results-tracker applies to all of your potential processes, from accounting, to sales, to collections.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I am going to share some of my standardized practices with you. These are quick and simple processes that you can apply to ensure that you are on top of your finances, your marketing, your clients and your rates. The main concept behind all of them is setting out what you want from your tasks, creating as many templates as possible in advance and devising means to keep track of your results.

If you spend some time doing this for all your processes, and apply your processes consistently, not only will you be much quicker at doing them, but also if you ever choose to outsource, the person who takes over from you will be able to do so quickly and with little training.

Stay tuned and let me know your thoughts! Happy translating!

As freelancers, we take pride in managing our own time, being our own boss, and theoretically being able to choose our jobs and clients. However, when it gets down to it, being your own boss also means being your own IT department, being your own human resources department, your own accounts department, and so on. The tricky part is, we are only paid for the translation work, all the other jobs that we carry out are either unpaid, or you have to factor that time into your translation rate.

Even if you are a “boutique” translator, who charges a hefty fee for your services, factoring the cost of all the hours that you put into invoicing, learning how to use translation resources, figuring out IT problems, chasing payments, prospecting clients, etc. into your per hour or per word rate, would likely make you prohibitively expensive. Hence, there are two options, one is outsourcing some or all of these tasks, and the other is reducing the amount of time that you spend on each of these tasks.

In either case, you can benefit from standardizing some of your processes to ensure that you or the person who will perform a service for you is able to perform tasks quickly and keep appropriate records. If you think of yourself as a company, you may take some initial time (start-up) to create certain documents and tools, but this will pay off later in time saved that you can use to earn money from translating or relax and enjoy the money that you have earned.

If you choose to outsource all of your non translation-related tasks, you need to find affordable services and determine how much of your earnings you are prepared to spend on “business costs”. The advantages of outsourcing services include freeing up brain space for translation, freeing up time, and not having to actually spend time doing things that you dislike versus translating, which you love. The disadvantages are primarily the cost of outsourcing, giving up some of your control over important aspects of your business and having more people to manage, which means that you will also have to manage their deadlines, deliverables, etc.

I particularly prefer a combination of outsourcing and doing it myself. There are tasks, such as filing tax returns, which can be outsourced for a relatively low cost. Other tasks, such as your marketing, are potentially more effectively done by you. More importantly, if you chose to become a freelancer, you probably believe that you work well independently and are used to “figuring things out” for yourself. Hence, you probably do not think that you need to spend money on many of these tasks. Well, I believe that too, and in the very least, if you do spend some money, you should really only spend where necessary.

As freelancers, we do not operate as companies, and when we “hire” someone, we usually pay another freelancer on an hourly basis as well. Hence, it is important that the other freelancer is able to hit the ground running and do as much as possible for you in the hours that you are hiring them.

For example, if you hire someone to do your client prospecting for you, he or she will be contacting potential clients on your behalf. This is obviously great, provided that their approach truly represents how you want to portray yourself, and how good they are at recordkeeping. Let us say that you hire a sales person and give them a list of potential clients to contact, you tell them to create a template for initial communications through e-mails and letters, and send them off on their trail. Two or three months down the line, you may be a bit short on cash and decide that you do not need their services right now, so you fire them. How do you know who they contacted and what their responses were? How do you know who you need to follow up on? In a few months, when you decide to hire a new sales person, how will they know where to start?

In this example, you should have provided or had the first sales person create a brief on what to put in their communications, a list of contacts, a spreadsheet to track who had been contacted, and a results-tracker. Furthermore, you should have arranged periodic monitoring of their work to make sure that they were using your tools appropriately and that they were having some success. This would have meant spending a few hours initially, either creating the materials and/or briefing the sales person (paid hours). After this initial time, you would have had to meet with the sales person for 1-2 hours per month to keep track of their progress and use of your materials.

 I know that not many translators will go as far as hiring a sales person, but this concept of having an outline of what you need from a task, templates to streamline accomplishing the task and a results-tracker applies to all of your potential processes, from accounting, to sales, to collections.

Whether your intent is to hire someone to do a job for you, or to do it yourself. You will benefit from creating materials in advance. Such materials should always include your goals and how you will measure your results, as well as, templates to streamline that particular task.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I am going to share some of my standardized practices with you. These are quick and simple processes that you can apply to ensure that you are on top of your finances, your marketing, your clients and your rates. The main concept behind all of them is setting out what you want from your tasks, creating as many templates as possible in advance and devising means to keep track of your results.

If you spend some time doing this for all your processes, and apply your processes consistently, not only will you be much quicker at doing them, but also if you ever choose to outsource, the person who takes over from you will be able to do so quickly and with little training.

Stay tuned and let me know your thoughts! Happy translating!

If you are thinking of venturing into medical translations, in this article you will find a brief description of the most common types of medical documents that you could be presented with. I will briefly discuss some categories of medical documents and the level of specialization required to work with them.

Like doctors, some translators choose to specialize in body systems, such as vascular, reproductive, respiratory, lymphatic, etc. Alternatively, they may specialize in a particular condition, such as diabetes, leukaemia, Alzheimer’s disease etc. These translators will usually handle all sorts of documentation within their particular field of expertise. This type of specialization usually works when you have a background working in that particular field. For example, I have a background as a researcher in human reproduction, so for this particular area of specialization I usually handle all types of medical documents. Otherwise, this type of specialization may be too limiting and the time investment it will take you to learn about all things related to that topic may not be feasible in the short to medium term.

Other medical translators choose to specialize in a particular type of medical documentation, which is what we will focus on in this article. Specializing in a particular type of documentation requires a broad general knowledge of medicine and extensive experience with and exposure to that particular type of document. Usually, the terminology and style of these types of documents are very specific, but also somewhat standard, so they are quicker to learn and easier to master. Again, they require a time investment, because you will need to read many of those types of documents in both your working languages and, what’s more, you will need to keep up with your general medical knowledge to handle requests in any field. However, you will get the gist of the documents quicker and can start selecting jobs in areas that you are more familiar with.

Having said that, what types of medical documentation could you specialize in?

  • Clinical trial documentation: All pharmaceutical companies carry out clinical trials to ensure that their drugs are safe and market-ready. Many new drugs are meant to be sold globally and, for that reason, clinical trials also have to be conducted in several countries. Hence, this is a prolific field, because these trials happen all the time and in many languages. Typically, the source documentation is prepared in English, regardless of where the pharmaceutical company is based. These documents are then sent to medical translators for translation into the languages of the countries where the clinical trial will take place. The most common types of documents in clinical trials are clinical trial protocols, investigator’s brochures, informed consent forms, adverse event reports, communications between the main study centre and other study centres, and legal documentation between the pharmaceutical companies and study centres (e.g. agreements, statements, etc.). Specializing in this field requires a thorough knowledge of the technical and legal aspects of this type of documentation, as well as extreme attention to detail, because errors in clinical trial documentation are particularly serious. For example, a typo in a dosage could effectively kill or harm a patient.
  • Patents: Patent translations is also a prolific field. Because there is no unified patent legislation across the globe, patent holders often have to file for patents in several different countries, which means that there is a high demand for several languages. Translating patents requires some knowledge of medical devices and biochemistry, because most inventions related to the medical field are either devices or chemicals, as well as law. These are usually legal documents written according to very particular standards, so learning the style and terminology is essential, because patents are often rejected if their style is not compliant with the accepted standards. In addition, the translator needs to keep up with medical news, because patents are often inventions and the technology used is cutting-edge. Hence, you need to be willing to research and learn, because it will not always be easy to find equivalent terms in both your working languages.
  • Medical devices: medical device documentation consists primarily of manuals. These documents are usually extensive and explain in detail how a device works, what it contains and how it should be operated. This is a very technical field that requires some knowledge of engineering and physics, because you often have to describe parts and how they operate in relation to each other. Specific medical knowledge in this case is important for you to understand the purpose of a device, but understanding its mechanics and engineering is usually more important. A translator who wants to work in this field should focus on knowledge of engineering applied to the medical field, and health and safety regulations.
  • Regulatory & compliance: These are usually standards issued by governments or regulatory authorities, best practices, legislation, etc. In my experience, there is less demand for this type of documentation, except among economic groups, such as the EU, where certain standards are unified and therefore need to be translated into all applicable languages. Other cases in which regulatory documentation requires translation is when foreign companies are taking part in tenders and need to be compliant with local legislation. In such cases, there may be a demand for translation of such requirements and then translation of the applicable compliance statements. This type of translation requires a knowledge of legal terminology applied to the medical field and, if you translate into a language used within an economic group, knowledge of the style and terminology of standard documents used within that group.
  • Market research: Pharmaceutical and medical device companies often sell their products globally, therefore, they are always conducting market research in their target countries to determine their positioning, pricing, acceptance, branding, etc. Translators specialized in market research will often translate discussion guides for interviews with patients and physicians or other experts, product profiles, research screeners and transcripts of interviews. This is a “softer” type of translation because the medical knowledge required is not as technical. However, you need to be aware of the terminology used among physicians as well as among patients, because the same question will almost never be translated in exactly the same way to both audiences.
  • Websites and patient brochures: This is self-explanatory and technically speaking the easiest type of translation in the medical field. Websites are rarely too specialized, because they aim to attract broad audiences. However, you must be very careful in conveying the right tone and style. Translating a healthcare company’s website is not like translating a travel website. The language usually needs to be accessible, but credibility is essential, so your translation must ensure that the terminology used is in line with industry standards. In addition, patient leaflets and brochures must be understandable and credible, so that patients feel that they can rely on that information. Your job as a translator in this case is to learn how to communicate with each audience in a professional, but accessible manner.
  • Academic: These are usually scientific articles published in international journals. The demand for this type of translation is most often into English, because most international journals are in English. There may also be a demand to translate researcher CVs, abstracts, protocols, etc. This type of translation requires a knowledge of the standard formatting and style of scientific journals. Sometimes the translator must also become familiar with the style and requirements of a particular journal, in order to ensure that the translation is compliant. Furthermore, this type of translation requires technical knowledge, because many publications will be directed at experts in a particular field, which means that less than expert translations often discredit the work of the researcher.

In my experience, these are the most common types of documents translated by medical translators. If you choose to specialize in a particular type of document, it does not mean that you can never venture into other types of documentation. All it means is that you need to be aware of how much you will need to learn and what to focus on, because with specific documentation you need more than expert knowledge of a particular field.

Can you think of any other types of documents translated by medical translators? If you do, please share them in your comments!

 

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