Although I just posted a bunch of links yesterday, these are too good not to share! German to English translator Jill Sommer has presented the first-time attendees’ orientation at the ATA conference for many years, and she restyled that presentation into a webinar. It covers topics such as how to prepare for the conference, how to pick the sessions you want to attend, how to market and network effectively at the conference and much more. You can watch the webinar recording (it’s free!) and/or read Jill’s blog post with follow-up questions. This really is a wealth of information for newcomers to the profession; thanks to Jill for putting all of this together! See you in Boston!
Archive for the ‘Webinar questions’ Category
A participant asks: Do you have any advice for small (exotic) language translators? My native language is Hungarian.
Short answer: Hmm. Tough to answer this in one sentence. Let’s move on to the longer answer.
Longer answer: First, how small is too small when it comes to small-diffusion languages? My sense is that there is enough of a market for Hungarian and similarly-sized languages to support a freelancer. For example, Hungarian is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. That alone would seem to generate a fair bit of work, since any industry that is regulated in the EU (i.e. pharmaceuticals and medical devices) is required to produce product information in the official languages. However I do think that some languages are just so small/exotic that there may not be enough work to support a freelancer unless you really know where to look. For example, I once talked to a project manager at a fairly large agency who happened to be a native speaker of Albanian. She told me that in her multi-year tenure with that agency, she had never seen an Albanian project come through their pipeline. But let’s say that you translate a language that is small (i.e. Hungarian) but large enough that you can make a go of it as a translator. Here are some ideas:
- Team up with other translators and form a small, single-language agency. Many large agencies probably struggle to deal with high-volume projects in, say, Hungarian. While a medium to large agency can probably assemble a German (French, Spanish, etc.) team to translate 100,000 words in a week, they may panic when they have to deal with a similar situation in Hungarian, Slovene or Maltese. So by forming a small team of translators, you could be a one-stop shop for other, larger agencies. Instead of spending a whole day on the phone trying to find 8 Greek translators who are available for 2 weeks, the larger agencies could just call you.
- Find clients who really need you. Various sources have said that the European Commission can only meet 70% of its demand for Romanian, Latvian and Maltese interpreting because it cannot find enough qualified candidates. Especially if you translate one of the EU official languages, European governmental entities are probably a good target.
- Be open to a variety of subject areas. Beginning French, German and Spanish translators are often advised to specialize as narrowly as possible in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. My instinct about smaller-diffusion languages would be the opposite: especially if you’re going to accept outsourced work from larger agencies, you probably need to accept a wide range of subject areas.
And now over to the readers! I’m probably not the best source of advice on this topic since I translate a large-diffusion language, so let’s see if we can get some tips from small-diffusion translators out there!
A participant asks: For a translator who doesn’t use CAT tools, what is the average turnaround/output in words per day?
Short answer: If you want to work for agencies, you probably need to translate 2,000-3,000 words per day in order to meet their deadlines. If you work for direct clients, you can work more at your own pace. I know translators who average anywhere between 200 and 1,000 finished words per hour, so obviously your mileage will vary!
Longer answer: First, I’m not completely convinced that CAT tools save translators a lot of time unless the project is extremely repetitive (i.e. updating a previously translated document). When I use WordFast or OmegaT, I find that my translation speed increases by about 10% because I’m not constantly finding my place in the source document and glancing back and forth between screens, but I also find that my editing time increases because my writing is more “chunked” and does not flow as well. I avoid using CAT tools on anything that is for publication, but that’s another post!
If I had to put a number on it, I would say that the average translator produces between 400 and 600 finished words per hour. However, most people can’t translate for 8 hours without stopping, and most of the time you’ll encounter a section in the document that you have to research or read about, so you’ll slow down. In addition, most translators’ work speed varies enormously depending on the subject matter and format of the document. Years ago I used to translate market research surveys that were so repetitive I could listen to audio books while I worked and still produce about 800 finished words per hour. However, this also meant that the work was not very stimulating/fulfilling/intellectually demanding and therefore not very satisfying. I’ve worked on really complex legal documents that involved multiple cross-references and layers of meaning, and I’ve dipped as low as 250 words per hour.
As I mentioned in the short answer to this question, I think that agencies expect that translators will produce 2,000 to 3,000 finished words per day, and in general you have to be able to translate that fast in order to make a healthy income on agency rates (of course there are exceptions!). I’m not in the “faster is better” camp, but if you want to translate faster, you could:
- Work on your typing. It sounds simplistic, but a lot of translators could translate faster if they typed faster. Recently, someone doing a research project on translators’ typing speeds asked me to take this typing speed test. I scored 83 words a minute (eternal thanks to my 10th grade keyboarding teacher!); according to the typing website, this means that I save 5.5 hours per 10 hours of typing as compared with “the average typist” who does 36 words per minute. Moral: typing speed matters!
- Use speech recognition software or hire a transcriptionist. Most speech recognition software and most transcriptionists should be able to handle 80-120 words per minute. If you’re at that 36 word per minute average, this could really increase your productivity. I haven’t tried speech recognition software because I just don’t think that fast! And I don’t mind typing. But most of the ultra-productive translators I know (800-1,000 words per hour) do use speech recognition software.
- Concentrate on your specializations. I think that the best way to increase your translation speed is to become really knowledgeable about your areas of specialization and stick to them. Once you start to know the terminology, sentence structure, typical phrasing, and even your regular clients’ writing styles, you’ll really speed up.
Any other thoughts on translation speed?
A participant asks: How can I prepare for the ATA certification exam?
Short answer: Order a practice test from ATA; at $50 (including return of the graded copy of your exam) as opposed to $300 for the real exam (not including return of the graded copy of your exam), it’s a good investment and a good indicator of your chances of passing the real exam.
Longer answer: If you’d like to take the ATA exam, you need to do a few things:
- Join ATA
- Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements for the exam. If you don’t meet them and you do not currently work as a translator, your most expeditious route is probably to get a translation certificate from an approved program; there’s a list on the ATA website.
- Gather (buy, borrow, check out of the library) enough paper dictionaries and reference books for the exam. At present, ATA does not allow candidates to use any electronic resources for the exam, but you can use all of the paper dictionaries that you can carry. When I took the test, the woman next to me brought a rolling suitcase full of dictionaries covering a variety of subject areas.
- Familiarize yourself with the error marking framework for the exam, the tips for candidates and the other resources on ATA’s website.
- Take a practice test and see how you do. The magic number is 17; with 17 or fewer error points, you’re in. If you take the practice test and get 20 error points, you probably have a chance of passing the real exam (this happened to me) but if you get 40 error points, well…
And a few random thoughts on the ATA exam:
- I am ATA-certified and find it to be a boost for my business. At the very least, someone browsing the ATA online directory is likely to call the certified translators first. I do a pretty brisk business translating official documents for individual direct clients, partially because I’m one of only three ATA-certified French to English translators in Colorado. However, the highest paid freelancers I know, people in the 40+ cents per word market, are not certified. You can definitely earn a very healthy income as a freelance translator without being certified.
- As was recently discussed on Jill Sommer’s blog, there are lots of issues with the ATA exam. The handwriting factor is huge; personally I don’t hand write anything except my grocery list, and I found it excruciating to hand write the whole exam. In nearly a decade as a freelancer, I have never hand written a translation other than the ATA exam. Ditto with paper dictionaries; most of us have moved over to entirely electronic terminology resources and it’s tough to translate without using them. When I took the exam, the general passage was much, much harder than the specialized passage, and I felt that the grading standards were heavily swayed toward a fairly literal, word-by-word translation; the kind of translation I try to avoid when I translate for publication. ATA is working on a lot of these issues. And to be fair, it’s hard to deal with some of them (for example the long turnaround time to get your exam graded) without raising the price beyond most translators’ means.
- The pass rate for the ATA certification exams is very low. ATA does not release exact statistics, but the pass rate seems to be about 20%. However: a) this is comparable to, or even higher than the pass rates for similar exams such as the Federal Court Interpreter certification exam. Some court interpreter certification exams even have a pass rate around 5%. b) if you fail the ATA exam, it means that two separate graders agree that you failed. Every exam is reviewed by two graders to start out with. If they disagree on the result, the exam is then sent to another grader for a third review. So you cannot fail the exam based on only one person’s assessment of your test. c) I would be interested to see the pass rates broken down by language. Anecdotally, it seems that some languages’ pass rates are much lower than others
- If I were to give ATA some business advice, I would advise them to start producing preparation materials for the certification exams. I think that this would serve the twofold purpose of making the exam and the grading process more transparent and of generating revenue for ATA. For example, ATA could publish preparation manuals of old exams with graded example translations. They could even offer preparation courses. Hey, if people will spend several thousand dollars for a bar exam preparation course, ATA should be able to charge real money for a translator certification exam preparation course.
A participant asks: As a self-employed freelance translator, should I operate as an LLC, an S-corp or a sole proprietorship?
Short answer: If you freelance full-time, I think it’s worth incorporating. As long as you don’t mind the extra paperwork, incorporating has some significant tax and liability advantages.
Longer answer: First, I’m not an accountant or an attorney. Second, I have an S-corp so I’m more informed about S-corps than about LLCs and C-corps. Third, I can’t speak to tax issues in countries other than the U.S. That being said:
- Running your freelance business as a sole proprietor is really simple; just report your freelance income on IRS Schedule C, pay self-employment tax on it and you’re pretty much set. Running a corporation is a little more complicated: you may have to file monthly or quarterly payroll taxes and a separate end-of-year corporate tax return. You will have to pay to register your corporation every year and the IRS may be less lenient with you than with a sole proprietor if you mess up your taxes. If you don’t want to be bothered with any extra paperwork or filing requirements, stick with sole proprietorship.
- The hassle factor of incorporating depends on the state in which you live, since corporations are registered at the state level. Here in Colorado, incorporating is very simple and cheap but you do have to renew your corporate registration every year. Check your state’s Secretary of State website for the requirements where you live.
- The tax advantages of incorporating can be significant. When you work as a sole proprietor, you pay self-employment tax (currently 15.30%) on everything you earn, minus your business expenses. This is in addition to the normal Federal rate that you would pay if you worked for an employer, so it’s a big hit. Some corporate structures allow you to take some of your earnings as “wages” which are subject to self-employment tax and some of your earnings as “profit” which is not subject to self-employment tax. My understanding is that this applies to S-corps and C-corps but not LLCs unless the LLC files taxes as an S-corp. So for example if you gross $70,000 and take $40,000 as wages and $30,000 as profit, you have the potential to save $4,590 in self-employment tax (15.3% x 30,000). Even if you do quarterly payroll taxes (mine take about an hour per quarter) and pay an accountant to file your corporate tax return, this is a big win.
- Liability: I have never heard of a lawsuit against a freelance translator, but the U.S. is the most litigious country in the world so it’s certainly not out of the question. Incorporating separates your business and personal assets; if you’re sued, the plaintiff can only go after your business’ assets and not your house, car or personal bank accounts. If you’re a sole proprietor, your personal assets are theoretically fair game if you are sued for a business issue.
- Incorporating seems to make you less likely to be audited by the IRS. It’s a bit hard to pin down the exact statistics, but articles such as this one by respected tax professional Barbara Weltman suggest that audit rates for S-corps are dramatically lower than those for sole proprietors. Weltman states that the total S-corp audit rate is 0.4% and the audit rate for Schedule C filers earning between $100,000 and $200,000 per year is 3.9%.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar on Getting Started as a Freelance Translator as part of ATA’s ongoing series of online educational sessions. I think that it went well, with huge thanks to Lucy Brooks of eCPD Webinars and Mary David and Naomi Sutcliffe de Moraes of ATA. Lots of participants submitted questions, but we only got to a few of them before our time ran out. I’ve started a new blog category, “Webinar questions,” in order to answer some more of them here. Thanks to everyone who participated!
A participant asks: Can one be too old to begin a translation business (for example, as indicated by degree completion years) or do prospective employers generally not care?
Short answer: As a freelancer, I wouldn’t worry about age too much. If you’re up-to-date enough to participate in a webinar and even submit a question, I think you’re fine.
Longer answer: This worry applies to both ends of the spectrum: 22 year old new graduates and 68 year old retirees often ask “Will clients take me seriously?” In both cases, I think the answer is “yes,” if you keep a few important factors in mind:
- As a group, freelance translators aren’t that young. Case in point: I’m 39 and have an 8 year old child, and I’m regularly referred to as a “girl” or “young lady” by elder members of the profession. The oldest freelancer I’ve heard of was in his early 90s and I know of numerous successful freelancers in the 70+ bracket.
- Degree completion years? For a US resumé, I’d leave them off. After all, age discrimination is illegal and as long as you can do the job, your clients really don’t need to know how old you are. Likewise, I know several translators in their 60s and beyond who deliberately do not put their photo on their marketing materials.
- Whether you’re on the young or old end of the freelance spectrum, keep the negative stereotypes of your age group in mind and defy them. For example, take the stereotype that older workers are set in their ways and resist new technologies. Beat this image by pointing out that you’ve recently participated in a webinar (or even more than one!) for freelance translators, that you use Skype to communicate with your clients and colleagues and that you’re really looking forward to getting to know your clients’ preferences and style guidelines. If you’re in your 20s, pay particular attention to being reliable, responsible and possibly more formal than you would be otherwise. For example, a conference interpreter training program director in the UK recently attributed the EU’s difficulty in finding new into-English interpreters to the candidates’ poor skills in their native language: Many of the young hopefuls cannot speak in the appropriate “register” for the event they would be interpreting. Their only modes of speech are informal, peppered with “like”, for instance, she says. They misuse words and don’t know the subtle differences between synonyms. So, brush up on your formal speaking skills before you go for the interview!
- For better or worse, freelance translation is a real meritocracy. On the one hand I think that most clients, at least in the US, are largely concerned with your ability to do a good job and don’t really care if you’re older or younger than they expected. On the other hand, one flubbed assignment can get you kicked to the electronic curb, so make sure to keep your focus on outstanding work.
I’ll be answering more questions from the webinar soon!