Category Archives: Translation

Working for a pittance

Mainly for Surfing, really, as she seems to be intrigued about the “weird and wacky world” I work in….

This e-mail pinged into my tray about 2 minutes ago:

Dear colleagues,
We have a file to be done in DE>EN by tomorrow noon (word count 2000+), low budget! Please send your CV to [details deleted to protect the guilty] if you are interested.
[A particular nationality] preferred!
Payment: Via PayPal!

Fabulous, isn’t it? The email arrives after most people have knocked off the weekend.  Not only does the esteemed Project Manager want the translator to churn out a full day’s work before noon GMT tomorrow she is not even going to countenance a living wage let alone the thought of a rush fee or overtime bonus. Having seen this sort of “offer” before, I can imagine how low the trumpeted “low budget” is. (The preferred nationality deleted is one where the cost of living is significantly lower than anywhere in the West). The country in question is approximately 5 hours ahead of the UK so the person who takes this job on (sent at a time when s/he was thinking of hitting the hay) will have to work all night to get it done in time for the GMT deadline set.

My outraged readers will also note that there is no indication of what the job entails… is it perhaps steel production processes or a corporate newsletter or a set of annual accounts or a document dealing with the finer details of cattle breeding?

I shall never know for being a Westerner, I know my modest rates will be too expensive and without any information about the subject area it is just too dangerous to even start negotiating (even if I wanted to).

The sad thing is, there will be some underworked/incompetent/unassertive translator in the country in question who will take the work on thus perpetuating this cycle of jobs being offered for peanuts. (And before you write loads of comments, believe me, the rates will be considered peanuts even in the low cost of living country). Meanwhile, the agency will cream off a healthy profit and the end-client will drift along in his misapprehension that 8-page translations can be churned out in a couple of hours. And don’t start me on issues of quality….

(…partly because I must turn my thoughts back to translating the bathroom catalogue I was doing before being so rudely interrupted!)



Career hits a new high

Gentle readers, I have not forgotten you [although I realise I am doing a pretty good impression of having done so] and have broken off from my high-flying international career to bring you news from the wordface that is sure to gladden your hearts as much as it has gladdened mine.

Let us increase the suspense a little and play a jolly game.

Am I translating an interview with

a) a world leader?

b) a great philanthropist?

c) an A-list celebrity?

d) a coat?



Gentle readers. There are some translators who do not like proofreading other people’s work at all and refuse to offer the service. I, on the other hand, quite like the exercise of titivating a text – a little addition here, a tweak there; it’s all quite satisfying as one is not actually having to do the brain-breaking work of untangling the foreign into the mother tongue. The worst has already been done and proofreading is really a bit of window dressing. Usually….

….Unless one’s client (an agency in this case that should know better) has used a non-native speaker to do the translation. This afternoon, I was asked to proofread an urgent text. It would arrive within two hours, (they attached the German original) and my task would be to tweak it. What the client omitted to say until it was too late for me to do anything about it was that the translator was a native German “very well-qualified technical translator” and so it *should* be a high standard.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t a case of it being utter rubbish – I could understand the target text – but it certainly wasn’t written in idiomatic English. I had an allotted 40 minutes to turn this gubbins into English like wot it should be spoke. Rather than tweaking, I was obliged to re-translate whole sentences. I was glad that I had insisted on my preferred fee rather than the risible amount originally offered.

What ARE these people thinking… not only was it a rather low standard but it was also a rush job – if 40 minutes isn’t considered a rush job, I don’t know what is. Gah! I turned it round in an hour and 15 minutes – so effectively worked at a loss in spite of the fee I had fought for. Harumph.

I shall have to add a new condition to my terms and conditions: do not offer me proofreading jobs translated by non-native speakers. I am happy to proofread – but I am not here to more or less teach other would-be professionals how to write accurately. And certainly not at such a low price.

So, dear clients, please stick to the professional code of ethics and use native speakers of the appropriate language to translate documents into the target language. No matter how well qualified they/you think they are. I shan’t mention it again. Nicely.


PS. Talking of mentioning things nicely: an agency for whom I have never actually done any work, but which occasionally contacts me, sent one of their traditional chaotic emails this morning.

“Hello, dear colleague,
we have a 11 page text to translate by tomorrow.  do you you have time for translation today?  if yes, we will send you the text.”
I am sick to the back teeth of politely telling this outfit that I need more information if they want a serious reply. Gritting the aforesaid dentals, I wrote a slightly less than courteous reply (I don’t really care if they never contact me as I’m not sure I really want to be associated with them, they are so unprofessional and do not instil confidence):

“Dear Agency

Unfortunately on this occasion I do not have any spare capacity.
I should be grateful if in the future you would specify the number of
words, the precise deadline and the subject area of the text. This
will save precious minutes in the process of accepting urgent jobs for all

This is not the first time that I have suggested you do this and I
should be grateful if you would bear these small but important details
in mind for the future.”

I was slightly more than surprised to receive the following breathless response only seconds later:

“O thank you very much, we will!”

I am doubtful… but shall report back if they change their spots…

There was a village in Gaul…

.. where the locals had names such as Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, Cacophonix, etc. I have been reminded of this community because today I am translating the marketing blurb for a hair company. Their products seem to have been somewhat influenced by the “-ix” suffix. (Ha. There’s another one… is it catching?) It’s keeping me amused, anyway….

Sometimes one wonders

just quite what the point is.

Take today’s little task. I am engaged in translating the blurbs for some films to be shown at a German-speaking cinema. The cinema is clearly quite excited about showing these mainly American films (a couple of French, one Italian) to the international audience it hopes to attract.

Your bewildered translator sometimes wonders if a) she has completely lost the plot or b) if she actually understands German any more.

The blurbs have been largely translated from American English into German. I am now translating them back into English. This raises little questions such as “shall I write ‘contract killer’ as the German says, or check out the film’s official website to see if they use the word ‘assassin’?  (They do… if you’re interested…).

All this checking would be all well and good ***if*** it were going to serve any purpose. But I suspect it isn’t. Why? Because in their breathless introduction about their programme, the cinema tells the film fans that these films will all be shown in German… i.e. dubbed. So not in the original language with German subtitles… or even in German with English subtitles.

It makes me wonder why I’m bothering. If their non-native-German-speaking audience can speak German well enough to understand a film in German, they will hardly need the blurb in English. If the foreigners don’t understand German well enough, the few sentences of blurb will not be enough to see the audience through the twists and turns of the plot to make it worth their while sitting through the film.

Ho hum. Another pleasant Sunday afternoon spent in front of the computer screen.

I started a new pad of Garfield post-its today. The previous batch showed Garfield saying “Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.” It always made me smile. Today’s batch made me laugh out loud: “I might as well work, I’m in a bad mood as it is”.

I’m not in a bad mood exactly; just a tad exasperated.

The 11th commandment

was revealed to me some years ago by a young mother who had had four children in quick succession. Her days were full of childcare routines, feeding, changing nappies, wiping snotty noses, preparing meals, etc and her nights were all broken – for years – as the children seemed to have a rota going for waking up. Just as one had been lulled off to sleep in the wee hours, another would wake up wailing.

Stuck to her fridge in her understandably chaotic kitchen was the 11th commandment: Thou shalt bash on.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not ungrateful to my lovely client for choosing me to deliver this current project single-handed. (They could have distributed it amongst several translators to get it finished faster – which is common practice – and I would have earned a fraction of my anticipated fee). I am just feeling a little weary as I have worked longish days since the beginning of the year (4 Jan) including every Saturday and Sunday.

On beautiful sunny days such as this, I sometimes think I have chosen a peculiar way to earn a living! No doubt there are worse (I think I have probably experienced worse, actually) and so it is time to grit the teeth, put the shoulder to the wheel, the nose to the grindstone, the brain in gear and quote the 11th commandment: Thou shalt bash on.

Thinking aloud

Well, Happy New Year, gentle readers!

Apologies that you have not heard from me for three weeks. I’m not ignoring you; I’m just a bit snowed under with stuff.  Lots of it is work, some of it is, well, other stuff. In terms of blogworthiness, it is not high on the list of things to include, mainly because I haven’t got time to write about it.

But I will blog about the following… if only to clarify my own thoughts.

I am sitting here debating what to do with a particular headline in a fashion article I am translating this afternoon.
It runs:  Im Westen was Neues. It’s rather clever in German – but leaves me with a little conundrum. Allow me to explain.

Erich Maria Remarque’s novel about WWI was called “Im Westen nichts Neues” – which literally translates as “Nothing new in the West” – and was translated into English as “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

In German, a Weste is a waistcoat (Westen in the plural)… and the headline literally means “Something new in Waistcoats” … So far, so understood. But I am translating for the US market where they call waistcoats ‘vests’. (I’ve spent the morning talking about vests and pants… which to me sounds all wrong as we would call them waistcoats and trousers..but I digress…).

So do I write something along the lines of “There’s something new on the vest front” – and try to retain something of the German play on the book title… or might that be considered to be mocking the German pronunciation of “w” which often comes out as a “v”?  There is no particular reason to ‘mention the war’ here.. so probably not.  Is there any reason to demonstrate that I have spotted the word play? It would be satisfying in one way, but to retain it could make life difficult… Could ‘the vest front’ be misconstrued as meaning the front of the waistcoat? and thus mislead the potential buyer? Possibly. And as I am working entirely in the dark, so to speak, as I am not supplied with images of these highly desirable items, I have no real idea of what they look like; they could be plain, or patterned.  So, on balance,  it looks like this is a candidate for being lost in translation.   Shame, but I expect our American waistcoat-wearing friends will live quite happily, entirely oblivious to their loss. And I have made my decision.

Thank you for bearing with me.

Alle Jahre wieder…

… is the title of a German Christmas carol. It means literally “Every year again…[the Christchild comes]. The same, it would appear, could almost be applied to translation.

Gentle reader, I am spending the third Sunday in Advent madly translating part of a massive project which, of course, has to be delivered on Christmas Eve so that the client can spend his hallowed twelve days reading his words of wisdom in English (- and Turkish … but I’m not responsible for that bit…obviously…).

You may have been reading about the trials of a certain flooded-out student, Ms JacktheLass, who is putting the final touches to her PhD in a soggy flat in Glasgow. My abode is dry so I have nothing to complain about there… nor does my work have to be submitted tomorrow morning, so another plus point… however, I am having to mash something like 40,000 words through the old bonce and out of the ends of my fingers within the next 12 days and so I feel a tad under pressure.

But I digress. The ‘Alle Jahre wieder’ title refers to the fact that this job has just spooked me a little.  The end-client is a regular customer of my client (an agency) and so I have worked on similar projects before.  A few minutes ago, I started writing a sentence and thought “this seems very familiar, have I just translated it? – am I getting so muddled that I am translating a file that I’ve already done??”

I checked the Translation Memory software – and saw that I had translated it at 16:45 on 12/12.  That gave me a jolt. What?? only 15 minutes ago?? Am I going completely mad? But hush, stay, what is there? The Translation Memory actually reads 16:45 on 12/12/2007.

You could have knocked me down with a fairy light. Exactly three years ago almost to the very minute I was translating the same blooming sentence. Am I making any progress in life or am I doomed to a repetitive three-year cycle? Will I be writing  “If you pass the final test within two years of receiving the attendance certificate, you can claim back half the money you paid for the course.” on 12 December 2013??

I’ll endeavour to remember to let you know…

Food for thought

We’ve all done it. We’ve been in a foreign country and visited a restaurant. We’ve read the menu and then fallen around laughing at the weird and wonderful delicacies on offer.  Sometimes the specialities of the country in question really are a bit off beat from our usual fare – and other times the translation has just been unbelievably funny.

Following my recent experience at the word face, I shall be less critical of  the poor person (often the waitress) who has been given the task of translating the chef’s creative forays into regional cuisine equipped only with a pocket dictionary.

Recently, armed with all the resources the internet affords, my reasonably good research skills, a robust understanding of the languages involved and an interest (if not a personal skill) in the subject area, I confess I was almost entirely floored at times.

My task was to translate the menu for a large, swanky German hotel.  After almost two days’ solid work on the topic, I sent a long list of questions to my colleague in the German translation agency. I hate doing this – it looks as if you don’t know what you’re doing and that you expect your own client to do the work he’s paying you to do.

My colleague said he’d get back to me. Which he did the next morning. He said he’d taken a copy of the German menu home and his wife “had cried tears of laughter”. I wasn’t so sure I could see the funny side at the time, having slogged my guts out to work out what these dishes were. Not easy without pictures or the original recipe.

So what were these delicacies and delights, I hear you cry. For starters, there was Kohlrabi crème brûlée.  Kohlrabi is not commonly found on these shores – but if I tell you that it is a sort of white turnip-looking vegetable, you may understand why I was rubbing my eyes in disbelief.  Then there was the “BLT im Weckglas”. BLT is borrowed direct from our humble bacon, lettuce and tomato sarnie. When I saw “Weckglas” I chuckled to myself thinking that someone had misspelled “Weckla” – a word used in the Nuremberg area for bread roll… but on double checking, I found that in fact Weckglas does indeed exist. It means “preserving jar”. With eyes on stalks, I added this to the lengthening list of queries. Can this be correct, I asked my client humbly. Don’t they mean Weckla?  The answer came back the next day. No, they do actually mean Weckglas.

Freedom for BLT sandwiches I say! What the Dickens are they doing bunging them in preserving jars?

I cannot spend more precious minutes of my life devoted to this subject, I’m afraid, and these are just two of the astounding examples. I can say though that usually when translating menus I get hungrier and hungrier. On this occasion, I could hardly face the idea of having my supper. (Calf’s cheeks featured prominently as did gazpacho mousse – which apparently is a mousse made of gazpacho… a cold soup. Um, why?).

Should anyone ever want to take me to dinner in Germany, I know there is one hotel I shall be making great strides to avoid.  :-/

One of Facebook’s dangers

So there I was, late in the evening, getting more and more bored with translating some ole press release about something or other which was really not very newsworthy…. Trying to dredge up some words that would make some dull takeover sound a bit more exciting….and allowed myself to be sufficiently distracted to go and have a snoop around Facebook to see if other people’s lives offered anything a bit more interesting to think about.

A friend had updated his status and as we are in the habit of throwing mild insults at one another I kept up this practice by making a sarcastic remark. Seconds later up popped a message from him “Have you finished that work yet??! I’m sitting here whiling away my life waiting to proofread it.”


Mental notes have been made.