Happy New Year/Guten Rutsch/Próspero Año Nuevo

As 2009 is less than 30 minutes away for my twin Dagy Jenner in Vienna, Austria, we wanted to check in and wish all our fellow linguists, friends, business partners and clients around the world a fantastic New Year. Thanks for your business, trust, friendship, feedback, great blogs, and awesome camaraderie on the WWW (Wild Wild West) that is the Internet.

2008 was a fantastic year for us, as I finally joined Dagy full-time in our translation business. It's been wonderful thus far, in spite of the worldwide economic troubles.

Happy 2009 from Judy Jenner in Vegas and Dagy Jenner in Vienna, who is about to welcome 2009 with open arms! We hope you do the same -- here's to a successful and profitable 2009!

One More Business Expense

I recently received a membership renewal reminder from the American Translators Association (ATA). I am glad they reminded me: I will pay my dues for 2009 and thus claim the tax deduction for 2008. For those of you who have not thought about renewing in the middle of the busy holiday season, now is a good time to do so. The ATA allows you to renew your membership online. Contact your local or national organization to claim the year's last business expense.

Have a great start into 2009!

My Worst Typo of the Year

It's time to poke some fun at ourselves! While we are both usually hyper-aware of grammar and spelling in our four languages, we, just like the Sunday New York Times, make mistakes. Unfortunately, my recent one has embarrassed me so much that I've literally lost sleep over it.

As a board member of the newly formed Nevada Translators and Interpreters Association (NITA), I am trying to increase our membership. We wanted to include sign-language interpreters, so I sent an e-mail to all the sign-language interpreters in our state registered with their professional organization. My goal was to invite them to join our organization. Unfortunately, in my e-mail, I wrote "Interpreters for the death" instead of "Interpreters for the deaf". Trust me, I am cringing as I type this.

However, several members were gracious enough to respond to my awful e-mail anyway -- but of course pointed out my horrendous mistake, to which I responded with heartfelt apologies. I am happy to report NITA now has a few new members; and I better watch what my fingers do on the keyboard these days!

Translations for Peace

On Sundays, we read the paper of record. This week's New York Times held a special surprise.

On page 29, there was a full-page ad with one line of text, in varying fonts and sizes (and alphabets, for that matter) stating: Imagine peace. The English line was surrounded by more than 20 other languages, many of which we can't identify. We found our other three languages (Spanish, German, French): all perfectly translated.

We had a hunch who might have taken out this fantastic peace-promoting ad during the holiday season where sometimes materialism and stress take over a time that should be peaceful and harmonious. Two simple words, all in lower case, at the bottom of the page confirmed our intuition. It simply reads"love, yoko". We have never been more touched by a simple line of translated text and the sentiment that followed it. John Lennon would be proud.

Happy holidays, indeed!

What I Learned in Business School -- Part 1.0

Cèline over at Naked Translations had a very interesting post asking readers to give advice to beginning translators. I left a lengthy (perhaps too lengthy!) comment with some of our own hard-earned lessons, which I am summarizing here. These recommendations center on the business (and not linguistic) side of things, as I have this handy M.B.A., which I figured I could use to share some of my business tips. Most of these can be grouped into economics/finance/marketing/accounting/statistics/entrepreneurship.

In future posts, I will follow-up with more lessons (in no particular order). I am also developing a presentation for the annual American Translators Association (ATA) conference, which I hope I will have the opportunity to present.

  • Look professional. This starts with your website. If you have no faith in your ability to produce a good site, don't do it. Find a professional; even someone at the local community college who's taking some basic design and XML classes. Barter if you have to.
  • Look professional in your images. Don't put vacation pictures with sunglasses in your hair on your website or on your marketing materials (or LinkedIn or Proz). Find a friend who's a good photographer and take some nice close-up shots, preferably with good lighting and minimal background distractions. Put your friend's name on the picture (Photo by: XYZ) so he/she can get business. Being an entrepreneur is all about referrals, and it goes both ways.
  • Unless you are very accounting-savy, hire an affordable accountant/CPA, whom you probably won't have to pay until he/she does your taxes. Get advice on whether you should incorporate or not. Leave it to the pros.
  • Keep good records. There's no need to pay a bookkeeper to organize your receipts and show up with a box full of receipts. Do it yourself by making a very simple spreadsheet where you log the expenses/income, with exact dates, purpose, etc.
  • Go visit your local Small Business Administration to get started on all the paperwork you need to file. In Nevada, a very business-friendly state, this was actually more involved than I thought: you need the IRS number, a business license, a Nevada tax ID number, a home occupancy permit, a certificate from the secreatary of state, etc. etc.
  • Don't skimp on your "face" to the world. Don't get the free VistaPrint cards: fork over the $50 or so for business cards that don't say they were free on the back. VistaPrint does those, too, and they are actually quite nice.
  • Reduce your expenses. Do you need a laptop and a PC? In the beginning, probably not. Do you really need a Blackberry? Sure, you want one, but will you get $50/month of revenue/business/use out of it? Do you have a Costco membership? Consider becoming one; they have great deals on office stuff, everything from Herman Miller chairs to computer paper, excellent shredders, Sharpies, and of course, all electronic equipment.
  • Don't compromise on price, if you can stand the pressure and have a bit of a cushion. Set a price and stick to it.
To come in post 2.0:
  • Take risks.
  • Volunteer. Give back.
  • Build strong networks with other professionals.
  • Grow the profession.

Everybody Can English: Denglish Atrocities

For Friday amusement for our fellow German speakers, we can't help but briefly address a gigantic language pitfall in German-speaking countries: Denglish. For the uninitiated, that's an atrocious combination of German (Deutsch in German) and English = Denglish. While most of our direct clients in Europe have a fairly good command of the English language, they are usually not experts, which is why they hire us. However, once in a while a client wants to correct something that turns out to be, well, wrong. Trying to convince them of the contrary is sometimes quite a challenge. Here are some of our favorite examples from the past weeks.

  • For one of our translations, we wrote about the author's "late father" (verstorbener Vater in German). However, our client insisted on using "dead father". He was adamant that "late" was not correct.
  • Prepositions in English are tricky, and unfortunately, cannot be translated literally from German. Some of our favorite are "she died ON cancer" when we were insisting that someone dies "OF" cancer. The top prize goes to "she called him ON" (German: sie rief ihn an).
  • We had another client who was offended by our use of "ordinary" (as in average, normal) in one of his texts. He was saying that the translation of this was "ordinär" (vulgar). Of course, it's not, but he just wouldn't take our word or the dictionary's for it.
Unfortunately, the customer is not always right; and it's a fine line which can be difficult to deal with in our profession. Usually, when a question comes up, we give the customer our linguistic and grammatical reasoning, cite from relevant sources, or explain the word's common usage. If all else fails, we say that we feel very comfortable with our recommendation, but that the final decision is, of course, up to the client. However, this could be dangerous as an atrocious term could appear in a translation associated with us. Luckily, thus far, most clients have taken our advice (at least that we know of). How does everyone else deal with this balancing act?

We know that Denglish examples abound, and they are always good for a chuckle, especially on a Friday afernoon. We'd love to hear your recent highlights!

Where Have the Good Old Phone Calls Gone?

Communication in the 21st century is easier than ever. While we don’t even want to picture what life as a translator must have been like without PCs and without the Internet, the new communication channels seem to have completely taken over, much to the detriment of, well, somehow old-fashioned but still highly useful means of communication like…the good old phone! Talking on the phone seems to be something you did as a teenager who had nothing to say but talked for hours anyway. Today, you don’t call, but you send e-mails or leave messages on social networking sites instead. But let’s not forget that communication is supposed to make both one’s personal and one’s professional life easier and we feel that e-mail writing sometimes defeats this very purpose. It is not unusual to receive an e-mail like this one:

I need a translation. How much does it cost?

To this we typically respond saying that we need to know the source and the target language and that we need to see the actual source text and that we would have to talk about the deadline. Since the potential client didn’t provide his or her phone number, we send an e-mail.

It’s English to German and it’s very short.

No attachment.
Now we need to write another e-mail asking about the document again.

In the end, we might end up exchanging dozens of e-mails to define deadlines, learn about the target group, inquire about existing glossaries or desired corporate wording etc. while we could easily have clarified all details in a short phone conversation.

In 2007, 58% of all people who contacted Dagy for the first time sent her an e-mail. Only 25% called her landline, while 16% called her cell. And yes, a few people sent a fax.

Since there seem to be people out there who have quit the habit of talking on the phone, we must try to guess whether our customers truly dislike spoken communication or not. If we feel somebody just does not want to talk on the phone – fine, we will send dozens of e-mails. But if there’s reason to believe that the potential client has a healthy relationshipwith his or her phone, we will just give that person a call. Or ask them to call us! Those teenage years are long gone, but speaking to somebody directly sure beats any other means of communication. As our Mexican friends would say: hablando se entiende la gente.

Tax Tip of the Week

A dear friend recently gave us a book (Sandy Botkin's Lower Your Taxes -- Bit Time!) on how to take advantage of many pro-small business tax rules and regulations here in the U.S. Mr. Botkin's book is thorough and well written, and might be worth checking out from your local library (we have no affiliation with the author whatsoever).

To save you the time or the trouble, here's our highlight from said book:
  • If your home is your main place of business (which it is for virtually all the freelancers we know), then all your mileage for business is tax-deductible starting from your house. This does not apply to part-time freelancers, who can ergo not deduct a trip to the bank that's on the way to their non-translation employment. The 2008 IRS reimbursement rate is $0.585 per business mile driven. For 2009, this rate will go down to $0.55. For five years, while working as an in-house translator for a company that reimbursed mileage, I did not take advantage of this; now I am kicking myself for not having done so. It sure adds up; every trip to the bank or the post office does. Be sure to write the miles down (you might want to keep a small notebook in your car for that purpose).
While trying to design a decent spreadsheet to keep this data and keep the IRS happy in case of an audit, I discovered that the book's author, in a shameless attempt at self-promotion, was selling a rudimentary spreadsheet that took me about five minutes to make. Feel free to e-mail me and I will send you my template.

The Intersection Between Translation and Running

Many times, being a language professional feels like being an endurance athlete. Your client sends you the document, you open it with nervous anticipation and see an enormous amount of words in a very difficult and research-intensive subject matter to be translated very, very quickly. At first, it seems like an overwhelming and impossible task. Here's where our endurance athlete attitude comes in. As they say in some ads: impossible is nothing.

The way we tackle projects that are very large, very difficult, or very challenging and have a fast turnaround is the same way we approach running: by putting one foot in front of the other. It's amazing how documents on say, hedge funding, water desalination plants, banking rating systems, esoteric management principles, and bone marrow reports don't seem as daunting once you have translated a few sentences.

I apply the same principle to my half marathon running. Every year, it seems completely impossible to make my legs run 13.1 miles. Now on year #4 and just having finished half marathon #6, I know it's definitely possible. It really does start with one step, literally or figuratively. I can't tell you that I was conjugating verbs in my head for fun as I was running my way towards my Las Vegas Half Marathon medal (in 2:16, for the record), but I did ponder, for 13.1 miles, how similar two of my passions are. Both translation and running are all about endurance, determination, getting it done, not getting discouraged, and pushing through it when things are hard. That, and not giving up. Quitting is not an option, neither during my half marathons (it's not like you can hail a cab) or with a project you have decided to take on.

Perhaps a study on running and translation is in order. How many translators are also endurance athletes? I have heard from many fellow translators that excercise is a big part of their life. For others, it's difficult to fit it in. What's your experience? Or is being a translator enough of an endurance sport that you don't need a second one?

Advertising Strategy of the Week

Just when you least expect it, someone makes a suggestion about how to get more business (which we can all always use), and it's a really good one. This week, a friend of mine suggested I get listed in our state's (Nevada) film directory. It's a government agency that coordinates all the film production companies that come into the state. The film management folks are given a hard copy and links to listings for photographers, extras, florists, models, make-up artists, and... translators and interpreters. This is truly something I had never thought of before. The fee to list in the online directory is only $25, and even though I have no data on how much traffic that site gets, it sure seems like that $25/year will be well spent. Check your state's film office to see if they have directories (offline or online or both) of the same kind, and who knows, maybe soon enough you will be doing some T&I work in the film industry.

Going Green and Greener

Both of us have always been pretty green, both at work and at play. Lately, we have started brainstorming about how, as home-based translators, we can become even more green. Not commuting to work is certainly a huge factor in cutting down our carbon footprint. Here's what we have done for a long time:

  • Dagy, who is based in Vienna, Austria, does not own a car
  • Judy, who is based in Vegas, has driven a Toyota Prius since 2005 (license plate: PLANETA, Spanish for Planet)
  • We recycle religiously
  • We keep stuff out of landfills by donating everything we don't want or use anymore. I even found a place to recycle my old laptop here in Vegas, which isn't a heaven for tree huggers
  • We buy locally, which is much easier in Vienna than in Vegas. Dagy gets a weekly "Organic box" full of locally grown veggies and goodies from an organic farm. Judy heads to farmers' markets and the two lone farms in town to buy eggs and vegetables
  • We get all our bank and credit card documents electronically.
  • We combine errands, thus reducing trips, time on the road, pollutants, and saving money
  • We bring our own recyclable cotton bags to the grocery store. This is nothing new in Vienna (plastic bags at check-out are for SALE), but in Vegas five years ago, people looked at me as if I were an alien (which in fact, I am, but a legal alien). Luckily, the trend has caught on.
  • Declining a bag for purchases at malls, etc. That's why we have large purses!
  • If we do need to take a plastic bag (for some reason, at Dillard's you must take one as proof of purchase, we found alternative future uses for it (mainly dog-related).
  • When going for our daily runs, we leave from home and run outside instead of driving somewhere and running inside. Saves gas, the planet, and lets us enjoy the outdoors.
  • For running events (10 K, half marathons, 5 K), Judy has restricted her events to local ones. Next year, she might run the Recycled! race, where everything, from the medals to the T-shirt, is recycled from previous races.

Here are a few new ways we have found to save our planet:
  • Judy is taking advantage of the spectacular weather in Vegas (temperature on December 1: 61 degrees) by drying pretty much all her laundry outside nine months out of the year. Clothes smell great, too!
  • Washing laundry in cold water
  • Using mainly biodegradable eco-friendly cleaning products (Trader Joe's has some good ones)
  • As much as we love owning books, we are cutting back on the consumption of paper by getting more books from the library and purchasing fewer books
  • We have always used plastic water bottles at least 5-10 times before recycling them, but we are taking it a step further by ceasing purchases of water bottles all together and drinking filtered water from the fridge in our Zion National Park water bottles. Doesn't taste as great, but it saves the planet.
  • When we stay at hotels, we use the same sheets for the whole time of our stay. There's really no need to have clean sheets every day. It's nice, sure, but saving the planet is nicer.
  • We joined www.care2.com and are actively signing petitions to support environmental issues that are close to our hearts.
These are only a few things we do -- and we are always looking for more green ideas! If you have any, translation-business related or just planet-related, we'd love to hear them. What are you doing to save the planet that we should know about? We are sure Abigail over at The Greener Word has some ideas that will put ours to shame!
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

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

Translation Times