We'd Like to Pay More, Please

It's all about the money. Or is it?
A few weeks ago, we received a pair of quite puzzling phone calls from two of our favorite clients. We've tried to transcribe the gist of both conversations here. We've added some lines for comedic effect, but the point of the conversations has been left intact. We are on very friendly terms with both clients and our conversations are usually quite casual.

Client: Hi Judy, thanks for the holiday chocolates.  I am eating them right now. No calories, right? Just like you said on the card?

Judy: You got it! No calories. Happy holidays. What can I do for you?

Client (making munching sounds): Oh, you know, we are a pretty big client of yours.

Judy (stomach dropping, quick to answer): Of course you are! We are so grateful for your business. That's why you get chocolates.

Client: Glad to hear. We think you are awesome, too, but we really have to talk about what we are spending with Twin Translations.

Judy (fearing the worst): Sure. Looks like you are working on your 2013 budget. Is it tight?

Client: Yes, I am working on the budget. It's taking forever. What do you mean by tight?

Judy (telling herself to grab the bull by the horns): Well, I mentioned the tight budget because you are calling a vendor to get a lower rate.

Client (laughing): Oh, I am sorry. You misunderstood! I was just reviewing the rates of what we pay for services that I think are essential to our business, and I don't think you make enough. We would like to pay you some more. So have a look at our current contract and change the number on the per-word rate.

Judy (cannot believe her good luck): Oh wow, yes, of course. I am sorry, I almost fell out of my chair. I thought you would be asking me to lower our rates. And yes, certainly, I will adjust the rate and send the contract back to you.

Client: Great. Just come up with a new number that you feel comfortable with and send it my way. Happy holidays!

Judy: Thank you so much, will do. Happy holidays to you as well. It's a pleasure to do business with you.

Client: By the way -- I just recommended you to a friend. I told her you guys were great, professional and very affordable!

Judy (baffled): Thanks so much for the referral. We really appreciate it. Have a great day!

Client: Talk to you soon.

Our thoughts:
1) Christmas miracles do happen.
2) Things aren't always what they seem.
3) It's important to hear people out.
4) We've been called a lot of things, but never affordable.
5) Looks like we've done a good job at convincing our client of our value.
6) We should raise our prices across the board.
7) We have the world's best clients.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, dear readers!

Book of the Month: The 5-Minute Linguist

A few months ago, a wonderful little book found its way to our mailbox. Now, we receive many books from authors who request reviews of their work for this blog as well as our German-language book review blog, but this particular package contained no note. We called the usual suspects. They are friends and family who have the fantastic habit of buying books for us when they find something they think we would like. But no, it was not them. Intrigued, we started reading The 5-Minute Linguist: Bite-sized Essays on Language and Languages, edited by E.M. Rickerson and Barry Hilton (second edition). After the first essay, we were hooked.

A few weeks later, the mystery was solved with Kevin Hendzel, a well-known veteran of the translation industry and the author of one of the essays, revealed that he was the mysterious sender. Kevin has held a number of high-profile positions in our industry, including the one of spokesperson for the American Translators Association and chief Russian translator for the White House (US-Russia Presidential Hotline). Impressive credentials indeed. By the way: have a look at his interesting blog.

Originally conceived as a series of five-minute segments on language and everything related to language on venerable NPR (National Public Radio), this book gives you bite-sized and easy-to-read information on a variety of topics that would take you hours to look up elsewhere. Most essays are no longer than three pages, and each is written by an undisputed expert in the field. It is quite a feat that this book manages to unite the world's foremost experts on so many relatively narrow topics, and what they all share is the (quite rare) ability to clearly explain complex subject in a way that non-linguistics doctoral students can understand and remember. While we are voracious readers of fiction in our four languages, we read significantly less non-fiction, because much of it can be a drag, even though there are, of course, some gems. Many writers on language do come across as terribly pedantic bores who constantly try to outsmart and impress the reader with their knowledge and expertise, which are not attractive traits. Rest assured that this book is the opposite. While it's clear that the 5-Minute Linguist is written by high-level experts, it's accessible,  fun to read, and more then anything: it's addictive. The book's own description is quite accurate:  it's more fireside chats than college textbook.

We both read the book within a matter of days, and we'd initially started marking our favorite essays my drawing  a star next to the name of the essay in the table of contents. We soon stopped this practice, as essentially every essay has a star next to it. However, here is a brief overview of some of our favorites:

  • How many languages are there in the world? This is a good question that, for some reason, comes up quite frequently in conversation when we get asked what we do for a living. Now we have a truly intelligent (and short!) answer.
  • What are lingua francas?
  • How many kinds of writing systems are there?
  • What causes foreign accents?
  • Did German almost become the language of the United States?
  • What happens if you are raised without language?
  • Where did English come from?
  • Is Latin really dead?
  • What's Gullah?
  • Whatever happened to Esperanto?
  • Do you have to be a masochist to study Chinese? Short answer for native speakers of English: yes.
  • Can you make a living loving languages? This is should be required reading at translation programs.
  • Why do we need translators if we have dictionaries? Written by Kevin Hendzel, this insightful essay might be our favorite. Try to memorize it and recite it the next time you get this question at a cocktail party. 
This book might make for good reading material for Judy's Intro to Translation class at UC-San Diego, and there's no doubt that the 5-Minute Linguist makes for a great gift for friends, family, clients and colleagues. We had originally planned on keeping the book next to our desks and thought about reading one essay a week or so, but we devoured the entire book in a few days, and almost fought about it (we only had one copy). This might very well be our second favorite book of the year about language (first place: Found in Translation), as it covers a wide variety of topics, is superbly written and highly insightful. We learned something on every page, and so will you. It was also great to see that we actually retained some of the new information we learned quite well. When asked about creoles and pidgins at a recent party, we think we gave a coherent answer. If this book is not yet on your Christmas list, it's time to add it now. Happy reading!

100 Days of Interpreting

Inspired by Dagy's performance at the accrediting test for freelance European Union interpreters, Judy decided to invest some time preparing for the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreters Certification Examination, which will be held in July (she passed the written portion this summer). Now, we are twins, but there's no doubt that Dagy is more disciplined when it comes to interpreting practice than Judy. Dagy practiced essentially every day for a year and a half, including at a rented apartment in Santiago, Chile, in the car on the way to California, on the plane from Argentina to Chile, by the pool in Vegas, in our Vienna office, late at night, in between appointments, early in the morning, at a coffee shop, and on a bus going cross-country in Chile (yes, people stared), on European trains, etc.

Her well-taken point is that you just need to practice every day, even if it's not convenient and you can't fit it into your day very well. Just do a few minutes and get into the habit of making it part of your day, just like going to the gym or brushing your teeth. Thus, Judy decided that she was going to follow suit and practice either simultaneous or consecutive interpreting, using a variety of materials and resources, for 100 days (7 days a week). She records all her work using the online tool Audacity and listens back to them immediately after recording them. 

Here's a brief report about the first 10 days:

Day 1: Sunday, December 2
Witness expert interviews, James Ray/Arizona sweat lodge trial plus Alex King murder interview/trial reports. All videos from YouTube. Total time: approx. 30 minutes. Self-assessment: much better than I thought.

Day 2: Monday, December 3
11 segments of Casey Anthony trial. Opening statements, prosecution. All videos from YouTube. Total time: approx. 1 hour. Self-assessment: very strong, but granted, the prosecutor speaks quite slowly.

Day 3: Tuesday, December 4
3-hour paid interpreting assignment: civil deposition (employment law). Self-assessment: I was in the zone today, even though the topic was tricky.

Day 4: Wednesday, December 5
Opening statements, Michael Jackson trial (Conrad Murray): Prosecution, 3 segments. All videos from YouTube. Total time: approx. 45 minutes. Self-assessment: there was more medical info that I was prepared for, so I did not get some of that right, but in general, I kept up and my voice did not sound hurried.

Day 5: Thursday, December 6
Sample recordings, Lecture 1, Southern California School of Interpreting, Preparation for the Oral Component of the Federal Exam PLUS Opening statements, Conrad Murray trial, prosecution, parts 5, 6 and 7 (YouTube). Total time: approx. 1 hour. Self-assessment: decent.
      Day 6: Friday, December 7
3.5-hour paid interpreting assignment, 2 depositions: car accident in California. In addition: one TED talk (traffic jams). Total time: 3 hours, 45 minutes. Self-assessment: pretty happy with my performance.
      Day 7: Saturday, December 8
    TED talks – arts festival. Total time: approx. 10 minutes. Self-assessment: poor performance.

8.   Day 8: Sunday, December 9
    You Tube – Mock Trial –Joon’s Opening Statement (Defense), YouTube. Very difficult to hear. Total time: approx. 7 minutes. Self-assessment: was difficult to hear; I did very poorly.

9  Day 9: Monday, December 10 
   Jeff Smith, business lessons from prison – TED talks.    Total time: 5 minutes. Self-assessment: average at best, but happy that I was able to interpret at all, as I am sick with a lymph node infection.

    Day 10: Tuesday, December 11
    TED talk (Love Letters to Strangers). Total time: 5 minutes. Self-assessment: I got lost, but I am still quite sick, so I am proud of myself for tackling this.

Stay tuned for the next 90 days! We'd love to hear from you, dear colleagues: how do you improve your skills and/or prepare for interpreting exams? 

Interpreting for Europe

While Dagy was getting her master’s degree in conference interpreting at the University of Vienna, the EU’s recruiting efforts for freelance interpreters kicked into full gear. A lot of freelancers will be retiring soon, which means that especially the German and the English booths desperately need new talent. That is why the EU started a serious campaign to get young conference interpreters to apply for what they call an inter-institutional accreditation test. We don't know how many people actually get invited to the test, but we do know that the application process is highly competitive. The EU reimburses candidates for their travel expenses (certain restrictions apply). The lucky 20% who pass this notoriously difficult test are then qualified to work as accredited conference interpreters (ACI in EU jargon) for the European institutions: Commission, Council, Court of Justice and Parliament. The EU advertising efforts struck a chord with Dagy. She applied right after she got her diploma and was invited to take the test shortly after that, which she passed. In this blog post, we will focus on some basic information and Dagy’s personal impressions of her freelance test and hints on how one might want to prepare for it. 

General info:

Please note that a master’s degree in conference in interpreting is required to apply (exceptions  may be made for languages of lesser diffusion, such as Slovak) or significant experience as a conference interpreter (we are talking 300+ full days of conference interpreting). The minimum number of languages for the German booth is your native language plus three (again, fewer languages may be acceptable for languages of lesser diffusion).

Here are Dagy’s impressions of the test, which took place in Brussels on November 16:
  • Contrary to popular belief, the jury DOES want you to pass. They need you and I could tell. They took really good care of us during the 6-hour process, which involved a lot of waiting (actual test time was about one hour).  More about the “Bogeymen myth”: http://theinterpreterdiaries.com/2012/10/31/bogeymen-in-brussels/
  • Long consecutive is six minutes, simultaneous is 10 (you can use your own headset). Note: on the consecutive, the entire segment is one segment that lasts 6 minutes, which means you will be listening for six minutes, taking notes, and then interpreting the whole thing, which is a huge challenge. Many American court interpreting exams also have six-minute consecutive portions, but during those, the individual segments are only 20-75 words long, so we wanted to clarify that this is not the case here. One of the speeches has EU-specific terminology, the others are fairly general.  The speed was not a problem. There were no crazy long sentences, no tricky idioms or jokes, no unfinished sentences, very few numbers. The structure of all speeches was logical and easy to follow.
  • The recently introduced new system provides that two people listen to their consecutive speeches (read by a real person, no recordings) together. Then, one of them leaves the room (taking her notes with her) while the other does the interpretation right away. For the second language, it’s the other way around. Obviously, none of the candidates gets to listen to the other’s performance.
  • You may ask a question right after the speaker finishes her or his speech in the language of the speaker. It might be wise to limit your question to essentials, such as a number you would like to double-check.
  • After a short deliberation at the end of the day, they jury will tell you if you have passed the examination  There is no official score nor a precise breakdown of your performance in terms of percentages or anything else. It's pass/fail, and yes, we agree that there is some room for improvement  on that front, as it does not seem very transparent and test-takers don't know what the metrics are. For instance, do you need an 80 to pass? Or a 95? We don't know, but we do know that you have to be excellent.
  • According to the new system, only two languages are tested (which you cannot choose yourself). After I passed Spanish and English into German, I will be tested for my third and last language, French, on December 19.
While the jury is friendly (but very down to business) and they certainly need you, they will not lower their quality standards. An excellent performance in consecutive interpretation is essential, including a logical structure, good delivery, eye contact with the jury and lots of self-confidence. And of course they expect excellent command of your native language, which might sound like a no-brainer, but often turns out to be a problem. In simultaneous, they expect top-notch technique, which includes not sticking too close to the source text. Which brings us to test preparations:
  • What you learn at the university is not enough. You need to practice on your own, preferable every day (I did for about a year and a half; no excuses). Record your interpretation and listen to it. Be self-critical. Candidates will get access to the EU’s excellent “multilingual speeches” database (also used by students enrolled in interpreting programs). The ones labeled as “test-type” are similar to what you will get at the test. After I exhausted that database, I started using www.ted.com and www.tedx.com. Most speeches are in English, but quite a few are available in other languages as well.
  • You need to have an excellent command of your native language. Read good newspapers and magazines on an everyday basis and don’t forget literature, both fiction and non-fiction.
  • You need to know what’s going on in the EU and in the countries where “your” languages are spoken. www.europa.eu offers a wealth of information, and I also recommend subscribing to the “Eurotopics” (www.eurotopics.net) service, which will give you a digest of EU-related newspaper articles once a day (available in German, English and French). If you work with French, you might find this behind-the-scenes blog interesting: http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/
  • Try to control your nerves (pop an herbal pill if you need to). The setting can be intimidating – after all, you will be taking your test either at the European Commission or the Parliament in an impressive room with quite a large jury. If you’re nervous, try not to show it. Try imagining the situation ahead of time and prepare for it mentally. And don’t forget that these tests cost a lot of time and money and that it’s a privilege to be there in the first place, even if you don’t pass on your first try. Not many do.
  • I believe that listening to international radio stations in all my languages (Radio France Internationale, BBC, NPR, Radio Exterior de España, etc.) really helped.
  • On the day of your exam, warm up first. I had two short speeches on my iPhone (don’t exhaust yourself) and did those before I headed to my test.
Good luck to anybody planning on taking the accreditation test soon! If you like a challenge, this is for you!
Don’t hesitate to post any questions you might have.

Free Online Dictation

Our web guru recently discovered this free online dictation software, which seems to work quite well. Warning: it's no Dragon Naturally Speaking, but it is free and seems to be a good option for short messages. Perhaps you want to try it for your annual Christmas letter? We do a tremendous amount of typing, and any sort of relief we can get is great, so we took Online Dictation for a spin.

Here's a brief overview of our very informal software testing:

  • There's no need to install any anything. Just click on the link and start speaking after you click on the microphone symbol.
  • It only works in Chrome, which happens to be our browser of choice, but we realize that this is quite limiting for folks who use other browsers.
  • We tested the system with several sentences. First, we tried: "The chicken laid an egg today" in honor of the very first egg that a friend's chicken produced today. The transcription was flawless. If anything had been incorrect, we could have clicked on the word in question to correct it. The system allows you to copy and paste the transcribed texts, and it looks like this: The chicken laid an egg today.
  • We then tried another sentence. Again, perfect. The system was batting 1000.  I really don't feel like going to the gym.
  • The third sentence was harder and was purposefully spoken in our best Austrian accent. Here, the system produced hilarious results. What we said: "I can't believe this dog is hungry again!" (referring to Luna, our always-hungry mutt), and the system came up with this, so clearly there's some room for improvement: Hey get a pizza target how to get.
  • The final test was a comment about today's work load: "The work is piling up on my desk." Again: perfect. The work is piling up on my desk.
  • Our humble opinion: this system works quite well as long as you speak in short sentences, enunciate well and don't try to mock your own accent, as we did in example #3. It's a great tool for short e-mails, tweets and perhaps even blog posts!

Again, here's the link to Online Dictation.

Holiday Gift Ideas

Ah, it's that time of the year, isn't it? We've already made several Santa-style delivery trips with gifts to friends, colleagues and clients, and we are just getting started. While we personally have everything we need and prefer to support worthy non-profits, here's a line-up of fantastic gift ideas for the friends, clients and colleagues on your list.

In recent months, after reading a very enlightening article in Mother Jones about the work conditions in warehouses that fulfill orders for online retailers, we've shifted our purchasing to smaller vendors and to physical stores (support your community!) as much as possible, but we realize that some purchase will just have to be made through big online retailers.

  • Books and dictionaries. This is, without a doubt, our favorite category. We bet you know many translators who really, really want a specific dictionary, and we recommend you purchase them on InTrans Books to help support the only independent bookseller in our industry. We have a serious book-buying habit, and InTrans is our favorite resource. Here are a few of our favorites: Found in Translation (we've been ordering this one by the dozen) and Mox Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation. We recently fell in love with the Five-Minute Linguist and also really loved Trip of the Tongue, which we got as a gift. For how-to books, there's no better book than How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay. We also love The Prosperous Translator.
  • Desk stuff. This washable keyboard from Logitech might be perfect for the messy translator in your life. This nifty clean desk set might also come in handy, and keeping all your cords and cables organized is something we should probably do. 
  • Smartphone accessories. During the last year or so, we have struggled with consistently dirty smartphone screens, and had yet to find a good solution. We spent a lot of time cleaning the screens with our little cleaning cloths, but that didn't seem to help. Now, at the ATA conference in San Diego, our friend Tom Ellett had a nifty case that was lined with microfiber cloth -- instant cleaning when you pull the device in/out of its case. We loved it and had to order one. Tom's wife, the talented Alison Ellett, sells these on Etsy, a site we really enjoy supporting. 
  • No wrapping necessary. One of the best gifts Judy has received in the recent past is a one-year subscription to Jost Zetzsche's (AKA tech guru) online newsletter, the Toolkit. Her friend Karen Tkaczyk gave her the subscription a few years ago -- great idea! For a mere $20, you can give your favorite colleague piece of mind and access to Payment Practices, a database of translation/interpreting agencies' payment habits. It's an invaluable resource for those who work primarily with LSPs. 
  • Software. Do you have a fantastic colleague  who could really benefit from a software package? Perhaps he or she has not been able to buy it this year, so this would make a fine gift. Try the invaluable TranslationOffice 3000 (you get a discount if you mention this blog) and Wordfast, our new favorite translation memory software. You can save 15% if you purchase the license before January 1, 2013. 
  • Membership. How about giving a colleague a membership in his/her local T&I association? Many local associations charge less than $50, so this would make for a fine and affordable gift. 
Getting up close with a fluffy llama in Chile.
  • Donations. While it is certainly not a reliable source for translations, we all use Wikipedia on a daily basis. In fact, most humans on the planet use it every day, but it's a non-profit, so may we suggest a modest donation to the world's fifth-largest website? We've actually already been on Wikipedia five times today, and it's not even noon. It truly is amazing that all this content is available for free, but they do need donations to keep the site going. We are also big fans of giving the gift of livestock and other animals through organizations such as Heifer International. For $120, you can give a family an adorable goat, and you can even buy a share of a goat for as little as $10. A share of a llama, our new favorite animal (we fell in love in Chile last year) will set you back $20, and you will give a family the opportunity to make a living with the help of this hard-working and very fluffy animal. Now, that's some Christmas spirit right there, isn't it? And how about buying a gift certificate that can be used for carbon offsets? This could be perfect for your client who travels too much and feels guilty about it or for one of your globe-trotting colleagues. 
  • What we want. Well, nothing really. We just want happy and healthy colleagues and friends throughout the world! Actually, there is one thing, and it doesn't cost anything: we'd love to have more reviews of our Entrepreneurial Linguist book on Amazon if you are so inclined. 
Happy giving and happy holidays!

Kindle Edition: Entrepreneurial Linguist

We are happy to announce that our book, The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation, has finally been released in an edition suitable for e-readers, including Amazon's Kindle. The book was initially released in the spring of 2010 (including a not very hip PDF version), and we've had many requests for an e-reader edition. Unfortunately, it took us a while to finally get it done, but we were inspired by Corinne McKay's decision to go with BookBaby (thanks, Corinne), so we followed suit. Our editor took care of the rest, and the e-reader versions are now available just in time for the holidays! Here's the Kindle edition. It's also available on iBookstore and on the Nook store. Happy reading and sorry it took so long!

Jobs: Manager of Language Services (Las Vegas)

Please see the following job posting, which was recently announced. It will be located in Las Vegas, NV. The hiring company is Language Access Network (LAN), a well-established provider of video remote interpreting services. The company is requesting that all résumés and letters of intent be e-mailed to careers@lan.us. Please contact LAN directly if you have any questions. We have no connection to LAN and are sharing this job posting as a courtesy -- perhaps one of our fantastic colleagues will get this position?

Established in 2003 as a Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) company, Language Access Network has since become the trusted leader for healthcare communications.  As hospitals and other healthcare organizations seek to mitigate growing costs, LAN acts as a true partner to these organizations, helping them realize not only cost savings, but a true Return on Investment within their language services departments.

Looking to expand your career in a team-oriented, people-focused company?  Language Access Network offers a positive work environment committed to improving the lives of patients and providers every day.  We don’t settle for the daily grind; rather, we excel at improving outcomes, fostering teamwork and joining together for the benefit of our clients.

Looking for something more in your career?  Connect to the bigger picture with Language Access Network.


Position               Manager, Language Services
Location:             Las Vegas Language Center
Classification:     Middle Management

The Manager of Language Services maintains and controls all operations within the Language Services department.  The Manager reports to the Director of the department, as well as executive staff on key tasks.  The Manager is actively involved in planning, vendor selection for the Department, establishing Language Center culture and implementing corporate vision.

  • Recruitment, training and orientation of language services staff
  • Coordinate and assign supervisors
  • Oversee all interpreters and operators, including remote staff
  • Assist in developing internal policies
  • Determine staffing needs in conjunction with Executive and Directorial staff
  • Liaise between Executive Management and staff
  • Perform preliminary testing with internal processes and software
  • QA of internal and external interpreting, mentoring and coaching of interpreters, methods and best practices
  • Serve as SME of interpreter service requirements in developing new platform
  • Work with IT to provide understanding of interpreter practices and needs in relation to technology
  • Establish a positive work environment and develop key strategies to foster a healthy corporate environment
  • Develop and implement performance measures
  • All other duties as assigned

Minimum Qualifications:              
  • Ability to manage and motivate people in a positive work environment, comprehensive knowledge of Language Services including best practices, Interpreter Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.  Comprehensive knowledge of hospital language service program structure and needs, basic knowledge of HR practices and regulations, excellent problem solving skills, the ability to work both independently and collaboratively within a team, excellent communication skills both written and oral, ability to champion the needs of the department, comprehensive knowledge of computer platforms and programs used in the Language Center, attention to detail and excellent record keeping skills.

Certification from a national body regarding interpretation preferred, but not required.

Email your resume and letter of intent to careers@lan.us

State Court Interpreting Examination: Nevada

The AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts) of the Supreme Court of Nevada just announced that the first phase of the state court interpreter certification process will be held in Las Vegas and Carson City (outside of Reno) in January and February 2013. Nevada is part of the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts, which means they offer (some) certification reciprocity between member states, so applicants from other states can take the exam here (please check with the AOC of your state to be sure reciprocity exists). 

This popular two-day workshop is immediately followed by the (not too challenging) written exam, which in Nevada is English-only. It's the first step toward certification (for several languages, including Spanish, French, Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian) in Nevada. The notorious oral exam is usually held in late summer or early fall. We blogged about that exam here.

For more information, please visit the announcement page of the AOC and please contact them directly for any procedural and administrative questions. If you have any general questions about the exam, feel free to post a comment and we might just have the answer (or point you in the right direction).


Last month, we took one of our annual twin trips and decided to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Judy had done this strenuous 8-mile hike before, while Dagy had not. The Grand Canyon is within easy driving distance of Vegas, where Judy lives and Dagy was spending a month, so this was one twin trip that was relatively easy to plan. The canyon is 277 miles long, and one of the few places where one can hike all the way to the bottom is just outside Grand Canyon National Park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. It's quite remote, and the hike starts at Hualapai Hilltop, which is some 2 hours outside Kingman, Arizona (almost no services along the way). One can rent cute mules to carry stuff to the campground, but since we were only staying two nights, we carried everything we'd need ourselves. Plus, Dagy draws the line at camping, so we stayed at the somewhat shabby, yet clean and terribly overpriced lodge ($200/night).

The hike was tough, gorgeous, breathtaking and definitely a very unique experience. The best part? Spending quality time together with no distraction other than our blisters. Judy, thanks to her spotty T-Mobile service, had no Android reception whatsoever (other hikers were using their cell phones just fine), and Dagy had her European data package turned off because of the outrageous charges. We didn't take a laptop, and the lodge did not have a TV, so for two blissful days, we were completely unaware of what was happening in the world (and yes, the presidential election). We were a bit afraid of being so disconnected, but something wonderful happened: we did not work at all! We did nothing even remotely work-related beyond talking about our business and discussing some teaching strategies for Judy's Introduction to Translation class at UC San Diego. We had been concerned that being in a black hole in terms of information would be really strange, but turns out it was not. It was wonderful. We hiked, we talked, we laughed, we swam in one of the gorgeous waterfalls, we read, told stories, and just enjoyed each other's company. No Facebook or Twitter needed.

We realized how beneficial this brief period of being fully disconnected really was. We focused on the essential: spending time together and getting a brief rest from the virtual hustle and bustle. We've been so trained and conditioned to be available and wired all the time that it's nice to know we can do just without any sort of gadgets Now, the camera is another matter: we need the camera. Enjoy the pictures.

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you ever truly disconnect? And does it stress you out or does it relax you? We would love to hear your experiences.

Royalty-Free Pictures on Pixabay

This week's technology tip comes, as always, from our very own web guru Thomas Gruber, who has a knack for finding interesting stuff that we like sharing with our colleagues. Many of you might find yourselves looking for good online pictures for use in, well, blogs, newsletters, T&I association matters and even for clients. Yes, we sometimes replace language-specific images in translations (if the client agrees and/or requests that) with more neutral or culturally adequate images. The challenge, as always, is trying to find out whether the image is royalty-free, because we certainly don't want to violate any copyright laws. There are, of course, a variety of sites that do this for you, but Pixabay might be one of our new favorites. We tested the site by doing a few searches for images we wanted (networking, marketing), and found some great ones. Since this is a free service, you will have to deal with some ads, and the search results will also return paid images from Shutterstock, but the vast majority are royalty-free.

Just because we can, we are posting this one of a puppy here. Check out Pixabay here. Many thanks to Tom Gruber for today's technology tip!

Should You Ask the Client?

Running a successful business can mean having to successfully negotiate around landmines, and oftentimes there are no right answers. Every client is different and most situations are unique. One issue we've been thinking about lately is whether or not you should ask the client about questions you have concerning the source text, formatting, the intended use of the translation, the audience who will read the text, etc. 
Again, there are no hard rules, but we try to solve this potential issue ahead of time by:

  1. Asking the client about where the translation will be used before we accept the project. We also ask about any specific requirements the client might have and then list those in our price quote, which the client will sign.
  2. Some clients will not react the way you'd think, and they will tell us to "just translate this document." We tend not to work with those clients, because clear communication and expectations are  key. We can't meet expectations if we don't know what they are. We don't want to set ourselves up to fail. Great translations are always collaborative efforts, and that includes the client. We know they are busy, but their participation might be necessary to guarantee the result that they want.
After we've started the project, we generally follow a few guidelines before we ask the client:
  1. We do some brief research into the issue using our high-level dictionaries and some basic internet research skills. It might be something obvious that we are not getting, or it might be something very tricky.
  2. We discuss it to see if one twin has the answer, which is oftentimes the case.
  3. If that doesn't solve it, we ask the client.
  4. If need be, and if the client wasn't able to fully answer the question or explain it well (or doesn't have the time to answer), we ask one of our resident subject-matter experts (legal and IT) to see if they can shed light on the issue. Many times, many of our clients work in the marketing department and didn't write the text, so occasionally it's quite a bit of work for them to track down the answer.
  5. Alternatively, we post the issue on a translator listserv. Our colleagues are truly wonderful.
We usually prefer to ask the client rather than post too many terms on translator listservs, because many times the client can solve something in 10 seconds that would waste our colleagues' time. For instance, no fellow translator in the world knows what "TCM"' stands for, but the client does: it's an internal acronym for a content management software that's named after one of the company's software developers. We did the right thing by not spending an hour researching the term, as we would not have found it anywhere.

In general, we think asking the client (legitimate) questions is a good thing, because it shows the client that you care and that you are putting some serious thought into your work. On the other hand, asking too many questions makes you look like you are not trying hard enough and don't have sufficient resources or research skills. For instance, you don't want to ask your client what FMCG is (you can find that in three seconds).  Many clients really welcome questions and go out of their way to answer them, while others might be slightly annoyed that you are "wasting" their precious time or might not answer at all. We try to make it easy on customers by collecting our questions and sending them in one easy e-mail, which clearly details and references the questions. 

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any rules on how you handle this tricky subject?

Results: Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam

The results of the written portion of the Federal Court Interpreters Certification Examination (FCICE) were finally sent out the week of November 15. Judy took the exam at the beginning of August (she reported on her experience here), and we are happy to report she passed. Here's Judy's full report on her grades, which she is disclosing in great detail.
Even though the FCICE website emphasizes that no printed communication will be sent to candidates, I did receive my results via the postal service. I took the exam on a computer at Prometric testing center, so I am a bit puzzled why it takes two months to grade a standardized non-essay exam, but I digress.

I was delighted by the results, even though I was shaking when I opened the very thin envelope which I thought meant bad news. It did not! Dagy, my twin sister, is here from Europe and we are working from the US for a month, and I was so happy I did not have to open the envelope on my own! 

Candidates need to score at least 75% on both the English and the Spanish section to pass the exam and to qualify to sit for the oral exam, which will be held in 2013 (dates to be announced).

I usually score higher on the Spanish section than on the English section, but as I'd previously mentioned, I thought the register for the Spanish section was higher than the English portion.

My overall scores:
English: 89%
Spanish: 85%

There are 10 individual sections (five for each language; I am indicating my scores next to the sections). The sections are:

  1. Reading comprehension (English 100%/Spanish 94%)
  2. Usage (English 100%/Spanish 81%)
  3. Error detection (English: 88%/Spanish 88%)
  4. Synonyms (English 94%/Spanish 69%)
  5. Best translation (English 81%/Spanish 100%)
I was quite floored to see that I scored 100% on three of the sections. Overall, my lowest score was 69%, which I am a bit embarrassed to admit. I scored that low in the section I perceived to be the most challenging:  Spanish-language synonyms. I am a voracious reader in my three languages, and I thought I had a pretty extensive vocabulary, but there's always much room for improvement. I think that some of the Spanish-language terms were a  bit archaic, and some I simply didn't know, so I guessed (mostly incorrectly).

The official results letter came with disclaimer warning me not to use the results from the individual sections as a diagnostic tool, as the sample is too small, but I am doing so anyway, as it's an interesting exercise. I am very pleased with my performance on the Spanish-language best translation section and scored exactly the same (88%) in English and Spanish error detection. I thought the Spanish-language reading comprehension was quite challenging, and was surprised to see that I scored 94%. I think the English-language reading comprehension was probably the easiest for me, and my score (100%) reflects it. 

Overall, I am very happy with the results, but I keep learning and improving on all fronts every day. What about you, dear colleagues? Did you get good or bad news? Feel free to share as much or as little as you'd like. What's your overall assessment of the test? I think it's fair, straightforward and well-balanced.

ATA Conference: San Diego Restaurants

We both look forward to seeing many of our fantastic friends and colleagues at the ATA conference in San Diego in a few days! We are busy putting the finishing organizing touches on our lunches, dinners and meetings, and now our friend, colleague and fellow foodie Marianne Reiner, who lives in San Diego, has kindly put together this list of restaurants. We are grateful to Marianne for taking the time to do this for all her colleagues. We hope you find this list helpful. We are really hungry now....

San Diego Restaurants nearby conference hotel (Hilton San Diego Bayfront)

In addition to the limited on-site eatery options, there are numbers of good to excellent restaurants in downtown San Diego. I will focus here on a part of downtown called The East Village, which I think has better options for lunch and dinner.
-My absolute favorite is Café Chloé , 721 9th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101. www.cafechloe.com
The food is of very high quality with mouth-watering fares such as Mushroom and Bleu d’Auvergne Tarte or Smoked Trout and Apple salad to their Mussels or high-end version of Mac & Cheese! The place is small and popular for lunch and dinner. So call ahead for reservations.
-The Mission, Soma East Village location, 1250 J Street, San Diego, CA 92101. www.themissionsd.com
This is a highly popular place in San Diego, with 3 locations. The place is known for having long waiting lists on week-ends. The East Village location is in a very cool building and within walking distance from the conference hotel. The lunch menu is delicious and stays close to classic fares with a Mexican influence. Again, you are better off calling ahead or planning to wait. The Mission is not open for dinner.
-Lolita’s at the Park, 202 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101. www.lolitasmexicanfood.com
This is a good option for a quick and inexpensive lunch within walking distance to the conference hotel. This place offers classic Mexican fares and is also open for dinner.
-Jsix Restaurant, 616 J Street, San Diego, CA 92101. www.jsixrestaurant.com
This is an excellent restaurant, with a young, innovative Chef, whose focus on sustainable and local ingredients has given him a great reputation in San Diego. The place is pricey but if you are willing to splurge, it is worth it.
-East Village Tavern and Bowl, 930 Market Street, San Diego, CA 92101. www.tavernbowl.com
This is a restaurant and a hipster bowling alley! It has a surprisingly good lunch menu and as well as easy fares on their dinner menu. The place gets very loud in the evening. But it is a really fun place if you feel like a strike or spare in the middle of the day!
-Neighborhood, 777 G Street, San Diego, CA 92101. www.neighborhoodsd.com
This is a great option for a good salad, burger, wrap or a warm soup for lunch. They are also open for dinner. And I have to give it to them for their humor. Their website opens to a drawing of Jesus eating a burger!
-Venissimo Cheese, 871 G Street, San Diego, CA 92101. www.venissimo.com
Venissimo was the first high-end, European style cheese shop in San Diego. Their first location was in the Mission Hills neighborhood. This is not a restaurant but a cheese shop but if you are craving a great cheese sandwich, this is the place to go to. They will make you a sandwich with the cheese of your choice, on one of their ciabatta or baguette bread and will accompany it with fresh grapes or an apple. A delicious and easy treat. And if you are curious, I would suggest taking your sandwich few blocks away and eating it at the ball park downtown. The baseball season being over for our local Padres, the park is now fully open to the public. The stadium and its surroundings will allow you to see a good example of the downtown revitalization.
-Café 21, 750 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101. www.cafe-21.com
This is a wonderful option for lunch. I only know their Normal Heights location but I am sure the downtown one cannot disappoint. As their motto says this is a place for a “Neighborhood fare with flair.”
-Zanzibar Café, 707 G Street, San Diego, CA 92101. www.zanzibarcafe.com
This is another good option for lunch and dinner. The place is very popular and gets loud but the food is worth it.
-Saffron, 3731-B India Street, San Diego, CA 92103. www.saffronsandiego.com
This is a great Thai restaurant in San Diego. But you will need a car or take the trolley to get there. The food is totally worth it. Su-Mei Yu has received accolades from food publications from around the world. This is a lunch and dinner place (closes at 9PM though…). If you go there, you will need to beat the lunch crowd. So get there just before noon or after 1PM. The place is highly popular as you can imagine and people from all around the county drive to get some of Su-Mei Yu’s best recipes.
-The Brooklyn Bagel Company, 1000 Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101. www.ordermybagel.com
I have not personally gone there yet but it was recommended by some foodie friends. It is a bagel shop with what promises to be great sandwiches for lunch. It may not satisfy our friends from NY or Montreal but I still thought I would share it! And it is also a nice stroll from the conference hotel.

Win a Blogging Toolkit

A few weeks ago, Judy gave an interview sharing what she knows about blogging to fellow translator Olga Arakelyan of Russia, who also runs a Sharp End Training, which offers training for freelance translators with her business partner Jonathan Senior, who works out of the UK. Olga and Jonathan interviewed several translation bloggers and created a nifty how-to-get-started package for beginning translation bloggers. While it turns out that this information will not be free, but will rather be available for sale in the future, you can win it now by participating in the no-strings-attached contest (we love raffles). Readers of our blog have two ways of winning. Please read the information below.  

Here is the information (slightly edited) we received from Sharp End Training:

The toolkit includes -
  • Complete video training package for setting up Wordpress
  • A "What not to do with Wordpress" training course
  • Interviews with translation bloggers
  • A comprehensive PDF cheat-sheet manual 
  • 30 days FREE membership to their blogging mastermind "closed doors" support group
  • Plus a series of "mystery bonus" items that are still shrouded in secrecy

You can enter the contest here. For a second chance at winning, you can also leave a comment on that page saying that you have entered the contest.

The Sharp End Training guys will give a copy away on their contest. In addition, we will also select a winner from the comments left on the page.

Good luck!

Advice for Beginning Translators and Interpreters

A few weeks ago, Judy participated in a "Getting Started in Translation and Interpreting Workshop" in Reno, Nevada, which was organized by the non-profit she spearheads, the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She presented this workshop with other industry veterans, including well-known French-to-English chemistry translator Karen Tkaczyk, who made a series of excellent points, which we will include here. This post is intended for beginning or new translators and interpreters, and it's one in a series of posts that should help those looking for information. Click here and here for other posts in this series.  Judy is also teaching Intro to Translation at UC-San Diego Extension (online) again this fall, and even though the class is a lot of work, it's also very rewarding to be doing this labor of love that helps educate the next generation. Many students have limited insight into what it takes to be a  professional translator, and that's where we come in. In her role as the secretary general of UNIVERSITAS Austria Interpreteters' and Translators' Association, Dagy regularly mentors newcomers and dispenses (useful) advice, so we have a thing or two to add to this topic.

While here at Translation Times we are known for our positive spin on things, get ready for some tough love! To succeed as a freelance translator, you must do many things. Here are 10 of them. You may take them with a grain of salt as well, of course!

1) Be an outstanding writer. If you don't love books, writing, and can't tell us the last five books you've read, this might not be the right profession for you. Do people constantly tell you that you are a strong, clear, precise writer? If yes, then you are very much on the right path. If not, then you've got some soul-searching to do. Being bilingual is not enough; but you already knew that. Interpreters need to have good public speaking skills and should also love all things language. Do you?
2) Be a top-notch translator. Be honest with yourself (we know this is difficult). How good are you really? Can you compete with people with high-level translation degrees, narrow specializations, or those who have been doing this for 20 years? Are you truly talented? Unfortunately, it's oftentimes quite difficult to get honest feedback on your work because no one wants to hurt your feelings. Find someone who wants to help you grow. Take a class and review your scores and your professor's comments. Find a qualified colleague and pay him/her to evaluate a translation. Ask him or her if your work is good enough. Take it from there.
3) Like paperwork. If you don't like to do paperwork, this profession is going to make you miserable. You will have to do your accounting, taxes, client management, client acquisition, etc. It's a lot of legwork and a ton of paperwork. You can outsource some of these tasks, but in the beginning, that's not cost-effective. Also, you must be very organized (printed and electronic files). If your client asks you for a file from last March, you better know where it is.
4) Have solid computer skills. You absolutely cannot rely on your roommate, your father-in-law, your brother or your wife to help you solve your computer issues. Clients expect perfectly formatted texts done to their precise instructions. If you happen to have a Mac, it's your job to figure out how to make that work with the client's PC-generated documents. The client doesn't care what you need to do to get this accomplished. You must be self-sufficient, as you probably won't be able to afford IT help. And no, you can't complain to your client that your antivirus software crashed. You are a professional, so do the job.
5) Be tough. This business is not for the faint of heart. If you can't take rejection, then you are in for some unpleasant surprises. As an independent contractor, you are always marketing yourself, and it can be hard to hear that someone doesn't want your services. No one said running your own business is easy. It's not. 
6) Communicate well. Karen Tkaczyk likes to tell the story that she gets a lot of work from agency clients because she's faster at responding to e-mail than most people. She truly is: you send her an e-mail and you will most likely get an immediate response. Clients like that. You don't have to respond right off the bat, but being reachable and responsive is a huge plus. In today's smartphone-dominated world, there's really no reason not to respond to inquiries in a timely fashion. In Europe, client expectations are a bit more relaxed, but in the US, you better be on it. You should be in front of your computer during business hours. 
7) Be reliable.This is a no-brainer, but we've seen it all before. People commit to deadlines and then can't meet them because the dog got sick or their mother-in-law is in the hospital. Some of these reasons are certainly very legitimate, but it doesn't change the fact that you didn't meet the deadline. Most clients, and we include ourselves here, would never, never, never do another project with someone who didn't meet a deadline. You know how many deadlines we've missed since 2002? None. And yes, our computers have crashed. And we've stayed up all night fixing things. And we've driven around town in the middle of the night trying to find  a place to print documents because our printer quit working. 
8) Be open to feedback. Most clients won't tell you if they don't like your work. They simply won't contact you again, but will probably tell all their contacts that they did not think your work was good. In the rare instance that someone does give you feedback, you should treat it as what it is: a beautiful gift and the chance for you to improve. 
9) Be true to your word. Your reputation is the only thing you have. If you say you will do something, do it. It doesn't matter if you commit to hosting a social get-together for your local interpreters and translators association, agree to meet your client for lunch at a specific time, or promise to follow-up to the customer's e-mail the next day. Just do it. If you can't remember things, put a note on your calendar. No excuses. We know some amazing colleagues whom we trust with our lives. We know we will be there when we need them. Those are the folks with whom we collaborate on projects. Not surprisingly, these are also the people who never miss a board meeting, are always on time for lunch, and send you that report for the newsletter that they promised they would.
10) Be able to deal with financial uncertainty. If you think you will make money right after hanging your shingle, you are probably wrong. Save 6-12 months' living expenses before you go out on your own. You might not make a penny the first six months. And you might do really well some months only to have little work the next month. Those are the realities of self-employment. If you don't have the stomach for it, don't run your own business. If you have a second income in your family, that certainly helps. In this business, it's either feast or famine, and every single linguist has gone through it, including us. It's not fun. If the thought of this makes you cringe, then you are better off working in-house. Just like with any profession, there are no guarantees.  Even the best master's degree from the best university or the best of intentions don't guarantee a job or clients (same for every other field: law, real estate, dentistry, etc.).

We think this is a good start, but would love to hear from our friends and colleagues (experienced or not). Did we miss anything essential? What advice would you give to people just starting out? Which are the essential skills that translators need? How about interpreters?

The Interpreter's Mid-Career Crisis

Many of the best interpreters in the world have the pleasure of working at the European Parliament. The star of this hilarious video, which is of course completely tongue-in-cheek, is a full-time employee at the European Parliament, where he works in the English-language booth (meaning he interprets from at least three languages into English). Watch Matthew in action!

We had a very good laugh about this. We hope you enjoy it as well!

Donuts, Please

We always knew that clients love it when you come bearing gifts. That's why we send gifts on special occasions and enjoy buying our clients lunch or dinner. Recently, however, Judy got schooled in the high art of bringing donuts to the people. Read on for a real-life scenario from our small business. Note: some embellishments and funnier-than-in-real-life one-liners have been added for comedic effect.

Judy was called to interpret at a rural court, let's call it Alphaville in Utah (it's not). It's a long drive (more than two hours), but they don't have any certified Spanish court interpreters in the area, so Judy was delighted to facilitate language access. She did, however, not know a very small detail. The fine folks at the Alphaville court are serious about their donuts.

Now, Alphaville is a very small town. You drive in with out-of-state plates and people notice. And they wave. It's that kind of place.

The courthouse was not hard to locate (GPS not needed). Judy found the court secretary, introduced herself, and entered the courtroom. Here's what followed:

Judy: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am your certified Spanish court interpreter for today. I'm Judy Jenner.
Public defender: Good morning, Judy! Nice to meet you. Great suit. Where are the donuts?
Judy: Nice to meet you, too. I don't follow, counsel. Donuts? I don't know anything about donuts.
PD: The Spanish interpreter *always* brings the donuts. Guess you didn't get the memo.
Judy (confused): Um, sorry, I didn't know anything about the donuts. You are right: I did not get that memo. I do, however, have a few packets of trail mix in my purse. Care for those?
Bailiff: No, thanks. We want donuts.

The district attorney shows up, dragging a heavy cart of files behind him.

DA: Welcome, new court interpreter! So you are a tree-hugger, huh? Is that your Prius out there? Say, do you have to plug that thing in?
Bailiff (grinning): She forgot the donuts.
Judy: Yes, I like to save the planet for sure, sir. And yes, I did forget the donuts -- sort of. But I will bring some next time, I promise! And no, you don't have to plug the Prius in. It charges itself when you drive.
DA, PD and bailiff: Great! We like Krispy Kreme.
Judy: That's nowhere near my house. I'd have to drive another 20 miles round-trip for Krispy Kreme. How about Dunkin Donuts? That's down the street from my house, and they are tasty.
Bailiff (chuckling): I don't like those that much, but I will eat them.
DA and PD: Works for us. Make it half a dozen glazed and half a dozen chocolate please. The judge likes glazed.
Judy: Sure, will do. May I give you my business card?

The judge enters the courtroom. Everyone scrambles to get up.

Judge: Good morning. Who are you?
PD: She's the new Spanish interpreter. She has the same last name as Bruce Jenner, you know, the athlete? But she did not bring our donuts.
Judy: I repent, Your Honor. Mea culpa. I shall bring donuts next time. 
Judge: Great, now that we settled this important matter, let's call our first case. I like glazed. Welcome to Alphaville.

And Judy now brings donuts every time, without fail. The end.

The Big Day: Found in Translation

It seems like more than a year ago that we started looking forward to the publication of this book, and now the day is finally here! October 2, 2012, is a big day for our industry, as the long-awaited book Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, written by industry veterans Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche, is being released today by a big publisher (Penguin/Perigree). We had the pleasure of reading both the manuscript and advance copies, as Judy wrote a review for the British magazine Bulletin of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). You can read the full review here
A prominent spot on the shelf. 

This book is magnificently well written and, as opposed to many other language books that we love, it's quite accessible and easy to read. We hate to admit this, but some books on language make their authors seem like pedantic bores, and this book is quite the opposite. The authors manage to convey a large body of knowledge in an upbeat and entertaining tone. Cleverly subdivided into chapters that revolve around how translation and interpreting influence business, the arts, religion, business and more, this is a work of non-fiction that you can read one chapter at a time or all in one sitting, which is what we did. Full disclosure: both Nataly and Jost are friends of ours, which doesn't prevent us from giving this book an honest review. Even though we have been in the industry for a long time, it's truly eye-opening to discover how far-reaching our profession truly is. We learned a lot about languages of lesser diffusion, which was fantastic. We will be the first to admit that we don't regularly seek out information about languages other than the ones we translate, so it was very enlightening to read about all the languages spoken in Nigeria and about how one goes about creating a keyboard for some of these languages.

We were very fond of the clever subtitles, including Houston, We Need an interpreter. Yes, the Russians cosmonauts and the American astronauts need interpreters in order to be able to communicate with each other when at the International Space Station. How cool is that? Interpreters' influence extends to space!

It's absolutely delightful that we finally have a mainstream book about our profession that's accessible and interesting to those who are not in the profession. Ultimately, as a profession, we want the general public to know that what we do matters, and this book will leave little doubt that what we do matters a great deal. We are picking up a big shipment of Found in Translation to give away as Christmas presents to friends and family. We can't wait for our family members to read this. Perhaps it will finally help them understand what we do for a living and why the global economy would be much worse off without all of us. Be proud, interpreters and translators! This is a great day for all of us. Even though the book is being released today, it's already gone into its second printing, which means that sales have been much higher than expected.

While this book is widely available on online retailers such as Amazon, we encourage you to purchase this book from the only independent dictionary and language book retailer in the US, InTrans Book Service. Visit the book's website here

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.

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

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