We dedicate this week's digest to the great translators of the past and the present with several brilliant articles on the subject. Other topics include getting started with social media marketing, translating "just to understand" orders, and top soft skills to look for in localization project managers.


Standing on the shoulders of giants

In the hustle and bustle of our daily freelancing work, we often forget that translation is a highly creative profession that's been around for ages. Although relatively few of us are literary translators, it's worth remembering that the essence of our work is always the same: building bridges and sewing together cultures. And it's worth remembering the great builders and tailors of the past.pablo-6-300x300.png Peter Adamson of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich takes on a fascinating journey into the 10th century, where Islamic translators such as al-Kindī took on translating the great Greek philosophers into Arabic. As it comes out (though as could be expected), they went far beyond "mere" translating and added their own ideas and understandings along the way. This leaves us with the philosophical question of whether translating philosophy is philosophy as well. What do you think? pablo-6-300x300.png

Where some are eager to add their own ideas to alter the spirit of the original, others refrain from translating at all due to the fear of doing the same. In an article for the New York Review of Books, author and translator Tim Parks shares his thoughts about whether it always makes sense to re-translate classics. Parks was offered to re-translate Boccaccio's Decameron, an offer he considered an "honor and a responsibility." But after trying his hand on one passage from the book, he had to decline it. In Parks's own words, he "didn't feel he could achieve" the "same level of conviction" as was achieved in the very first (1620!) translation of the same passage by John Florio. That's some exemplary determination, if you ask me — and I'm not sure I would be able to do the same. Finally, speaking of unachievable translation endeavors, and of great translators, too, we can't help mentioning the article by Esther Yi of The New Yorker, titled "A Great Translator Takes on One Final and Nearly Impossible Project." The great translator in question is John Edwin Woods, who, unlike al-Kindī and Flovio, is alive and well. The "final project," in turn, is the project to translate Arno Schmidt's linguistically leviathanic Zettels' Traum ("Bottom's Dream" in Woods's translation). If you are wondering what "linguistically leviathanic" means, take a look at this excerpt from the translation:


As if this were not enough, the book is so heavy on word plays that it makes IKEA slogans look like baby talk — here's one: 'Schmidt turns the German word “falls”—“in the case of”—into “phalls,” exposing the etym that brings “phallic” to mind.' One thing we didn't understand is why Esther called this project "final" for Woods. Although the experience of translating Zettel's Traum could be really traumatic, we do hope the great translator comes back with many more brilliant translations to move and inspire us. In the meantime, let's get back to our more mundane business matters in the next sections.

"I just need to understand"

Sometimes clients approach you when they need a quick-and-dirty translation of something they "just need to understand." This seems like an easy job, and, in a way, it is. But there are some important things and "hidden rocks" to keep in mind. In our recent post, we list these things, touching the slippery topic of machine translation post-editing in the process. In short, these are:

  1. Never miss a meaning — this sin is even less forgivable in such orders.
  2. Don't overwork the style — you will spend time on something the client won't need.
  3. Do add comments — sometimes they will work even better than translation.
  4. Consider post-editing — it's one of those occasions when machine translation can actually be helpful.
  5. Do discount your rates — the client will appreciate that, and you'll still keep your hourly rate high.
  6. Be a consultant — use your subject matter expertise to help client beyond your translation assignment.
  7. Have everything agreed in writing — so that you and the client are on the same page regarding quality expectations.

You can read the full article here.

Soft skills for project managers

If you remember, a while ago we wrote about an episode of Translators on Air that featured Natalie Soper, a translator-turned-project manager. The topic sparked off a lively discussion, so we decided to dedicate some more posts to the topic of project management. In a guest article for the Smartcat blog, Michele Cerioni of Adaptive Business Group shares the company's insights into the soft skills that a good localization project manager must have, which are:

  1. Utilizing logic,
  2. Passion for success,
  3. Being organized,
  4. Great communication skills, and
  5. Professional juggling skills.

We recommend that you read the full article, but you can also watch the following video for a short summary:

Starting out on social media

Speaking of Translators on Air, this week's episode was dedicated to social media marketing, one of the hottest topics for today's translation freelancers. Elena and Dmitry invited Lloyd Bingham, a successful translator from the UK. With more than 3 thousand followers on Twitter and a 3:1 followers-to-following ratio, Lloyd surely had some secrets to share with us. Specifically, the following questions were discussed during the show:

  • How can online presence help translators engage with their profession?
  • What are some of the steps that translators and interpreters can take to establish an online presence?
  • How important it is to have online presence to become a successful translator or interpreter?
  • What can translators do to keep themselves in their clients' thoughts without pestering busy people?
  • Is it better to use a page or your usual profile for marketing your services on Facebook?

Watch the full episode on Crowdcast if it sounds interesting for you (it must!).

Bringing your own clients to Smartcat

Finally, a tiny self-plug. Most our users know that Smartcat has a marketplace where they can get orders from customers on the platform. Many know that it is also great for working on your their translation projects. But a hidden-in-plain-sight gem is the fact that bringing your own clients to Smartcat will provide benefits for the both of you that reach far beyond technology. We wrote a short article explaining why and also made a nifty video to bring home the main points: If you prefer a text form, here's a transcript:

  1. Communicate in context, without getting submerged by an avalanche of disorganized email threads.
  2. Receive positive feedback to boost your Smartcat profile and get more orders from customers on the platform.
  3. Show that you are not afraid of competition and know that they will come back to you due to the high quality of your service.
  4. Give the customer a "plan B" in case you become unavailable (that's one of the main reasons clients opt for agencies).
  5. Earn $50 through Smartcat's affiliate program if your customer becomes an active user of the platform.

That's it — hope you enjoyed the read. Let us know what you think in comments, and have a great ending of the week!