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Be an ant and not the grasshopper November 30, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Have you heard the Aesop fable about The Ant and The Grasshopper?

One summer day a grasshopper was singing and chirping and hopping about.  He was having a wonderful time.  He saw an ant who was busy gathering and storing grain for the winter.

“Stop and talk to me,” said the grasshopper.   “We can sing some songs and dance a while.”

“Oh no,” said the ant.  “Winter is coming.  I am storing up food for the winter.  I think you should do the same.”

“Oh, I can’t be bothered,” said the grasshopper.  “Winter is a long time off.   There is plenty of food.”   So the grasshopper continued to dance and sing and chip and the ant continued to work.

When winter came the grasshopper had no food and was starving.  He went  to the ant’s house and asked, “Can I have some wheat or maybe a few kernels of corn.  Without it I will starve,” whined the grasshopper.

“You danced last summer,” said the ants in disgust.   “You can continue to dance.”  And they gave him no food.

I was reminded of this by a recent ProZ.com poll on private pension plans. I was shocked to see that 64.4% of the respondents do not have a private pension plan and only 31% do. I started paying into a private pension plan (well, a German annuity) when I was 30, and I also have a Roth IRA set up here in the States. I currently pay about $400 a month into my various pension plans. I reduced the payment to the German annuity when I moved back to the States, but I still continue to pay a small amount into it every month from my German earnings.

I saw how tight things were for my great-aunt when she was living on Social Security – plus I have no doubt that Social Security will be bankrupt by the time I am old enough to collect on it. When I get older I plan to continue translating, but I am certainly not going to keep going at the pace at which I am currently working. This will require some savings, which the private pension plans will provide. This gives me some peace of mind.

Oliver Lawrence did a very good job summarizing exactly how I feel: “I think that those without their own pension provision may find themselves with the choice of continuing to work into their old age or living in something close to poverty in 20-30 years time. Given that more and more people are living longer and longer, combined with the somewhat short-sighted public resistance to increasing the retirement age, where is the state going to find the money to pay all these pensions?” I couldn’t agree more!

So how about you, dear readers? Do you have a private pension plan, and why or why not?


We are the ATA – the ATA is us November 23, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in ATA.

A comment posted to my blog post on certification while I slept last night has spawned this current post. The commenter stated she was going to let her membership in ATA lapse because it did not offer Italian>English certification. I have taken the ATA to task here on this blog over the last few years, and often achieved some change (I like to think the reason we had free Internet this year at the conference is partly due to a blog post I wrote after the last conference. I know it’s probably due to years of comments about paying for Internet, but please leave me my delusion 😉 ). However, I would never in a million years make the bad business decision to let my membership in ATA lapse.

It concerns me to hear people complain about the ATA without trying to do anything to effect change. No organization is perfect. Organizations by nature are bloated and bureaucratic. We the members make up the organization. ATA is more than “Headquarters” and “The Board.” Our Board is made up of volunteers who are willing to serve three-year terms to run the organization – not corporate lackeys who are there to “bring us down” or serve their own interests. In fact, I believe there are only one or two agency owners on the Board at the moment. We are the ATA – the ATA is us!!!

There is so much more to ATA membership than simply certification. I feel my membership in ATA brings me countless benefits, including attendance at the annual conference and smaller specialized conferences (where I have met some excellent clients), a discounted subscription to Payment Practices and the Translator’s Tool Kit, the monthly ATA Chronicle, the Business Practices Archive and, most importantly to me, the GLD, LTD, Medical Division, and Business Practices listservs, which allow me to discuss terminology, technology, and business practices with other ATA members. The BP listserv has both freelancers and agency owners on it, which allows us to see both sides of issues. This is extremely enlightening and eye-opening, let me tell you.

If you are considering letting your membership lapse for whatever reason, ask yourself what you can do to make things better. Let’s use the example of the commenter. Just because they don’t offer Italian to English certification, have you thought about possibly being on a committee to make sure that eventually happens? The ATA probably doesn’t offer that language track because it doesn’t have enough volunteers to chair the committee and serve as graders. Tess Whitty could probably tell you how to do that. ATA can only be vital if it has members that are willing to do work in order to get things it wants to see done done. ATA is more than Headquarters and the Board. We are the ATA – every single member. It is up to us to ensure it benefits us.

This is why Errors & Omissions insurance is a crock… November 22, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in ATA, Business practices.

Philip Auerbach, President of Auerbach Translations, sent the following letter to the ATA’s Business Practices list. I have to say I am absolutely appalled at Lloyds’ behavior, but frankly I’m not surprised. I have been telling fellow translators that E&O insurance is a huge waste of money and could potentially put a target on your back. Now we have an incident in which it is also not worth the premiums the insured party pays. I have Mr. Auerbach’s permission to repost his letter in his entirety. I have written Nick Hartmann (the current ATA President) and Dorothee Racette (the President-Elect), who have assured me they will be looking into this. Unfortunately, with this being a holiday weekend the Executive Director of ATA is on vacation this week. They have assured me he will address this as soon as he returns. I truly hope that ATA defends its members in this case, as it is an ATA-sponsored insurance policy that Lloyds is not honoring. Both Nick and Dorothee are freelancers, so I am confident that this issue will not be ignored.

I just want to point out that this is exactly why I feel LSPs and individual translators should all be part of the same organization. We all have by and large the same problems. I know a lot of LSPs feel that ATA does not address their needs, and many freelance translators feel LSPs should not be members of the ATA. Hey folks, we’re all in this together. Let’s work together to address this.

Dear fellow ATA members:

I want to bring to your attention an issue that has arisen with Lloyds, the ATA’s Errors & Omissions insurance carrier, as it affects any LSP or translator … and similar issues that are probably in all other E&O insurance policies that anyone carries.

An issue arose with a long-time member of the ATA, an LSP with over 15 years’ experience, which I directly learned about. For the first time ever, this LSP had a major dispute with a client that resulted in an insurance claim through Lloyds. The identity of the LSP (which we will call ABC) and its client are not important. What is important is how the insurance company reacted…. and how this will impact you.

An agency or a translator strives for a reputation of producing excellent quality with professionalism. Out of integrity, when an agency or a translator makes a mistake, one of three remedies is commonly proposed:

a) a discount on that project

b)a refund of any amounts already paid

c) a compensatory project of a similar or greater amount.

In this case, ABC did make some mistakes –- apparently, its first-ever serious breach of procedures — and immediately arranged a compensatory project with its client for around $12,000. Out of integrity, this was apparently more than the value of the mistakes themselves. However, after further investigation, the client then told ABC that it wanted compensation of around $30,000 for additional expenses incurred and long after project deliveries. At that point, ABC invoked its insurance through Lloyds.

Unlike homeowner’s insurance where one deals directly with the agent, ATA insurance must go through Lloyds’ lawyers in New York. The lawyers chose to ignore ABC’s terms and conditions, ostensibly because these would be diminished in view of the admission of “errors.” These ignored terms included that:

a) all challenges to projects must be submitted within ten days of delivery; and

b) all disputes were to be resolved through arbitration if the matter became serious.

In addition, ABC apparently stipulated both verbally and in writing to its client that methods the client insisted upon were likely to cause the very issues which necessitated its additional expenses for which the client wanted reimbursement.

Again, Lloyds deemed all those terms and issues as irrelevant.

More importantly to all ATA members, Lloyds’ insurance has a clause (VIII b) which says, “The insured shall not, except at their [sic] own cost, make any payment, admit any liability, settle any claims, assume any obligation or incur any expense without the written consent of the Underwriters [Lloyds].”

In other words, if you as a responsible LSP or translator agreed to a monetary or in-kind settlement with your client — such as ABC’s $12,000. compensatory project — per the standard business practices of a), b) and c) above, Lloyds will not recognize that payment…. and you will have to pay it again if insurance is invoked. And that, effectively, constitutes double compensation.

Ostensibly this clause is to protect insurers against collusion with your client or to avoid your setting a monetary “floor” from which the insurance company must operate. Those concerns are reasonable.

The ATA attorney, Jefferson Glassie, backed Lloyds in this matter and stated, “It is a common, standard, and accepted practice and term of insurance policies. Any arrangements for claim or damage reimbursement involving [ABC] are totally between the insurer and [ABC]. ATA cannot be responsible in any way for insurance claims or awards involving members insured under the Policy and is not responsible for [ABC’s] conduct.”

So, we as LSPs and translators are left with a situation where the sole E&O insurance policy that ATA offers to us violates our professional ethics and common business practices… and where the ATA executives and lawyers whose salaries are paid though our dues back the insurance company, and not their members.

When ABC passed me Mr. Glassie’s justification, I was appalled. To me, whether this is “standard insurance practice” is totally irrelevant:

It was standard practice for years in the US to deny the vote to women and Blacks.

It was / has been standard practice for years in the US to discriminate against Catholics, Jews, Blacks, women, Latinos, Asians, Gays, interracial couples and many others.

And it was standard insurance practice until this year to deny pre-existing medical conditions and certain coverage to children.

“Standard practice” does not mean a policy is right or is justified.

It is we members who pay the ATA executives and the ATA lawyer to defend our interests. These can include, for example, insisting on the insertion in the ATA’s E&O policy of an exclusion for mitigating circumstances. And if Lloyds won’t accept that, it behooves our ATA executives to find us another company’s policy that will… or perhaps to join with other associations to pressure a change collectively.

At present, you as an LSP or translator are expected to report ALL disputes to your insurance company, regardless of whether they escalate to a serious level. And if you act in good faith with your client and reach a monetary agreement first, you alone will have to pay that amount if an E&O policy is invoked; Lloyds or any other “standard practices” insurer will not cover that amount.

I cannot think of a single, experienced translator or LSP that at some time has not inadvertently passed on a mistake to a client.

Beware. The next party caught in this breach of common sense could be you.

Philip Auerbach

Philip Auerbach, President
Auerbach International Inc./Translations Express

There’s more than one way to skin a cat… November 17, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in ATA, Random musings.

Every year at the ATA conference I get upset about how everyone talks about how ATA certification is the be all and end all of translation. It’s not. The exam is extremely difficult to pass. The folks at ATA quote a pass rate of 20%, which hasn’t changed even though ATA has now implemented a review of your credentials in order to be allowed to take the test. I would think the pass rate would go up if only qualified translators were allowed to take the exam and not just the bilingual hobbyists most translators are always complaining about. Also, some people just don’t test well.

The test itself is also flawed. I know, I know… “the graders and folks on the Certification Committee are working hard to improve the test…” blah blah blah, but the fact remains that it is still a very difficult exam to pass. I myself have failed it several times, failing by the skin of my teeth every time. One reviewer marked me off for translating “Schein” as “bill” (as in dollar bill) instead of the preferred “banknote.” Some of the “errors” were indeed true errors, but my translation style does not stick extremely closely to the source, which is what the graders prefer. I tend to translate freely when necessary. Not to mention the fact that I also use the Internet a lot to double-check terms and find synonyms. I also utilize a native German proofreader who ensures that I have not misunderstood the source text (it’s been a LONG time since that has happened, but better safe than sorry…). A handwritten test simply isn’t a good test of my skills (and my atrocious handwriting, which was flawless until computers came along, probably doesn’t help). There is also the fact that it isn’t available in all language pairs.

The fact that I have failed the test several times does not make me a bad translator. I happen to know that I am in very good company. I could name names, but I won’t (but those of you who have written me to tell me that you have joined my little club know who you are). In fact, I think the fact that I passed the FBI language battery of tests and the fact that I am frequently overworked attest to the fact that my clients do not think I am a bad translator. I have also heard from many PMs and agency owners that ATA-certified translators make just as many mistakes as non-certified translators and sometimes the quality simply isn’t there. I’m not on that end of the spectrum, so I can’t say that for a fact though. I’m merely repeating hearsay.

However, certified members are voting members in ATA. Were you aware that only 15-20% of ATA members are certified? Interesting, isn’t it? That means that 80% of ATA is NOT CERTIFIED. This also means that almost 80% of the members do not have the right to vote.

But there’s another way to ensure that you have a say in what goes on in the ATA. The ATA Board voted to simplify the process to obtain voting membership through Membership Review (also known as Peer Review) in 1999. As the ATA website states, “The new criteria… are in keeping with the ATA Bylaws that state voting members be ‘professionally engaged in translating, interpreting, or closely related work.'” I think more people who are professionally engaged in the industry should be making sure that they have a say in ATA business and who is on the ATA Board.

Membership Review involves submitting credentials and other information to the Membership Review Committee and paying a nominal fee of $50. Translators and interpreters can either submit a copy of your translation degree and one letter of recommendation from a client or evidence of three years of experience as a translator (three letters of recommendation and copies of your tax returns). See the ATA website for more details. It is a very painless process. Candidates who successfully go through the membership review process are considered Active Members but are not certified.

So what are you waiting for? Make sure your voice is heard! ATA shouldn’t be governed by just the certified members – it should be governed by ALL the members!

You win some, you lose some November 16, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

Putting projects “on hold” is a common occurrence in our industry. I just had another large project put “on hold” today. This is a great euphemism that can range from “sorry, we decided we just didn’t have the money for the project” to “we went with another provider but don’t want to hurt your feelings”. Hey, it happens and I no longer get upset by it. However, I also don’t sit around waiting for the project to pan out. After the first e-mail from the client saying their client was still making a decision I had a feeling it wouldn’t pan out, so I accepted a large OCR job for another client. The job was supposed to start last Wednesday, and I got the cancellation notice this afternoon (Monday). I am now happily plugging away at OCRing 670 pages of English legal texts.

It is important to not give up paid work for something that may or may not happen. Agencies understand this. If the project that you have expressed an interest in working on is delayed and somehow magically gets approved but you have since accepted other work, agencies will usually understand if you are no longer available. Hey, them’s the breaks and they know this.

What clues in your experience indicate a project just may not pan out? Are there any tips or tricks you would like to share with someone who may have just experienced this for the first time or is still trying to break into the industry?

Lionbridge does it again… November 1, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Scam alert.

They were probably hoping that everyone would be so busy at the ATA conference that no one would notice their little e-mail demanding a 5% discount from their vendors.

Luckily there were several bloggers who received the e-mail and commented on it. To learn more about the topic, you should read A Personal Response to Lionbridge VP Didier Helin’s Unilateral Demand of a 5% Discount (my favorite quote: “I was an infrequent and reluctant accomplice of your agency until some years ago, when I discontinued collaboration after coming to the conclusion that your project managers and I simply spoke different languages/lived on different planets/were not drinking the same Kool-Aid/were addicted to different hallucinogens.”) and Discounts Required.

Since Lionbridge refuses to pay more than US$0.10 a word for my language pair and implemented their pay to play system (see Would you pay to work for a translation agency?) I don’t work for them either.

Of course, it must also be said that this e-mail contradicts Lionbridge’s own press release, which I read a few days ago, that announced the “highest quarterly profits in its history”!!! Hey, Lionbridge, you suck!

Update: Here is another reasonable response.

Musings from the ATA Conference November 1, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in ATA, Random musings.

Yesterday was an exhausting day spent getting upset at Blue Sky Shuttle, whose driver was 25 minutes late for my scheduled 7 am pick-up and extremely rude to boot! No tip for him! My flight home was blissfully uneventful, apart from seeing Air Force One on the tarmac in Cleveland (President Obama was speaking about 4 miles from my home and the highway was lined with police officers awaiting the motorcade). I arrived home, unpacked and drove to my sister’s in time to trick or treat with my nieces. I slept 9 hours last night and feel ready to take on the world.

Photo by Jeff Sanfacon, ATA

I had a great time at the ATA Conference. I met a lot of you who told me you enjoyed reading the blog. Thanks ever so much! I love writing it. I also came up with the idea to market my services in alignment and optical character recognition conversion.

Speaking of OCR, my preconference seminar with Tuomas Kostiainen was well-received. We had 60 attendees, and I hope those of you who attended learned something. The best feedback I heard was from one of my older German colleagues, who is a known IT hater. She said “I didn’t enjoy the presentation, but I learned a lot.” LOL! That’s all we can ask.

Approximately 1500 people attended the 51st Annual ATA Conference in Denver, Colorado this year. The organizers really did a great job. The Welcome Reception and Division Open House was a fun time (although I don’t know how they expected us to use all the drink tokens in two hours. I know I didn’t…). The sessions were varied and ranged from practical (such as “Breaking into the Industry: How to Gain Experience When Employers Will Not Give You Experience Without Previous Experience” or “Ensuring Payment: Before, During, and After the Project”), serious  (“Transcription and Translation of Evidence Recordings”) to whimsical (“What, Me Worry? Managing the Unmanageable Cycle of Feast or Famine”). I didn’t attend as many sessions as I wanted, because four of them were scheduled at the same time and several were scheduled when I was presenting. Luckily I ordered the eConference, so I will get a chance to check them out at my leisure.

Photo by Jeff Sanfacon, ATA

I came equipped with business cards and resumes and made sure I picked up my plastic stand from the Job Marketplace on Saturday before the Exhibit Hall closed. The days seem to just fly by at the conference. I arrived on Tuesday and left Sunday morning. One older gentleman in the shuttle yesterday remarked that he thought the conference was too long. I disagreed and told him I never want the conference to end (tip: if you think it’s too much just attend for one day or two days). I enjoy seeing old familiar faces, catching up with my friends, and meeting lots of new people. I didn’t do as much socializing in the hotel bar as I have in the past. I blame the rough year I’ve had and the jet lag. However, I did get a chance to catch up with a lot of different people in the hallways, at special events and at breakfast, lunch or dinner. The GLD “Unofficial Official Get-Together” at the Peaks Lounge was extremely memorable and offered a fantastic view of the mountains and the Denver skyline.

I also have to give kudos to the hotel, the Hyatt Regency. My roommate and I were impressed with the service. The concierges were wonderful, and the staff was extremely responsive to our every need. The hotel was conveniently located near a lot of great restaurants that offered something for every budget, and Denver’s public transportation was very convenient. After enjoying Thai and Indian food during the week we were craving Italian on Saturday night, so the concierge made a reservation for us at Venice Ristorante. The free bus whisked us away down 16th Street, and we enjoyed an absolutely lovely meal with lots of laughs and socializing. My risotto with filet mignon, mushrooms and truffle oil was delicioso!

I plan on following up with the new clients and new colleagues I met as the day goes on. I hope you all enjoyed the conference as well – and those of you who did not attend hopefully enjoyed all the work that came your way!