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♪♫ Everybody’s working on the weekends… ♪♫ February 26, 2011

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

After about a month of being underworked I have returned to the world of the overworked translator. I was lucky to earn enough to cover my rent and bills last month, while this month it looks like I am on track to exceed my monthly income target. I have turned down a lot of projects over the last few days (and suggested colleagues who may or may not be available). However, I have several clients to whom I simply can’t say no, so I am working this weekend – by choice. This seems to be a common habit in our industry. Everyone always complains about the clients who call at 4 PM on Friday with a job that absolutely must be done by Monday morning. And when you ask for a rush rate? Yeah, good luck trying to get one from the clients, because it seems there are a lot of our colleagues who are perfectly willing to consider Saturday and Sunday a normal work day. Perhaps because they work a full-time job and only translate on the weekends or simply have no life outside of translation…

I hope to be able to take a day off at the end of this coming week to balance my time spent translating this weekend. Both big projects are due March 1st and March 2nd respectively, plus a little mini-job for Monday that I really should have finished yesterday but chose to procrastinate on. If we work on the weekends the least we can do is take time off during the week instead. I have no intention of burning out after only 15 years in the industry.

I don’t intend to spend my entire weekend stuck behind my keyboard and monitor. I have plans with friends and family this weekend that I am not willing to cancel. Being a translator truly forces us to be masters of time management, because otherwise we simply wouldn’t get everything done. But I can guarantee you that there is one thing I WON’T be doing this weekend – housework!! LOL! I have a Living Social coupon for a cleaning service that I intend to cash in very soon…


Sharing What I Do as a Translator February 25, 2011

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

Fabio from Fidus Interpres just published a blog post with the exact same title as this one on his blog based on an exchange he had with another translator on LinkedIn to “exchange infos about each other, explaining what we do so that maybe we can be an interesting resource for each other in future translation & localization projects.” Instead of writing an extensive comment on his blog I thought I would take a page from his playbook and share what I do here. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I invite other bloggers to do the same on their blogs. I think it will be fun to learn a little bit about each other.

Like Fabio, I very rarely outsource jobs, and if I do I rely on translators who I have met in person or have worked with successfully in the past. However, as Fabio said, you never know if one of your clients may need someone with a skill set that matches that of one of your colleague’s.

I have been translating (and proofreading) from German into English (American English) since 1995.

Most of my customers are translation agencies in the United States and Europe (usually Germany but occasionally Switzerland, England or Austria). I worked for the FBI as a contract linguist for about four years, and now work for several agencies with government contracts. I do not work for the larger translation agencies. I find the smaller agencies appreciate my skills more and are more willing to pay my rates. I prefer to work for agencies that value me and respect me as a professional.

I have a Master’s degree in Translation from Kent State and lived for six years in Bonn, Germany and one year in Salzburg, Austria. My time living abroad helped me not only become extremely fluent, but also gave me the cultural knowledge one needs to be a successful translator. I also have a working knowledge of Russian, which sometimes helps me translate documents that have been uncovered in the former Eastern Bloc countries for my agencies with government contracts.

I specialize in documents in the fields of medical and computer. I love translating medical reports, medical documents for insurance and pension claims, FTP manuals, computer games, mobile phone apps and games, and anything and everything software-related. I taught myself HTML back in 1995 and have taught web design for the translation students at Kent State, so I have a deep love for Geekspeak and the Internet. I have also been known to translate legal documents relating to Nazi hunting, Internet fraud, witness statements and interviews, police reports, legal claims, and the occasional contract. I proofread a lot of the police reports related to the 9/11 hijackers who lived in Germany back in 2001 and 2002. I am not a big fan of personal documents (birth certificates, letters of reference, school transcripts, genealogical documents), but I translate them when a client asks me. I also translate I also translate responses for market research surveys, so this means not only am I a fast translator since the deadlines are often tight and the word counts are high but I am also very good as deciphering the most terrible misspellings and typos you can imagine. I am also very, very good at formatting Word and WordPerfect files cleanly (I set a tab where I need it instead of using tabs and spaces to get there) and making them look almost like a mirror image of the original.

I’m not arrogant to claim that I am the best translator out there, but I am good at what I do and my clients are very happy with my results. If you have complicated, high-falutin’ German that sounds like it comes from an ivory tower or need the translation to sound like poetry I’m probably not your girl. But if you need to know what the text says, it needs to be conveyed clearly and sound good, and you need it to mirror the original I’m the one to call.

I do not translate financial, chemistry, patent, or technical texts. If I read a text and don’t understand it I will turn the job down and most likely be able to recommend someone more than capable of handling the text. I have built a very good network of contacts on both sides of the ocean. I recently helped a client find a German to French translator by recommending three excellent colleagues who I know from living in Bonn.

I also do not translate into German. German grammar is too complicated for a non-native speaker who was not exposed to it from a young age, and it takes me too long to translate into my non-native tongue.

Now, how about you? Would you like to tell us about your translation background (specialization, experience, likes and dislikes)?

TGIF: Bill Cosby and the alphabet February 25, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
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Sesame Street always gets the best guests to star in their clips. This one is from the 1970s and features Bill Cosby reciting the alphabet. I love the faint line you can see between the old school split-screen. Nowadays, it’d be perfect and you’d think there was really two of them. Enjoy your Friday, everyone. I for one will be working all weekend to try to get some headway on the big jobs on my desk. No rest for the wicked. Glad today is a snow day here in Cleveland. I have an excuse to stay home, stay warm and work. I already helped push the mail delivery woman’s van out of a snowdrift this morning.

TGIF: Law & Order: UK explained to the Yanks February 18, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.

Thanks to Silvina Jover-Cirillo (@ATGTranslations) for sharing this hilarious video. I’m a huge Law & Order fan. I have been known to lose several hours of the day to L&O marathons, so I stay away from the television when I need to translate. I have been enjoying Law & Order: UK for the last year or so. Apparently L&O: UK is launching on BBC America. This is their intro clip explaining the British justice system (and British culture) to American viewers. Even if you aren’t familiar with the show I promise it will make you laugh. And if you haven’t seen the shows yet you simply must!

Just one thing: according to Asylum UK, “Certain words get lost in their translation, mind, such as “knackers”, which they take to mean “pants”, when, as we all know it means “bollocks”, which they in turn would probably translate as “male cows or bulls.”

Ah, the English language… full of mysteries and misunderstandings for both sides of the pond.

What is your gut telling you? February 17, 2011

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

No, not that you need to get out and exercise more. ALL of our guts are telling us that! I’m talking today about intuition, your gut feeling. We’ve all had those job requests where our gut tells us “RUN!” but we take it anyway and live to regret it. You spend all weekend researching a bunch of terms and slowly plodding through the text only to have the client come back with a lot of complaints a week later because you didn’t know the subject matter enough. Or you take a job only to learn three months later that the client is a known scam artist and you’ll never see the $3000 he owes you. We all have our stories…

I have learned to listen to my gut more. This is something they don’t teach you in school.

If your gut is telling you something isn’t right, chances are the job offer is fishy or you simply aren’t up to the job. That e-mail from the Prince of Ghana is most likely not from the Prince of Ghana. The other subtle warning signs in the mail like typos and bad grammar are causing your gut to clench and say “don’t even bother responding.” That check you received in the mail from that client in Nigeria is probably a fake, just ask your gut.

One of my colleagues wrote our listserv today asking what seemed like a simple question about word prices for creating a specialized dictionary. She seemed to think it would only take one work day to create, and the client was requesting a word price instead of an hourly rate. Her colleagues suggested she demand an hourly rate and budget at least a month for the project. I would also have suggested asking for $40 a word since there would be a lot of research involved. I bet she’s glad she listened to her gut and asked for a second opinion from her colleagues. I bet if I had asked that colleague what her gut was telling her she would have answered “don’t do it.”

If your gut tells you something isn’t right or that you really shouldn’t try to translate that technical specification because you don’t recognize one-third of the words and would have to look them up, try listening to it. Ignore all the voices in your head telling you “well, I need the work” and tell the client no. Because if you listen to those voices you could really end up regretting taking the job (and possibly being institutionalized, but that’s a post for another day… LOL!).

Have you ignored your gut and lived to regret it? Feel free to share your experience here. I’ll start…

The freelance translator at home: instructions for use February 16, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation.
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Catherine from the blog Catherine Translates has translated a blog post entitled The freelance translator at home: instructions for use, which is a translation of Céline’s Vivre avec un traducteur, mode d’emploi. This post is brilliant and needs to be shared with as many people as possible. I felt like Céline had installed a web cam in my home, because she definitely described how I go about my life. It is an instruction manual for everyone who comes into contact with a translator. As she explains, “This guide will help you understand the lifestyle and needs of your significant other” (who is a freelance translator and not an in-house translator – although that in itself is truly a very rare breed nowadays). I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

Belated TGIF: “F%&! you” sign language performance February 12, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.

One of my friends shared this precious little video with me today, and I absolutely had to share it with all of you. This is NSFW (not safe for work) if you are watching in an office, but since most of us work from home that won’t be an issue…

This is a woman named Anna’s final for a college level sign language class in which she signed Cee Lo’s “Fuck you”. This is a language blog, and sign language is a recognized language. American Sign Language or ASL is said to now be the fourth most commonly used language in the United States. Enjoy!

The original video is cute too.

Dealing with job burnout February 9, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Work-related injuries.

One of the best translators I know called me yesterday to ask if I could help her with a big job she was working on. I have been doing the OCRing and layout work for her on this 90+-page job and had been lined up to proofread her work. She has been sick for the last week and has asked for and received an extension, but is unsure if she can meet the new deadline without help. As we were talking she confided in me that she is so burnt out that she is seriously thinking about taking down her shingle and doing something else. This would be a HUGE LOSS to the industry, but you have to do what you have to do. I assured her perhaps she just needs a well-deserved vacation and some sunshine (which we are seriously lacking in Cleveland in February), but I wonder if she might be right and is well and truly burned out. I know another German to English translator who completely fell off the face of the Earth in the last year or so for the very same reason. She literally worked 18 to 20 hours a day, only pausing to sleep. No one can function like that long-term, so I wasn’t at all surprised that she disappeared. Since our job is so often in our head, it is so easy to burn out.

According to Helpguide.org:

“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.”

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Everyone feels burned out every once in a while. If you reread yesterday’s post, I think I was suffering from burnout over the last two weeks based on the symptoms listed in the Helpguide.org article (it is definitely worth a read). This is why we take vacations. However, when it leads to chronic illness and starts affecting your relationships with others you should think about combating it and perhaps even getting professional help. One of the best ways to combat burnout is to take a break and don’t let yourself get stressed. Helpguide.org’s suggestions include starting the day with a relaxing ritual, adopting healthy eating, exercise and sleep habits, setting boundaries (aka saying no when necessary), taking a break from technology every day, nourishing your creative side and managing stress. I know I have harped on work/life balance here a lot, but it is so crucial in our job to ensure you don’t burn out.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Job burnout can result from various factors, including:

  • Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of necessary resources to do your work.
  • Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. These and related situations can contribute to job stress.
  • Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your employer does business or handles grievances, the mismatch may eventually take a toll.
  • Poor job fit. If your job doesn’t fit your interests and skills, it may become increasingly stressful over time.
  • Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.

Even the most perfect translator who is passionate about their job and loves the fact that every day brings a new opportunity to learn gets burned out. We don’t have office politics to pull us down, but sitting at home alone staring at the computer with no one to talk to gets old too. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t occasionally experience job burnout. One good test to see if you are suffering from burnout can be found here at Mindtools.com.

I can’t imagine the industry without this person in it. I urged her to take a vacation and if that didn’t help to seriously think about seeing a therapist. If you think you may be experiencing job burnout, don’t ignore your symptoms. Consult your doctor or a mental health provider to identify or rule out any underlying health conditions.

Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking… February 8, 2011

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

As Leo Babauta said in Minimalist Time Management: Keep Your Day Open (Freelanceswitch.com): “There are the super-organized among us — those who schedule every minute and stick to the plan to the letter — and then there’s the rest of us. We schedule a lot of plans, but our days don’t usually resemble the plan very much.”

I don’t know about you, but I am usually pretty organized. I keep a calendar updated on Google Calendar that syncs to my HTC G2 phone (which by the way I LOVE!). It helps me keep track of my social activities and appointments, which I can schedule while actually in the dentist’s office or business location. That said, I don’t schedule every minute of every day. I prefer to be a bit more spontaneous. I know what my goals are for that day, usually based on what deadlines I have looming over me.

I just survived a two-week dry spell of work. I had a small job here or there, but nothing really juicy to keep me at the computer. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I couldn’t believe how unmotivated I became. E-mails were postponed, blog posts remained unwritten, housework fell by the wayside. I did a lot of reading and caught up with numerous television shows. And I got the stomach flu just as work started coming back in (figures, right?)…

I eased back into work with a proofreading job and now have a couple translation jobs on my desk. I knew the dry spell wouldn’t last. It never does. I have learned to embrace the slow spells, and I have a financial cushion so I don’t lose sleep wondering how to pay bills with no money coming in.

Coming out of the stomach flu also gave me the energy to clean the apartment and clear my mind. I am not proud of my laziness. I knew it was well-deserved, but I decided to try implementing a time management system. After a brief search I think I might have found what I need.

Mr. Babauta’s rules for Minimalist Time Management are:

1. Don’t schedule appointments

I have realized that an appointment in the middle of the day can really eat up most of the day. My massage at 1 today bled into grocery shopping for an hour (after being sick for the last 4 days my refrigerator was BARE). I got home at 3:30 and hadn’t translated more than a couple hundred words. Luckily I am at my best in the evening…

My father prefers to schedule his appointments in the morning, leaving the rest of the day free. I won’t go so far as stop scheduling appointments, but I will try to be a bit more judicious and not fill up my week with one appointment every day. I will try to schedule most appointments that are near each other for the same day and just take the afternoon or whole day off.

2. Know what you want to accomplish today

Mr. Babauta suggests focusing on three things that you want to accomplish that day. For me that was translate about 2000-2500 words, get a massage and grocery shop. Mission accomplished.

3. Focus on one thing at a time.

Since I am such a multi-tasker this will be a hard one. The multi-tasker in me would have filed this blog post as a draft and gone back to translating, but I know it will be better to just publish it and then go back to focusing on translating the survey. Mr. Babauta claims “… single-tasking is not only more productive, it’s more relaxing as well.” I’ll let you know how that works…

4. Note tasks as they come up, to consider for later.

He suggests noting tasks that come up on a sheet of paper or a small notebook and then get back to the task you were working on. Sounds pretty simple. I will start trying this tomorrow.

Hey, it can’t be worse than what I’ve been doing, right? I have also occasionally adhered to the Flylady system, which can be a pretty good one. She recommends setting a timer for 15-20 minutes at a time as well as cleaning your house through small daily tasks (if any of you are living in chaos you might want to check her out…). If any of you have a time management system you would like to share, please share it in the comments.