Cartoon image of lady on the beachOne of social media’s great mysteries is why people think it’s appropriate to use holiday snaps showing them in their swimsuits for their LinkedIn profile pics. Complete with fruity cocktails and palm trees.

LinkedIn is a business and professional platform. Users’ photos should reflect that. You can portray your personality and look warm and friendly and approachable (if that’s the image you’re after) while still looking professional and businesslike. But not in your bikini (or Speedos!). Facebook or Instagram are the places for that.

Then there are the profiles with no picture at all. No photo, no logo, nothing. Why? Are people really that camera-shy? Maybe they don’t know how to upload images? Marketing professionals say that “people buy people”. But it’s difficult to engage with a head-and-shoulders icon and think “Yes, that’s somebody I could do business with”.

With everyone on LinkedIn telling visitors to their page how professional and expert and passionate (!) about quality they are, your photo is one sure way to differentiate your profile from all the others.

Translator invisibility

LinkedIn isn’t the only place with  image-free profiles. A quick look at the Institute of Translation and Interpreting directory shows (hides?) way too many translators without photos. That raises questions of marketing and branding, not to mention our reputation for introversion and anonymity… and frugality, to cite Chris Durban. As a self-employed professional, you are your brand. A decent set of professional photos needn’t cost much, and is surely a good investment in your business.

Confession: my own profile pics were taken 4 years ago… Time for an up-date!

Other posts you might like:

Passionate about perspective

A social networking rant. Tell us who you are, people!

Marketing? Some boy telephoned…

By Marian Dougan

The Cabinet Office job satisfaction survey I mentioned in my last post ranks “Authors, writers and translators” at no. 42, with an average income of £26,207. The Adzuna  survey lists average pay for translators as £39,900. That’s quite a gap, and there are plenty of variables that might explain it: in-house or self-employed status, level of experience and/or specialisation, for example. But I suspect the £26,207 figure is nearer the reality for most self-employed translators. If you think it’s way off the mark, let me know and we’ll run a poll.

Focusing just on the income side of the surveys, here’s an exercise to do.

Step 1 – consider translators’ career paths

Read this description of the translator’s career path, by Lanna Castellano (I first saw it in the 1992 edition of Mona Baker’s book “In Other Words”, published by Routledge):

“Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be in your prime. The first stage of the career pyramid – the apprenticeship stage – is the time we devote to investing in ourselves by acquiring knowledge and experience of life. Let me propose a life path: grandparents of different nationalities, a good school education in which you learn to read, write, spell, construe and love your own language. Then roam the world, make friends, see life. Go back to education, but to take a technical or commercial degree, not a language degree. Spend the rest of your twenties and your early thirties in the countries whose languages you speak, working in industry or commerce but not directly in languages. Never marry into your own nationality. Have your children. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin”.

(Lanna Castellano, 1988)

Step 2 – compare that with other people’s career paths

What do other people need to do their jobs? A degree? A post-graduate qualification? An apprenticeship? On-the-job training? Life experience? A vocation? Natural talent?

Step 3 – consider translators’ pay with respect to other people’s pay levels

Next, take a look at the income levels for other jobs, trades and professions included in the survey. How does translation compare? And don’t forget that some of the jobs listed are “cash in hand, on the nail”, where actual earnings are far higher than those stated.

Step 4 – examine your job: what does being a translator actually involve?

How difficult are the texts you translate? What are your specialist subjects? How did you gain your expertise in those subjects? How much research do you do for your translation projects? How many training events do you attend each year? How much do they cost (in time, as well as money)? How much reading and on-going learning do you do? Which software have you had to buy and learn to use? How many hours do you work? How much marketing and business growth activity do you do? How much is your service worth to your clients?

Step 5 – ask yourself this question

Are people in higher paid professions significantly cleverer than translators? If you re-trained (say a one-year post-graduate qualification or equivalent) and/or gained the relevant experience in a given profession, could you do their job? Could they do yours?

Step 6 – ponder the question: what does all of this say about translators’ pay?

This topic provoked quite a discussion on Twitter the other day (featuring Sarah PybusNikki GrahamClaire CoxKaren NettoSteve Woods and Jonathan Downie) about pay levels, not just for translators but for people in other jobs and for students, graduates paying off their loans and anyone having to get by on a non-stellar salary.

More thoughts and views welcome – let us know in the comments!

Other posts you might like:

St. Jerome: a good role model for translators?

All about price? Not necessarily

Omnishambles: object-lessons in how not to contract out language services


By Marian Dougan

Well, we had happy words in a recent post, but what about happy jobs? A report commissioned by the UK government (the Cabinet Office, to be precise) lists 274 occupations in order of their “job satisfaction rating“. Some of the results I find a bit odd: farmers come in at number 8 and farm workers 23, while gardeners and landscape gardeners are down at 173. Why the gap, I wonder? Anyway, “Authors, writers and translators” are number 42 in the list, a result that I find gratifying for 3 reasons:

  1. Translators actually got a mention (I so often have to list my occupation as “other” in surveys and similar).
  2. 42 out of 274 is a none-too-shabby score.
  3. We’re grouped with authors and writers. This seems to me a pretty classy group to be in. And it makes sense, if you consider that translators need to have good writing skills if they’re to do their job properly.

And the UK’s top job is…

Another survey, from September 2013, ranks the Top 10 Best Jobs in the UK. The survey, conducted by Adzuna, a search engine for classified ads, ranks jobs on the basis of criteria such as earning potential, competitiveness, working conditions, unemployment rates and job security. Amazingly, this survey puts translators at Number 1. Now, I like my job and it gives me great satisfaction, and I know that lots of other translators feel the same way. But the top job in the UK? The survey also lists translation as one of the 5 least stressful jobs, stress level being calculated by ranking the inherent demands of the job against 15 different criteria, including deadlines, competitiveness, and physical and emotional risk. I’d have thought deadlines alone would be enough to take translation soaring off the stress chart…

Does money buy you happiness at work?

Both studies also list average income. According to The Economist, referring to the Cabinet Office study, “regression analysis on all the data suggests that pay and job satisfaction are pretty closely correlated“. That study put translators’ average pay at £26,207, while Adzuna’s gives an average salary of £39,900. So quite a discrepancy, although the two surveys are probably not comparing like with like. Adzuna’s use of “salary” suggests in-house positions, while the Cabinet Office grouping of “Authors, writers and translators” suggests that they’re looking at self-employment figures. I’ll be writing more posts on translator pay and job satisfaction in the next week or so but take a look at these surveys in the meantime – they provide plenty of food for thought.

Other posts you might like:

Translation as a career? It’s right up there!

Not love, not money. It’s translation that makes the world go round

The Gettysburg Address: lessons for writers (and translators!)

By Marian Dougan

Today is the International Day of Happiness so websites and blogs will probably be awash with videos featuring “Happy” by Pharrell Williams (or check out the 24-hours of Happy version).

But what about the true meaning of happiness (or at least, its etymology)? Here it is, courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary:

happy (adj.)

late 14c., “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune” + -y (2). Sense of “very glad” first recorded late 14c. Ousted Old English eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. Meaning “greatly pleased and content” is from 1520s. Old English bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.”

Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happy medium is from 1778. Happy ending in the literary sense recorded from 1756. Happy as a clam (1630s) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten. Happy hunting ground, the reputed Indian paradise, is attested from 1840, American English. Related: Happier; happiest.

If you’d like to ring the changes, Mental Floss has compiled the following list of antiquated words for “happy” which they say we should bring back:

1. Chirky From the late 19th century, meaning “cheerful.”

2. In high snuff An expression for “good mood,” used from the late 17th century until the 1930s.

3. Over the moon Before humans literally went beyond the moon, this popular phrase from the 1930s means “overjoyed.”

4. Gassed Started out meaning “intoxicated,” but by the 1950s it just meant happy.

5. Tickled As in “tickled pink.”

6. Merry-pin Also started as a reference to tipsiness, this referred to a general good ol’ time in the 19th century.

7. Ricochet In the 19th century, this bouncy term also meant “splendid.”

8. All callao This 19th century sailor’s slang either referred to the Peruvian port of Callo or acted as a play on the word alcohol. Or both.

9. Gaudeamus From the Latin for “let us rejoice,” this oldie refers to a merry jamboree.

10. Kvelling From the Yiddish for “so happy and proud my heart is overflowing.”

11. Chuffed This current slang in the UK certainly needs to make a trip across the pond.

12. Delira and excira A term the Irish use to mean “delirious and excited.” We need to borrow this one too.

13. Gladsome This classic from the 14th century doesn’t get used enough anymore.

14. To lick the eye This confusing 19th century gem was used to describe someone who was extremely pleased.

15. Cock-a-hoop From the phrase “to set the cock on the hoop,” meaning open the tap and let the good times flow.

Which do you think are worth reviving? Have you any favourite “happy” words?

Other posts you might like:

English words the world likes

If the shoe doesn’t fit: eggcorns and etymology

For words to even better effect – just add music


By Marian Dougan

Yesterday’s guest post, Language, music, and me, by Elisa Bonora, was about listening to music while you work. It sparked quite a discussion on Twitter, between those, like Elisa, who find music an inspiration and those, like me, who (sadly) find it a distraction.

What about you? Take our poll and let us know. And if you’ve got time, let us know your favourite “music while you work” tracks in the comments. Thanks!

Other posts you might like:

Get me to a bookery!

Singing in Occitan. Beautifully.

For a clear New Year: a musical style guide from the EU Commission. (A great example of how to combine music and writing!)

By Marian Dougan


Keyboard with musical noteDo you listen to music while you’re working? I’d love to be able to, but sadly I can’t – my brain just doesn’t work that way. When I’m reading or writing – even just a simple email – the music distracts me and I just can’t focus. I know that  lots of people do manage to enjoy music as they work, and even find that it boosts their productivity and/or creativity. Elisa Bonora, an Italian translator, is one of them. She’s very kindly written a guest post on the subject. Here it is.

Language, music, and me, by Elisa Bonora

Some things have always been with you, as simple as that. I was born with a curiosity for words and their hues of meaning, in my native language and in foreign ones. And I was born with a deep love of music, a language in itself.

Music, for me, is a universal but also very personal language. It resonates deeply with me, putting me in the right frame of mind to tune into my creativity and enhancing my productivity, or my mood.

I’ve been studying music since I was a child and it’s part of my everyday life and routine. When it comes to my job as a linguist, it helps me unplug from the world and focus on words. The way I see it, translating is an art: it’s very much about finding the right feel between two worlds and languages, and music can be my key to connect with them, almost by magic.

Which music for which work?

There are no set rules as to which music I listen to for each different type or stage of work; sometimes it just depends on the mood I’m in. However, I tend to choose something quiet and calming when I’m working long hours on a big project and I need to be focused and relaxed, with no distractions. Upbeat music gives me extra energy and a boost when I feel I need it – it might unlock the right idea for creative challenges. It also works well with less demanding tasks, or for the first draft.

In any case, it has to be something that really speaks to me: I need to feel a connection with what I’m listening to.

Of course silence is an option too, for example when I’m working on a very complex task with many issues requiring attention. For re-reading and final polishing, when I need to make sure that the text reads flawlessly, I usually prefer peaceful tunes or no music at all.

A personal playlist

Here is a very short playlist of some of my favourite music for work. It is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a general idea of my tastes. A couple of notes (a play on words! Oops, another one! ;-) ): although I am a huge Beatles fan, I find I can’t listen to them while translating because they inevitably trigger a “sing along” reaction in me, and however good at multitasking I may be, that would be a bit too much – I don’t think any of my clients would want to have the lyrics of Ticket to Ride incorporated in their text. I also enjoy classical music, but I prefer to listen to it when I’m in a meditative mood and doing absolutely nothing else. And if you’re wondering what I’m listening to while writing this post… just the rain on my office window :-)

About Elisa

Elisa Bonora of Millefolia TranslationsElisa Bonora, owner of Millefolia Translations, is a translator and editor working from English and Spanish into Italian.

Elisa has been involved with classical and modern music all her life. With a strong background in natural sciences, wildlife and the environment, she is committed to a green lifestyle and believes that “communication makes all the difference in the world”.

She also believes in providing “Italian translation, editing, and language consulting with a smile”.

Today is Burns Day, when Scots (here in Scotland and just about everywhere else in the world) celebrate the life and work of Robert (Rabbie) Burns. The celebrations often take the form of a Burns Supper at which the haggis takes pride of place, along with poetry and, of course, whisky.

Here’s a wee round-up of Burns-related stories.

Burns Night Treat Ends In Airport Alert As Ian Blake’s Haggis Is Mistaken For Plastic Explosives. The title of this article from the Huffington Post is self-explanatory. Don’t miss Ian’s poem at the bottom of the article: “On Being Hauled Out Of The Line By Security At Birmingham Airport ‘Because The Scan Shows You Have Plastic Explosive In Your Luggage, Sir’”.

Kate o Shanter’s Tale: the Tam o’Shanter story told from his wife Kate’s point of view. Tam is described in Wikepedia as “a farmer who often gets drunk with his friends in a public house in the Scottish town of Ayr, and his thoughtless ways, specifically towards his wife, who is waiting at home for him, angry”. Judging by Kate’s reaction in the poem, “angry” isn’t the half of it.

How to strengthen your voice – with Robert Burns! A blog post by Cordelia (aka Dilly) Ditton on how not to be a cow’rin, tim’rous beastie when you have to speak in public. Useful advice for anyone who gives talks or presentations.

Dilly’s post also features the beautiful “Ae Fond Kiss”, with a link to a BBC webpage about the poem. It’s sung in the video above by Rachel Sermanni, a Scottish singer whose grandfather came from Barga, in Tuscany. And here’s another Burns poem sung by an Italian-Scot, Paolo Nutini, whose family was also from Barga: A Man’s a Man for A’ That (what is it about Italian-Scots and Burns, I wonder?).

Other posts you might like:

“Dreich”: Scots, the Scots… or Scottish weather? 

The Caledonian Mercury: “Scotland’s first truly online newspaper”. Plus, Useful Scots Words.

When the poet died: on translating remembrance

And, last but certainly not least (watch your back Rabbie Burns!): The translators’ poet laureate (and rapper!)

By Marian Dougan





One of my first ever posts, “Translators’ time-warp“, was about the confusion that arises when you work with clients in different time zones and with different public holidays from your own.

Well, it’s happening again today. It’s bad enough getting back into work mode after the Christmas and New Year period (although to be honest I’ll be glad to get back to normal. And so will my waistline). But here in Scotland we’re out of kilter today not just with Europe and the rest of the world but with the rest of the UK too. That’s because 2 January is a Scottish bank holiday – no doubt the powers that be decided there was no point opening for business when most of the staff would still be nursing their Hogmanay (31 December) and Ne’erday (1 January) hangovers.

So, I’m working on my first projects of 2014 and today am “on call” for an Italian client, while the rest of the country is still on holiday. Then Monday 6 January will be a public holiday in Italy (the Epiphany or, in its modern incarnation, the “Befana“), but not here. What’s a translator to do?

Official public holidays in the UK.

Official public holidays in Italy.

Other posts you might like:

Grapes, lentils, black bun and first foots

For a clear New Year: a musical style guide from the EU Commission




Quality markDo you ever get annoyed with your clients’ manners? I often do, for example when they don’t acknowledge, far less thank me for, a translation I’ve delivered by email. If I were to walk into the client’s office and hand over the translation in paper format, I’m sure they’d say “Thanks”. So what happens to their manners when the translation arrives via their inbox?

As it turns out, dodgy email manners aren’t all on the clients’ side. I’ve contacted fellow translators, several of them ITI members, a couple of times in the last few months to ask for a quote for a project I was coordinating. Over the same period, a non-translator friend of mine, Laura, also contacted a number of translators and agencies/companies for a project involving non-European languages. She shared the results with me.

Our email request

First, here’s an amalgam of the messages we sent:

Dear xxx,

I’d be grateful if you could send me a quote for a translation from English to Italian of the attached will. The translation is needed by lunchtime, Friday 8 November. I’m not sure right now but I may require a certified translation. Could you let me know if that would involve an additional charge, and if so, how much? By the way, I found your name in the ITI Directory.

I’d appreciate it if you could reply by return and in the meantime I look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks and best regards,


[followed by email signature with full name, contact info and company  details]

Most of the replies were absolutely fine: courteous and providing all of the relevant pricing and timing information. But three took my breath away, and not in a good way. Here they are, exactly as we received them (but with the names/initials changed):

Translators’ replies

Reply no. 1:


Who are you? What is the name and address of the company?


[followed by email signature with full contact details]

Reply no. 2:

Unfortunately have no availability at the moment. TOD

[TOD = translator's initials. No name or other contact details provided]

Reply no. 3:

Sorry, not possible. Regards. Fred bloggs

Sent from my iPhone

[Fred bloggs wasn't the translator's real name, obviously, but the name was written just like that: lower case surname. No other contact details provided]

What do you think, bearing in mind that these replies are to potential new clients? Potential new direct clients, in at least one case? Potential new clients who might be sending you a lot of work in the future? Let us know in the comments.

PS I’ve put the “Q” quality mark to this post, although it’s mainly about poor quality. To my mind, anyway. Maybe I should ask Zoë to design a “Q” with a whopping great “X” through it.

Other posts you might like:

From GIGO to QIQO: The quest for quality

How to be good (1) Tips for translators

How to be good (2): Tips for clients

What do you think of the Oxford English Dictionary’s choice of “selfie” as Word of the Year for 2013?

I’m not mad about the word itself, although that’s probably an age/generational thing. In my young day (indeed, in most people’s young day) the technology for selfies wasn’t available: you took a photo of yourself, alone or with our friends, in a photo booth. And that was that. You couldn’t post the photo online or publicise it.

TARDIS onesieWe should be grateful, I suppose, for small mercies: they could have chosen “onesie”. Or, even worse, “selfie-in-a-onesie”.

Here’s my choice of word of the year, in honour of 50 years of Dr. Who: TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), used as a term to describe a building that looks small on the outside but is, or looks, much bigger once you’re inside. Again, this might be a generational thing: I was a big Dr Who fan during the 1960s (and  had nightmares about the Daleks). So now it comes naturally to me to use TARDIS in that way.

Maggie's Centre, Western Infirmary, Glasgow

One TARDIS-like building that comes to mind is the Maggie’s Centre at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary, by Page/Park architects. Quite an amazing building, I think.

What do you think of the OED’s choice of “selfie”? What would you have chosen?

PS: If you really want to know, the TARDIS onesie is available from RED5.

Other posts you might like:

English words the world likes…

…and words you just can’t abide

Hard times bring new words



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