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I’ve been very busy recently, with not much time to post here. But today I came across a radio programme that I can share (quickly!) with you. It’s from BBC Radio 4 and is called “Something Understood“. In the programme,

Mark Tully negotiates the challenges, pitfalls and delights of translating ideas, emotions and even music, into different languages, cultures and forms of expression.

“Something Understood” lasts 30 minutes and discusses the translation of literature, poetry and music (in the form of “variations on, or musical translations of, Paganini’s Caprice 24”). It’s available for another 4 weeks on the Radio 4 website.

Other posts you might like:

When the poet died: on translating remembrance

The translators’ poet laureate (and rapper!)

The king’s speech — and how to translate it

By Marian Dougan


A guest post today, from someone starting out in their translation career. Kathleen Clegg is just completing her Masters at Glasgow University, and kindly agreed to write a post describing her experience over the last year and her feelings as she embarks on her translation career. So read on, for a fresh perspective on the translator’s life.

Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

What was the first thought that came to mind when I began the MSc in Translation Studies: Translation & Professional Practice at Glasgow University? Sheer terror and just a little bit of excitement. Semester one did feel like I’d been thrown in at the deep end but could I stay afloat? I’ve come out the other side, so the answer, thankfully, was yes. But in order to tell you where I am now, I’ll have to take you all the way back to September 2013 and it’s been quite a journey…

Semester one of the Translation Studies MSc

Semester one did seem to pass in a blur of reading lists, translation theory, and an ever-present feeling of panic as I adjusted to the pace of work (bring back undergrad). I didn’t even realise that there was literature on translation theory… I do now! For me personally, there was slightly too much emphasis on theory and not enough on practice. But, having said that, theory has influenced how I approach translation. My perspective has definitely changed now that my translator’s brain has been rewired to ask two simple questions before a translation begins: What type of text am I translating and who is my target audience? I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start any translation.

A translation student’s typical week

I must admit how much I loved the small class sizes; usually no more than 10 of us, put under the spotlight every week for two hours as we discussed our translations and our strategies for tackling them. And for those of you that don’t love that idea, it was a lot more fun and relaxed than I’ve just made it sound! The range of texts was impressive too – marketing texts, literature, news and magazine articles, and theatre…It’s strange how much I enjoyed it, given the amount of time I’d spend trying to find the right word, only to arrive at class for someone to tell me the exact word I’d been looking for all along! Not to mention the countless number of drafts I’d print off in the pursuit of perfection. Despite the inevitable challenges that came with each type of text, I’d have loved to have done more translations each week. The small number of contact hours each week did mean that I didn’t get to know my classmates as well as I’d have expected. Translating did surprise me in that respect for being a rather solitary process.

Translation Masterclasses

But there was the added bonus of being able to meet up throughout the year for translation masterclasses; professional, dare I even use the word ‘renowned’, translators would come to the university to talk to us about breaking into the profession. Although there wasn’t shock, there was awe. We couldn’t quite believe that they had come to talk to us. Their pearls of wisdom were gratefully received. Only one question remained after their departure. Could we be like that one day?

Semester two of the Translation Studies MSc

Semester two brought with it much of the same, with a foray into technical translation and the inevitable headaches that came with legal and medical translation. As we ventured back into the world of non-technical texts, the translation of children’s literature was a pleasant but confusing change. With semester two came two new additions – an introduction to subtitling and subtitling software and the love/hate relationship (mostly hate) that came with mastering Trados translation software. We were doing a Masters after all; how hard could it be? Very hard is the answer. After much frustration and shouting at my laptop later, I passed the beginners’ Trados exam, so you’ll be pleased to know that there was a happy ending and a still intact laptop… I can’t comment on the laptops of others.

My dissertation: Medical Translation

Currently, I’m in the middle of my 14,000 word dissertation and I’m going to surprise you all now when I tell you that I’m really enjoying it. My dissertation comprises a translation project followed by a commentary with a theoretical foundation. OK, I admit when I say it like that that it may not sound like the most exciting thing that you’ve ever heard of! My translation project involves translating a French medical textbook for both a medical professional audience and a non-professional audience; the latter will be in the form of a magazine article. While my classmates have no clue why I’d willingly delve into the world of medical translation, I’m not regretting my decision… well, not yet, at least. I’m just hoping that my supervisor isn’t regretting her decision to supervise me!

What lies ahead after my Translation Studies MSc?

I took the plunge a few months ago and joined the Institute of Translation and Interpreting‘s Scottish network, ITI ScotNet, in an effort to stave off the feeling of being a lone wolf. I can’t emphasise how lovely the Scottish translation community has been and it feels great to know I’m not alone; help is most definitely at hand if I need it. So what’s next for me after escaping academia? Well, nothing in this life is certain, but here’s my plan. In the near future, I’m intending to join the ITI and become a member of their medical network. After graduating I’m hoping to apply for an internship or work for a translation agency. I know that right now it’ll be impossible to live the life of a jetsetter and attend every major medical conference going, but I’ll be happy taking my first steps into freelance work. Can I make it as a freelance translator? Hopefully, my MSc in Translation Studies is just the beginning…

About Kathleen

Photo of Kathleen for blogKathleen Clegg lives in Glasgow, where she is currently working on her dissertation: the last stage in her MSc in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow. She translates from French and Spanish into English. In 2013, Kathleen graduated from the University of Strathclyde with a BA (Hons) in Spanish and French. During her degree course, she spent her fourth year abroad as a language assistant in Seville. Kathleen is a keen and passionate linguist who hopes to embark on a career in medical translation following graduation. She loves reading Scottish crime fiction (when she finds the time), and listening to Scottish folk and Spanish classical guitar music.

By Marian Dougan

Top 25 Language Language Professional Blogs 2014
“Words to good effect” is one of the winning language blogs in the Top 25 Language Professionals Blogs 2014 competition organised by LexioPhiles and We came third, and are totally chuffed!

A (belated) big “Thank You” to everyone who voted for us, and to LexioPhiles and for organising the competition.

Great things about the Language Lovers competition include:

1. It’s eclectic. The Top Language Twitterers, Language Professionals BlogsLanguage Learning BlogsLanguage Facebook Pages and Language YouTube Channels for 2014 featured: French, Spanish/Catalan, US English, a Polish translator/interpreter writing in English, Italian, Terminology, Verbal branding, Grammar, Korean, Video Games, Phonetics, Swedish, Irish and Danish polyglots, tea-drinkers (one of them a tiny dot in the middle of the Ocean – that’s you, Cath! , and the other a translation team effortlessly carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders), Norwegian, American slang, Romanian, Thai, Russian, German…

2. It’s democratic, in that anyone in the various categories can be nominated and winners can just as easily be one-man or -woman bands as big “Language Service Providers”; just as easily be students or newcomers to their language profession as old hands. Also, 50% of the ranking is decided by voters and 50% by the organisers, on the basis of objective criteria. So even if you rope in all your friends and cronies and colleagues and clients and cousins, even if you pay people to vote for you, the team at LexioPhiles/ will still have the last word.

3. It’s a great motivator for the nominees and winners – and by “winners” I mean anyone in the top 25 of each of the categories. Many folk using social media for professional as opposed to personal purposes get tired and give up before long. But it’s lovely to find out, through a competition like this one, that people read – and like – your blog (or Twitter account etc), and a spur to go on writing.

So once again: thanks to everyone who voted for Words to good effect, and a special thanks to LexioPhiles and for all their hard work on the organisational side.

By Marian Dougan

If you take part in outreach activities, or if people ever ask you the difference between translators and interpreters, and what they actually do, then you might find this “More Than Words” TEDx talk useful. Produced by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, it features Laura Burian, Miguel Garcia and Barry Olsen.

The talk also provides a good answer to anyone who asserts that everyone speaks English so there’s no need to bother learning other languages:

If you talk a man in a language he understands, that goes his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

Anyway, it’s a myth that “everyone” speaks English: check out the Map of the percentage of people speaking English in the EU by country from Jakub Marian’s website (for copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce the image here). Only 22% of Spaniards say they can hold a conversation in English, 27% of Portuguese and 34% of Italians. So if you want to do business in those countries, you’d do well to learn (or employ a translator/interpreter who knows) their languages!

By the way, check out the back-drop to the speakers: it’s amazing what you can do with plastic bottles and coloured lighting.

Other posts you might like:

Languages as they is spoke, by Catherine Tate

Ministry of Justice language services: FUBAR?

Spreading the language love (1) 

By Marian Dougan

In the comments to one of my recent posts about translators’ rates and pay, translator Kevin Hendzel mentioned a speech by Neil Inglis, a translator with the International Monetary Fund. Neil’s speech referred to the “poverty cult” that so many (too many) translators seem to espouse. I haven’t been able to find the speech itself, but Kevin’s article “The Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era” (published by the North California Translators Association (NCTA)) was inspired by it. And Chris Durban mentioned it recently in a post entitled “The Frugal Translator” for the Institute of Translation and Interpreting’s “Pillar Box” blog. Here are some key points about the Poverty Cult, as summarised by Kevin and Chris.

The Poverty Cult and its Seven Deadly Sins

According to Neil Inglis, the Poverty Cult may develop from “the inferiority complex that language professionals have (and others have about them) regarding their worth in the marketplace”. The Seven Deadly Sins of the Poverty Cult are:

  1. envying the success of others
  2. gloating over the failure of others
  3. a pervasive sense that it is better for everybody to fail than for a few to succeed
  4. a sickly squeamishness where the subject of money is concerned
  5. shabby gentility, more shabby than genteel
  6. a widespread conviction that it is better to have a little and be secure than to take a gamble and risk losing everything
  7. Schadenfreude mixed with sour grapes.

‘Poverty culters’ inhabit or aspire to a world where the sensitivity to and love of language essential to expert translation is pure and desirable — and any sensitivity to market realities is the first step down the slippery slope to vulgar commerce. The choice is clear: noble, impecunious linguist or tacky money-grubber.

The depressing thing about the Seven Deadly Sins of the Poverty Cult is that Neil Inglis wrote that speech about them back in 1996 – nearly 20 years ago. And they still haven’t gone away. In his article for the NCTA, Kevin suggests Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era as a remedy to the Poverty Cult. Here they are in summary/paraphrased form:

Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era

  1. Master Your Subjects. Deliver a product of unparalleled quality. Choose a few commercially viable specialty areas and learn everything about them. Translators with a formal education in the various subject areas have a huge advantage in the commercial market
  2. Appreciate Your Limits. All good translators recognize the limits of their knowledge and turn down (or refer to colleagues) assignments that may imperil the quality of their product. Referring work to colleagues promotes the notion that what translators do is sufficiently complex and demanding to require specialization [client education]
  3. Defend Your Product. Stand up and defend the integrity of your product. Good clients will rely on the translator to look out for their interests on a level far in excess of their ability to judge it. They will give latitude sufficient to operate in a manner consistent with the translator’s quality standards, which in the end can only benefit them.
  4. Sign Your Work. The simple act of claiming authorship shatters the “black box” invisibility of the translation process and reinserts translators into their rightful place as craftsmen of the translation product. Translators who sign their work are also expressing confidence in their product in public […] Signing your work also serves as a means to elevate public recognition and appreciation for the role of translators.
  5. Quote Your Rate. Set your rates at your own discretion and quote those rates to translation agencies or companies. There is plenty of room for good faith negotiations between parties that approach a transaction as equals.
  6. Promote Your Profession. Public relations and promotion of translation has been so catastrophically poor for so many years that it is a miracle the public knows we exist at all. Engage in client education. Grasp opportunities to talk about the profession.
  7. Perfect Your Craft. Establish and maintain a close community of cooperative and disciplined colleagues whose talent and expertise help to guide you and hone your skills in the intensely personal creative act that is translation. All translators benefit to the extent that their work is “at risk” for examination, revision or review [by peers and colleagues].

What do you think, readers? Are we saints or sinners?

Articles by Kevin and Chris:

The Seven Virtues of the New Translation Era

The Frugal Translator

Other posts you might like:

Translators’ rates: of guns and hoes

St. Jerome: a good role model for translators?

How to be good (2). Tips for clients 

By Marian Dougan

Olivia Dougan Naio signing

Today, 2 June, is the Festa della Repubblica, Italy’s National Day. So for my Italian readers (and everyone else too!) here’s a song from Naples performed – in the Neapolitan dialect – by my daughter, Olivia.

About Reginella

“Reginella”, written in 1917 by Libero Bovio and Gaetano Lama, is a bitter-sweet song about lost love and innocence. The singer sees his old love, his Reginella, walking down the street with her chanteuse friends, speaking in French. She’s wearing a low-cut dress and a hat adorned with roses and ribbons. Wordly, and no longer the girl he once courted, when they lived on bread and cherries – and kisses (“oh, what kisses!”).
He tells Reginella’s caged goldfinch to fly away, just like Reginella did. The cage door is open, he says, so fly away and find a mistress with a true heart, who deserves to hear you sing.  We don’t love each other any more, he sings in the chorus, but sometimes, he thinks (hopes), when Reginella allows her mind to drift, she still thinks of him.

About Olivia Dougan Naio

Olivia is a singer-songwriter who’s just finished her second year at Leeds College of Music, where’s she’s studying popular music. She’s classically trained too, having been a member of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Junior Chorus. Olivia’s working on an EP, but in the meantime if you’d like to hear some of her own songs you can find her on YouTube. She’s bilingual in Italian and English. But not in Neapolitan, which she learned to pronounce for this song (the recording was a birthday present for her Dad, Vito).

About Olivia’s name

When Olivia and my son Harry were born, the bureaucrats at the Anagrafe (public records office) in Rome wouldn’t allow us to give them a double surname (ie Dougan Naio). So we gave both of them my own surname, Dougan, as a middle name (and even that was a struggle with the unhelpful staff at the Anagrafe). The Naio surname is quite rare – Vito was the only “Naio” in the Rome phone book when we lived there, and the only other Naios we know are his brother, his sisters, and his nephew and nieces. If you happen to know anyone called Naio, please let us know in the comments (if you can – the comments function seems to be playing up).

Other posts you might like:

Language, music and me by Elisa Bonora

Singing in Occitan, beautifully

English-Italian blues

By Marian Dougan

Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2014 Voting is now open for the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2014 competition organised by LexioPhiles and, for which we’ve been nominated in the “Language Professionals” category. Voting runs from 20 May to 23:59 hours Central European Time time on 9 June 2014. If you’d like to vote for Words to good effect, you can cast your vote here. Thank you!

PS Having chosen a blog name that begins with “W”, we’re right at the bottom of the list, so if you want to vote for “Words to good effect” you’ll need to scroll — sorry! My next blog will be called “A word to good effect”.

PPS If you’d like to tweet about the competition, the hashtag is #tll14.

By Marian Dougan

Don’t worry, this post isn’t a homage to gangsta’ rap. The title refers to the implements used by translators to shoot themselves – or, if they’re Italian, hoe themselves – in the foot where pay’s concerned (the Italian expression is “darsi una zappata sui piedi”. Another reason to avoid gardening). Following on from my last two posts – Translators’ pay: how much are you worth? and Job satisfaction… and the UK’s (surprising?) top job – on translators’ pay and rates, I thought it might be useful to give some real-life examples that illustrate how translators all too often undervalue their work and their service to clients. (Please bear with me, non-translator readers – this is relevant to other professions too, I think).

Scenario 1: qualified member of professional organisation, 20 years’ experience, legal and financial specialist

An agency I sometimes work with contacted me a few months ago asking if I could translate a stock option plan. The agency’s client was a corporate law firm, which in turn was working for an Italian company about to be listed on the stock exchange. The translation, of nearly 5000 words (about 23 translation pages), was needed the following day. I couldn’t take it on but found a translator – a qualified member of her national professional organisation with 20 years’ experience and specialising in economic-financial –  who could. Her quote (agency rate) was £0.07 per word, which included an urgency surcharge of, by my calculation but I could well be wrong, around 8% on her standard rate of £0.065.

So that makes a fee of £350 (an hourly rate of £28-35, depending on time taken) for approximately 2 days’ work compressed into 1, and requiring the translator to set aside any existing projects or plans, to translate a complex financial-legal document. The company was duly listed a few days later and raised around $1 billion.

Scenario 2: translators with 5 to 10 years’ experience, no professional membership, no specialist expertise

A few days after this, I received some unsolicited translator CVs in my mailbox (I’m not an agency but get these “job applications” all the same). On average, the translators had been translating for 8 years and their agency fee per word was £0.65 – so the same rate as the translator above. They were all generalists. None of them were qualified members of a professional association. None of them had specialist degrees (eg in translation studies).

Scenario 3: local plumbers

Yes, I know, we always pick on plumbers: “It was a waste of time going to university, I should have trained as a plumber instead and I’d be raking in the money”. Anyway, we had a leaky tap a couple of weeks ago, at 6.30 pm on a Friday. The tap wasn’t just dripping, it was flowing. It was the hot water tap. And it was attached to the wash-hand basin in my daughter’s bedroom. So we needed to get it fixed.

I phoned around some plumbers in our neighbourhood and eventually found one – located 5 minutes away by car – who was available. He gave me a quote of £140, his weekend rate, to fix the tap. His standard call-out rate is £40, making a weekend/after-hours surcharge of (again, my calculation) 250%.

I eventually found another plumber based 5 minutes’ drive away, who came round promptly and repaired the tap for £40. No weekend rate (although I’d have paid an extra charge – just not an additional £100!). It took him about 20 minutes – so £40 for half an hour’s work including travelling time. Paid on the nail.

Some perspective

Let’s put all of this into perspective. Translator A has 20 years experience, has passed her professional exam and has specialist expertise in two difficult fields (fields in which people in other professions make LOTS of money). She charges the same as translators with less than half that experience, no professional membership or specific qualification, and no discernible field of specialist expertise. She applies an urgency surcharge of 8%, compared with an after-hours surcharge of 250% applied by a local plumber. Taking an hourly rate, she charges much less than the standard rate for local plumbers (who admittedly, for longer jobs, are unlikely to charge £40 for every half-hour worked… I hope). The translation she quoted for was required by a corporate lawyer to help a company worth millions of dollars become even richer (much richer).

What price career progression for translators? Any thoughts?

Other posts you might like:

Are your fees high enough? Some food for thought

All about price? Not necessarily

From GIGO to QIQO: the quest for quality

By Marian Dougan

This advert for Leica cameras made me think of the translator’s craft. And the skill and work and care and honing and polishing that it takes to produce a really good translation that truly serves your client’s needs.

The Most Boring Ad Ever Made? from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

What do you think, readers: is craftsmanship boring?

With thanks to Katherine Parish (translation student and photographer) for posting this ad on Twitter.

Other posts you might like:

Translators’ pay: how much are you worth?

From GIGO to QIQO: the quest for quality

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


By Marian Dougan

Book: 101 things a translator needs to knowIt’s always good to find a new book on translation – for reading yourself or as a gift for a translator friend.

101 Things a Translator Needs to Know contains “over 500 years’ collective experience in translation pondered, distilled and published: nuggets of translation wisdom from prominent exponents of the profession”.

The introduction describes 101 as “a book for beginners. It’s also a book for seasoned professionals, students and teachers. For freelancers and staff translators. For amateurs and experts, generalists and super-specialists — be they certified and sworn, recognised, authorised… or simply tantalised by translation’s potential for a varied and enriching career”.

A translator’s handbag/man-bag book

I’d describe 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know as the translator’s ideal handbag/man-bag (sorry!) book. It’s the sort of book to dip into rather than read at one sitting. You could read it in one go if you wanted, as each of the 101 “things” is only about 100 words long. But I don’t think that’s what the authors intended, and I suspect it would give you translation indigestion. It’s great for those times when you want to read snippets rather than get engrossed in a novel, say. So, during a short train or bus journey, in the doctor’s waiting room, or during your tea/coffee-break. Or, to put you in a good mind-set, first thing in your working day when you sit down at your ergonomically appropriate desk (nugget no. 25: You only live once).

You can read 101 in order, or dip in at random. You can also dip back in again over time, because each snippet serves as a reminder of the things we probably know we should be doing, but sometimes forget.

My own favourite nugget of advice in the whole book is:

Good translators always put themselves in their readers’ shoes (nugget no. 45: There’s more to translation than meets the eye). So true!

Spot the contributor

If you’ve attended presentations or read articles by any of the contributing translators, you could play a “spot the contributor” game as you read the book. Here’s the full list of contributors and here are the ones on Twitter (and whose accounts aren’t locked): Chris DurbanTerence Lewis, Nick RosenthalRos SchwartzRannheid SharmaLois Thomas and the creator of the illustrations, Catherine Anne Hiley (sister of translator Margaret Hiley, who no doubt provided plenty of translation insights).

Other posts you might like:

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

Gifted in translation: specialist publishers

Gifted in translation (3): The Little Prince

By Marian Dougan