Recap: SAND Journal’s Found in Translation Workshop

There once was a guy from Berlin
Who went to a workshop on a whim
He had so much fun
That when it was done
The SAND Journal meant much more to him

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the  Found in Translation workshop run by the SAND Journal, Berlin’s English-language literary journal. Because of the support they received from Youth in Action, it was exclusively for translators under the age of 30. This meant that I was joined by a host of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young translat0rs, raring to go. A little nervous about their blossoming or future careers, a little concerned that their work is very niche — too niche, perhaps — but brimming with wit and intelligence. We explored Berlin and ate marvelous food, of course, but the forums and workshops that the SAND team organized were the real highlight of the weekend.

In one workshop, we explored what characteristics of written texts could “give them away” as translations, and it was interesting to realize that even as translators ourselves, we have a notion of “bad” or “off” or “unnatural” vocabulary or punctuation as what marks a translation. And it is high praise for a translated text to read like it was originally written in the target language, that it flows well enough to be considered as belonging to that language’s literature.

The next morning, we played with language. Limericks, Oulipo exercises, snowball poems, Spoonerisms, and anagrams were all fair game. Just to prove that yes, translating puns and humor are hard, but doable. We’re all creative people.

On Saturday night, we joined Naris at Dialogue Books to introduce the new issue of SAND, and we read a little,
Then had a wandering discussion about the future of translation, ending with one guy who led a riddle

(Spoonerisms are hard.)

In the end, we had a lovely brunch on the last day. Because really, what is a weekend of working without brunch? It was a lovely and delicious brunch.

Most important, though, is the network we created. Literary translators from many different languages, all on the cusp of their careers, all looking for jobs to do and magazines to submit to and new things to write and friends to commiserate with. Our support groups have just exploded exponentially. Such connections are even more important for people like us, who work very solitary jobs. It’s reassuring to know that real people are out there on the other side of your Internet connection, who are all going through similar challenges and wonders.

I’m very honored to have been a part of the inaugural year of workshops, and I’m confident they will continue to be an annual event.


(Yeah, okay. Snowball poems are hard, too.)


Sandy offers peace and quiet, if you know where to look…

Some eagle-eyed readers will know that I live on the Eastern Seaboard of the US, just a few short miles away from where the exact center of Hurricane Sandy is scheduled to pass over within the next day or two. I was trained well for emergency situations, and I was in NYC during Hurricane Irene last year, so my preparations for this storm have entailed checking the stock of flashlights and batteries (fine), non-perishable food (one more tin of nuts would be nice, but otherwise fine), water (another couple of gallons bought), and figuring out the safest place to be in the house if trees start coming down (the basement — no other rooms of this house are windowless).

Now, I get to sit back and enjoy the storm.

I would actually be okay if the power went out, which is a pretty likely situation. All the loose ends on my computer have been tied up as of an hour ago. While it would pretty much suck to be without electricity and Internet for a while, not only am I prepared to deal with it, but that kind of situation would greatly diminish the amount of distractions during the workday.

Call it a house-arrest/forced writer’s retreat. I could sit down with a good, ol’-fashioned pen and notebook, and really concentrate hard on translating. On the voice, and the rhythm, and the word choice, finding things from my own brain, instead of relying on the crutch of online dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri? whatever).

Maybe it’s nostalgia for a simpler time that never existed; maybe it’s a burning curiosity to see if I really can be persuaded to work without the onslaught of my usual tools; maybe it’s just wishful thinking. Here’s the thing — everyone will be staying home from work tomorrow. Everyone will be here. And bored.

Distractions galore.

Oh well. Maybe I can retreat to a dark corner of the house and blow out my candle. No one will find me then!

Happy International Translators Day!

From Saint Jerome to Chris Durban and all translators in between, thanks for everything you do to bridge cultural gaps, further our noble profession, and bring the corners of the globe a little closer together.

(No corners on a round object, I KNOW. Just go with it. It’s poetic.)

Research Tools

Regarding the researching I mentioned yesterday, here are some of the tools that I’ve found most useful so far, as a translator, a linguist, and a writer:

WordReference: Congratulations. You now have a basic bilingual dictionary, completely searchable, including both the Oxford bilingual dictionary (usually — depends on the language combination) and entries on phrases, idioms, and a myriad of other expressions from users all around the world. Yes, the user-defined fields must be taken with a grain of salt, and the forums are sometimes more hindrance than anything else, but it’s a good place to start. Of course, it doesn’t include an exhaustive list of languages, but they’ve got most of the major ones.

Linguee: This service is just starting out, and so far, it’s just between English and German, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But what it IS, is a pretty good dictionary combined with a search engine that pulls already-bilingual documents from all around the Internet with your phrase in it, to see how it’s been translated elsewhere. Right now, it’s a lot of EU and UN documents, as well as some multinational companies, so it’s not going to help for non-commerce requests. It’s still hit or miss, but it promises so much more as it grows!

Oxford English Dictionary and Historical Thesaurus: Their online databases are a paid service, but I would bet you anything that your library offers a way to login for free (NYPL members, go here). And oh, the rich detail in the entries! The dictionary is the best in the English language. The thesaurus gives you every word that could possibly ever be linked with your chosen word, in a convenient tree form. (According to them, every word in the English language can be filed under three categories: the external world, the mind, and society.)

A monolingual source dictionary: Even as a translator, this is an invaluable resource. When you come across a word you don’t know, or aren’t quite sure how it works in that particular context, look it up in your source language first. See if you can figure out what it means for yourself, then try to find a good translation on your own, before relying on someone else’s ideas.

Listservs/LinkedIn groups/other: These are your personal connections with colleagues when you work from home. Right now, I’m on…five lists? I think? Two French lists, one literature list, one business list, one local translators list. Yes. Five. Invaluable for keeping sanity intact and asking questions that you should know the answer to, but don’t, for whatever reason. Also, general commiseration and congratulations, when the time warrants it.


There are more, of course, but more entries of resources will inevitably follow. For now, I’m off to use my own list!

Universal business advice, expanded upon from a brief phone conversation with a fellow translating stranger

– Be wary of entering into agreements if you are already busy; or, alternatively, desperate.  Too busy, and you may renege on your end of the bargain.  Too desperate for work, and you can be taken advantage of.

– Find a personal contact within a large company that you’re working for.  Make sure they can rely on you for honest communication and prompt fulfillment of your promises.  Then, you can rely on them for flexibility, good projects, and dealings with Accounting (read: getting paid).

– Figure out how best you negotiate rates as a contractor.  If the other party is being difficult, you have two options to protect yourself: either be firm for the initial talks and give discounts as you see fit, or compromise at first and be firm on that compromise.


Huh.  I know more than I think I know.  Talk and practice are different animals, though.  It’s tough work working for yourself!

From out of the blue

Sometimes, people call you from out of the blue.  Completely.    There’s absolutely no connection to an existing client, or personal friend, or cousin’s ex-husband’s business partner’s mother’s sister-in-law’s lawyer*, or anyone else.  I just finalized a small job for a woman who I cannot for the life of me figure out how she knows I exist.

But as I thought about it, there are actually many ways she could have found me.  Maybe she was directed to my website by someone.  Maybe she looked up the ATA database, or the NYCT database, and just started down the list.  Maybe she saw an article I wrote for one of the ATA division newsletters.  She could have even Googled “French translator Brooklyn”, although I’m not entirely sure where I pop up on that list.  Maybe someone threw one of my business cards away and the trash can fell over and my card happened to catch her eye.  Who knows, really?

The point is, those are only a few ways that she could have found me.  All of them are valid, and all of them are useful (except for maybe that last one with the garbage).  I personally don’t use every service available to me (I’ve almost given up on Twitter, I only spend limited time on LinkedIn, etc.), but apparently, all those avenues of promotion pay off.  It’s a nice ego boost to know you’re doing something right.


*I will bake you cookies if you figure out who this person is in your life.

Just Say No

Drugs are harmful to your body.  Just say “no” when offered them.  It’s as simple as that.  Or so all elementary-aged American children were told in the 80s and 90s.  Simple?  Maybe.  Peer pressure builds up, though.

Now, we’re older.  Some of us are freelancers.  Sometimes, we get offered jobs — or offered the possibility of jobs — that we know we shouldn’t take.  Why?  We’ll have to deal with demeaning project managers.  The work is mindless.  We’d be translating very poorly written copy from the source language.  We’ll lose an entire night’s sleep to get the job done.  It’s harmful to our bodies, and to our sanity, and especially to our happiness.

Even so, when a new agency approached me with the offer of possibly working together, we haggled on rates a bit, I listed my specializations (at their request, which is important for later), and I agreed to do a small test for them.  I stipulated that, since the test would be unpaid, I’d only do a small one, less than 250 words.  A reasonable amount of work for a test.

They then sent me three tests to choose from (nice!).  But wait…all the tests were over 500 words, and none of them fell even remotely within my specializations.

Enter the psychological pressure: “I’d really like the work.”  The brain rushes through countless excuses for why I should just buckle down and slog through the test, but they all boil down to “I’d really like the work.”

Let’s be clear.  I don’t know if I’d get any work, or if I’d be at all qualified for the work I’d receive (based on these tests), or if I’d enjoy the work that I was qualified for.  But still, brain goes, “I’d really like the work.”

Fortunately, I have an Other Half.  He reminds me that I can, in fact, overrule my worried brain with logic.  What’s the point of doing a long, unpaid test that may lead to work that’s most likely not in my area that I probably wouldn’t enjoy for a lower rate than I normally charge?  None.  There’s no point at all.

Just say no.

(Do so respectfully, of course.  But just say no.)