Goldilocks and the Email Signature

28 May

Translators email signaturesRecently, I have noticed the increasing length of some email signatures in my correspondence with other translators and language services companies (although our industry is not the only culprit). The average length of email signatures at one of the companies that I used to work for totalled 20 lines! Why do people think that clients or colleagues want (or need) to read all of that information?

There are of course signatures which could and should provide more information. I have seen a fair few with less than the bare essentials: “XXX, translator”. please, at the very least, provide some contact details and the languages and direction you translate! If you have a website, put the link in your email signature – make it easy for prospective clients to find out more about you. If you want them to read your blog, put a link to it (although this is not always relevant).

I have done a wee bit of (entirely unscientific) research on translators’ email signatures and have come up with a few suggestions (and things to avoid) for an email signature fit for Goldilocks – “just right” in terms of the amount of information.

So, what should be included?

  • your contact details, including a telephone number – think of it as a virtual business card
  • your languages and direction of translation
  • a brief description of your title e.g. medical translator and interpreter
  • a link to your website

Optional extras:

  • your logo and tag line, if applicable
  • social media profiles (I’d guess Twitter would be the most popular option here)
  • a link to your blog

What really doesn’t need to be there:

  • your terms and conditions (they can be discussed further down the line)
  • your life history (that’s why you have an About page on your website, right?)

This is just a starting point. What else could be added to these lists?

Friday Fun: Mark Twain’s German

25 May

Today’s post is for the German speakers out there. When people ask me which languages I speak, the word ‘German’ often provokes a response something along the lines of: “That must be so difficult” or “Aren’t all of the words in the wrong order?”

German is of course known for its lengthy words, some of my favourites being Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit), and Niederschlags-wahrscheinlichkeit (chance of rain) and Schwarzwälderkirschtorte (the famous black forest gâteau).

It is true that there are some particularly complicated grammatical structures, but isn’t that true of any language? That said, any learner of German will be faced with the infamous subordinating conjunctions such as weil (because), which ‘send’ the verb to the end of the clause. This is described to great effect by one of my favourite quotations on language by the wonderful Mark Twain:

“When a German dives into a sentence, you won’t see him again until he emerges at the other end with the verb between his teeth.”

Twain was a speaker of German and wrote about his experiences (and frustrations), with getting to grips with the language. In 1880, he wrote an essay entitled “The Awful German Language“, which contains some hilarious gems that I would like to share with you here:

“and after the verb — merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out — the writer shovels in “haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein,” or words to that effect, and the monument is finished.”

“For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six — and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.”

“In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor of the language, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib) is not — which is unfortunate. A Wife, here, has no sex; she is neuter; so, according to the grammar, a fish is he, his scales are she, but a fishwife is neither.”

(Source: about.com)

Are there any aspects of your second or third languages that drive you mad sometimes?

Non-Fringe Benefits

24 May

Just a short post for the ladies today.

Have you ever thought about how your hairstyle affects your work?

I was at the hairdresser a few days ago (one of the benefits of the freelance life), describing what I had in mind this time. My lovely stylist, Amanda, asked me whether I had thought about having a fringe (bangs, for my colleagues across the pond). I considered it for a little while, but decided against it. Heavy, blunt fringes are ‘in’ at the moment but, apart from the fact that my very curly hair would probably not behave well enough, I know some of my friends have had problems with headaches when reading or looking at screens for long periods of time. Hardly ideal for my line of work!

Have you ever found that seemingly trivial choices like choosing a hairstyle affect your work?

(By the way, I went for a very short, curly bob – I’m ready for summer!)

What Inspires You? A Musical Interlude

22 May

Working with music on: some love it, some can’t stand it.

I go through phases and change my working environment throughout the day. I find that this gives me more energy (a change is as good as a rest, they say) and music can get distracting if I know the words to songs. An alternative to this is instrumental tracks, a few of which I have linked to below. Even if I’m not working, I find this music extremely inspiring, so I hope you enjoy it (go on, give yourself a little break!):

  • The Heart Asks Pleasure First – Michael Nyman (listen here). I absolutely love piano music – I have always said that I would love to learn to play the piano, but it’s always been one of those things that has slipped through the net. This is a deep and brooding piece that I have loved since the first time I heard it.
  • La Noyée – Yann Tiersen (listen here). I was introduced to Yann Tiersen’s music late, after all of the popularity of Amélie had died down, but this particular track has really stuck with me. I find it very uplifting – it makes my mind soar and gives me a rush that makes me think anything is possible.
  • Ludivico Einaudi is another composer who has caught my eye (or rather, ear). My brother, a musician and composer, introduced the Italian’s music to me a few years ago. He always has someone new for me to listen to, a product of his extensive knowledge and eclectic tastes. My favourite piece of Einaudi’s music is this one.

As the stars of Monty Python used to say, and now for something completely different:

  • John Mayer. I know a lot of people, of very different age groups, who enjoy Mayer’s music, although it is fair to say that my other half does not share my feelings here! I tried and failed to narrow down my selection to one, so here are my favourite two John Mayer tracks for relaxing and recharging for a little while (after all, we freelancers deserve it!).
  1. Freefallin’ – a cover of Tom Petty’s famous version from 1989 (listen here)
  2. Slow Dancing in a Burning Room – (listen here)

There are, of course, many more tracks on my working playlist, but I won’t inundate you with them! Do you have any favourite tracks to work to? I look forward to receiving your recommendations for inspiring pieces of music.

The Essence of a Freelance Translator

15 May

How do your clients perceive you?

If your friends and colleagues had to describe you in 3 words, what would they say?

I was sat in my meeting with my MA lecturer yesterday, discussing how some people have all of the linguistic skills and confidence to make a success of themselves, but lack the necessary drive. This got me thinking about the indelible impression that we, and our work as linguists, has on the people around us.

So I tried a little experiment. First, I asked my other half: “If you had to describe me in three words, what would you say?”. His response: “motivated, passionate and meticulous” (note: we collaborated on the last one. His actual words were “what’s a good word for pernickety when talking about grammar and spelling?” ;)).

Then, I asked a client that I proofread academic papers for. She said “knowledgable, professional and friendly“. Although I am pleased that my clients (other results pending) see me as a professional and someone they can ask about linguistic queries, I am even more satisfied that my manner and communication is well received. I have tried to make my contact with clients informative but informal from day one, and I am delighted that they recognise that. I am, of course, all for professionalism (after all, I am running a business), but I have never seen why being professional should be stuffy or cold. We all have quirks and individual aspects of our personalities – let’s embrace that.

The Freelance Translator’s Reading List: Additions

14 May

Apologies for the extreme lack of posts lately. Now that the academic year is racing to a close, my MA commitments are inevitably taking over for a few weeks. Nevertheless, I have managed to find some time to add some of the great suggestions I have had from colleagues to the Freelance Translator’s Reading List (original post here).

I was delighted with the response I had to the idea of grouping some our favourite language and translation books together, and I would like to thank my fellow tweeting translators for adding to my wish list.

I will present each book here, along with a short note about the translator who suggested it:

  • On Writing – Stephen King (as recommended by the inspiring Chris Durban at a professional workshop)
  • Screw It, Let’s Do It – Richard Branson (not language-related, but a very popular motivational book)

Suggested by Alison Hughes (@AHcreattrans), a French to English creative translator, based in Milngavie, Scotland. Alison is also the coordinator of the Media, Arts and Tourism within the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI).

  • Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation – Umberto Eco

Suggested by Anna Lycett (@keycheck_t9n), who provides English and Polish language services and is based in Leeds. Anna also maintains an industry blog, mainly directed at newcomers to the profession (read it here).

  • Through the Language Glass – Guy Deutscher

Suggested by Percy Balemans (@pbtranslations), an English and German to Dutch translator, who specialises in advertising material (transcreation), fashion, art, travel and tourism, journalism and human rights.

This book was also mentioned by Laura Bennett (@culturetrans), who is currently reading it.

Thanks again to everyone who got in touch. I have certainly enjoyed reading all of your thoughts, and I hope that others have too. I can make a start on my Christmas list now too 😉

If anyone still has suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

The Freelance Translator’s Reading List

3 May

Over the past few years, there has been a significant rise in the number of books written by, and for, freelance translators and writers.

I have built up a collection (and wish list) of freelancing, language and translation books. Here are some of them:

I have read:

  • In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation – Mona Baker
  • Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language – David Crystal
  • Words Words Words – David Crystal
  • The Entrepreneurial Linguist by Judy and Dagmar Jenner
  • The Brilliant Freelancer – Leif Kendall
  • How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss

I’d love to read:

  • That a Fish In Your Ear? – David Bellos
  • Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson
  • The Prosperous Translator – Chris Durban
  • Mox’s Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation – Alejandro Moreno-Ramos

I also remember reading about a fun children’s book on punctuation on Brave New Words, the treasure trove of resources provided by B.J. Epstein. The book is called Alfie the Apostrophe, the post can be read here, and information about the book and its author can be found here.

I think that’s enough to get us all thinking and reading for now!

Can anyone give me a review of one of the books on my to-read list? I’ve heard great things!

Simplify, Focus and Work Smarter

30 Apr

I have been meaning to talk about work/life balance ever since I read this great post entitled ‘Work chunky, work better’ over at The Freelancery (on my blogroll for a very good reason!). This need was compounded by coming across this advice piece on Self Employed Success, which offers some solace for those of us still in the early stages of our careers, as well as providing some food for thought for more seasoned professionals.

So how can we deal with ‘overwhelm’? I have highlighted a few points below, which I found to relate to my personal situation particularly well, but please feel free to head on over and pick out your own.

  • don’t try to be everything to everyone – this is something that I readily admit to struggling with. I have always been someone who is energised by being busy and having a lot going on (I’m currently running my business while completing an MA), but I accept the need to focus my energies on other aspects of my life sometimes (e.g. reading a good book/enjoying a lovely meal/spending time with family).
  • say ‘no’ to people and projects – I addressed this point in a post a few weeks ago, and it is a vital lesson to learn for newcomers to the industry. Reputation is everything, but we also owe it to ourselves to take time out and recharge the batteries now and again. Do you really need to take that rush job? Haven’t you got friends to catch up with, a newspaper to read, or, as is often the case for me, cakes to bake? In short: take on the work that you know you can handle, refer the work that you can’t, and take time out.
  • clear the desk  I am sometimes guilty of keeping things on my desk that don’t need to be there. I try to restrict the documents on my desk to those concerning ongoing projects, but I still end up needing to clear the decks every now and then. Tidy desk = tidy mind, and lots of various bits of paper only serve as distractions to the task in hand.
  • tick things off – I have sung the praises of Anxiety in a previous post (read it here), but there is definitely something to be said for crossing off tasks on a physical to-do list. It’s very satisfying!
  • celebrate – I hadn’t previously considered this, but why not mark the end of a particularly challenging project with a little treat? I’ll be putting this into action as soon as possible!

What do you think? Do you have a work-life balance strategy?

Website Wonderings

27 Apr

construction sign - translators' websites

I am currently in the process of getting a website designed (update to follow!). As this is my first professional website, I have been thinking long and hard about what needs to be included – and what doesn’t. There are a myriad of hints and tips on this subject, but I tend to take my advice from other translators and linguists, who have sites that offer the same type of information as I do.

The first stage in this process was compiling a collection of sites that I feel work really well, on the basis of visual interest and social media integration – a must in today’s business environment. My favourite translators’ websites are (in no particular order):

  • Twin Translations – The logo immediately captures the attention and the quotation is the perfect illustration of the art of the linguist. This website, owned by Judy and Dagmar Jenner of the Translation Times blog, serves as inspiration in terms of its clarity and content.
  • Naked Translations – the online home of Céline Graciet, an English-French translator, interpreter and star blogger. I particularly like the tagline and stark colours.
  • Sarah Dillon – translator of French, German and Spanish to English and a highly regarded blogger at There’s something about translation. The clean and clear layout of this site is a real winner with me, and the photos are a great way to create a connection with visitors.
  • Want Words – I absolutely love the clean look of this site and the use of one, strong accent colour to highlight salient information. The icons and integration of social media elements are things like I hope to emulate on my own website. Marta also maintains an insightful industry blog.

What can I take away from these sites?

Throughout this process, I have learned that clear, attractively presented, engaging content that is updated regularly is one of the secrets (if you can call them secrets) to creating an effective website.

As I add the finishing touches to my website copy, I will take into account the great content on all of the aforementioned examples, and also attempt to convey aspects of my own personality. After all, who wants to work with a bland, faceless translator?

What were your priorities when creating a website? Do you have any other inspirational examples to add to my collection?

Bribe Yourself and Get Things Done!

24 Apr

It is sometimes difficult to stay focused when working on a large-scale translation or completing administrative tasks (logging expenses, anyone?).

I am currently working on a sizeable revision project for a client who is presenting an academic paper on linguistic, which proves difficult to get through at times, but I stumbled upon this post on the Freelance Folder, which offers great advice to stay on task.

Please do head on over and take a look, but I have outlined my 3 favourite suggestions here:

  1. Keep regular office hours – know when you’re “at work” and stick to those hours. Deviation from this makes it much easier to procrastinate.
  2. Picture the project completed – imagine what it will be like to bank the cheque, or follow up with the client to check they are happy with you work. Positive thinking is key here!
  3. Bribe yourself! – this one sounds like the most fun: “the bribe could be anything you enjoy but normally wouldn’t get–a special meal, a day off, the purchase of something you’ve wanted to buy for a long time…”

I am considering my bribe for this project already!

What do you think of these suggestions? Do you have any secret weapons for staying focused?