On translation and anti-intellectualism


Chandler: “You didn’t read Lord of the Rings in high school?”

Joey: “No, I had sex in high school.”

…and the audience laughed.

I get why it’s a good comeback. But I also get why that, in itself, is a problem.

Don’t take me wrong, Friends was one of my favorite shows in the mid to late nineties. Back then I was a teenager with a lot to learn about life, yet even then I knew (at least intuitively) that there was something fundamentally wrong with the world as Friends portrayed it (starting with its lack of ethnic diversity). I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I came across this thought provoking post by David Hopkins where he makes a compelling case against Friends and what the show’s success says about us as viewers. While the initial premise that a single American sitcom triggered the downfall of western civilization is a gross oversimplification of a much more complex phenomenon (which is obviously not meant to be taken literally), Mr. Hopkins’ description and critique of American anti-intellectualism is not only spot on, but easily applicable to other cultures and walks of life.

When a fellow university professor found out the Ethics course I teach involves actually reading Plato, he looked perplexed and asked “why not make them read more modern authors like Putnam?” (as if modern authors and classics were mutually exclusive). “Can’t my students appreciate both Plato and Putnam?” “Sure, but can they really understand the classics?”

There it was, the assumption I feared most coming from a fellow professor: that our students are too ignorant to fully grasp complex philosophical works. And, yes, as education continues to decline, every batch of new students has a harder time understanding these works than the last. Yes, I often find myself teaching my students things they should have learned in high school. Yes, at first they are reluctant to read because reading is no longer cultivated in school or at home. And, yes, it terrifies me because, as a law professor, I am educating the next generation of legal and political leaders. The fate of my country is in the hands of these young men and women in my class who have been raised in a culture that embraces harsh anti-intellectualism. And, yes, we are indeed “at a low point — where social media interaction has replaced genuine debate and political discourse, where politicians are judged by whether we’d want to have a beer with them, where scientific consensus is rejected, where scientific research is underfunded, where journalism is drowning in celebrity gossip.”

What’s even scarier to me, as someone who is also a professional translator, is seeing this anti-intellectualism invade a profession that was once intellectual par excellence. This is, in part, what caused my long silence and retreat from the online world. While attending various translation conferences in Europe a while back, the anti-intellectual tendency in translation hit me like a ton of bricks and it’s taken me months to recover.

It wasn’t the insta-gurus using scare tactics to get people to buy their products or the presentation that was so poorly researched it was hijacked by the audience. In fact, it wasn’t even the 50-minutes of social torture where I politely listened to a fellow translator blab on incessantly about why she not only evades taxes, but also uses her tax evasion as a “clever marketing strategy.” No, it wasn’t any of that. What terrified me in Europe was the mortifying unquestioning acceptance of what is becoming a dominant narrative that reeks of BS. It was that moment when a self-proclaimed big fish of some sort jokingly compared those of us who don’t feel threatened by “changes in the translation industry” to ostriches hiding our heads in the sand… and the audience laughed.

But here’s the thing with the ethics of humor as illustrated in this brilliant article by sinologist, philosopher, and editor of Philosophy Now, Anja Steinbauer:

“At first glance it seems that there is little work for ethicists to do. It is great to laugh: Humour can help you deal with the often inevitable awfulness of life.[…]

[However, t]he very definition of humour has been associated with a moral issue. Next to Immanuel Kant’s incongruity theory, the idea that things are funny when something doesn’t quite fit, and Freud’s relief theory, stating that humour is a release of tension mechanism, the so-called superiority theory is prominent among explanations of humour. In fact, it has been so prominent that it has been championed by philosophical heavyweights such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes and Bergson. Thomas Hobbes’ formulation of the superiority theory is this: “Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own, formerly.” If he is right, humour becomes a tool for making ourselves feel better by thinking of others or our own past selves as inferior. […]

I would suggest that the two most serious problems […] are these: Firstly, as Plato says, the aesthetic form of a joke form is just so attractive and appealing that we may not pay enough critical attention to the moral content. Secondly, far from having a dialogue function, jokes can be conversation stoppers. As Theodor Adorno says: “He who has laughter on his side has no need of proof.” In other words, humour is, next to its wonderful properties, also a great potential tool for manipulation. Dress them up as a joke and you can get away with outrageous statements.” (Emphasis added.)

I’m not advocating against laughter and humor. But I do think we need to pay more critical attention to what is being said, more or less jokingly, about the future of translation and about those of us who reject the two equally harmful dominant narratives, which I will be discussing in my next post.

On a lighter note, I would like to thank my friends Mercedes and Ana for encouraging me to come out of my shell and start blogging again. Thank you both for reconnecting me with something I love.

2016 European Tour: My take on BP16 in Prague and Wordfast Forward in Nice

I know this blog has been silent for quite some time and the reason for that is everything leading up to and following a three week trip to Europe where I spoke at two different conferences: the Business Practices Conference (BP16) and the Wordfast Forward Conference.

One of the reasons I get so excited about conferences in general is that they give me a chance to treat myself to some time off my regular routine, to go somewhere I’ve never been before, and to meet new people. Because I live in the most southernmost country of the American continent, it’s not always easy to just pick up and go. For those of us in the developing world, going overseas is quite an investment. Currency exchange rates combined with tax and other government restrictions don’t help much either. So going to Europe sets you back several tens of thousands in your local currency. Naturally then, when looking back, one of the first questions I ask myself is whether or not it was actually worth the investment. So here’s my evaluation of each event.

BP16 in Franz Kafka’s Native Prague:


At BP16, I attended Chris Durban’s masterclass on building high-end client portfolios; and that, in itself, made the trip worth it. By the end of the masterclass, I was able to identify several areas of my business that need improvement; develop a strategy for improving them; and identify a market niche I had been neglecting simply because I did not know how to use my connections and competitive advantage in that niche. Now I do. I will report on the actual results at the end of the year.

As far as the rest of the conference, here’s my take:

1) Organization: A++. The conference was so well put together it’s hard to believe it’s an independent event.

2) Venue: A+. I really liked the hotel. My room was very comfortable, with all the essentials and then some. Hotel staff was always friendly and helpful. The hotel was located right by a tram stop and subway station; so after the conference, I was able to quickly get to all the sights I wanted to see in Prague.

3) Dinners: Another A+. I really enjoyed all conference dinners. The food was great. The restaurants were lovely. The service was wonderful. There was a little mishap with one of the restaurants one night and we ended up eating outside on a beautiful terrace with the most magnificent view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge. I’m sure you can appreciate why I have no complaints, despite that little mishap.

4) Tote bag and goodies: A+: I really liked the tote bag design. Inside the bag I found a practical little notepad, candy, and a complimentary copy of 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know.

5) The people: A+++. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: Translators rock! One of the reasons why I love translation conferences is because I get to hang out with other translators, and translators are great people. At the conference, I got the chance to meet many of my favorite online people in real life, and that to me was priceless!

6) Sessions: B+. When it comes to content, I’m picky and demanding. In his blog, Simon Berrill argues that we need to start picking out the e-wheat from the cyberchaff when choosing what to read online. I think Simon’s idea applies to translation conference sessions as well. So, in addition to Chris Durban’s masterclass, here’s the wheat:

* Cécile Charlier’s session on using EUR-Lex. I left early because I wanted to check out another session that was scheduled in the same timeframe, but I thought it was a good introduction for inexperienced users.

* Jonathan Downie on public speaking for translators. If you’re going to speak about how to speak in public, then you have to be a great public speaker; and Jonathan is, indeed, a great public speaker. I enjoyed his presentation a lot.

* Konstantin Kisin’s “opening talk show.” Konstantin was a wonderful host and moderator, with an extraordinary capacity for keeping both the audience as well as panelists on topic. Plus, his witty and intelligent sense of humor kept everyone engaged throughout both sessions.

I was in one of the panels alongside Erik Hansson, creator of TTNS, and “life coach” Christelle Mainagn. Finally meeting Erik in person after “e-knowing” him for so long was wonderful. I rather enjoy how Erik’s group brings humor to serious discussions affecting our profession. The other panel consisted of Chris Durban, who needs no introduction, mad patent translator Steve Vitek, and efficiency expert Gaby Nagy.

I regretted missing Tiago Neto’s session on voice recognition, Alison Hughes’ session on managing your CPD and marketing budget, Joy Philiphs’ session on MemoQ (though, in all fairness, I’m not a MemoQ user), and Kyle Wohlmut and Ellen Singer’s joint session on idiomatic expressions. I heard wonderful things about those and wish I hadn’t missed them.

Going back to my initial question: Yes, it was worth it! I would probably go to another BP conference if I had other reasons to travel or conferences to attend in Europe around the same time. This conference was only two weeks apart from Wordfast Forward, and being able to go to both events with one single trip over the Atlantic was a plus for me this time around.

Wordfast Forward in France’s Sunny Cote d’Azur

Marty in Nice

The second conference was Wordfast Forward. I am a Wordfast user, as were all other attendees, which is how I found out about the conference. Because we were all Wordfast users already, it was obviously not a sales conference, which added a lot of value to each session. There was no blatant publicity, nobody using their sessions to try to sell anyone anything, and no chaff. Now, I know what some of my readers might be thinking, “how much are they paying her to say that?” Not a dime, actually. Other than using their software, I am not affiliated with Wordfast in any way. So this is my opinion as an attendee/speaker with no conflicts of interest. And, as such, I can honestly say that Wordfast Forward was the best conference I attended since ATA56.

1) Organization: A. The conference was well-organized, despite a ten-minute delay in all sessions due to issues that seemed to be beyond the organizer’s control.

2) Venue: B. The hotel had the most amazing view with a nice reception/conference area. It was conveniently located near the Port of Nice. Hotel staff was nice and friendly. But… the rooms were far too austere and lacked basic amenities, such as blow dryers. My shower (which didn’t have a soap dish or shampoo rack) was so tiny that every time I reached for anything, I’d accidently shut off the hot water. It’s not the kind of hotel I usually choose when I travel, but it was OK enough not to ruin the whole conference experience.

3) Dinners/lunches: A. I really enjoyed all lunches and dinner parties, especially the gala dinner. I absolutely loved the food at the Plaza Hotel’s restaurant. However, throughout most social events, I felt bad for vegans, vegetarians, and people with other special food needs. They had to wait excessively long to be served, despite the fact that the restaurants in question had been dully warned by the conference organizers about these guests’ special needs.

4) Tote bag and goodies: not applicable. We didn’t get actual tote bags, but we did get some nice flip-flops, a Wordfast pen, and a couple of other souvenirs.

5) The people: A+++. Unlike BP16 where I knew many people online before the conference, I didn’t know anyone at Wordfast Forward. However, I met the most amazing people there and by the end of the conference, I felt like I had known some of them my entire life.

6) Sessions: A+++. As I mentioned before, I’m picky and demanding when it comes to sessions. Wordfast Forward was all wheat, no chaff. I learned something new at every single session. As far as content, which is what conferences really should be about, it was the absolute best. Even the session about Machine Translation had an intelligent and responsible approach to the topic. There were several sessions in which we had the chance to talk directly to the developers and tell them what we need/expect from their software. In turn, they did an excellent job at telling us about what features they’re currently developing and how to use the existing ones more effectively.

This is a conference I intend to attend at least every other year or so to stay updated, especially if they organize advanced workshops for developing specific skills.

All in all, my 2016 European Tour was very productive. I learned new things, visited three of the most beautiful cities in Europe (including a week in Rome in-between conferences), expanded my network of colleagues, and even made a couple of new friends. I came back motivated and eager to put all the things I learned into practice to keep growing and improving my business.

On Direct Clients and Overcoming Geographical Disadvantages

Marty and map

Last month, I published a post on earning six-figures as a translator and accidentally sparked several somewhat heated yet fascinating debates on several business aspects of translation. One of the lingering questions in some of the places where my post was discussed was whether or not geography is a handicap when going after direct clients.

We are always told that one of the secrets to making direct clients is going where they are, and the reasoning behind that is pretty sound. Though not specific to translation, some of the best arguments in favor of location as a competitive strategy can be found in Michal E. Porter’s paper in Harvard Business Review’s HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy (including featured article “What Is Strategy?” by Michael E. Porter) and expanded in Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors.

When applied to translation, “going where your clients are” is sometimes interpreted as meaning “relocate to your source country,” another sound piece of advice that is very hard to refute (when based on serious research). But, let’s be totally honest, relocating to your source country is not a realistic option for everyone. This is so for various reasons, including Visas or family/personal commitments. This may be hard to believe, but Visas are not so easy to come by these days. And consulates don’t always deem “moving to your source country to up your game as a freelancer translator” as a genuine reason for granting legal entry to foreigners. The bastards! In addition, some people are unwilling or unable to move their entire families overseas to have a better shot at reaching direct clients. Should they give up? Of course not! So what to do when you’re “stuck” in your target country?

One thing translators do is rely on intermediaries who actually have that geographical advantage. While many are quick to demonize such intermediaries, I personally have no problem with agencies. My problem is with bottom feeders; and believing that all agencies are bottom feeders is just as naïve as believing that bidding wars are in the best interest of translators. In the same vein, not all translators have an entrepreneurial side. Some translators prefer to focus only on translating and let other people worry about all the marketing, client searching, and project management. Again, I don’t see a problem with that, either. We’re all wired differently, we have different talents, interests, and priorities. So if you’re a translator who enjoys working for intermediaries and you’re happy and making a good and honest living, who am I to judge?

For the time being, I’m still combining both agencies and direct clients. I like working with agencies that fit two simple (totally subjective) criteria: i. the people behind the company are likable, and ii. they pay fair rates. However, I also like working for direct clients. I have an outgoing personality with an entrepreneurial spirit. So, I genuinely enjoy the business side of things and love the thrill of the hunt. I enjoy negotiating and closing successful deals with new or returning clients. It’s just how I am. It’s not better or worse than translators who enjoy working solely for agencies, just different.

However, entrepreneurial though I am, I’m also a realist. I’m well aware of the competitive disadvantage of living so far away from my clients and, as if that wasn’t enough, living in the developing part of the world where we often deal with things like this: “I contacted someone in Latin America because you guys are supposed to be cheaper,” true story, someone actually said this to me once! Or, my favorite, “If I wanted to pay American prices, I’d hire an American.” That one was pretty funny, considering the target readership was Argentina. So, yes, we have it rough sometimes and we can’t (or simply don’t want to) relocate, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed.

In some market niches, prospects come to where you are. In my post about how I built my client base without using translation portals, I mentioned some of the ways in which my university contacts have resulted in well paid work. For those who don’t know, I’m also a part-time university Professor of Law. The numerous academic activities held by different universities in Buenos Aires involve receiving visitors and delegations from all over the world almost constantly throughout the academic year. Many of these activities are even free and have resulted in a simple and easy way for me to meet foreign clients directly, without leaving Buenos Aires.

So, regardless of whether you cater to high profile lawyers and scholars or to IT gurus, it is possible that your city hosts international events that are roaming with interesting prospects. If you can’t leave the country to go them, maybe you can find out if they are coming to you. Needless to say, this will not make up for a total lack of geographical proximity, but combined with other strategies, at least it’s a start. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (poor cat!), and this one sometimes gets overlooked.

On Being the Underdog and Earning Six-Figures as a Translator


I recently finished re-reading Chris Durban’s book, The Prosperous Translator, and found myself questioning a lot of what I do and how I do it. That’s the great thing about good books. No matter how many times you read them, you always learn something new. This time, what appealed to me the most was the part where she questions why translators are afraid to talk about money. Meanwhile, a few nights ago, while checking out some older posts in Corinne McKay’s blog, I came across a post about translators with six-figure incomes, and one of the things Corinne pointed out is that these translators tend to talk about money quite a bit.

All this, while I was still processing some of the comments on a couple of related posts about premium translation markets in Kevin Hendzel’s blog (here and here). The posts themselves are must-reads, but something else that really caught my attention was a comment by someone who believed high incomes are unattainable for those of us who live in the developing world. I live in the developing world and I hear this all the time from my fellow South Americans. We’re too far. We can’t compete. We don’t have access to direct clients. They only look to Latin America when they want low prices… If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard “I can’t because Latin America,” I wouldn’t be here in front of my computer writing this post. I’d be living it up at some fancy beach resort in Bora Bora while sipping South Pacific smoothies through a curly straw and watching the sun set over the ocean as compounded interests turn my millions into billions.

I was raised in one of those homes where you simply do not discuss money, politics, or religion. My mother would rather swallow a battery than talk about money and my father could not stand braggers or show-offs, so he never dropped the M-bomb either, lest he’d commit the most Heideggerian of pragmatic inconsistencies. Talking about money is, to many people, just “too bourgeois” and “beneath the educated mind.” But money is one of the many things that stand between us and some of our dreams. We think about money quite a bit: how to make it, how to spend it, how to save it, and if we’re smart, how to invest it. We need money for basic essentials and even more money if we’re not the kind of people who are content with the basics alone. So at the risk of offending all the classy people out there who believe discussing money is rude, I’m going to talk about money in this post, because whether we like it or not, it’s there and it’s an issue for many people.

I don’t claim to be a particularly business savvy person and my beginnings in translation were quite humble. My rookie years were rocky and clumsy at best (almost embarrassingly so). When it comes to newbie mistakes, I could probably write the book (though for now all I’ve written is “the post”). I don’t have any magical formulas and I am in no position to tell anyone how to achieve financial success. However, I know what it feels like to be the underdog and, more importantly, I know what it feels like to rise above all odds, both personal and professional. I am, after all, a Latin American woman; and my rocky and clumsy beginnings in translation were due, in part, to the fact that I had bought into “I can’t because Latin America” plus some form of “I can’t because women in Latin America have it even tougher.” For those who are not familiar with current wealth distribution trends, living in Latin America basically means my piece of the pie is statistically prone to being significantly smaller than that of my counterparts in the developed world and even more so than that of my male counterparts. The odds, apparently, are stacked against me. But here’s the thing about stats and odds: they are just numbers. What matters in life is how you play the cards you are dealt.

So, last year I hit six figures and my numbers are still growing. And though I’m light years behind some of the really big names in translation, a six-figure income is more than enough for a comfortable lifestyle where I live. In addition, my numbers defeat all the odds that were stacked against me. Which brings me to my second point, not only is it possible to make a very decent living as a translator, but it’s also possible to do so while running your operations from Latin America. In all honesty, I cringe every time I hear fellow Latin Americans give in on the count of alleged geographical disadvantage. That’s just baloney! In the internet age, geography is not a handicap!

Hitting the six figure mark was not easy, but good things usually aren’t. I did it by simply charging each new client slightly more than the last one, while also dropping older clients who were not willing to renegotiate. This was a slow transition and it mainly meant changing the types of agencies I was working for from large brokers to higher-paying specialized boutique agencies, while also focusing all my long-term marketing efforts on direct clients, as my ultimate goal was (and still is) to work for direct clients only at premium fees. Of course, I’m not saying everybody should do what I did. I’m just saying this worked for me.

Because money is such a touchy subject, I am well aware of the positive and negative reactions that are likely to be sparked by this post. I know some people will crucify me for my rocky beginnings and unwillingness to condemn all brokers on the count of the bad ones. Others may think the aim of this post is just to brag about my numbers. But those who know me will hopefully read this the way it was intended: as an honest challenge against anyone who has ever said there is no money in translation, especially for those of us who live in the developing world. I never set out to be a business guru and I believe that each person has to write their own story. But if you’re in the place where I was a decade ago, working your little heart out 24/7 for peanuts, watching life happen outside your window, and wondering if bigger and better things are possible, I have two words for you: They are!

If this non-business savvy, human rights-oriented underdog can do it, so can anyone else who’s willing to put in all the extra effort, dedication, training, education, and hard work. So in the spirit of encouraging other Latin Americans to reach for the sky, here’s some bibliography I’ve found particularly helpful:

1) The Prosperous Translator by Chris Durban

2) Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury

3) Mastering Services Pricing: Designing pricing that works for you and for your clients
by Kevin Doolen (still reading this, but finding it pretty useful so far and very grateful to Rose Newell for recommending it)

4) Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Collins Business Essentials) by Michal Hammer and James Champy

5) The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy by Evan Rosen

Special thanks to my friend Ana Gauz (English to Brazilian Portuguese translator extraordinaire) for her help with this post.

On Oracles, Architects, and Translation

Neo and the Architect

As we all know, the Matrix is one of those films that basically reshaped parameters of movie-making and visual storytelling. It achieved many technical firsts and effects that movie viewers had never seen before, winning several Oscars for best film, best effects, and best sound, among others. It is an aesthetically impressive film with a mind-bending storyline that turned it into a cult classic, and as far as cult films go, it’s one of my favorites. But it’s “awesomeness” does not stop at visual and special effects. It’s also a deeply philosophical film that illustrates some of the most interesting questions of human thought.

One of the most ancient of all philosophical questions illustrated in the Matrix is known as the “determinist question.” The determinist question is a question of causality and, ultimately, how it affects human life. Though this might sound very complicated at first, it’s actually pretty simple.

Basically, the (ontological) principle of causality states that every effect necessarily follows a cause. Following Kant’s example (loosely), this is best exemplified with an apple. Why did the apple fall? Because of gravity. Why is there gravity? Because of the laws of attraction. Why is there attraction? Because Einstein said so in 1915 in his general theory of relativity. I’m kidding, of course, with the last bit. But what the apple example illustrates is that for every “why” there’s a “because” and this ancient little discovery that seems obvious when we look at it today was actually one of the keys to advancing both science and philosophy alike; and it is also underlying in Neo’s conversations with the Oracle and later with the Architect.

In moral philosophy, the person who really put the principle of causality in the scene was Aristotle. But the two philosophers who milked it the most were Kant and Hume, both of whom posed the question of how this principle affects moral agents, i.e. someone (in the sense of “being” not in the sense of “human person”) who is capable of telling right from wrong. Like Kant and Hume pointed out (as did many others, though Kant and Hume usually get all the credit), if for every “why” there’s a “because,” then to what extent are moral agents responsible for their actions? Let’s look at an example. Why did Cypher kill Dozer? Because he was working for Agent Smith. Why was he working for Agent Smith? Because he wanted to get plugged back into the Matrix. Why did he want to get plugged back in? Because he was unhappy in Zion. Why was he unhappy in Zion?… We could go on forever finding causes for each and every action, even those of a killer, leading to the logical problem of infinite regress.

Did Cypher kill Dozer? Yes, of course. But to what extent can he be held accountable if all these other causes (beyond his control) led him to killing Dozer? If our actions are a product of determined cause and effect (and not free will), then where do we stop the regression? How do we identify which causes are relevant and which are are not? How can we justify certain social institutions, like the criminal law system, if everything’s mere cause and effect over which agents have no control? Forget Cypher and think of anyone else who has ever killed, harmed, robbed, etc. If you extrapolate this line of reasoning to modern society, what do we do with rule-breakers if their actions are mere products of causes they can’t control? That’s the question Kant and Hume both pointed out from different points of the philosophical spectrum (Kant’s theory being deontic and Hume’s being somewhere between deontic and consequentialist, at least as presented in his Treatise of Human Nature). So determinism is deeply connected with questions of science, on the one hand, and questions of free will and moral agency, on the other.

It’s very easy to understand determinism and accountability when we look at them from the point of view of criminal law. We do, after all, use force against rule-breakers (imprisonment, solitary confinement, physical punishment in some countries, death penalty in others, just to name a few). So legal philosophy has had to find a way around the determinist question to be able to morally justify our criminal systems. But what about translation? Why am I writing about this on a translation blog? The answer is again pretty simple. Because determinism is playing a pretty fascinating role in translation. Why are so many translators struggling financially? Because (insert whatever cause you like here, but if your cause is somehow external to translators’ own actions or free will then you are giving a deterministic answer). So the market, the translation portals, the bidding wars, the knights of low end translation, etc. are all deterministic answers to the question of why some translators aren’t making living wages. And they are all very attractive explanations with several underlying levels of truth to them, but what about our own role and responsibility as moral agents in the direction our profession is taking?

If your professional life is something that just happens to you, to what extent are you responsible for your own professional choices and actions? I mentioned earlier that legal philosophy had to find a way around determinism to morally justify our criminal law systems. Look around you, wherever you are in the world right now, there is a legal system (with criminal laws). So we have managed to find several ways to work around cause and effect; and we did so by simply advancing the concept of free will and moral agency. Like Richard Rorty, I also believe that Plato got moral philosophy off on the wrong foot; however, that sneaky and somewhat clumsy philosopher of yore gave Kant and Hume the key to overcoming determinism: rationality. To the extent that humans are rational animals (and not, in Plato’s terms, featherless bipeds), humans can be their own cause; and thus, they can be held accountable for the effects of their actions… and that’s game! Well played, Enlightenment thinkers.

Rationality, that thing that supposedly separates us from other animals (you know, that and opposable thumbs!) is empowering and frees us from any deterministic ties. If you are a rational moral agent, then you make choices, choices that cause effects, some are good, some are bad, most are somewhere in between (and no, I’m not going to get all Nietzsche, don’t worry!); but they are non-other than choices (Enter Neo and the Architect).

Seeing ourselves as rational moral agents means taking charge of our own lives. It means being responsible for our own actions and the effects they have caused. It means that you are not a victim of the world. If you don’t like something you can change it. If you want clients, you can go get them. If you want higher fees you can up your game. It means you can be flexible, adaptable, and paraphrasing Rorty, you can transform your own reality. That is, in essence, what it means to be human, at least in the eyes of the heavyweights of human thought.

The Opportunity Cost of Misplaced Entitlement in Translation

Comprehensive list

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted a picture of “a comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to and that which the world owes you.” The image was that of an empty sheet of paper. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Later that week, someone in a translation group posted a copy of an incredibly rude, whiny, and ineffective message they had sent out to a potential client who was simply trying to open the door to a negotiation. The translator was insulted, apparently, because the agency owner wanted to negotiate in the first place: not drive down price with a ludicrous offer, just negotiate. Things escalated and got quite ugly pretty quickly once the agency owner went online and came across her name and confidential information about the job (information which had been given to the translator in good faith for the sole purpose of evaluating and quoting the job).

I happen to know both parties involved. The translator does a lot of online bragging about his rudeness to agencies who just don’t seem to get how special he is; and the agency owner is actually a really great person, who pays well, on time, and is an absolute pleasure to work with. I have in fact recommended several colleagues in other language pairs to this boutique agency and they have the same impression as I do. So on the one hand we have a serial agency basher and problematic translator and on the other hand we have a boutique translation business owner who was looking after her client’s interests and her own business. How dare she?!?!

Had the translator not been betrayed by his own Ego and misplaced sense of entitlement, he would have landed a great client, as the agency’s concern had more to do with the translator’s proposed deadline than with his price. Had the translator focused on interests instead of positions, he would have realized the agency was willing to pay his proposed price (and even a bit more, according to the agency) to get the translation a couple of days earlier and have enough time to review it in-house before final delivery to the end client. Instead, the translator took to social media to list all that to which he is entitled on the count of his self-perceived sheer awesomeness (paraphrasing Po the Panda).

Of course, there’s more than one way to understand the concept of entitlement. If by entitlement we are referring to our legal entitlements (i.e. the rights we each have in virtue of being human), then the empty “comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to” is flat-out insensitive to the entire notion of justice and clueless as to the many sufferings of the world. However, if by “entitlement” we are referring to some people’s unjustified belief that they have a right to certain privileges or special treatment just because they are who they are (i.e. white, rich, etc.), then the idea behind that picture is well worth promoting and the translator in question should learn from it.

I have insisted in many different posts that professionals need to watch their online behavior at all times. It’s oftentimes the first thing people see and you never know where in the web a potential client is waiting to be discovered. In today’s world, opportunity no longer “knocks at your door,” sometimes it IMs you or pokes you on Facebook. So when we go online to brag about how rude and rough we got with a client or to troll other translators in forums or blog comments, what we’re really doing is telling the world there is a side of us that feels it is better than other people, that others owe us this or that because we are SO cool, that we know better, that we are smarter, that we own a thesaurus, that we read some business guru and bought into the hype, that we can write complicated sentences, etc. You get the point.

What we’re not doing is helping to promote professionalism in translation or in any way earning other people’s respect. One could argue respect is a given. It’s not something you earn. Perhaps in everyday life that is true. We say “please” and “thank you” to absolute strangers on a daily basis out of respect and those are givens. But the kind of respect that comes with placing value on a person at a professional level, with wanting to pay their fees and to accept their terms and conditions are not givens. Professional respect is earned. You don’t respect your doctor’s professional opinion simply because he or she wears a white coat and has a stethoscope around their neck, you respect their professional opinion once they have proven to be qualified, reliable professionals who know their stuff. So why should translation be any different?

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 52,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.