The Translator and Interpreter Self-Help Industry

Written by Leonard Morin

Rational people, when deciding whether to become translators and/or interpreters, will assess their own strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps they now live in a country where a language other than their native tongue is spoken, they have taken foreign language classes, or they grew up bilingual; and they have excelled in both languages. Whatever the case, succeeding as a freelance translator or interpreter is not something that even the most talented linguist can take for granted. Globalization and fragmentation of the industry and the worsening labor conditions in the overall economy play an important role, but starting a business is a risk in any economy.

Many capable translators and interpreters reach a point when they have doubts about their chosen career path and ask themselves about other ways to make money with their language skills. One such way is to found an agency, catering to direct clients and taking a cut of the earnings of other freelancers who work for you, becoming a bigger fish in the food chain. Yet even this route is not without problems since the downward pressure on rates is also felt by agencies, especially the smaller ones.

The demand for our services paradoxically continues to grow. This constellation of factors has fueled the growth of a translator and interpreter self-help industry at an even quicker pace than the industry it thrives off of. To a certain extent, of course, this side industry is useful and necessary. For example, the emergence of so many translator and interpreter training programs addresses a crying need for qualified professionals. Rigorous academic training for these careers is a prerequisite whose recognition has been a long time coming. And even the most seasoned and skilled professionals do not know everything; the requisite knowledge and skills for our professions are dauntingly extensive. Continuing education is indispensable. Yet what happens if your fancy degree or certificate does not translate into employment with commensurate remuneration?

Faced with inadequate return on your investment, you may now turn to the trade literature to devise tactics to boost your productivity or find high-paying direct clients. Once again, self-education is a necessary component of any successful career in this field. There is a lot to know about our jobs and about different approaches to achieving success. But the self-help industry has a pernicious side-effect: it tends to put all the blame on the individual translator or interpreter. Since the topic is taboo, we have barely scratched the surface of some of the structural issues that stand in the way of success in this industry beyond not being good at your profession. What happens when all this continuing education, strategizing, reference material, and translation technology exhaust your precious time and money?

Although this potentially lucrative side-industry is not the product of malicious intentions that feed off of our misfortune, I believe that sometimes we have to be able to see through the hype to make the most intelligent career decisions. While we’re at it, we can contemplate the future prospects of a side-industry that, in part, thrives off of luring people into exhausting their resources.

About the author: Leonard Morin is a staff Spanish interpreter at Manhattan Criminal Court. He also translates chiefly legal documents and cartography articles from Dutch, Spanish, and German into English. He formerly served as president of the New York Circle of Translators.Leonard Morin

A Note from the Editor

Margarite Heintz Montez

Summer is slipping away in the northeast. Students have started attending school, some eagerly, others not so eager. Leaves are beginning to curl and turn colors. Halloween decorations and candy are on store shelves. Hopefully everyone enjoyed summer in the way he or she enjoys best.

The translation industry is bursting with news. Firstly, the United Nations General Assembly is in session which in NYC means work for practically all interpreters in the tri-state area. The myriad amount of diplomats, dignitaries and their entourages opens plenty of opportunity for both staff and freelance interpreters.

Translation Day is September 30th. This is also the feast day of St. Jerome, who translated the Bible. ProZ has a full day webinar with workshops encompassing many different areas of our industry. It’s well worth taking a look at their offerings. After the webinar please keep referring to the website it is chock full of information and tidbits for translators.

Many of our members, myself included, are making plans for the ATA conference. The conference has many sessions that are really informative. Plus it’s always good to connect with people face to face instead of computer to computer; personally I find that one of the best reasons to attend.

If the ATA is not on your on schedule there is LocWorld, the TAUS Annual conference, tcworld, Translating Europe Forum and many other conferences from which to choose. Please keep the Gotham Translator informed about any conferences, seminars or workshops you may attend. Members can write articles for publication or if writing an article is not possible at least let us know if the event was worth the time and effort.

The NYCT has interesting meetings coming up and of course there is our always fun-filled Holiday Party. But before I get to ahead of myself please look over the pictures from the summer picnic, many attended and everyone had a wonderful time.

How Do You Envision Public Relations for ATA?

Reprinted with gracious permission of the author Jeffrey W. Alfonso and CATI, the newsletter of the Carolina Translators

For several years, I have been following a very vibrant discussion about ATA’s need for Public Relations. In fact, during the opening statement of the 2014 conference in Chicago, President Caitlin Walsh announced, “We are listening to our members and have now hired a professional PR person!” This grand proclamation delighted everyone and set a very positive tone for an enjoyable conference. It was obvious that public relations was a big issue; it was addressed by almost every candidate.

According to the Public Relations Society of America, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” However, in 2015, I realized that my vision of PR isn’t necessarily shared by others. Each person has a different viewpoint as to what should take shape. Some people believe
school outreach or a speakers’ bureau is enough. Others feel that it is adequate that a professional public relations consultant train key ATA members on media relations and public speaking. Yet others imagine a great organization like the American Translators Association wielding international influence with a professional ATA spokesperson proactively participating in media communications, contributing and responding to articles instead of using trained, well-meaning volunteers.

Personally, I would love to see all of the above ideas all rolled up into one comprehensive package. Accomplishing this is obviously expensive and unfortunately beyond the present PR budget.

This April, I attended the entire board meeting spanning two days. Since I was a member of the ATA Chronicle Taskforce, I knew our recommendations would reflect a substantial cost savings! Aware that perhaps over $220,000 would be freed up from the Chronicle budget, my hope was that at least $100,000 would be allocated toward having a comprehensive PR program. Imagined the rest of the money going to savings or investments, in order to restore ATA’s emergency fund.

While at the meeting, I observed widely differing views on how to proceed and what PR should look like. Some board members felt that we should begin with a much smaller budget and consider growing it cautiously. Others, felt that we should take advantage of the freed up money and take off running with a full, comprehensive program. Others’ opinions landed somewhere in the middle. I was surprised that the highest of the three options recommended by the PR committee was in the $50,000 range. It did not factor any option for a professional PR consultant representing ATA in the media forefront. When I had an opportunity to speak to the board at the end of the day, I stated that there should have been an option twice the cost of the highest, or around $100,000, especially since the money would now be available. I realized that at the last conference, I made a big mistake. I was satisfied to know that the candidates believed that PR was a priority.

Nevertheless, I failed to find out what their vision actually is, if any, to see if it lined up with mine. Listening to the board meeting, I know that they are all passionate about this issue, albeit with widely varying opinions. In fact, some see public relations as a member benefit that brings in no income. It was commented that PR is difficult to quantify because the benefits from media exposure are difficult to measure, but it does factor in over time. Because the benefits of PR is challenging to quantify, some viewed it as a less urgent priority. Be that as it may, the membership has demanded that public relations be a priority.

Personally, I am in business to make a great living! I want my membership in ATA to help me gain business exposure, increase my credibility, and promote our industry. The more our message is presented effectively in the media, the better the chance someone will look up my name and I will make money. It is difficult to measure but look at the big companies. Apple has a massive campaign program. They know that if they were to stop, for a brief while people would still purchase their products, but eventually they would become invisible and obsolete. Several years ago our extensive program ended due to circumstances and at first there was no visible difference. We are now in a dire situation where if we don’t quickly take action, ATA’s relevance will diminish and be taken over by other organizations with a much more active PR program.

My question for you: what do you want to see in ATA’s public relations? The president did not lie when she said that they were listening and hired a PR person. Those that stated that PR is important also truly believe that to be the case. Nevertheless, it isn’t enough for us to simply say we want public relations. That doesn’t send a clear, actionable message to the board. When candidates make statements or announce that PR is important, we need to also ascertain specifically what the candidates mean on implementing public relations. We might be under the wrong impression due to mutual mystification. We also need to specify exactly what we want from a PR program.

Jeff Alfonso is a Certified Healthcare Interpreter and Authorized OSHA Trainer. He co-owns Alfonso Interpreting in Greenville, SC. The ATA Nomination
and Leadership Committee selected him as a candidate for the upcoming 2015 ATA Board of Directors Election. This blog previously appeared at

Second Literary Translators’ Seminar at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair

translatio2015_3_interviewReprinted with gracious permission from Translatio, the newsletter of FIT

The Argentinian Association of Translators and Interpreters (AATI) organized the Second Literary Translators’ Seminar at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair as part of the Book Fair’s Professional Sessions. The aim of the Literary Translators’ Seminar was to bring those involved in the publishing world together to discuss issues concerning books in translation.

The 2015 Seminar was held on April 22 and 23, organized by AATI Vice-President Estela Consigli and AATI Secretary Lucila Cordone, with the support of a team of enthusiastic young professionals who worked together to make the event possible. The seminar drew a diverse audience of translators from different regions and with various language combinations, as well as publishers and editors, and was an excellent opportunity to keep abreast of the latest national and international developments in literary translation and to network with peers. It was sponsored by the Fundación El Libro, the British Academy/ Leverhulme Small Research Grant, the German Embassy in Buenos Aires and the Goethe Institut Buenos Aires, with the support of the FIT, the Italian Embassy, the Italian Institute of Culture, the British Centre for Literary Translation, Translators’ House Looren (Switzerland), the Buenos Aires City Government, the Argentine Writers Association (SADE), the Sur Translation Grant Program, Fundación TyPA, and Red Vértice. Ana María Cabanellas from Fundación El Libro, AATI President Marita Propato, and world-acclaimed Argentine writer Claudia Piñeiro delivered the opening speeches. On a humorous note, Piñeiro showed to the audience the covers of some of her books translated into the most diverse languages.

The first day’s agenda started with a literary translation workshop for translators of all languages led by Cecilia Rossi, PhD, University of East Anglia, on Alejandra Pizarnik’s Princeton Diaries. Activities also included roundtables and panels focusing on translators’ copyright, the work of professional associations around the world, undergraduate and graduate courses for translators in foreign countries, the Argentinian literary translation landscape, and the role of the translator as a scout.

Panelists included translators, authors and professors of translation from Argentina, Spain, France, England, Germany, Russia, Italy, Brazil and Switzerland. The representatives of Argentinian publishing houses and of literary translation grant programs shared their opinions on the state of translation in the Argentinian publishing world. The Association panel members were Dominic Michelin (SFT), Isabel Hoyos (ASETRAD), Gabriela Stoeckli (Translators House Looren) and Charo Valdivia-Paz Soldán (Colegio de Traductores del Perú). Andrés Ehrenhaus (professor, Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Cecilia Rossi (University of East Anglia) and Débora Farji-Haguet (Université de Paris Diderot) joined the panel on continuous professional development. Their insights contributed to the debate on the role of professional associations and institutions that promote the visibility of translators.

The second day of the seminar concluded with the presentation of the Autumn School of Literary Translation from the Translation Training College “IESLV JRF,” with a special guest: German writer and translator Kristof Magnusson, and a performance by school participants, who read aloud extracts from one of Magnusson’s novels. The session was followed by a cocktail for speakers, guests, attendees, and AATI members. As a sequel to the Literary Translators Seminar, on April 30 AATI organized another special activity at the Buenos Aires Book Fair: a panel on languages of limited diffusion, including writers, translators and academics of the South American native languages quichua, toba and mapuche, demonstrating how translators operate as bridges between cultures. We thank Fundación El Libro for enabling us to hold this seminar at one of the leading cultural events of South America. The Translators’ Seminar has already become a tradition at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair: the extended agenda and the larger room allotted to this edition of the Seminar emphasized the relevance of translators as part of the value chain of book production. We have received positive and encouraging feedback from the AATI community and local and foreign panelists, who welcomed the great atmosphere for academic exchange and networking at the Second Literary Translators Seminar.

Marita Propato
Photos: Laura Cariola / Belén Ferrari

Legal Webinar

Are you a Spanish <> English translator? There is a Legal Translation webinar on October 15 to boost your translation skills!

In this workshop you will learn a method for successfully translating convoluted Spanish-English legal documents into smooth and precise English.

Legal Translation Webinar Includes:
•Review and discussion of Spanish-English and English-Spanish translation skills
•Emphasis on Spanish-English translation
•Focus on the legal Spanish of Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia
•Review of legal codes and concepts from these countries
•Glossary of difficult terms not found in legal dictionaries

Date: October 15, 2015
Time: 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. PST (6 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST)
Cost: $100
Instructor: Anthony T. Rivas, FCCI
CEUs available!

California 3 CIMCE hours, Florida 3.6 CIEs, Tennessee 3 FL
ATA 3 points NAJIT 3 credits

We will email you instructions and a link to the webinar on October 14.

Want to register? Questions? 520-621-3615 or

Protection of Journalists in Conflict situations

Reprinted with gracious permission from Translatio, the newsletter from FIT

On 27 May H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza spoke during the UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Journalists in Conflict situations. As he is the Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, his words are of special importance to the international debate on the dangers affecting journalists as they do their work of bringing the world information. The speech deplored the killing of hundreds of journalists over the last decade and the wounding of many more.H.E. Archbishop Auza

His Excellency declared that there is “no excuse for parties in conflict not to respect and protect journalists”. He discussed both the world’s need for verifiable information and the dangers inherent in providing it, pointing to “the grave danger that a party or parties in conflict would specifically target journalists faithful to their duty of objective reporting”.

While he was clear that it is the responsibility of both governments and media organizations to protect journalists in conflict zones, he also cautioned the working journalists to “exercise tact, especially in situations in which the duty to objective reporting seems to come into conflict with respect for the cultural values and religious beliefs of peoples involved in the conflict”. His speech ended with a strong admonition for those attending the open debate: “May the appreciation we have for journalists’ valuable work transform itself into greater efforts to protect them better in armed conflicts.” Archbishop Auza’s closing challenge is a perfect reflection of FIT’s work in assisting linguists in conflict situations.

This work is conducted together with our strategic partners Red T, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) and the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI). More recently, our coalition has been joined by Critical Link International, the International Council for the Development of Community Interpreting (CLI). Our latest action to help our linguist colleagues worldwide is an Open Letter to the Holy See, an effort that is being spearheaded by Red T and AIIC. FIT’s contribution to the coalition’s work is carried out through its permanent committee on human rights. This work will continue until the need no longer exists, either by the presence of safeguards and international conventions or, ideally, with the ushering in of a world that knows only peace. Until that time, it is our professional responsibility to participate fully.

Sven Borei,