Welcome Everyone!

7 01 2012

Welcome everyone! You can read a little bit more about me and my company on the “About” page and several other posts under “My Journey” and “EAP“.

This is just a quick message to help you navigate through this blog. If you are a translator, you might be interested in the section “Translation Tools & Resources“. If you are a Brazilian Portuguese <> English Translator or a Linguist also check out the section “Language Matters“, where I intend to discuss my findings and research on terminology and etc.

If you are not a translator, perhaps the most interesting parts of this blog for you will be “Cultural Affairs” and “Off-topic“.

Regardless of where you go on this blog, I hope it inspires and encourages you whether you are a translator, linguist, language/culture enthusiast, translation client or just a “passer-by”.

Please feel free to send me your comments, feedback, suggestions and etc. I am on a journey to learn too and your feedback is welcome!

Happy Reading!


“It makes no difference whether it is Brazilian or European Portuguese”

10 05 2013

REALLY? I read this on an e-mail from a prospect client today and literally felt like crying. Basically, the client was saying that there is a difference when translating into these two languages, but not from either of them into a third language. Again, really?

Hence, I have decided to settle the issue once and for all! Brazilian and European Portuguese, or other variants (I have heard African Portuguese) are so-called because they ARE very different. Firstly, let’s put it into perspective. Listen to about 1 minute of each video below to have a feel for the languages:

Brazilian Portuguese

European Portuguese

They sound very different don’t they? In fact, they are more different than different accents in English speaking countries and it can be hard even for native speakers to understand their non-native variant.

Next, there are vocabulary differences, such as:

English Brazilian PT Portugal PT
Can opener abridor tira-cápsulas
Butcher’s açougue talho
Flight attendant (female) aeromoça hospedeira de bordo
Workbook apostila sebenta
Candy bala rebuçado
Bathroom banheiro casa de banho
Box caixa, caixinha boceta (this in PTBR is equivalent to the “C” swear word)
Panties/ knickers calcinha cueca (This in PTBR is the word for men’s underwear)
Identity Card carteira de identidade bilhete de identidade
Driver’s license carteira de motorista carta de condução
Mobile/cell phone celular telemóvel
Convertible conversível descapotável
Pedestrian Crossing faixa de pedestres passadeira
Line/cue fila bicha
Fridge geladeira frigorífico
Stapler grampeador agrafador
Comic história em quadrinhos banda desenhada
Injection injeção pica
Socks meias peúgas
Bus ônibus autocarro
Pedestrian pedestre peão
Bus Stop ponto de ônibus paragem
Private tutor professor particular explicador
Sandwich sanduíche sandes
Ice cream sorvete gelado
Juice suco sumo
Train trem comboio
Shop window vitrine montra
Saucer xícara chávena

Source: SO Portugues

Grammar, orthography and general writing are also different. So different, in fact, that in 1990, Portuguese Speaking countries signed an orthographic agreement in an attempt to align/unify the rules for written Portuguese across Portuguese speaking countries. In addition to unifying language, the aim of the agreement was to improve cultural exchange, reduce the economic cost of book production and translations, and promote bibliographic exchange between these countries. This has been met with such controversy that it was due to become obligatory from 2008 and now, at least in Brazil, its obligatory enforcement has been postponed to 2016 – i.e. both the old and the new grammar and orthography rules are currently acceptable in Brazil. Source: Brasil Escola

The aforementioned differences are naturally significant, but the most significant difference is a lot more subtle – i.e. culture. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Equatorial, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe and Macau. All of these countries harbor very different cultures that are reflected in how the language is spoken and, more importantly, how meaning is construed through language. This is particularly true in technical fields, legal and medical terminology is completely different in Brazil and Portugal, because there are different regulations and practices in place.

Most opponents of the orthographic agreement argue that you couldn’t possibly contain all these different manifestations within a single set of rules. One couldn’t possibly contain such a fluid language spoken in such vibrant cultures in a unified grammar book.

Back to the business of translations, it is easier for native Portuguese speakers to learn variants of Portuguese other than their native ones than learning a new language. However, this learning is not automatic and requires cultural awareness. If a translator is not knowledgeable about the culture where the source Portuguese file is from or intended Portuguese translation is targeting, there are bound to be misunderstandings! My advice: always look for an expert on the specific variant of Portuguese being used in your project.

Avenues for Medical Translators in Brazil

12 04 2013

“Not many sectors of the Brazilian economy have grown as rapidly and consistently as the medicine market. Since 2005, expansion rates in this sector have been well into double digits. In 2011, the market grew by 19 %, with a turnover of USD 26 billion and 2.3 billion medicine packs”, according to the pharmaceutical giant, boehringer-ingelheim’s website.

Such a large market is a natural magnet for global pharmaceutical giants and, needless to say, a great opportunity for medical and pharmaceutical translators. In addition to the drug and pharmaceutical markets, there is medical and market research, which in some ways complement the first, but also have their own established markets.

There are several avenues available to medical translators who wish to initiate or expand their careers in this market. We’ll discuss a few of them briefly below.

Firstly, there is medical and pharmaceutical research. Medical research in Brazil is conducted mainly at universities or research centres and is funded by sponsoring agencies or by pharmaceutical companies. The first consideration here is whether you translate into English or into Brazilian Portuguese.  Generally, we tend to prefer native speakers to translate only into their native languages.

Based on that assumption, if you are Brazilian, researchers in Brazil are not a good bet, because they will need to translate their work into English- they have very little demand for translations into Portuguese, because they usually need their research translated for international publishing. However, due to the fluid nature of Brazilian Portuguese and how hard it is for foreigners to master its nuances, the fact that these researchers often write part of the work in English (which usually means you have to interpret how they thought in Portuguese to be able to review the content in English) and Brazilian regulations that make it very hard for them to hire services abroad (taxation and funding issues), researchers hardly ever hire foreign translators. Hence, they are not a market to be overlooked if you are able to translate well into English. Researchers are also usually demanding clients (because they speak English), but loyal and often refer you to their peers.

Pharmaceutical companies are the biggest buyers of Brazilian Portuguese translations in this market. They need the research that they sponsor abroad (clinical trials, etc.), patent documentation, prospects, marketing materials, etc. all translated and localized for the Brazilian market. Hence they are great clients and a constant source of demand. However, due to the sensitive nature of their research and products they often prefer to hire companies to provide translation services. The reasons behind this are many, but to pinpoint a couple, they can hold translation agencies more easily accountable for errors and confidentiality breaches. Plus, translation agencies will implement processes involving a series of translators and reviewers to ensure accuracy. If you do not own an agency, you are more likely to get to these clients through a specialist medical agency. Serious medical translation agencies are excellent to work for, because they are aware of the responsibility involved and pay accordingly for your expertise. In addition, they will strive to keep working with you when you demonstrate quality. You are able to work closely with their project managers, but they will require serious qualifications and experience.

Another avenue is pharmaceutical and medical market research, which is arguably the easiest to enter, but also the most price sensitive. This is driven by pharmaceutical companies and other medical product manufacturers that hire specialist market research companies to gain insight into their consumer markets. The market research companies will procure the translation services and are price sensitive, because they often work on tighter budgets and need to cover costs of travel, interviewing etc. Nonetheless, they can be an excellent avenue into the medical market and have the most dynamic demand – i.e. they’ll need documents, audio and several different other types of documents translated.

These are key features of the medical translation market in Brazil. Naturally, there a number of nuances that affect how much work you receive and how much you can earn, but as a general rule you should aim to have a mixture of clients from each of these avenues, i.e. market research companies, translation agencies and researchers. This will ensure you are both in demand and able to specialize in an area (e.g. patents), which provides an effective compensation structure for your services.

10 Things freelance translators could do everyday

1 04 2013

Today I have come across a post by J.T. O’Donnell on LinkedIn, 10 things to do every workday, which inspired me to think about 10 things that freelance translators could do every day.

I have taken the liberty to adapt her list to the reality of freelance translators. First of all, my two basic assumptions for this list are 1) every freelance translator is also an entrepreneur wishing to develop his/her translation business; 2) Freelance translators have understood the need to be visible online for their business and  make time for that on a daily basis. If you are a freelance translator and assumptions 1 and 2 do not apply to you, I suggest you consider them seriously, but on to the list…

1. Read Something related to the translation industry – There are many interesting blogs about translation, such as Corinne Mckay’s Thoughts on translation and Speaking of translation; there are interesting discussions on LinkedIn groups for translators or about translation, such as the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters and others. You may also read the news about new CAT tools on their respective websites. Feel free to ask for more suggestions if you are struggling to find interesting reads!

2. Read something related to business development – Again, some of these translation blogs and groups will have articles on business development for translators, but do not limit yourself to those. Make sure you also read other blogs and articles related to business development, as they may have invaluable insight for your business. I personally like following famous entrepreneurs on LinkedIn, like Richard Branson, and reading what they have to say about developing businesses.

3. Send two e-mails to touch base with former colleagues or clients – If you endeavor to have a positive relationship with your clients and colleagues, you’ll always be able to find something to send them that may be of interest to them or just a general e-mail to ask how things are going.

4. Empty client inbox list – This is business 1o1; enough said.

5. Have three quick non-work related conversations (in person or IM) with people in your contact lists everyday. Obviously, this is an arbitrary number, you need to work out how many of these you can have a day without disrupting your work. This is important because it is not all about work, sometimes the opportunities are in developing good relationships and focusing on the people, rather then on what business they can bring you. In my experience, a lot of my business has come from friends and people who knew in passing what I did, but were not necessarily in the industry or clients in any way. Even if they never bring you any business, having these spots of unrelated conversation everyday will keep you sane (specially if you work for hours at home and alone), so treasure them!

6. Review your top three goals for your translation business. We must keep these goals in focus. It is very easy to forget about them when we are on a working spree with enough translations to works 10-12 hours a day, but it is no good only thinking about them when work dries up. As translators, we love reading and translating, and it is easy to forget about all other aspects of our business when we can do just what we like, but the dry periods will come (less often the more established you are) and it is much harder dealing with those, if you have to start from scratch.

7. Identify and execute one task to support each of the top three goals that you’ve identified. These do not need to be massive tasks or incredibly relevant. If you make sure you do at least a little something everyday, in the long term you will be doing something major. For example, my current goals are 1) delivering high quality translations; 2) developing a solid and loyal client base and 3) promoting my business online consistently. So, today,  my three tasks are learning about a new CAT tool provided by a client to support goal 1; in addition to steps 3-5, I’ll be joining some new LinkedIn groups related to areas in which I specialize (not translation related groups, but subject matter related groups) to support goal 2; and, finally, I’ll be updating some of my social network profiles, which have not been updated in a long time to support goal 3.

8. Post five valuable pieces of content on all my major social media accounts. This blog post is one of my five valuable pieces of content for today, but I have also tweeted a couple of other interesting articles that I read when doing items 1-2. When posting valuable content, make sure you always think about whether they reflect your professional image.

9. Read articles and post at least five comments to non-translation related topics that I am interested in. This is not related to items 1 and 2, this is to be more like item 5. Not everything has to be related directly to our industry or our business. If you have other interests make sure you read about them and develop relationships with people who like them too. This is important for your sanity and because you never know where business may come from. Also, we are in the business of language, so no topic is really off-topic for us.

10. Take a full minute (or more) to appreciate what you have and how far you’ve come. Even if you are fresh out of school, obtaining your education is a milestone, and you should allow yourself to feel good about that. Forgetting about giving ourselves due credit is easy, particularly during those dry periods I mentioned in item 6, but a healthy business requires healthy leadership. You will never develop a solid business, if you don’t think of yourself as a worthy entrepreneur. Acknowledge your mistakes, but acknowledge your what do right as well.

Good luck!

The future of education

5 02 2013

The last month has been uncharacteristically crazy. January isn’t usually a busy month in my translation experience, but this one has been mad. I have actually worked every single day, without a day off until Feb 1, and I am now the blocked up carrier of an annoying cold, but how rewarding is it when you get to work on projects that inspire you?!

Sometimes we are given these projects that actually make us realize the value in what we do; because I am able to put something originally written in a different language into my native language, a lot more people are able to have access to that content and some contents are worth spreading.

One such project was a 60,000-word translation for UNESCO from English to Portuguese about open educational resources  (OER) and open courseware (OCW). I must say I am really excited about the possibilities of these concepts. They refer to resources or entire courses made available openly and freely online for anyone who’s interested in learning or using them for teaching purposes. The power of this is evident in Shimon Schoken’s TED talk about self learning 

I believe this is the future of democracy and inclusion and us translators have a role to play in making content available in as many languages as possible to reach as many people as possible.

Having said that, I thought that if we all could find an open educational resource project or open courseware that we are passionate about and perhaps volunteer or try to work with them in some way, we will be doing a huge service to millions of people who’ll gain access to this wealth of resources becoming available online.

The aforementioned UNESCO project was not a  volunteer one, but I have just volunteered to translate TED talks, which are open educational resources.

Translators everywhere! Let’s join the OER movement!

Driving quality up in the translation industry

14 12 2012

I have just read the comments to an interesting post about translation buyers’ expectations in terms of quality. The issue is approached by many of the translators commenting on the topic as if the quality of translations depended solely on clients and on what they were are willing to pay for it. They make a valid point that if clients are looking for the cheapest job in the quickest time frame possible, a serious translator cannot help but “swim or sink” and that means compromising on quality.

Our industry is full of clutter. Translation is a service that can often be provided remotely from anywhere in the world to clients anywhere in the world. The initial investment is a household connection to the Internet and a computer. Hence, there are thousands (if not millions) of translation agencies and freelancers, who provide translation services independently worldwide, without qualifications, experience or even adequate knowledge of the language pairs they provided services for. Competition may sometimes look fierce, because translators in developed countries compete against providers in developing countries that can offer much cheaper services. Also, there aren’t regulations applicable to all countries that can help translators put a cap on their prices.

I can understand why many dedicated translators are frustrated with their position and the unfair sort of competition they find themselves in, but I would like to approach the topic from a different perspective.

Naturally, a demand on the buyer side for quality will drive the overall quality of the industry up. This is a very straightforward concept, but can the seller side of the industry drive quality up too without compromising its revenue? I think so.

I have read it somewhere (it may not be true, but still a valid point) that Apple does not invest on market research. Their philosophy is to “create amazing” and they firmly believe that if they can do that, customers will find it amazing too and pay a fair price for their products. In fact, we are so much in awe of what they create that some people are willing to pay for products before they are even launched, because they know they’ll be the first owners of something amazing.

In every industry there is room for quality and innovation. We don’t create technology or innovation in its strict sense as translators, but we too can create amazing. If instead of thinking what our clients’ expectations in terms of quality are, we think long and hard about what our expectations are, we have a chance of creating something better than they ever expected.  We are the experts in translation and in our language pair, hence who better than us to set the bar high for the job that we’ll deliver?

Right, easy to say, but what to do about the competition? There are several markets within a market. There is the market for cheap translations, and let’s face it, sometimes speed is more important than price, it doesn’t matter if the document produced doesn’t say exactly what the original text said (in which case I would argue against the need for a translation in the first place,  but that is an entirely different topic), or although the client would love to pay more they just can’t afford it. There is a market and there are providers who cater for it. There will always be.

However, there is also a high-end market; this is not as price sensitive and will put quality over price and speed. This is the market we should aim for if we want to drive quality up. I am not suggesting that we become inflexible, but as service providers we must decide where we are prepared to compromise and where we aren’t. For example,  I am prepared to compromise a few nights sleep to complete a job within a tight deadline for a client with whom I have a good relationship, i.e. who is willing to pay a rate we both find fair and is loyal to my services. I am not compromising my sleep over a low paying overnight job from an agency that is charging their client an urgency rate, but is unwilling to pay me for the urgency.

Naturally, I can do this now because I have been building a client base for many years. My clients have selected me as their provider over the years and I have selected them too. However, when I started I wasn’t known in my field and couldn’t be as choosy about the jobs I  took. My approach then was compromising on everything, but quality. Even if an agency would ask me to do a ridiculous amount of words overnight for a much better rate (fully aware that there was no way anyone could deliver a good job in that sort of time frame), if I didn’t think I could deliver a quality job I would say no. Many people said I was crazy: “It will take you weeks now to make what you could have made in a day!” and it did feel crazy and a bit masochistic many times, but to me it was about the long term and it has payed off! If all serious translators did that, we would force agencies and even clients to challenge the quality of translations more often and become more aware of the importance of quality- i.e. we could drive quality up. The only reason not to do that is if we believe that we cannot rise to the challenge. I certainly can.

Words to a new translator

8 11 2012

One of the WordPress prompts for writing on your blog has inspired me to write today’s post. It made me realize that, although writing a letter to myself personally is out of the scope of this blog, there is a lot that I could say to myself in hindsight when I started up in the translation profession. I hope this is useful for new and experienced translators alike.

Dear Karen,

You are taking the first steps in a profession filled with advantages – you’ll be able to work from home, you’ll be your own boss, you’ll be able to travel and live anywhere in the world (all you’ll need is your laptop and Internet connection)… You’ll determine how much you charge for what you do, how many hours you work a day and how often, etc.

In addition, you’ll be able to work with languages, which you are passionate about and working with different topics and texts will give you an unparalleled opportunity and insight into lots of industries and varied topics. You cannot anticipate how much you’ll learn!

Also, you will be able to establish your own relationships with your clients, you’ll be able to set the pace of the type of company and human interactions you want. Whatever you envisage, that will be your business (and I can let you in on a secret here, you’ll love it!).

I know this sounds great and, knowing you like I do, you’re probably already way ahead imagining a life of fulfillment and enjoyment lived from the comfort of your living room. Well, it will come, but first there is some advice that could make getting there a bit easier.

First of all, think of yourself as a business. Research prices, call translation agencies and find out how much they charge and etc. I know you’ll think of that in time, but you could seriously benefit from thinking of that sooner rather than later. You don’t want to overcharge, but you don’t want to undersell yourself as well. Sometimes charging a fair price for what you do is a way of telling prospect clients that you know your worth and they’ll respect you for that.

Do not accept unreasonable deadlines! I mean it Karen, not even if it is a first time client and you want to bring them on board! Even if you manage to deliver a quality job within the unreasonable deadline, you will have lowered the standard of your work and that is the only thing that you can NEVER do. Take my word for it, one day you will be proud of having no complaints from your clients!

Do not be afraid of contacting people to offer your services. I know you don’t want to annoy anyone, but if you do it sensibly – i.e. keep your messages short, don’t pester them and respect the ones who ask you not to be contacted -, they will thank you for bringing your services to their attention.

Get out there! I know you love your books and texts, but the more you expose yourself to the cultures and languages you work with, the better you’ll be at your job. Do not succumb to the temptation of spending day in and day out in front of the computer, language is about knowing how people construe meaning, and insight into that comes from exposure to people (that is, talking to people!). That will also make your life a lot more fun, trust me!

Many of the clients you have today will stick with you and recommend you, they’ll be the foundation of your future success. You are well aware that speaking a language that someone else doesn’t creates a gap for a wide variety of services, you can act as a translator and interpreter, but there are a lot of other things that you can do. Your approach of trying to help your clients whatever their language needs are will take you to sugar cane fields to help carbon asset sales negotiations, will take you to focus groups rooms, will have you doing SEO for websites launching in Brazil and will have you managing entire market research projects, in addition to your translation and interpretation duties. Sometimes it will feel like you are way out of your depth, but don’t panic. What you are doing intuitively now will pay dividends! You will establish life-long relationships with your clients and the skills and knowledge you’ll acquire from this will be invaluable. Eventually you’ll get to focus on translation and your company alone, but that will come naturally.

One more thing, when choosing people to work with you, treasure the people who are professional and driven, even when they are not brilliant to begin with. You can help them develop their translation skills, but you cannot teach someone to behave ethically and value your business. The most valuable people to you will be the ones who are reliable, punctual, capable of understanding and following instructions and as committed to the success of your business as yourself. NEVER hire anyone on their translation skills alone.

Finally, enjoy it. You won’t always have money, and for some time you won’t even have work everyday, but you will stick with it (with invaluable help and support from your family, friends and clients) and it will pay off. Now that you know that, just keep doing what you like, learn as much as you can and work hard. I’ll see you in five years!

Translating Poetry

5 11 2012

As an experienced and specialist translator I must say I don’t often get asked to translate challenging topics (deadlines, however, are always challenging). There is little novelty in terms of vocabulary and topics after you’ve been translating medical and business articles for so long.

Anyway, last week I was faced with the unusual challenge of translating poetry. My client is a Portuguese artist who wrote about the issue of alcoholism in Portugal. His book uses images and poems to convey the extent of the problem, the domestic violence that follows and etc.

I had time and decided to take on the challenge of adapting the poems to English. My first approach was to have a 1 hour session on skype with my client to make sure I was understanding what he meant by the artwork and the poems. I must say that I found it very interesting, because discussing poems is not usually a part of my routine.

Following this conversation, I sat down and translated line by line of each poem. I then sent this initial version of the translation along with a few remaining questions to my client, who made comments and helped me with the unclear meanings.

Whilst I was waiting for my client’s feedback, I did a bit of research on English poems to get into the mindset and rhythm of poems in this language.

I then went back to the poems with a different approach, now looking at them as a whole, not isolated verses, to feel whether there was a rhythm to the reading, whether it was understandable in English, etc. I must say I was very please with the result (and so seemed the client!).

It is fantastic as a translator when I have the opportunity to work closely with my clients to convey their message. I am able to connect to the client and the project and this makes the work so much more interesting and personal for me.

One important aspect of ensuring the success of this project was making sure the client understood that I am not a poet, therefore I could translate what he meant and make it sound natural in English, but I could not transform it into English poems.

In any case, I don’t think the poems should sound like English poems anyway, because they are the thoughts of a Portuguese poet looking into some of the most significant social issues in his country. The poems have to convey some of his Portuguese soul, some of his way of feeling and expressing himself. If he sounds like an Englishman, it makes no sense…

I believe that this is the main difference between translating medical and business reports and poems. With the first, your goal is accuracy, ensuring everything is translated with precision and the professional tone is maintained; whereas with the second, your goal is to convey the emotion, but you still want the voice of the poet to pervade the translation. I cannot thank my client enough for the challenge and for his confidence in me. I had a thoroughly enjoyable week at work!