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!





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!





Change Outpaces Learning

1 11 2012

This talk raises a very important issue that things are changing faster than we can process them. Hence we are playing catch-up with the world and often find ourselves living quite literally in the past.

One aspect of this that I  believe is relevant for small business owners and self-employed people like me is that sometimes we create innovation, because we put two and two together, but we are outdated for our own ideas. That is, we come up with something innovative, but because we live by outdated rules we reject it. Something within us tells us that we have a good idea anyway, so we develop a “love-hate” relationship with our own prospects. We spend years fighting our idea until our maturity and knowledge finally catch up with it and we “make peace” with our own projects. What I ask myself is, where could I be now had I accepted that I may not fully understand it and got on with it, instead of fighting my instincts for so long?

Ironically, after so many years of society putting logic and knowledge first; it seems that those who are the most sensitive and intuitive, i.e. those who are willing to take action despite not fully understanding what their instincts or ideas – or whatever you call it – are telling them to do seem to be better equipped to be successful in a world that changes faster than we can.

As small business owners, we are in charge of our processes and vision. Hence, we can implement changes more easily and tend to be more tuned to our area of expertise, so we are actually in a better position, if we believe so and follow our instincts, to compete in this fast changing world than many of the large corporations of the past. Isn’t that something to think about?





Mind Your Language

10 09 2012

I have just come across this really funny British sitcom from the 70s. It is about teaching English as a foreign language and the cultural clashes between the students from different nationalities and the very British teacher. Brilliant!

The first part of the first episode, which you can watch on YouTube here, is hilarious. I am sure anyone who has learned a second language, particularly English will relate in some way to it. Enjoy!

 

 





Random thoughts on business

7 09 2012

I would like to start this post today with a quote from the book “The Work We Were Born to Do” by Nick Williams. I am currently reading it and have been thinking about this a lot recently:

“Another popular belief is that we have to do lousy work to get filthy lucre. When we are more focused on negative thoughts around money, we tend to believe that we have to do unpleasant things to acquire money…”

I could not count how many times I have been told that I worry too much about the work I deliver, particularly when I started my business. Initially I was tempted to believe that I had to work faster, outsource as much as people and deliver medium quality translations if I was to have a profitable business. Believe me, I have seen that over and over with large translation agencies, mostly because they get too big for their own good. The truth is that most clients who need a translation don’t necessarily speak the target language and probably do not have any means of checking whether the work done for them is of good quality or not. So it is very easy, and many translators do in this business, to get way with less than medium quality in at least 70% of the jobs.

Fortunately, I can’t do it! I actually love translating, I love the idea that I can convey a message written in one language, by someone with a different background and cultural values, in another language. I actually take pride in delivering the best translation I can do, regardless of whether my client will be able to tell the difference or not. If I don’t get any fulfillment out of my work, I am working just for money and that does not fulfill me.

Early in my business I decided to surround myself with like-minded people, both translators and clients. When I choose a translator to outsource work to, the first thing I want to know is how much pride they take in their job. From terminology research, spell checking and formating to their comments about how difficult they found a particular job, why they decided to choose a term over another and etc. I want to know that even if a translator does not deliver the most perfect of jobs, they actually did the best they could. I am willing to help this translator develop and take his/her ability to new levels, but I am not willing to work with people who don’t like what they do. Unhappy people are like rotten apples, they bring everybody else and your business down.

I seek a similar commitment in my clients, of course I don’t turn anyone down outright, but  I have a few principles I abide by. Firstly, I refuse to have more clients than I can handle –  that also factors in outsourcing, when I know I’ll need to revise the work before delivering and etc. I refuse to work for someone who thinks that what I do is worth less than peanuts. I believe in competition and fair pricing, but when I get requests to cut my rates to like 25% of what I would normally charge, I find it a little disrespectful, because it is like the client is telling me that the quality of my work is only worth 25% of what I charge. My vision for my business is to create a portfolio of customers who are happy with the services they got and are happy to come back whenever they need more translations. I have a key role in ensuring that, but so do my clients.

It may sound a little big-headed in this economy and climate to be saying that I want to choose my clients. But what I have learned from trial and error and some difficult experiences is that I don’t need to have a portfolio of 20,000 clients who pay me 25% of what I my services are worth and expect me to be a machine and translate at the speed of light. There is a market for it and there are service providers to supply it. I am not competing in that market.

I like knowing my clients by name, taking time to have a chat with them about what they want, what they need the translation for and going over their questions about the job delivered. I actually like it when they ask me about my choices for terminology and etc., because I know that they have taken an interest. Usually clients like that will pay what you are worth and will also be really demanding, but the final outcome of the job is satisfactory for you both and that is what I want my business to be about.

Ever since I set myself and my business in that path, funnily enough my revenue has gone up and my hours have gone down. I still work hard, sometimes on weekends and late hours, but I actually enjoy it. I sometimes need a holiday to rest and take my mind off things, but the holidays are not a break between periods of slaving at work and feeling miserable. My holidays now are breaks to allow me some distance to have more ideas and engage with more interesting people to come back and continue to develop my business.

What I have really come to realize is that when you are not chasing money, it finds its way to you and you get to do what you like; it just takes a bit of courage to believe in it to begin with and to keep believing it and working for it until it happens to you.