Preparing Documents for Translation

Here is a reminder of the importance of preparing a document before translation as part of a standardized quality assurance workflow, including a step-by-step review of the process.

Translation technology such as computer-assisted translation tools and machine translation has dramatically changed current productivity, budget, and quality expectations. Under increased pressure to shorten turnaround times and reduce costs, freelance translators working with direct clients and language services providers (LSPs) are sometimes tempted to rush jobs into production. As a former production director and a full-time translation editor and consultant for over 30 years, I continue to believe in the importance of standardized quality assurance workflows to ensure that the client’s requirements are satisfied.

The first phase in a quality assurance workflow is to prepare the project for translation (or “prepping” as we used to call it at the LSP where I worked). During this step, project specifications are defined, written down, and communicated to all team members so they can perform the assigned task successfully.

Given the high degree of complexity of some translation projects today, it’s even more critical not to skip the “prepping” phase. The following is meant to refresh our knowledge on this basic and crucial step in the translation process.

Why Should We Prepare Documents for Translation?

If the document prepper doesn’t understand something, chances are the rest of the team won’t either. While translators, editors, and proofreaders are expected to perform some research, certain information about client requirements or preferences can only be provided by the client or LSP. Translation team members need this information to perform their tasks correctly.

To achieve this, the prepper can identify questions or concerns upfront and address potential problems ahead of time. If delivered in a timely manner, complete and accurate information about a project might help avoid costly mistakes.

Who Should Prepare a Document for Translation?

When preparing a document for translation, neither the direct client nor tech savvy staff at an LSP can substitute for an experienced language professional. Direct clients know their own company and industry better than the translation provider, but they are not linguists. Tech savvy staff can navigate through the most complex translation technology software, but many are also not linguists.

A good document prepper must:

  • Have a clear understanding of the client’s needs and the specifications agreed upon between the client and translator or the LSP’s sales/marketing team.
  • Be able to examine the document from the perspective of each team member in order to write clear instructions for everyone involved. The goal is to ensure each team member can complete their task correctly and in a timely manner to make it easier for everyone else down the quality assurance workflow.
  • Research problems and provide suggestions/solutions to any issues.
  • Have excellent communications skills. When questions and problems arise, the prepper must be able to discuss these in a polite and effective manner with the client or team.

How Do You Prepare a Document for Translation?

Follow these steps when preparing a document for translation:

1. Gather the approved specifications, documents, and reference material. It’s important to work with the final versions of documents. Making changes during the translation process may impact cost and/or turnaround time. If changes are ongoing, a process to track and document them must be implemented.

Clients don’t always understand what type of reference material to provide, so the prepper must be specific about what could be helpful. Reference material might include information on previous jobs, translation memories, customized machine translation engines, brochures, videos, podcasts, webinars, photographs, glossaries, specialized dictionaries, or a list of relevant databases.

2. Read and “survey” as much of the document(s) as possible and mark the sections where the prepper has questions.1 The prepper should ask themselves the following:

  • What type of document is it and what is it for? For example, is it for informational or marketing purposes? Is it a manual, marketing material, a script, software strings, a materials safety data sheet, or a website?
  • Who wrote the document? Was it written by a lay person, a specialist, or a manufacturer?
  • What is the quality required? Is it for internal use only, for publication, FYI, etc.?
  • What is the intended target audience? Is it for customers, specialists, or suppliers? What is the desired tone (informal or formal)?
  • What is the target language? If necessary, specify region or “language variant.”
  • What are the deliverables? For example: hard copy, file format, other media, certified, notarized, etc.
  • What is the turnaround time and is it feasible given the specifications?

3. Identify potential problems. Every language poses different problems, but the prepper must be on the lookout for issues in areas such as:

  • Terminology: Is there a lexicon/glossary? Should some terms be left in the source language?
  • Measurements: Are conversions to another system of measurement needed?
  • Formatting: Should source formatting be followed?
  • Target-language mechanics: Languages have different rules when it comes to capitalization, spaces after punctuation, certain symbols, numbers, accents, syllable division, abbreviations, acronyms, etc.2
  • Alphabetized lists or indices.
  • Modifier strings: This is one of the most common problems when translating from English into another language and can trip up even the best of translators.

4. Research potential problems and find solutions. Ideally, each person on the team should solve the problems they encounter during their phase in the production workflow. The reality is that oftentimes issues are simply ignored. There are many reasons for this, including tight turnaround, lack of a timely response from the client or project manager, or simply that the team member assumes somebody else down the line will fix the problem. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the prepper to spot potential issues and solve as many of them ahead of time as possible so as not to disrupt the workflow or budget.

Once they’ve identified what they don’t understand, the prepper must determine if they can research the problem themselves or need clarification from the client. How?

Start by checking the reference material (especially if this is a repeat client). If the reference material doesn’t provide the answers, the prepper must begin their research. We’re extremely fortunate to live in an age where information is readily available.

  • Become an expert at refining searches.
  • Set up a preliminary online resources list.

If clarification is still necessary, the prepper should set up a meeting (in person, telephone conversation, videoconference, etc.) with the client and prepare ahead of time.

  • Be aware of the client’s personality, linguistic understanding (if any), and/or potential stressful issues about this particular project.
  • Have a basic understanding of the client’s line of work and full knowledge of the project specifications that were agreed upon.
  • Write down questions/concerns ahead of time. Always be diplomatic and polite. Questions should not contain judgments or criticisms.
  • Make the meeting short and to the point.

5. Write and provide guidelines for team members. All jobs should include basic information about the project (see questions under Number 2 above). The prepper must be able to determine whether or not a project requires additional instructions. These may range from none to minimal or lengthy and complex. No instructions or excessive instructions can both lead to confusion, interminable requests for clarification, or, even worse, grave mistakes. Guidelines should include the following:

  • Basic information:
    • A short description of the type/purpose of the project, word count, and desired quality. Example: A 4,000-word adult-informed consent for the clinical trial of medication XYZ for publication purposes.
    • Project information such as source and target language, deliverables, target audience, tone, start date, and turnaround time for each team member.
  • Additional instructions (if necessary):
    • Specific issues grouped under categories (e.g., terminology, target-language mechanics, formatting, etc.).
    • Style guidelines are common for large-volume clients and must be easily searchable and cover all client preferences applicable to the project. It’s important to provide specific and comprehensive examples.

6. Ask the team for feedback. Encourage team members to ask questions and give feedback. For example, is there anything they don’t understand or need to clarify?

Preparation Should Not Be an Afterthought

Preparing documents for translation should never become a luxury we cannot afford or a casualty of tight deadlines or budgets. A big-picture approach suggests that most clients would be happy to extend a deadline by an hour, a day, or even a week to ensure they receive the quality (however the client defines it) they require. So, save yourself some stress, extra work, and possibly losing a client by getting it right the first time!

Additional Resources
  1. For more information on the “surveying” technique of the “survey-question-read-recite-review” reading strategy (otherwise known as SQ3R), see: Carter, Carol, Joyce Bishop, and Sarah L. Kravits. Keys to Success: Building Analytical, Creative, and Practical Skills (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009),
  2. Ramsey, Fowler, and Jane E. Aaron. The Little, Brown Handbook (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2012),

Itzaris Weyman, CT is a freelance translation editor specializing in quality assurance for large-volume projects, third-party review, and linguistic analysis. She also serves as a translation production consultant for small- to mid-size translation companies. She is an ATA-certified English>Spanish translator. In addition to ATA, she is a member of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida. Contact:

ATA61 Goes Virtual – A Message from ATA’s President-Elect and Conference Organizer

From the President-Elect
Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo
Twitter handle: @mszampaulo

This year we’ve all been met with a lot of uncertainty. As president-elect and Annual Conference organizer, I’ll tell you that a global pandemic and economic crisis were not the challenges I expected we would face this year in planning ATA61. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to climb, your health and well-being remain our top priority. With this in mind, and in order to bring some certainty to our Annual Conference event, ATA’s Board of Directors has decided to shift from a “hybrid” (in-person and virtual) model to a fully virtual conference model this year.

We could not make this decision earlier in the year due to the huge financial cancelation penalties ATA would have incurred if we had canceled without a contractually-stipulated cause. The conference hotel has now agreed to waive cancelation penalties if we agree to hold our Annual Conference at their hotel in 2025, the next available date. The removal of this financial barrier allowed us to focus solely on the health and well-being of our conference attendees, sponsors, exhibitors.

With this new-to-ATA delivery format, and knowing conference attendees appreciate the educational content available, our main focus will be to deliver a large variety of sessions that will appeal to our diverse membership. While it may not be possible to provide all 174 regular sessions for the virtual conference, our goal will be to provide as many sessions as possible that attendees will find useful and stimulating. The remote conference features aim to make sessions incredibly interactive and accessible. You’ll be able to participate in session Q&As and even send your questions to speakers after their session if they were unable to answer them live. You’ll also be able to see which sessions are in progress and start viewing them immediately, switch between session rooms just as you would if you attended in person, and more. And, of course, if you can’t make it to a session during the livestream, you can watch the recording later!

Our virtual Exhibit Hall will allow you to chat with vendors and tools representatives and ask questions about their products or services. Our conference sponsors will also be highlighted on the virtual conference site so that remote attendees can learn more about them and what they provide.

Finally, it wouldn’t be an Annual Conference without the networking and camaraderie we all enjoy so much. The virtual conference will include remote networking and social gatherings for attendees, just as we always have when meeting in person. Divisions are encouraged to organize virtual social gatherings in lieu of the popular annual division dinners we all enjoy.

As conference organizer, I assure you that we’ll do everything possible to make the virtual conference as enjoyable and beneficial as possible for attendees.

Despite the uncertainty and unknowns 2020 has brought, we’re excited to have made this decision and to bring some certainty and excitement to the format of the Annual Conference. One thing is for sure—ATA61 will be one for the books!

InterpretAmerica 2020: A Timely Response to an Unprecedented Crisis

We all know the world will not be the same when we come out the other side of this crisis. But we’ll also have gained something immeasurably valuable in our profession: solidarity.

In early March, when it became clear that the world was headed toward global lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the interpreting profession was thrown into nearly universal chaos. The greater part of the interpreting supply chain, based largely on onsite, face-to-face interactions, broke apart in a matter of days. Reports of lost contracts and cancelled jobs flooded in. The almost instantaneous switch to remote communication worldwide threatened to leave our profession behind. But just as quickly, many in our field jumped in to help our profession make the switch to remote.

This year marks InterpretAmerica’s 10th anniversary, and we had been planning an as-yet-unannounced celebratory event. But COVID-19 made it immediately apparent what we needed to do instead: organize an online forum to spark as broad a conversation as possible about the global lockdown’s effects on the provision of interpreting services and what needed to be done to adapt to this new reality.

And that’s what we did. In the space of seven short days, we announced, organized, and successfully held InterpretAmerica 2020: A Unified Response to Ensure Access to Interpreting Services during the Pandemic.1 The event went viral. More than 1,500 registered and 1,358 attended live, representing 50 countries and five continents. (See Figure 1 for a geographic breakdown of participants.)

Sixteen presenters gave five-minute lightning talks interspersed with extensive audience participation using the interactive polling tool Mentimeter2 (two assistants worked behind the scenes to keep the polling running smoothly). The agenda included a final session recapping the feedback we received. Attendees could listen in five languages (American Sign Language, Arabic, English, Portuguese, and Spanish) interpreted simultaneously over KUDO3, a remote interpreting platform capable of hosting online events with simultaneous interpreting. It was an event that in any normal time would have taken months to set up, publicize, and run—not a single week. But this is the reality-bending time we’re living through, when days can seem like weeks and weeks like months.

ATA asked us to write up how this all came together behind the scenes and what we learned along the way. This is our report.

10 Years of Groundwork Pays Off

We founded InterpretAmerica in 2010 with a single purpose: to raise the profile of interpreting. Over the past 10 years we’ve held six national summits focused on bringing together stakeholders from across the field. At the very first summit, our primary goal was simply to introduce ourselves to each other. Our field was so entrenched in separate silos that most of us had never met. That founding event, as well as efforts by many others, helped break this isolation. Today, the interpreting profession has built many crisscrossing connections. We know each other a lot better now, and the importance of that should not be overlooked.

Over time, people across the interpreting profession and language services industry found value in what we had to offer. We became effective conveners. InterpretAmerica turned into the platform where we could pursue big-picture topics and contribute, in our own way, to strengthening this profession we love. We learned our way around organizing a conference (our own and for others), including live-streaming events. We stayed on top of new technology and in touch with the rapidly-changing landscape in which interpreting takes place. We gained expertise, particularly in remote interpreting and interpreter employment trends. So when the time came to act extremely quickly to help where we could at an international level, we had already laid the necessary groundwork to do so.

An Unlikely Dress Rehearsal

Fast forward to now. InterpretAmerica 2020 actually began with the postponement of this year’s Globalization and Localization Association4 (GALA) annual conference due to the coronavirus outbreak. For the past six years, InterpretAmerica has provided content related to interpreting through think! Interpreting5, a conference it co-organizes with GALA. When GALA was called off, one of our planned events, a roundtable discussion on interpreting and the fast-growing area of interpreting technologies, was shifted online to take place during the week GALA would have been held in mid-March.

The event, originally designed as an interactive discussion about interpreting within GALA, quickly morphed into a first conversation about the threat COVID-19 represented to interpreting and business continuity. Without meaning to, the planning of this event became a dress rehearsal that gave us the confidence to put on the much larger InterpretAmerica 2020 exactly one week later.

The GALA Interpreting Roundtable, “Interpreting Tech and Business Continuity: Delivering Interpreting Services During a World Health Crisis”6, was held March 19, 2020, on the KUDO platform. The target audience was made up of GALA members and conference registrants. But as word spread on social media about the roundtable, concerned end users, language services companies, and interpreters from around the world signed up for the event. Over 200 attended online. Remote simultaneous interpreting was provided into six languages (English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish). What we had originally envisaged as a small online discussion for GALA conference registrants had morphed into the largest online event we had ever organized. Our audience had grown far too big to engage in a live, interactive discussion about the impact COVID-19 was having on interpreting. So, in what would become a proof of concept for InterpretAmerica 2020, we made use of polling software on KUDO to gather crucial information about what was happening on the market.

The results were stark. Even as early as mid-March, the coronavirus was clearly wreaking havoc along the entire interpreting service delivery pathway, from agencies to practitioners to trainers. A majority of the participants attending the roundtable had already experienced significant job cancellations, with interpreters losing income in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, and some companies registering losses in the millions. Almost no one was working onsite anymore.

The message was clear: the entire interpreting supply chain needed to go remote along with the rest of the world, and those who could help lead the way needed to step up to the task.

Figure 1: Geographic Breakdown of Participants (Note: FLOOR stands for the number of participants who listened to the original audio in whatever language the presenter was speaking.) 

Putting InterpretAmerica 2020 Together

The idea for InterpretAmerica 2020 began to crystallize as we pulled the GALA event together. The need was clearly there. A few days before the GALA webinar, nudged along by Marjory Bancroft, director of Cross-Cultural Communications, the national training agency for community and medical interpreting, who encouraged us to do something similar for a bigger audience, we committed to holding InterpretAmerica 2020. We announced InterpretAmerica 2020 at the close of the GALA webinar and opened registration for the event a few hours later. We knew time was of the essence, given the urgency of information that came out of this first webinar.

To hold an event, you need a focus, and Cindy Roat, the well-known language access veteran from the health care interpreting world, gave it to us. In an initial brainstorming meeting, she insisted that the critical issue had to be access to language assistance, of all kinds, whether for diplomats, business, or health care. Her quote became our theme: “The continued use of interpreting should be our number one priority.”

And the rest flowed from there. We designed an event we hoped would provide everyone with a comprehensive view of how interpreting services were currently structured so we could then understand which links along the chain had to shift most to be able to use remote technologies. (See Figure 2.)

We reached out to top leaders in our field who we felt could give us that knowledge in brief, clear five-minute talks. (See the speaker list and topics discussed in the listing below.) We asked KUDO if they were willing to host another event and provide the interpreting at no charge. We recruited a team of four to analyze the data coming in from the Mentimeter polls we planned to hold in real time. We quickly designed a webpage and asked everyone we knew to spread the word about the event. And not a single person said no. Some we emailed at midnight, and the answer would ping back almost immediately (“Count me in!” “Whatever I can do.”). Everyone gave their time, for zero payment, for nothing in return, including ATA President Ted Wozniak. The response was beyond moving.

Then the registrations started pouring in. By the end of the first 24 hours, we had over 100, by the end of the weekend, almost 500, and by the evening before the event, when we finally shut registration down, over 1,500. They came in from all over the world and from every part of our profession. We knew then that we had tapped something bigger than us. We were seeing, in real time, the complete disruption of a profession, with thousands now seeking information and guidance for what to do next.

InterpretAmerica 2020 Speakers and Presentations (see
Barry Slaughter Olsen and Katharine Allen: InterpretAmerica Moderators
Idolly Oliva, M Health Fairview: Certification Commission of Healthcare Interpreters The Urgency to Ensure Language Access
Dieter Runge: Boostlingo The Transition to Remote: A Live Update
Kristin Quinlan: Certified Languages International What Language Services Providers Are Facing and Need
Ted Wozniak: American Translators Association What Can Associations Do to Support Members and the Profession?
Winnie Heh: Middlebury Institute of International Studies How Can We Get Buyers/Procurers Switched to Remote?
Odilia Romero: Frente Binacional de Organizaciones Bilingües and CIELO How Can We Reach End Users so They Can Sill Access Interpreting Services?
Ewandro Magalhaes: KUDO How Can We Onboard and Transition to Remote?
Marjory Bancroft: Cross-Cultural Communications Moderator, Next Steps Session
Cindy Roat: Health Care Trainer and Language Access Consultant Moderator, Next Steps Session
Andrew Dafoe: TraduccioNOLA Next Steps Data Capture
Darinka Mangino: Léxica Next Steps Data Capture

The Big Questions

Our program sought to cover the challenges we’re facing and offer some beginning guidance for where to go. We wanted to answer the following questions:

  • What can we do to help our face-to-face workforce—whose work has disappeared overnight—find work as remote interpreters? How can they be visible to those who need to hire them?
  • How can we help our language services companies access remote platforms (telephonic and video) to dispatch work to their linguists? What are the technology solutions they can use to begin offering remote interpreting services to their existing clients? They don’t have to build their own interpreting delivery platforms. There are solutions already available.
  • How can we help hospitals, schools, businesses, institutions, and governments get connected to remote interpreting platforms and services so that they can continue to provide multilingual services?
  • How can we preserve the laws and policies that require language access—some of which may soon be waived?
  • How can we advocate to make sure our freelance linguists and small businesses are included in state and federal relief packages?
  • How can we ensure that high standards for working conditions and compensation can be maintained during this massive shift to online delivery?

Figure 2: Current Structure of Interpreting Services

Key Takeaways

The information we received from the audience polling detailed the challenges the field is facing with the loss of so much onsite work and the need to transition to remote interpreting. We also obtained data on what would help attendees the most. Figure 3 gives an idea of what we learned.


Figure 3: Sample Polling Results from InterpretAmerica 2020














Who Participated? InterpretAmerica 2020 attendees represented a solid cross-section of the interpreting profession, with roughly even representation from conference (25%), community (22%), health care (27%), and legal (17%) interpreters. Sign language interpreters (5%) were also represented, and another 5% of attendees were not practicing interpreters.

Unemployment Is Huge: Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, the number of job cancellations has been staggering. In all, 90% of attendees saw job cancellations, with over 25% of those polled seeing more than 21 cancellations as a result of the pandemic.

Fear of Remote Interpreting Replacing Face-to-Face Interpreting: Many attendees expressed fear that remote interpreting would now replace their previous face-to-face work structures. They reported lower pay for remote interpreting work, even when assignments are available, and greatly worsened working conditions in the rush to switch to remote.

Maintaining Professional Standards: Attendees provided many examples of having to lower working and professional standards to work using remote interpreting, from taking pay cuts to poor technological solutions to the interpreter becoming even more invisible in the communication process. Many expressed distress that lower standards could become permanent. They were also concerned about the difficulty of advocating effectively.

Training and Access to Information Are Top Priorities: Among attendees polled during the event, the number one concern was providing training for interpreters so they can begin to provide their services on remote platforms, followed by an urgent need for a public relations campaign to inform end users of interpreting services about the options available to them for using remote interpreting.

Access to Interpreting Has Been Hit Hard: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to interpreting services across the board, with conference interpreting, a market segment almost entirely dependent on people being able to travel and meet in large groups, being the hardest hit.

InterpretAmerica 2020 caught a moment in time in this crisis. It tried to make sense of the overnight shift to remote interpreting, and the unsettling fact (for many) that remote is, for the duration of this crisis, the most important pathway to save our jobs and protect those who need our services.

During the ensuing weeks, we’ve seen a full-scale effort to go remote. And the generosity of our field continues in plain sight. Multiple free webinars guiding interpreters onto remote platforms have been given and hundreds of existing trainings are now available for free. Professional associations are also compiling resources and advocating for the health and safety of those working alongside doctors and nurses with sick patients, and fighting to have our independent contractors included in federal relief funding. Others are focused on preserving important professional standards for safe working conditions and appropriate compensation.

For InterpretAmerica, our big next step to help where we can in this crisis is the launch of the clearinghouse website, By the time this article is published, the public will have access to a starting point when looking for information about remote interpreting, whether you’re a buyer who needs interpreting services or an interpreter trying to become remote-interpreting enabled. Soon to follow will be similar information for language services companies looking to offer remote interpreting and for interpreter trainers who need to learn how to teach online.

We all know the world will not be the same when we come out the other side of this crisis. Many will have died. Many more will experience disruption and financial loss. But we’ll also have gained something immeasurably valuable in our profession: solidarity.


Katharine Allen is a health care and community interpreter with over three decades of experience interpreting, training, and designing curricula. She is the co-founder and co-president of InterpretAmerica. She was the lead developer and author for The Indigenous Interpreter 60-hour training course. She also helps embed professional interpreting into medical missions in Mexico. She is also co-author of The Community Interpreter International: An International Textbook and The Medical Interpreter: A Foundation Textbook for Medical Interpreting. She has taught for the Master of Conference Interpreting program at Glendon College’s School of Translation and the online interpreting certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has an MA in translation and interpreting from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Contact:

Barry Slaughter Olsen is a veteran conference interpreter and technophile with over two decades of experience interpreting, training interpreters, and organizing language services. He is an associate professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, the founder and co-president of InterpretAmerica, and general manager of multilingual operations at ZipDX. He is a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters. For updates on interpreting, technology, and training, follow him on Twitter @ProfessorOlsen.

Bring Your “A” Game to Video Game Localization

If you’re a translator who is passionate about games and audiovisual content, if you like to get creative and enjoy jobs of the “transcreation” type, and if you’re not afraid of a good challenge, this could be a good niche for you. From in-game scripts to packaging and marketing, video games offer a broad spectrum of content bound to keep translators engaged and entertained—and challenged!

As gaming quickly becomes the world’s favorite pastime and as video game developers and publishers continue to invest to internationalize their games, there are more opportunities for professional translators who have a passion for localizing this type of content. However, the gaming industry calls it “video game localization” instead of “video game translation” for a reason. Video games require translators to take so much more than the translatable text into account. Its localization is a target-oriented translation and its goal is to entertain.

If you’re a translator who is passionate about games and audiovisual content, if you like to get creative and enjoy jobs of the “transcreation” type, and if you’re not afraid of a good challenge, this could be a good niche for you.

The following describes the different aspects to consider when working on video game localization so that you can bring your “A” game each time.

The Gamer Is Everything

When localizing a game, we need to constantly think about who will be playing that game; we need to think about “the gamer.” We want the gamer to be entertained and feel compelled to continue playing the game, and to buy products from that developer or publisher. If a segment doesn’t translate effectively into the target language, or the translation could confuse the gamer or disrupt their experience, we might need to consider sacrificing the accuracy of the localization that we render. This means that some character names, terminology, and complete phrases might need to be entirely transcreated. Think of it as switching the focus from words to intention and emotion. The gamer comes first. We want those playing the localized version to be immersed in the universe of the game and to have the same experience as those playing the non-localized version of the game. Your job is to make them feel that the game was designed for them.

So, do you need to be a gamer yourself? There are conflicting opinions on this. I’ve seen successful game localizers who are not gamers themselves, but who love creative translations and are detail-oriented. I’ve also seen full-time gamers fail at localization because they lack other important traits that a good video game localizer should have. Therefore, you don’t necessarily have to be an active gamer yourself, but you need to like and understand games. Why? Because you’ll likely be required to play and familiarize yourself with the games you localize.

The Content to Localize Varies—A Lot!

One of the most fascinating aspects of video game localization is the large variety of content that needs localization. From in-game scripts to packaging and marketing, video games offer a broad spectrum of content bound to keep translators engaged and entertained. And when I say “entertained,” I mean challenged.

Most video games will have in-game and marketing assets to localize. Some of this content can include:

  • User interfaces (menus, help screens, on-screen tutorials, etc.)
  • Narratives, dialogues (scripts for dubbing or subtitling)
  • Songs
  • Manuals
  • Official game guides
  • Packaging
  • Marketing and promotional material (digital and print)
  • Websites (game website, newsletters, blogs, etc.)
  • In-game graphics
  • User agreements

You might be thinking, “does this mean that I’ll be translating a legal document one day and a piece of artwork the next for the same game?” The answer is, yes. The versatility of a good video game localizer should not be taken for granted.

Be Creative, but This Is Your Incredibly Reduced Space to Do It!

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in video game localization is this dichotomy between needing to be bold and creative and balancing this with the character limitations that might be imposed. For translators of languages that tend to be considerably longer than English, reducing the length of your translation to fit the character limit can be a real nightmare. However, it’s important to understand that those limits are there for a reason. In video games, as with other domains such as software localization, the user interface might be designed in a way that only allows a certain amount of space for text. If we don’t follow the character limit, the text will be truncated—something we need to absolutely avoid unless we want to have altercations with the video game testers.

Fortunately, we have technology as an ally when dealing with character restrictions. If you’re working with a computer-assisted translation tool, you can set it up to automatically count and show you the characters used in each segment, and even notify you if you’re exceeding the limit. If you’re working directly in Excel, you can also configure it so that the segment next to where you’re typing the translation shows you the number of characters used. Let technology help you with the tedious character counting to enable your imagination to flow and render an amazingly creative translation. You’ll surely need to tap into your imagination, get cleverly inventive, and be resourceful to express the same meaning and feel of the original in a limited space.

Tags and Variables and Gender, Oh My!

Two important elements that you’ll have to deal with in video game localization are tags and variables. Translators are likely all too familiar with these, especially if they translate software. Tags are formatting indicators in the text that must stay exactly the same in the translation. We have to identify what the tags are modifying to place them correctly in our translation. Sometimes the purpose of the tag is very obvious. For example, a tag that reads <COMMA> is referring to the punctuation mark. Variables, on the other hand, are values that can change, depending on the conditions or on information that’s passed to the program. For example, a segment that reads “%n requests” indicates that the variable is going to represent a number, as in “2 requests.”

Beware! If the target language you translate into has masculine and feminine form, variables can be especially tricky. A classic example in Spanish is the phrase “USERNAME, welcome!” Translating this literally might not work well, depending on the gender of the user. For example, it’s okay to say “Juan, bienvenido,” but what if the user is a woman? I cannot say “Maria, bienvenido.” because I would be addressing the female reader with the masculine form. Therefore, you must use an alternate translation that avoids using the feminine or masculine form in Spanish, such as “USERNAME, te damos la bienvenida.”

Language-Specific Jokes and References

A large number of video games will have language-specific jokes, puns, sarcasm, irony, and pop-culture references. Significant colloquial language might be used. Such fixed phrases or expressions cannot be translated literally, so we need to find the right equivalent in our target language.

For example, the phrase “a piece of cake” might not translate literally into the target language, so we need to find an equivalent to convey that something is very easy. In Spanish, we have the saying “es pan comido” (“it’s eaten bread”), which is an idiom that means that something can be done easily. There are other fixed phrases that could be used in this translation, such as “es juego de niños” (it’s a kids’ game), “es una papa” (“it’s a potato”—for the enjoyment of Argentine readers!), or “es como tirarles a patitos en la feria” (it’s like shooting rubber ducks at the funfair), etc. Of course, you can choose the one that fits the context and the target audience better.

Many years ago, I encountered a phrase that had me puzzled: “to the choppaaaa.” What is “choppa?” I couldn’t find the word in the dictionary and my research attempts were not getting me anywhere. (Keep in mind that this was over 12 years ago, and it wasn’t as easy to Google and get hundreds of visual references.) I finally asked my husband, who is a native English speaker, if he knew what this phrase could refer to, and he laughed (really hard). It turns out that “to the choppa” is a reference from the movie Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger shouted “to the chopper” (the helicopter), but because he has an accent, it sounded like “choppa.” My husband told me that if you were not born in the U.S. in the 1980s, you might not understand this cultural reference.

Video games are packed with pop culture references, so buckle up and enjoy that ride, or as I like to call it now, to the chopper!

To Localize or Not to Localize… That Is the Question.

One of the common debates is if proper names should be localized in video games. For example, do we want “Hannah” to be called “María” in Spanish? This, of course, depends on what route the game developers want
to follow.

However, a good rule of thumb should be: when a name carries meaning, we don’t want the gamer to miss that in their language. For example, if a character’s name is “Berry Cute” because it’s a strawberry, we might want to think about an equivalent in the target language that carries the same meaning—something about the fruit and the cuteness.

This same criterion should be applied to all proper names within the game, including the in-game art, geographical places, entities, battles, etc. Otherwise, you risk the gamer missing out on the immersive experience of the game. Remember that localization is your ally for creating an immersive experience for gamers in any language.

Unleashing your creative self will serve you well in this field, but remember you should never forget that video game localization is an audiovisual entertainment form. This means that you cannot separate the text from what players are seeing and hearing on-screen. So, have fun being creative with your translations, but don’t forget the visual and audio aspects. Don’t exceed the character limitation, don’t place the tags and variables incorrectly, and basically, don’t have fun (just joking!). Video game localization can be lots of fun, but at the same time very technical.

This article does not intend to be comprehensive, since there are numerous other aspects that are important to video game localization. Rather, I hope I’ve provided a small window into what it could be like to localize video games.

Marina Ilari, CT is an ATA-certified English>Spanish translator with over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. She is an expert in translation tools and managing projects in English and Spanish. She has worked as a translator, editor, and quality assurance specialist for many companies around the world with a special focus on creative translations and video game localization. She is the chief executive officer of Terra Translations and co-host of the podcast about translation, En Pantuflas. Contact:

Profile of ATA 2018–2019 School Outreach Contest Winner: Denise Fisher

This year’s ATA School Outreach Contest winner shared the inside story of a freelance interpreter with students at the University of Michigan.

ATA Member Denise Fisher, a Japanese<>English interpreter and translator based in Orient, Ohio, is the winner of this year’s School Outreach Contest. She won a free registration to ATA’s 60th Annual Conference in Palms Springs, California, for her photo taken during a visit to the University of Michigan, where she spoke to graduate students in a Japanese interpreting class about her profession.

Living Her Dream: Learning Japanese and Living in Japan

Ever since Toyota opened a large manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, Denise—a Kentucky native—was fascinated by Japanese culture and had the desire to learn the Japanese language. But neither her high school nor the college she attended offered Japanese language classes. When she discovered that her college, Morehead State University in Kentucky, offered an exchange program with a Japanese university, she immediately applied. Denise was accepted and went off to Osaka to study at the Kansai University of Foreign Studies. During her exchange year, Denise managed to break free from the circle of international students participating in the program and make friends with Japanese students. Denise says this was the key to learning the language and getting to know the culture from the inside.

After her time abroad, Denise returned to the U.S., finished her college education, and started to look for ways to go back to Japan to meet up with her friends again and continue her language training. A career fair in Boston, focusing on people speaking both English and Japanese, helped her land a job with an American company looking for a sales representative in Osaka.

“The beginning was really rough,” Denise says. “Many times, I came home at night, crying and feeling lonely.” Since she had impeccable pronunciation in Japanese, native Japanese customers wouldn’t slow down or explain anything when talking to her. “It took me hours to write the sales reports due on Mondays.” But developing her language skills and knowledge of the culture helped Denise lay the foundation for her later work as an interpreter.

A Career in Japanese Translation and Interpreting

As a part of her sales representative job in Japan, Denise also began interpreting occasionally, bridging the language gap between American company representatives and local employees and customers. Since she had no formal training in interpreting, she had to learn it on the job through lots of practice, self-study, and hard work. After 10 years in Japan, she returned to the U.S. and continued her career as an in-house interpreter and translator at Honda R&D Americas, Ltd. Since May 2006, Denise has been working as a freelance translator and interpreter for automotive company clients and suppliers in the automotive and aerospace industries. She is based in Orient, not far from Ohio’s capital city of Columbus.

Denise has shared her professional expertise with colleagues at ATA Annual Conferences. At the 2017 conference in Washington, DC, she participated in a panel discussion about the automotive industry as a major source of work for Japanese language professionals. She enjoys the networking opportunities that ATA Annual Conferences provide. In addition to her active participation in ATA, Denise is a member of the Japan Association of Translators.

Presenting to Interpreting Students at the University of Michigan

In January 2019, Denise received an invitation from Professor Yoshihiro Mochizuki to give a guest lecture at the University of Michigan. Denise and Yoshihiro had met the year before, in Columbus, where they both held workshops for members of the Japan Association of Translators—he on translation, she on interpreting. Yoshihiro wanted her to share her experience working as a freelance professional interpreter with the students enrolled in his new course on Japanese interpreting.

Denise began her presentation by talking about how a professional interpreter is expected to behave. After explaining the different modes of interpreting, she provided an overview of the equipment that interpreters traditionally use. She shared photos of various portable equipment and what a typical booth setup looks like. She concluded her presentation with information on tools for terminology management and led a Q&A session.

Denise was pleasantly surprised by the active participation of the students, who had a stream of questions for her: Had she ever found herself in the work scenarios she had discussed, and how had she handled these situations? Is there a certain personality type that’s more suited to the interpreting profession?

Denise enjoyed the animated discussion during her presentation. Students also approached her after the class with more questions, and some asked to exchange contact information.

Denise Fisher at the end of her lecture at the University of Michigan accepting a stream of questions from students.

Getting Involved in the School Outreach Effort

Initially, Denise had thought that ATA’s School Outreach photo contest was only for ATA members presenting to young children. It was Yoshihiro Mochizuki—not only a professor at the University of Michigan but also administrator of ATA’s Japanese Language Division—
who suggested she participate in the contest with the photos he took during the lecture. Thanks to his tip, she submitted her entry and won the contest, getting her a free registration to ATA’s 60th Annual Conference.

Denise thoroughly enjoyed the conference in Palm Springs. “The conference was even better than I imagined. The location was scenic, the weather was perfect, and there were a lot of educational sessions and networking opportunities.” Her favorite session this year was “From the Stage to the Booth: Acting Tips to Improve Your Interpreting,” presented by Javier Castillo. “There was a lot of overlap between his lecture and my own lecture. I would love to collaborate with him on a joint session at a future ATA conference!”

Join our efforts! The 2019–2020 School Outreach Contest is now open and the winner will receive free registration to ATA’s 61st Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, October 21–24, 2020. For more information, visit

Need Some Tips for Your School Outreach Presentation?

No problem! Just visit ATA’s online School Outreach Resource Center. Our goal is to give you quick, convenient access to material you can use in making presentations about the translation and interpreting professions. The material is organized by grade level. Each level includes What to Say, How to Say It, Extra Credit, and Presentations.

  • Tips on speaking to elementary school students
  • Tips on speaking to middle school students
  • Tips on speaking to high school students
  • Tips on speaking to college/graduate students

Just go to and click on Resource Materials.

Tell Us Your Story!

If you visit schools to speak to students about translation and interpreting, we would love to hear from you—whether or not you decide to submit a photo to the contest. Email School Outreach Coordinator Meghan Konkol at with a description of when and where you presented and let us know about your memorable experience. You can read other School Outreach stories here:

Birgit Vosseler-Brehmer, CT is an ATA-certified English<>German freelance translator based in Germany, specializing in technical, business management, and document translations. She is a member of ATA’s School Outreach team. Contact:

A Multidisciplinary Team of Linguistic Athletes

We might think that sports and languages don’t mix, but the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games and the Language Services team proved that to be far from true.

In recent years, Peru has gained the attention of the world for having an increasingly more stable economy, attractive tourist sites, friendly people, and, of course, great food. These factors have led to the country being selected as the host of numerous major international events, including the 20th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2014, the Meetings of the Board of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 2015, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in 2016, and the Summit of the Americas in 2018.

The Pan American and Parapan American Games

On October 11, 2013, Lima, Peru, was chosen as the host city for the XVIII Pan American and Sixth Parapan American Games, the largest international multidisciplinary sports event in the Americas and the second most important in the Olympic and Paralympic circuit in the world.

Now that the pressure of such an important international event rested on our shoulders, the first challenge we had to tackle was communication. Since Peru had almost no experience in the organization of this type of multidisciplinary sporting event, the Peruvian government needed to sign a collaborative agreement with a government that did have such experience. So, the U.K. and Peru signed a Government to Government agreement making the U.K. their key partner in supporting the preparation and delivery of the Games. When the agreement with the U.K. government was signed, and English and Spanish were established as the official languages of the Games, the question of having an in-house language department was raised. After drawn out debates about the importance of an in-house language services team and the costs of outsourcing these services, the powers that be opted for an in-house team.

Shortly after, the first two professional translators were hired to be part of Lima 2019 Language Services, but they could not manage the increasing influx of documents alone. The first translation project manager, and head of Language Services, was hired shortly after in order to gain a sense of the services to be provided for the benefit of the project. A few months after, the chief interpreter was hired, followed by other key roles, such as chief translator, quality assurance coordinator, and multilingual desktop publishing coordinator.

Around 20 team members were added within a two-year period before the Games were scheduled to begin in July 2019. The team would not only handle the increasing amount of content that required translation, proofreading, and desktop publishing, but also provide interpreting services at several meetings, conferences, and events before and during the Games.

Once the Games started, Language Services had among its ranks 50 team members and was managing approximately 350 volunteers and coordinating their operations at the competition venues alongside the various event areas. The scope and complexity of this project was something Peru had never seen before.

The Language Services team at the General Assembly.

Project Management

Hiring a translation project manager and the leader of the team was key. Angie Tapia, head of Language Services, was able to manage, organize, and prepare her team for the challenges of this multi-sport event. One of the initial challenges she faced was the need to adapt her vast experience with dedicated translation project management software to the resources made available to the team, such as the tools offered in Microsoft Office 365 (instead of the trusty Post-It notes she had been using).

Another challenge was convincing the Peruvian members of the Organizing Committee representatives to purchase computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool licenses through tender processes so her team wouldn’t have to continue translating and proofreading directly in Microsoft Word. Some of the translators were not well versed in CAT tools, so they would need to be trained.

Linguists also needed to be reminded about the importance of meeting deadlines, not interfering with project management-related tasks, and improving their daily translation capacity.

One of the most difficult challenges was communicating the importance of setting reasonable deadlines to several clients who required translation but had no idea what it entailed (e.g., “I need this 12,000-word equestrian sports technical manual ready for tomorrow.”). Organizing schedules and planning the resources necessary to complete the official documents that were going to be published was essential, especially considering that the translation stage was the last step of every publication. A lack of thorough planning could directly affect the production process of Language Services, including its efficiency and productivity. The Language Services project management team took over the task of planning publications for the Games and added the desktop publishing process to its tasks, both to save time and guarantee quality results. The team even proved to be quite resourceful in terms of obtaining information on sports events in real time in order to anticipate publications, press releases, or tweets that required translation.

Once the responsibilities, tasks, and processes were properly communicated and delegated within the team, Language Services worked smoothly, met deadlines, and translated over 4,000 projects (more than six million words) in just under
two years.

Daniel Torres and Licetd Pérez interpreting in the booth.


The translation team also faced the challenge of translating Lima 2019’s communication with the world, working with the press and social media. They also had to work with all types of internal documents for the project, including sports technical manuals, sanitary reports on the water conditions of competition venues, security policies, and the World Anti-Doping Agency online training platform.

Translating sports media content proved harder than it looked, as articles and press releases were filled with metaphors and expressions related to sports that were unfamiliar to the team. In addition to the content of the documents, terminology, linguistic-related problems, and deadlines were among the most challenging aspects of Lima 2019. Since all documents were always labeled by the client as “urgent,” “important,” or “priority,” the translation team had to permanently work against the clock, trying to keep up with the quality standards required for this kind of event.

One of the most important lessons we learned was that, for this type of project, it’s important to consider hiring a trained team of professional translators from day one. Linguists need time to adapt and adjust to new topics, terminology, and other work-related conditions to deliver the highest quality possible. As stress intensifies and shifts get longer, it’s also essential to have a committed team that is fully aware of the importance of an event like the Pan American and the Parapan American Games.


The task of proofreading was essential to the translation process. Although translators may do their own proofreading in a freelance market, in the context of such a massive event, it was necessary to separate both these tasks. The proofreaders were allowed to change anything and everything to ensure a high-quality final product.

We soon discovered that hiring proofreaders was a more difficult task than it seemed. For one thing, finding translation professionals with a university degree in translation and a near-native level of English in Peru is like finding a needle in a haystack. To be a proofreader, it’s not enough to have studied translation—Peruvian universities don’t require you to know English before enrolling—or to be a native English speaker. (The “your/you’re” mistake makes one thing clear—just because you know it, doesn’t mean you know it well.) When we finally found the elusive proofreaders we needed, to no one’s surprise, they knew next to nothing about sports, which meant they had a long road of research ahead of them.

One of the many lessons we learned from this process was the importance of having well-trained proofreaders from day one. This way, the translation memory will only have content of the highest quality, making it more efficient and useful. Also, for future, less time-consuming projects, it would be ideal to prepare specialized glossaries for translators to make the proofreaders’ job just a little less stressful.

Multilingual Desktop Publishing

One of the most difficult tasks of Language Services was convincing the organization that having multilingual desktop publishers as part of their team was a necessity. However, once the publications started taking shape, it quickly became obvious that it was essential to have a specialized team within the translation process to carry out this task. Language Services began to receive a wide variety of documents created in dedicated graphic design software, such as Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign, that required a team specialized in editorial design who could prepare the text for the translation process and later edit and correct the layout of the translated file to deliver it to the client.

Another crucial task that was eventually assigned to this four-person team, alongside the marketing department, was the desktop publishing of all publications for the Games, both in their original language and their translations. This change was both cost- and time-efficient, especially due to the amount of urgent last-minute changes that many of the publications required. Finally, finding professionals with the specific profile necessary to provide a service that is still not very widely known in Peru was also a challenge. They had to have a combination of skills that is not common among professional designers, and they also needed the proper training to adapt their skills to the translation process.


Hiring a group of professional freelance interpreters was another very difficult task for Language Services. Not only because of the nature of the profession, which tends to make some freelancers afraid of committing to a long assignment for one client and causes them to shy away from a traditional nine-to-five job, but also because the rigorous hiring process of the public sector in Peru is not attractive for the typical freelancer.

A few months after being hired, the chief interpreter was joined by a group of seven interpreters with different backgrounds, skill levels, and personalities. Almost all the interpreters had some type of formal training in interpreting. Before the Games, they had worked on assignments in various settings, including press conferences for the medalists, visits to venue construction sites, discussions with leaders from different sports federations, general assemblies of sports organizations, referee training sessions, language support for international technical delegates, anti-doping control trainings, and budget auditing.

Some coordination of meetings or visits from international consultants required the use of portable interpreting equipment. The rest of the assignments were done using consecutive interpreting or whispered interpreting. During the Games, only the international sports federation and sports confederation assemblies at the official hotel required simultaneous interpreting with a booth, with English and Spanish as the working languages. There was a second booth at the Pan American Village that was used for meetings of the chefs de mission (the leaders of each national team) and for some sport-specific technical meetings.

Before hiring in-house interpreters, the Organizing Committee was relying on the services from different external agencies. The priority when hiring those services was cost savings, which led to some issues concerning the professionalism required by such an important international multidisciplinary sporting event.

Teamwork and good practices were fostered among all the interpreters who, in most cases, understood the importance of acting professional. Even though they had put their freelance careers on hold to work for the Lima 2019 Games, they appreciated having the opportunity to interact with the rest of the Language Services team. It was an opportunity for those who were inexperienced to learn from their more seasoned peers.

At the opening ceremony.

Final Thoughts

The Language Services team insisted on the importance of confidentiality, teamwork, and good practices, but, as is common among all teams, incidents happened and some egos collided. Long working hours, stressful situations, and the pressure of the Games brought out many emotions, including frustration, anger, and anxiety. The team later learned that this was normal in this type of international multidisciplinary event. Nevertheless, although Language Services itself was divided into several teams responsible for different tasks, they were, at all times, one team with the same goal: to do their part so that the Lima 2019 Games could be a success.

Hiring an in-house team of professionals resulted in quality translation services and consistency in terminology, and also saved the organization money! Something that was key for the team to function properly was the versatility of its members. On a few occasions, due to high demand, some translators had to face their fears, remember their undergrad interpreting training, and interpret. Likewise, some interpreters had to focus for longer periods of time, stop speaking, pay attention to details, and translate. Some project managers with a translation background had to translate or interpret, and some desktop publishers without any translation background had to train this diverse group of linguists in the use of design software.

We might think that sports and languages don’t mix, but the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games and the Language Services team proved that to be far from true. This was, without a doubt, a great opportunity for learning and growth. Lima 2019 taught the Language Services team many lessons. First, that terminology is important when translating, but so is having good communication with the proofreader. Second, having a well-equipped interpreting booth is important, but so is knowing the speaker, who you may have happened to sit with during lunch the day before. And, finally, we learned that having a productive team is key for the project’s success, but so is having fun and relaxing.

The Games’ slogan is “Let’s All Play,” and Language Services played and did it as a team.

Members of the Lima 2019 Language Services Team

Daniel Aparicio, Nathalie Atoche, Alessandra Balleto, Rodrigo Bouroncle, Rosario Bustamante, Fernando Camino, Adriana Carbajal, Suane Carbajal, Lilian Cebreros, Diego Cervantes, Lidia Chavez, Javier Del Prado, Isabel De La Guarda, Mercy Diaz, Marianella Domen, Cynthia Fiorentini, Rosa Flores, Yanett Flores, Ann Giraldo, Gabriela Godoy, Heber Guerrero, Nancy Guima, Karen Gutierrez, María Isabel Gomez, Diana Marroquin, Rosa Medina, Giuliana Mori, Piero Mori, Milagros Muñoz, Bruno Languasco, Adolfo Leo, Gonzalo Pardo-Figueroa, Franco Paredes, Luis Pastor, Diana Peralta, Licetd Pérez, Emilio Pinares, Rodolfo Quispe, Karen Rosas, Dafne Rozas, Ada Rueda, Michelle Rullier, Milagros Salomé, Julio Sotomayor, Angie Tapia, Ricardo Thormann, Daniel Torres, Lia Vasquez, Kelly Verde, Carla Villegas, and Juan Carlos Yi.


Daniel Aparicio is a conference interpreter and interpreter trainer based in Lima, Peru. He served as chief interpreter for Language Services at the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Contact:

Angie Tapia studied translation and interpreting at Ricardo Palma University. She teaches professional management and specialized software courses within the Professional Translation and Interpreting program at the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences. She served as head of Language Services at the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Contact:

Fernando Camino is a translator specialized in audiovisual translation and videogame localization. He also teaches at the Universidad Ricardo Palma and the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences. He served as the chief translator for Language Services at the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Contact:

Rosario Bustamante is an English quality assurance coordinator and Spanish>English translator and proofreader. She served as the chief quality assurance coordinator (into English) for Language Services at the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Contact:

Adriana Carbajal is a multilingual desktop publisher and translation project manager. She served as the chief of translation project management and multilingual desktop publishing for Language Services at the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Contact:

ATA at the New York Rights Fair and Book Expo

As chair of ATA’s Public Relations Committee, I’m always on the lookout for ways ATA can promote its members and educate potential client industries about how to purchase translation and interpreting services. ATA has successfully promoted member interests at the international Guadalajara Book Fair for several years. With this same goal in mind, ATA’s Public Relations Committee decided that ATA should attend a book event in the U.S. So, in May 2019, I attended the New York Rights Fair and Book Expo along with five additional ATA member volunteers. The event took place at the Javits Center in New York City, with around 9,000 publishing industry professionals in attendance for the Book Expo1 and Rights Fair2 combined.

Kate Deimling, Lucy Gunderson, Kristin Kamm, Stephanie Delozier Strobel, and Valeriya Yermishova, and I were on hand during the three-day event to represent ATA. Logistically, having this number of people onsite worked well since we were able to make contact with almost every exhibitor and publisher present, as well as with numerous agents and editors. We discussed translation and interpreting and the benefits of using professionals, and, specifically, how to find the right ATA member for publishing industry projects.

Showcasing ATA’s Online Directory

We took turns making sure that the ATA table was always staffed while others of our team fanned out throughout the event, directly approaching publishing houses and other attendees, including cultural representatives promoting publishing content from Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and South Korea. In a sign of the changing publishing landscape, there were also representatives of self-publishing platforms and even an interactive fiction app.

From left: ATA volunteers Lucy Gunderson, Valeriya Yermishova, Kate Deimling, and Kristin Kamm staff ATA’s table at the New York Rights Fair and Book Expo. (Photo courtesy of Eve Lindemuth Bodeux)

We had a steady stream of visitors to our table as well. Visitors scooped up ATA-branded sticky notes and copies of Getting It Right, a publication that offers tips on how to hire language professionals. People were excited to learn that ATA’s online Directory of Translators and Interpreters is not a subscription-based database, but rather a free resource. One attendee who stopped by our table was Mat Edelson, a medical journalist and founder of InformAll, a nonprofit that uses audiobooks, podcasts, and new media to provide accessible health and wellness information to the public. He was enthusiastic about our members’ services, telling ATA by email, “I’m very impressed with the ATA directory; it’s a wonderful resource for both translators and interpreters and folks such as myself who need to hire them! [. . .] I have a feeling I’m going to be using it a lot in the coming months and years.”

These comments reflect the very positive feedback we received from attendees, including a representative from Overdrive, a large player in digital content for libraries, and representatives from several university presses who are expanding their catalogs outside their own university communities and who often publish works in translation. We were also quite pleased when several people from HarperVia, the new imprint of HarperCollins devoted to international literature in English translation, stopped by our table to learn more about translation, interpreting, and, specifically, how to find the right ATA member for future projects. These are just examples of the many people who stopped by ATA’s table.

We used a computer connected to ATA’s online directory to show visitors how they could find the right professionals for their projects. We demonstrated how to search using criteria such as language pair, location, keyword, certification status (translators), credential status (interpreters), specialization, and more. ATA members should note that in their profiles they can add free-form information in the “Additional Information” section that users of the directory can then search using the “keywords” field on the search interface. This is a way for members to add helpful information about expertise or background that may not be covered
in the more structured sections of the directory.

For example, one visitor was looking for a translator who worked from English into Korean and who specialized in yachting. In this case, “yachting” would be a good keyword to add to your profile if applicable. We also suggested to attendees that if they could not find the specialization they were searching for in a specific language pair, it could be fruitful to contact an ATA language division as a way to get the word out about their project.

From left: Panelists Marleen Seegers (owner, 2 Seas Agency); Barbara Zitwer (owner, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency); Peter Borland (vice president and editor-in-chief, Atria Books, Simon & Schuster Inc.); Claire Sabatie-Garat (literary agent, The Italian Literary Agency); and moderator Gabriella Page-Fort (editorial director, AmazonCrossing). (Photo courtesy of Kate Deimling)

What Languages Are Publishers Looking for?

The publishing industry professionals we encountered were interested in a wide variety of language pairs, including English to and from French, German, Dutch, Korean, Polish, and others. In fact, English into U.S. Spanish was the most talked about language pair at the show. Given how publishing rights work, in addition to Spanish, U.S. publishers most often look for translators who work from other languages into English. Moreover, publishers in other countries most often look for translators who work into the language of their particular country. However, from talking to publishing professionals, we found that these are not hard-and-fast rules and they also may have need for interpreters. For example, in addition to book translations, the companies we met may need translations of contracts, communications materials, marketing materials, and interpreting services both to and from English. As an example, we spoke to the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, which supports the work of Taiwanese authors by sending them to book fairs in other countries. They hire interpreters for these events.

Think Beyond Literary When Marketing

While within our own industry, we obviously see the merits of using professional translators and interpreters and ATA members for language-related projects in the business space, we were thrilled and even a bit surprised at the reaction from publishing professionals. On one hand, the welcome extended to us was quite encouraging. On the other, it’s a bit disconcerting that a readily available, free resource for finding professional translators and interpreters was virtually unknown to event participants who are often in search of translation services. This should encourage us all, as an organization and individually, to continue our efforts to promote the translating and interpreting professions to the wider business community.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize the wide variety of publishers who were present. These included those who might most readily come to mind when one thinks of “book publishing,” such as publishers of fiction, literary works, and children’s literature. But there were also publishers from many other categories at the event, including numerous nonfiction publishers in fields like medicine, religion, business, crafting, gardening, leisure activities, and sports. Attendees also mentioned that translators are often found by word of mouth and that they often have difficulties finding the right translator. ATA translators and interpreters should take a tip here and realize that there are various types of publishers that might need their services. Think “outside the box” when marketing: remember, “publishing” doesn’t just mean “literary.”

Attendees repeatedly mentioned their concern with finding a quality translator who has the right expertise for their particular project. For example, one publisher said he was looking for a French into English translator who was an expert at knitting and crocheting to translate craft books. In another instance, a publisher of mainstream Protestant religious materials was satisfied with the quality of the day-to-day translations for promotional brochures, but was still seeking English into Spanish translators who could translate official texts used during church services in the proper register. In addition, Expo attendees readily acknowledged their need for both translation and interpreting services, the latter for international publishing events and events where international authors are present and promoted, to name a few.

From left: Moderator: Chad Post (founder, Open Letter Books); Nick Buzanski (general manager/buyer, Book Culture NYC); Lisa Lucas (executive director, National Book Foundation); Michael Reynolds (editor-in-chief, Europa Editions). (Photo courtesy of Kate Deimling)

The Importance of Literature in Translation

We were also pleased to see that, during the first day of the conference, all sessions were focused on literature in translation, how international books are discovered, and how foreign rights are purchased. In addition, presenters indicated that translated works are becoming more accepted by the U.S. publishing industry as a whole. However, according to one panelist, only about 3% of all books published in the U.S. are translations. The industry is still fighting the misconception that foreign fiction is exclusive or highbrow, or, as one panelist put it, “for people wearing berets.”3

An international network of literary agents and scouts play a crucial role in finding books to be translated for the U.S. audience. “Partials” (partial translations) of a work are also an important tool for encouraging publishers to purchase the rights to foreign-language content. Panelists who spoke represented works translated from Korean, Italian, and Swedish that have become “blockbusters” in the U.S. market.4

During these panel presentations, each speaker stressed the importance of the quality of the translation product for translated works that had become successful in the U.S. market. They used phrases like “gorgeous translation,” “really great translation,” and “excellent translation” as being one of the keys to the success of international books. In addition, panelists mentioned that even popular international fiction writers may need more than one translator if they write books in more than one style or genre.

A Resounding Success

ATA’s presence at the New York Rights Fair and Book Expo was a resounding success. The enthusiastic responses we received from potential clients reveal a wealth of opportunities for our members in the publishing industries, both in the U.S. and abroad.

(Kate Deimling, Lucy Gunderson, Kristin Kamm, Stephanie Delozier Strobel, and Valeriya Yermishova contributed to this article.)

  1. Milliot, Jim. “Event Attendees Rose 2% at BookExpo; BookCon Attendance Held at 20,000,” Publishers Weekly (June 20, 2018),
  2. Email received from event management dated May 9, 2019.
  3. The panel, which took place on May 29, 2019, was entitled “International Literature: Promoting and Finding Audiences.”
  4. The panel, which took place on May 29, 2019, was entitled “Inside the World of Foreign Rights Sales and Scouting.”

Eve Lindemuth Bodeux, CT is an ATA director and an ATA-certified French>English translator. She is the owner of Bodeux International, a company that offers multilingual project management and other language services to clients worldwide. She has served as chair of ATA’s Public Relations Committee since 2018. She also served as administrator of ATA’s French Language Division (2014–2018), as well as two terms as vice president of the Colorado Translators Association (2008–2012). She has a BA in French and political science from Lebanon Valley College, an MA in international relations from the University of Virginia, and a graduate degree in European studies from the Université de Lorraine in France. She co-hosts the Speaking of Translation podcast. Contact:

Palm Springs, Here We Come!

By the time you read this, registration will be open for ATA’s 60th Annual Conference. Translators and interpreters will be taking over Palm Springs, California, from October 23–26, and we can’t wait to see you there! Included with this issue of The ATA Chronicle (or online, if you receive the digital version), you’ll find the preliminary program and hotel reservation information so you can start planning for four days of education, networking, and fun!

I attended my first ATA conference back in 2004 in Toronto, Canada. At the time, I had been freelancing for about two years and had never been away from my toddler daughter (now a rising high school senior!) overnight. The trip was a huge leap—financially, professionally, and emotionally. Walking into the opening reception, I felt like I had just landed at a family reunion with over a thousand attendees, about four of whom I knew by name.

Throughout the conference, I forced myself to hand out business cards to everyone I met. I took notes during every session and made an effort to connect with some of the speakers. It was an overwhelming experience, but it also—through a chance encounter in the hallway—connected me with a new major client. In the year following that conference, I doubled my freelance income and finally knew that I was going to make it as a freelance translator.

Over the years, I worked my way up the conference ladder. Finally, I was no longer a newbie! I knew more than four people, and I didn’t have to eat breakfast alone! After a few years, I got up the courage to submit a session proposal, which led to even more contacts and a higher profile in the profession. ATA’s Annual Conference became—and still is—the highlight of my professional year. It also seems fitting that ATA60 is where a chapter in my own professional life will close, as I rotate off the ATA Board after seven years, leaving you in the capable hands of our current President-Elect, Ted Wozniak.

Attending ATA’s Annual Conference is an investment. We know that not every member can attend every year, and that’s why we’ve enhanced our offerings in terms of webinars and one-day seminars. But if you attend the conference, we promise that you’ll be glad you made that investment. The quality of our sessions is top-notch, the networking opportunities are one of a kind, and this year’s venue in Palm Springs allows for plenty of face time (real face time, not the app!) with other attendees. As an attendee commented a few years ago, ATA’s Annual Conference truly is “the experience you can’t download.” We hope to see you soon in Palm Springs!

ATA at the ELIA Together Conference in Barcelona, Spain

ELIA attendees gather outside the conference venue. (Photo by Daniel Seabra.)

In February 2019 I had the pleasure of representing ATA at the European Language Industry Association (ELIA) Together conference in Barcelona, Spain. (ATA was a sponsor.) ELIA describes itself on its website as the “European not-for-profit trade association of language service companies with a mission to accelerate our members’ business success.”1

Throughout the year, ELIA hosts a number of events for language services companies, but the ELIA Together conference is a yearly event targeted to both freelancers and language companies. As defined on ELIA’s website, the Together conference is a: “two-day event that brings together professionals from across the industry for an open dialogue on industry trends, to learn mutually-relevant new approaches, to update technical skills and, ultimately, serve our end clients better. Most importantly, it’s a friendly, collaborative environment in which to develop lasting relationships.”2 I couldn’t agree more.

Mastering Digital Transformation

The theme for the 2019 conference was “Mastering Digital Transformation,” which ELIA defined as: “Focusing on what your business needs to do to stand out from the crowd and how to provide solutions to the changing needs of our end clients.”3

The event kicked off with keynote speaker Javier Zamora, senior lecturer in the Department of Information Systems at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa Business School of the University of Navarra in Barcelona. His presentation, “The Digital Mindset: Beyond the Technological Fads,” was inspiring and eye-opening for those in attendance. Zamora started by providing a brief history of machine learning and artificial intelligence. He shared an illustrative anecdote about the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence from 1955. That year, a group of researchers stated that they could discover and solve the problems of how machines use language in just two months if they could get the proper funding and build the perfect team of 10 scientists. Zamora got a good round of giggles and pats on the back from the translator-filled audience at that story.

Although Zamora emphasized that no one knows exactly where technology is heading—or if machines will ever reach singularity—he really drove home the importance of embracing new technologies instead of rejecting them. There is no denying that we, as humans and as translators, have to realize and accept that machines can now perceive and learn, but they can’t yet abstract or reason. If we know the limits of artificial intelligence, we can figure out how to leverage its uses for our own competitive advantage. Zamora encouraged us to be knowledgeable and aware about the tools available to us. Whether we like it or not, machine translation (MT) is a reality in our industry. Zamora also reminded us that advancements in technology are affecting every sector on the planet, not just ours. He ended on a positive note, saying that technology will improve our sector if we’re willing and able to use it appropriately and to our advantage.

Trending Topic: Machine Translation

Zamora’s keynote speech set the tone for the conference. During coffee and lunch breaks, or in the hallway between sessions, I didn’t hear much of the usual MT bashing I often hear at other translator and interpreter industry events. I participated in numerous conversations about MT that were quite refreshing. People talked about its advantages just as much as its disadvantages. I learned a lot, especially since I’ve not personally worked with MT before.

I had an incredibly enlightening conversation with an agency owner turned MT tool owner. He explained his current business process to me, saying that he trained specific MT tools for each of his clients. He said that once the machine was trained and put in place, he was back to square one—the same square one as any translation company: finding specialized translators that are good enough to work with the text at hand. He emphasized that the translation process really hadn’t changed that much. He still needed specialized translators to post-edit specialized texts. He was on a mission to tell as many translators as possible to rest assured. We aren’t being replaced by machines, we’re just working faster because of them.

ATA Spokesperson Molly Yurick (second from left) participates in panel session, “What Does the
Future Hold for Freelancers?” at ELIA Together. (Photo by Daniel Seabra.)

Freelancers, Language Companies, and Tool Representatives

ELIA welcomed a total of 236 attendees: 80 language services and computer-assisted translation tool companies and 119 freelancers. The remaining attendees were a mix of university professors, language consultants, and others. What I liked most about this conference was the great diversity of attendees interacting and mingling the entire time.

The two days of the conference were divided into two session tracks (“specialization” and “trends and technology”), which took place in separate rooms. As at most conferences, the sessions were hit or miss. The specialization track sessions were full of great ideas on how and why to specialize. Unfortunately, after two days of back-to-back sessions on specialization, they ended up being a bit repetitive. This was due to no fault of the presenters, since it’s hard to spin specialization in a million different ways. The trends and technology track was more varied, touching on items of interest to both freelancers and language companies. Some of the sessions that were specific to language companies were quite insightful for freelancers as well. I learned why language companies ask freelancers to do free tests, how project managers select a freelancer for a job, and what the onboarding process looks like from the language company’s side. One of my favorite sessions was about productivity, such as using email templates to save on typing time or the Pomodoro method to stay on track during the work day.

What Does the Future Hold for Freelancers?

The conference concluded with a panel session called “What Does the Future Hold for Freelancers?” I was honored to participate on the panel alongside such esteemed colleagues as:

  • Jerzy Czopik, a freelance translator and interpreter and the vice president of the Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer e.V., a professional association of interpreters and translators in Germany.
  • Clio Schils, president of ELIA and global director of life sciences at CQ Fluency.
  • Annette Schiller, chair of the International Federation of Translators (FIT) Europe, the Regional Centre Europe of FIT. She is also a professor of translation at Dublin City University and a freelance translator.

The ELIA conference app made it possible to survey the audience live to kick off the panel. Responses came up on the screen as they were submitted.

  • “Do you think the future will change your life?”
    • “Yes, positively” received 96 votes
    • “Yes, negatively” received 11 votes
    • “No, it will not change my life” received 3 votes

We were pleasantly surprised by the positive results, which set a great tone for the panel discussion. We answered tough questions from the moderator, Diego Cresceri, founder and chief executive officer of Creative Words, a localization company based in Italy. We spoke about our personal thoughts on the future, the most important skills that freelancers need to develop to remain relevant in tomorrow’s market, and how language services companies and freelancers can work together to better tackle current and future challenges in our industry. I personally encouraged freelancers to keep an open mind regarding new technologies, to make the most of the technology our agency clients have to share with us, and to stay informed.

The panel was well-received by attendees, who engaged with us in a lively Q&A session at the end. For me, one of the highlights of the panel came from an ELIA member who stood up and said that she was a big fan of ATA. She explained that she had attended an ATA conference in the past, was extremely impressed with how it went, and hoped that ELIA would eventually grow to be as large as ATA.

Final Thoughts

I would highly recommend attending the ELIA Together conference. I met interesting colleagues and connected with potential clients while learning a lot along the way. Next year’s date and location are still to be determined, but I hope to see you there!

  1. ELIA website,
  2. About ELIA,
  3. ELIA-Together Program,

Molly Yurick is a Spanish>English translator specializing in the tourism, hospitality, and airline industries. She has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a BA in Spanish and global studies and a certificate in medical interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. Contact:

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