Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers

The November/December issue included an announcement that the Board had voted to postpone a decision to open ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers. This was followed by the answers to some frequently asked questions concerning the issues involved (http://bit.ly/FAQ-Decoupling). Here is another response we received after members were encouraged to submit their feedback.

But don’t let the conversation stop here! As an ATA member, your voice is important, so please send us your comments.

Why ATA Should Open the Certification Exam to All Professional Translators

By Matt Baird, CT
ATA-certified (German>English)
Niederkassel, Germany

I’ve been attending ATA Board meetings at ATA’s Annual Conference for years. Why? Well, it began with simple curiosity. I wanted to understand how our Association works. As a volunteer, I was a small cog in ATA’s “engine room,” but I wanted to see who was steering the ship.

Why am I telling you this? Because it was at one of those meetings when I first heard the Board discuss the issue of opening ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers and how to keep the membership informed about it. Since then I’ve followed the issue fairly closely, including reading related articles in this very publication and discussing it with Board members. ATA also presented a free webinar on the subject in October.1

Why am I so interested in “decoupling”? Because I’m excited to see our Association take steps aimed at expanding our reach beyond the current membership. Decoupling is about ATA’s vision for the future—a future in which ATA becomes the recognized credentialing body for the entire translation profession—and I applaud the Board for having the courage to pursue this initiative.

It’s More than Credibility—It’s Best Practice

Obviously, we don’t have a crystal ball to peer into the future, but there’s plenty of proof to suggest that decoupling is the right way forward.

The biggest argument against decoupling appears to be the notion that there is no evidence that other credentials have increased credibility after a membership requirement was removed. Here’s the thing: in the association world, best practice is (and has been) to separate credentialing from membership. A membership requirement is the exception rather than the rule. What’s more, requiring membership has not been shown to add value to a credential. It’s clear that the vast majority of professional associations see greater value in a “decoupled” credential.

It’s More than Logical—It’s the Right Step Forward

Organizations constantly have to weigh the pros and cons of the status quo versus moving in a new direction. Although it may feel safer to leave things the way they are, associations that fail to adapt become stagnant and irrelevant. Our profession is changing rapidly. Decoupling is not only the logical step forward, it’s the right one. By removing the membership requirement, ATA greatly expands the pool of translators eligible to take the exam. We’re creating conditions to enable more participation. The only way we’ll ever know if nonmembers will choose to do so is by actually allowing them to make that choice.

What’s more, by separating membership from the credential, ATA makes it clear that we are the recognized certifying body for the entire profession, not just for people who choose to be members. This will inevitably increase our Association’s stature.

It’s More than OpeningUp the Exam—It’s about Removing Barriers

The logic behind decoupling actually doesn’t stop there. We know that people are interested in becoming ATA-certified and that the hurdle of membership is real.

Case in point: ATA’s Government Division has confirmed something ATA already knew, though until recently only anecdotally. Many government employees, including military members, can gain approval and receive funding to attain civilian certifications relevant to their principal occupations. The Department of Defense Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) program is one example.2 ATA’s certification exam is not eligible to participate because the program stipulates that the credentialing body may not require membership.

That program is only the tip of the iceberg. Although ATA can’t precisely predict demand for the certification exam, we know it is there and it is real.

Speaking of Demand…

One of the opinion pieces published in the January/February 2020 issue of The ATA Chronicle3 cited a ProZ poll4 from December 2019, but very relevant results were ignored. Take a closer look: 38% of those who participated said they would want to take ATA’s certification exam if it was open to nonmembers. Another 20% said “maybe.” That’s nearly 60%! Obviously, we can’t judge the accuracy of this poll, but ProZ is an international community of translators so we can’t deny that it indicates considerable interest in our credential around the world.

It’s More than Reports and Bylaws—It’s about Due Diligence

The Hamm Report5 has been named repeatedly in this debate. That’s because it started our Association down this path. But this report is not—and never has been—the decoupling bible. Whether or not the Board chose to follow all of the report’s recommendations is beside the point. The finding that an independent credential will be a more credible credential hasn’t changed.

ATA’s Bylaws have also been hijacked, first by the claim that the Board wasn’t authorized to make this move. Indeed, there was concern about this issue, which is why the Board consulted with ATA’s legal counsel, received a favorable legal response, and decided to move ahead. Now that decoupling has been postponed and the Board has proposed an amendment to make it clear in the Bylaws that taking the certification exam is not an exclusive member right, the Bylaws are once again being used to spread misinformation. Let’s be clear: the amendment will not remove any ATA member’s right to take the certification exam and become ATA-certified as stated in the opinion pieces published in the January/February 2020 issue of this publication. It extends the right to all translators in our profession to sit for the exam, and if they pass, become ATA-certified. To say otherwise is falseand misleading.

The fact is that the Board has done its due diligence. Our Association’s finances have been reviewed, structures are in place, and the Certification Committee is ready to go. It’s time to do this, and I urge every voting member to vote “yes” on the amendment.

Obviously we can’t see beyond the horizon, but I’ve watched our ship’s officers carefully plot this course and I believe it’s the right one. Considering that some 75% of ATA’s current members are not certified, it seems that most of us—including me, a member since 2000 and only certified since 2017—understand that the value of ATA membership goes way beyond certification. If we open ATA’s certification exam to all professional translators, we will set sail on a journey that could take our credential—and our Association—to the next level.

We want to hear from you!

Members are encouraged to submit their opinions, both pro and con, regarding opening ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers (also referred to as decoupling) for publication in The ATA Chronicle. While it may not be possible to print all submissions, equal space will be provided for members to present views on both sides of the issue. Please send to jeff@atanet.org.

Note: In keeping with standard ATA editorial policy, submissions must include the author’s name, which will be published. Anonymous submission swill not be accepted for publication.

Notes
  1. “Opening the ATA Certification Exam to Nonmembers,” ATA Webinar Series (October 1, 2019), http://bit.ly/webinar-decoupling.
  2. “All about COOL,” www.cool.navy.mil.
  3. “Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers: Robert Sette and Jessica Hartstein,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 12, http://bit.ly/Sette-Hartstein.
  4. See www.proz.com/polls/19180.
  5. ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000), http://bit.ly/Hamm-report.

Assembly Bill 5: What Now?

Do not underestimate the power of your vote. Politicians depend on you to stay in office. Nothing can equal the pressure individual translators and interpreters can bring to bear on their elected officials.

Since California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) went into effect January 1, an increasing number of freelance translators and interpreters report that they are struggling to stay in business. Several other states are considering similar legislation.

In September, ATA joined forces with other translator and interpreter organizations to request an exemption from AB 5 for translators and interpreters.1 The Association is now actively supporting the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California2 to continue advocating for the exemption. ATA also issued a statement in response to California Senate Bill 875, which proposes including translators and interpreters in the list of professional services that are exempt from the ABC Test requirement in AB 5.3

What can you do? Do not underestimate the power of your vote. Politicians depend on you to stay in office. Nothing can equal the pressure individual translators and interpreters can bring to bear on their elected officials.

Get involved in standing up for our profession! Start below with this how-to advocacy handout, a step-by-step action plan showing you how to present your case to state lawmakers. The information includes how to find your representatives and sample talking points to use in letters or conversations with legislators.

Get out there! Remember, you have the power. Use it!

Ted R. Wozniak
President, American Translators Association

What Can I Do about Mandatory Employee Classification Legislation in My State?

Now is the time to contact your state legislators and demand an exemption for interpreters and translators. Constituent-driven advocacy is how ordinary citizens hold lawmakers accountable to their constituents. Your active involvement with the lawmakers who work for you is necessary to protect your freedom to work as an independent contractor. By taking informed, strategic action in your district and state capital, you can make the policy process yield the results you need to protect the integrity of our professions, the survival of our operations, and the communities we serve.

What Steps Should I Take?

Communicate with and visit your lawmakers by following the steps below.

  1. Look up the title/designation of the mandatory employee classification legislation in your state. See the section on “Finding Existing or Proposed Legislation on Worker Classification” on page 8 for information on how and where to find this information.
  2. Look up your state lawmakers and their local district offices here: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator.
    • Enter your address in the search bar, and your elected representative to the lower and upper chambers of your state legislature will be displayed. Open each link in a new window/tab to view and copy the contact information for your state representative, assemblyperson, delegate, or senator. Make a note of their email address, phone number, and the location of their local office.
    • Your representative and senator need to hear from you. They and their staff can do their job best when they understand what affects you most.
  3. Call and arrange a meeting with your lawmakers. Fridays are often the best days because lawmakers are typically in their local district offices.
    • Depending on your representative’s schedule, you may not meet them personally but with a legislative aide instead. If so, treat them just as you would your representative. These aides are often the “gatekeepers” and have a lot of influence on their bosses. If an in-person meeting is not possible/practical, send them an email expressing your concerns and asking them to take specific actions.
  4. Before you go, hone your three-part message:
    • Tell your story about who you are and how your profession serves the community. Be prepared to explain how the translation and interpreting industry and professions work, how many agencies you work for during a year, and why the independent contractor/agency model works best for you and for agencies and end clients. Tell them if you’ve received notifications from agencies informing you that they will no longer work with you (or only if you incorporate).
    • Explain how and why you are or will be harmed without an explicit exemption from the scope of the law or proposed bill, how it threatens upheaval of your livelihood and those you serve, and why its implementation and enforcement would disrupt and damage your operations and language services occupations in your state. Discuss the loss of business and other economic impacts of mandatory employee classification, such as loss of a Simplified Employment Pension-IRA retirement option or previously fully deductible business deductions that would now be limited as an employee’s “unreimbursed business expenses.”
    • Ask your lawmakers what they will do to address this need immediately.
  5. Finally, report back to ATA about your experience. Please send an email summarizing your meeting and the reaction of your representatives to Advocacy@atanet.org.

Thank you for taking action to protect our professions and our livelihoods.


Finding Existing or Proposed Legislation on Worker Classification

A Department of Labor list of 2019 classification schemes used to determine unemployment insurance in each state has been posted on ATA’s website. (See the link for “Determination Employer-Employee Relationship” at the end of this article.)4

The situation is changing rapidly as legislatures are moving quickly to follow California’s lead. The information in this Department of Labor document may already be out of date, or there may be legislative proposals to change the scheme. Use the tips below to determine the state of affairs in your state.

  1. Try using Google. Search for “mandatory employee classification” plus your state.
  2. Use www.WorkerClassification.com. Click on State Resources, then your state, to see existing and/or proposed legislation and news on worker classification. Note that different legislation and classification tests may apply for different purposes (e.g., unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation). California AB 5 and similar legislation mandates uniform application of the ABC Test for most purposes.
  3. Use www.Congress.gov to find the website for your state legislature. Then use the search function to browse for pending legislation with keywords such as “worker classification,” “independent contractors,” or “ABC Test.”

Sample Talking Points for Conversations or Letters to Legislators (May Be Adapted into a Call Script)

  1. Vulnerable populations will suffer the most from an ABC Test without a language industry exemption. With at least 500 languages spoken in the U.S., the potential impact to vulnerable populations would be catastrophic. Should there be a significant reduction in the availability of language services, in particular on the interpreting side, and if companies are forced into the employee model, they will be much less likely to contract people to work in rare languages, since the need for them is much more infrequent than the more common languages. Immigrants and refugees would have more difficulty in receiving services at hospitals, schools, or in legal settings. Rising costs will put seemingly unrelated sectors at risk of violating federal law.

    As you may know, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on national origin by, among other things, failing to provide meaningful access to individuals who are limited English proficient (LEP). This is serious considering that countless industries, including health care, law enforcement, and finance, which receive federal dollars, rely on language companies to comply with language access laws and facilitate best practices. By dismantling the language industry’s independent contractor model, an ABC Test will have unintended consequences for seemingly unrelated industries as they scramble to fill the void.

  2. Without a language exemption, an ABC Test is unfair to businesses and workers. Given all of the costs and administrative requirements associated with employees, an ABC Test places our industry at a competitive disadvantage. If a worker is classified as an employee, the employer suddenly bears the responsibility of 1) paying Social Security and payroll taxes, 2) unemployment insurance taxes and state employment taxes, 3) providing workers’ compensation insurance, and 4) navigating state and federal statutes governing the wages, hours, and working conditions of employees. Translators and interpreters themselves are educated, highly experienced, highly trained, and often certified individuals performing highly specialized and professional services, who average $40/hour in the private marketplace.

Making a Difference through a United Front

I strongly encourage our members to support the efforts for an exemption and to contact their state representatives and senators. Just as the passage of AB 5 in California is serving as a model for other states, gaining an exemption in California will also serve as a model and make it easier for professional translators and interpreters to be exempt from being classified as “gig economy” workers in other states. We can only protect our profession by showing a united front and through grassroots efforts to educate our state legislators.

Notes
  1. Statement of Position Regarding California Assembly Bill 5 and Request for Exemption, http://bit.ly/ATA-AB5-statement.
  2. Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California, http://coalitionptic.org.
  3. ATA Statement on California SB 875 (Exemption to AB 5 for Translators and Interpreters), http://bit.ly/ATA-SB875-statement.
  4. “Determination Employer-Employee Relationship,” http://bit.ly/employer-employee-relationship.

Translation and Emotions: Keys for Effective Online Instruction and Collaboration

Emotional aspects in learning processes have been considered (at best) of secondary importance, but they’re essential for any learning to take place.

Today, it’s nearly impossible to think about producing a high-quality professional translation without access to online resources, both passive (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, and reference material) and interactive (e.g., discussion forums, chat rooms, and professional groups). It’s increasingly common for translation professionals to conduct their work remotely and collaboratively. This makes it completely natural and effective for future translators to be trained in surroundings similar to those in which they will practice their profession. This trend is reflected in the growth of online translator training programs, the demand for which is expected to increase. However, with the rise of online training options, there’s a concern that we’re losing a key element that’s important to a future translator’s success: fostering relationships through direct human contact.

Interaction with project managers, colleagues, clients, reviewers, editors, and other professionals, who form part of the constellation of direct professional contacts of any translator, is a crucial aspect of the translation trade. A translator’s professional success depends to a great extent on the quality of these relationships. At the same time, interaction is also an integral part of any learning process, and positive relationships with the instructor and other students are fundamental to learning.1 For many students, not having enough direct contact with instructors and peers is among the biggest challenges of online training. But how do we compensate for the lack of direct human interaction in online training courses?

There’s a growing awareness of the essential role that emotions play in many cognitive processes, including the two that are central for successful completion of translation tasks: decision-making and problem-solving.2 Affective aspects in learning processes have been considered (at best) of secondary importance, but they’re essential for any learning to take place. In addition, “emotions and teamwork have as much relevance for effective learning as the development of mental skills and individualized study.”3 As mentioned previously, since virtual classes lack physical presence and interaction, feelings of isolation and frustration on the part of students are a frequent problem.

As educators, we should look for didactic strategies in the socio-affective domain to create an environment that helps students avoid negative emotions, not only in terms of the relationship of the student with the study material, but also in terms of collaboration with fellow students and the instructor. Here I’ll discuss possible ways of effectively using social and affective strategies that we’ve studied and implemented in our own instruction within the Translation Certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. We hope that other translation instructors can incorporate these strategies in their virtual classrooms successfully. These strategies are also transferable to a professional virtual work environment.

Creating Communicative Proximity

Socio-affective strategies involve stimulating learning through establishing a level of empathy between the student and instructor. This can be done in a variety of ways.

Enhancing the Instructor’s Social Presence: For students to feel the instructor’s presence, the instructor has to be “visible,” which in a virtual environment usually requires some type of action. Technology allows the instructor to create what Rebecca DiVerniero (a lecturer in the Communication Studies Department at Christopher Newport University) and Angela Hosek (the director of Emerson College’s Communication 100 program) call “a dialogical atmosphere.”4 Three ways in which computer-mediated communication can help develop this atmosphere include:

  • Increased effectiveness in day-to-day communication. The availability of electronic media allows the instructor to respond and initiate conversations quickly and regularly.
  • An increased perception of the instructor’s availability on the part of the students. Communication outside the traditional schedule of a face-to-face course creates a sensation of constant attention and contact.
  • Increased opportunities for shy students, who might not feel comfortable in an open classroom forum, to speak to the instructor and ask questions or express doubts.

An instructor might also choose to create their own social presence by:

  • Focusing discussions on specific problems. Donald Kiraly, who taught in the School of Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz in Germany, calls this appropriation interpretation and reformulation of students’ ideas.5
  • Including additional information from external sources.6
  • Scheduling synchronous activities (virtual meetings).

Students in synchronous courses usually rate the instructor’s presence higher. Synchronous virtual meetings also emphasize the existence and identity of the group and its members in a more tangible way. In many cases, these meetings are the only opportunity for students to have a real-time conversation with their classmates and the instructor. Therefore, they play a prominent role in the socio-affective well-being of the class. However, students who are unable to participate in a real-time meeting (due to time zone differences, work, or family responsibilities, etc.) can feel left out. Therefore, it’s important to organize synchronous meetings at different times to give everyone the possibility to participate in the discussion at least once.

Creating Communicative Proximity: Research in the field of communication provides ways for the instructor to create a sense of psychological closeness or communicative proximity in a virtual classroom by means of physical and verbal behaviors that reduce the psychological and physical distance between individuals. In a traditional classroom environment, physical behaviors include eye contact, smiling, and leaning in during conversations with students. Students who notice such behavior on the part of their instructor tend to report feeling more motivated and perceive their instructor as more reliable.7 In order to create such proximity in a virtual class, the instructor can use:

  • Video recordings so as to include the gestural components of language, such as the feeling of a direct gaze. Such an effect can be achieved by filming the instructor in an informal environment while they look directly at the camera. A smile and open gestures can also shorten the psychological distance between the instructor and students.
  • Voice recordings, since being able to hear the instructor’s voice makes students feel more connected and helps to humanize the virtual learning experience.8 Recordings reinforce the presence of an instructor in a virtual classroom. Podcasts can also be very effective in a virtual course, as they help reduce students’ feelings of isolation and promote a social presence.
  • More visual elements such as colors, images, and photographs of the instructor in an academic environment that emphasize their expressiveness, accessibility, and dedication.

Building a Shared Community of Practice

Discussion Forums: Online discussion forums help reduce students’ sense of isolation and provide a space for sharing achievements, fears, and frustrations about the course in general or about a particular activity, thus creating a sense of community. For the forum to become the center of the community of practice, instructors might:

  • Provide specific guidelines on the use of the forum, such as instructions to:
    • Address others by name.
    • Justify their opinions and expand general statements.
    • Always treat others with respect, especially when expressing an opposing opinion.
    • Remember that in an online course, relationships with others are built through language, so the details of the communication in the forums must be handled carefully.
    • Quote or reference other students’ ideas.
    • Read all the comments before adding one’s own so as to contribute positively to the discussion and avoid the repetition of ideas already expressed.
  • Build discussions around students’ own interests, concerns, and experiences.
  • Recognize and reinforce student contributions, identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and seek a way to achieve consensus, learning, and understanding.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the discussion process.9

Instructors themselves must model the form of communication desired in the forum. They should emphasize that their opinion isn’t the only correct one. This will encourage students to offer their own opinions and not just try to guess the answer that the instructor wants to hear.

Peer Review: Peer review and mentoring activities are very effective in improving both group dynamics and each student’s translation strategies and techniques. They allow students to reflect on their own translation process, learn different ways to solve translation problems, participate in the creation of shared knowledge, and as a result, create a community of practice.10

For the peer review to be effective, it’s recommended that the instructor:

  • Explains the benefits of peer review and feedback to students;
  • Provides students with an adapted version of the ATA Certification Program’s Framework for Standardized Error Marking as a basis for peer evaluation.11 This practice will help them reflect on the process and product of their own (and others’) translation work. At the same time, it will bring learning closer to the standards of professional translation.

Promoting Productive Collaboration

Instructor’s Role: The instructor is essential in the creation of a productive, satisfactory, and genuine collaboration for students in a virtual class. The instructor should monitor and evaluate the collaborative processes used and provide help, advice, and tools.12 To promote effective collaboration, it’s suggested that the instructor:

  • Create the work groups carefully. It’s preferable to organize small groups (three to four students), taking into account the primary variables in student background (such as dominant language, specific areas of prior knowledge, and expertise with technology).
  • Create fixed roles within the group. It’s advisable for each participant to perform in a fixed role and assume responsibilities within the group. A prior discussion of such roles can help avoid social laziness, or the situation in which some students let others do the work. If this is noticed, the instructor can make “a diplomatic intervention.”13
  • Prior to the activity, teach students the essential rules for effective collaborative work and follow up on students’ success in collaboration after each group activity.14 Many humorous videos on collaboration practices and teamwork that can be found on YouTube could help foster a more effective team-member effort.
  • Set clear instructions regarding deadlines and the work to be completed.

Positive Interdependence: As Juan Antonio Prieto-Velasco and Adrián Fuentes-Luque, of the Department of Philology and Translation at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Spain, note, the two main potential problems in collaborative class activities are a lack of participation by some members and the excessive control of group dynamics by participants with dominant personalities.15 To prevent such behaviors, positive interdependence and shared responsibility should be created using the following techniques:

  • Students should receive a group reward for their work, which creates reward interdependence. Students may receive a shared grade in at least one of the aspects of collaborative work.
  • Create resource interdependence in which each student depends on the others to fill in their own knowledge gaps. For example, weekly readings can become shared readings. Each student in the group reads part of the material on the selected topics and shares what they’ve learned.
  • Create roles for the work process. For example, one group might be required to depend on another to complete the assignment as a whole, with some students translating and others editing.
  • Include anonymous peer evaluation in which each student evaluates the work of the other members, as well as the effectiveness of the group’s work in general, indicating both strengths and areas for improvement.

Establishing a Socio-Affective Domain Is Key

In the virtual classroom, effective management of the socio-affective domain is essential for both the learning process and the translation process. The socio-affective strategies discussed here help optimize the instructor’s effectiveness and prepare students for the workplace by:

  • Creating a sense of the instructor’s communicative proximity and social presence to encourage students’ ability to relax and become fully engaged.
  • Creating a community of practice by using discussion forums and peer review, both for effective learning and to reduce stress and tension.
  • Establishing situated learning to generate interest and connection with the future professional activity.
Notes
  1. Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (Harvard University Press, 1978).
  2. Rojo, Ana. “The Role of Emotions,” In J. W. Schwieter and A. Ferreira (Editors), The Handbook of Translation and Cognition (John Wiley & Sons, 2017), 382. See also: Oxford, Rebecca. Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies (Pearson, 2011).
  3. González Davies, M. “Socioconstructivismo,humanismo y plataformas pedagógicas: De la teoría al proyecto auténtico de traducción,” In M. Cánovas, M. González Davies, and L. Keim (Editors), Acortar distancias. Las TIC en la clase de traducción y de lenguas extranjeras (October 2010), 144.
  4. DiVerniero, Rebecca, and Angela Hosek. “Students’ Perceptions and Communicative Management of Instructors’ Online Self–Disclosure,” Communication Quarterly (August 2011), 429–430.
  5. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 79.
  6. Baker, Credence. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation,” Journal of Educators Online (January 2010), 23–24, http://bit.ly/Baker-immediacy.
  7. Mottet, Timothy, and Virginia Richmond. “An Inductive Analysis of Verbal Immediacy: Alternative Conceptualization of Relational Verbal Approach/Avoidance Strategies,” Communication Quarterly (January 1998), 25–40, http://bit.ly/Mottet-Richmond. See also: Schrodt, Paul, Paul Witt, Paul Turman, Scott Myers, Matthew Barton, and Kodiane Jernberg. “Instructor Credibility as a Mediator of Instructors’ Prosocial Communication Behaviors and Students’ Learning Outcomes,” Communication Education (July 2009), 350–371, http://bit.ly/Schrodt-instructor-credibility.
  8. Bolliger, Doris, Supawan Supanakorn, and Christine Boggs. “Impact of Podcasting on Student Motivation in the Online Learning Environment,” Computers and Education (September 2010), 720, http://bit.ly/Bolliger-podcasting.
  9. Baker, Credence. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation,” Journal of Educators Online (January 2010), 23–24, http://bit.ly/Baker-immediacy.
  10. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 111.
  11. ATA Certification Program Framework for Standardized Error Marking, http://bit.ly/error-framework.
  12. Jahng, Namsook. “Collaboration Indices for Monitoring Potential Problems in Online Small Groups,” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (Winter 2013), 2, http://bit.ly/Jahng.
  13. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 117.
  14. Huertas-Barros, Else. “Collaborative Learning in the Translation Classroom: Preliminary Survey Results,” JoSTrans: The Journal of Specialised Translation (July 2011), 42–60, https://goo.gl/kKJTYh.
  15. Prieto-Velasco, Juan, and Adrián Fuentes-Luque. “A Collaborative Multimodal Working Environment for the Development of Instrumental and Professional Competences of Student Translators: An Innovative Teaching Experience,” The Interpreter and Translator Trainer (April 2016).

Diego Mansilla, CT teaches advanced translation courses and is the director of the Spanish>English Translation Certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is also a professional translator with over 20 years of experience. He is a member of the board of directors of the New England Translators Association. An ATA-certified English>Spanish translator, he is a grader for ATA’s English>Spanish certification exam. Contact: diego.mansilla@umb.edu.

Creating New Terminology: Do Translators Really Do This?

Here are the seven term formation principles from ISO 704 Terminology Work—Principles and Methods that allow us to assess existing synonyms or new term suggestions.

The rhetorical question in the title above originates in my work with translation students in the Master’s in Translation and Interpreting program at New York University. In their second semester, they may not have thought about translating in subject areas that are new to the target culture and where terminology has not yet been coined. I explain that, as translators, they might get to form new terms. Sometimes, I hear a tiny gasp from students in my online course.

Naturally, not every technical translator will coin new terminology in every assignment. There’s plenty of work in domains with little innovation and on documents with repetitive material. But there are also scenarios that most certainly include new concepts. For example, a patent is a text about a new invention that is by definition a concept that doesn’t exist elsewhere in that form and, therefore, has to be assigned a term. Translators may work in or for organizations where new departments or new roles need to be named on a regular basis. In manufacturing environments, for example, the number of existing products and new versions may be so high that new names are first suggested by computer programs before a human approves them. This is not the norm. It’s still humans who name most new concepts. So, the more systematically they go about it, the better for the audience.

Language professionals from around the world have come together in the framework of the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) Technical Committee 37, Language and Terminology, to create ISO 704 Terminology Work—Principles and Methods.1 This international standard establishes the basic principles and methods for preparing and compiling terminologies both inside and outside the framework of standardization, and describes the links between objects, concepts, and their terminological representations. The standard also contains a section on term formation. The following will cover the seven term formation principles from ISO 704 that allow us to assess existing synonyms or new term suggestions.

While not all principles and methods are transferable to other languages, many are. Readers may recognize what works in another language, but also identify additional methods for their languages. My goal here is to share this topic with a wide audience and help make naming a more conscious and deliberate effort.

Why Do Well-Formed Terms and Names Matter?

One of the primary goals of technical material is to pass on information to a user. A large component of technical texts are terms and names (designations). Indeed, terms and names are the main carriers of information, as they’re the representations of concepts covered by the text.

If we invent terms and names randomly, chances are nobody will understand the concepts behind them. Communication will be inhibited or not occur. If we form terminology with a systematic approach, a larger percentage of readers will grasp the concept, and grasp it faster. In his Manuel pratique de terminology, Canadian translator-terminologist Robert Dubuc states: “[a] term is well-formed if the concept comes through either via the etymology or via the components of the term. Terms that follow the morphology of a language are often well-formed.”2 [Note: Translation mine.]

ISO Term Formation Principles

The 2009 edition of ISO 704 lists seven principles of term formation for the English language. They allow us to examine existing or new terms. In fact, a better term for these principles might be “term assessment principles.” The sections on the following pages cover the seven principles, complete with examples from my work as a terminologist. For more details, please see the standard itself. (Link provided at the end of this article.)

1. Transparency

If terms and names are transparent, the informed reader will not need a dictionary or definition to understand them. The meaning of the concept they represent will be clear from looking at the designation. Terms that are transparent reflect important characteristics of the concept (e.g., form or function).

Medical terminology, for example, is generally transparent to the subject matter experts of the field. Medical professionals will immediately recognize the concept underlying the term microprolactinoma as a small (micro-) tumor (-oma) that has an effect on the level of the hormone, prolactin, in the body of the patient.

That’s not to say that all medical terminology is created with transparency in mind. Some are what we call ill-formed. For example, a particular gene of the fruit fly was named Cheap Date, as a geneticist-friend pointed out years ago. Even to him the name was murky, but then he learned that the name was motivated by the fact that flies with a mutation in this gene are susceptible to alcohol.3

Figure 1: Short terms are usually less transparent.

2. Linguistic Economy

While the term/name must be clear and unique, it should also not be a long description. After all, we could use definitions to be precise, but that wouldn’t be convenient in most communication scenarios. Therefore, a term should be as short as possible. This matters even more in environments where limited space is available (e.g., cell phone screens).

Even where space plays no roll, communicators often prefer short terms for convenience. For example, NATO is used far more often then the full form North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But users and creators of terminology must be aware that shorter terms are less transparent. When asked whether DNA is a transparent term, invariably at least one says yes. Tongue in cheek I affirm that everyone knows that it refers to the Democratic National Alliance, a former political party in Trinidad and Tobago. Without knowing at least the subject area, we cannot be sure of the underlying concept. (See Figure 1.)

3. Consistency

Within the subject field, designations should be consistent and reflect the underlying concept system. Readers new to a subject field learn more quickly when the terminology is consistent, as retention is enhanced. Some good examples of this include:

  • Chemical formulas and their corresponding terms that reflect the underlying concept system (e.g., N2O, or dinitrogen monoxide; Cl2O7, or dichlorine heptoxide).4
  • Rotary-wing aircrafts are named based on the number of rotor systems each aircraft has (e.g., a multicopter is one with more than two rotor systems). (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2: Term base entries for consistently named rotary-wing crafts

4. Appropriateness

The designation must be appropriate for the audience of the text and the subject field and shouldn’t have any unwanted connotations. This principle suggests that we pick the right register for the audience. But it also helps us avoid creating terms that are hard to pronounce or that have distracting undertones.

Even companies that aren’t concerned with many of the other principles discussed here obey the latter aspect of this one when coining new product names. For example, when Windows® Vista was named, language experts for over 100 languages were asked what Vista meant to them. When only the Lithuanian linguists mentioned that višta means hen in their language, the Windows team deemed Vista acceptable for use worldwide.

5. Derivability and Compoundability

A new concept and its term may lead to new ways of communicating about them. If possible, we should keep in mind while coining the term that we may have to form other parts of speech (derivability) or compounds (compoundability) that are based on the term in the future. Here are two examples:

  • Starting with the Microsoft® Office 2007 suite, the user interface navigation changed from menu-driven navigation to the “ribbon,” a graphical control element in the form of a set of toolbars placed on several tabs. Pretty soon other software developers “ribbonized” their interfaces and introduced ribbons as navigational aids. And eventually the ribbon was broken down into “ribbon tabs” and “ribbon groups.”
  • When German terminologists decided that the noun for the English “upload” would be “Upload” in German, they didn’t think about the term as a verb yet. For a while, even the IT community struggled with the past tense of the term, which could be upgeloaded or geuploaded. Both sounded cumbersome and looked incorrect.

6. Linguistic Correctness

A new term must follow standard rules of the language with regard to spelling or grammar. Particularly areas of business that are sales-oriented are prone to violating this principle in their naming. Being hip trumps being correct. And yet, following established rules allows us to create terms or names that will be acceptable to a larger audience, less exposed to ridicule, and less likely to necessitate a change.

Inspired by English, many business owners of small businesses in Germany use the apostrophe “s” for possessives in their business name: e.g., Mirko’s Dönerbude or Erika’s Nagelstudio (correct: Mirkos Dönerbude and Erikas Nagelstudio). As linguists, we’re aware of hyphenation, capitalization, and other rules that apply to our languages and follow them.

7. Preference for Native Language

Often, we have a choice between a loanword, which we could introduce from the source language into the target language, and a term in the native language of the target market. The preferred term in most cases is a term in the native language (not a loan), because it’s generally easier for target-language readers to understand. This principle applies specifically to our scenario of creating terms during the translation process.

Particularly the IT professionals in other countries are willing to use English terminology, but that doesn’t always work out. Even IT experts in Germany voted to replace the above-mentioned example of the verb uploaden with the existing and perfectly fine German term hochladen when asked in a survey during an industry event in 2004. Replacing such a prevalent term many years after it was introduced is extremely costly for a company.

That’s why it was a surprise when Microsoft insisted on using the English term “firstline worker” (for a new category of workers) in many target-language markets. It’s one thing to retain the name of a product or a company name, but it’s not advisable to impose terms for general concepts on another language. Even if we don’t speak Japanese, we can see from the excerpt shown in Figure 3, which comes from a Japanese website, that it might be a problem.4 Just think of the sales representative who is trying to introduce clients to a product for firstline workers. It’s easy to imagine that by the second time they have to pronounce it, they’ll have invented something that works more naturally for them.

Figure 3: Excerpt of a Japanese website with English terms and names

There’s Nothing Easy about Naming

In my classroom, we look at terms in the context of their underlying concept and assess whether or not they meet the principles discussed above. Students notice that most terms don’t meet all the principles. As mentioned earlier, a term can often only be transparent (where the meaning of the underlying concept is readily understood) or short (where the meaning is less transparent). When this is the case, a concept might be represented by both a long and a short form. For instance, the long, more transparent, form should be used initially, but then the shorter form can be used in the rest of the document, especially if space is an issue. Sometimes long forms aren’t very easy to pronounce, and therefore might lack appropriateness. Again, this is where a short form might come in handy.

There’s nothing easy about naming, especially if we don’t do it regularly. Companies that are serious about their linguistic presentation and professional image put work into naming their products, features, departments, job titles, and most of all the company itself. As their extended representatives, translators must put equal care into the coining of new terms and names. ISO 704 provides us with seven term formation principles to guide us in this endeavor.

Notes
  1. ISO TC37 Language and Terminology. “ISO 704:2009 Terminology Work—Principles and Methods,” Vol. ISO 704 (Geneva: ISO/TC 37/SC 1, 2009), http://bit.ly/ISO-704.
  2. Dubuc, Robert. Manuel Pratique De Terminologie, 4th Edition (Brossard: Linguatech éditeur inc., 2002).
  3. Krulwich, Robert. “Fruit Fly Scientists Swatted Down Over ‘Cheap Date,’” NPR All Things Considered (February 9, 2009), http://bit.ly/Cheap-Date.
  4. “Naming of Molecular Compounds,” http://bit.ly/naming-compounds.
  5. IT Media News, http://bit.ly/Japanese-firstline.

Barbara Inge Karsch is the owner of BIK Terminology, a terminology consultancy and training company. As a consultant and trainer, she works with companies and organizations on terminology training, terminology development, and the implementation of terminology management systems. She draws on her 14 years of experience as an in-house terminologist for J.D. Edwards and Microsoft. She has been an adjunct instructor in the Master’s in Translation and Interpreting program at New York University since 2012. As a U.S. delegate to ISO Technical Committee 37, Language and Terminology (International Organization for Standardization), she is leading the revision of ISO 12616 (“Terminology work in support of multilingual communication—Part 1: Fundamentals of translation-oriented terminography”). Contact: bikterminology@gmail.com.

Why You Should Care about Terminology Management—Even if You Never Translate a Single Term

Managing terminology can improve your translation speed, your earnings, and, ultimately, make you a happier translator!

The following is a revised and expanded version of the presentation on terminology management I gave at the Übersetzernachlässe conference, organized by Deutsches Literaturarchiv, on November 26, 2019, in Marbach, Germany.

Those who keep advocating for terminology management as a translation best practice typically tell you that managing terminology means higher translation quality, improved consistency, and, ultimately, happier clients. These are all perfectly good reasons for translation professionals to take terminology management seriously, but I’m going to give you an even better reason for systematic terminology management. I’m telling you that managing terminology can improve your translation speed, your earnings, and, ultimately, make you a happier translator! These benefits apply not only to those who translate technical, scientific, legal, and other types of terminology-rich material, but any translation professional, including literary translators and others who might never translate a single technical term!

When my favorite topic comes up in conversation with translation professionals, I consistently hear people say three things:

  1. I know I should be managing terminology.
  2. But I don’t really understand why.
  3. And even if I understood why, I wouldn’t know how.

In the following, I’ll address the two latter comments, because that’s actually easier to do than some experts have you believe. (Of course, the first comment needs no addressing, since if you think you should be managing terminology, I couldn’t agree more!)

Because this is a discussion of terminology management fundamentals, let’s begin with the most basic concept.

What Is a Term?

In my experience, if you ask two terminologists to define a term, any term, you’re guaranteed to get three different answers, at a minimum. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are many definitions for “term,” ranging from the esoteric (e.g., “a designation that represents a general concept by linguistic means”1) to the mundane (e.g., “a word that matters to the client of a translation professional,” which is the definition I give to those in my introduction to terminology management course). But ultimately, in this terminologist’s view, the question of what is and isn’t a term is ultimately an academic concern.

What Kind of Words Should Translation Professionals Manage?

Now this is a question that’s actually relevant to the practice of translation. My personal view is that not only the special words that belong to a specific discipline should be managed as part of every translation project, but every “difficult” word. And by “difficult,” I mean any word, or string of words that:

  • You don’t know the translation of and would have to look up in a dictionary or other resource. Example: technical terms, idioms, jargon, archaic words, and any other words with which you may be unfamiliar.
  • You know and that might be translated more than one way. For example, if you’re translating a computer catalogue, it would probably be a good idea to use the term “USB stick” consistently throughout the catalogue instead of using “USB stick” on one page, “flash drive” on another, and “thumb drive” on yet another, even though they all mean the same thing.

While it’s mostly the translation professionals working in domains such as technical, scientific, and legal translation who deal with “terminology,” It’s probably safe to assume that almost any translation professional constantly deals with words that they either have to look up or should be translating in a uniform way for consistency.

What Are Transition Times?

Transition times are the periods when translation professionals switch from translation mode to terminology research mode (i.e., when they’re neither translating nor researching terminology). For example, when working with online dictionaries, transition time is the time required for moving the cursor from the translation environment (e.g., a word processor or translation memory system) to the dictionary resource (e.g., a website or standalone dictionary application). Transition times can vary from a few seconds to minutes (e.g., when working with multiple paper dictionaries).

Figure 1: Translating with ad hoc terminology management means multiple (unproductive) transition times.

What Is Ad Hoc Terminology Management?

When someone solves a problem in an ad hoc fashion, they’re doing so in an unsystematic, on-the-fly manner. Translation professionals who use ad hoc terminology management resolve terminology issues one by one as
they encounter them during translation.

What does translating with ad hoc terminology management look like? When you translate without a comprehensive, project-specific, multilingual term base, you must manage terminology ad hoc, meaning during translation. Doing terminology management during translation always means you have to interrupt the translation process to manage terminology! The result is an increase in transition times, leading to decreased productivity. This rule is particularly true if the following conditions apply:

  • The source document contains many difficult words.
  • Many of the difficult words are unknown words.
  • You want to translate all the difficult words correctly.
  • You want to translate all the difficult words consistently.

A typical translation process using ad hoc terminology management looks like this:

  • Translate until you come across a difficult word in the source document.
  • Stop translating.
  • Transition from the translation environment to the terminology management environment (e.g., consulting one or a combination of print and online dictionaries, online term bases, parallel texts, etc.).
  • Search for the target-language word in the terminology management environment.
  • Transition from the terminology management environment back to the translation environment.
  • Manually insert the target-language word into the target-language content.
  • Translate until there’s another difficult word in the source document.
  • Stop translating, and so on and so forth. (See Figure 1.)

What Is Proactive Terminology Management?

Being proactive means taking control and preparing a solution for a problem in advance. Likewise, in proactive terminology management, translation professionals systematically extract and research the difficult words involved in a translation project. Most importantly, terminology extraction and research happen before translation begins.

What does translating with proactive terminology management look like? Having a comprehensive, project-specific, multilingual term base available at the beginning of a translation project made a dramatic difference in my personal practice when I was still working as a translation professional. In all likelihood, being proactive when it comes to terminology management would also work for you. Why?

    • You don’t have to research difficult words during translation, which means;
    • You can translate without interruptions, which means;
    • You can translate faster because there are no transition times involving going back and forth between your translation environment and the terminology management environment.

It’s also worth noting that, at least in my personal experience, transitioning from terminology management to translation only once not only improves translation speed but also quality. Eliminating interruptions for terminology management also eliminates the risk of losing your train of thought when managing terminology during translation. (See Figure 2 below for an illustration.)

Figure 2: Translating with proactive terminology management can reduce the number of transitions times to one.

What Does It Take to Implement Proactive Terminology Management?

For many quality-conscious translation professionals, the answer to this question is: surprisingly little! To implement a simple proactive terminology management practice, you only have to do two things. First, you need to read the source text in its entirety before translation (which many of you already do). Second, while reading the source text, extract, research, and record the difficult words, phrases, and their translations before you begin the actual document translation process.

Even translation professionals who are most comfortable working with a word processor can start managing terminology proactively—tomorrow, if they so choose. As you can see in Figure 3, a standard word processor can easily display a term base window in addition to windows for the source and target text, respectively.

Figure 3: Term base window when translating in a word processor

How Is a Translation Memory System a Superior Translation Environment, Even for Non-Repetitive Text?

Many translation professionals I know who work on non-technical/scientific/legal/financial translations would never consider exchanging their word processor for a translation memory system as their primary translation environment. The main reason for this attitude seems to be the persisting myth that using a translation memory system makes sense only when translating repetitive text. And many translation professionals who currently use a word processor for translation deal with non-repetitive text.

I’ve been telling anyone who is willing to listen that while translation memory systems are most useful for the translation of repetitive text, they also make a world of a difference for the translation of non-repetitive text. One of the main reasons that translation memory systems are so useful is that once words and phrases are stored in the terminology management component of a translation memory system, these words and phrases are automatically recognized in the source text. Automatic terminology recognition means that all difficult words are highlighted in the source sentence, and the translated (difficult) words stored in the term base can be inserted into the target sentence at the push of a button.

It deserves emphasizing that automatic terminology recognition works with a completely empty translation memory database, as Figure 4 illustrates. Plus this feature is available in every translation memory system with which I’m familiar, including the many free translation memory products and web-based services available today.

Figure 4: Automatic terminology recognition in a translation memory system

What Does It All Mean for You?

If terminology management before translation is currently not part of your translation routine, you now have one more very compelling reason to change your ways. In addition to being able to produce more consistent (meaning better) translations, proactive terminology management could also make you a faster translator (no more pesky interruptions to look up words during translation). And it cannot be emphasized enough that managing terminology proactively doesn’t really add time/effort to a project, since you have to look up the difficult words in a project anyway.

If you still use a word processor for translation, with proactive terminology management, switching to a translation memory system will take your translation practice to a whole new level of speed and efficiency, even if your source texts are not repetitive (yes, I’m talking to you, literary translators). Proactive terminology management in a translation memory system is a good idea for all translation professionals who look up words, be they proper terms or just difficult words, as part of their translation projects.

And finally, remember that proactive terminology management not only means higher translation speed, improved earnings, and, ultimately, a happier you, but the results also make for happier clients.

Note
  1. ISO 1987:2019 Terminology work and terminology science—Vocabulary, http://bit.ly/ISO-term.

Uwe Muegge is Head of Terminology, Global Business Marketing at Facebook. He has more than 20 years of experience in translation and localization, having worked in leadership functions on both the vendor and buyer sides of the industry. He has published many articles on translation tools and processes and taught computer-assisted translation and terminology management courses at the college level in both the U.S. and Europe. Contact: info@muegge.cc.

A Look at Subtitling and Closed-Captioning Software

After a brief overview of the technological developments in this field, we’ll review the pros and cons of some of the top programs on the market, including a peek into the future of subtitling and closed-captioning software.

When I started translating audiovisual content, linguists in the industry weren’t called “audiovisual translators,” but “movie translators.” I worked on paper that was formatted with spaces for the title, page number, in time (the time at which the subtitle appears on-screen), out time (the time at which the subtitle disappears), and the translation, which was divided by letter. (See Figure 1 below for an example.)

My colleagues and I would listen to the dialogue on the video played in a three-quarters VCR (the width of the film was three-quarters of an inch), pause it, write the in time and out time, and subtract the in time from the out time to get the duration of the subtitle. We would then have to convert that number of frames into spaces, translate the dialogue mentally, count the characters to see if they fit in the space allowed, and finally write it down with a pencil. There were no spellcheckers available, so the writing had to be perfect at that point. We would then take a large stack of pages to the editing room to be typed by the Chyron1 operator so the subtitles could later be burned into the film reels.

Moviola and Computers: Then I started working the night shift for a bigger company, arriving just in time to see them transitioning from a Moviola to computers and a three-quarters VCR. The Moviola was an editing machine that allowed a film editor to view the film while editing.2 We would load film reels while performing some sleight of hand to get the celluloid to go into the Moviola’s many nooks and crannies so that it could be run. Sometimes the light source would burn the film, and if that happened, we would have to cut the piece that burned and splice it back together. I did only a few movies this way before the company provided me with access to a computer.

However, the computer didn’t have a hard drive. The software was run through a floppy disk drive in DOS. We used SoftNi, the first PC-based subtitling system. It had all you needed, except the background color for the subtitle was black, which bothered everyone. I remember how happy we were to get away from a black screen and into the whiteness of Word documents.

Betamax and VHS: The introduction of the home VCR opened a different world, allowing translators to work from home. We first worked with Betamax and then with VHS, along with our personal computers, still using SoftNi’s software. We would have to go to the office to get the videotapes, but this gave my colleagues and me a chance to connect with each other.

International Couriers: The profession stopped being local once tapes could be delivered to linguists around the world via DHL and FedEx. Translators would work with licensed software paid for by their client and, in rare occasions, with their own software (I state “rare” because prices were unaffordable for freelancers). This is when the number of audiovisual translators increased from a handful to dozens.

Internet and FTP: Audiovisual translation exploded when the file transfer protocol became available and both video and templates could be sent via the internet. This is when the number of audiovisual translators increased from dozens of specialized linguists to hundreds.

Cloud-Based: Cloud-based subtitling software finished opening the doors for audiovisual translators. Larger clients now have their own subtitling software. Medium clients still pay for licenses for their linguists, but more and more translators are buying subtitling software, which allows them to work for several clients. With the cloud, the number of subtitling experts increased from the hundreds to the thousands.

Figure 1: An early subtitling format on paper (note the translation is divided by letter)

Subtitling Software Wish List

Now that you have an idea of how much technology has progressed in this field, let’s explore what features are indispensable in today’s software. During my research for this article, I selected eight basic features I considered a must in subtitling software. This might not seem so important to those who’ve been using subtitling programs for a while, but it’s very important for companies who are just starting to develop their own. The architecture of a new program must consider a solution for all these features at the front end of the project or risk very expensive patches at the back end.

Free or Affordable: This goes without saying. Some programs on the market still make it unaffordable for the average translator.

Spellchecker: Some programs have their own spellchecker and others integrate dictionaries from Word, Open Office, or other open dictionaries.

Find and Replace, Undo and Redo, Merge and Split: We tend to take these features for granted, but when you’re developing new software, these are very hard to integrate into your program.

Audio Waveform: Certain software programs offer a waveform feature. A waveform is a visual representation of the film’s audio track that can be used to help time the subtitle. Some consider this feature a huge convenience, since you can drag and position subtitles on the waveform, along with their in and out times. I personally don’t like this method and don’t use it. It’s probably due to my background, learning how to time subtitles with a pause button and a piece of paper. I can time by eye pretty accurately within three frames of audio just by looking at the timecode on screen. But young audiovisual translators are used to the waveform feature, and new developers should include it in their programs.

Full-Screen Mode: Since context is king in subtitling, the size of the screen matters. This is more important nowadays where, due to security concerns, linguists receive heavily watermarked videos with which to work. Some programs borrow video players (e.g., VLC media player) and some have them fully integrated.

Zero Mouse Interaction: I’m not talking about an absolute zero, but as far away from the mouse as we can get. The less interaction our hand has with the mouse, the faster we can type. The faster we can type, the more money we can make.

Comparing Subtitling Software

After doing an extensive search of over 50 software programs, I decided to focus on a comparison of the features of three free and three commercial brands. These include:

  • Freeware: Subtitle Edit, Subtitle Workshop, and Aegisub
  • Commercial: SubtitleNEXT, EZTitles, and Ooona Tools

The results can be found in the table below.

If you decide to use cloud-based software (e.g., Ooona Tools or the online version of Subtitle Edit), I would recommend reviewing the nondisclosure agreements you’ve signed with your clients, since these programs store information on servers and not just on your desktop. You could be breaking your agreements without knowing it.

Pricing

Ooona Tools

http://bit.ly/Ooona-tools
Only the professional versions of Ooona Tools have the waveform feature and allow you to click and drag on it. Per their website, the price range goes from the Translate package ($12.00 per month) to the Review Pro package ($450 per month).

SubtitleNEXT

http://bit.ly/SubtitleNEXT
Per their website, SubtitleNEXT has a package called Air Live, which allows for subtitle insertion during on-air playback. You can buy SubtitleNEXT Novice for $485. You can rent SubtitleNEXT Explorer for $142 per month or buy it for $1,881. Or you could buy the SubtitleNEXT Expert bundle, which includes all the plug-ins, for $3,807.

EZTitles

http://bit.ly/EZTitles
You can rent or own EZTitles. They have six types of licenses from which to choose. You can rent the TV, DVD, and Enterprise packages for 80 to100 euros per month. The purchase price ranges from 1,620 euros for their Basic package to 2,380 euros for their Enterprise package. Only TV and Enterprise licenses have closed-caption capabilities.

Comparison of Subtitling Programs Features

Subtitle Edit

Subtitle Workshop

Aegisub

SubtitleNEXT

EZTitles

Ooona Tools

Freeware

Y

Y

Y

Commercial

Y

Y

Y

Video Player

VLC Media Player

Integrated

VLC Media Player

Integrated

Integrated

Integrated

Full-Screen Mode

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Waveform

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Merge/Split

Windows 10

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Error Analysis

Y

Customizable

Y

Customizable Customizable Customizable

Find/Replace

Y Y Y Y Y Y

Spellchecker

Open Office Word Open Office Open Dictionaries Y Y

Multilanguage

Y Y Y Y Y Y

Exports

Dozens Over 60 and Customized Over 10 Over 45 Over 50 Third-Party Conversion Software

Font and Color

Y Y Y Y Y Y

Undo/Redo

Y Y Y Y Y Y

Zero Mouse Interaction

Shortcuts Shortcuts Customizable Keyboard Shortcuts Hotkeys

Cloud-Based

Y Y

Desktop-Based

Y Y Y Y Y

 

Two Things You Can Do to Improve Your Productivity

All things being equal, what can directly affect your subtitling income is speed. I’m not talking about brain processing speed or the amount of time spent on research or reviewing your work, but about typing speed. There are two things you can do to impact your typing speed and, consequently, your income, and they’re free and simple.

Get Off Your Mouse: Don’t be so quick to dismiss this one. If you memorize every keyboard shortcut in your subtitling program—and not just the shortcuts you use the most—you’ll at least double your typing speed, and not only the shortcuts you use the most! Subtitling software isn’t cheap, and you should be utilizing every feature available to you, not only a handful, like most audiovisual translators. If your software doesn’t allow you to drop the mouse, drop the program and get a new one!

Increase Your Typing Speed: First, test your speed. For this, I like the FastFingers website (http://bit.ly/FastFingers-speed) because it’s free and you can be tested in your target language. Check if you’re a normal typist (40 words per minute), a superfast typist (75 words per minute), or fall under the “rolling in dough” category (working fewer hours than your colleagues for the same money, which means typing about 120 words per minute). The “Intel processor” in your brain can certainly translate more than 120 words per minute. If you’re open and willing to accept advice from me, let it be this: take the test and do some exercises to increase your typing speed.

Future of Subtitling Software

Machine Translation and Post-Editing: They are upon us. Localization companies and departments will start integrating them into their subtitling software. Of course, how fast this will happen will depend on how many translators accept post-editing work. Imagine if no translators accept post-edits? Or, a more moderate idea: what if translators charge the same for post-editing as for translating? I think this would slow down the snowball coming our way.

Translation Memories: SDL Trados Studio broke ground last year with their subtitling plug-in. I think, more than anything else, that this is the future of subtitling. Companies will start integrating translation memory into their proprietary software (I’ll leave the legal and ethical considerations of this one for another time), and audiovisual translators will finally be able to reap the rewards of all their body of work by bringing it together in a memory.

There are many subtitling programs (and at least one plug-in I know about) on the market today. My recommendation is to watch YouTube tutorials or use the free trials most companies offer to see what user interface you prefer. And don’t just look at one, invest your time and look at three at the very least to compare and make an informed decision.

Notes
  1. A Chyron is a machine that creates text-based graphics to be superimposed on a television screen or film frame, such as subtitles or the banners you see on a newscast (e.g., “Breaking news: The Storm is Coming.”).
  2. To watch how a Moviola works, see “Editing on a Moviola,” http://bit.ly/Moviola-editing.

Deborah Wexler is an ATA-certified English>Spanish translator and editor with over 20 years of experience specializing in audiovisual translation and Spanish orthography. She is the cofounder and administrator of ATA’s Audiovisual Division. She has translated over 6,000 program hours for television, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, streaming media, and the big screen. She is the operations manager of the Americas at Pixelogic Media. She is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, and has mentored and trained many translators who want to get into the subtitling field.

Call for Nominations

The 2020 Nominating and Leadership Development Committee is pleased to announce the call for nominations from ATA’s membership to fill three directors’ positions (each a three-year term). Elections will be held at the Annual Meeting of Voting Members on Thursday, October 22, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Under ATA’s Bylaws, all Active members of ATA are eligible to run for elected office. Active members are those who have passed an ATA certification exam or who are established as having achieved professional status through an Active Membership Review (see below for more information on this process), or through the Credentialed Interpreter program (http://bit.ly/ATA-CI-designation). Active members must be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. Other member categories are not eligible to serve as officers or directors. However, any member may submit a nomination. Members of the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee are not eligible to run for elected office.

2020 NOMINATING FORM ONLINE

Members may make a nomination using the relevant forms online (www.atanet.org/elections.php). Nominations should be submitted as early as possible so that the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee can fully consider proposed candidates. The deadline is March 2, 2020. Submit the form at the elections page referenced above, or email, mail, or fax the completed form to:

David C. Rumsey
Chair, ATA Nominating and Leadership Development Committee
American Translators Association
225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 590
Alexandria, VA 22314 USA
Fax: +1-703-683-6122
Email: Walter@atanet.org

If you plan to put names forward for nominations, please contact the potential nominees first, explaining your intention and the fact that a nomination does not guarantee a formal invitation to run for office. If a nomination is not put forward by the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee to ATA’s Board of Directors, an individual may still petition to be added to the slate of candidates by submitting the nomination in writing along with the signatures of at least 60 voting members endorsing the nomination. The petitions must be received by the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee no later than 30 calendar days after first publication by the Board of Directors of the names of the candidates proposed by the committee.

All ATA officers and directors serve on a volunteer basis: please do not nominate colleagues who express serious concerns about service, or who have conflicting priorities.

Become an ATA Voting Member!

Apply for Active Membership Review

Who is eligible to become a Voting member? ATA Associate members who can demonstrate that they are professionally engaged in translation, interpreting, or closely related fields may be eligible for Voting membership. The qualification process, called Active Membership Review, is free and online!

Why should I become a Voting member? Voting membership opens doors to your participation in the Association—take part in ATA elections, volunteer for Division and Committee roles, and increase your professional networking possibilities.

Check it out at www.atanet.org/membership/memb_review_online.php.

Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers

The November–December issue included an announcement that the Board voted to postpone a decision to open ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers. This was followed by the answers to some frequently asked questions concerning the issues involved (http://bit.ly/FAQ-Decoupling). Here are some responses we received after members were encouraged to submit their feedback.

But don’t let the conversation stop here! As an ATA member, your voice is important, so please send your comments!

Facts and Opinions on Decoupling ATA’s Certification Exam from Membership

By Robert Sette, CT
ATA-certified (French>English, Italian>English, Portuguese>English, and Spanish>English)

Denver, Colorado

ATA’s certification exam has always been a valuable membership right that is proudly held by many ATA members, and it has greatly benefited members and the Association. Last August, ATA’s Board of Directors postponed its decision to decouple the Certified Translator (CT) credential from ATA membership to January 1, 2021. Based on significant member input, the Board has prepared a Bylaws amendment to be presented to ATA Voting members at our 61st Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts (October 21–24, 2020).

That amendment, if passed, will effectively remove from the Bylaws the right of ATA members to take ATA’s certification exam and to hold the CT credential, making it possible for any individual in the U.S. or abroad to take the exam, and upon passing, to be “ATA-certified” without being an ATA member. As the ATA 61st Annual Conference in Boston approaches, all Voting members of the Association must thoughtfully consider whether we should relinquish this right as members and remove it from our Bylaws.

Background: The Hamm Report

In 2000, association executive and certification consultant Michael Hamm delivered a report to ATA’s Board. In that report, he mentioned the possibility of separating ATA’s credential from a membership requirement. He also mentioned that the most well-respected credentials are administered by an independent body, not a membership association.

In the end, he made nine specific recommendations designated “A” through “I.” Not one of those recommendations specifically mentions decoupling certification from membership. Recommendations “A” and “B,” however, are significant. They refer to first conducting a strategic planning process (which never occurred), and second, establishing a formal body to govern “all credentials offered by the Association.”1 (This independent body was never created.) Neither the independent body nor a strategic planning process were even mentioned in the summary ATA prepared and posted on its website in 2001, entitled “Executive Summary.”2 For many years (apparently until early 2018, when former ATA Director and Treasurer Gabe Bokor made it available on his website), the report was deemed confidential, and that highly edited “summary” was what was available to the membership. The full Hamm report seems to have only been made available on ATA’s website in mid-2019.

Credibility of Our Credential

The prime justification that ATA has stated for decoupling certification is to “enhance the credibility” of our credential. Unfortunately, there is no current, specific, or validated evidence that decoupling would serve this purpose. Yes, Michael Hamm says that membership-based credentials “typically have less credibility and impact in an industry/profession… than freestanding national professional certifications,” but he goes on to say that “some freestanding national professional certifications have easier testing requirements” than ATA’s credential at the time of his report, 20 years ago, in 1999–2000.3 Hamm did not qualify ATA certification (then referred to as “accreditation”) in a negative light. In fact, it was then-ATA President Ann Macfarlane who, in reference to ATA’s credential, stated that “in the world of voluntary certifications, a member-based credential may be perceived as a second-rate credential4 (emphasis added). Hamm made no such assertion.

There is no logical link between separating our credential from Association membership and enhancing its stature. Nonmember certified translators would not have any vested interest in promoting ATA, attending its functions, or contributing as speakers, writers, or mentors. The difficulty of verifying fulfillment of continuing education requirements would certainly increase, and that would most definitely not enhance the credibility of our credential.

In a nonmember certified translator scenario, the enforcement of ethics matters, once adjudicated, would have no “teeth,” and an individual would be free to claim ATA certification without fear of sanctions being levied, other than removal from ATA’s list of certified members. Even now, with the available sanction of suspending membership, it’s difficult and time-consuming for ATA Headquarters staff to pursue individuals who fraudulently claim ATA certified status.

The bottom line with regard to credibility is this: ATA certification is already one of the top translator credentials in the world. It’s well-respected by professionals, educators, and clients, and even by Michael Hamm. There is no evidence of other credentials that have soared in stature simply because of removal of an association membership requirement.

Finances

The Bylaws amendment to be presented to the membership later this year, as passed by the Board at the 2019 ATA Annual Conference in Palm Springs, states in part:

[…] Whereas allowing nonmembers to take the ATA certification exam is expected to increase market demand for the exam, resulting in additional revenue to the Association […]

This statement cannot be supported. ATA has not determined the nonmember pricing for the exam or for maintaining certification. Additionally, ATA’s Board has stated that there is only “anecdotal” evidence of nonmembers wanting to take the exam. No market research has been done. No survey of the membership asking how many certified translators would remain if they did not have to maintain ATA membership. With stated per-exam expenses of $500 to $600 and a current member exam fee of $525, any claimed additional revenue would be minimal. The net result would even likely be negative, based on the increase in administrative work at ATA Headquarters required by any substantial increase in exam numbers, and any decline in membership dues revenue from members who choose to leave while maintaining their certification.

Additionally, in ATA’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, a loss of approximately $170K was recorded.5 Although it has been stated that the Association is still financially healthy, this is not the time to upset our financial apple cart with all of these unknowns, and the claim of “additional revenue” is aspirational at best. In fact, if the Association were to record a loss in the current fiscal year, as is predicted to happen, that would violate the pre-conditions for decoupling established by ATA’s Board.6

Is Restriction of Trade an Issue?

One rationale proposed by ATA for decoupling is the concern that nonmembers may file lawsuits, claiming that they are restricted from working as a translator by the requirement to join ATA to sit for our exam. There are two aspects of this argument that discredit this rationale. First, ATA certification is a voluntary credential, not a license to practice a profession. As such, no barrier to entry can be claimed. Second, ATA has stated that of the estimated 55,000 working translators in the U.S., approximately 2,000 hold ATA certification, which amounts to 3.6%. Additionally, our exam is offered internationally, and with global estimates of the number of working translators exceeding 500,000, ATA-certified translators represent less than 1% of the global translation workforce. Courts would entertain restriction of trade claims if the number of certified individuals were 25–30% of the practitioners of that profession. Our numbers are infinitesimally small compared to that threshold, so this threat is practically nonexistent, and this justification for decoupling is consequently irrelevant.

What Can—and Should—Be Done to Enhance Our Credential?

If the overall aim of ATA’s Board is to enhance the recognition of our credential, then there are various concrete steps that can be taken to do so. For example, promotion of the credential among business and industry associations, through a speakers’ bureau, fact sheets provided to translation users, such as university foreign student admission offices, or perhaps a separate, dedicated website for the certification credential and its benefits directed specifically at translation buyers/users. Engaging ATA-certified translators, external stakeholders, educators, and clients is a key component needed to determine the strategic next steps for our credential, and I welcome the fair and open dialogue ATA is now supporting.

Lastly, many solid, beneficial, and lasting improvements have been made to ATA’s Certification Program in the years following (and truly because of) the Hamm report. Grader training has been expanded, and quality and consistency improvements have been implemented across language combinations.

Conclusion

As we move forward toward a membership vote in Boston this fall, I stand firmly against opening our valuable credential to nonmembers, based on the unproven and erroneous arguments put forward as justification by ATA’s Board to date. I look forward to engaging discussion through the fora provided by ATA and in other discussion venues.

Notes
  1. ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000), 18, http://bit.ly/Hamm-report.
  2. An Executive Summary: Review of the ATA Certification Program, http://bit.ly/Hamm-executive-summary.
  3. Hamm, 16-17, http://bit.ly/Hamm-report.
  4. “From the President,” The ATA Chronicle (August 2001), 9, http://bit.ly/Chronicle-2001.
  5. ATA Board Meeting Summary (October 26–27, 2019), http://bit.ly/summary-October2019.
  6. ATA Board Meeting Minutes (April 18–19, 2015), http://bit.ly/summary-April2015.

Opening the Exam: Too Many Unknowns

By Jessica Hartstein, CT, CI
ATA-certified (Spanish>English and French>English), Credentialed Interpreter Legal (Spanish)

Houston, Texas

Members, this is your chance to vote and let your voice be heard! When you decide whether you want to open ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers, there are several factors to consider.

Credibility

First, let’s consider why ATA wants to open the exam to nonmembers and whether doing so would achieve ATA’s goal. The main rationale for opening the exam to nonmembers, as stated in The ATA Chronicle and other ATA forums, is to enhance the credibility of the Certification Program.

Question #1: Does the ATA Certification Program have a credibility issue? Among my clients and colleagues, I’ve found that ATA’s Certification Program is very well-respected. Being ATA-certified has opened numerous doors for me professionally, and I suspect that’s true for many of you as well.

Even if there were a credibility issue (which I don’t think there is), what are some other potential solutions? I would think the best solutions would have something to do with the nature of the exam itself. For example, time constraints, passage length, passage difficulty, preventing cheating, consistency of the grading process, and the qualifications of the candidates. No such changes are being presented along with decoupling, so the exam results themselves wouldn’t become more respected by opening the exam.

Do your clients know that ATA certification is only available to members? Would they find it more credible if nonmembers took the exam?

Question #2: Would opening the exam to all translators around the world drive more clients to you? The FAQs on decoupling published in the November–December issue of The ATA Chronicle say that more certified translators would increase the recognition of the profession.1 If Harvard doubled the size of its graduating class, a degree would be less valuable for each Harvard graduate. Harvard would create more alumni telling others about their school, but eventually the graduates themselves would not be as respected as they are now. The FAQs on decoupling indicate there are around 40,000 U.S.-based translators who are not ATA members, and, according to the Translators Association of China, as of 2012, there were an estimated 640,000 translators worldwide. Per ATA’s website, we offer the exam in 10 countries worldwide (seven of them in Spanish-speaking countries), but they could be held anywhere.

Using the Hamm Report as the Basis

Question #3: Does the Hamm Report clearly state that opening today’s exam is the correct course of action? I recommend you read the entire 21-page Hamm Report, as it’s the basis for ATA’s desire to open the exam.2 When you do, you’ll see that opening the certification exam to nonmembers in its current state is not what Michael Hamm recommended back in 2000.

In his conclusions, he listed nine action items, none of which were opening the exam to nonmembers. His action items included a myriad of operational and exam improvements, many of which have been implemented to the benefit of the program. He recommended separating the Certification Program into an independent body “with minimal involvement from the Association” (this hasn’t been done). He recommended this because it “is an important issue in terms of achieving recognition from external stakeholders such as government agencies.”

He also recommended adding eligibility requirements for exam-takers to prevent people with no educational/professional translation experience from becoming certified translators (something I’ve witnessed since eligibility requirements to register for the exam were removed in 2017).

ATA removed the eligibility requirements because the pass rate hadn’t improved. However, Michael Hamm’s recommendation wasn’t about the pass rate, it was about the credibility of the program being adversely affected when non-translators pass the exam. He stated that eligibility requirements “help inform stakeholders of the proposed level of the examination.” A lack of eligibility requirements could tell the public this is an entry-level exam. I’ve researched other professional certification (and licensing) exams, and every other professional exam I read about has eligibility requirements. Without them, people who are not serious about the profession will have the same credential, and that lowers credibility. Is it time to bring eligibility requirements back?

Question 4: Will decoupling today’s exam improve credibility in the eyes of government agencies? In the report, Hamm considered opening the exam to nonmembers to be a “critical marketing issue.” He mentioned that “membership requirements are a major ‘turn off’ to external stakeholder groups that are evaluating the credibility of certification programs” and that “government agencies are particularly uncomfortable with these rules when they are asked to recognize or endorse a certification program.” He didn’t back up these general statements—no peer-reviewed publication was cited, for example. He also didn’t speak to anyone outside ATA about our Certification Program, so we don’t even know if any specific external stakeholders or government agencies care about decoupling or what policies they would change in response. His statements were made 20 years ago, when he recommended ATA create a three- to five-year strategic plan. Now it’s time for us to decide for ourselves what ATA should do next.

Too Many Unknowns

There are many unknowns, so much so that it seems too risky to press on without doing more research. For example, ATA stated it has not done a market study on how many people would take the exam if it were opened. ProZ recently asked its translators whether they would be interested in taking ATA’s certification exam if it were open to nonmembers. Only 20% of the ProZ translators who participated in the poll indicated they weren’t interested.

ATA also hasn’t surveyed current membership about decoupling, and doesn’t know how many certified members would leave if membership was no longer required to maintain certification. Losing experienced members hurts ATA.

I’m so thankful for the volunteer graders generously sharing their expertise and time and making our Certification Program so strong. ATA hasn’t published the results of any well-executed survey of graders to know how many of them would be demotivated from volunteering in this new scenario. (Some graders have already publicly and privately stated they would leave the program.) The Spanish language pair would likely be the most affected by the increased demand. Could our graders, ATA Headquarters staff, and the Ethics Committee really handle the increased demand for all language pairs, especially if we lost a significant number of graders? Just one language pair losing key graders could make the whole program lose credibility.

The cost of the exam and renewal fees for nonmembers has not yet been published. Without survey/market research/cost numbers to plug into equations, the financial impact is still unknown. A bigger ATA is a stronger ATA from which we all benefit. According to the free decoupling webinar ATA presented in October, 25% of all new members join ATA to take the exam.3 Think about how losing those 400+ new members year after year will look for us 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.

What Do Others Think?

Recently, I reached out to some ATA colleagues from different language pairs, different parts of the country, certified and not certified, men and women, and simply asked, “What do you think about opening the exam to nonmembers?” These colleagues are currently supporting themselves through translation work, they actively participate in ATA, and none of them hold leadership positions. Eighty percent told me that they were against opening the exam, and the other 20% were undecided. I thought this was compelling because I had never talked to these colleagues about ATA politics before, so I truly wasn’t trying to skew the results.

AMA and ABA Don’t Administer Board/Bar Exams

ATA has mentioned that you don’t have to be a member of the American Medical Association (AMA) or American Bar Association (ABA) to take the board/bar exams. However, these associations don’t administer the board/bar exams or issue licenses.

Voluntary Credential

ATA certification has always been a voluntary credential, a way to stand out. No law requires the use of ATA-certified translators, and most translators working today are not certified. Therefore, it’s not a barrier to entry, and we’re not illegally controlling any supply.

The legal concern might make more sense if ATA is pursuing legislation that would require the use of ATA-certified translators across the U.S. Is that happening? If so, members ought to know.

Relevant Case Study

Just a few years ago, the International Council on Systems Engineering decided to add a membership requirement to its certification program. ATA is looking at going in the opposite direction with decoupling.

Leadership

I wholeheartedly believe ATA leaders are committed to our organization and do their jobs/volunteer work with the best of intentions. We’ve all benefited from their contributions. I have a common goal with our leaders: wanting a strong ATA and Certification Program. Questioning whether opening today’s exam to nonmembers would achieve that goal shouldn’t take that away.

Question #5: Should ATA leadership’s first priority be our members, who have a lot to lose if this doesn’t go well, or the tens of thousands of translators who haven’t joined us? The FAQs state that opening the exam would benefit the entire industry, but no specific evidence has been presented regarding how. Members deserve some concrete evidence regarding how this would directly benefit them before removing a beloved member right that makes ATA so strong.

Conclusion

I appreciate that the Board will allow us to vote on this matter, as the Bylaws list taking the certification exam under its list of Member Rights, next to the rights to vote, hold office, and serve on the Board of Directors and all committees of the Association.

There are lots of ways to improve the credibility of ATA that don’t involve decoupling, and I would like to be a part of a solution. I hope you will join me. We could enhance the credibility of the Certification Program and ATA brand by working with external stakeholders and government agencies to better inform them of the strengths of our members and our current program. We could also do more public outreach to increase the recognition of the industry and work harder to retain and attract members.

Notes
  1. “Frequently Asked Questions: Opening ATA’s Certification Exam and the Certified Translator Credential to Nonmembers of ATA,” The ATA Chronicle (November–December, 2019), http://bit.ly/FAQ-Decoupling
  2. ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000), http://bit.ly/Hamm-report.
  3. “Opening the ATA Certification Exam to Nonmembers,” ATA Webinar Series (October 1, 2019), http://bit.ly/webinar-decoupling.

We want to hear from you!

Members are encouraged to submit their opinions, both pro and con, regarding opening ATA’s certification exam to nonmembers (also referred to as decoupling) for publication in The ATA Chronicle. While it may not be possible to print all submissions, equal space will be provided for members to present views on both sides of the issue. Please send to jeff@atanet.org.

Note: In keeping with standard ATA editorial policy, submissions must include the author’s name, which will be published. Anonymous submissions will not be accepted for publication.

Watch Your Back for a Recession

If a recession is in fact coming, what can you, as a freelancer and a business owner, do to prepare?

I’m not an economist (far from it!), but it’s hard to miss the rumblings in the financial press that the U.S. (or even the world) economy may be headed for a recession. After a 10-year bull market, we’re in a bit of a “what goes up must come down” situation, and as a business owner, the best time to start planning for a downturn is last year, but if you haven’t done that, let’s start planning now!

This topic has been marinating in my mind for a while, and it came to the forefront when I listened to a recent episode of The Freelancers Show1 podcast on recession-proofing your business. Side note: I both understand and dislike the term “-proofing” (future-proofing, recession-proofing), because you can’t really “-proof” against something as uncertain as the future, or a recession. And I think it can create a false sense of security to say “my business is now recession-proof,” when in reality that’s not possible. However, I understand why people use that term, so let’s go with it.

A Helpful Episode of the Freelancers Show

The Freelancers Show—hosted by a rotating panel of information technology guys—is one of my favorite non-translation business podcasts. The hosts and topics are generally really interesting, I think it’s good to get perspectives from another industry, and I find a lot of their advice appealing because it’s for nerds. It’s straightforward, non-salesy stuff for people who work in nerdy industries. The host of this recession-proofing episode, Reuven Lerner2, a Python programming trainer, is one of my favorite panelists, and his strategies are often surprisingly applicable to translators because he works with a lot of international clients.

Step 1: Build Up Your Savings

So, if a recession is in fact coming, what can you, as a freelancer and a business owner, do to prepare? I recommend you listen to Reuven’s podcast episode, and I’ll elaborate on a few of its suggestions here, with a few of my own.

  • If business is good for you right now, start building a cash cushion. If the recession comes, you have a financial buffer. If it doesn’t, you still have a financial buffer and you can reinvest it in your business, or decide that life is short and it’s time to go to Hawaii for a month. Either way, a better cash cushion in your business is a healthy thing to have.
  • How much is “enough” in savings? That’s a tough one because it depends on the specifics of your situation. By how much could you cut your living expenses in a pinch? How much debt do you have? Who else relies on your income? Ideally, I think a year of living expenses in the bank is a good cushion. In reality, you have to balance the many moving parts of your financial situation.

With the caveat that I’m not a financial advisor, here’s an example. I aim for about a $10,000 cushion in my business savings account; much less than a year of living expenses. However, I feel that it’s sufficient for my situation. My husband and I paid off our mortgage a number of years ago and are now completely debt-free, and our house has approximately doubled in value since we bought it in 2004—that opens up the option of taking a pretty large home equity loan if we needed cash. We have a decent amount of long-term savings in retirement accounts, but because of our big push to go debt-free (which we both agree was worth doing), we probably have less liquid cash than many two-income families do. However, we have a lot of financial flexibility if we need it: we have one kid who will go to college next year (all the money for that is in a 529 account), and thus will no longer live with us full-time. If we did some improvements to our house, we could rent it for probably $2,500 a month. I already have a job where I can work from anywhere. My husband has an in-house job but works in information technology, so theoretically he could find a remote job.

And let’s say that we: a) needed to cut our living expenses, and b) wanted to go on an adventure. We could do something out-of-the-box like move to Thailand for a year, where one can rent a quite nice one-bedroom apartment for, let’s say, $1,000 a month, while simultaneously renting our own house out for a lot more than that. Realistically, we both love traveling, and we could probably find a place in a really inexpensive country where we could even live without working if we rented our house out. That opens up a lot of options.

On the flip side, if you have a big mortgage, car loans, credit card debt, student debt, a spouse who is not employed, your elderly mom in the garage apartment, and three kids in elementary school, you’ve got a very different situation. That’s a pretty big ship to reroute if the economy goes sour. In that case, you might aim for more like 75–100K in savings. Everyone’s mileage varies, but hopefully those examples help.

Step 2: Consider Your Current Clients

In the podcast episode, Reuven makes the point that recessions don’t hit every business sector equally, or perhaps even at all. For example, the dot-com bubble really only affected tech companies. At the time of the 2008 recession, I was doing a lot of legal translation. Business volume during that time: never better! Some sectors of the translation industry make money “coming and going” so to speak, and are probably relatively immune to a recession.

But you want to look at your current client base and identify clients where you might be classified as “the fat” if that client had to “trim the fat.” Reuven uses the example of teaching in-person training courses. He anticipates that if there’s a recession, his smaller clients may stop hiring in-person trainers altogether (so he’s developed more robust online offerings), or they may bring trainers in for shorter courses. In our profession, I would be looking at clients who are hiring a translator because they want to, not because they have to. If you’re translating a client’s blog because they think it’s fun to have it in multiple languages, that might be an expense they would look to cut if needed. If you translate for architecture or construction companies, they could be some of the first to be hit by an economic downturn.

So, first, take a realistic look at, let’s say, the clients that provide the top 50% of your income, and ask yourself whether they’re likely to cut back on translation in a financial pinch.

Step 3: Consider What Thrives in a Recession

Even in a serious recession, there’s still business to be found. Reuven provided a great example of this during the podcast. In a tight job market, many people are looking to build up their professional skills so that they’re as marketable as possible for the smaller number of jobs that are available. Recessions are a great time to expand into teaching and training, or to offer services like copywriting and web design that help freelancers market themselves.

Recessions are also a great time to beef up your own career skills. When you don’t have a ton of work, you have another advantage: time. If you have that robust savings cushion and can afford to take a hit on your paying work, a recession can be a great time to go back to school, pursue a new specialization, or retrain for an aspect of the language professions you’ve always been interested in, whether that’s software localization or conference interpreting.

Step 4: Start Casting a Wider Net?

When you have a thriving business, it’s easy to get complacent. But when a recession hits, you’re stuck kicking your (nonexistent) marketing engine into gear. Better to start revving it up now so that the groundwork is in place when/if you need new clients. Examples of this would include:

  • Starting to attend client-side conferences to get to know the players in your target business sectors. Perhaps you can even start replacing some of your lower-paying clients right now.3
  • Expanding the circle of translators and interpreters who know you, which is not only fun, but increases the possibility that they will think of you when they’re giving referrals or looking for someone to partner with. I’m doing that in my own business. For a long time now, I’ve turned down basically every non-ATA speaking invitation I received, but now I’m starting to accept some of those since I have more time. This appeals to me personally, and it’s also a good way to spread the word about my online courses and books to new people.
  • If there’s a job search portal for your target business sectors, join it. For example, I belong to Devex4, which focuses on the international development sector. I’m not looking for an in-house job, but I like to keep an eye on which entities are hiring because it indicates that they’re on solid financial footing.
  • The run-up to a potential recession is also a good time to think about diversifying. If you’re interested in running a multi-pronged business–which not everyone is–now may be a good time to launch another arm of your business.

Finally: Take a Look at Your Fixed Expenses

A sudden business downturn can hit very hard. For example, I expect to make almost exactly $100,000 from translation this year (which makes it easy to calculate percentages, etc.), and I earned $18,000 from one client and $17,000 from another, both of which are entities that could theoretically take their translations in-house if they assigned them to a bilingual staff person, which I know for sure that they have. Of course that’s not a great option—they’re happy with my work and their bilingual staff have other jobs and aren’t professional translators, but it’s still possible. And that’s 35% of my income for this year.

To keep that kind of hit from becoming a catastrophe, it’s good to: a) build a savings cushion (see above), and b) carefully review any fixed expenses you have in your business. Reuven gives the example of having salaried employees who he had to lay off during the 2008 recession. If you have employees, especially if you live in a country where you’re legally obligated to pay them severance if you lay them off (one month per year of service is not uncommon in some places), that’s something to consider. If you rent an office (which I do), that’s also something to consider. For example, I would probably not take out a year-long lease on a desk space right now. I would go for month-to-month if at all possible, and if not then something like six months. If needed, I could (perhaps at the cost of my mental health!) give up my desk space and go back to working from home.

Readers, other thoughts on this? How concerned are you about the possibility of a recession? What are you doing to prepare?

Notes
  1. The Freelancers Show, “TFS 347: Recession-Proofing Your Business” (November 12, 2019), http://bit.ly/Freelance-Show-Recession.
  2. You can learn more about Reuven Lerner here: https://lerner.co.il.
  3. Hansen, Michèle, “Client-Side Conferences as a Marketing Tool,” Thoughts on Translation (November 16, 2018), http://bit.ly/Michèle-Hansen.
  4. Devex, www.devex.com.

Corinne McKay, CT is the immediate past president of ATA and an ATA-certified French>English translator specializing in international development, corporate communications/content marketing, and nonfiction books. In addition to her translation work, she is the author of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, a business how-to guide with over 12,000 copies in print. Her blog, Thoughts on Translation, received the ProZ Community Choice award for best blog about translation in 2016 and 2018. Contact: corinne@translatewrite.com.

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