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Interview with Alejandro Moreno-Ramos (Mox)

Ricard Sierra // 01/06/2012 // The translation profession

If you are a translator you surely must have heard of Mox and laugh with his ironic view of the world of translation, freelancers, agencies and clients. Alejandro, a technical translator, is the author of this hilarious comic strip.

When did you decide to start publishing your strip and why?

It was in 2009, during a short “famine period” in which I was not getting any translation work. I was able to occupy myself during the first two days in a row without work, but by the third one I was desperately trying to distract myself, so I decided to start a blog. Since I had recently switched to full-time translation, my main objective at that moment was to gain some visibility and find new clients.

Back then, there were already several thousand translation blogs, and I thought that a “different” blog would receive more visits. The truth is that I would have never imagined that Mox would become so popular.

By the way, as of today, there are even more translation blogs, but I still think that there is a lack of specialized translation blogs.

How do you get the ideas for Mox and how do you manage to make humor out of a profession which doesn’t seem prone to it?

I find my work as a freelance translator to be surreal, and there is not a single day without some event that could be used for a Mox’s cartoon. Also, about one third of Mox’s cartoons are based on ideas suggested by readers. I appreciate these especially because they are often ideas that I would not have thought about on my own.

Freelance translation can be easily parodied because it is a profession largely unknown by the public and also because there are not entry barriers. As a consequence, in the industry you will find excellent professionals and also kitchen-table amateurs.

Do you think the translation industry needs more humor?

The humor is already there, I only depict it in cartoons. Have you ever received a translation offer for 0.01 USD per source word for a weekend job? Have you ever been asked what do you really do for a living? That’s pure humor, isn’t it?

You recently published Mox’s Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation. Are you working on other Mox’s projects?

The book has been quite a success, and I am already working hard on the second one, due for Christmas and which will be full of surprises.

Mox must have lots and lots of fans, but are you aware of any critics?

None that I can think of. I guess that I must be lucky, given that I have made fun of translators, translation agencies, CAT developers, end clients, translator’s spouses, Native Americans, translation portals, and even translators’ pets, to name a few.

Do you know what translation agencies think of it?

Generally speaking, I have received very positive from agencies, but they all agree in one thing: there should be an additional character, a “nice” Project Manager who has to deal with unskilled and lousy translators. To this, I always answer that it would be just not credible, since there is no such a person as “a nice Project Manager”.

Are all the situations based on your own experience or do you get your inspiration in other people’s lives?

At the beginning they were mostly based on my own experience, but very soon Mox and the rest of the characters became alive and developed their own personality. In fact, I often face the situation where I have a good story to tell but I cannot because the characters would not accept it.

Out of all your comic strips, which is your favorite one?

What a difficult question! Right away I am thinking about the one where Mox tells his girlfriend Lena that he dreams about translating extraterrestrial languages.

What are your references? Who do you follow?

Dilbert is my absolute favorite in the cartoon industry. It helped me not to kill myself when I had an in-house job, with fixed working hours, a suit and tie dress code, and, above all, a boss.

What is your favorite Mox strip?


Interview with Lluís Cavallé, interpreter for Guardiola

Pilar del Rey // 24/05/2012 // The translation profession

The basic 4

How long have you been working as a translator and interpreter?

Since 2002. Before I finished my degree, I started doing occasional pieces of work that came to me through connections, then more professionally after graduating in 2006. And now, for the last year and a half, as a freelancer, which is what I currently am. Before that I’d always worked in-company.

What advice would you give to a translator who is starting out?

A piece of advice that comes up time and time again when translators get together or in their written pointers, is to not stop learning and, particularly, to specialise in one or more fields. Find an industry or area of expertise you especially like and learn about it as thoroughly as possible.

How did you get into this field?

I did a degree in Translation and Interpretation at UAB (Autonomous University of Barcelona). At the outset, I was especially keen to do interpreting work. In fact, I applied to do the entrance exams at ESIT, the Interpreters School of Paris. The only thing is, you can only apply twice in a lifetime, and I failed, so when I came home, as I’d always translated and it was easier to find translation work, I decided to do an online Master in Audiovisual Translation at the UAB.  That’s how I came to specialise in this field.

What would you like to achieve?

As a result of doing my masters, which I am writing my dissertation for, one of the options I’m considering is taking an academic route and starting a PhD in Audiovisual Translation, specifically in accessibility and subtitling. I’d really like to do the PhD but I’d also like to spend a greater amount of my time interpreting as opposed to translating. Right now I’m probably doing 70% translation, 30% interpretation. In the medium term I’d like to balance that.

Interpreter for Barça TV, co-ordinator, layout designer and editor of traditori magazine, translator, project manager, localiser… You’re obviously not bored. Does being a translator mean a lot of juggling?

Not juggling, but like in any profession, when you’re self-employed you need to be able to organise yourself and have a great deal of self-discipline, which I don’t always manage. And you have to work at it. I like to get involved in several projects, but I can’t always give them all the time I’d like. Sometimes, yes, you can try to do too many things, but I think it’s important not to sit still and to get out there. Both professionally, to contact colleagues and potential clients, and personally, not to stagnate or stop learning. After all it forms part of our job, to learn continuously. When I did the layout for the first issue of traditori magazine I didn’t have a clue about layout and the result wasn’t great. Whereas for the second issue that’s just been published, a translator who’s also a journalist and knows a lot had come on board, so we did it together and that taught me a few things about layout. It’s something else that’s interesting and appealing, and it turned out really well. Layout and post-editing are interesting areas and are worth exploring too.

In addition, you’re very active on twitter. Do you find it useful for your work?

Yes, it’s useful for keeping in touch with people you know in your field, or, as with the masters I took at the UAB, it’s online, so all communication was by email or through forums, and then, the thing about twitter is that the communication is far faster than facebook or traditional email. It works either for finding resources or even, now and again, I’ve been contacted by clients because they’ve seen my profile on twitter or it’s reached them indirectly. It’s good, I like it.

Barça are currently in the news because a few days ago Guardiola announced that he was ending his career with the team. What does it feel like to interpret for someone who is the focus of so much media attention? Are you going to miss him?

I regularly do several hours of interpretation for Barça TV, and I’m the Spanish voice for several live programmes. They include the press conferences that are held before the games or training sessions, including Guardiola’s. Until now I hadn’t given it much thought as you can only hear Spanish on digital platforms or locations outside Catalonia, so I wasn’t very aware of what it implied. However, last week when the press conference was held announcing his departure, the TV decided to broadcast it in streaming via the Internet. I made a comment on twitter, along the lines that I’d be starting in ten minutes, and I got tons of messages and comments from APTIC colleagues and classmates from the masters, and then you realise, yes, someone is actually listening. Now the video that is posted on youTube has had 800,000 views. It’s fun and you feel proud.

Although at first it was hard to interpret for him because Guardiola’s speech goes beyond the typical clichés “11 against 11″ and “that’s football,” and he has a meaningful and complex speech, but in the immediacy of a press conference or an interview, when verbally, he is a person who starts a sentence on one subject and then takes up another idea. I mean, it’s Catalan-Spanish. For us that’s a language pair that’s very, very easy to interpret, even simultaneously, but I had to make an effort to work him out. As to whether I’ll miss him, personally I prefer interpreting Tito Vilanova than Guardiola.

I’m curious, how did you become an interpreter for Barça TV? What has it meant for your career?

By chance. When I was at university, one of the other students was doing a work placement in Barça TV, and passed me the contact to fill in a few hours for recording some programmes. From then on I worked sporadically until two or three years ago, when there were several changes to the channel’s management and they needed a number of interpreters. Now there are about three or four of us regular interpreters, which means that for two or three years I’ve been doing set hours every week.

Firstly, I’ve learned about football as I didn’t know much, despite my family being Barça supporters. It was a way to get into the world of sports. As a result, although it isn´t a brilliantly paid job, with the excuse of it being regular, as it’s for television, it’s enabled me to do other audiovisual interpretation for other channels, within sport and other areas. It’s helped me a bit rather like work experience, as ongoing training, and as on match days you have to work before and after the game, I’ve seen matches at Camp Nou that I wouldn’t have been there for otherwise. Besides that, it’s a quick way to describe in a nutshell what you do.

Who have you found most difficult to interpret?

Someone I haven’t been able to handle for a long time, in football, is Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson, a Scottish gentleman, a highly respected person, a kind of football guru. Occasionally I’ve had to do a press conference for the Champions League and, of course, you’ve got British media there, who have a peculiar way of asking questions, not always easy to grasp straight off because they want to ask a lot of things very quickly. And this manager also has a very peculiar way of answering or dealing with them. His accent’s very strong too. And I’ve tried, I’ve watched a lot of youtube videos to prepare myself for it properly, but when the moment of truth comes, I have to confess that, more than once, I’ve actually said something that he might not have originally said, or not using the same words. Apart from him, and more generally, as any interpreter will tell you, it’s always difficult to interpret someone who is reading a written speech out loud, as their intonation isn’t natural, or someone who isn’t speaking their native language, for structural or logistical reasons… once I had to interpret a Greek who had to speak French because there was no Greek booth and there was a moment when I couldn’t keep up.

In your experience, what is the ideal interpreter like?

In interpreting, to be able to ensure you do the job well, you have be someone who is alert, able to deal with stressful situations, very curious, and continually in training. That’s in terms of the client facet, whereas in relation to colleagues, interpreters have always had the reputation of being in a different world. I would say you have to like it. And for the ideal translator it would be along the same lines, training, specialisation, if you’re self-employed, like we are, you mustn’t stagnate, you have to get out and be curious. However even if you’re curious, it’s not enough to dabble in all the areas. You have to dive in deep into whatever it is you like.

In addition to interpretation, you specialise in localisation. Is there a market for that kind of translation?

There is a market. A fair bit. Both for webs and software, there is a market and there is work. The fees paid are another issue … but that’s down to personal choice. But yes, it is a fairly recommendable sector, and there’s also a lot happening in online games and iphone and android applications. Although the last year has been slower, these kinds of projects have kept cropping up. And it is a specialised field that I’m enjoying a lot. Before, it was grouped within audiovisual translation, but localisation can be distinguished from the classics, which are translation for dubbing or subtitling, which unfortunately aren’t very buoyant, or that’s my impression.

Would you recommend translators to specialise in this area or in others?

Specialisation is vital, not just in one field, but in two or three, the ones you like most – that’s the key thing, that you like them, and not to settle for translating general, promotional and journalistic texts. That’s fine, but you have to dig deeper too.

You can follow Lluís Cavallé on his twitter page and on his professional website:

Translated by Catherine Stephenson


Let’s not discuss rates any more

4visions // 08/05/2012 // The translation profession

Translation rates is one of the topics that sooner or later gets brought up in a conversation between translators. And in the vast majority of cases it comes up in a negative sense: I was offered such and such a job at a ridiculous price, my quote got turned down because another one was x times cheaper… While it’s true that sometimes we need to share these experiences, after the initial five minutes of relief it is of little use to continue rambling on about this eternal question. It’s like going deeper into a forest from which it is going to be difficult to find a way out.

Let’s stop wasting our time and energy complaining about the market situation. Not only does it get us nowhere, but it also tires us out and creates an atmosphere of pessimism, defeatism and negativity around us that hardly motivates us to forge ahead.

Let’s talk about how we should make contact with new customers, what techniques we use and which have given us the best results. Let’s share positive feedback we´ve been given on a translation, on something that was particularly appreciated and that came unexpectedly.

Let´s exchange views on what we liked about a particular translator who we’ve worked with and what we learned from him or her. To be able to work with others is a great way to acquire new knowledge. Take the opportunity to recommend a translator with whose work and professionalism we were delighted.

Let’s share positive experiences that can be a source of inspiration to us. Hearing success stories encourages us to continue the fight, serves as a motivation to us for the days when we might be tempted to throw in the towel.

Let’s suggest to each other courses or activities that we have found particularly interesting. Let’s recommend reading material or blogs that can give us a different vision, new approaches, new insights, that help us to reflect on how to improve further.

In short, let’s choose to have optimistic, motivating and enriching conversations, which fill our minds with new ideas that spur us into action.

The good thing about optimism is that, when things go wrong, you feel sure that they´ll improve.

Translated by Catherine Stephenson


Interview with Pablo Muñoz, the translator who does more than translate

Pilar del Rey // 03/05/2012 // The translation profession

The basic 4

How long have you been working in localisation?

In proper localisation, about 4 years. In 2007 I started working at a translation agency in Granada, where I translated all kinds of texts (mostly technical), but it wasn’t until I began working at Nintendo in 2008 that I became fully involved in the localisation industry, both of video games and software.

What advice would you give to a translator who is starting out?

Assuming they are doing a degree or master’s related to translation (because I think it is pretty difficult nowadays to start working as a translator without any training in translation, which is not to say at all that is impossible), don’t wait till you finish your course to get some more or less real experience. That is, as well as all the translations you do in class, take the initiative and look out for projects where you can help out as a translator, like open-source software programmes, fansubs, etc. The experience you will gain is invaluable, and on top of that it will set you apart from other beginner translators.

How did you get into this field?

I was lucky enough to know what I liked when I was very young, so I suppose I just followed my dreams even though I wasn’t sure where it was going to lead me. I think that’s what’s important, to always have a goal in your head, and take another step each day even though it’s into the unknown, because there will come a time when everything will start to feel more familiar. More familiar because it will be that goal that you set for yourself.

What would you like to achieve?

I like to be ambitious in the sense that I always have ideas in my head. I’ve always believed that is very important not to stagnate and I feel it is time to do new things. I’m very attracted to the idea of being an entrepreneur, but not necessarily translation-related, in order to diversify a little and not burn myself out with one single thing. I love the idea of co-ordinating projects, mentoring someone, trying to help others, encouraging people to fulfil their dreams, raising game developers’ awareness of everything they have to do to make localisation a success starting from the very moment the game is designed… Many, many things! :)

Do social networks help you in your work? How can they help translators as a group?

Of course. And in many ways! The visibility of my blog led to me getting two fantastic jobs that you can only dream of, one working as a translator at Nintendo and another as a proofreader and language tester in the leading Internet and technology company around today (although I work at the client’s premises, I am an external collaborator, so I can’t mention the name). Other than that, they help me to meet new people and keep in touch with others, which is very important to be happy: maybe this sounds a bit silly, but I think it important to feel good to work better. On the other hand, they allow you to learn a lot from other professionals and you can even pose questions and get answers in seconds. As to how they can help translators… by giving visibility to the profession! :)

Your blog Algo más que traducir has over 5,000 followers, how do you do it?

I wish I knew! I guess it’s all due to the blog now being over 5 years old, and of course, I am lucky enough to have been one of the first, in that, although I did not start out alone, I am one of the few who has continued to blog. Now the number of new followers has dropped significantly, I suppose for two reasons: a) there comes a time when people who are interested in you already follow you, and b) the number of posts published has dropped dramatically in the last year. When I post I always win new fans on Facebook and Twitter. However, something tells me that all the work I do on Twitter (such as live broadcasting of translation events) makes me gain a following on Facebook (and on the blog, of course). That’s another of the virtues of social networking (although often it doesn’t necessarily happen): what you do on one network at the end of the day has a knock-on effect on the others. Everything is exponential.

Tell us a challenge that you have encountered in your day-to-day work and how you solved it.

A challenge I often encounter in my day-to-day work is how to find time for everything I would like to do. In the end I have to prioritise, which is pretty hard and you never quite manage it. The first step is to reduce noise as much as possible: start to unsubscribe from newsletters and websites that you no longer read so you don´t even have to spend seconds in deleting the notifications, use labels (in Gmail) to filter emails, file emails that don´t need any action (I use my email inbox as a to-do list but a lot of people don’t recommend doing that), make use of idle moments to do semi-productive things (for example, if you have a smartphone, check out your social networks on the underground or even running in the gym, etc.). With this alone you’ll have saved a lot of time to spend on other tasks.

You choose to go to translation events, give talks, be very active in social networking, you socialise with other translators… the opposite of the paradigm of a translator who has difficulty interacting with colleagues. In general, do you think this trend is changing?

Perhaps what is happening now is that translators are more visible than before, although it is true that there are more translators than before due to the fact that many faculties are offering the Translation and Interpretation degree. It is also true that you often bump into a lot of people from one event to another, so I don’t know if there is an increasing number of “social translators.” At the end of the day, I actually think that the translators are very sociable people, because it would be impossible to relate well to clients (and find them) if we were quite shy. I don´t know, I find it hard to believe that someone can be very sociable online and then come across differently in person, although there are all sorts, of course. I think this has to do with social networks: they help us get to know people before a first face-to-face meeting, so it makes it less awkward. In this sense, if you see that your translator friends or colleagues who you speak to quite frequently on social networks are going to a translation event, it will probably encourage you to attend. Maybe that’s why we seem to socialise more now than before.

As a translator specializing in localisation, do you recommend translators to specialise? What benefits do you get from being a video games localiser?

Of course! Without a doubt that´s the secret, specialisation. And not only specialising in one field, but in several. I specialise in software and video games localisation, but I also specialise in some science subject areas and have translated things not related to localisation per se more than once.

As for being a video games localiser, the truth is that I think I am a lot more creative now. I had never considered myself particularly creative, but when you have to make the text fun or give a special quality to a character´s dialogue, in the end it brings out your creative streak, which we all have and many of us think we don´t. Of course, knowing that your text will be read by many people motivates you even more to do a good job, naturally. :)

You can find Pablo Muñoz in his blog Algo más que traducir and his professional website:

What would you ask him?
Translated by Catherine Stephenson


Quotations: whose job are they?

Irene Vidal // 17/04/2012 // The translation profession

Good evening,

I would be grateful if you could give our agency a quotation and completion date for the attached document.

Best regards,

Over the last couple of years, it has become increasingly common to receive emails like the one above. They tend to be sent by translation companies which we don’t know at all as we have never worked with them. They do not even take the trouble to briefly introduce themselves in the message. They go straight to the point. Why waste their time? I’ve also noticed that these requests are particularly common when they need a translation of documents in pdf format. Is that by chance?

I have to admit that the first couple of times I fell into the trap. I received the email, saved the attached documents to the appropriate folder and started all the usual process to obtain the total word count, the total price of the job and a rough idea of the time I required. I included all this information, carefully detailed and set out in a document, stating the company name, reference number and date of the quotation, followed by a breakdown of the items, noting that this was a translation from this language to that language of the document named “xxx”, the total word count in each document, the applicable rate and relevant comments.

After sending off the magnificent document containing the quotation, here comes the surprise: I didn’t receive a single message in reply. Two days later I sent an email to see if they’d taken a decision on my proposal. Again, absolute silence. Even so, I came up against the same situation, an exact replica, a second time.

From then on I realised that this situation is not unusual and that it is a sheer waste of time. Their tactic is highly productive: without lifting a finger they receive several proposals giving them the word count of the documents and, on top of that, a varied range of prices, from which they select the lowest.

All this work, which is no small job, falls upon the translation company. They are responsible for preparing the quotation, calculating the volume, knowing the collaborator’s conditions (rates and potential surcharges) and estimating a delivery time. Once this has been put together, they send the proposal to a regular collaborator to find out if they are available. That’s how reputable and professional translation companies work.

Emails of this kind denote that the company does not have a regular team of collaborators, but assigns the work to the lowest bidder and the one who offers the shortest possible time-frame, however implausible that time-frame may be. Nothing could arouse the suspicion of the potential collaborator more. Nevertheless, however indignant these emails may make us, we must reply to them. It’s as simple as thanking them for getting in touch, telling them our rates for the potential work and the surcharges that may apply. Lastly, we can suggest that they provide us with the word count so that we may propose a completion date. We are professionals and must show ourselves to be just that.

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