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Dear visitor, Welcome to the EAP Medical Translations blog. The aim of this blog is to provide advice and insight for medical or aspiring medical translators, based solely on my extensive experience as a medical translator. Furthermore, it aims to inform potential translation clients about medical translations, so that they can make more informed decisions about their medical translation providers and processes. Please feel free to browse, comment and send me your suggestions. I am a working translator and I write as I learn, so your advice and input is always welcome. Also, please read my disclaimer carefully, I am happy for you to share the contents on this website, provided that you attribute credit as per the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Disclaimer Privacy The owner of this blog does not share personal information with third parties or stores information collected about your visit for use other than to analyse content performance through the use of cookies, which you can turn off at any time by modifying your Internet browser’s settings. The owner is not responsible for the republishing of the content found on this blog on other Web sites or media without permission. Blog Comments The owner of this blog reserves the right to edit or delete without notice any of the following types of comments submitted: 1. Comments deemed to be spam or questionable spam 2. Comments including profanity 3. Comments containing language or concepts that could be deemed offensive 4. Comments that attack individuals personally   Terms and Conditions All content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. This policy is subject to change at any time without notice at the blog owner’s sole discretion.

The Quality Dilemma_

OK, you need a translation into Portuguese, but you do not speak Portuguese. How do you go about it?

– Well, I will look up providers online, ask someone I know, get some quotes…

– Yes, but how will you determine whether you are getting a good translation if you do not speak the language?

– I guess I have to trust the provider.

This is a conversation I was having with a friend this week who is not from the translation industry. It turns out that the conclusion she came to, i.e. you just have to trust the provider, is the same conclusion that most translation buyers come to. Another common thing that happens is asking someone who speaks the language, but is not a professional translator, to take a look at the translation. What is the problem with those approaches?

You will never know for sure…

First, you cannot just trust someone’s stated or real credentials. I have recently begun a process of selecting a team of highly skilled Portuguese <> English translators to work with me at EAP. I have received hundreds of CVs, selected about 30 or so who had impressive stated and proven experience and, so far, I am about halfway through, I have a 50% approval rate. I am an experienced reviewer, which means I do pick up on more things than your average reader would, but still you cannot trust a 50% chance of your translation being right.

My test is an exert from a clinical trial report, which is standard for a medical translator. Brazilians are not native speakers of English and many grammatical constructions in English are very difficult for us, especially when they involve long sentences with several adjectives, etc. Now let us imagine that a Physician is reading a clinical trial report in English and finds himself unsure about a sentence on adverse events. So he looks for the translation, and in 50% of the cases, finds a misleading or partially correct translation. The potentially serious implications of this are obvious.

In the second approach, if you ask someone who happens to speak Portuguese to check the translation out for you, you may get an inaccurate assessment. Would you trust someone who is not in the healthcare industry to write your clinical trial report in your own language? Probably not, because that person is not familiar with the style and terminology used in the healthcare industry. The same goes for any other language, if someone just happens to speak that language, it does not qualify this person to write extremely technical and sensitive documentation in that language.

There is one third approach that some companies use, which is back translating. Back translating is getting a different translator to translate the text back into your source language. I will not go into details on that, because I have mentioned this before in my posts, but basically if your back translation says word for word what your source says, it is probably wrong. The reason for that is that, in order to translate meaning into another language, you often have to change the wording. Back translation can help iron out a few issues, but will not guarantee a quality result.

In many instances, when translation buyers are faced with this dilemma, they lose interest. They just go with a quote that fits their budget and hope for the best, because they won’t know anyway unless there is a very obvious error. But think about how much time and effort has gone into writing your original copy? You probably employed specialist writers, edited and revised your copy several times…Why would you then waste that effort on your foreign audience by presenting them with a poor translation?

In short, quality is essential to your success, you know that when you write your copy, and you need a method for ensuring that your translations reflect that quality.

How do you do that?

  1. Look for a provider who is looking to partner with you.

First, you should look for a provider with good credentials and a good track record, but you should not trust that alone.

In addition to looking good on paper, when you ask for a quote, look for signs that the provider is willing to revise the translation, will be available for questions, and seems as invested as you are in ensuring the final quality of the product. For example, a provider who is upfront with you about a deadline being too tight for a quality job, or the price being too low to pay for a reviewer, or who asks you questions about the nature of the job and other terminology management issues, e.g. are there any terms not to be translated? These are signs that the provider is invested and takes pride in the final result, which means he/she will work with you.

  1. Get feedback from your target audience.

The best people to tell you whether a translation is clear and resonates with them is your target audience. If you cannot do that before the translation goes out, make sure you do it after so that you at least have some feedback on that provider for future projects, and you can mitigate the impact of a bad translation, if it turns out so.

For example, if you had a market research questionnaire translated, ask your moderator about how clear the questions are to him/her. If your moderator is unsure about some questions, go back to your translator and ask him/her to find a way of saying that more clearly.

Also, if your translation is a website, then use a popup quick survey. If you had a clinical trial report translated for your medical audience, get your sales reps to ask physicians for feedback on particularly technical areas of that report, or ask your sales reps how well they understand the translated report.

There are many ways in which you can implement a feedback mechanism for your translated documents and this can go a along way into building a trusting relationship, both with your target audience and your translation provider.

  1. Take the feedback back to your provider and see how he/she works with you to implement it.

When you get feedback from your target audience, your translation provider should be willing to comment on that feedback and discuss with you what changes are/are not appropriate. Ultimately, your provider must be flexible enough to accommodate the changes that you deem appropriate and work with you to make them work linguistically.

If you are a translation buyer, you should always have in mind that your efforts in your field are only as good as you can communicate them. When you work across cultures, this applies to your translations as well.

At EAP, we will work with you, we do our utmost to ensure that your tone and message are conveyed seamlessly, because, for us, we only succeed when you do. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you communicate with your medical audiences across borders.

I have recently read quite a few rants online from translators complaining about “bad” clients. Mostly the complaints went something along the lines of clients making changes and reducing the quality of a translation, clients expecting unreasonable turnaround times, clients telling you that they could do your job if they had time, clients questioning your terminology choices, clients wanting to use Google Translate, etc. Who has not had one of those?

Nonetheless, I believe that the only bad client is a client that does not pay for a service delivered; in which case that is not just a bad client, but a criminal one. All other clients are either good clients, potentially good clients or not a good fit for your business.

I will not argue that every translator who has been in the business for a few years or so will have had the odd tough experience with a client. I get it that every now and then we get a client that tests our limits and our patience, but I believe that we, the translators, are responsible for most of these experiences and I can explain why.

First, a client who attempts to mistakenly correct a translation is a potentially good client, because this client is giving you an opportunity to showcase your expertise when you explain why they are mistaken. If they insist on changing the final translation anyway, then as long as you have noted your objections and they do not attach your name to the final product, there is no reason why this should bother you. I mean, they did buy the translation to do as they see fit after all.

A client who expects an unreasonable turnaround, may just be someone who has never translated anything and has no idea how long it takes. The same goes for a client who offers a very low rate. In both cases, you have an opportunity to explain your quality process and why your translation may take a little longer or cost a little more than they expect. This is also a potentially good client.

Clients who cannot be persuaded when they have unreasonable expectations in regards to deadline and rates, clients who do not believe you need to be a professional to do your job, even after you have shown how different a professional translation is from an amateur one, and clients who want to use Google Translate are just not a good fit for your business.

Many of us seem to operate under the premise that business is business and we need to take whatever comes our way. I think that is a massively flawed premise, and I am not the only one who thinks so. I have recently read an article summarizing the main trends arising from the Localization World Conference in Dublin, Ireland, and basically the third main trend is saying no or “firing” clients who do not fit into your business model.

I think firing is a harsh word, but, as a service provider, working for someone for whom you do not wish to work for, or do not have the competence to work for is doing both your business and your clients’ a disservice. For example, I do not wish to work for someone who has unreasonable expectations. If a client comes to me with an unreasonable deadline and cannot be persuaded that either the quality of the job will suffer, in which case we may need a “work in progress” approach to the translation, or the deadline has to be flexible, I will kindly advise this client to find another provider.

The problem is, if I take this job and deliver within the deadline, the quality will indeed suffer, and it is my name and my business that may become known for poor translations. This client, who was expecting a high quality product, may become unhappy with the final work delivered and choose to never come back, or worse, bad mouth my services. It is likely that this client will have a hard time too, because he will have to find another translator, thus overextending his deadline and budget anyway, or “make do” with a substandard translation. In short, no one will have a positive experience.

Some clients may be ok with a poorer translation, in which case I am also happy for them to find a cheaper provider. It is only fair, and I do not feel bad when they do not choose me for budgetary reasons. I cannot help but care for the outcome of my work, and I would not accept much less money, because I know I would work just as hard.

As business owners, we need to determine the kind of business we want to be and who we want to serve. In other words, what characteristics make a client a good fit for our business.

Client is potentially a good fit for your business

The clients who are a good fit for my business are those who want a personal service, who want an open channel to talk about their expectations and questions, who want quality and understand that this may take a little more time or cost a little more.

They want flexibility from me, in terms of deadlines, last minute changes, etc., but they are also prepared to be flexible if necessary and work with me to ensure the best possible outcome.

The clients who are a good fit for my business want to have a relationship with their translation provider, they want to know that they do not need to recruit a new translator each time they have a job in my language pair, and they want to know they can trust that they will have a product that I, and they, will be proud of.

The clients who are a good fit for my business know that a good translation will boost both their business and mine, and they know they can expect that commitment from me.

Clients who want different things, may be better off finding a different provider.

When we adopt a “good fit approach” we feel more at ease, because we work with people who want to work with us. Everybody has a positive experience that fulfills their expectations and no one feels like they are being over charged, underpaid, treated unfairly or unappreciated. The final product is actually final and of good quality and both businesses thrive.


Marketing for translators

In 2014, I wrote a post on e-mail marketing for translators. Since then, I have learned a lot, both from courses and experience, and I would like to share an update to that strategy using LinkedIn.

In my original post, I mentioned creating a list of potential clients to contact. You will still need to do that, but, with LinkedIn, I find that you can make it more effective. Instead of using google to find your target companies, use LinkedIn, because when you do that, you also automatically find the people who work in it, and that makes it easier for you to pinpoint the relevant person that you want to contact.

In my case, I run a simple company search for companies in my target industries, i.e. pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, medical device companies and market research companies; basically any type of company that may require medical translations.

Then, find the people that you should be talking to on LinkedIn. Every type of company will have a denomination for the person who manages translation services, larger companies with a high demand will have translation vendor managers or perhaps translation project managers. You can find the right people using the advanced search tool. Look for people by specifying their current company and the keyword translation. In many cases, you will find someone who has something to do with translation, and you can contact this person. Even if the person is not the decision-maker, the person is likely to be able to point you in the right direction.

When you use the search function on LinkedIn, if a particular person is in your network as a 2nd degree connection or as part of one of your groups, then you can easily ask to connect with them. Otherwise, check out the groups that the people you are interested in have joined and join them. Joining relevant groups creates a great opportunity for exposure, for finding opportunities and for networking.

Next, if the person accepts your invitation to connect, which in my experience most people do when they realize that you have something to do with their industry (make sure your profile is strong). Then you can send a brief message thanking the person for accepting your invite, introducing yourself and the reason for your contact.

It can be as simple as, “Thank you for connecting with me. I am a translator between such and such languages and I am looking to expand my network of contacts in this industry. If you are aware of any demand for translations in your company, I would be very grateful if you could refer me to the appropriate individual. I hope both of our business can benefit from a professional connection.” Naturally, if you have interacted with this person in a group, if you know someone they know, if you have been to their school, i.e. if there is any connection between the two of you other than your interest, make sure to mention that as well, because people are more likely to respond when they are personally engaged.

If you get a positive reply, you follow up from there. You may send them your marketing brochure, ask them if they are available for a quick call to discuss what their needs might be, or they may have directed you to someone else that you may contact about your services.

If they do not reply, do not worry, because you are now in their network and they will see all your updates, etc.

If they do not accept your invite, do not worry either. They are now aware of you and if you keep present in the same groups where they are, etc. Eventually, if they need your services, they will remember.

In either case, once the initial contact has been established, do not pester people. The advantage of having them in your network is that you can be visible without directly contacting them all the time to follow-up. Now your work is to be present, by participating in group discussions, engaging with content from people with whom you may want to work and creating content that is valuable for your target clients.

Make it a rule that your presence should add value, never comment on a topic in which you have no interest, do not praise if you do not think people deserve it and really only write article or updates when you think you have something valuable to share.

If you truly strive to provide value, people will know you for your expertise and will cherish that. They will not automatically overlook whenever they see something that you have posted, and, more importantly, they will remember you when they need your services.

This strategy can have immediate benefits, for example, I have signed up with several translation agencies by contacting their vendor managers within days of the initial contact. Nonetheless, bear in mind that this is for the long term and you want your audience to be familiar with you, so that when they come to you for your services, they feel like they know you and they can trust you.

Good luck and please share your ideas with me. How else do you promote your translation business?

Dear readers,

The following post is a review of the second edition of Tradusa, an event for translators and interpreters in the healthcare industry, held in Brazil. I was not involved in it, but one of my readers has asked me to publish this review and help promote the event. If you like what you read, by all means support the event and make sure you are a part of its next edition.

Happy reading!


TRADUSA Round Two: More Than Skin and Bones

The second iteration of TRADUSA, Brazil’s event for translators and interpreters specialized in healthcare and medicine, was held at the Instituto Phorte in São Paulo on April 1-2, 2016. Fruit of the organizers’ arduous labor and an ever-increasing demand for quality language services in the health sector, this year’s participants enjoyed a balanced combination of hour-long presentations and hands-on workshops–a note-worthy improvement over TRADUSA’s speaker-heavy inaugural edition.

Right from Friday’s opening pitch, participants were offered their choice of a mini-course in neuroanatomy or various translation workshop options, allowing them to grab their bull of interest by the horns from the outset. In his neuroanatomy mini-course, Dr. Altiere A. Carvalho managed to get everyone’s neurotransmitters firing due to his engaging, participatory lecture style, accessible explanations, and plain good nature. Everyone left the workshop with a voluntary appreciation for the body’s involuntary intelligence.

Following a caloric refuelling in the company of new and old colleagues, a round of presentations kicked off with Val Ivonica’s plunge into the controversial topic of machine translation. Ivonica’s talk was practical, product-oriented and properly prudent, but the overarching take-home—embrace these tools, if for no other reason than for sheer productivity’s sake—was the most valuable reminder for a field in disruption.

Pharmacist and translator Beatriz Araújo guided her audience through the dense forest of Brazilian healthcare legislation, stopping to highlight those laws that affect which and how medical texts make their way into the hands of translators. Some of the material was also relevant for those of us from the interpreting world who would like to see limited Portuguese proficient patients access their constitutional right to healthcare—as guaranteed in article 197 of the 1988 constitution (thank you Beatriz!)—via hospital and clinic interpreting services.

Adriana Dominici offered more grist for the translator mill in her presentation about the translation of pharmaceutical package inserts. Though the presentation was tailored to the German-Portuguese combination, the larger message about differing publication formats and regulations among countries was relevant to any pharmaceuticals translator.

The day rounded out with a presentation from the Colectiva team, Cecilia Tsukamoto, Daniele Fonseca, Livia Cais and Suzana Gontijo
who reengaged any interpreters who may have been drifting off following the translation heavy stretch of speakers. Both warm and professional, the squad delineated a roadmap to the demanding world of medical conference interpreting. Though they responsibly reminded aspirants that the field is not one to be taken lightly, the overall message was non-exclusive and grounded: hard work over time can indeed build expertise. No silver bullets were nor could be peddled, but the veteran interpreters did offer a useful introduction, outlining the types of assignments one might encounter and preparation tips for the booth.

Day two’s format mirrored its predecessor: a workshop or mini-course in the morning followed by afternoon speakers (with plenty of breaks for coffee and snacks throughout the day, claro!). Your author attended Rosario Garcia’s workshop on Portuguese-English medical translation intended for translators with little to no experience in the specialty. Garcia proved to be very at home in the classroom, adeptly guiding students through a bit of theory and moving straight on to practical exercises, allowing for immediate experimentation and application of the information presented.

First up to bat in the afternoon round of presentations was conference circuit speaker Ana Julia Perrotti-Garcia with her presentation on medical terminology equivalency pitfalls. Though heavy on the lexical side, Perrotti-Garcia also took the time to revisit fundamental medical concepts—background knowledge valuable to newcomers and seasoned professionals alike.

William Jacob de Lima then exposed us, unprotected, to the evolution of radiology and just about every type of imaging process possible. Though our thyroid glands emerged unscathed, the deluge of isolated images did provoke a sort of vertigo among the uninitiated. Though Jacob de Lima could not be faulted for his completeness, a more detailed pathological contextualization of fewer slides would have been helpful for the layperson.

TRADUSA’s final speaker, Andresa Medeiros, shed light on an interpreting setting nascent in the Brazilian market but long ubiquitous in many other parts of the world: the so-called public service or community healthcare interpreting setting. Medeiros focused on the special considerations that must be taken when interpreting for immigrants, making apparent the jarring differences between this sort of public service interpreting work and that of its sister setting: conference interpreting.

Though arguably lacking the depth or vibrancy that will evolve in later editions, this second iteration of TRADUSA has proven that the event is right on track for future stardom. The conference is a valuable hub for an interpreting sub-specialty that merits and demands apt professionals. After all, the stakes are, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

The author

For nearly a decade, Laura Vaughn Holcomb has been the conveyor of intimacies passed between embattled cancer patients and their oncologists, transplant candidates and their care team, and midwives and new mothers. Healthcare interpreter by heart and conference interpreter by hat, in the booth Laura specializes in coffee and cacao.

Laura co-developed and currently runs the Glendon College Virtual Healthcare Interpreting Practicum (VHIP), an online internship program for advanced students preparing to enter the healthcare market. She also trains conference interpreting students for the fully online, Brazil-based Interpret2B. Laura holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College in Toronto. More at:


In global market research, translation and localization are major components of producing quality insight. When you make your research global, you need to ensure that you get quality and actionable insight from each market. There is no point in spending a lot of yours and your client’s time creating the clearest and most insightful questions, if in the end your questions are not going to be asked anyway, or your questions will not be fully understood, or worse, if the insight that you end up with does not reflect the actual data that you collected. Hence, global market research agencies often spend a lot of time and effort recruiting their strategic staff and moderators, but not as much time selecting and briefing their translators.
In my experience as a translation editor for market research agencies, this often leads to poor translations, and outputs that require a lot of effort from analysts before they can be converted into quality and actionable insight for end clients. For those who are not bilingual, here is a little caveat, we do not think the same in different languages. Apart from the obvious differences in lexicon and grammar, the way we structure language in our minds also shapes how we structure our thoughts. Hence, translators do not translate words, they translate concepts and ideas. In other words, you do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant.

“You do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant”

In order to get the most out of your market research, I have put together 5 tips that will dramatically improve your relationship with translators and the outputs that they produce. I promise.
1. Choose translators with the right expertise
This is crucial to the success of your international market research. Your translators need to be knowledgeable about the field of your market research. In the same way that you want your content producers to be knowledgeable and ask the right questions to yield the best insight, you want your translator to be able to convey all that knowledge and expertise in a way that also sounds knowledgeable and is comprehensible to your target audience. For example, in healthcare, the translator has to know enough about medical issues to be able to word the same question appropriately for a layman audience and a medical audience. Doctors in Brazil are literally offended if you “dumb down” medical terminology for them. It is often the case that when healthcare market research materials are translated by a non-medical translator, the translator struggles with the terminology and either produces questions that are unintelligible to physicians and to the moderator; or produces questions that are “dumbed down”, because the translator himself did not have the vocabulary to word the question appropriately for a medical audience. Furthermore, a medical translator will have knowledge of the healthcare system in the target country, potentially even in the country where the question is being created, which means that the translator will be able to localize concepts regarding the source healthcare system, for example, to reflect the target healthcare system. In summary, you want your translator to be familiar with the terminology and market that you are addressing, because this will not only ensure better outputs, but will also potentially save you quite a bit of time in desktop research.

2. Establish partnerships with your translators
The translator is an individual from your target market and, assuming that you followed my first tip, who is knowledgeable about the specific industry that you are researching. Hence, the translator is not just someone who can put your words into another language, the translator is someone who potentially has knowledge that you can capitalize on. In other words, you want the translator to be as invested as you are in the final outcome of your project. The only way that you can achieve that is by establishing partnerships with your translators, thus, giving them a sense of ownership over the final results and ensuring that you capitalize on their local knowledge. Let your translators know that they are your preferred providers, and encourage your project managers to ask them questions about the target market and establish good working relationships with them. This creates a win-win situation; translators benefit from being your preferred partners and from the steadier work stream, while you benefit from their commitment and knowledge. What’s more, if you make them a preferred partner, the chances are that they will make you a preferred client and will try their best to always accommodate your needs and deadlines.

3. Get your translators involved in as many steps of the process as possible
By getting your translators involved in the project from its initial stages, and in as many stages as possible, you ensure that the translator is familiar with the particular terminology of your topic of research and, what’s more, the translator is aware of your goals and committed to them. A translator who has translated your questionnaires and visual aids is familiar with your research and, therefore, able to guarantee a fast turnaround for your outputs, because there will be no need for further terminology research. Furthermore, let us say that your moderator misunderstood a question, when the translator is translating the first output, the translator will be able to spot that, because he/she is aware of what you meant. Hence, he/she will be able to point this out to you before you conduct an entire project asking the wrong question. If the translator offers other services, even better! For example, a translator who also offers content analysis is someone who will be able to choose the quotes and translate the insight of your outputs in a way that is most meaningful to your goals. This reduces the time that your in-house team will have to spend on “translating” those data into actionable insight. This is another win-win situation, because you dramatically improve the quality of your outputs, and the translator gets commissioned for more work.

4. Allow appropriate time for translations
Market research is often a time-bending exercise. It always starts with a good plan, timings and schedules look great, but often these are tossed away and everyone is just working towards the final deadline. Whatever the reason, a translator who works with market research agencies needs to be aware that more often than not, this means that the time allowed for translations is usually short and often unpredictable. In these circumstances, market research agencies often resort to translation agencies, who have a large pool of resources and can split the translation into as many people as necessary to get it done in time. However, this is far from ideal, because different people with no prior knowledge of your research will translate the same things in different ways. In such cases, it is beneficial to have a preferred partner who is familiar with your project, because even if ultimately you have to outsource the translation to an agency, you can always have your partner harmonize everything and ensure that it is all in line with the terminology and goals of your project. Having said that, if you make it part of your MO to allow sufficient time for translations, you can work with your translator to ensure that everything is done in time. For example, you can keep your translator informed of your scheduling and rescheduling activities, so as to ensure that the translator is available to translate your outputs on a rolling basis. Hence, your final deadline may be months away, but the translator is working with you all along. This allows the translator sufficient time to produce a quality translation, and enables you to catch potential language issues in initial stages of the research, as exemplified in tip 3.

5. Appoint a dedicated point of contact to answer the translators’ questions
If you work directly with translators, or if your translation agency has a quick feedback process, you can dedicate someone who is deeply knowledgeable about your project to be available for questions. This is extremely important to ensure that the translator can clarify what you mean, because you do not want your carefully crafted questions to be translated based on a translator’s hunch. This dedicated person can liaise with the translator, brief the translator and ensure that the translator understands not just your project as a whole, but each specific question. Asking the right questions is the basis of market research, and you do not want your efforts lost in translation.

In short, make sure that you work closely with your translators. Make sure that every member of the project team is aware of how important good translations are to the overall success of your global market research project. This may be challenging at times, because most market research agencies employ freelancers, who may be based in different time zones, etc. However, if you put in the effort to establish good relationships with your preferred translation providers, you will streamline your project and you will dramatically improve the quality of your data.

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I have had some time recently to reflect upon my trajectory into becoming a medical translator. I have always said that I did not choose translation, but translation chose me; because my first translation jobs came through people who asked me to translate for them. However, I may have been wrong about this initial assumption.

When I look back far enough, I see myself as a young child begging my mother to put me in English classes. I was convinced that if only I could speak English, I would be able to communicate with the whole world. My initial drive to speak English was so strong that when I was not in school, my whole days revolved around opportunities to learn and speak English. I remember talking to myself and in front of the mirror in English, sticking sheets of paper on the TV to cover movie subtitles and watching them several times. I remember being fascinated by foreigners; I wanted to know them, hear what they had to say, as if they had something different and magical that I had to tap into.

At 14 years old, the school where I learned English had no further advancement courses left for me, so they gave me a job as a teaching assistant. Still, I wanted to actually communicate in English, so I volunteered to translate for the South African swimming team that came every year to attend swimming competitions in my local town, and I volunteered with an organization that hosted exchange students.

When I was 17, I was fortunate enough to go on an exchange program to Australia, where my English really transformed thanks to a host of wonderful people who helped me literally mold it into what it would become. Later, when I went back to Brazil from Australia, I needed to earn some cash as an undergraduate Biology student, so I started teaching English and translating for professors from my university.

My English skills have always been my bread and butter. In addition, they afforded me opportunities to travel, meet people and experience things that would not have been possible if it had not been for them. I am even married to a native English-speaker and, since Australia, I have  also lived in the UK and Bermuda.

“In short, I can categorically state that my English skills have been the most predominant factor in shaping my life as it is today.”

From the moment I became aware that there were people saying things that I could not understand, I decided that it was crucial that I understood them. More importantly, I learned that I could facilitate the communication between people who could not speak the two languages that I could speak. That gave me an immense sense of empowerment, and of being able to empower others to do business or have relationships with people who would normally just bypass them.

When at university, I became aware of how much scientific research is misunderstood or misconstrued due to being in English. Both journalists and researchers have ready access to international journals and news, but poor language skills often mean that scientific discoveries take a long time to be fully comprehended and incorporated into the collective knowledge. Conversely, there is a lot of very interesting research being conducted in Brazil that is not going to reach the international community for many years, because the translations are often so poor that articles get discredited based on their language rather than on their scientific accomplishments.

I became increasingly passionate about facilitating this exchange, because medical and scientific information becoming readily available and understood worldwide is crucial to scientific development, public health and well-being.

In other words, no, translation did not choose me; I chose translation. I chose to empower people and companies by enabling them to communicate well and effectively across cultural and language borders. I chose to turn my passion for English into a marketable skill that others may benefit from. I chose to speak with the whole world and to allow the world to speak to Portuguese speakers through me.

 Thus, if you are looking for a medical translator, who is truly passionate and has dedicated her whole life to perfecting the art of communication, I am your woman. I not only have 14+ years of professional translation experience, a 4-year BSc in Biology and 4 years of actually working as a medical researcher, but I also have a lifetime of meticulously learning and carving my language skills. I have been preparing for your project all my life; I am ready.

When you decide to embark on a career in translation, one of your first road blocks is that every agency you get in touch with requires experience.  Even when getting in touch with direct clients for the first time, you may feel that your CV is not yet something to be proud of and may feel discouraged and overwhelmed.

You are then faced with the dilemma, how will I get experience if I cannot get work? This frustrates many beginner translators, who may start wondering if they will ever get any decent work.

The reason why I am writing this post is because I have a different perspective on this, which took me some years to realize, and I think it may help you feel more motivated and ready for the challenge.

Unlike being a doctor, for which your training starts when you enter university, being a translator involves a lifetime of training. Acquiring language competence in two or more languages takes much longer than it does to train a doctor. So even if you never go to translation school, all your years of learning both your native(s) and foreign language(s) were preparing you to work as a translator. Thus, not for one second allow yourself to believe that you have not been preparing and, therefore, have no experience in translation.

When you read something in a foreign language about a topic of interest of yours and then relayed this information to a friend or relative, you were translating. When a song in your foreign language moved you and you shared it with someone for whom you had to explain it in a different language than it had originally been written, you were translating. Translating becomes such a natural part of our lives when we speak more than one language that we often forget how often we do it. This is something that is not readily obvious to someone who does not speak more than one language, but when you are competent in at least two languages, you have a lot of translation experience.

What you lack is formal training and experience on how to translate professionally, such as best practices, computer-assisted translation tools, memory and terminology management, etc. All of this can be learned, through formal training and/or experience, but it does not mean that you cannot start working now.

This may sound like I am undermining the role of an experienced professional translator, and that is not at all my intention. An experienced professional translator has the benefit of years of working with particular topics, has the advantage of in-depth knowledge of vocabulary in that translator’s particular specialist fields, in addition to being more knowledgeable about resources, tools and practices that can facilitate the translation process. Hence, from a client’s perspective, ideally you would want the best of both worlds, a professional translator who is highly knowledgeable about the topic of your translation. Nonetheless, my intention is to encourage and empower beginner translators to leverage their life experience, instead of being discourage by their current lack of specific professional translation experience.

In practice, what this means is that if you have an interest, a hobby even, or formal education in an area other than translation, and you have been using your language skills to further your knowledge of these topics, you have the leverage of being familiar with vocabulary and the style of communications used in that particular field. You may be a beginner translator, but you are not a beginner in that field and this can be used to leverage your CV when introducing yourself to agencies and direct clients.

Agencies may be more stringent in their criteria, but direct clients, once they see how knowledgeable you are about the topic of their translation, and how linguistically competent you are, they will be pleased to allow you to translate their materials.

Hence, I do advise you to follow the traditional route of studying, doing volunteer work, maybe creating some high visibility translations of topics of interest to you and promoting them online, etc., but also, make sure you do promote the knowledge that you have. Do not undersell yourself, just because you have not been a translator formally for x number of years.

 In other words, follow the traditional route, but do not be discouraged in pursuing the direct clients and high-end agencies as well, because if you are linguistically competent in more than one language, you are  no beginner!

In my most recent post: Why should freelance translators spend some time standardizing their processes? I discussed briefly the value of having some standardized processes to free up brain space and time to do the things you love, such as translating. I will not go into too much detail on that at this point, but feel free to read the post if you are interested.

The aim of this particular process is to ensure that you keep track of your clients and rates. If you are a beginner translator, you may not be feeling the need for such a process just yet, but this is the ideal time to begin.

Over the years as a freelance translator, you will work with many clients and for varying periods. Some will get on board at the beginning of your career and stay with you for many years; others will hire you for one-off projects, and some of these seemingly “one-off” projects will come back after a few years with a new project. Keeping track of who they are and how much you charged them for your last project with them is crucial to your business development.

Here are the two main reasons why:

  • Consistency and opportunities for increasing rates

Needless to say, even if you start out with the same rate, you will have different rates for these clients over time. Your rates will hopefully increase as your experience increases and you become more knowledgeable about the market. You can charge more from new clients coming on board now than for clients who have been with you from the beginning and paid your initial lower rate. In addition, you will have varying degrees of success in your negotiations with other clients, which will mean different rates as well. If you keep track of how much each client paid you for your most recent project with them, whenever a client comes back requesting a quote, all you have to do is quickly check your spreadsheet and you know what your negotiated rate with that client was. This information enables you to provide a quick quote, or start negotiating a new rate from your first reply.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, some clients will disappear for a few years and come back unexpectedly with a large project. In such cases, it is handy to know how much you charged back then, so that you can decide, before they ask, whether you need to charge them more or not. Also, you may have charged them a higher rate at the time than what most of your clients are paying now, e.g. because they are a direct client and you are currently working predominantly with agencies, and if you just go ahead and charge your must current rate, you may waste an opportunity to earn more for that job.

Conversely, if your rates are much higher now, when a client comes back to you after a few years expecting your original rate, you are able to decide whether to go with the original rate, increase your rate slightly so as not to scare them, or gently let them know your current rate. Many clients will agree a project with you assuming your original rate, without even asking for a quote, so you are better off always making sure the rates that you are charging for a particular project are clearly stated in every case. Again, in any case, not having to go back through your files to try to find how much you charged originally is extremely handy.

  • You have a ready-made list of leads

Sometimes we work with clients, they come and go, and over the years, we forget to check when we last worked for them. This will not happen in the beginning of your career, but after a few years, you will see that you actually forget certain clients, because you were busy with other projects.

When you keep a list of your clients, your contacts in their companies and rates, you have a ready-made list of marketing leads. Whenever you have a low period, you can go through your list, identify those clients with whom you have not been in touch in a while, and send them a friendly reminder that you are available, or just say hello. This is incredibly effective in making sure that your clients remember you and whenever they have a project in your language pair, you will be the first person they think of.

In addition, if you decide to offer a discount for a limited period or any other deals, you can contact all of these people easily and it will not be cold emailing, because they are already familiar with you and your work.

In order to do this, I use a spreadsheet that I created (picture below), which I call Client Database. My spreadsheet contains:

  • Client: company or person
  • Last job: date of the last job
  • Service: translation, revision, proofreading, transcription, content analysis, etc.
  • Rates currency: GBP, USD, EUR (depending on what I negotiated with the client)
  • Rate: amount/unit, e.g. 40/hour or 0.1/word
  • Status: Active or inactive. If I am currently working on a project for this client, or if this client regularly contacts me for projects, I consider this an active client. Otherwise, I classify the client as inactive. The reason for this item is that I can easily filter my spreadsheet by active or inactive clients depending on my marketing strategy. For example, I may want to contact all clients with whom I have not been in touch in a while, so I filter my spreadsheet by inactive clients. If I decide to offer a discount to my current clients, I can filter the spreadsheet by active clients.
  • Last contact: date of last contact with a representative of this client, perhaps when they offered a project that fell through, etc. This may or may not be the same as the last job date, but it is useful for you to know that you may have been in touch with them, but unable to secure work with them for some reason.
  • Contact person: name of project manager or direct client
  • Contact details: e-mail address. I am unlikely to call my clients, so I use e-mail, but if you like calling on occasion to make it more personal, then also add a phone number.
  • Notes: this is more for inactive clients and, basically, I add any information that might be useful if I were to engage with this client again in the future, such as tried to negotiate rate down or delays payments, etc. For example, if I have a promotional discount for some time, I may contact a client who negotiated my rates down and ask if they want to take advantage of a limited discount offer.

Client database printscreen

I update this spreadsheet at the end of every month. Updating your spreadsheet regularly is essential to ensuring that you have recent data on when you last worked for a client, etc. In addition, it helps you remember all those clients and reach out to them when you need more projects. It is very easy to panic and look for new leads every time you find yourself in a low period, and forget that you have a ready-made database of people who already know you, know your work, and who would probably be willing to work with you again.

This is a simple enough spreadsheet and a simple enough process, so make sure you implement it and you will reap the benefits from having this data compiled before you know it! Do you have any better processes for keeping track of your clients and rates? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy translating!

As freelancers, we take pride in managing our own time, being our own boss, and theoretically being able to choose our jobs and clients. However, when it gets down to it, being your own boss also means being your own IT department, being your own human resources department, your own accounts department, and so on. The tricky part is, we are only paid for the translation work, all the other jobs that we carry out are either unpaid, or you have to factor that time into your translation rate.

Even if you are a “boutique” translator, who charges a hefty fee for your services, factoring the cost of all the hours that you put into invoicing, learning how to use translation resources, figuring out IT problems, chasing payments, prospecting clients, etc. into your per hour or per word rate, would likely make you prohibitively expensive. Hence, there are two options, one is outsourcing some or all of these tasks, and the other is reducing the amount of time that you spend on each of these tasks.

In either case, you can benefit from standardizing some of your processes to ensure that you or the person who will perform a service for you is able to perform tasks quickly and keep appropriate records. If you think of yourself as a company, you may take some initial time (start-up) time to create certain documents and tools, but these will pay off later in time saved that you can use to earn money from translating or relax and enjoy the money that you have earned.

If you choose to outsource all of your non translation-related tasks, you need to find affordable services and determine how much of your earnings you are prepared to spend on “business costs”. The advantages of outsourcing services include freeing up brain space for translation, freeing up time, and not having to actually spend time doing things that you dislike versus translating, which you love. The disadvantages are primarily the cost of outsourcing, giving up some of your control over important aspects of your business and having more people to manage, which means that you will also have to manage their deadlines, deliverables, etc.

I particularly prefer a combination outsourcing and doing it myself. There are tasks, such as filing tax returns, which can be outsourced for a relatively low cost. Other tasks, such as your marketing, are potentially more effectively done by you. More importantly, if you chose to become a freelancer, you probably believe that you work well independently and are used to “figuring things out” for yourself. Hence, you probably do not think that you need to spend money on many of these tasks. Well, I believe that too, and in the very least, if you do spend some money, you should really only spend where necessary.

As freelancers, we do not operate as companies, and when we “hire” someone, we usually pay another freelancer on an hourly basis as well. Hence, it is important that the other freelancer is able to hit the ground running and do as much as possible for you in the hours that you are hiring them.

For example, if you hire someone to do your client prospecting for you, he or she will be contacting potential clients on your behalf. This is obviously great, provided that their approach truly represents how you want to portray yourself, and how good they are at recordkeeping. Let us say that you hire a sales person and give them a list of potential clients to contact, you tell them to create a template for initial communications through e-mails and letters, and send them off on their trail. Two or three months down the line, you may be a bit short on cash and decide that you do not need their services right now, so you fire them. How do you know who they contacted and what their responses were? How do you know who you need to follow up on? In a few months, when you decide to hire a new sales person, how will they know where to start?

In this example, you should have provided or had the first sales person create a brief on what to put in their communications, a list of contacts, a spreadsheet to track who had been contacted, and a results-tracker. Furthermore, you should have arranged periodic monitoring of their work to make sure that they were using your tools appropriately and that they were having some success. This would have meant spending a few hours initially, either creating the materials and/or briefing the sales person (paid hours). After this initial time, you would have to meet with the sales person for 1-2 hours per month to keep track of their progress and use of your materials.

 I know that not many translators will go as far as hiring a sales person, but this concept of having an outline of what you need from a task, templates to streamline accomplishing the task and a results-tracker applies to all of your potential processes, from accounting, to sales, to collections.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I am going to share some of my standardized practices with you. These are quick and simple processes that you can apply to ensure that you are on top of your finances, your marketing, your clients and your rates. The main concept behind all of them is setting out what you want from your tasks, creating as many templates as possible in advance and devising means to keep track of your results.

If you spend some time doing this for all your processes, and apply your processes consistently, not only will you be much quicker at doing them, but also if you ever choose to outsource, the person who takes over from you will be able to do so quickly and with little training.

Stay tuned and let me know your thoughts! Happy translating!

As freelancers, we take pride in managing our own time, being our own boss, and theoretically being able to choose our jobs and clients. However, when it gets down to it, being your own boss also means being your own IT department, being your own human resources department, your own accounts department, and so on. The tricky part is, we are only paid for the translation work, all the other jobs that we carry out are either unpaid, or you have to factor that time into your translation rate.

Even if you are a “boutique” translator, who charges a hefty fee for your services, factoring the cost of all the hours that you put into invoicing, learning how to use translation resources, figuring out IT problems, chasing payments, prospecting clients, etc. into your per hour or per word rate, would likely make you prohibitively expensive. Hence, there are two options, one is outsourcing some or all of these tasks, and the other is reducing the amount of time that you spend on each of these tasks.

In either case, you can benefit from standardizing some of your processes to ensure that you or the person who will perform a service for you is able to perform tasks quickly and keep appropriate records. If you think of yourself as a company, you may take some initial time (start-up) to create certain documents and tools, but this will pay off later in time saved that you can use to earn money from translating or relax and enjoy the money that you have earned.

If you choose to outsource all of your non translation-related tasks, you need to find affordable services and determine how much of your earnings you are prepared to spend on “business costs”. The advantages of outsourcing services include freeing up brain space for translation, freeing up time, and not having to actually spend time doing things that you dislike versus translating, which you love. The disadvantages are primarily the cost of outsourcing, giving up some of your control over important aspects of your business and having more people to manage, which means that you will also have to manage their deadlines, deliverables, etc.

I particularly prefer a combination of outsourcing and doing it myself. There are tasks, such as filing tax returns, which can be outsourced for a relatively low cost. Other tasks, such as your marketing, are potentially more effectively done by you. More importantly, if you chose to become a freelancer, you probably believe that you work well independently and are used to “figuring things out” for yourself. Hence, you probably do not think that you need to spend money on many of these tasks. Well, I believe that too, and in the very least, if you do spend some money, you should really only spend where necessary.

As freelancers, we do not operate as companies, and when we “hire” someone, we usually pay another freelancer on an hourly basis as well. Hence, it is important that the other freelancer is able to hit the ground running and do as much as possible for you in the hours that you are hiring them.

For example, if you hire someone to do your client prospecting for you, he or she will be contacting potential clients on your behalf. This is obviously great, provided that their approach truly represents how you want to portray yourself, and how good they are at recordkeeping. Let us say that you hire a sales person and give them a list of potential clients to contact, you tell them to create a template for initial communications through e-mails and letters, and send them off on their trail. Two or three months down the line, you may be a bit short on cash and decide that you do not need their services right now, so you fire them. How do you know who they contacted and what their responses were? How do you know who you need to follow up on? In a few months, when you decide to hire a new sales person, how will they know where to start?

In this example, you should have provided or had the first sales person create a brief on what to put in their communications, a list of contacts, a spreadsheet to track who had been contacted, and a results-tracker. Furthermore, you should have arranged periodic monitoring of their work to make sure that they were using your tools appropriately and that they were having some success. This would have meant spending a few hours initially, either creating the materials and/or briefing the sales person (paid hours). After this initial time, you would have had to meet with the sales person for 1-2 hours per month to keep track of their progress and use of your materials.

 I know that not many translators will go as far as hiring a sales person, but this concept of having an outline of what you need from a task, templates to streamline accomplishing the task and a results-tracker applies to all of your potential processes, from accounting, to sales, to collections.

Whether your intent is to hire someone to do a job for you, or to do it yourself. You will benefit from creating materials in advance. Such materials should always include your goals and how you will measure your results, as well as, templates to streamline that particular task.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I am going to share some of my standardized practices with you. These are quick and simple processes that you can apply to ensure that you are on top of your finances, your marketing, your clients and your rates. The main concept behind all of them is setting out what you want from your tasks, creating as many templates as possible in advance and devising means to keep track of your results.

If you spend some time doing this for all your processes, and apply your processes consistently, not only will you be much quicker at doing them, but also if you ever choose to outsource, the person who takes over from you will be able to do so quickly and with little training.

Stay tuned and let me know your thoughts! Happy translating!

If you are thinking of venturing into medical translations, in this article you will find a brief description of the most common types of medical documents that you could be presented with. I will briefly discuss some categories of medical documents and the level of specialization required to work with them.

Like doctors, some translators choose to specialize in body systems, such as vascular, reproductive, respiratory, lymphatic, etc. Alternatively, they may specialize in a particular condition, such as diabetes, leukaemia, Alzheimer’s disease etc. These translators will usually handle all sorts of documentation within their particular field of expertise. This type of specialization usually works when you have a background working in that particular field. For example, I have a background as a researcher in human reproduction, so for this particular area of specialization I usually handle all types of medical documents. Otherwise, this type of specialization may be too limiting and the time investment it will take you to learn about all things related to that topic may not be feasible in the short to medium term.

Other medical translators choose to specialize in a particular type of medical documentation, which is what we will focus on in this article. Specializing in a particular type of documentation requires a broad general knowledge of medicine and extensive experience with and exposure to that particular type of document. Usually, the terminology and style of these types of documents are very specific, but also somewhat standard, so they are quicker to learn and easier to master. Again, they require a time investment, because you will need to read many of those types of documents in both your working languages and, what’s more, you will need to keep up with your general medical knowledge to handle requests in any field. However, you will get the gist of the documents quicker and can start selecting jobs in areas that you are more familiar with.

Having said that, what types of medical documentation could you specialize in?

  • Clinical trial documentation: All pharmaceutical companies carry out clinical trials to ensure that their drugs are safe and market-ready. Many new drugs are meant to be sold globally and, for that reason, clinical trials also have to be conducted in several countries. Hence, this is a prolific field, because these trials happen all the time and in many languages. Typically, the source documentation is prepared in English, regardless of where the pharmaceutical company is based. These documents are then sent to medical translators for translation into the languages of the countries where the clinical trial will take place. The most common types of documents in clinical trials are clinical trial protocols, investigator’s brochures, informed consent forms, adverse event reports, communications between the main study centre and other study centres, and legal documentation between the pharmaceutical companies and study centres (e.g. agreements, statements, etc.). Specializing in this field requires a thorough knowledge of the technical and legal aspects of this type of documentation, as well as extreme attention to detail, because errors in clinical trial documentation are particularly serious. For example, a typo in a dosage could effectively kill or harm a patient.
  • Patents: Patent translations is also a prolific field. Because there is no unified patent legislation across the globe, patent holders often have to file for patents in several different countries, which means that there is a high demand for several languages. Translating patents requires some knowledge of medical devices and biochemistry, because most inventions related to the medical field are either devices or chemicals, as well as law. These are usually legal documents written according to very particular standards, so learning the style and terminology is essential, because patents are often rejected if their style is not compliant with the accepted standards. In addition, the translator needs to keep up with medical news, because patents are often inventions and the technology used is cutting-edge. Hence, you need to be willing to research and learn, because it will not always be easy to find equivalent terms in both your working languages.
  • Medical devices: medical device documentation consists primarily of manuals. These documents are usually extensive and explain in detail how a device works, what it contains and how it should be operated. This is a very technical field that requires some knowledge of engineering and physics, because you often have to describe parts and how they operate in relation to each other. Specific medical knowledge in this case is important for you to understand the purpose of a device, but understanding its mechanics and engineering is usually more important. A translator who wants to work in this field should focus on knowledge of engineering applied to the medical field, and health and safety regulations.
  • Regulatory & compliance: These are usually standards issued by governments or regulatory authorities, best practices, legislation, etc. In my experience, there is less demand for this type of documentation, except among economic groups, such as the EU, where certain standards are unified and therefore need to be translated into all applicable languages. Other cases in which regulatory documentation requires translation is when foreign companies are taking part in tenders and need to be compliant with local legislation. In such cases, there may be a demand for translation of such requirements and then translation of the applicable compliance statements. This type of translation requires a knowledge of legal terminology applied to the medical field and, if you translate into a language used within an economic group, knowledge of the style and terminology of standard documents used within that group.
  • Market research: Pharmaceutical and medical device companies often sell their products globally, therefore, they are always conducting market research in their target countries to determine their positioning, pricing, acceptance, branding, etc. Translators specialized in market research will often translate discussion guides for interviews with patients and physicians or other experts, product profiles, research screeners and transcripts of interviews. This is a “softer” type of translation because the medical knowledge required is not as technical. However, you need to be aware of the terminology used among physicians as well as among patients, because the same question will almost never be translated in exactly the same way to both audiences.
  • Websites and patient brochures: This is self-explanatory and technically speaking the easiest type of translation in the medical field. Websites are rarely too specialized, because they aim to attract broad audiences. However, you must be very careful in conveying the right tone and style. Translating a healthcare company’s website is not like translating a travel website. The language usually needs to be accessible, but credibility is essential, so your translation must ensure that the terminology used is in line with industry standards. In addition, patient leaflets and brochures must be understandable and credible, so that patients feel that they can rely on that information. Your job as a translator in this case is to learn how to communicate with each audience in a professional, but accessible manner.
  • Academic: These are usually scientific articles published in international journals. The demand for this type of translation is most often into English, because most international journals are in English. There may also be a demand to translate researcher CVs, abstracts, protocols, etc. This type of translation requires a knowledge of the standard formatting and style of scientific journals. Sometimes the translator must also become familiar with the style and requirements of a particular journal, in order to ensure that the translation is compliant. Furthermore, this type of translation requires technical knowledge, because many publications will be directed at experts in a particular field, which means that less than expert translations often discredit the work of the researcher.

In my experience, these are the most common types of documents translated by medical translators. If you choose to specialize in a particular type of document, it does not mean that you can never venture into other types of documentation. All it means is that you need to be aware of how much you will need to learn and what to focus on, because with specific documentation you need more than expert knowledge of a particular field.

Can you think of any other types of documents translated by medical translators? If you do, please share them in your comments!


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There are hundreds of great resources for medical translators online for different language pairs and different areas of specialization; I have compiled a few of those under my posts Glossaries and Dictionaries. In this post, I am sharing 5 resources that are useful for medical translators when researching. These links will help you understand what the terms and conditions that you are translating about mean and from there you can make decisions about how to translate them using your glossaries and dictionaries.

  • Medilexicon: This dictionary also features in my dictionaries post. I love it particularly for acronym search in clinical trial and patent translations. It is comprehensive and extremely useful when translating from English. It also contains a dictionary with definitions, which is useful, but the main resource I use is the abbreviations search.
  • Pubmed: This is a database of scientific articles from virtually all relevant international journals. When I worked as a medical researcher a few years back, this was the most popular search engine for scientific references. I believe it is still one of the most used by scientists worldwide and it is great because it contains articles from reputable journals. Hence, you have access to higher-level information. The only drawback of this website is that if you are not subscribed, you only have access to the abstracts of most articles. In my experience, the information I need is usually in the abstracts and when it is not, I can usually find some clues there that will guide further research.
  • ScienceDaily: I like this website because you can search for summaries of research in different topics. I find it particularly useful when the information I need is not clear from the abstracts on PubMed. I usually use the clues from PubMed as search topics on Science Daily to get better clarification on the terminology that I am translating.
  • Medline: The US national library of medicine. This is also a great resource for research. It is important that medical translators have a thorough understanding of the topics they are translating about before they even begin translating. Hence, having links for good, sound information on a variety of medical topics in your bookmarks bar is essential. This is definitely one such resource.
  • LILACS: LILACS is the most important and comprehensive index of scientific and technical literature of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is particularly useful for translators into and from Latin American languages and it gives access to full articles from Latin American Journals. It is also useful for translators of other languages doing research in English as most of the articles are in English, but Latin American translators are able to find the references and then search for the articles in their respective languages. Hence, I find it very handy when trying to decide how to translate a particular term.

When researching for a medical translation, I find that we often need to be creative. For example, sometimes I see a term in a source text, I cannot find it in my glossaries and dictionaries and I am not sure how to translate it. In some cases, from experience, I can make an educated guess about how that term might be translated into Brazilian Portuguese. What I do from there is try to determine whether my guess is actually a term that is used in Brazilian medical language, so I will search for it on LILACS, for example. Sometimes, within seconds I find several references to that term being used in the same context in Brazilian journals, which means problem solved.

However, other times I cannot find it, so I need to broaden my search, I need to understand in detail what the English term means, for which I use PubMed, Medline, Science Daily and even Medilexicon. Once I have a good understanding of what the term means, I can google related terms in PTBR and try to find a term being used in the same context in Brazilian Portuguese. Sometimes, Google image search can be extremely useful in helping me determine whether the term I found and the source term mean the same thing, because if I search both terms and find similar images, then I know that I am on the right track. Please note that Google is never the final determinant of how I am going to translate a term, because there is a lot of unreliable information there. Hence, even if I find the term in PTBR on Google, I then go back to my articles, perhaps through LILACS, and try to find that term being used in the same context.

Between these references, the dictionaries and glossaries that I have shared in previous posts, and my own dictionaries and glossaries, created over years of medical translations, I can combine and cross-reference information to translate virtually any medical term. This may sound like a lengthy process, but with experience, you learn a lot of terminology and the more you work with a particular topic the fewer terms you need to research and the better your educated guesses. My recommendation for translators beginning in the medical field is to read a lot in your working languages, because the better your understanding of medical language, the easier for you to make educated guesses. Furthermore, take the time to create your own glossaries and dictionaries. Whenever you are translating, just keep an excel spreadsheet open and include all the terms you research. This is invaluable, because you will often come across the same term again and you will wish you remembered how you translated it last time!

Good luck and please share if you have any other references that you find particularly useful.

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This week I was reading a post by a fellow blogger and translator, Olga Arakelyan, about the 10 worst mistakes she made as a translator, and number 6 “I couldn’t say no to clients” resonated with me. Naturally, not saying no was not my only mistake, but it is one with which I have been struggling for over 13 years. Today, I want to share a few lessons that I learned from saying “no” more often.

When should we say no?

  • When a job does not pay a fee that we consider reasonable. In my post about setting rates, I discuss how there should be some flexibility in terms of pricing. Of course, we will have to negotiate sometimes, but you should set a minimum threshold under which you will not work.
  • When a job has an unreasonable deadline. You will have to work overnight, over the weekend and just barely have enough time to deliver the job. This is a disaster waiting to happen, believe me, just say no.
  • When a job is not within your area of expertise and you are not comfortable that the time available to do it will allow you to research it properly and deliver your customary high quality work. Again, another disaster waiting to happen!

These are straightforward reasons, so…

Why do we fail to say no?

When we start a career as freelance translators, most of us do not know much about business, let alone about a freelancing translation business. This means that we have to learn as we go, mostly from trial and error. We often start, like many businesses, without clients or with very few clients and have to build a client base from there. In this process, we will learn about website design, marketing, social media, etc. We will play every role in our business, from admin to strategic planning. However, what we are at heart is translators and what we really want to do is translate. Therefore, it is very easy to use the very purpose of our business as an excuse to take any job – i.e. “it is best to be translating than not doing anything or not making any money at all.” I have fallen into that trap repeatedly. Many times, I have accepted jobs just because “I was not doing anything that day” or “It was good practice and I learned a lot”.

Another excuse that we use to take any job – when I say any job I mean jobs outside our area of expertise, with unreasonable deadlines or underpaid – is that we cannot afford the luxury of picking and choosing our clients, at least not yet. This is a tricky excuse because it seems very valid and, when we are struggling to make ends meet, sometimes we feel like there is no other way. Naturally, it is our business and ultimately you will do what we need to do, but I will tell you in the next part of this post why perhaps you should really consider saying no and taking that chance.

Finally, we “feel sorry” for our clients. Particularly with long-term clients and project managers, when they are desperate, because they “need something translated by tomorrow,” or “you are the only person they trust to do the job at such short notice,” or “unfortunately their budget is very limited for this project, but they really want the job done by you,” or whatever it is they tell you, you feel like you cannot say no. You feel like they need you and it would be bad customer service to say no. After all, we should “go the extra mile” for our clients.

In my experience, the above are the three main reasons why we struggle to say no, but…

What are the downfalls of not saying no enough?

  • Whenever the quality of your work suffers, your business as a whole suffers. Whether you work with agencies, direct clients or both, repeat business and referrals will always depend on the quality of your work, your timeliness and your professionalism. Accepting a job with an unreasonable deadline is a recipe for disaster, because you will be working in a hurry, tired and, as with any work that requires attention to detail, will be likely to make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of any service provided by humans, but when clients pay you for a service, even if it is a rush job or a low rate, they assume that if you accepted it, you will deliver a job to the standard they expect from you. Hence, do not expect them to be OK with your mistakes, because you took a rush job from them, even if you did it to “help them”. This happened to me once with a translation agency; the project manager begged me to take on this translation for the next day, because there was no one else, etc. I told him, I would do my best, but the deadline was tight and it would be difficult. In the end, I managed to do the job to a high standard, but was late ten minutes. He discounted 30% of my pay because the agency’s policy was to penalize translators for delays. I was furious, of course! I only took the job to “help him”, I busted my ass trying to get it done to the quality expected of me, and I was only late 10 minutes. The result was that I lost 30% of my fee, ended up arguing with the PM and it did not make any difference. I had signed an agreement and, ultimately, he was entitled to enforce their policy. My relationship with this agency was dented. The incident left a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth. Until then, I had worked with this agency for at least 3 years and had never had a late job. The result of me trying to “help them” was that I lost some of my earnings, my reputation with them suffered and our working relationship as a whole was made worse, not better. Even when a client is aware that the quality of a job may suffer due to a tight deadline, no client will ever be happy to find mistakes, or to have a delayed delivery on a job that they are paying for. Hence, you do yourself no favours by accepting such jobs. The upside of being a freelancer is being able to pick and choose, so do just that and let someone else take the fall for a poor job, or let your client juggle things around to find you a better deadline.

  • We work in a global industry, working from home over the Internet – as many of us do – means that we have clients everywhere in the world and our competition is also global. Hence, becoming known and reputable takes time, but losing a client and potentially your reputation only takes one bad job. Finding clients in a global arena broadens our scope, but also creates some challenges. It is not easy for clients to background check us, it is not easy for us to stand out in a pile of CVs from all over the world and building relationships takes longer.  In practice, this means two things 1) we do not want to have to find new clients every week, we want those who take a chance on us to stays with us for all their translation needs in our language pair and 2) we want to be able to develop a reputation that is verifiable. Having these two things is gold in our business and we should value them above immediate earnings, because our clients will value and reward us for it. Hence, resist the temptation of accepting any jobs that might jeopardize your reputation. If you want to be in this business for the long run, be humble and accept when something is beyond your scope of knowledge. Clients will not think less of you for it, they will respect your for being professional.

  • You do not have time to run your business. Again, it is easy to fall into the trap of “at least I am translating” and overlook the fact that for you to be able to continue translating in the long-term your business needs to thrive as a business. Sometimes, the small fee that you will make from a job, however tempting it may be, may be preventing you from finding a new client who could award you a much bigger job. In addition, your administrative tasks must be handled. When I used to manage a team of translators working for me, we had a policy that by a certain date they had to submit their invoices for a particular month in order to ensure timely payment. Month after month, I was astonished at how many of them simply forgot to invoice me. You have already done the work; you need to be paid for it! Your business should run in a way that you are paid for every job you complete. You make zero money if you take a small new job instead of taking the time to invoice a job that you have already completed, you may actually lose money, which is stupid, for lack of a better word.

  • You have no time to study and learn. Researching, reading, building your pool of resources are all part of developing yourself as a translator. These things should be incorporated into your routine and regarded as just as important as translating itself. There are computer-assisted technologies being launched all the time, new resources available online and offline, classes, books, etc. These are all things that you need to keep up with in order to continue offering high quality services to your clients and to continue developing professionally. Furthermore, sometimes your mind needs a break and some inspiration that does not come from frantically translating. These activities are not to be left for your free time; they are essential to your business and should be regarded and prioritized as such.

In short, make a list of things that are worth saying no for and stick to them. You can also make a list of things that are worth saying yes to and stick to them. If you have set parameters for how you operate, it is easier to make these decisions when situations present themselves and your business can only grow from having a clear direction. Good luck!

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This week I was asked by a fellow translator if I think she should become a paid member of one of these job boards online, such as Proz and Translator’s café. In this post, I discuss my experience and why I think it depends on your strategy.

I have been an unpaid member of ProZ for over 6 years, and I have profiles created in most of the major job boards for translators online. I have already discussed why I think you should take the time to create a profile in a previous post. In short, these websites’ ratings improve your visibility, because it is easier than boosting your own website’s ratings or even creating one to begin one.

Creating hundreds of profiles is a time-consuming task, but I think it is worth it. There is a cheat though: I actually hired a virtual assistant, provided her with copy of the general text, my CV information, login and password to be used and she created the accounts for me. Now, I have a spreadsheet, where I have all the websites where I have profiles, login and password, and latest updates. Hence, it is easy for me to track where my information is and update it every so often (for which I also use my virtual assistant).

I can safely say that I have had potential clients contact me at one point or another through most of these websites, but still I would not recommend them as a marketing strategy. These profiles are nice to have, but do not expect them to generate a lot of spontaneous business for you, most of your business will come from active marketing. You can read some of my tips on that as well here and here.

However, I digress…these are unpaid profiles, but what about paid membership? Is it worth it?

Over one year ago, I wondered that myself, and after being a member of ProZ for over five years, I decided to make the investment and pay for a year of membership. I read several testimonials by other translators on the ProZ website saying that they got the return on their investment, so my goal was to at least get my money back in jobs won.

Hence, I bid for all suitable projects in my language pair, which I had not been doing as a free member, and made an effort to tailor all my bids to the job offers. As a result, I won quite a few jobs in my first six months of membership, and made some contacts that did not award me the particular job I bid for, but came back to me later for other jobs. The bottom line is that, like the testimonials that I read, I did get my money back.

The fact that I had paid, made me more diligent in bidding and tailoring my bids, which could have accounted for the positive results. Nonetheless, I did find that, as a member, I was allowed to bid first, so my bids were noticed more often than when I bid as a free member. This is the true value of the paid membership. I believe that a job poster will not read more than 10-20 bids, so by the time you bid as a free member, they will potentially have already selected their provider.

Another interesting aspect of the membership was having access to the Blue Board, which is a board where translators rate job posters. I could check whether a poster paid on time, was serious and ethical, etc. This obviously made me feel a lot more confident when accepting jobs.

Bottom line is that you should definitely pay for membership, at least with ProZ, right? Well, I have not renewed my membership this year.

Despite the “success”, the jobs posted there usually offered lower rates than I expect to earn. The “clients” on the ProZ website are not my target market, because I target a more specialist type of agency and end client, who usually have longer selection processes and testing, so they will rarely post a job on a job board. My clients usually pre-emptively recruit and create lists of approved suppliers so that they can easily outsource jobs to trusted partners.

Hence, I found that the time I spent tailoring bids and looking for suitable projects was better spent sending my CV and marketing information to potential clients in my target segment. I spent the last six months of my membership with ProZ sending CVs and marketing information, and taking tests. The result was that I got fewer responses and fewer replies, but the companies that became my clients in that period paid me at least three times more than my Proz clients did. In other words, in the second half of my membership year, I was able to earn a lot more, doing what I specialize in.

The lesson I learned is that both of these approaches are valid ways of finding clients and winning jobs. However, your choice of one or the other depends on your strategy. In fact, you do not even have to choose, you could do both and maximize your earnings by choosing the highest paying jobs by order of request. I find that doing both takes more than my allotted marketing time and I need to translate as well, so it is not feasible in my business, but it all depends on your demand.

A paid membership is certainly something to consider when you are going through a low demand period or building your business. When you reach a more stable level, you can then make a choice about whether this is helping you get to your target market or consuming more time than it is worth.

My main take away from this experience was that we should be open to trying new approaches and assessing them pragmatically. Sometimes, a return on investment does not make an approach attractive in the long term. As translators, we need to think as business owners and make these decisions. However, we will only be able to focus on the best approach for us, once we have tried a few different strategies and tailored our choices to our business.

Now over to you, have you had any experience with paid memberships in other job boards? How did it go?


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Machine translations (MT) is a hot topic now. I have seen and participated in several discussions in online translators’ forums on the topic recently. Translators and the industry as a whole are somewhat divided.

Many translators fear that the quality of machine translations is inferior to that of human translations and will ultimately drive down the overall quality and prices across the industry. Translation agencies feel increasing pressure to use machine translations to meet deadlines and constant budgetary constraints. Clients, who are aware of what machine translations are, feel that if MTs are being used in their projects without their knowledge, they are being ripped off. On the other hand, if machine translations are not being used at all, they are missing out on cost savings and faster turnaround times.

Machine translation is different from simply using a translation memory tool. Professional translators have been using computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools) for decades to help them increase consistency and performance. The fundamental difference between the two is that in MT, a software will actually perform the translation and a human reviewer will then go over the translation editing it to ensure it is accurate and of good quality; this process is called post-editing of machine translation (PEMT). In human translations aided by CAT tools – which is the current norm across the industry -, memories and glossaries are created and available as reference to the translator. A software interface allows the translator to view the source document, similar segments already translated in the translation memory and other reference materials at the same time, while he/she types in translations for each segment. Despite all this “help”, ultimately, the translator carries out the actual translation of each segment of the source text. In both cases, each segment translated is stored in a translation memory (TM) and, in future translations, if the segment reappears, it is automatically input into the file being translated.

Hence, in the first process, there are usually two people involved, a post-editor and a proofreader, who will have the final responsibility for ensuring the quality of the translation. In the second process, there will be 2-3 people involved as well, the translator, a reviewer and sometimes a proofreader to ensure the quality of the translation.

Both of these processes sound great in theory. Ultimately, the translation will be reviewed and read by at least two qualified people, who will then ensure that the quality of the final product is the highest possible.

However, it is not that simple. Translation agencies are under a lot of pressure from clients to reduce prices. Hence, what happens is that these translation memories are used to “reduce the work” and the “cost” of the human assets involved. Translation agencies sometimes have grids for how much they pay for memory matches, for example, if there is a 100% match to a segment in a translation memory, the translation agency will not pay the translator for that segment. Therefore, the translator is not to touch that segment, even if its style, tone of voice, etc. are different from the rest of the translation, or worse, even if there are errors. If there is an 80-95% similarity between a new segment and a segment already in the memory, the translator may be paid 30% or 40% of his/her usual rate, etc. In other words, the translator will still have to read and edit that segment, but will not be paid in full for that service.

When CAT Tools and machine translations first came out, most clients were completely unaware of this, so often they would pay the full rate for all segments in a file, while translation agencies would profit from underpaying their translators. As clients caught on to this, they began pressuring translation agencies to reduce prices. This means that many translation agencies passed this pressure on to their translators, who were paid even less. No wonder translators are sceptical of new computer-assisted technologies!

Good translators eventually decided not accept this and would refuse to work with a grid or even with CAT tools. In response, translation agencies were forced to hire “cheaper” translator and the quality of translations across the industry spiralled down.

This is still an issue today, the middle and bottom of the translation industry are full of translators who work for a very low rate editing machine translations or translating 10-20% of a document without even looking at the rest to ensure consistency.

For the reasons above, I had been very sceptical of MT until recently. I only decided to try it, because I was asked by a client, happened to have the time and was curious about it. I completed three large projects for the same client, i.e. same terminology, same glossary, same style guide, etc. The first issue was that my client, a translation agency, was doing this at the request of their end client and not even they understood exactly how the rates were calculated.  In other words, their clients had complete control over what they would charge and, hence, of what I would get paid (which was much less than my usual rate).

After my first project, I was actually excited about it. I did complete several words in a very short space of time. Therefore, I thought, maybe, I would eventually be able to earn as much per hour as I earn regularly. Hence, the lower rate would not be an issue.

It felt a bit like using a CAT tool, only all non-100% matches were like 70-90% matches and my job was to go over them editing. Now, 100% match segments all came locked, which means I could not amend them even if I did spot a mistake.

Nonetheless, there was still the quality issue. As translators are not paid for 100% matches, the client has to assume that we will not even read those. Therefore, they have to provide an extensive style guide and glossary to ensure that terms are translated consistently and the overall style of the translation is somewhat preserved. However, learning an extensive style guide takes time and even if you are really careful, when you are earning more than 50% less than you normally would for a job, you do not want to double the time it will take you to do that job by going over and over the style guide and glossary.

My first project was a short one, so it was relatively easy to ensure the quality of the segments I translated. It is very important to note here that I found several errors in the 100% matches, but I was told by my client (the translation agency) to simply ignore those. No one was getting paid for those so they were to remain unchanged.

In my next two projects, which were very large, I found myself under a lot of pressure and very confused! For example, I was supposed to be strictly faithful to the glossary, but sometimes I would be translating a segment and the term in the glossary would be different from how the same term had been translated in the 100% match segment just above. If I followed the glossary, as instructed, the text would be inconsistent. Why would you have two words to designate the same part of a machine in subsequent paragraphs? It is confusing!

In addition, there was the extensive style guide to follow, which I did not have time to learn fully, because I was supposed to turn the translation around quickly – after all, it had already been done by the machine, right? Well, the result and bitter lesson from this experienced was that these projects failed the “quality” evaluation during the proofreading stage due to consistency issues with glossary and style guide. I had not failed a quality assessment in at least 10 years! As a result, I had to amend and amend the translations until they were completely consistent with the glossary and style guide, which ultimately took me a lot longer than if I had translated the project for my full rate as I usually do. In other words, I lost money.

It was a bitter lesson, because having been in this industry for so long, I should have known that I could not have learned such a lengthy style guide so quickly, and should have factored this into my price and deadline. However, it has taught me a few things about machine translations.

Now, when I see articles like the one I read today, praising the “high quality, speed and cost savings of machine translations”.  I take them with a pinch of salt.

My recent experience has not made me against machine translations. I do believe that there is value in them, because they can indeed speed up the process, but it has made me very aware that the way they are being done now, purely as a money saving exercise, is very detrimental to the overall quality of translations.

Ideally, for a machine translation to be of really good quality, the PEMT should review the entire text, not just non-100% matches. The reason for that is that a full revision will ensure that mistakes in previous translations are not perpetuated, and the tone of voice, style and terminology of the translation are consistent. Furthermore, the proofreader should be someone highly experienced with the style guide and glossary. Clients should treasure these professionals and the time investment they had to put into learning these style guide and glossaries, because they are the main quality element of the translation. These professionals should be paid more, not less, because they are “experts”.

The bottom line is that machine translations are excellent tools, like CAT tools, but they do not stand alone. Languages are living things that change and adapt, and no software today is able to adjust and account for that. It takes an experienced human eye to turn a machine translation into a good translation. The whole industry should be aware of this and properly reward these professionals, value their expertise and set procedures in place that allow them to do their job to the best of their ability. Only then will machine translations be “high quality, speedier and less expensive”.

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Determining your rates is often a common and controversial issue among translators. The answer that I will provide today is by no means the only one. You may come up with other pricing strategies that work for you, your target market and current clientele. I hope this provides a starting point, based upon which you can devise your own strategy.

Firstly, your rate must:

  • Be competitive – in theory, you can charge whatever you want, but that will only work if people pay what you are asking for. Most clients will get quotes from more than one translator or service, so if you are too far off the mark they will either think that you are not professional enough (hence why your rate is so low) or that you are out of touch with the market (hence why your rate is so high). That does not mean that you cannot be the cheapest or the most expensive translator that money can hire; it just means that your rate should show that you are aware of what the market pays for your service and your pricing strategy is deliberate. Hence, you are either “in the middle” or “just above” or “just below” the going rate.
  •  Make a statement – our CV is not our only means of making a statement about our work. What and how we charge for our services also affect how we are viewed by prospect clients. Companies choose what strategy is more in line with their value proposition and adjust their pricing strategy based on that. For example, a company may set its prices low and dare you to find a cheaper provider. This shows you that they are aware of what the going rate is for similar products, but deliberately want to be the cheapest and attract as many customers as possible. We all know what to expect from this company, as the popular saying goes: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes, the lowest price is exactly what you want and need; we are not always looking for the highest quality. For example, you may have just received a letter from your boyfriend in Spain. The letter is in Spanish, but you do not speak Spanish. Hence, you need a translation service. You will not be looking for the highest quality translation that money can buy, you will probably want speed (because you cannot wait to know what he said) and to get the general idea for the lowest price, because you cannot invest lots of money on reading letters from your boyfriend. Sometimes quality is not the top concern, i.e. speed and budget are more important and a low pricing strategy may be more appealing to this customer.

Conversely, at the high-end market, companies will set their prices above the going rate to convey to you that their product is more expensive because it is the best available. As a translator, your pricing strategy can do that too, you may set your price to reflect the quality of the services you provide, your experience, credentials, specialization, etc. It is as if you are trying to convey that you are the “Ferrari” equivalent in translation. If you choose this strategy, remember that not everyone can afford a Ferrari, not matter how much they want it, so your services will not be accessible to most clients.

Hence, your pricing strategy may say – “I am willing to translate for a lower fee and this means that I am interested in volume” – or it may say – “I am a high-quality and experienced professional, who charges according to my credentials”. On both ends of the scale, the client will know exactly what to expect. However, you do not need to pick an end of the scale. If your rates are in the middle, you convey the message that you are in line with your competition, i.e. that you are not necessarily better or worse based on your pricing, which means you’ll need to convey your competitive advantage in some other way. This makes you more accessible to the average customer, but it means more competition because you will need to find other ways of standing out among the many providers within the same rate range.

  •  Be flexible (to an extent) – You do not need to charge the top and bottom of the scale and every amount in between. You need to have your preferred rate (ideal rate), your acceptable rate (a rate that you would consider if the job were not too specialized, etc.) and your unacceptable rate (you simply do not work for that). Corinne McKay has an interesting system for that with a green, yellow and red zone. According to her, if it were within your capabilities, you would almost never turn down work in your green zone. You would never take work in your red zone and would consider work in your yellow zone depending on your availability, the level of difficulty, etc.

 All very well, so how do you determine your rates?

Initially, you need to make some decisions about:

–          What statement you want your rates to make (high-end, low-end or on a par with competition);

–          How flexible you can be (do I need to go into my yellow zone at all? If so, what factors would make me consider doing that, e.g. availability, how interesting a project is, etc.);

–          Who your target market is (medical industry, translation agencies, law firms, etc.);

–          What types of clients you will want to attract (companies or individuals? Translation agencies, direct clients or both?); and, more importantly,

–          How much do you need and want to earn. (Ideally, you would earn what you want, and that is, ultimately, what you will aim for, but it is important to know how much you need to earn to keep your business feasible, because this will affect all your other decisions about pricing).

Next, you will need to determine what the market charges for the services that you provide. I have a very simple strategy for that.

I have a list of the translation agencies who operate in my industry (medical) in the countries were I aim to work. I have rated them based on how close to my value proposition they are. For example, I strive to provide the highest quality translations; I aim for the high-end of the market, etc. In other words, specialist medical translation agencies are my target for determining what the market is charging.

Then I hire a virtual assistant (they can be very cheap online) for a few hours, every year or two, and get my VA to call all of these agencies to get quotes. It is important for me that the VA gets quotes on all of the services that I provide, e.g. translation, revision, proofreading, etc.  I am very specific about what the VA needs to find out, because sometimes an agency will provide a quote that will include revision, proofreading, DTP, etc. If I am not offering these services in a bundle, that rate is useless to me unless it is broken down.

I usually provide my VA with a short medical document to submit to these agencies, so that she can act exactly as I client would trying to get quotes and choose a provider for their job.

My reasoning here is that I do not have the resources to pay for a market research. However, large translation agencies do, so I can use their rates as benchmark for my own.

I am aware that I do not compete with large translation agencies, because there are certain additional services that they can provide which I do not. Hence, I know that my rates need to be lower than theirs are (that is one of my competitive advantages in relation to translation agencies).

By averaging these rates out (per currency), I have a maximum benchmark, based upon which I can set my prices for translation agencies and direct clients. Hence, what I usually do is go 20-30% lower for direct clients and 50% lower for agencies (because they will need to embed their costs and profits, so they will not pay me 60-70% of their final rate to direct clients). Then I try these rates out, by offering them to new prospect customers and seeing what responses I get.

If it is really easy and everybody accepts my rate readily, this could mean that I am bang on average. So, in 2-3 months I try raising the rates slightly to determine whether the market will take it.

If it is really hard to get any clients and I am sensing that I am too expensive, after 1-2 months I lower the rates slightly (may through offers and temporary discounts) and see if I get more interest.

I do not change my rates often for regular clients, so all my trials with new rates are carried out with prospect clients. I believe this is important, because no one wants to work on a regular basis with a provider that keeps changing rates.

I am sure that there are many other approaches to this. I have developed this one over 13 years working as a translator, after a lot of trial and error, and it has been the most effective way for me. This article is too long already, so I will not go into details of having different rates for different target markets, etc. but do bear that in mind when you determine your rates.

Now over to you, do you have a better strategy? How do you determine your rates?

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A fellow translator has recently asked me a similar question. He is an experienced translator, but has always worked for the same company/few companies and now wants to break on his own.

First, a disclaimer – I have never done that. I have never held an in-house position. It took me a day working in-house for a translation agency to decide that it was not for me. However, I have transitioned from a full-time job as a medical researcher into freelancing and I believe I may have some useful advice for my fellow translator.
The following tips assume that the reader is already a translator. I am not going into details of qualifications you should/could get, experience, etc. I am assuming you are ready to go, as this is a vast topic that would require several other posts!

This list is by no means exhaustive, but includes some of the steps that I believe to be key to breaking into the translation industry. I will elaborate on some of these topics in future posts, but this may give you a general overview of what you need to do.

1. Prepare an appealing CV, and then create several versions of it. Preparing your CV may be the most important thing that you will do when setting up as a freelancer. It will require you to think about what your skills are, what your target and potential clients could be and ultimately how you are going to approach them. If you choose to approach translation agencies, they will always require a CV. A CV for translation agencies is quite standard in format, except that you do not need to provide your home address in your first contact, as if you were applying for a job. It is worth having at least two versions of this CV. One version you will send to generalist agencies – i.e. agencies that provide translations in any topic. The other CV should target niche agencies, i.e. agencies that specialize in your specialist areas, e.g. medical, legal, marketing, etc.

Then you should have a CV for your direct clients. Make sure you prepare a version of this CV for each type of client that you are going to target, e.g. medical device manufacturers, market research agencies, etc. This CV does not need to be in your standard CV format; it is a marketing tool and if you are going to send it to hundreds of potential clients, you don’t want your personal details spread all over the internet. Furthermore, few potential direct clients will care about where you went to school, etc. unless this is relevant to your specialism. Hence, although you will call it a CV, it should be more like a brochure, highlighting your relevant skills for a particular market.

2. Sing-up to translator job-boards. There are many websites (I mean hundreds) where people can find and hire freelancers, as well as websites specifically for translators. Some of these websites include, People per hour (for freelancers in general), and ProZ and Translator’s cafe (for translators). Sign-up for as many as you can, create profiles in all of them (make sure you are consistent). You do not need to pay for membership in all of them (not even most!); the idea is to have your profile there. The better ranked these websites are in search engines the more they will help boosting your profile; this is easier than boosting your own website ranking (and you may not have one of those yet!).

Make sure you sign-up for their job notifications.

3. Bid for as many projects as you can. Some of these websites let you bid on projects free, while others require membership. Bid for all projects that suit your skills and are free initially. Over time, based on the notifications you receive, you will figure out which paid websites seem to have the most jobs that you would be interested in bidding for, and then you may pay for membership in those particular websites. Even if you do not get many bids accepted initially, or at all, use this as a tool to learn as much as you can about what skills you have, pricing, wording in your bids, etc. that are getting attention. Test different approaches, wordings to your bids, pricing, etc.

4. Figure out your price. Call agencies and ask for quotes, join translator forums that discuss this, read blogs for translators (there is a lot of good advice out there) and find out what other translators are charging. This is key, because you want to have a competitive price, but also set up a benchmark. You do not want to start by breaking into a slice of the market where you do not want to be, e.g. very low paying agencies.

5. Activate your network. Tell everybody you know about what you are doing now, and then remind them gently. Some of my first and best jobs came from friends’ and former colleagues’ recommendations. Initial marketing efforts like mailing and bidding do not necessarily convert into jobs immediately. You need to persevere with those, because they will eventually work. However, the quickest way to get a translation job is through recommendations.
Do not make the mistake of only letting the people who you think might have some connections with your industry know. Let everybody know! Send out an e-mail, call your closest friends, discuss what you are doing with your family, etc. We never know what people are talking about and who they are meeting; I have had some really good leads come from people who knew in passing what I did, but happened to be asked for a translator and could only think of me. In addition, social media is a good way of reminding people, because if you are posting often, your acquaintances often see your face there, and even if they do not engage with you all the time, they are reminded that you exist and work with translations. That is all it takes when an opportunity arises!

6. Create your image. This is worth spending time on. First, you need to define what channels you will use, how you want to be perceived and how much you can/are willing to invest now, in a year, in five years, etc. When I first started, I was quite bold and quit my job before I actually had enough translation demand. This meant that I had little money to invest and had to be very careful. Hence, I could not afford a professionally designed website, so I signed-up for a web host that had one of those website builders and built my own website. Admittedly, it was not my best website and now I have a much more professional image, but it was coherent with my profiles and had the information that I needed people to know.

I worked very hard on the free tools that I had, such as my LinkedIn profile and my ProZ profile, which I would sometimes use as my “websites”. It does not matter how many channels you choose or can afford to use. Of course having a website, your own domain name, a professional signature and e-mail, a logo, etc. all contribute to conveying your professional image. However, ultimately it will be your coherence and the quality and timeliness of your work that will determine your success. No amount of marketing will make you a good translator, so put more of your effort into that. Do be careful though, make well thought through decisions about how you want to portray yourself, because it will be easy to “upgrade” your image as you progress, but not so easy to change it.

7. Find your target companies online and approach them. I have written a couple of posts on some marketing strategies for translations, including mailing and other tools. You may learn more about them in my posts and through several other bloggers, but I do recommend you refrain from doing this until you have created your image, profile, and decided on your pricing, because you may not have a second chance to make a good impression with a potentially really good client.

These are only 7 tips. As I said at the beginning of this post, there are many other things that you can do, such as joining professional bodies, etc. I will write more on this topic, but if you start working on these now, I am sure they will keep you busy! What else can beginner translators do?

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As a former medical researcher and senior medical translator, I am often hired as a reviewer to ensure that translations are medically accurate, complete and that their tone is adequate to the target audience (usually doctors and researchers or patients).

Having reviewed millions of words and translated millions more myself, I have identified 5 long-term tips that all medical translators could use to improve the quality of their translations.

1. Be curious. This is not the first tip by chance; it is one of the most important attributes of a medical translator. You must be curious, both when translating and not. When you are translating a piece about a specific topic, you should not only search for the words that you do not know, but you should seek to understand the topic thoroughly. Naturally, it is impractical to read all the literature available about a topic in one go, you would never finish any translation job, but it is easy enough to find summaries of diseases and cellular mechanisms online that can really help you when you convert your source piece to a different language. Most of the mistakes I find when reviewing medical translations are not major terms that have been mistranslated, but mistranslation of sentence structures due to a clear lack of understanding by the translator of a drug or disease mechanism. These types of mistakes seem small, but they often render the translated sentence wrong, and you may proofread as many times as you like, if your understanding of the process doesn’t change, you will never detect that error.

2. Read extensively. In the same way that reading promotes better writing in general, reading medical texts promotes better medical writing. Therefore, you should seek to read as much as you can in all your working languages, this will not only expand your vocabulary, but will also give you a better grasp of the tone and level of formality of medical texts in different languages and for different audiences. A medical translator must be discerning and know how to communicate with different stakeholders in the health system, such as patients, physicians, researchers, hospital administrators, as well as knowing the unwritten codes of medical writing for that particular language. The only way that you will acquire these skills is by reading everything medical in your source and target languages.

3. Use glossaries. I have talked about the role of glossaries and dictionaries in a different post and provided lists of dictionaries and glossaries that include medical ones, but as a medical translator you should also seek to create your own glossaries. Whenever you work on a particular topic, make sure you open an excel spreadsheet and insert every term that you research there. If you are doing your extensive reading (tip 2) and come across and unknown term, research it and add it to your glossary. Whenever you receive client feedback on terminology, update your glossaries. Your personal glossaries are invaluable assets, which you will learn to rely on increasingly as your glossaries get better and you become more specialized.

4. Build a network of experts and peers. You will be stuck at some point or another when translating medical texts, particularly when translating in an unfamiliar field. In such cases, you will be grateful for not having to rely solely on your research skills and being able to contact others who may know more about a particular topic than you. Your network should include physicians, researchers and other medical translators with whom you are able to discuss terminology.

5. Focus on what interests you. We all have medical topics of particular interest to us, be it because we have/have had a particular disease, someone we know has a condition, we are touched by an emotional appeal, there is a certain genetic disease that runs in the family, we are having a baby, we have a background in a particular field, etc. Unlike other areas of translation, it is almost impossible not to have some medical topic that we can relate to. When you identify that topic that is particularly close to your heart, you will want to read about it anyway, even when you are not working. Hence, make sure you learn as much as you can about it, and then advertise it as your specialism(s).  For example, in my case, two topics are of particular interest to me, the first is human reproduction. My father is a physician, a reproduction specialist, I was a medical researcher in the field of reproductive medicine and have not only always heard and read about the topic, but also have an extensive network of people who can help me and share information with me. Hence, I make it a point to learn as much as I can about anything related to human reproduction, from contraception to embryology and neonatology. My second topic is clinical trials. I had a melanoma in 2008, at age 26, which luckily, due to scientific advances when I was diagnosed, was successfully removed and no longer poses a threat to my life. This event had a big impact on me, because it dawned on me that had I been born 50 years earlier, the science to diagnose and treat me so quickly might not have been there, and I might have died at a very young age. Since then, I have made it my mission to help make research accessible to all languages so that diagnosis and treatment may advance quicker and fewer people have to die of undiagnosed or untreated cancers. This “mission” drives me to read a lot of research and clinical trials with new drugs and devices, which has given me a good background in terms of terminology and understanding of the mechanisms of clinical trials. I do not translate exclusively within these two topic, but whenever my clients happen to need translations in my specialist topics, I make sure they know how familiar I am with their particular subject.

These are long-term tips that you can apply throughout your medical translations career and they are always certain to improve the quality and timeliness of your work. Good luck!

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This week I had a very interesting discussion with two fellow translators in response to my post on Marketing for Translators – Mailing.

Thandi House from Evident Language and Natalia Kulichkina, like myself, are both interested in marketing techniques for translators.

Natalia was interested in learning more about how blogging for an audience of translators might help with marketing, given that most translators write blogs targeted at translators, not clients.

According to Thandi, the immediate advantages of such blogs from a marketing standpoint are:

1) When you blog for translators, the biggest benefit is exposure. All those translators coming to your website and asking you questions help establishing you as an expert, which adds to your credibility. As well said by Thandi:  “A potential client sees you as a professional, if you write like a professional”.

2) You are more likely to be recommended by fellow translators who may ask about services in language pairs that they do not provide. Indeed, they may not be able to evaluate how good you are in your language pair, but they know you. They know that you are professional and serious about what you do, so even if they provide their clients with your e-mail and actually say that they can’t vouch for your services, you are still being put in front of a client that you might not otherwise.

I would also add:

3) Your posts will attract translators who, in turn, will be curious about you and look you up. Please trust me on that, it’s human nature, particularly if they like what you are writing. When we like someone’s work, we tend to want to find more about the person behind it. I am no psychologist, so I can’t tell you why that is, but it is a fact! With that in mind, I suggest you don’t separate your translation blog from your client website. The traffic you get from translators will improve your rankings on search engines and ultimately make it easier for clients to find your website online.

4) In order to increase traffic, you don’t want to have to find a new audience every time you post. Therefore, if you choose to blog for your clients, this may mean that you’ll have to narrow your topics down to what a particular type of client may be interested in. This will not only make it harder for you to build an audience and find content, but may make the process slow and frustrating. If you write a blog for translators, you are never “off-topic” because you are a translator after all, your audience will be captive, and you can eventually post about your specialisms and promote those posts to client groups and networks as well. Hence, you can have a bit of a “mixed strategy“.

Natalia also asked for ideas of techniques for “spotting potential direct clients and initiating a contact on the web or at off-line events”.

One strategy that I, and now Thandi, have been experimenting with is a proactive approach to marketing. Basically, the idea of this is to be on top of the news in your industry and whenever you spot a company that, for example, could benefit from exposure in your target language market you approach them and pitch the idea.

For example, my language pair is English and Brazilian Portuguese. In 2012, London hosted the Olympics games and Brazil will do so in 2016. This means that many of the contractors, who have the know-how and expertise in the UK, will want a slice of the business being generated in Brazil. How can a Brazilian Portuguese translator take advantage of that? You can go back over the news and find out who these contractors were, then contact them and offer to help by providing your services.

This approach is more likely to be effective than cold emailing lists of random companies in your industry, because you are targeting potential clients that have a reason for wanting to translate their communications. Therefore, you can tailor your message more; you may even call them to determine who the best person to contact is, etc. The drawback of this approach is that it is time consuming, because you have to keep an eye on the news, spot opportunities and then tailor your approach. I find that when I am very busy with translations, I just can’t do that, so cold emailing and blogging are my most consistent strategies.

Another marketing technique that came up in our discussion was attending trade fairs. I know of a medical translator, Joanne Archambault, who has done this successfully, you may listen to her interview to Speaking of Translation here. Joanne provides a detailed account of how she went about this approach and I find it very useful.

According to Thandi, one way of doing this would be to divide your event into three, which could be over the three days of the event, so that you:

  • spend day 1 deciding who might be direct clients/useful connections
  • spend day 2 arranging to meet those direct clients/useful connections 
  • spend day 3 meeting those direct clients/useful connections 

I have not tested this yet, but Natalia says that she has done this focusing on finding clients for her language classes and it worked well.

Finally, there is good old networking. I have mentioned this in my previous post, but Natalia makes a very good point: “Of course networking in all its forms is highly recommended, but suppose it should be done not for its own sake.”

I agree with Natalia that networking should be embedded in our habits, just because we like it, we make friends, we meet interesting people, etc. In addition, from a marketing perspective, it can also be targeted. For example, I use LinkedIn communities in my specialism (medical) to establish myself as someone who is interested and knowledgeable about the medical industry. I don’t presume to give medical advice, but when I find interesting articles I share them with these communities, I comment and ask questions when other people post interesting discussions, etc.

Why do I do that?

Because it is interesting for me, I learn a lot, and because the people with whom I have interesting discussions eventually become my connections. These people are actively working in the medical industry and may need or become aware of someone who needs my services eventually. This actually happened last week, when a connection made through one of these communities, knowing that I have been translating for market research companies for years, asked me for a recommendation for a medical market research company operating in Brazil. I recommended a company with which I have been working for years, which I trust, and I know that if any translation work comes out of it, they will assign it to me.

How do I know that these strategies are working? I am sure that there are metrics somewhere that I could apply, but I am no marketing expert. My measure of whether my marketing efforts are working or not are:

1) My response rate – Are more people replying to my e-mails even if that does not immediately convert into a job? In other words, are my communications interesting enough that people are reading them and taking the time to actually get back to me?

2) My conversion rate – How many new clients have I worked with in the last month/quarter/year?

3) Do I have a satisfactory workload that allows me to earn what I expect and support myself?

Of course there is always room for improvement, but, so far, my answers to these questions are Yes, Yes, and Yes. If yours aren’t, why don’t you try some of these techniques too?

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In a different post about Medical Language, I have written about the history of Western medical language and why it is important for medical translators.

Today I am going to elaborate a little on the importance of knowing, or at least recognizing, certain words in Latin.

Often medical terms are comprised of:


or a combination of:




In other words, several medical terms may be broken down into two or three terms.

Some examples of Latin PREFIXES include: osi-, ovo-, ante-, ad-, capill-, cervic-, cutane-, de-, latero-, lingua-, adip(o)-, intra-, inter-, lact(i), lact(o)-, manu-, nas(o)-, nerv-, piri-, post-, retro-, rubro, sinus-, semi-, trans-, tri-, ultra-, ungui-

Some examples of ROOT WORDS include: papul(o), pleura, sanguine, ventr(o)

Some examples of SUFFIXES include: -al, -ous, -ary, -cidal, -cide, -icle, -tensive, -ule, -version

When you understand the meanings of these words independently, it becomes easy to understand them combined.

For example, the Latin prefix adip(o) means fat; the suffix -ous means pertaining to. Hence adipous, or as it has been adapted adipose tissue means fatty tissue.

There are numerous examples like that, such as intravenous, which combines intra (within) and venous (related to veins). Intravenous is, therefore, the medical term for administration of a drug product into the circulatory system through veins. This goes for intramuscular as well, i.e. into the muscle.

Although there are several terms derived from Latin, there are many more derived from Greek, which I intend to address in a future post. A medical translator does not need to learn Latin or Greek in order to translate proficiently. A medical translator should have a collection of references at his/her disposal, which may help him/her make sense of new terms, such as the Wikipedia list of prefixes, suffixes and root words.

Also, a medical translator should be curious. If you often work in a specific field of medicine, such as human reproduction, you will see certain prefixes very often, like ovo-, ovul(o)-, ventr(o); hence, whenever you come across one of these, you should seek to learn its meaning, even if you have found a translation for the whole term. In time, you will know the meanings of the common prefixes, suffixes and root words in your field by heart and this will be invaluable when you come across newly coined terms or terminology that is new to you.



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First of all, let me just say that I am writing this standing up. I will stand up for the whole time I am researching and writing this post. At the end, I will let you know how long it took and how it felt. Read on, you will see why.

Again, this is a reply to a fellow translator’s request for suggestions on how to protect our backs. After my posts on 10 things freelance translators should do every day (parts 1 and 2), he realized how time consuming that might be on top of our translation work and asked me for some tips on how to reduce and prevent back damage.

Interestingly, the first piece of advice I found in my research was in the NY Times blog here and it was making the case for standing up. In essence, the post shows how many health problems, such as obesity, back pain and even some types of cancers, are associated with sitting down for most of the day, even if you exercise daily!

In addition, your back is not the only part of you that suffers! According to an article by a fellow blogger, Mark Sisson, sitting shortens and tightens your hip flexors, lengthens and weakens your hip extensors, stretches out your hamstrings and simply renders your gluteal muscles inactive. In layman terms, we are overusing some of our essential drivers of movement and underusing others. In the long term, this imbalance may have serious consequences to our ability to move effectively, i.e. to walk, bend, squat, etc. Here is a very informative chart by Medical Billing and Coding showing the detrimental effects of sitting down on your health.

So how can we protect our backs, hips and all other movement muscles and still manage the 8-12-hour (sometimes longer) daily workload? Here is the best advice I found.

1. Stand-up: challenge the common notion that because you are working in front of your computer you need to be sitting down. Find a place in your office or home, where you can place your computer and comfortably stand (watch not to hunch) while typing. I have a kitchen bench that is just the right height, but if you don’t have that you may need to be creative, use maybe a step on your stairs, a stool with some books piled up on them… You do not need to work standing up all day, but the longer you manage the better for your overall posture and long-term health.

2. Get up every hour or so and move. I found this advice on several websites, essentially suggesting stretch routines, squats, etc. If you like your stretches, 5-minute abs, and other quick exercise routines, find a source on fitness advice that you trust on and follow that routine. I read recently that our brain functions in 90-min concentration slots, after that we lose concentration for a while. So why not use that break to move around a bit? I have not been able to exercise much recently, so what I try to do is fit my house chores, e.g. hanging the washing up, ironing, cooking, etc., in between my “concentration slots”. I try to make housework part of my plan for the working day (a prerogative of  working from home!), so that although my day may be a little longer, when I switch off my computer there is (hopefully) little left to do. This is your time anyway and you are freelancer, so be creative and use it however you like. If you want to go out and play with your children for a few minutes or have lunch with friends, do so without guilt, because ensuring your long-term health will ultimately ensure that you can keep working.

3. Sit properly. Our bodies naturally tend towards comfortable positions, which usually means slumping, hunching, laying or sitting on fluffy pillows, a nice couch, etc. If you had a regular office job, that might not be an option, but working from home, it becomes extremely tempting to work from your bed, your couch or anywhere where you happen to be and feel most comfortable.  There are times when you will need and should take advantage of that freedom, like when you are doing creative work, or maybe just leisurely studying your topic of specialization, but try not to spend most of your time in those positions. The correct sitting position, according to the Gokhale Method, is sitting upright, with your bottom slightly behind your spine, rolling your shoulders back a couple of times to position them and then relaxing your shoulders. This is not a comfortable position to begin with, but it puts the least strain on your back and you will eventually get used to it to a point that hunching your shoulders will actually feel uncomfortable. Allow your back muscles time to strengthen to support this position; you may consider working your back and abs out to speed up this process.

4. Position your computer properly. This varies from person to person and I really cannot tell you what the exact best position for you is. However, the best way to determine where to place your computer is to watch your posture. Most people find that when their computer is at eye level they don’t hunch as much, and it is easier to maintain an upright back and neck. That works for me too! Experiment with where you put your computer or how you position your chair until you find that position that makes it easiest for you to remain upright (including your neck).

5. Mix and matchAny position that you assume for too long will put a strain on your muscles and bones, so the key here is to change your position. So during your working day, work standing up for some time, move around, sit down properly, and then allow yourself some time for relaxation. By not putting your body through a constant routine of always being in the same position, you will also stimulate your brain to keep alert and this will ultimately improve the quality of your work.

6. Exercise. Exercising has a million benefits, which are all over the Internet and I am certainly not the most qualified person to list them all for you.  It is common knowledge that if you work out the muscles that support your spine, i.e. upper and lower back, chest and abdominal muscles, it will be easier to maintain your posture as they get stronger. I am not expert though and I will not go into details here, if this is something that interests you, feel free to look around for advice and please share your findings with me in the comments. All I can talk about is my experience, and exercising daily has not just made me happier, but has also improved my posture a lot. Certain types of exercises, like Yoga and Pilates, are particularly great for your posture.

7. Do things that make you feel good about yourself. Exercising is good, but you know what else is great for your posture? Feeling good! When you feel good, knowing that you are taking care of yourself, you stand and sit a little taller. Confidence has a dramatic impact on posture and vice-versa. If you do not believe me, hear it from the experts, the social psychologist Amy Cuddy has a very enlightening TED talk about the topic!

Helping a charity, spending time with your loved ones, doing work that you enjoy, they all make you stand and sit taller. Our posture greatly reflects how we feel. We instinctively know that, so much so that sometimes our first impressions of people are based on their posture. Hence, a very good advice for protecting your back is protecting your mind, and making sure that you are doing the things that make you happy and confident!

Now over to you, I do not feel particularly qualified to tell you what to do when you already have a back pain or condition, but some of you out there may have some good advice both to protect and to improve our backs. Please share it in the comments.

PS. I have now been standing for two hours, it felt a little uncomfortable at first, and I kept meaning to sit down, but I am OK now and actually feel a lot more focused, because focusing on my posture is forcing me to focus on my work as well. I guess I should take a break and move around a bit now. 🙂

According to a recent report by the global consulting firm PwC – “Health Care’s New Entrants: who will be healthcare’s” -, the centre of gravity of the US healthcare market is shifting towards customers. The survey, carried out by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI), shows that consumers are willing to swap traditional care for more affordable and convenient alternatives.

New entrants to the US healthcare market from the retail, technology, telecommunications, consumer products and automotive industries are eager to fill this expanding gap. According to HRI, 24 of 2013’s Fortune 50 companies are healthcare new entrants. “Of those, seven are retailers; eight are technology and telecommunications companies. Two are automakers, including Ford Motor Co., which is developing services for chronic condition management while driving.”

With products ranging from smartphone apps and accessories for health data monitoring and diagnosis to online screening and prescription services based on computer algorithms, new entrants are paving the way towards a new health economy, centred around the consumer, transparency, convenience and prevention. The report foresees that “within a decade, the health business will look and feel like other consumer-oriented, technology-enabled industries.”

Furthermore, there are new players reshaping and expanding the $267 billion US fitness and wellness industry. Most of us are already using some of the new apps and devices to track our running pace and mileage, to keep us on a diet, etc. and there are countless opportunities to create new market segments.

The HRI study was restricted to the US economy, but I believe that these findings will be replicated in most developed countries in the short term and in most developing countries in the medium to long term.

What does this mean and how does it affect linguists, communicators, medical writers, medical translators, medical journalists and other communication professionals in the healthcare industry?

Firstly, if the centre of gravity is shifting, undoubtedly communications will have to adapt as well. If more new and consolidated healthcare companies start tailoring their products to the end consumer, the language that we use will inevitably need to change to address this particular audience. The traditional medical terminology and jargon used in our current communications will need to become accessible to the average consumer, both to make products more appealing, and to prevent misuse and health risks. This means that communicators in this industry will no longer be able to rely solely on their medical lexicon and knowledge of our traditional audiences, e.g. physicians, researchers, healthcare professionals in general, etc.

If instead of going to the hospital for a test or a medication, patients begin using home kits, the instructions accompanying these home kits will need to play a role currently played by a healthcare professional, which is to explain in detail how to use the kit, potential  risks, safety procedures, etc. This means that such instructions will need to be a lot more thorough and comprehensible, not just to prevent safety risks, but also to safeguard the manufacturer.

Several of the current advances in this new scenario will involve mobile phone and Internet technologies, which means that the best medical communicators will be those who are knowledgeable about both medical terminology and technology. We can no longer focus all of our learning efforts on better understanding the medical industry and medicine-related topics; we will need to become users, consumers of and experts in technology. We will need to be able to quickly understand what a new technology product can do, how it benefits the patient and readily convey this to multiple audiences that will include highly knowledgeable, but not necessarily tech-savvy physicians, knowledgeable and tech-savvy researchers, potentially tech-savvy, layman consumers, etc.

The end consumer is not the only “new player” in this market. There are also new entrants, which are companies currently not necessarily operating in the healthcare industry that are trying to grab a share of this highly lucrative market. This means new opportunities for medical communicators, because they will need experienced communicators who are used to positioning products and services in the healthcare industry, but also means that we will need to be flexible and learn to communicate with and to these new entrants.

In short, this market shift is a good opportunity for us to recycle and adapt. It is also a great opportunity for us to seek new customers and expand our reach, such as to the wellness and fitness industry and to new entrants.

We also have an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with these new technologies first-hand and put ourselves, as consumers, at the centre of the message we want to communicate. A consumer-centred market will allow us to be the bridge between the hard, complex medical terminology and the general population. The best communicators in this context will be those who are capable of translating the medicine and adequately conveying the information to all players in the medical industry, including, perhaps for the first time in scale, the general population.

Are you preparing for the challenge? Please let me know how in the comments!

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This post is also an answer to a question asked by a colleague after reading my post10 Things that Freelance Translators Should do Every Day. Item 3 suggests that you contact two former colleagues or clients every day to touch-base. She expressed her concern about annoying people and asked me for some pointers on how to avoid that.

Well, here is my take on the art of keeping in touch.

First, why should you keep in touch with people who have been your clients and colleagues?

The obvious answer, particularly concerning your former clients, is because they may need you again.

However, there is more to it – they know about you, they know what you do and (hopefully) they know how good you are. These people are potential walking adverts for you, and you want to make sure that if they ever have reason to think of a translator in your language pair, you are the first person who will come to mind. This will mean that they will not only think of you when they have a job for you, but also when someone asks for a reference, when they need help finding things that are in your language or country, etc.

So how do you ensure that you are always fresh on their minds without annoying them?

The first rule of positive interaction is making sure that both sides are getting something out of the conversation. The only people on whom you can pour your information, without giving them something or being ignored, are your closest friends and your mum. Except for your mum, not even your friends are being completely altruistic there, because they expect to be able to do the same to you when they need too.

Everybody else will need to feel like they are also getting something out of that conversation.

Therefore, when you contact people, your main concern must not be what am I going to say to promote myself/my business, but how will this person benefit from this interaction.

There are several types of “perceived benefits”.  Here are some that you can offer in your interactions to make them mutually beneficial:

– Financial incentives: this is sales 101, if you offer a discount or a gift along with your services, your potential/former clients are more likely to see the ‘benefit’ of that interaction for them. However, you cannot use this resource too often, because it does get annoying, and you give the impression that you are struggling or that your products/services are of low value. I tend to use this once or twice a year. If I have had a good year, I usually offer one month of discounted rates to my clients as a thank you. Hence, I get to promote the success of my business to them and, at the same time, they get a month in which they may pay less for the same quality of service that they are used to.

– Mutual interests: My strategy here is to connect. Whenever I engage with someone, I try to find something that I find memorable about him or her. To me that means something in common, because I have a shocking memory.

This usually involves me asking many questions and trying to connect with that person in some level. The upside of that is that I often do find things or interests in common with people, and this leads to positive and rewarding interactions (sometimes business connections even become friends). If you can find a connection, it then becomes easy to interact, because you will have that shared interest to draw from.

For example, men do that all the time with sports. A friend of mine is a big football fan, so the first thing he does when engaging with other men is trying to find if they are also into football. He is not subtle about it at all, he will just ask, “do you have a football team?”, and if the person does, he is in. What follows is usually a conversation about football, and he gets a piece of information that he will not forget about that person. He does that in every level, from taxi drivers to business partners and it works every time. Next time he wants to engage with that person, he can just share information about football, which he is always reading anyway, or ask the other person’s opinion about football news, etc.

How does this apply to your daily e-mails? You do not need to send marketing information every time you want to engage. Your goal is to be remembered. Your former clients and colleagues already know what you do, so unless you are doing something new or have a new offer, there is no need to keep repeating that information to them.

The best way of ensuring that you are remembered is by remembering others. So if you are reading about something that a client of yours is also interested in, just share it with that person and let them know it reminded you of them, or you thought they might be interested, or you wanted their opinion, etc. He/she may not have time to answer you, but he will not forget that you remembered.

Genuine interest: we all love to be remembered and cherished, regardless of whether we are in a professional or personal relationship. Taking a genuine interest in people is not as hard and time consuming as it seems. With technology today, people are increasingly connected; your clients probably have blogs, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook, so find them and follow them. Whenever they post news or content, comment on those, share their content, congratulate them on accomplishments, and be invested in helping their business succeed. You do not need to have a personal relationship with every client or former colleague, but showing interest in their success will get their empathy, will make you happier because your interactions with people are positive, and ultimately will put you under their radar.

I have recently read that your success will be directly proportional to how many people want you to succeed. I believe this to be very true. When people empathize with you, they talk about you, they are happy to recommend you and they want to be a part of your success too.

This is how I try to keep in touch with my clients and colleagues. How about you? Any other strategies?
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I have recently posted a 2-part list of 10 things that freelance translators should do every day, you can access parts 1 and 2 here. Those are a few things that I have done every day and have really helped me not only develop my business, but also helped me develop professionally. I can recommend them, because I know they work.

However, one of my readers of this post has asked a very important question: “Do you also allocate time to looking for/contacting new clients?” Do you manage to strike a balance between reading up on your specialist area and marketing?

Well, I am by no means a marketing expert, but I thought this warranted a more detailed response.

When you are a freelance translator, regardless of how you started, e.g. with lots of work, no work at all, the odd job here and there, etc., eventually you will have times of low demand. Many translators understandably struggle to cope with these times, because few of us have the extra income to just wait as long as it takes for another job. My advice in such circumstances is view these as opportunities, use them to market yourself and to devise your strategy so that you can keep marketing even when you have a lot of work again.

In this post, I am going to describe my strategy for contacting clients directly via e-mail, which is what I can easily fit into my daily schedule.

My specialist subject is medical translations. I began my career as a medical researcher, and translation was just a hobby helping my fellow researchers understand and publish research in scientific journals. Then I went on to become a full time translator and my research background led me to focus on clinical trials and market research. Given my professional history, there are a few types of companies that can benefit more from my services, such as medical market research companies, international scientific journals, pharmaceutical companies and medical translation agencies. The first step in any successful marketing campaign is identifying your “primary targets (clients)” and learning about them.

Your marketing message must always resonate with a particular client. There are no guarantees that we will always achieve that, but the best way of coming as close as possible to it, is understanding what your clients want and how they will use your services. Hence, the process of learning about your clients must be very thorough. In your research, you should determine:

–          Which of your services will be most beneficial to your clients?

–          Where are your potential clients and who are they (make sure you keep a list of all potential clients that you come across)?

–          How do they speak to their customers (e.g. language on their website)?

–          What do they charge and what do they pay for services like yours?

The knowledge you acquire at this stage will be useful in any kind of marketing campaign that you choose to do. In my particular case, I like e-mailing and have mailing lists, because I live far from my clients’ markets and phone calls and in person meetings are just not an option, at least not for my budget.

When I am happy that I know enough about my potential clients to talk to them, I then prepare my message. I know how people dislike sales e-mails, so I make them short, targeted and I also create a brochure that I attach to my messages. If the person who gets the message is interested, they can then find out more straight away, they can forward the brochure on to the decision-maker or they can go to my website and eventually contact me. I do not have time to create a new brochure every day or even every month, and even if I did, the information about me does not change that often, so I create a brochure for each type of target client. In my case, I have a brochure for medical device companies, journals, translation agencies, medical market research companies, etc.

I usually also craft an e-mail message template for each of these audiences, which I can easily access and tweak as I become aware of new potential clients.

Right, so by the time my marketing materials are ready, I not only have the means to contact potential clients quickly, but I also have lists of potential clients from my research. So what is my marketing strategy? How do I market on a daily basis?

I have set two targets, one for when I am busy and one for when I am not as busy with translation work. I say that because when I am not translating, I blog, I keep in touch with people, I study, I learn, so I can never say that I am not busy, but I am not as busy with translation work. Hence, when I am busy, I contact 10 potential new clients a day. When I am not busy, I have to contact at least 20. This is arbitrary and works for me, you need to work out what works for you.

So how do I fit that into the 10 things that I should do every day? Well, when I am reading about my industry (items 1 and 2), I often come across news and articles that relate to primary target companies. When I spot these, I quickly stop my reading, find the company’s website, locate contact details and contact them. This is quick, because my e-mail message is virtually ready; all I have to do is tailor it to that particular prospect client.

If by the time I finish my reading, I have not yet contacted the 10 or 20 potential clients, then I refer to my lists (the ones I prepared during my research, back when I had time), and contact however many companies I still need to reach my target. This usually does not take me longer than half an hour and sometimes I do it at the end of my working day, so I finish on a positive note – I have reached my target!

Mail marketing admittedly is not always the most effective form of marketing, but it is the one that I can fit into my daily schedule. After all, marketing is not my area of expertise, translation is. I find that by contacting at least 100 companies every 2 weeks, I am playing the numbers game, i.e. the response rate might be low, but I do not need 10 new clients per week, I need one or two a month, if that, so the low response rate works for me.

This is not the only way that I contact new clients, and I do not just delete the contact information for potential clients that I have already contacted, but these other strategies will be discussed in a different post.

For now, I hope you find this useful. Please share with me in the comments – what works for you? Good luck!
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This is part 2 of the 10 things freelance translators should do every day. Please click here for items 1-5.

6. Review the top three goals for your translation business. It is all very well sitting down one day, usually when you are not very busy and feel like you should do something, and writing goals for your business. However, this is a big waste of time, if you lose track of what is most important for your business. We must keep our goals in focus. It is very easy to forget about them when we are on a working spree, with enough translation work to works 10-12 hours a day, but it is no good only thinking about them when the work dries up. As translators, we love reading and translating, and it is easy to forget about all other aspects of our business when we can do just what we like, but the dry periods will come (less often the more established you are) and it is much harder dealing with those, if you have to start from scratch. This is a very quick item to tick, because if you stick a poster in your office with your three main goals and read that first thing before you start working, you have done it! Nevertheless, do not underestimate it because it is quick and easy; being constantly reminded of where you are going will make decision-making a lot easier for you. For example, one of my goals is to focus my business on medical translations, which is what I like and am good at. Hence, if I keep that in mind, it will be easy to say no to a job in a completely unrelated field, even though I have a couple of spare hours, and use those hours to contact more potential clients in my field.

7. Identify and execute one task to support each of the top three goals that you have identified. These do not need to be massive tasks or incredibly relevant. If you make sure you do at least a little something every day, in the long term you will be doing something major. For example, my current goals are 1) delivering high quality translations, 2) developing a solid and loyal client base and 3) promoting my business online consistently. So, today, my three tasks are:

1) Learning about a new CAT tool required by a client (to support goal 1)

2) In addition to steps 3-5, I will be joining and engaging in discussions in some new LinkedIn groups related to the medical industry (to support goal 2)

3) I will be updating some of my social network profiles, which have not been updated in a long time (to support goal 3).

8. Post five valuable pieces of content on all my major social media accounts. This blog post is one of my five valuable pieces of content for today, but I have also tweeted a couple of other interesting articles that I read when doing items 1-2. This step may be tied in with steps 1 and 2. For example, if you are reading an interesting post about the translation industry, you may post that to a LinkedIn group or share it on twitter. If that post gives you an idea, such as I am writing this blog post now, you should also share that with some of your social media networks. If you always approach your reading with a view to improve your knowledge and to benefit those who connect with you, than accomplishing this item will come naturally to you, because you will be excited about sharing any valuable information that you come across. My only warning is, when posting valuable content, make sure you always think about whether they reflect your professional image and fit in with the network with which you are sharing. You may find this hard to do every day though, because you may not have the time to do a lot of reading/writing every single day, so you can use a social media management tool, like Buffer or Hootsuite, to schedule and plan your posts to ensure your readers and followers hear something from you daily.

9. Read articles and post at least five comments to non-translation related topics that you are interested in. This item is not related to items 1 and 2, this is to be more like item 5. You may share some of what you read here with friends or other contacts, who are interested in the same topics as you, as a means of keeping in touch with people (see items 3 and 5). Nevertheless, essentially, not everything has to be related directly to our industry or our business. If you have other interests, make sure you read about them and develop relationships with people who like them too. This is important for your sanity and because we never know where our next business may come from. In addition, we are in the business of language, so nothing that is communicated is really off-topic for us.

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

If you want to create a healthy habit of doing these 10 items every day, my suggestion is:

–          Start your day reviewing your goals and thinking about what you have accomplished. Allow yourself a few minutes to feel grateful for what you have and to think about what you want. Allow these feelings to guide you through your workday. (Items 6, 3 and 10)

–          Then turn on your computer and reply to all your clients (item 4). Even if you do not have the answer for what the client is asking at that time, let the client know that you are aware of his/her query and are working to find a suitable answer for it as soon as possible.

–          If you do not have a deadline looming over you soon, allow yourself 30 minutes to 1 hour to read and learn about our industry and your field of expertise (items 1 and 2). Make sure you share whatever you find useful and helpful with your networks (item 8) or with specific people who you think my find it useful (items 3 and 5).

–          Plan your day so you that you have time to do your three actions for item 7 (they may also be tied in with other items depending on your goals) and so that you have time for breaks. In your breaks, phone a friend (item 5), see someone for lunch or just read/watch something that you find interesting (item 9)

Let me know if you find this useful, there are many other ideas to share! Good luck!

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Last week I received an e-mail from a fellow translator with a question that is common to many beginner translators:

I have noticed some of the agencies request a sample from the applicant; however, so far I have only done work translating manuals for one large client. These manuals contain sensitive information that I am not permitted to share. What is your experience in sharing translation samples? Any ideas on how to handle this?

Well, I thought I would answer it here so that is may be useful to more of you.

Firstly, I have not sent sample translations to ANY client in years. I want to make this very clear, because however sensitive the information is, in my opinion – and most serious translation agencies agree -, the only one who has the right to disclose a translated piece is the client who paid for it. As a translator, I treat all of my clients’ translations as confidential, unless they are in public domain, e.g. a website. In fact, I hold the translations for six months to one year and then delete it, keeping only my translation memories. I do not even share translations within different offices of the same company. For example, I have a large translation client with offices in several countries; sometimes a project manager from one country will come to me and ask if I have done a certain type of translation before. If I have done that type of translation for a different office, I let them know who the project manager was and tell them to contact that project manager directly; otherwise, they can send me a test on that topic.

I will write a post about confidentiality and protecting yourself as a translator, but, in short, my policy is, if you have not paid directly for a translation, then I cannot share it with you.

I understand that this still leaves my reader with the problem of being asked for sample translations and what to do about it. Well, I can suggest two things:

1 – Prepare your own samples – choose texts randomly on the Internet in your areas of expertise, make sure that there are no translations already available online in your language pair for them, and translate them. When a translation agency or client asks you for a sample, make sure you tell them that you are not permitted to disclose former clients’ materials due to confidentiality issues, and offer to share a sample that you have prepared on that topic. Preparing the samples may be time consuming, but they will come in handy if you get these requests often.

2 – Politely refuse – explain, as nicely and politely as you can, that you are not at liberty to disclose clients’ materials, but that you are happy to take a small unpaid test translation to prove your ability to handle that topic. This shows both your willingness to meet the client halfway and your professionalism maintaining confidentiality. If the client or translation agency refuses, then you can still offer to create a sample for them. I doubt that they will have a problem with this, but if they do, run from this client. In the same way that the client is looking for a professional to do a job for them, you want to work with professionals too. Do not do work for agencies with dodgy practices or disregard for confidentiality, you may make a little bit of money from them (if they pay), but it will not be worth the risk for your reputation.

Well, this is my take on sample translations. I hope this helps my reader and other beginner translators out there. How have you people handled this type of request in the past?

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This post was originally published in my old blog. When this was first published, I did do all of these items daily for a couple of months and the results were so good that I no longer had time to stick to them! The two main benefits at the time were that my level of interest in my career and in engaging with fellow translators increased, as well my client base.

Some of these items became habits and I still do them most days. In part 2 of this post, I will give you some tips to accomplish these in an integrated way, so that they do not take the best part of your day.

The post you will see below is not exactly the same as its original version. I have updated some of these items with insight that I have gained since I started developing these habits. To make it easier and shorter for my readers, I have divided this list into two – items 1-5 (part 1) and 6-10 (part 2) – and provided some practical examples of how these items can be done daily/weekly without being too time consuming.

I hope it is as useful for you as it has been for me. Enjoy!

This list is an adaptation of a post by J.T. O’Donnell on LinkedIn, 10 things to do every workday, which inspired me to think about 10 things that freelance translators could do every day.

First of all, my two basic assumptions for this list are 1) every freelance translator is also an entrepreneur wishing to develop his/her translation business; 2) Freelance translators have understood the need to be visible online for their business and make time for that on a daily basis.

If you are a freelance translator and assumptions 1 and 2 do not apply to you, I suggest you consider them seriously.

On to the list…

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

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

3. Send two e-mails to touch-base with former colleagues or clients – If you endeavour to have a positive relationship with your clients and colleagues, you will always be able to find something to send them that may be of interest to them or just a general e-mail asking how things are going. The purpose of this is not to get business directly, but to keep you connected. Traditional ways of getting business leads are not the only way of getting more business; your relationships will bring more business to you, if you work on them, than any business generation initiative that you alone may undertake. Be human, be helpful, be nice and just enjoy the opportunity to connect with someone.

4. Empty client inbox list – This is business 1o1 and should be the first thing you do every day. If you do only one of these items each day, do this one. It does not need any explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Understanding medical terminology requires an understanding of how medical terms were first coined and how they are used today. This is extremely important for medical translators, as no matter how specialized we are; we are bound to come across terms that are new to us. Knowing how medical terms are formed gives us clues to search for meaning and even to adequately translate new terms.

Medical language is the scientific language used to refer to the human body, its processes and related conditions. This article refers specifically to the language of Western medicine.

The History of the language of Western medicine begins with an era of medical Greek. It then goes through an era of medical Latin, an era of national medical languages, finally arriving at the medical English used internationally today.

The Greek era began with Hippocrates, arguably the father of Western medicine, and his writings. Then as Romans dominated the ancient world, those writings were translated into Latin, but retained certain Greek terms and traditions. For example, an enduring Greek tradition was naming anatomical structures based on their similarity with objects. For instance, the anatomical structure on human ears, currently known as the Eustachian tube, was name tuba (trumpet), and the pigmented structure in the middle of the three layers that make up the eye was named uvea (grape). In short, medical Latin was essentially Latin with a number of imported Greek terms.

Later, when Latin was no longer widely spoken across the Western world, medical terminology was gradually translated into national languages. Again, not all terms were translated and national medical languages were essentially the original languages with Greek and Latin terms imported from the previous era. In this process, most national medical languages were and still are only used nationally, but a few of these languages became internationally used, particularly English.

It is noteworthy that when translated from Latin, each group of languages followed a particular pattern, which is useful to know when translating into or from a particular national medical language. For example, Romance or Latin languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian), which are a group of languages derived from vulgar Latin, naturalized the terms following the particular rules of each language. For example, the Latin term musculus soleus is translated as músculo sóleo (Portuguese and Spanish), muscle soléaire (French), muscolo soleo (Italian) and muschi solear (Romanian). The English language also follows this pattern of naturalization; however, its grammar rules differ in that the adjective precedes the noun, so musculus soleus translates as soleus muscle.

Most national medical languages have also slightly naturalized or maintained several Greek terms, such as catarrh (downflow), diarrhoea (throughflow) and dyspnoea (bad breathing). In addition to these and many other terms, the Greek language is more flexible than Latin in allowing the creation of new composite words, such as ophthalmoscopy, so Greek roots are more often used nowadays to name new scientific discoveries and medical concepts.

As the world became more connected, the global sharing of scientific knowledge became more frequent and speedier. Scientists and physicians naturally gravitated towards a single language that would enable them easy access and sharing of breakthroughs and knowledge. That marked the start of the era of medical English as the single chosen language for international communication.

Naturally, medical English became compulsory knowledge for physicians and scientists worldwide who wish to remain current and knowledgeable; however, the general population in non-English speaking countries, and often in English-speaking countries, does not speak medical English. Therefore, national medical languages remain alive and in use, and there is a certain “simplified” or “layman” version of each national medical language that is used to communicate with the general public.

A medical translator must understand these variants of his/her source and target languages, learn how old terms have been originally translated and how new terms are coined and, more importantly, must be fluent in medical English. The bulk of medical knowledge is publicly available in English, so regardless of a translator’s language pair, being fluent in medical English means having access to a wealth of resources and reference materials that are essential, particularly when translating innovations and recent discoveries. Medical developments occur on a daily basis and most scientists and doctors, albeit fluent in medical English, are not translators. So, much of the knowledge produced even in non-English speaking countries, becomes firstly available in English or is partially translated with several English words in between. A medical translator must have access to this knowledge to be able to understand breakthroughs and convey them properly in one language or another. Proficiency in a particular language pair alone does not mean fluency in medical language.

Our next post will be on medical English and how medical terms are coined in English using Latin and Greek root words, prefixes and suffixes.



Wulff H.R. J R Soc Med. 2004 April; 97(4): 187–188. Accessed on Dec 11, 2013.

This is a compilation of the online dictionaries that I use and those recommended by other translators. All dictionaries are free and either in English or in Portuguese. This list is by no means exhaustive (This post will be updated whenever I become aware of a new dictionary).

For more information on the use of dictionaries please check – “Why use dictionaries and glossaries?


Collocations (words that often appear together and convey meaning by association):

  • Ozdic. English only. I must say I have never used it, but the interface seems easy enough.




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This is a compilation of the online glossaries that I use and those recommended by other translators. Some glossaries may include terms in up to 4 languages, but I have taken care to select only glossaries that contain terms in English, Portuguese or both. All glossaries in this list are free and have been arranged by topic. This list is by no means exhaustive (This post will be updated whenever I become aware of a new glossary).
For more information on the use of glossaries please check – “Why use dictionaries and glossaries?


Elero glossary of automotive terms. English only.

Business and Manufacturing:

Glossary of Enterprise and Industry by the European Commission. English only.

Glossary of cosmetic ingredients. English only.

European Union:

  • IATE database: Interactive Terminology for Europe. Shows synonyms and variants in different EU languages. For example, if you have a term used in English in the EU, you can look up its official translation to any other EU languages.

Olive oil glossary of the International Olive Oil Council. English only.

Linguee: this is a term search engine in several languages. It searches the Web for translations of a term in a particular language pair; it can be quite useful, but needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, as there are many bad translations on the web. Several language combinations, including English > Portuguese.

European Commission Glossary of Justice and Home Affairs. English only.
English to Portuguese glossary of legal, accounting and finance terms
Glossary of the Brazilian Supreme Court. Portuguese, Spanish and English.
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston glossary of financial crisis terms. English only.
Glossary of the European parliament on financial crisis. Available in English, Portuguese and other EU languages.
BBC layman’s glossary on the financial crisis. English only.
Investopedia glossary of investments. English only.



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By definition, dictionaries aim to provide all meanings for a term in a particular language. Glossaries, on the other hand, aim to provide the specific meaning of a term in a particular context. Both dictionaries and glossaries can be monolingual, bilingual, trilingual etc.

In regards to terminology, every translator is as good as his/her resources. No one, however specialized, will ever know all the words and how they correspond in two different languages. Therefore, what we all need is a solid set of resources that can help us get through our terminology hurdles.

When assembling his/her translation resources kit, a translator must look for good monolingual dictionaries and bilingual glossaries. This is important because the definition for a particular term may not exist in relation to the topic of your particular translation in a glossary or it may not be applicable. Sometimes this happens within the same topic, when a particular term may be used to mean two different things in a source file and there is only one entry in the glossary. For example, in a translation about chemical lab reports the word “assay” may be used to mean the test performed or the object of analysis. In such case, the translator must know that assay has more than one meaning, or he/she must use a monolingual dictionary to determine how to translate assay to convey the appropriate meaning.

Translators should always use monolingual dictionaries and bilingual glossaries as complementary. In the example above, the translator may be able to infer from the source text that there is more than one meaning to the word “assay”. However, let us say that the word was used in a table with figures; the translator might look up the word in the glossary and just translate it all the way through in the same way.

The less familiar translators are with a topic, the more reliant they should be on a combination of resources.

When your bilingual glossary fails, or when you don’t feel that its definition applies to your context, you should always research.

There are several online and offline resources available to translators for reference (Please see Glossaries and Dictionaries), which can be general or specific to a particular topic. I have created ongoing lists online of the resources I like to use in my translations, but these are by no means exhaustive.

In addition, to using online resources, translators can and should also create their own glossaries. Having your own resources can be really helpful, especially when you have a repeat client or a particular topic of specialization. In such cases, your glossaries not only work as a tool to help you deal with terminology, but they can be used effectively to ensure consistency. You can create specific glossaries for a client, a topic or even for a particular project.

If you are working on a long translation project, and you have been working on that for weeks, sometimes the translation of an unusual term may escape you. In such cases, having your project glossary not only helps you find the term quickly, but also helps ensuring that you don’t find a different translation for it and end up with an inconsistent translation.

One other thing that you can do when you create specific project glossaries is send them for your client’s approval. This can be really helpful with particularly technical terminology, when the client will likely be a lot more knowledgeable than you. Your client-approved glossary is a powerful tool to ensure consistency and your delivery of a satisfactory product to the client.

In short, you need one good general dictionary in each of your working languages, one good subject-specific dictionary in each of your working languages (for each of your working subject areas) and several glossaries. Managing dictionaries and glossaries is another very important aspect of a translator’s job and we will discuss in more detail in an upcoming post.

Please click for a compilation of glossaries and dictionaries.
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