Tag: about translation

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.

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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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 Freelancer.com, 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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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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According to a recent report by the global consulting firm PwC – “Health Care’s New Entrants: who will be healthcare’s Amazon.com?” -, 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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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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“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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