Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How’s the Pay?

One of the questions I’m asked most often, both by email and in person, is how much translators get paid. “How much do you actually make?” folks ask. I sometimes wonder how polite of a question that is and whether they’d ask that of, say, a teacher or a doctor or a salesperson.

Well, anyway, the pay depends. How long have you been a translator? What type of work do you do? Where do you live?

The Translators’ Association here in the UK writes on their website: “The negotiation of fees is a matter for the individual translator and client to resolve. In the Society's experience of reviewing contracts, we have found that UK publishers are prepared to pay in the region of £88.50 per 1,000 words.” That’s a sensible starting place. Obviously, some really complicated jobs will require you to ask for a higher fee, while a simpler job that allows you to use translation tools and includes a lot of repetition of words will earn you less. Likewise, if live in a country with a really high cost of living, your prices should be higher. A small job may make you want to ask for a flat fee, rather than a per word rate. But start from the assumption that you want to earn around £0.08 per word.

“Can you actually make a living as a translator?” people also ask me.

The answer to that question is yes, and no.

It too depends. It depends on what type of translation work you do, how good you are at both translation and networking, how able you are to work alone for long hours and to chase down work, and how long you’ve been at it for. If you’re just starting out and you only translate poetry, you most likely won’t be able to work full-time as a translator. If you have a medical degree and you want to specialize in pharmaceutical texts, then you might have a better shot. If you’re an award-winning translator of thrillers, you’ll probably end up having to turn down work.

I recognize that this isn’t necessarily very helpful of a response. But it does reflect reality for translators. As you broaden your customer base and get more experience, you’ll get more work and be able to raise your rates. But it’s unrealistic to expect that as soon as you print business cards, you’ll suddenly be very busy with work.

That’s why many translators have “portfolio careers” or “parallel careers”, developing their freelance translation careers while also doing other work, such as working for a translation agency or publishing company, teaching, painting houses, practicing law, doing admin work, etc. It’s also quite stimulating to have different aspects to your career and to have the opportunity to move from one task to another. Personally, I feel it makes me a better translator.

Friday, February 21, 2014

“Afterword: The Death of the Translator”

The poet and Hungarian-to-English translator George Szirtes, who was a colleague of mine at the University of East Anglia until he retired recently, wrote this great piece entitled “Afterword: The Death of the Translator”.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Sounds

Here are a few interesting articles that are all about language and sound.

Listen to what our ancestors’ language sounded like 6,000 years ago here.

This may be helpful for translators. It’s about how animals sound in different languages.

The final link is about how Shakespeare’s work would have sounded at the time he wrote his plays.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Translation

Can translators be superstars? A very few do seem to have celebrity status, at least in the world of literature. One thinks of people such as Maureen Freely, Eliot Weinberger, David Bellos, Clare Cavanagh, and Lawrence Venuti, among a few others.

And it is these people who have contributed short articles to a collection edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, In Translation. To read how great translators think about their work is enough reason to get the book. But it’s also an interesting and thought-provoking collection of essays, mostly about translating into English.

In their introduction, Allen and Bernofsky talk about the importance of translation, especially into English. They write, “translators into English can be said to labor in the service of monolingualism, as translation consolidates the global domination of English by increasing the degree to which the culture of the entire globe is available through English. At the same time, translation works to strengthen the pluralism of world languages and cultures by giving writers in all languages the opportunity to reach English’s global audience while still writing in their native languages.” (p. xv)

They also note that a “paradigm shift in the translator’s role is under way…[t]here is a generational move toward an image of the translator as an intellectual figure empowered with agency and sensibility who produces knowledge by curating cultural encounters.” (p. xix) This helps to explain why we see books such as In Translation now.

There is a good range of topics explored here. For example, Peter Cole, a poet and translator from Hebrew and Arabic to English, writes about ethical issues and about what is required of a translator. He implies that translation can be an uncomfortable job, and that making decisions isn’t easy. “To remain in bilingual or even polyglot mysteries is to enjoy the full resonance of literary possibility—to be tortured by its pleasures, if not always to be pleased by the torture; to decide is to find oneself—for a while—blessedly free of those doubts, but also hemmed in by one’s choices, possibly forever.” (p. 4) Cole feels that translation is “a matter of life and death—of reprieve (extended life for the work and possible its translator) or of execution (Again, of the work and possibly its translator). And when that work is from an earlier era, it leads to either profanation or resurrection of the dead.” (p. 13) One can add that it’s about the author’s life or death too.

Meanwhile, Catherine Porter, a professor emerita of French and translator of academic texts from French, makes a case for translation being taken seriously as a scholarly activity. She writes, “If we agree that our institutions should meet the demand for educated translators and interpreters, we must make room for translation studies in our curricula and develop a more capacious understanding of translation as a scholarly pursuit. It is my belief that scholarly and literary translations should be accepted and evaluated on the same basis as scholarly monographs in decisions about hiring, promotion, and tenure.” (p. 58) That is an idea that will surely challenge many people within academia.

In other pieces, Maureen Freely talks about Turkish and translating Orhan Pamuk; Jose Manuel Prieto writes about translating Osip Mandelstam from Russian to Spanish (and Prieto’s essay is translated to English from Spanish by Esther Allen); Christi A. Merrill offers a riddle and the idea that translators and authors should be called “storywriters”; and Ted Goossen suggests that for English readers “books need to be dubbed, not subtitled” (p. 186) because of the audience and publishers’ demands for invisibility.

In short, the essays in this book are varied and fascinating, and the superstar authors/translators included raise many points to consider.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

European Languages

This is a great graphic that shows the lexical distance among European languages. The picture makes it very easy to understand how close some languages are.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Translation: Art and Word

This event at UCL in a few days sounds intriguing, as it explores the connections between the visual and verbal.