Although many SENSE members are freelancers, this is not always the case. SENSE member and former freelancer Sally Hill has just started a new in-house job at an international biotech company. Claire Bacon caught up with her in the week she made the switch.
When I set up my business 13 years ago, it was initially as a freelance Dutch-English translator in the life sciences. I soon felt confident enough to offer editing as well, and through SENSE I got involved in teaching scientific writing. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I first started getting writing assignments too – from the same company I’m now moving to. The scientific reports I write for them are quite technical and nerdy, and right up my street. This encouraged me to look for similar clients, and I discovered the world of medical writing and the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA). Through this professional network, I realized that medical writing might be better suited to my science background.
But it was only recently that I thought of taking up this client’s offer of a part-time contract –previously, it would have been near impossible to schedule my teaching activities around fixed days at an office. Various things came together over the past few months: teaching for two of my university clients came to an end; all my other teaching went online because of the pandemic and the increased screen time was giving me back and neck issues; plus, my husband was thinking of going freelance himself. For financial security, we decided one of us should be on a fixed contract, and I was ready for a change!
When I write for scientists, they really appreciate my critical questions and attention to detail – in other words, the aspects that made me rather a slow editor improve the quality and consistency of their documentation. When editing, I probably take too much time looking up references and researching the topic of a research paper I’m editing – often purely out of interest in the science, which I think I’ve probably always missed. But of course, my experience as an editor makes me a much better writer. And now I have a junior writer to help train up, for which my teaching experience will also come in handy. Win-win!
It was mainly on-the-job training. In general, scientists become familiar with scientific writing during their master and doctoral studies, so it’s not something you need training in if that’s your background. And that’s where the scientists at the company ‘learned’ to write – not that their English is perfect, but for internal documentation that’s often less important. Of course, after I started offering scientific and medical writing as part of my business, I made sure to brush up my writing skills where possible by attending relevant webinars and workshops. I attended EMWA’s virtual conference last year and hope to go to the next one in May.
Being a science editor certainly gives you a head start. But many medical writers are not native English speakers, and many have no formal language skills or training. Apart from the scientific writing that I do, medical writing can also include things like translation, statistics, regulatory writing, project management, marketing and copywriting. You don’t necessarily need specific training, but from what I can tell it can be hard to get a job without a bit of experience. Many people work in a related field before applying for a medical writing job.
EMWA offers lots of training workshops at their twice-yearly conferences and their website has a wealth of information and resources, including a useful Career Guide to Medical Writing. You can also join the Netherlands Science and Medical Writers Network that I helped set up with other freelancers. We have private groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where aspiring and experienced medical writers – both freelance and in-house – can ask questions, share resources and post jobs.
Before making this decision, I did think carefully about whether we were a good match. Before the first lockdown, when I was still freelancing for them, I was going into the Merus offices once a week. Attending meetings and eating lunch in the staff canteen improved communication in general and helped my ‘colleagues’ know who I was. This also gave me a pretty good feel for the company and the people who work there. My gut feeling says they care about their employees; they pay them well and morale is good. I also really like the international feel of the place – they also have offices in the US and the staff are from all over.
I think I’ll probably miss the camaraderie of my freelance colleagues. As a freelancer, networking has become second nature and I can get a real kick out of making connections with others, even if I don’t necessarily know whether it’ll bring in new work. Of course, I can still stay connected with others and continue to expand my network, but it won’t be part of my working day anymore.
What I won’t miss is the admin! I tend to put off my quarterly tax returns, and the paperwork can really pile up towards the deadline. And, of course, I won’t miss the uncertainty of being my own boss, and the pandemic has brought this home to many of us. While I was fortunate to see no drop in income over the past year, the idea that I no longer have to keep an eye out for new clients in case current ones let me down is very reassuring.
It really hadn’t occurred to me to leave SENSE! Of course, I’m no longer a freelancer and I’m no longer translating/editing/teaching. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need the expertise of SENSE colleagues or that I am no longer willing to share my own. I’ll have Fridays off and so will still have a few hours a week left for my various bits of voluntary work (including SENSE) and for my one-to-one coaching clients.
In terms of what the Society can offer to scientific and medical writers, I recommended SENSE to an aspiring medical writer only last week. This non-native English speaker with a science PhD wanted help in developing writing skills before applying for writing jobs. I recommended that they join SENSE and team up with a mentor to get feedback on their writing. I know of no other organization in the Netherlands that offers a similar mentoring programme. In that respect, SENSE really is an ideal association for professionals in the Netherlands looking for support in developing their English language skills.
Hear the term ’compliance’ and most of us in the language business (or any business) will shrink a bit – especially when it’s tied to an acronym like ’GDPR’. This refers to the General Data Protection Regulation which represents the legislation passed by the European Commission in 2016 to update what has been an evolving policy on protecting the private information of individuals living in the European Union. This set of regulations was activated in 2018.
Though it might seem applicable only to big companies and online commerce, it applies to anyone conducting business in the EU, including freelance language professionals. If you’re not safeguarding the personal data that has been coming across your desk, it’s time to start wrestling with that hidden beast.
Luckily, Steven Segaert has been studying the beast and its implications for language professionals. Steven is a freelance English–Dutch translator and a lawyer based in Belgium. At the recent Tech SIG he summarized it thus:
’Know what you have, and why you have it’ and ’limit as much as possible’ what you have.
Steven led us through a methodical process we can apply to identify and protect relevant information we may have. Describing first what personal data actually is, he then introduced how to do a data mapping exercise to understand what you have and how to categorize it.
This obviously can get complex if you are a large entity such as Google or bol.com; for freelance language professionals, Steven noted, it ‘is not terribly difficult…but there are chances we are doing things that are not totally okay.’
The intention of the GDPR is to limit the processing of personal data to only what has a legitimate business purpose, to the least extent possible, and to ensure that you are transparent about what you do and accountable for how you protect the data. The important thing is that you can reasonably explain why it is necessary to process the personal data in your possession – for example, to market your services, or because you are legally required to keep records for a specified number of years.
Once you’ve trapped your beast, you need to know how to take care of it. Security was not discussed at great length, but the lively Q&A touched on email, translation memory, and the horror of a lost (or stolen) laptop.
Accidentally losing your laptop in a café or on the train doesn’t have to be a GDPR disaster in addition to a work disrupter – but it can open you up to risk if you have not documented (elsewhere) what personal data was on the laptop and how it was secured.
GDPR compliance can be a complex undertaking, but setting aside some time for it, you will, in Steven’s words, ’already be doing more than 90% of freelancers’ in capturing and taming your personal data beast, and protecting yourself and your clients from risk.
Steven’s bracing and thorough presentation got us all talking about our workflows in a new way, and suggested some new approaches to our business and technical systems.
The meeting was convened by Joy Burrough-Boenisch, who welcomed the 29 members who attended the Zoom meeting. Joy introduced the speaker, Julie Uusinarkaus, who works as revisor at the University of Helsinki.
Julie started her presentation with a picture of ice floes in Finland and explained that she works as in-house revisor, academic editor and freelance design editor. The revision at the university involves translated material, very often fairly routine texts such as university regulations, curricula and news releases etc.
There are four in-house translators (Finnish native speakers) and up to ten freelance translators, working as a long-standing team. The official languages of the university are Finnish, Swedish and English, and no language is supposed to take precedence.
Julie explained the revision process, which she described as relatively simple. The team works in a bilingual Trados interface – we were shown a specimen screenshot of a translation. The translation first comes from the translator, and is then revised by a second translator and a revisor, who carry out two quality checks. The first, done by a second translator, is of the facts and translated vocabulary. The second quality check, which is done by the revisor, is of the readability of the text as a whole from the viewpoint of a native speaker. The original text must be followed as closely as possible and the aim is to have a clear text in the style of the university. The text is then returned to the original translator. A record is kept of all the points of discussion and any compromises. The author has final authority over the text.
The university translation team has its own in-house style; certain stylistic points have been the subject of discussion before agreement was reached, eg, representation of telephone numbers, 24-hour clock and commas after 'e.g.' and 'i.e'.
Julie introduced a number of examples and held a poll for each. The results of the poll were particularly enlightening for us and for Julie. We were given two versions of the translation of a Finnish text and the original Finnish text. Julie pointed out the query points and we could choose which of the two versions we would opt for. Do we accept the edit? Does the edit change the original Finnish meaning? The examples led to a wealth of comments and suggestions in the chat. The last example introduced 300 elk incisors and a garment, and we were asked whether the structure of the sentence should be changed and whether the word 'decorated' or 'attached' was more appropriate. It was illustrative of Julie's presentation and became the subject of a particularly interesting and lively discussion - online, of course.
Most of us occasionally have to move our work to a new computer. In this article, I will give you a few tips on how to get started. However, the information is limited to PCs running Windows.
Your PC has an internal hard disk drive (formerly a 'spinning rust' disc, now usually a Solid State Drive (SSD)). This contains the Windows operating system, program files and data. Although you could store your data (work, email, admin, etc) on the internal disk, I've always found it easier and safer to use an external drive. Therefore, whenever I have to take the PC in for repair, I can leave the external drive at the office, so I won’t have to worry about the repair shop having access to my data. When I go on holiday, I put the external drive in a safe; a burglar might walk off with my PC, but not with my data. This approach also makes it easier to comply with data protection legislation.
An external drive also makes it easier to move to a new PC: once you have set up all the software, you simply connect the external drive and continue as before. So, if you are not currently using an external drive for your data, moving to a new PC might be a good time to consider getting one!
The first thing to do is take a close look at your current PC: what do you like about it and what could be improved?
Next, make a list of all the software you use and review that critically. The easiest way to get a full list is probably to go to Windows Settings > Uninstall or to Settings > Apps & Features, depending on the version of Windows you use.
Go through the list and see what software you actually use and need to install on your new computer. If the software is covered by a licence, you may be able to deactivate it on your old computer and then activate it on the new one. The relevant process is different for each software package.
Can you download the software on your new PC, or do you need to install it from a CD? If you are moving to a new version of Windows, you will have to check that your new computer is compatible with older software.
How you migrate your emails to the new computer depends entirely on the email software you use. If you only use web mail or another server-based email client, this will not apply to you. Now might be a good opportunity to consider if you want to keep working that way. You may also want to copy your browser bookmarks to your new PC.
This might also be a good opportunity to decide if you want to move to new software. For example, I moved from Adobe Photoshop to Affinity Photo: cheaper and available under a perpetual licence rather than a subscription.
Remember to make notes of the languages, keyboard layouts and other Windows settings you use. Do you want to keep the current drive letter assignments (eg, C: for programs, D: for data on the internal disk, G: for date on the external disk) or start afresh on your new PC? How do you back up your data, and do you want to continue using that method? Will you need to be able to restore old backups to your old PC? If so, do you need specific software or perhaps an optical drive?
Pro tip: if you find that Windows suddenly switches to a different keyboard while you're working, you may accidentally have pressed Alt + Shift. Press those keys again to switch back to your normal keyboard, or look for the keyboard box in the task bar at the bottom of the screen.
Every time I install new software, I also check that all my other important software still works and is not affected by the most recent software installation. If older software does not run under Windows 10, you can investigate the options available to you. If you right-click on a program and select Properties, the Compatibility tab will show you the available settings. Another option is to get advice from a computer wizard!
Make sure your antivirus software, etc is operational. Connect the external drive containing your data to the new PC. Change the drive letter if necessary, then check that all the software works with it.
If you do not normally use an external drive for your data, you can use one temporarily to transfer data between the internal drives of your old and new computers. Alternatively, you can use cloud storage or an online service such as WeTransfer.
Software such as MS Office 365 and Adobe products is dependent on an active subscription, and regularly 'calls home'. That means that if something goes wrong with your account, or if you have extended connectivity problems, the software may simply stop working. At present you can still get MS Office under a perpetual licence, which avoids those problems.
If you normally use Adobe Acrobat to read PDFs, you may want to consider an alternative, such as Sumatra. I prefer that because it is nicely spartan and does not have automation features, which could create security issues if somebody sends you a dodgy PDF.
I have also installed LibreOffice on my PC. The software package is not dependent on a licence server and should always work. It is largely compatible with MS Office, and Libre Office Writer can apparently open some damaged Word files, should MS Word encounter any issues.
Notepad++ is a useful editor for opening any file and accessing data files for software which is no longer available.
Windows 10 does not include DVD playback software. VLC Media Player seems to be a good option and is free.
Before you start using your new PC in earnest, it would be a very good idea to test your backup and restore arrangements.
I hope these notes are of some help to those who have to move to a new PC. If you have any questions, then you may want to set up a thread on the SENSE forum. And of course, you’re always welcome to join the next Tech SIG meeting!
Editing is an ever-changing industry. To stay competitive, language professionals must continuously develop and hone their skills. There are many opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) out there, but finding time for it can be tricky. In this post, I take a look at the different kinds of CPD and suggest how to make time for ongoing learning.
Conferences are a great way to find out what is new in your industry and to hone your skills. The pandemic has forced many conferences to move online, meaning you can now attend from the comfort of your own home (goodbye travel expenses!). Although we were disappointed not to be able to meet in person, I think we would all agree that SENSE 2020 was a big success. And those of us who attended the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) 2020 conference were similarly impressed with the quality of the sessions and how well the conference had been adapted for an online audience. A big advantage of online conferences is that the sessions are often still available after the event, giving attendees plenty of time to catch up on anything they missed. So why not attend an online conference this year? Here are some examples of what’s on offer:
Training courses are a good way to develop your editing skills. Once you have mastered the core skills, you can start to look for more specialist courses that interest you or are relevant to your work. I edit scientific research papers, so after completing some general copyediting training, the CIEP’s Medical Editing course seemed like a good place to refine my skills. Although some of the course content (such as the academic publishing process, and structure and format of standard research articles) was familiar to me after working as a research scientist, the course was invaluable because it taught me how to approach editing scientific texts methodically and be a more efficient editor. It also highlighted common style issues in medical editing. This specialist training raised my profile as an editor and helped me land jobs as a copyeditor for two medical journals.
Reading books that are relevant to your niche is an easy way to fit valuable CPD into your busy schedule. Books on academic writing give valuable insights into how I can better help my clients with their research writing (They Say/I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, Writing Science in Plain English by Anne E. Greene, Give Readers Nuggets by Ed Hull and Writing Science by Joshua Schimel are some of my favourites), while books about copyediting in general help to identify areas I need to work on (for example, Carol Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor motivated me to make my editing more efficient by learning how to use Word’s features. Thanks to the CIEP’s course on Word for Practical Editing, I now use macros daily to speed up my editing).
One obstacle to CPD is finding the time to do it. Scheduling regular CPD time around your usual editing/translation work can help; perhaps an hour every morning for reading, or half a day a week to work through an online course. An accountability group of like-minded language professionals can help to keep you on track with your CPD goals.
If, like me, you suddenly found yourself spending hours every day home-schooling small children, taking an online course or scheduling time for reading might seem laughably unrealistic! Thankfully, there are easier ways to squeeze valuable CPD into your busy schedule: listening to podcasts while doing the ironing or spending time interacting in online groups, for example. Scrolling through the Editors Association of Earth Facebook group is a great way to find solutions to problems you didn’t know you had, and The Editing Podcast by Louise Harnby and Denise Cowle is crammed with useful information for writers and editors.
If you have any additional tips for effective CPD, share them in the comments below!
Welcome to SENSE, the Society of English-Language Professionals in the Netherlands! SENSE is a professional network for language professionals working in, into, or from English; English is our working language, but we’re happy to have you if your native language isn’t English or if you live outside of the Netherlands. Anne Oosthuizen, Martina Abagnale and Danielle Carter, the co-conveners of the Starters SIG (we’ll explain what that is below), have written this blog post to help you navigate SENSE as a new or soon-to-be member. Welcome!
Let’s jump right in: how should you get started when you join SENSE? And how can you get the most out of your SENSE membership? There’s a wealth of resources and information available via the SENSE network, so it can be a little intimidating trying to navigate it all – this guide will help you get started.
You can add the SENSE blog to your RSS feed. Once you become a member, you will also receive a newsletter with updates about new blog posts and membership-wide events. You can also follow SENSE on Twitter, join the closed SENSE LinkedIn Group, follow the SENSE LinkedIn page, and join the SENSE Facebook page.
SENSE also wants to hear from you! If you have a blog, SENSE will help to advertise your posts by occasionally sharing them on social media and in the newsletter. To notify SENSE about your blog, send an RSS link to email@example.com.
The best way to stay tuned is to subscribe to relevant groups on the forum! SIGs are small, members-run subgroups within SENSE that cater to specific fields of interest, topics or regions. You can find a list of all the SIGs here.
You’re welcome to attend events from SIGs that you’re not subscribed to, and also feel free to attend, for example, Southern SIG events even if you live in Groningen (or Spain). Keep an eye on the calendar to find events that may be relevant for you.
The Starters SIG is specifically geared towards people who are just getting started in the language industry or people who are changing paths within the industry. We organize monthly events on a variety of topics relevant for us; for example, finding initial clients, setting rates, or freelance marketing.
You can subscribe to any SIG on the forum to stay updated on their activity. In addition to a category for each of the SIGs, there are also various categories for different issues or interests. You can subscribe to a category and receive an email update for each new post by clicking on any category and then hitting “Subscribe” in the horizontal bar above “Subject.”
Some of the most important categories for getting started are Jobs (where SENSE members can post job opportunities), Professional Practice (a place to discuss some of the nitty gritty of work as a language professional), Resources (where members post resources that they’ve found helpful) and the Starters SIG group. You can also add a browser bookmark to the most recent topics so that you can check in on the latest posts in categories you’re not subscribed to.
The very first thing you should do is introduce yourself on the Introduce Yourself section of the forum.
In addition to SIG events and the forum, the Best Practices handbook, the mentorship programme, the SENSE conference on alternating years with the Professional Development Day (see the calendar) all provide opportunities to develop your professional practice and advance your career.
You can also volunteer for SENSE, which is a great way to put yourself out there and get to know the many wonderful language professionals who are SENSE members. You can volunteer by setting up a SIG, joining a SIG as a co-convener or by helping with social media or event planning, for example.
Again, keep an eye on the calendar for other professional development opportunities! SENSE regularly hosts workshops and events.
You may have also noticed a few non-SENSE events on the calendar. The calendar is updated with other language-related events and conferences, and SENSE has a few sister organizations, which also host events and produce content that may be relevant for you.
Hot tip: It may seem funny to look into these other organizations, but you can find a variety of different events, networking groups etc and get a discount at SENSE’s sister organizations if you’re a SENSE member, so go on and see if there are relevant things happening in these organizations too!
In addition to SENSE’s sister organizations, you may also want to check out the Vertalerskoffiehoek (a Dutch-language translators Facebook group, which many SENSE members are a part of and which hosts a weekly co-working session), the Editors Association of Earth Facebook group, and the BP Translation conference (which hosts regular professional development events for translators).
If you’re still feeling a little lost or overwhelmed, get in touch! Post your question on the Starters SIG forum or email one of our conveners. We’ll help you find the way.
The 12 January UniSIG meeting was convened by Joy Burrough-Boenisch, who welcomed all 29 attendees and introduced the speaker, Lisa Muszynski, language revisor at the University of Helsinki. Also present were five non-SENSE members: two from Finland, two from South Africa and one from the Netherlands. South African visitor Tanya Barben, member of PEG, reports:
Lisa explained that the term ‘revisor’ (rather than ‘reviser’) is used to describe the person responsible for revising the English (one of the University's three official languages) of the over 60,000 texts processed annually by staff and freelancers working for the University’s Language Services (the ‘unit’, hereafter). These texts comprise abstracts, articles and books whose publication is anticipated, as well as doctoral theses. The revisors also check the acceptability and fidelity of texts translated into English. They are encouraged to use tracked changes and margin/bubble comments, and any interaction with the client is generally via the easier email rather than by phone.
The revisors establish whether the arguments presented are logical; the focus is on grammatical and linguistic accuracy as well as reader comprehension. In the case of articles and books, their aim is to get the work to publication standard (although some emendations might be necessary following the peer review process). Essentially, the unit’s purpose is to improve the text’s quality and fluency, to get the client’s ‘foot in the door’ for academic publishing, and to cede the final responsibility for the text to the client.
The freelancers are given guidelines and a list of reference works and citation styles (including clickable links to some) they are expected to be familiar with. Prior to the pandemic, there were meetings and in-person training sessions. Not all the freelancers have academic qualifications, but some are very experienced and some better than herself, Lisa suggested. All are native speakers of English and are expected to have passed a test based on the worst paper ever received by the unit.
There is a coaching element to what the freelancers and Lisa do. They address lexical problems via comment bubbles and, where necessary, suggest alternative, more natural-sounding sentences; clients have an opportunity to indicate exactly what they want to say.
Of course, there are limitations to what the revisor can do. In all instances, it should be made clear that any changes are not editorial interventions but rather suggestions that the client can accept or reject. There is a need to recognize that the needs of clients may differ. Revisors should also maintain a balance between revision and editing and be aware of the difference between content and style.
A staff member of the unit liaises with the clients to obtain any feedback. Complaints are rare. The clients are responsible for their texts (and for any plagiarism) and for getting them published.
The meeting lasted about 60 minutes. Attendees participated fully and some of the many questions asked form part of the above account.
The first Starters SIG of 2021 revolved around our New Year's resolutions. As everyone came in, we spontaneously started off with tricky T's & C's and the pain of insurance policies. But that’s the beauty of this Starters SIG: all questions are welcome!
After briefly discussing what to look out for (your legal liabilities) and concluding insurance policies are worth thinking about when starting out (especially in legal translations), our hosts Danielle Carter, Martina Abagnale and Anne Oosthuizen introduced the evening's theme: our goals for the new year.
I was immediately reminded of why I've been enjoying these meetings: a lot of us go through (or have gone through) the same thing. There is always someone who shares a similar story, to encourage you or provide some timely advice. For example, one of my own goals for 2021 – expanding my copywriting skills – was in fact inspired by other SENSE members. They recommended the copywriting course from the College of Media & Publishing, and I’m happy to say I’m on track to graduate in May!
Another regular topic at the Starters SIG is finding new clients, and how to go about approaching them. LinkedIn is a popular place to go, as are other social media. The main idea is: you have to be where your (potential) clients are, and engage with them there. One member even snatched her dream client by following them for a very long time until eventually they approached her!
It looks like the Starters SIG is full of plans for the new year. Some of us are just starting out, wanting to find our first, second or third client. Others are looking to expand or rebrand, and it was really inspiring to hear everyone share a bit of their background as a way to move forward through the new year. And the best news is, you can join a first meeting or two even if you’re not a SENSE member yet! Keep an eye on the Events calendar for more information.
We now have a room full of so-called accountabilabuddys – ready to tackle 2021!
How do you move forward from a year like 2020? By having a few drinks with fellow editors and translators of course! On 8 January, SENSE organised its annual (and my first) New Year’s Borrel. What follows is a recap by newbie borrelaar Maaike Leenders.
Let me start off with a little confession: I rarely do ‘borrels’. I can’t help imagining a room full of strangers trying to chit-chat, wondering why on earth I opted for heels instead of sneakers.
I’m glad to say this was different!
First of all, we met up online. This turned out to have some substantial benefits:
The afternoon started off with a short introduction – of people and drinks – and best wishes for the new year. We continued with smaller groups of about 3–4 people to discuss a topic. Then we promptly forgot about said topic and talked about The Year That Was 2020. Once we rejoined the whole group, there was plenty of room for positivity. For example, did you know SENSE members have very interesting (pandemic proof) hobbies? There’s books and baking, walking and writing, but we’re also learning new languages – even that of horses!
To wrap up the afternoon, our host Anne Oosthuizen organised a book bingo that offered everyone an opportunity to share a bit about their books – and themselves – with the whole group. I’m happy to say my reading list for 2021 is now about twice as long.
An all-around success for sure!
When Carla Bakkum tells people she specializes in financial translation, reactions vary all the way from awe to downright horror. But take it from somebody who has spent over 30 years Swimming with Sharks, the financial world is exciting. Here Carla busts seven common myths about the profession.
False. I myself am a case in point. As a Dutch gymnasium student, I was never bothered with something as mundane as economics, and five years studying English at the University of Amsterdam made me none the wiser financially. But when private bank Pierson, Heldring & Pierson came to our professors looking for fresh translation talent, they recommended me, three-times winner of their department’s poetry translation contest. I blithely applied, having virtually no idea what I was letting myself in for, but knowing translation was where my heart lay.
Though I didn’t get the in-house job, the head translator Silvia Zaugg called me not much later to ask if I’d like to work freelance for them. She coached me intensively through my first on-site assignments and unfailingly sent me back the revisions not long after. With the experience I gained, I applied for and won work from ABN AMRO: I was launched as a financial translator. And what got me there? An enquiring mind, a sharp pen and a knack for quickly learning new languages – such as financialese.
False. Financial texts are about the real world, about economic activity in all its varieties. Translating stock market updates, annual reports and press releases means treating yourself to a crash course in anything from beer brewing to baby nutrition, from aviation to nanotechnology, from power plants to solar cells. Some inkling of chemistry and physics is a real help, I find, and can actually give you an edge on the investment writer whose text you’re working on (who has typically studied economics or law). If you enjoy developing a broad knowledge base and learning something new every day, you have the makings of a financial translator.
Sorry, not entirely a myth. Besides developing more than a nodding acquaintance with a myriad businesses, translating investment texts and annual reports means getting to grips with exotic beasts like hedge funds, interest-rate swaps, CoCos, floating rate notes, bear straddles, impairment, EBIDTA, tier 1 ratios…. And just when you think you’re on top of things, financial innovations like bitcoin and blockchain technology come along. Enough to make your head swim! Looking on the bright side, though, Google is your friend, and finance is one of the best-documented fields on the internet. If you do this kind of work long enough, you may actually one day catch your investment writers talking through their hats.
False. If the variety and complexity of the subject matter isn’t enough to keep you on an adrenalin high, the tight deadlines will surely do the trick. Nowhere is timely information more a make-or-break factor than in the investment business, and nowhere does news turn stale more quickly. So if you can’t deliver that update the same day or overnight, you may as well not bother. Even then, in the time you need to translate your update, new events may reduce it to toilet-paper status. I was rarely more frustrated than the day I worked flat out to deliver a 2,500-word article, only to be told the next day they wouldn’t be using it and asked to translate a completely new one. On a positive note, I did, of course, get paid for both.
It depends. There is a sizeable core of financial translation, editing and writing that needs doing whether business is booming or in the depths of recession. Annual reports, for example. But the times when I was translating one IPO prospectus a week are long gone. The 2008 recession had a definite impact on my top line. Over the years, however, my brushes with a range of industries while working for banks enabled me to win business clients outside the financial industry as well. I worked to expand in those areas and on broadening my own offering by venturing into copywriting.
False, definitely false! The language of the stock market in particular oozes imagery. What is essentially just a matter of price variations over time is described in the financial pages with a poetic zest that is second only to that seen in sports journalism – perhaps because securities trading, like competitive sports, is an activity where modern humans (overwhelmingly men) sublimate their primordial lust for battle. Stocks can soar and nosedive, markets and profit-and-loss accounts can colour red, and Mario Draghi of the ECB has a Big Bazooka he can fire to defend the euro. Even if you’re not writing for the dailies, your texts are often meant for your client’s clients, and therefore need to be engaging and pleasant reading, a worthy calling card for the organization. The authors are rarely talented writers. Taking their pumpkin and mice and turning that into a golden carriage with six white horses is a significant added value that we, the fairy godparents of communication, bestow on our financial clients.
False. Yes, false. Let me start by saying that among the people I have dealt with personally, the #@*hole count was extremely low. Many of my contacts are in-house translators, who are up against the same problems I face, but have to bear the brunt of all the office politics, too. The financial specialists I’ve worked with, barring a few exceptions, are dedicated and decent people. It was a horrifying experience watching the 2008 sub-prime crisis unfold from my particular vantage point as a freelancer and a word worker.
As I see it, the downfall of the mighty banks was perhaps not so much a matter of toxic assets as of toxic jargon. The quants who created the overly complex securities, and the traders who traded them, spoke a language that even their own bosses didn’t understand, let alone the investors who bought the securities. As in the fairy tale of the emperor’s new clothes, nobody dared admit they were clueless – or they preferred to ask no questions as long as the returns were so phenomenal.
As a word worker in this sector, you have the option to either go with the flow or spread a little clarity. I was once asked by a pension fund client to summarize and then translate into Dutch a lengthy ‘explanation’ of hedge funds. It had been given to them by a New York asset manager they had hired to invest in hedge funds on their behalf. One of my most challenging jobs ever! When I’d finished, the text was down to manageable size, readability greatly improved, jargon overload pruned – and the vital bad-news info that had been tucked away in the footnotes was now restored to the body text. A real eye-opener for my client. These days, with the harsh spotlight of public opinion shining more intensely on them than ever, financial institutions need to communicate more clearly, both internally and externally, and many are taking steps in the right direction. They are on the threshold of a much-needed culture shift, and as communication specialists we play a key role.
This article was originally published in eSense 43 (2016).
Thanks to Zoom, our January UniSIG speaker Hazel Baker was able to join us on a cold winter morning from Sydney, Australia, where it was a hot summer evening. Over 20 of us – including a couple of guests from the UK and South Africa – logged in on 15 January to hear her talk on ‘Academic editing in the Australian context’.
Hazel set the scene by giving a quick overview of IPEd, the professional association for Australian and New Zealand editors. Its 1,200 or so members are bound not only by its Constitution but also by its Code of Ethics. If they wish, they may apply for accreditation, which entails passing a stringent three-hour exam based on IPEd’s Australian standards for editing practice and then renewing their accreditation every five years. Like SENSE, IPEd has a directory of editors that can be used to search for editors with specific subject expertise and language skills.
Moving on to describe the academic context, Hazel pointed out that 25% of the students at Australia’s 43 universities are international, with Chinese accounting for the largest group, followed by students from India, Nepal, Brazil and Vietnam. A new edition of IPEd’s Guidelines for editing research theses was published in 2019. As well as explaining the copyediting and proofreading tasks involved in editing master’s or PhD theses, the guidelines also detail the responsibilities of supervisors and students.
It was no surprise to hear that in Australia, the cost of editing a thesis depends on the time needed, which in turn depends on factors such as number of words, complexity and quality of the language. Hazel noted that an Australian university will typically contribute about AUD 800 for editing a thesis; that’s equivalent to only about EUR 536! She did add that in practice, costs were higher.
Some of the aspects Hazel highlighted were familiar to us here in the Netherlands. They included the techniques of editing (tracking changes and using marginal comments), the ways editing can help academic researchers, who does the editing (salaried editors, freelance editors, editors working for companies providing editing services) and the range of documents they deal with, but there were differences. For example, under IPEd’s guidelines, students should show their editor their supervisor’s written approval to use an editor, and the version of the thesis the editor receives to work on must have been approved by the supervisor (‘signed off’) for editing. The guidelines clearly state what is meant by copyediting and what is meant by proofreading; from the discussion following Hazel’s talk it was clear that in Europe, the distinction is generally not so clear-cut and that in the UK in particular, ‘proofreading’ can cover a range of textual interventions, some of which are major. SENSE member Stephen Machon, however, did point out that faculties of law at Dutch universities take care to specify that editors of theses by law students may amend language but not content and that this process of amending language only is generally termed proofreading and not editing.
In response to a query about acknowledging editors’ input (which the guidelines advocate), Hazel noted that IPEd has suggested wordings available but that some universities require their suggested wording be followed.
This informative and lively 90-minute meeting demonstrated the added value of using Zoom to link up with colleagues from around the world to gain insights into other approaches and contexts of editing. There will be more opportunities for international linkups in forthcoming meetings!
On 6 November 2020, SENSE organized REFOCUS • REBOUND • REPEAT: a free panel discussion on risk-taking and agility for freelancers in turbulent times. The panel consisted of four founders of international, creative-industry companies, and was moderated by SENSE CPD Coordinator Matthew Curlewis. Longtime SENSE members Carla Bakkum and Francis Cox share their respective takes on the event.
I had signed up for the REFOCUS – REBOUND – REPEAT panel early on, drawn by the prospect of fresh voices from outside our regular circles. And I was not disappointed with the panel that our CPD Coordinator Matthew Curlewis expertly put together and hosted: the geographical range – from here to down under and back – was spectacular, and the varieties of English were a joy to hear.
David Beckett, the nestor of the group, related how he reinvented himself in the 2009 crisis after a losing his big-company job – an inspiring lesson in soul-searching and discovering your true talents. Industry influencer Kerry Finch highlighted the shift toward stakeholder capitalism among the big brands she advises. Amsterdam-based recruiter and consultant Mariette Hoitink described the ecosystem of young talents she works with and their take on life: keen to create, experience and take care of the world and each other, while less focused on financial success (a great example for older generations, I would say.) Valerie Khoo reported that writers in her country were bearing up pretty well in the current circumstances, while also reminding us that there’s a world beyond Covid-19 – it already exists in Australia!
Over 100 participants tuned in, all of whom could post questions and add comments. I saw lots of familiar names come by. It saddened me a bit that I couldn’t share a drink with them after the event, but on the whole, I came out of the session feeling genuinely uplifted.
The word 'inspiring' is overused, particularly in the copywriting game, but it fits the SENSE panel discussion REFOCUS - REBOUND - REPEAT. I was worried at first that it was going to be too corporate-speaky (‘Amplifying a thought leadership position’? Spare us!), but it soon got down to brass tacks. As someone who's reinvented himself several times over the years, a lot of the strategies mentioned were familiar to me. I'm a strong believer in making small improvements and changes in order to reach a bigger goal. That's how I moved to the Netherlands. I particularly liked Valerie Khoo's comment that there are a lot more opportunities out there for professional growth and change than you might think. That's certainly been my experience.
I had a problem, though, with the idea of pivoting or doing a 180. It sounds too drastic. I've been a video technician, fundraiser, translator, copywriter and actor. For me, there's been a logical progression to that career path since all those jobs relate to communication. One strategy I would add to those covered in the discussion is: Listen to the signals you get from your network or the universe in general. That's how I became an actor. More recently, people have been telling me I have a great voice. Because of that, I've been developing myself as a voice actor throughout the last lockdown. By constantly growing and changing in this way, I feel able to face whatever life throws at me.
“Outstanding, thank you all!”
“Very interesting, a good combination of panellists.”
“Inspiring discussion, thanks to SENSE and speakers!”
“Really useful and enjoyable.”
“Plenty of food for thought.”
The panel discussion recording is available upon request until 28 February 2021. Please contact the Web Manager if you are interested in viewing it.
The Starters SIG meeting on 7 December 2020 was an enjoyable session packed with useful information about personal branding for freelancers. Graphic designer and identity branding expert Sarah Notley discussed using social media, getting started with email marketing and the essentials of website design. She started her presentation with the thought-provoking statement that ‘Personal branding is the story people tell about you when you're not in the room.’ Having caught everyone's attention, she went on to talk about the tools you can use to communicate your brand (your visual identity, your website etc.), where to look for your target audience and how to reach them (don't put all your eggs in one basket), setting goals and ways of measuring success, choosing brand assets and making them work for you (without having to invest more time and effort than you can afford) and effective marketing strategies. She also discussed the basic principles of search engine optimisation (SEO) and strategies to make sure that your website fulfils Google's preferences for ranking websites in response to users' search queries.
Besides providing a wealth of practical information and tips, Sarah also looked at the current websites of two brave volunteers. She then provided them with constructive feedback and suggestions for improvements. This was an extremely useful exercise (as well as an opportunity to see fellow translators' websites), since it provided attendees with practical examples of the elements she’d covered in her presentation. Maaike Leenders, one of the volunteers, had this to say about the experience:
‘I’d been thinking about redoing my website for a while and was struggling with the same questions over and over again: Where to start? What am I doing right and what can be improved? Should I do it all myself or get some help? So when the call came for volunteers to show their website to a brand identity specialist, I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and sign up.
Sarah made it a very practical and pleasant experience. After talking to us about building a brand and the important elements of your (online) presence, it was time to look at the volunteers’ websites. I can’t deny I was a bit nervous about having everyone take a look at the same time! However, the positive feedback I received and Sarah’s presentation really clarified what I could tackle first – and how. This was exactly what I was looking for, and I’ve got my plan for a 2021 website revamp ready to go!’
The meeting ended with a Q&A session during which Sarah answered participants' questions and provided yet more information, suggestions and prompts.
Although I've been a freelance translator for quite some time, I've only recently started marketing myself and my 'brand'. A website is top of my list, so this session was just what I needed!
The importance of revision will be self-evident to SENSE members. It’s easy to overlook a mistake when you’re juggling two different languages, or editing copy or publications. So how do you revise effectively? Fortunately, Brian Mossop is a respected authority on revision and answered this question, among many others, during his two-part workshop. Because of the pandemic, Brian could not join us as planned at the 2020 Jubilee conference, but thanks to the marvels of technology, Brian could tell us more about revising without leaving the comforts of his home in Canada.
The first part of the workshop focused on revision in general and self-revision in particular. On the solid basis of academic research and forty years of experience, Brian shared his thoughts on revision, translation quality and the principles of making changes. He argued, for example, that revision should be primarily considered a reading exercise and not a writing exercise. Revisers should ask themselves if they really need to make a change, not whether they can think of a better translation. Furthermore, having a clear definition of ‘quality’ or ‘fit for purpose’ in mind can help you work more objectively, more justifiably and possibly even more quickly.
Rethinking what revision is and is not proved to be a valuable exercise in itself, but the workshop also included many hands-on exercises to put those new insights into practice. During one exercise, attendees identified which translation strategy comes naturally to them. If you know that you tend to start revising mid-translation or that you don’t look back before your first draft is done, you can adapt your revision strategy accordingly.
Attendees also had the opportunity to discuss their revision experiences and share their own best practices. One helpful tip was to revise ‘backwards’, that is to say, from the last sentence of the translation back to the first one. A few attendees reported this helps them when revising in a rush.
The second part of the workshop addressed, among other things, revising the translations of others. How do you check all possible aspects of a translation systematically? How much do you actually need to revise to assure quality? And how do you maintain a good working relationship between the revisor and the revisee, which can be the trickiest part of revision? One great tip was not to make changes you can’t justify, as well as remembering this is not your translation. If it is a good translation, it is perfectly justifiable to make no changes at all.
The workshop was quite intense, offering attendees many new insights as well as actionable best practices they could start applying right away. For instance, Brian recommended reading the translation before turning to the source text, which worked out surprisingly well for me personally.
If you would like to improve your revision skills, the fourth edition of Brian’s book, Revising and Editing for Translators, is now available.