Finding positives in the negative: How to deal with translation feedback

This month, we launched our own internal Linguistic Quality Assurance (LQA) process, which involves reviewing the work of a number of translators each week. Even though we already have a tight handle on translation quality by employing in-house translators, and also project managers who are native speakers of the languages they manage, we still felt that with the growing number of words we translate each month, it would be prudent to regularly check our work to maintain the high-quality standard of translation we promise our customers. At the same time, we also wanted to provide more regular structured feedback to our translators.

Often, when working for translation agencies or even direct clients, freelance translators don’t receive any feedback. If the work wasn’t quite up to scratch, the translator simply won’t be offered any more work. Which is unfortunate, because it doesn’t give the translator the opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve over time. Feedback is part and parcel of the professional working life. In our office, for example, our in-house translators receive training when they first start, followed by quarterly reviews and annual appraisals to discuss their progress, performance and personal development. Freelancers rarely get the same amount of feedback.

Not receiving any feedback can often leave translators assuming that ‘no news is good news’. As the translator, you might think everything is fine since you didn’t hear anything to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily true, because an agency or a client might just not give you any more work because they weren’t happy with the quality you delivered, and simply don’t tell you because it’s less hassle for them (collating feedback and dealing with the response to the feedback takes time). Receiving feedback, positive and negative, is therefore crucial for you as the translator so that you can be certain you are on the right track with your translations and can continue to secure work from that client or agency. Receiving positive feedback is the easy part, but dealing with negative feedback can be a little daunting.

Receiving negative feedback

Research has actually shown that people who are better at handling negative feedback tend to be more successful – and those that can’t are less so. Regarding negative feedback not as a bad omen or something to be scared of, but rather as fuel for personal growth, can help us become better translators.

Management Coach Wendy Birks says: “Receiving negative feedback on your work, a piece that you have put your heart and soul into is always tough, but you shouldn’t see it from the point of view that you are being criticised. Feedback is an essential part of any working relationship whether that is manager to employee or customer to translator. People see negative feedback as a ‘bad’ thing but a small adjustment to your mindset can change that.”

I remember when I first started out as a translator and received a negative feedback. I was absolutely mortified and immediately questioned myself, my ability to translate and pretty much my whole universe in general. But after about ten minutes, with the knot in my stomach slowly starting to dissolve, I started to look at the feedback again, this time a bit more objectively, and looked at the actual criticisms that were made. And it wasn’t so bad. Some points were justified and the reviewer made some good suggestions, others were more preferential changes. In hindsight, I learned so much from that one piece of negative feedback, it really helped me to become a better translator.

Even though it’s easier said than done, the first thing to do when receiving negative feedback is to take a deep breath, try not to worry and remember these things:

  1. Negative feedback is not a judgement of you as a person or your overall work as a translator – feedback tends to be about a specific piece of work you delivered.
  2. The fact that someone has taken the time to collate this feedback and send it to you means that they value your work overall and most likely want to continue to work with you.
  3. Receiving negative feedback is an opportunity to learn and improve.
  4. Remember that the feedback came from another person, who also has feelings and job responsibilities.

Analysing negative feedback

The next step is to analyse the feedback. It’s really important to look at the feedback objectively, leaving out any emotions. And I don’t just mean your own emotions. Sometimes the negative feedback itself can include emotions, for example if the customer/project manager was angry or upset when writing the feedback. In such a case, you have to ‘strip back’ any of the emotional comments and focus on the actual feedback that was provided. In the cold light of day, was the feedback justified? Can you see the reviewer’s point of view? Work your way through the list of comments and make a note for each one. Do you agree or disagree? And why?

Wendy says: “In my experience, people do not enjoy giving negative feedback and it is not given to be malicious. Negative feedback or constructive criticism is given so the individual involved can grow and learn. If a client felt you did a superb piece of work you would want to know about it and the same rules apply if you did a piece of work that was mediocre – you would want to know about it.”

Responding to negative feedback

How you react to negative feedback is a crucial part of the process, both for your own personal development but also in order to maintain healthy, long-term relationships with your clients. Hopefully, the feedback will have provided you with some constructive input on your translation. Whether or not you personally agree with all the changes, you have to acknowledge the feedback in a professional manner, and demonstrate that you will take it on board. Here are my tips on how to write a good feedback response email.

1) Take your time

Don’t respond immediately. I’ve seen it time and time again that our project managers send a feedback email and get a response within two minutes, the response often being very emotional and defensive. It’s natural to be upset or defensive as your first emotional response to criticism. But the point is, it really is only the first response. At that moment, you haven’t allowed yourself to look at the feedback objectively yet. So, hold off pressing the Reply button and let the feedback sink in before you respond.

2) Think of the bigger picture

Before you start writing your response, try to think of the bigger picture, i.e. your relationship with that customer or agency. Do you value the relationship and would like to continue working for them? This will help you to put this one piece of feedback into the context of your overall working relationship and help you to formulate a response that is measured and respectful.

3) Put yourself in the shoes of the feedback-giver

I always find it useful to think about the person who sent the feedback when formulating my response. If it’s a direct client, they might be an in-country marketing manager who has very specific requirements about the company’s tone of voice – and it is their responsibility to make sure that tone of voice is cohesive across all marketing assets. They might have to report to another senior manager, or might get judged on their localisation efforts based on that one translation. How can I respond to the feedback that explains my choices in an objective way but that also helps them do a great job? Or if I am responding to a translation project manager, they are most likely forwarding feedback from an unhappy customer – how can I formulate a response that they can pretty much copy/paste and send to the customer, saving them time, while putting their mind at ease that we are taking the feedback seriously? In the end, you want the person at the other end of the email to feel you are a team, and that you are working together to solve this problem.

Wendy says: “Being the ‘giver’ of the negative feedback is never a desirable position to be in so the understanding that it isn’t personal will make everyone’s job a little easier. Feedback is about being honest and coming to an understanding. It is a two-way street. If you feel that certain feedback was unfair then say so, have the conversation. Remain professional and find the lesson. From every negative comes a positive, you just have to find it and use it as an opportunity to grow.”

4) Acknowledge the feedback

As your first step when composing your email, it’s best to acknowledge the feedback and thank the customer/project manager/reviewer for taking the time to put it together. It’s a really small thing to do, but it speaks volumes about your professionalism.

5) Address the feedback

The next step is to validate the feedback. Remember to strip the feedback of any ‘emotional baggage’ and focus on the actual points that were raised. Do you agree or disagree? If you disagree, give an explanation why. When writing your explanation, remain objective and courteous, just the way you would like to be addressed too.

6) Learn from the feedback

If there were elements to the feedback that you deem justified, say in your email that you will take this into account for future translations.

Receiving feedback, positive and negative, is an opportunity for all of us to learn new things, adjust to our client’s preferences and fine-tune our skills. If you’d like to read some more on this topic, I found these two articles very useful:

Negative translation feedback – what an opportunity

Thick Skin Thinking: How To Use Negative Feedback To Your Advantage At Work

And if you’d like to find out more about Management Coach Wendy, check out her website.

Working with your translation

Face to face with the customer: a boon to localisation

Recently, a few of my translator colleagues and I were invited by one of our customers to spend a week at their offices. This customer localises their content into four languages for local markets across the globe, and we provide English to German translations for their blog posts, help resources and legal content. This meeting was part of the customer’s overarching strategy to optimise their localisation process. As it turned out, this was also an exciting opportunity to experience first-hand thought leadership in localisation. This customer approaches localisation not just in a successful, but in an exemplary manner. In this post, I want to share with you how this customer addresses four crucial aspects of the localisation process.

What can we as the customer do to make localisation a success?

That was the first question our host asked me and my fellow translators when we arrived at their offices. It is an important question to ask, as there are indeed several crucial things translators need from their customers. Many translators out there will probably give the same answers we gave that day:

  1. Understand the purpose and value of localisation.
  2. Give the translators as much context as you can.
  3. Provide translators with a direct point of contact (or several).
  4. Provide translators with feedback on their translations.

Up until this point, this particular customer had always been extremely diligent in fulfilling these requirements: We had several points of contact, and we could communicate with these individuals via different platforms. We received very detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement (via feedback sheets and online meetings), and had access to all the Q&As from other translators. Also, we had access to a vast pool of contextual information, including the customer’s product. So I asked myself:

How much more could this customer do to make localisation a success?

Well, during our week at the customer’s offices, they did go a couple steps further. Let’s look at the four points from above and see how our customer rocks every single one of them. To give you some additional context, I will introduce each point with an explanation of our requirements and/or the general status quo we’re experiencing in this area.


Context comes in many shapes and forms. As translators, more often than not, we piece together the context ourselves. We read up on customers, their products/services and their industry, we look for parallel texts (i.e. how do competitors phrase this?), we try to get access to the products/services and we ask questions. But there is only so much we can find out that way. The real goodies are the bits of information the customers provide. Again, this could be anything: pictures/screenshots, videos, style guides, access to the products/services, previous translations, etc.

There are two reasons why context is vital for a successful translation. Generally speaking, it allows us to write a text from the perspective of the customer. If we can’t put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, it’s not very likely that we can get the tone of voice right. For example, if we don’t know which audience we’re writing for or where our translations will be published, we might translate too colloquially or too “techy”, thereby deterring potential customers in the local market. On the word level, context is important, simply because words can have different meanings. Just look up the word “set” in your dictionary and you’ll find that its various definitions take up several pages. Now imagine you receive the brief: “translate set”. Without context, it’s impossible to work with this. The same problem can arise when we’re asked to translate isolated sentences. There is a lot of room for misunderstanding, as anyone knows who’s ever tried out the Google translation feature. A lack of context inevitably results in poor-quality translation, which instead of attracting potential customers in local markets, can deter them from even considering a purchase. So it is crucial to invest the extra time and effort at the beginning of the localisation process to provide translators with enough context.

How our customer rocks this: As I mentioned before, we’ve always had as much context as we could ever wish for from this customer, such as regular updates to the style guide and glossary, job-specific reference material, past translations, etc. However, spending several days at the customer’s offices and interacting with their team brought in a new context factor: transparency. Everybody was absolutely frank, direct and transparent in talking about the company, about its processes, its strategies, its lessons learned from the past, and its hopes for the future. This direct experience of the company culture was an invaluable part of our context-building efforts.

All this information gave us an unprecedented degree of context. Personally, I had one lightbulb moment after the other, as the dots connected and I felt like I had gotten to know the company as a “person”. I now have a much better idea of how the customer thinks, why they do what they do and how I can get this across to the (potential) customers in the German market.

Point of contact

I have experience working with a variety of different points of contact. This could be the owner of a business, a project manager, a Multilingual Vendor (MLV) who liaises between us and a customer, an internal reviewer, and so on. The ideal point of contact understands the localisation challenges, knows all about the translation task at hand, and is available to answer any questions that may come up.

Unfortunately, such a point of contact is often missing. It then feels as if you are working in a vacuum. If this is combined with a lack of context, the translation process moves at a snail’s pace. You lose time deciphering and making guesses. And you will inevitably feel very dissatisfied with the result of your work, as you can never be sure whether you got it right, got it sort of right or completely missed the mark.

How our customer rocks this: During our week with the customer, the translators got to meet many team members with different roles at the company. Some of these we had already been communicating with on a regular basis. So this was the perfect opportunity to open up the communication channels even further. As a German translator, I now was able to work directly with the people who review my translations. Again and again, they would stress the importance of communication and assure us that we should never hesitate to ask questions. And indeed, whenever we do ask questions, we can be sure that within a very short time period, we receive a comprehensive answer.


When you work with a client on a regular basis, it’s important that they tell you what you’re doing right or how you could change your translations to align them with what’s required. Otherwise, there is the potential for frustration on both sides. Unfortunately, even if everyone approaches localisation with the best of intentions, there’s just not always enough time for regular feedback.

How our customer rocks this: Our customer is constantly optimising the feedback process. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to suggest changes without interrupting the flow of their work. And the key to that is automation, for example through tracking changes in the CAT tool (Computer Assisted Translation tool) or using a program that calculates a translation quality score.

Besides the individual feedback, our customer also regularly provides general feedback to all translators, either via a file sharing platform or in online meetings. This is ideal for discussing stylistic preferences and commonly seen errors, and to get everyone on the same page.

The value of localisation

Unfortunately, localisation has been an afterthought for some companies attempting to promote their products or services in different markets across the world. Maybe the thinking is that companies that want to go global just have to “walk the walk” (i.e. offer a product that does the job) and don’t need to “talk the talk” locally. So not everyone approaches this task with a dedicated localisation team or understands why this would be important. As a consequence of translation being considered as not very important, translators struggle with lack of context, lack of contacts and lack of feedback.

How our customer rocks this: Our customer’s localisation department really does a fantastic job. Not only are they fully aware of the importance of localisation, they have even developed their own internal strategy for promoting this as a value across the whole company. The localisation department enthusiastically coaches other departments on how successful localisation works and what the individual can do to help streamline these processes. This includes making the right decisions as to what content one actually needs to have translated, knowing which information needs to be included when submitting a translation request, and reviewing the localisation product after its completion.

Interestingly enough, the localisation department is considered to be central in the company. All departments liaise with this team in order to create a unified experience for customers in different markets across the world. The localisation department plays an important role in this company—and as a result they very successfully attract new customers through their localised content. Put two and two together and you see how important a dedicated localisation team really is.

A final thought

Translators don’t often get the chance to spend a whole week with a customer. Luckily, our customer made this decision to try something quite daring and allow us to get to know them in a completely new and more personal way. This experience was hugely beneficial to the relationship between the customer and us as translators. And I think it doesn’t stop there. We experienced a new relationship model for translators, their MLVs (multi-lingual vendors) and the companies they translate for, and can use this as a blueprint for promoting transparency and open communication channels in future relationships. I hope that by sharing my experience in this post, I was able to convey some of the real benefits of this approach to localisation.

New Smartling CAT tool

Top 5 features we love about the new Smartling CAT tool

We are getting excited! Over the coming days and weeks, Smartling will be releasing their new and improved translation interface, which promises to increase translator productivity (so you can translate faster), improve translation quality (using comprehensive QA checks) and add some serious flexibility (by allowing you to customise shortcuts to your liking).

Here are five of our favourite features that we love about the new CAT tool:

1) Draft mode (never lose your translations again)

In the new interface, strings are shown in a table format (rather than displaying strings individually). This new layout makes it possible to translate and edit without immediately having to save your translation in order to progress to the next string. This is a nice feature allowing you to draft your translation and revise it before submitting it to the translation memory. But what happens when your internet connection is bit erratic or your browser decides to close down unexpectedly? Good news: translations are automatically saved in your browser cache, so if your internet, browser or laptop decide to have a meltdown, your work won’t be lost – if you reopen your browser and log back in, your work will still be there!

2) QA check

With the new CAT tool, Smartling will be introducing a very robust Quality Assurance (QA) check which is bound to massively reduce ‘mechanical’ translation errors. For the initial launch, the QA check will cover 5 error types (spellchecker, leading and trailing spaces, double spaces, missing placeholder and missing tags) but in the coming weeks, another 30 error types will be added!

3) Concordance search

Smartling already has a great concordance search, meaning you can search for a particular word or phrase in the translation memory simply by highlighting the source text and clicking on the magnifying glass. In the new version of the CAT tool, it will be possible to insert a concordance match directly into the translation memory – a great time saver!

4) Customisable shortcuts

The entire new translation interface is ‘pimped’ with shortcuts so that you hardly have to use your mouse at all during the translation process. But for those of you who are used to working in offline CAT tools like Trados, you don’t have to worry about learning new shortcuts, you can simply select the shortcuts from the tool you are used to working with. And you can even create your own shortcuts so that you can customise your ‘workspace’ just how you like it.

5) Tags

Traditionally, Smartling used to avoid the use of tags altogether in their translation interface by splitting strings that require formatting or contain links into several segments. In the new version of the CAT tool, Smartling will instead be introducing tags similar to traditional CAT tools like Trados. If like me, your palms are getting sweaty at the mere thought of using clunky tags, fear not, because tags in Smartling are a far cry from the traditional ‘tag soup’. Just for starters, tags are automatically inserted as pairs, so if you delete one of the tags in a pair, both automatically get deleted – no more trawling through translations checking and searching for missing tags. You can use a shortcut to insert a tag and then cycle through all available tag pairs to insert the one you need. But the icing on the cake is that you can toggle between a ‘simple view’ which shows tags as numbers and a ‘code view’ which shows you what a tag actually stands for. This is particularly useful for link text. Although it was previously possible in Smartling to see the formatting behind tags in the code tab in the translation interface, the same information is now available right inside the translation field, which greatly reduces the amount of time spent flitting between different parts of the screen.

If you regularly translate on the Smartling platform, now is the time to register for one of the many webinars that Smartling are running in the run-up to their release. Learn about the new layout, features and shortcuts so you can transition smoothly from the current to the new interface when the time comes.

Read more about the new Smarling CAT tool and register for a live webinar if you haven’t already attended one.

The challenges of translating poetry

To quote Robin Williams’ brilliant character John Keating in Dead Poets Society, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race […] poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Besides being what keeps us going as a species, poetry is also one of the most intimate, subjective and creative forms of expression. As such, it is probably the most challenging type of work a translator can come across. Both form and substance are to take into account when trying to render the beauty of a poetic text.

What makes a poem so difficult to translate?

One word: metaphors. Besides having found their place in our everyday conversations, metaphors are an essential element of poetry. They can be used as a way to make ideas sound more lyrical, to communicate them without naming them, or even to make rhyming easier! But metaphors can rarely be translated literally: they either have a direct equivalent in the target language (every translator’s dream) or they don’t, and it gets more complicated. A lot of the time, metaphors from different languages call on different elements to express the same ideas: when English people complain about it raining cats and dogs, French people exclaim “il pleut des cordes!”, literally “it’s raining ropes”… (As to deciding which one makes the more sense, your guess is as good as mine). Metaphors, much like jargon or slang, take their roots in a place’s culture or history. Therefore, something like “Turkeys voting for Christmas”, expressing the idea of a metaphorical death wish, will make sense to American, British or French people, but maybe not to person from Italy, for example, where fish is the traditional Christmas dish.

Although metaphors are more common, some poets also make use of what is called conceptual synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon involving two sensory elements of our body. In practice, it can be found in formulations like “a loud-coloured shirt”, which brings an aggressive, garish colour to mind. Another way for words on paper to activate our sense of hearing is to make use of certain sounds. For example, a poet can render the noise of water by using words such as splash, splatter, spill! The study of linguistics shows that this is only one example of several groups of letters that refer to a specific sound. However, they won’t necessarily evoke the same sound in every language, and could be lost in the process of translation.

What role does the translator assume when translating poetry?

Is the translator a mere means of transfer or is he an artist himself? Should the poem be adapted to sound fluent in the target language or keep its original personality, running the risk of sounding alien to its target audience? These questions have been asked by generations of translators and don’t only apply to the translating of poetry, but to all of its forms (with the exception of technical translation).

The one advice for a translator to take from this article is to be as familiar as possible with their field of work. Practice makes perfect, and exploring not only the practical aspect of a type of translation but also its theory is a good way to deliver a translation of quality. And when translating poetry, explore the text first, what emotions it carries and which formal means are used to do so, and remember there is no perfect interpretation. As Edmund Wilson said, “no two persons ever read the same book”!

If you would like to hear more about metaphors and synesthesia, you can watch James Geary’s interested talk during a TED conference:

Translation internship at AJT

What to expect from a translation internship at AJT

When it comes to internships, one can’t help but think of “important” tasks such as making photocopies, brewing coffee or doing the grocery shopping for your manager’s in-laws (speaking from experience there…). Unfortunately this stereotype is true for some internships – but luckily it’s far from the truth for a translation internship at AJT! Here’s what you can expect to do as intern at the AJT headquarters in Newquay:

Translating and proofreading texts of all sorts, shapes and sizes

Naturally this will make up a large part of your translation internship, which is exactly what you want and need to be doing as an aspiring translator. The variety of possible translations is immense at AJT. You could be asked to translate a 2000 word terms and conditions page for a major company one day, and then translate a sweet little text about pirates on the next day (and learn all about Cornish myths and fairy tales in the process). It probably won’t surprise you to hear that translations for apps and websites are very much in demand nowadays. As translation intern at AJT, you will get the chance to explore app translation, which is a golden opportunity I would not pass up. What you will also learn as translation intern is how to work with cutting-edge translation technology such as Smartling or MemSource – which are in my opinion far and away superior to the tools I have previously worked with.

Ultimately it is up to you to decide what you want to learn. You will get the chance to have a go at various different kinds of translations, and no one will force you to translate texts beyond your capabilities. In my experience, the AJT team is happy to help with whatever questions you might have, no matter what you are translating.

Linguistic quality assurance

This is a task I was not expecting; honestly I did not even know what it was before my internship. Well I do now! Quality Assurance or in short QA is something that takes place after the actual translation. Let’s say you have translated a website, the QA would then be the equivalent to proofreading a text in context. You have to click through all the pages and buttons on the website, and check whether something needs to be changed. You could for example find that a translation needs to shortened to fit on a button, or that a translation is simply out of context. Doing a QA was definitely a valuable experience, as I had not done anything similar before and can now happily add this to my CV.

Project management, marketing translation, blog posts and whatever your heart desires

You can’t always get what you want –but at AJT you might just get exactly that! Here at AJT, you will have a say in shaping your translation internship. Interns are always encouraged to name a special area they are interested in, or a skill they would like to acquire for their future career. So whether you want to learn about project management, translate or write your own blog posts, or something entirely different – all you have to do is say the word and the AJT team will see what they can do to make it happen.

As a result of translation internships being so popular at AJT, we are already booked until January 2017. However, you are welcome to apply for an internship next year by sending an email to


creative writing for translators - tone of voice

Creative writing exercise for translators: tone of voice

Tone of voice is a big part of our translation work. In order to accurately convey our client’s message in another language, we need to understand who they are themselves, who their potential customers are and how they want to come across to those potential customers.

When working with bigger brands, we often receive a very well-defined style guide which details the tone of voice and even gives examples of ‘buyer personas’, which is very helpful for us as translators. But even without a style guide, we need to be able to look at a source text, identify the tone of voice and apply it consistently to our translations.

Tone of voice is more than just a vague notion of ‘wanting to come across friendly/sarcastic/helpful etc.’ It is about what vocabulary we use, whether we use an active or passive voice, how a piece of text is structured and much more. If you’d like to read up about tone of voice, then this article from Distilled is a good starting point.

But that’s enough theory for now, let’s get practicing. Here is our tone of voice writing exercise for translators:

Grab your notepad and pen and head to a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or hotel lounge near you. (The exercise takes roughly an hour).

Choose two of the scenarios below and describe the place you are at in around 200 words for each scenario. Write in your mother tongue.

  • Scenario 1: You are the marketing manager of XXX and you are writing this text for a brochure that will advertise XXX. Tell the reader why it’s worth coming here and what they can expect.
  • Scenario 2: You are a critic for a lifestyle magazine. You have a sarcastic tone – you might like the place, or you might hate it, it’s up to you, but describe your surroundings with sarcasm in your voice.
  • Scenario 3: You are a first time visitor at XXX and you are writing a review on TripAdvisor. You absolutely love the place, you admire the décor, the food is to die for. You want to live here. Write your review with love and admiration in your heart.
  • Scenario 4: You are a council worker and your job is to write a subjective summary of XXX. Describe the layout, the staff, the food, whatever catches your eye, but write in a neutral tone that doesn’t show any emotion or any like or dislike.

Happy writing! Let us know how it went and feel free to share your musings with us. We’d love to see what you came up with.

Interested in more creative writing exercises for translators? Check out this exercise on how to add empathy to a text, or this exercise about how to write a marketing text to a brief.


AJT at the ELIA Together 2016

ELIA Together: About growth, values and challenges in the translation industry

Last week, my colleague Sarah and I attended the ELIA Together conference in Barcelona, Spain. ELIA is the premier European language industry association and the main aim of the event was to provide a space for translation companies and freelancers to network, exchange ideas and discuss industry-specific challenges.

From freelancers to large translation companies to translation technology providers, the event was well attended with over 350 participants from 39 countries.

I had been invited to speak on the panel “The growth from freelancer to translation company and beyond: a language business roadmap”. My own presentation focussed on the strong values we set for our company (being ethical, being boutique, being sustainable) and the particular challenges these values pose for us in terms of growing our own company:

Heidi Kerschl, a technical English to German translator, shared her experiences of making the jump from freelance translator to becoming a director of a translation company – and coming full circle to become a translator once more, the job she realised she enjoys the most. Her advice was to truly listen to your inner voice and do what YOU want to do: there is no predetermined path that you have to take within the language industry.

Anna Pietruszka, COO of technology provider XTRF, discussed the different set up and skills needed when comparing the freelance profession to running a translation business, and she urged translators who are considering to take that step to start by carefully analysing their service offering, their value proposition and above all, their own personal strengths and weaknesses.

Anne-Marie Colliander-Lind, owner of business consultancy Inkrease, advised freelancers to set themselves SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) and to build up the right kind of ‘tribe’ around them on their journey from freelancer to business owner – people who will love and support, but also challenge them.

The audience was really engaged and asked some poignant questions, in particular about how translation students can acquire the necessary business acumen to either become successful freelancers, or start their own company. There seemed to be a general consensus that business administration should play a bigger part in university studies. The translation industry is quite unique in the sense that as soon as students graduate, they are ‘thrown in at the deep end’ starting as freelancers; so they don’t just need to be competent translators from the outset, they need to be competent business people, too. There just aren’t that many in-house positions available where budding translators can hone their translation skills while learning crucial business skills in an employed position.

From information about how to set up as a freelancer to what’s involved in a tax return or how and when to register for VAT, it seems that up and coming freelance translators could really do with a helping hand – whether that’s through universities, translation associations or government-led business advice.

I was really surprised (and so happy!) to speak to many freelance translators and fellow translation companies over the course of the conference, who identified with our own values about keeping a tight control on quality, but who also face similar challenges whether to make the jump to employ people, whether that’s additional translators, or maybe a business development professional to help grow the company and drive sales.

Perhaps there is some synergy here that everyone could benefit from. If young translators desperately need practical business advice and real life translation experience to add to their CVs, then this could be a huge opportunity for smaller translation companies to take on translation interns (internships generally last from six weeks to three months), or even offer fully paid short term contracts to new graduates. For the businesses, it could be a great way to ‘test the water’ and see how it feels to have another person in your team, and whether you can make it work financially. For newly graduated translators, it would be a fantastic opportunity to gain experience and learn from professionals in the industry.

If you think that could be a path you want to take, you could get in touch with universities who offer language degrees and add your company to the list of translation agencies that offer internships to students. If you are looking for German students, do get in touch with us, we have done the research already and can tell you the universities that offer translation degrees in Germany ;).

After a couple of days of speaking to our translation peers, our synapses were truly firing, and we left the conference all ‘pumped’ – safe in the knowledge that there are many other similarly sized translation companies out there who strive for the same things: great quality translation combined with outstanding service, good relationships with their freelancers and a sustainable business, whether it’s maintaining the status quo or growing the company.

In a chat with Gertraud Rieger from LRS, who specialise in Eastern European languages, we talked about how smaller LSPs could potentially collaborate in order to help their customers with languages they don’t provide themselves, without losing the client or control over quality … something that we’d definitely like to explore in more detail.

Finally, I just wanted to say a big thank you to the other speakers, the audience and everyone who came to speak to myself and Sarah during ELIA, it was a huge pleasure to meet you all. We hope to attend similar events in the future and keep the conversation going.

Marketing translation: Translating calls to action

Translating calls to action: 3 tips for English to German marketing translation

English is such a wonderfully ‘bendy’ language that allows for all sorts of sentence structures, repurposes words for new meanings and turns adjectives into nouns at the drop of a hat (‘I had 3 new likes on Facebook today!’). Unfortunately, German isn’t quite so flexible, owing to its more complex grammatical structure. So when we translate marketing content, we have to be especially careful not to fall into the trap of translating too directly. In this blog article, we will take a look at one of the most important parts of marketing content: the call to action.

‘Filler’ verbs in imperatives

One thing you might have noticed is that English marketing texts are often jam-packed with sentences that start with a verb that serves as a call to action (subscribe today, explore our collection, join our community etc.). These imperative structures have one aim: to encourage the reader to take an action. In English, this is an effective way of writing and engaging the reader. However, you might find that this style sometimes doesn’t translate particularly well into German. Why is that?

Well, one of the reasons is that English writers often use words like get, see, learn, use, discover etc. in these constructions. I like to think of these as words that are added in front of a declarative sentence to make it sound more engaging.

Take a look at these examples:

  • See how we protect your valuable media assets. > We protect your valuable media assets
  • Learn how to manage your profile > How to manage your profile
  • Discover the optional add-ons that we offer > We offer optional add-ons

In essence, these verbs are empty ‘filler’ words, and translating them directly into German can sound clumsy. So what can we do? Start by taking out this first verb, boil down the sentence to its essential meaning – and then reconstruct it in German in a way that makes more sense to German readers. It takes a little bit longer to translate it this way, but you end up with a much more eloquent translation. And after a while, you will spot these filler words a mile off and know how to best translate them.

Imperatives with ‘passive’ verbs

Another common translation problem arises when ‘passive’ verbs are used in an imperative call-to-action construction. Take a look at the following example, a fairly typical call to action:

“Receive the latest news directly in your inbox – simply sign up to our newsletter”

If you think about it, to ‘receive’ is not really something that a person can actively do or influence, it just sort of happens to them. So when you translate ‘receive the latest news’ directly into German (‘Erhalten Sie die neuesten Nachrichten’), it sounds a little off. There are various different ways to get around this problem:

  • You could change the sentence structure around to avoid putting the passive verb at the beginning of the sentence: ‘Melden Sie sich jetzt für unseren Newsletter an, um immer die neuesten Nachrichten direkt in Ihrem Posteingang zu erhalten’
  • You could use a synonymous verb that is more active, e.g. ‘Sichern Sie sich die neuesten Nachrichten in Ihrem Posteingang – abonnieren Sie einfach unseren Newsletter’
  • You could leave the passive verb out completely: ‘Die neuesten Nachrichten direkt in Ihrem Posteingang – abonnieren Sie einfach unseren Newsletter’

Calls to action with ‘to’

Another example of a call to action where a direct translation might not sound great is the construction ‘X to Y’, for example, ‘Sign up now to enjoy full access to all our features’. You can of course translate this literally as ‘Melden Sie sich an, um Zugriff auf alle unsere Funktionen zu genießen’. However, keep in mind that calls to action should be short and snappy, ideally short enough so you don’t need to use a comma! Here are a few options you can try:

  • Use the infinitive form combined with ‘and’ rather than ‘to’: Jetzt anmelden und vollen Zugriff auf alle unsere Funktionen genießen.
  • Turn it into question: Möchten Sie vollen Zugriff auf unsere Funktionen genießen? Dann melden Sie sich jetzt an.

Want to know more about marketing translation? We are planning a whole series of blogs on this topic, but for now, why not check out our blog article on 5 copywriting tips for translators –  you see, that was another call to action 😉

What makes an excellent translator

What makes an excellent freelance translator? 5 traits that translation agencies look for

Starting out as a freelance translator can be tough. It’s hard enough trying to land your first translation job without much experience (everyone wants experienced translators but how can you get experience in the first place?). And once you HAVE got that first translation project, how do you retain that customer so they turn into repeat business – especially when translation agencies seem to have an ocean of qualified translators to chose from?

In this article, I want to give you a little insight into how we as a translation company work with freelance translators, and show you that there’s more to an excellent freelance translator than just translation quality.

Translation quality

It goes without saying that this is THE most important aspect of being a translator. If you cannot deliver translations that meet your customers’ quality standards, you won’t be able to retain them for long. We often get asked if we have certain qualification criteria for hiring freelance translators. On the whole, our translators hold Masters degrees in translation. But let me say this: not everyone who has a Masters degree is necessarily a good translator. And not everyone who doesn’t have a Masters degree is necessarily under-qualified. There are a lot of different opinions about this subject, and it also depends on the type of translation you provide (for legal and medical translation you will most likely need a specialised degree to do a great job), but certainly for marketing translation, the field we specialise in, the most important thing is creativity and a flair for language. There are certain things you can learn and practice during a translation degree, but you need creative talent in order to translate marketing texts well. Not all our freelance translators have a translation degree, some come from a journalistic background, others from a creative writing background, others again from a pure marketing background. It’s important to find your particular area of speciality and become an expert in this field.


Reliability is just as important as quality. Even the most eloquent, fastest or even the most competitively priced translator will find it hard to retain clients for the long-term if he or she consistently delivers late. As a translation company, we expect our freelance translators to deliver the project at the time we agreed together. We trust them to do so, and this trust is based on experience with working with the same translators over long periods of times. You can probably imagine how disruptive it can be if a translator delivers late. The client receives the translation late and this can have a huge knock-on effect, from delayed marketing campaign launches to delaying production runs. If a translator repeatedly delivers late (and by repeatedly, I mean twice, that’s really all it takes), we tend to grow a bit weary and offer new projects to other, more reliable translators.

If your translation schedule is always crammed full then this leaves no room for life’s little curveballs.

Part of making sure this doesn’t happen is to agree realistic deadlines in the first place, ideally with a little buffer in case there are any delays. We are all human after all. Maybe we just need a little longer to translate a particular job that day, or we get a call from another client that takes about an hour longer than expected, or maybe one of our children has fallen ill and we need to pick them up from nursery. These are all fairly typical examples of everyday translation life.

But even with the best planning skills on the planet, you might still find yourself in a situation where you have to deliver a project late, so what to do? It’s all about communicating clearly and being proactive, which brings me neatly to the next point.

Communication skills

Being able to communicate effectively is another important part of being a stellar translator. It makes working together so much smoother and saves a lot of time at both ends, too.

Especially in situations where time is of the essence, being proactive can save the day. If you realise that ‘there’s trouble ahead’ meeting a deadline, get in touch with your project manager straight away – don’t wait until the deadline has passed and you are starting to receive panicked emails where the files are that you should have delivered an hour ago. The same goes for any questions you might have about the project, whether that’s about tone of voice, product information or terminology: don’t wait until you have delivered to project to ask these questions.

In a nutshell, good translators think ahead, pre-empting problems and managing the expectations of their translation clients. Don’t leave your translation clients guessing. Confirm deadlines, send updates, ask for clarification and offer reassurances.

Ability to deal with feedback

This is a tricky subject. Translation quality, and whether a translation is beautiful, can be quite a subjective thing. Receiving feedback on your translation work is part and parcel of your daily life as a translator. It’s important to be able to look at feedback as objectively as you can (even though that might be hard since it’s YOUR work, so how can it not be personal, right?). Try to bear in mind that every client might have different ideas about what a perfect translation will look like, and part of your job is to learn from the feedback and adapt your style to each particular client in your future translations.

We like working with translators who take our feedback to heart, ask questions if anything needs to be clarified and then incorporate that feedback into their next translation. We find it difficult working with translators who won’t accept feedback or become argumentative. Having said that, it’s important for both the translator and the agency to handle feedback professionally and courteously.


The last quality that I really think is important is attitude. Here at AJT, we are very privileged to have a fantastic team of freelance translators. Besides being motivated, courteous and reliable, they all have one thing in common: a positive attitude towards life, their own career and their relationship with us as the translation company. It may not seem that obvious, but when you join a translation company as a freelancer, you become part of a team, and the way you interact with people on a daily basis has a big impact, just the same as if you were working in an office together. We love working with people, and naturally, we tend to gravitate towards people who emanate positivity. It’s infectious. That’s not to say that we are all a happy clapping bunch of translators skipping to work every morning, but there is an overall feeling of positive energy, whether that’s genuine excitement about the clients we translate for or towards solving problems together (rather than succumbing to a blame culture).

Being an excellent freelance translator really is more than just delivering a good translation: it’s about interpersonal and communication skills, it’s about effectively managing your time and about building strong, long-lasting relationships with your translation clients. If you are about to embark on your translation career, you might be interested in our blog 5 cardinal sins that will land your translator CV in the bin.

Creative writing for translators: adding empathy to a text

Last week we looked at writing to a brief – how we can write in a particular way to influence how the reader thinks or feels. The way we do this is by adapting our tone of voice. In this week’s creative hour we will adapt the tone of voice of an existing piece of text. You could do this exercise with any kind of text in your specific mother tongue, but here is a brief to get you started:

Read this article about Chinese actress Angelababy published on the BBC website yesterday:

You might feel a lot of different things reading this article for the first time. I sort of swayed between feeling somewhat sympathetic for the actress (not because of her court case, but her husband’s bizarre comments to ‘defend her’) and feeling cynical about a world where people get a court-ordered prodding to prove their face is genuinely their face. Watching the YouTube video below is not required, but provides a bit of extra context:

Your particular brief today is to add empathy to the article. You want the reader to feel empathetic towards the actress, to sympathise with her story and her point of view. Your standpoint is that the actress is the victim in all this, she has been unjustly accused of having plastic surgery, when she clearly hasn’t. Don’t change the actual facts of the story. Before you get started, you might want to read this short article about the difference between being empathetic, sympathetic and sentimental.

Have fun writing! Want to share your musings with us? Feel free to send us your creations. We’ll pick the best ones and publish them on this blog post with a link to your translator profile.

Happy creative Friday afternoon!