Kennedy's Word: Blog

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Adaptability is key

posted 11 Jun 2021, 02:36 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 11 Jun 2021, 02:37 ]

It's pretty clear that many professional linguists have struggled during the pandemic. Adapting to the new situation has been vital. Translators, interpreters and other LSPs have had to adjust their business strategies in order to survive, whether that means working for online interpreting services, dropping on-site interpreting altogether and focusing solely on translation, taking time out to learn new skills or develop new business lines (such as producing and delivering training webinars), or simply adjusting personal lifestyles in order to spend less money while waiting for the upturn. 

This is nothing new - everybody knows the phrase "adapt or die". But change isn't always fun. The most successful businesses don't complain about changing conditions - they simply identify new opportunities, and take steps to benefit from them. We're not always the best at adapting to change in our sector, but now's the time to grasp the nettle, take that opportunity, and set yourself up for the future. You don't have to do anything complex, and as I say your adaptation strategy may simply consist of adapting your lifestyle to fit your reduced income while waiting for things to get back to normal. That's a valid approach too. But whatever you do, don't forget that you have valuable expertise that society needs. Keep your head up, and your service quality high, keep thinking of new ways to do things, and we can get through this as a profession.

Tactics for coping with the Coronavirus slump?

posted 16 Mar 2020, 12:11 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 16 Mar 2020, 12:13 ]

I have just returned from a truncated interpreting assignment in France, via a last-minute ferry booking, a dash to the harbour terminal at Dieppe, and a thankfully calm evening crossing to Newhaven. That adventure was followed by an overnight hotel stay in Brighton, and a train journey home via London the next day.
Interpreting and other language services assignments are being cancelled all around as we speak. So what do we do now? Here a few quick tips to help translators and interpreters to occupy their time usefully, and preserve their mental health (although obviously I am not in a position to provide medical advice) for as long as the slump continues:

- Develop your translation and interpreting skills: now's the time to do that online CPD you've been thinking about.
- Update your website. Or create a new website.
- Improve your subject expertise (there's no substitute for reading around the subject and getting to know about it - and no excuse not to do it).
- Think about the continuous improvement process (using the Plan, Do, Check, Act model). What could you improve, and how would you go about it? Keep it simple, but make sure you write it down.
- Write a blog. Better still, write a regular blog. It can help improve your writing skills.
- Think about how you could diversify, but tailor your thinking around diversification to the current conditions. Could you do more translation/online training/copywriting/blogging/social media influencing/teaching/novel-writing/exam marking...?
- Look at cutting costs out of your operation (and, if necessary, your personal life) until things improve.
- Stay in touch with customers. It really does help. But don't bombard them with needy emails.
- Think about how you could be more involved with professional bodies (CIoL, ITI, etc.). Be a mentor, join a committee, write an article, organise an online event.
- On a large sheet of paper, draw a map of your network, with all of the organisations and people you know professionally, and think about how you could form better and more useful relationships with them.
- Think about your relationships outside the Translation/Interpreting sector - could you be talking to more people in your specialist field (via LinkedIn, for example)?
- Think about how you could develop your "soft" skills (leadership, interpersonal skills, teamworking). 
- See if anybody in any of your networks or communities needs help or support with anything. 
- Remember that solidarity, community, cooperation, partnership and mutual support are always better for people and for society than segregation, separation, isolation, exclusion and individualism. Always. And that is more true than ever now.

All the best, stay safe, hope to be back to something approximating normality some time soon.

Pressure on rates continues - the Blog post

posted 24 Jul 2019, 03:55 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 24 Jul 2019, 05:09 ]

At the time of writing, my standard rates for translation and interpreting, normally considered quite high for the UK market, have remained relatively static for a couple of years. Rates for some EU clients have even fallen slightly due to pressure from company purchasing departments, while, at the same time, UK rates have increased. There is some survey evidence from the past couple of years that there is a degree of optimism regarding rates in the UK market. See for example:

Anecdotal evidence from colleagues paints a relatively negative picture. My own experience is that translation rates in the UK have increased in the past two years, bringing them closer to European levels. However, I find that there is some downward pressure on translation and interpreting rates in Europe, particularly among corporate companies. It will be interesting to see what effect Brexit has on this situation.

Companies involved in the manufacturing and service sectors traditionally make cost savings by investing in greater automation, or streamlining their organisations, or cutting production and overhead costs in some other way. For translators and interpreters operating in a conventional freelance configuration, those options are only available to a limited extent. So what do we do to combat the situation of stagnating or falling rates? For what it's worth (more expert brains than mine have written extensively about maximising income, of course), here are my current short-term tactics, many of them pretty obvious (this information is provided for indicative purposes only, based on personal experience). Some points relate to translation and interpreting, some are specific to one discipline.

- Imagine you are a manufacturing or service company, and look at the options mentioned above: can I automate anything to save time and increase productivity (TM software, voice dictation software, accounting software)? Can I streamline my organisation? (Not much scope for this - but you might be able to reduce the time you spend driving to meet your accountant, for example, or reduce the amount of time you spend on invoicing). Can I cut production and overhead costs? (This area offers the greatest potential - cut out any spurious and unnecessary costs, which you probably already know about, and look at ways of sourcing things like printer cartridges, IT support, electricity, etc. more cheaply. See also below for related suggestions).

- Focus on higher-value customers. It's not rocket science. You may have a local customer who pays less but is friendly. Think about whether it is really worth prioritising them over a higher-paying but more demanding overseas client who takes you outside your comfort zone.

- Challenge yourself to produce higher volumes of translation without a significant drop in quality - it can be done. You will surprise yourself. 

- Ascertain the purpose of a translation, and determine precisely what level of quality (and quality assurance) the customer wants. This can help you work faster if the customer specifies that the translation is for internal information purposes, and not for publication in a specialist journal, for example. At the micro level of individual translation choices, it can make the difference between five minutes spent wrestling with a sentence, or researching a term or expression, and using a perfectly acceptable substitute that is available instantly. Multiply that by the number of times such a situation occurs per thousand words, and you can work faster - provided the customer specification allows it, of course.

- Focus on your areas of specialisation, so that subject research requirements are minimised, and output is maximised. To do this, you need to develop a specialisation in the first place, of course. But one of the goals of specialising is to reduce the time it takes to translate texts on a given subject, so that you can be more productive.

- Set clear financial goals, and work towards them. Having this kind of focus means that you are more likely to tailor your output to your targets.

- As my brother puts it, "Top line vanity, bottom line sanity" - in other words, it doesn't matter what your gross sales figures are. It's profit that counts in terms of the health of your business.

- To achieve this, you have to minimise your overheads to maximise profit. Sounds simple, no? What I'm thinking about specifically here is making sure that your spending on CPD and marketing is optimised (or even minimised), and utilised as effectively as possible. Try and incorporate CPD into your work in a way that minimises expense, and maximises effectiveness. When you are on an interpreting assignment, try and obtain information, or even training, from customers as part of the job, so that you don't spend any money, and you do a better job for the customer, this time and next time. Or ask for information/training from a translation customer about a particular technical field, and try to turn that into a development opportunity by specialising in that area. Marketing expenses, too, need to be targeted as effectively as possible: do you really need to spend the money? How will you target the spend, and follow it up with further action, to turn it into concrete business? Too much of our marketing as translators and interpreters tends to be fluffy, untargeted, and simply a means of "putting ourselves out there". Try and move away from this by aiming for specific, measurable, realistic goals with your marketing, so that you are always focused on the business it will bring you. If it's not aimed at bringing in business, don't spend the money.

- Arrive at a sensible compromise between flexibility, wise investment, and sticking to your principles. For example, if a customer requires you to invest in a specific translation memory software package, calculate the amount of business you have received, and expect to receive, from the customer, and work out whether the spend is justified. Don't dismiss expenditure out of hand if it actually represents an investment that will boost your business. And don't dismiss customers out of hand if they ask you to jump through hoops in order to work for them. They may turn into important, and profitable, clients once you have completed the steps that they require.

- Some business is bad business: don't commit to large volumes of work from a low-paying and/or late-paying customer if other potential sources of higher and/or more reliable income are available.

- You can, of course, work with customers to help them understand and appreciate the value of what you are doing, so that they accept higher rates. My experience is that this is very difficult in the current climate.

- Lastly, don't be afraid to think about maximising revenues and profit in this way, or in any other way that does not infringe you professional code(s) of conduct. Many of us are scared to talk about our business in these terms. We shouldn't be.

Staying focused on the underlying issues

posted 24 Jul 2019, 01:41 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 24 Jul 2019, 01:43 ]

There is no shortage of opinion and comment about the position of translation and interpreting in a post-Brexit universe. Here are a few examples:

It strikes me that, as the man said, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. There will be a period of huge uncertainty for businesses working with, and in, EU countries. There will be a period of churn in terms of our access to the EU market. Nobody knows how long this will last. Some businesses may struggle, or fail, as a result. But once we have made it through to the other side, to a situation in which we are able to trade under stable conditions with EU countries - and this will happen, eventually - the fundamental issues facing language professionals, such as recognition, working conditions, rates of pay, regulation, professional development, qualifications, etc., will not have gone away. If anything, they will have become even more urgent. So we need to maintain our focus on these issues throughout the current period of uncertainty, so that we are ready to face whatever the future holds.

The Power... and the trepidation

posted 12 Nov 2018, 04:07 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 12 Nov 2018, 04:22 ]

It was great to visit the Language Show at Olympia last Friday, and rub shoulders with eminent linguists, language professionals and language enthusiasts from around the world, as well as professionals from related fields. 

There were some particularly powerful comments about the importance of languages in a post-Brexit universe. And plenty of discussion about the genuine unknowns for so many of us. It would have been nice to have had some policymakers present to listen to linguists' views.

It's up to all of us to work with representative and professional bodies to secure a sustainable future for languages and linguists, with full access to markets wherever possible.

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It's all about teamwork - and there's no "i" in commitment...

posted 25 Oct 2017, 10:12 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 7 Nov 2017, 02:01 ]

OK, so there is an "i" in commitment. I was just quoting the great Count Arthur Strong to get your attention. 

Teamwork, however, can be a genuinely challenging issue for interpreters who are used to working alone or in pairs, and who tend, in general, to be highly educated professionals with firm ideas about their capabilities and status (I put my hands up to that one, as they say in football). So when it comes to working in a team, often with colleagues who would otherwise be competitors, some interpreters find it difficult. 

Having one's work observed, critiqued or even corrected by a peer or senior colleague when working in a larger team is the first major obstacle. Some interpreters hate being observed by anybody other than a single booth-mate or working partner. This may appear paradoxical, given that we are always performing before an audience of some kind. An audience of non-interpreters, however, will respond very differently from somebody who specializes in managing and evaluating interpreter performance. Unfortunately there's no way around this for any professional who is generally committed to improving their performance - you just have to do your best, suck it up, listen to the feedback, and act on it so you can improve in the future. You also have to manage the stress of being observed and evaluated, but that sounds like a different post altogether.

Another area where interpreters sometimes have difficulty working as a team relates to their instinct for self-preservation and self-protection. When working alone or in a pair, one has only oneself and/or one other person to look out for. Working in a team of, say, fifteen interpreters as part of a nuclear plant safety review changes this particular ball game completely: I work with my buddy, whom I know and respect, all day long, so I will certainly help them out in a crisis. But how far am I prepared to put myself out to support every single colleague in the team? Am I so terrified of being forced outside my comfort zone that I always hide when extra duties are on offer? Are there some people whom I can't stand, or whose competition I fear, to the extent that I would drop them in it (for example by omitting to help them out with terminology, or by not stepping up to help them in a difficult situation in the field, or by finding an excuse to have them replace me for a stressful meeting)? Sometimes, unfortunately, if we are being honest, the answer to any or all of these questions is "Yes". It's hard to put yourself out for everyone, when you may not even know them that well, and it may sometimes be tempting to keep your head (and your hands) down when you know you could volunteer to help a colleague out.

For better or worse, however, helping colleagues out and working effectively in a team is part of what being a professional is all about. Every single colleague should be on the lookout for ways they can help out the team, and support the overall smooth running of the assignment. I wouldn't expect people to go beyond their capabilities - that's also an important part of being a professional, after all - but I would expect everyone to pull together, which may on occasion involve stepping outside their comfort zone (which can also be useful in terms of professional development). I certainly wouldn't be impressed if someone were to deliberately swap out of a meeting on a fabricated excuse, forcing a colleague to do their work for them. I can't think of many such egregious examples of this kind of "easy ride" culture. But I can certainly think of a few.

So next time the opportunity arises to show your commitment to the team (regardless of whether there's an "i" in the word or not), be a professional, and take it. It may be an enriching experience in professional terms, and in any case helping out a team mate (and your team leader) should bring you a warm glow of satisfaction. It will certainly stop me grumbling at you about it.

See below for a blatant example of one person propping up an entire team...

Reflecting on performance, and addressing areas for improvement: there's simply no excuse for professional interpreters not to do it

posted 13 Feb 2017, 05:44 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 13 Feb 2017, 05:46 ]

At the end of a recent interpreting assignment, I overheard a customer mention that he was going to write a report for himself when he got home, covering what he did well during his technical mission at a power station, and the areas in which he could improve his performance. This is the kind of thing that most, if not all, interpreters do quite naturally during and after every job: we automatically make notes to update our skills and knowledge every time we encounter a difficulty when interpreting.

For professional linguists, however, there really is no excuse not to reflect on one's performance on a more formalized basis: noting down areas for improvement, and developing a plan to address them, is the only way to be sure that we won't encounter the same problem again.

It may be as simple as not knowing a technical term. That's easily remedied, and you don't need a formal plan to help you search for a word and add it to your personal glossaries. More complex and systemic issues, however, require deeper reflection. For example, if you find your performance deteriorating because you are tired at the end of the day, or if you really struggle in a particular technical field (such as steam turbines, to pluck something out of the air), or your note-taking skills don't allow you to deliver TL segments as comprehensively and precisely as you would like in a pressurized situation, or if you find yourself reluctant (or even unable) to deliver long segments in front of a large audience, you should be having a serious think about how and why these issues arise, and what you can do to address them.

Once you've written down some areas for improvement (and I don't know of any interpreters who can genuinely say their performance couldn't be improved), you need to work out a plan for addressing them. I was once told by a nuclear industry manager that every action plan needs to consist of actions, resources, objectives, a person responsible for each action, and a schedule.

You can apply that simple model to improving your performance as an interpreter (let's assume that you are the person responsible for each action):
- once you have decided upon your areas for improvement (for example, note-taking), identify the actions that you need to take to address the problem (for example, asking colleagues for advice, attending a note-taking workshop, reading textbooks, practising techniques);
- decide what resources you need (this will probably be in terms of time and money - you might decide to spend two days on these actions, and you might assign a budget of £200 to travel to and attend a workshop, and/or to buy a textbook. You will also need to take into account the money you won't be earning while you are taking these actions);
- identify objectives that will help you tell whether the problem has been resolved (improved precision and comprehensiveness of segments; improved comfort when interpreting; improved legibility of notes; better feedback from the customer - make them as concrete as possible); 
- determine a target date for taking those actions (in time for your next assignment, or within two months, or in time for a specific assignment that requires top-notch note-taking in a particularly pressurized situation or environment).

You don't have to construct a huge administrative machine: keep it as simple as possible, but write it down: it really does make the actions you decide to take much more effective.

It's all about getting the basics right, as they say in football

posted 21 Sept 2016, 04:50 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 21 Sept 2016, 04:54 ]

Anybody who takes part in any activity requiring skill knows that it is only when you get the basics right in terms of preparation, equipment, and technique that you can start to perform to the best of your ability, and think about improving your performance.

For interpreters, this means getting all of the following things right (any or all of these might provide material for a future blog entry):
- preparation: make sure you've had enough sleep, you've had breakfast, you've had coffee, you have a bottle of water, you tablet is charged, you have your notebook and two pens, you have your glossary, you have read the relevant documentation, you have caught the right train... it's a pretty long list, now I come to think of it
- equipment: most of this has already been mentioned under preparation, but it may include specific items like personal protective equipment (PPEs), depending on the environment in which you are working
- technique: you must make sure that you have completed sufficient initial training, practice and CPD to ensure that your language and interpreting skills are up to date, and you should reflect on areas for improvement as well as specific performance errors in recent assignments.

Once all of these things are in place, the real work starts. But until they are in place, the work can't start. So don't let any one of these elements bring you down - it might be as simple as forgetting a notebook, or having too much wine the night before, but such issues can impact your performance, and might mean that you mess up a crucial segment, or cause a misunderstanding for your clients. So, to make sure you delight the customer, and you get the job next time, get all the basics right!

Watch out for further blogs with more detailed anecdotes on this issue (like the time I forgot my notebook and had to cut off somebody in full flow in order to keep the segment manageable. The person then got cross because they couldn't get back into the conversation. Exciting stuff.).

The Flexibility Debate

posted 19 Sept 2016, 02:39 by Kennedy Paver   [ updated 19 Sept 2016, 03:35 ]

I have had this argument with translators (and, to a lesser extent, with interpreters) in the past: should translators be able to cope with a text in any subject field, given the opportunities for research that are available now? Sticking to what you know is a pretty sensible rule of thumb, but making the most of new opportunities is also important for any business. I tend towards the "flexibility" side of the argument (I think that translators should be a bit like journalists in this respect), with the pretty obvious caveat that you shouldn't translate anything that is genuinely beyond your capabilities. I have been lambasted for this view in public by prominent individuals in the past. But I'm recovering quite nicely, thanks for asking.

Interpreters tend to take a slightly different view. Given the structure of the interpreting market, in which few interpreters have a sufficiently large quantity of work to be able to stick to one specialist sector (I, and some of my colleagues, are an exception to this rule, but that's another story), they often have no choice but to take assignments in a huge variety of fields, and then spend a big chunk of time on preparation (reading technical documentation, compiling glossaries, etc.). In fact, this need for flexibility and adaptability is viewed as an attractive component of the profession by many interpreters, and the ability to prepare effectively so that you can cope with more or less any subject is certainly a key skill in the eyes of employers.

Given that flexibility is clearly not an issue for most interpreters, where should the balance lie for translators in terms of flexibility? I believe that it's mainly a commercial issue: research takes time, and time is money (even if you are quoting prices based on word count), so the more familiar you are with the text type and content, the less research you have to do, and the more money you will make. However, if branching out into a new field is likely to bring commercial opportunities, then it's certainly worth thinking about. And remember that the time required for research will fall as you become more familiar with your new field. 

I'm bracing myself for another public shouting-down, because I know this is not a particularly popular view. But I'll try not to bend to other people's opinions, however personally flexible I may (or may not) be...

The simple way to find out about CPD for the freelance interpreter: talk to your colleagues when you get the chance

posted 19 Sept 2016, 01:42 by Kennedy Paver

I was recently reminded how easy it can be to pick up CPD tips and opportunities from colleagues. Freelance interpreters often work together in small teams for conference or on-site work, and rubbing shoulders with different individuals provides the ideal opportunity to swap ideas and insights about techniques than can help us to learn and develop. I find that younger colleagues often come up with the simplest and most effective ideas, such as webinars, podcasts, etc. - although obviously this isn't a hard and fast rule!
So next time you're working in a team with a new colleague, or somebody you haven't seen for a while, or even somebody you're a bit tired of working with (come on, we all know this happens), take the opportunity to tap into their experience, and ask what they do to maintain their skills, or to learn new ones. It's so easy, and it can open up unexpected new vistas (merci, Géraldine).

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