Welcome / Bienvenue / Benvinguts / Bienvenidos
For information about my translation services, please visit the main site.
Pour des informations sur mes services, merci de regarder le site principal.
Para información sobre mis servicios de traducción, visite el web principal.

Reaching new, expanding markets through translation

Oshikango and El Pertús

Oshikango is a town on the opposite side of the country to my home in Oranjemund. When I first visited Oshikango, situated on the border with Angola, I couldn’t help but be reminded of El Pertús, a small town straddling the French-Spanish border in Catalonia. There are many parallels between the two.

As you approach El Pertús, you see a notable increase in the use of French, rather than Catalan or Spanish, on the signs of local businesses, the economy by the border being very much geared towards those living in France who venture south in search of cheaper goods. In bygone years there would have been no change in language as you headed into the old county of Rosselló, but centuries of language assimilation policies in France have depleted the use of the Catalan language north of the border, where it now has only a small presence, mainly in rural areas and among Perpignan’s gypsy community. The most obvious sign of the region’s Catalan roots is found on the letterboxes of houses, where you’re more likely to see names like Pujol and Ferrer than Dupont, albeit sometimes in a Gallicized form (e.g. Poujol).

The situation is very similar on the Namibian-Angolan border. To the south, the people speak the autochthonous Ovambo language, known as Oshiwambo by the locals, using the Oshikwanyama dialect; like in Catalonia, to the north of the border live a people with the same surnames, separated from their families by an aleatory line drawn on a map by a distant government, who, for the most part, have now abandoned their mother tongue and replaced it with a major international language, in their case Portuguese.

Like in El Pertús, the signs erected by businesses in Oshikango are in what is now the predominant language spoken north of the border, i.e. Portuguese, rather than in English and Ovambo, because so many people cross over from the north to buy cheaper goods.

Border checks

Of course, there are also some striking differences between El Pertús and Oshikango. First, the border in El Pertús is much more porous. The shops and restaurants, though situated in Spain, lie north of the checkpoint, which since the Schengen agreement is rarely manned anyway. The actual border runs along the kerbside of the main road through most of the town centre, which means that although the main road is entirely in France, the pavement and the shops and restaurants on the east side of the road are in Spain.

Namibians and Angolans can cross each other’s borders without obtaining a visa (neither my British nor my Irish passport allows me to enter Angola without a visa), but they must still pass through a border checkpoint and fill in lengthy forms. Once you’ve cleared the checkpoint, as you drive across the border you might notice a car driving straight towards you. That’s because as you drive on the left, approaching traffic from Angola will be driving on the right! You must pick the right moment to switch to the other side. A far cry from the motorway border overlooking El Pertús, where traffic crosses from one country to another while driving at 120 km/h.

Another major difference is the type of people crossing. In El Pertús, you’ll find families and pensioners popping over for a paella, or perhaps a working-class man coming down from Perpignan for cheaper cigarettes and beer. In Oshikango, you’re more likely to find people running small businesses coming over to buy stock from the wholesalers that abound in the Namibian town. Many come by bicycle, and it’s quite amazing just how much weight they can stack on their pushbikes. I use the word “pushbike”, rather than “bicycle”, to describe the return trip because they are pushbikes in the literal sense: the Angolans carry so much stuff that they must push the bikes back over the border with their hands.

Good translations for a new market

Like in Spanish Catalonia, Namibian businesses have tapped into the market created by those who venture across the border from the north. As mentioned earlier, monolingual Portuguese signs abound in Oshikango. But head further south into larger towns like Ondangwa and Oshakati, and the Portuguese language is still omnipresent, albeit often appearing alongside English or Ovambo. Even 800 km away in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, there are still many signs in Portuguese. Unlike in Oshikango, however, the Angolans who travel to other parts of Namibia are not small business owners stocking up on cheap goods, but wealthier Angolans travelling for business, leisure, shopping, education or medical treatment.

Namibians are aware of the Angolans’ purchasing power, which is why so many businesses translate their content into Portuguese. And unlike in Catalonia, where poor French and English translations abound, Namibian businesses seem to be producing very good Portuguese translations.

Olá Namibia

One noteworthy example of good translation practice is Olá Namibia. Produced by Sandgrouse Publications, this free annual booklet is funded by advertisements placed by Namibian businesses, mainly Windhoek-based. Almost all the adverts are only in Portuguese. The magazine publishers organize the Portuguese translations, sending the English texts supplied by the advertisers to qualified translators in Portugal.

The companies advertising in the booklet have clearly spent a lot of money on graphic design. It would have been a real shame had they compromised on the quality of the translated text, as so many companies in Europe do. If graphic designers produce poor-quality images for adverts, it adversely affects the image that the company seeks to portray.

The exact same thing happens with the text. Advertisers can spend large sums of money on producing good-quality texts, but those efforts are wasted if those texts are poorly translated.

Sandgrouse Publications can be very proud of the excellent quality translations they provide for their clients, who are thus able to portray a professional image to the wealthy, demanding customers who come from Angola. Other publications and advertisers would do well to follow their example.


APTRAD conference in Portugal


In June, I attended the first conference organized by the Portuguese translation association APTRAD. They pulled out all the stops and attracted a line-up that included some of the biggest names in translation circles: Marta Stelmaszak (who eventually couldn’t make it, but provided a video talk), Michael Farrell, Andrew Morris, Tess Whitty, and Chris Durban.

As one might expect from an organization’s first conference, there were a few teething issues, especially technical problems. The organizers would do well to make sure they have a sound technician on site at future conferences, as there were various problems with sound, which were not helped by the venue’s atrocious acoustics. I’d also recommend that each session should have a moderator in charge of timekeeping, as a few speakers overran. Finally, they should have more people on the registration desk or allow people to register the day before, as the registration queue shortly before the opening session was far too long.

A packed social programme

On the whole, the organization on the whole was very good. The social programme was particularly impressive. On the Friday (the day before the conference), there were various visits and walks around Porto during the daytime, a visit to a port wine cellar and a performance of fado in the afternoon, and a pre-conference dinner in the evening. The gala dinner took place on the Saturday. On the Sunday there was a post-conference dinner and farewell party. And even on the Monday, when the main event was over (Chris Durban held a separate masterclass on the Monday morning), there was a lunch, followed by a cruise on the River Douro.

Lunch lasted just an hour and a half on both conference days, but since it was at the hotel venue, it did not feel too rushed.

A smorgasbord of sessions

Moving on to the actual conference content, it was due to begin with a welcome speech by Marta Stelmaszak. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend, so she recorded her speech in a video. However, due to technical problems, the organizers were unable to show the video in the allotted slot and had to show it later on the same day.

Susana Váldez gave a presentation entitled A freelancer as a team member: the translation project life cycle. She spoke about the importance of communication with the client and gave examples of when changes had been made either to a source text or to translations into other target languages as a result of questions she had posed. Susana also stressed that it is important to point out mistakes to clients, because it is what our client would want us to do and because it helps us to stand out from other translators.

Susana went on to discuss translation-workflow process and made the rather startling revelation that some agencies request a service called “TPE”, i.e. translation, proofread and editing from a single person! Many people in the room, including myself, were shocked to hear this. A translator should always revise and edit their own translations, irrespective of whether the translation will be passed on to another reviewer or editor. If you are looking to purchase translation services and somebody is offering you TPE by a single person, don’t be fooled into paying extra. The whole point of a translation being reviewed is for a second pair of eyes to see the translation, so you’re only getting an additional service if the review is done by a third party.

Arancha Caballero talked about the Elia Together conference held earlier in the year in Barcelona, an event I was unable to attend because it clashed with my wedding day. She spoke very highly of the event, underlining that it was an excellent opportunity for agencies and translators to meet and talk. After her presentation, several freelancers from the floor who had attended Elia Together said that it was the best opportunity they’d had to meet good, serious translation agencies. The next edition will be held in Berlin in February 2017.

Tess Whitty, famous for her podcast on “Marketing Tips for Translators”, gave out a number of tips on Future-proofing your translation business. These included:

  • Checking whether we’ve achieved our income goals at monthly, six-monthly and yearly intervals
  • Attending writing courses in the target language
  • Producing a brochure
  • Focusing on specific targets.

A brochure is still on my to-do list, so this was a helpful reminder to get it done!

She said we should avoid vague goals and set very specific ones, such as “I will join groups X, Y and Z on LinkedIn to reach 50 new people and acquire 5 new clients”. This sounds great, but how do you come up with those figures? Is there not a danger that we could focus too much effort on achieving a certain goal that is actually misguided or unrealistic?

Lloyd Bingham spoke on The path to professionalization. He said that translators do not get the same respect as doctors or lawyers, and he recommended that we present ourselves as a “professional translator” rather than as a “freelance translator” in order to be taken more seriously.

Day 2

The Sunday morning kicked off with a keynote speech by Manuel Sant’Iago Ribeiro. For me, it was disappointing, because he spoke almost exclusively about the different modes of interpreting. New information, perhaps, for a student taking their first interpreting class, but anybody already in the industry, or even at the end of a translation degree, would have learned very little.

It was a shame that Chris Durban was scheduled as a parallel session, rather than as a keynote address, as she was always going to attract a large crowd, such is her reputation among freelance translators. In other circumstances, I’d have attended Nádia Morais’s presentation on The Free Translator: taking the “free” out of freelancer, but I just couldn’t resist going to hear Chris Durban again, as her presentations are always helpful, insightful and motivating. She did not disappoint.

Chris spoke about pricing, and while she insisted that she does not recommend prices, she gave examples of what she had charged for certain, specific jobs in the past. She quoted American author Seth Godin, who wrote that freelancers (of any profession) should charge at least double the hourly rate that they’d want to earn as a salaried worker, and should spend half of their work time on marketing.

One thing Chris emphasized, however, perhaps more so than previous times I’ve heard her speak, was that we need to be good translators if we want to command the kind of fees that she charges. She argued that one of the reasons many translators are unable to earn premium rates is simply because they don’t translate well enough, and that many translators need to raise their quality before they’ll be able to hike their prices.

Chris backed this idea up with examples of translations that, on the face of it, seemed good, but had been done by translators working on auto-pilot, using expressions that a native, monolingual English speaker simply would not have written if they had produced the text in English.

Other pearls of advice included being aware of the cost of failure for the client when we pitch to them, and simply pausing when a potential client tells us that we’re too expensive. She also recommended that when we go to client events we should say that we’re there because of an upcoming job.

Carla Sousa’s presentation, entitled Geek translator? Yes please!, was, for me, a little disappointing, as many of the tools she presented, such as voice-recognition software, are already very well known. When the Mediterranean Editors and Translators conferences have a session on tools, the session is presented by a panel, and there is always time for recommendations from the floor. APTRAD would do well to do the same at future events to ensure that a wider variety of tools is presented.

Sue Lesche’s presentation, entitled The Translator/Interpreter as Entrepreneur – how to be enterprising, discussed the characteristics of entrepreneurs and the need to take calculated risks. She left me with several take-homes:

After two long days  not to mention the long journey to get to the conference  it was tempting to skip the final session. But I’d have missed out big-time had I done so!

Inga Michaeli’s Rough Guide to Translating Guide Books was both fascinating and insightful. Inga translates Lonely Planet books into Hebrew. She gave countless examples of how she has had to adapt guide books to her target audience, i.e. Hebrew-speaking Israelis.

One guide book, for instance, mentioned a “kosher” shop. An English-speaking person would understand that the shop sells kosher products. However, to a Jew from Israel it could not be described as kosher because it opened on Saturdays. If memory serves me correctly, she said that she changed it to say that the store sold traditional Jewish food.

Another example she gave was that the guide book on Georgia (that’s the country, not the American state) included a section about visiting Iran. Since Israeli nationals are prohibited from entering Iran, she removed the section from the Hebrew version of the guide book.

She gave many more curious examples, which I wish I could remember. But the important thing to take home was that we must adapt our translations to suit the target audience. I would strongly recommend her to any conference organizer, as she is an excellent, stimulating speaker who uses very clear examples to present her message.

To sum up, the conference was well attended, generally well organized, and had an excellent line-up of speakers. They have decided that they will not be holding a conference in 2017, but will instead wait until 2018. The 2016 conference was a great success and I look forward to attending again in two years’ time.


Getting paid in foreign currencies

This is an update of an article originally published on 4 September 2015. The updates refer to the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit referendum and small changes in how the platforms function.

One of the great things about being a freelance translator is that you can work for clients in different countries. Since I started out over a decade ago, I have worked for clients in Spain, France, Switzerland, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Austria, China, South Korea, Israel and Guatemala.

All translators can benefit from finding clients in other countries. But the crash in the value of the pound sterling following the Brexit vote makes this a particularly good time for UK-based translators to seek foreign-based clients.

How easy is it to get paid by a client in a country that uses a different currency?

The most obvious solution is an international bank transfer. But anybody who has done one before knows that banks charge hefty commission and fees. Some banks claim that they charge no fees, but in reality, their fee is hidden in the poor exchange rate they give you.

Many translators use Paypal or Skrill, but they too take a huge chunk of the pie and give poor exchange rates. The transaction fees can easily amount to more than 5%, which could cost you many hundreds of euros or pounds over a year, perhaps even thousands.

So, what other options are available?

The free solution

If you have a bank account in your client’s country, you could try to to find somebody you know and trust who wants to transfer money in the other direction and transfer money into each other’s bank account.

Example: Jim lives in the UK but also has a French bank account. He works for a German client who pays €1,000 into Jim’s French account. Jim needs to transfer the money to the UK.

Lee lives in Spain but also has a UK bank account. He works for a British client who transfers £1,000 into Lee’s UK account.

Jim and Lee agree to exchange money. Jim transfers €1,000 from his French account to Lee’s Spanish account. Meanwhile, Lee checks the official exchange rate (€1 = £0.7315 at the time of writing) and transfers £731.50 into Jim’s UK account.

Result: Jim has most of the money he earned in his UK account (the rest he can transfer another time, or use for online purchases or while on holiday), and Lee has all his money in his Spanish account.

The cheap solutions

Unfortunately, you can’t always find somebody who wants to transfer a similar amount of money in the opposite direction to you, but that’s where peer-to-peer (P2P) systems help.

P2P systems like CurrencyFair and TransferWise automatically match you with somebody transferring money in the opposite direction, and charge only a very small percentage in commission. TransferWise will take a fee of only 0.5%; CurrencyFair takes just 0.15%.

Of the two, TransferWise tends to be cheaper for smaller payments (less than £7,000), since CurrencyFair charges a £3/€3 withdrawal fee. However, you don’t have to withdraw money from CurrencyFair immediately, so you don’t have to pay £3/€3 on every payment you receive, but only on each withdrawal.

On the face of it, TransferWise sounds better for most freelance translators, but I actually prefer CurrencyFair. Some of the reasons why I prefer CurrencyFair are explained here, but one reason not mentioned is that to get paid with TransferWise, your client must have a TransferWise account; CurrencyFair, on the other hand, accepts payments from anyone.

(Update: TransferWise has now introduced a “borderless” account that gives you a proper bank account number in various countries. Read more at this blog post.)

Using CurrencyFair

Infographic provided by iCompareFX.com

Getting paid with CurrencyFair if you have a bank account in the client’s currency:

  • Give your client the bank details of your account in the client’s currency.
  • Once the money has cleared, log in to CurrencyFair, click on “Deposit” and add a pending deposit.
  • When logged in, click on “CurrencyFair Bank Accounts” to find out the details of CurrencyFair‘s account in the currency in which you were paid.
  • Make the payment to CurrencyFair using your online banking service, making sure you include the reference number provided by CurrencyFair for your account.
  • Wait for the e-mail confirming that the funds are uploaded and available in your CurrencyFair account.
  • Log in to your account and make a transfer using either the QuickTrade system (it gives you the best exchange rate currently offered by somebody exchanging money in the other direction) or, to save even more money, the Marketplace, where you can state the exchange rate you want and wait for somebody to accept it.
  • Transfer the funds to your account in your home country.

Getting paid with CurrencyFair if you don’t have a bank account in the client’s currency:

  • Log in to CurrencyFair and click on “Deposit” to add a pending deposit.
  • You probably won’t have your client’s bank details. Simply write “NA” in any boxes for which you have no information. CurrencyFair will still recognise the payment based on the amount and the reference number.
  • Put CurrencyFair’s account details for the client’s currency on your invoice and your customer reference number. Make it clear to the client that they must use this reference number when making the transfer. (NB One of my clients forgot this, but I e-mailed the client’s receipt for the transfer to CurrencyFair and they credited my account within 24 hours, so no need to worry too much if they forget.)
  • Wait for the e-mail confirming that the funds are uploaded and available in your CurrencyFair account.
  • Log in to your account and make a transfer using either the QuickTrade system (it gives you the best exchange rate currently offered by somebody exchanging money in the other direction) or, to save even more money, the Marketplace, where you can state the exchange rate you want and wait for somebody to accept it.
  • Transfer the funds from CurrencyFair to your account in your home country.

Getting paid in USD
Unfortunately CurrencyFair no longer has an account in USD and is not able to accept users based in the United States. For USD I would therefore recommend always using TransferWise. However, please note that your client must open a TransferWise account in order to pay you, so it’s probably not a viable solution if you’re working for a large company. With TransferWise, the client logs in and makes the payment, which is then automatically converted to your currency and transferred straight into your bank account in your home country.

WeSwap is totally different to the other two services. It is not suitable for getting paid, as funds can only be uploaded from one account owned by you in your home country. However, I’ve included it anyway as it’s a great way to make online purchases (Google charges in USD, so I use WeSwap). It also allows you to save money on currency exchange while travelling, while avoiding carrying around lots of cash.

WeSwap is only available to persons resident in the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain or Sweden.

With WeSwap, after you set up an account you will be sent a pre-pay debit card (Mastercard) through the post. You can then load funds on to the card by bank transfer or using an ordinary debit card, and then you can convert those funds into another currency on the website.

The conversion is done at the mid-market rate, and the commission is just 1.4% if you need an immediate conversion, 1.3% if you are willing to wait up to 3 days, or 1.0% if you can wait a week.

Once your money is converted, you can spend it in the country you are visiting (or for online purchases), either using the card for card payments in stores (always free), or by withdrawing money from a cash machine (free for withdrawals of at least £200, €250 or equivalent).

I like to upload my funds a few weeks before travelling so that I can buy tickets for events and domestic transport in advance, since the 1.0% fee is cheaper than what your bank will charge you for using your credit card (you won’t see commission on your statement, but it will be hidden in the exchange rate they give you).

Currencies supported: CurrencyFair (open drop-down list), TransferWise, WeSwap
Fees: CurrencyFair, TransferWise, WeTransfer

Special offers
If you decide to sign up for these excellent services, please use the links provided below, as by using them both you and I will benefit from a special offer.

CurrencyFair: If you use this link, once you have transferred the equivalent of €400 we will both receive €30.
TransferWise: If you use this link, you will receive a free transfer for up to £500. For every 3 people who sign up, I will receive £50.
WeSwap: If you use this link, you’ll get £5 free credit and I’ll get £10.