To test or not to test.

When you use the words translation and test in the same sentence, heads will turn and attention is guaranteed. When I reacted to a Twitter post by an agency that doesn’t believe in translation tests, I sparked off an avalanche of responses. So maybe it’s a good idea to explain our stance on translation tests, and to share why we believe they are a necessary evil.
 
It’s actually quite simple: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You can fill your CV with all sorts of bold statements, and tell someone that you are an Einstein among translators. We're not saying people are deliberately lying. It's just that no one is going to admit that they are mediocre at best, let alone tell you that they’re crap. So tests are surely a better and safer way forward. Unless you want to ruin your reputation and drive your proofreaders mad.
 
Our tests are generally around 300 words long and assess a wide range of skills that for us, make all the difference. There will be grammar and spelling issues, specific terminology, deliberately misspelled proper names, hyperlinks that need updating, specific layout and details, lots of details... Furthermore, each paragraph demands a different style, as it’s on a totally different subject. In short, we pack every possible angle into just 300 words. As under 10% of tests are completed successfully, we see no reason to skip this testing procedure. 
 
One point that I would like to stress is that we do not judge translators. We judge specific translation skills. So a failed test does not mean that you are not a skilled translator: you may simply not have the skills we are looking for. A great technical translator does not necessarily make a great champagne or fashion translator. 
 
And no, we don't pay for tests. Why? Because we believe that any professional translator will view a short test as a long-term investment, not as a waste of time. We invest a lot of money in testing by paying senior proofreaders to evaluate every test, and we take pride in the fact that every testee receives a corrected test and a detailed evaluation form. So even if you do not pass the test, you will still have something you can work with and learn from. 
 
Why would someone be willing to spend time and money on personal branding, on building a nice website, on writing a blog, creating a social media presence and attending translation conferences, but not on a 300 word test? It just would not make sense. If you ask me, translation tests are the best ROI for everyone involved. Even if you fail the test, you may still learn from it. 
 
You can check out the lively discussion on Twitter by following me @BlueLinesT or on the following Storify link: http://storify.com/BlueLinesT/to-test-or-not-to-test-1.
 
 

Peanuts, monkeys & amateurs.

2013 was a terrific year for Blue Lines. This was a result of hard work, a changed focus and an amended strategy, even though the core objective stayed the same: we are still going for the holy grail. So yes, we're still doing our utmost to remain probably the best translation agency in the world. With almost 40% growth over the last 12 months in a declining market, there is no need to tell you we welcomed many new clients. They all have different stories, but somehow it all comes down to the same thing. 
 
“We were not happy with the quality of our previous partner” is a comment we often hear. With our strong focus on quality, our insistence on only working with native speakers and a comparative review of every single translation by a second native speaker, we've built a solid reputation in a relatively short period of time. And reputations always pay off. Crisis or not. 
 
So far so good. “But you are x % more expensive than our previous translation partner, how come?” This has to be the next comment we hear most. I always find it a bit funny. “You were not happy with the quality you paid for, so you came knocking on our door. Now we guarantee that you will be happy with the quality you pay for. And yes, with our quality procedures, you will probably be paying a bit more than you used to.”
 
So many times I hear clients speak of how they used to re-work pretty much every translation, as they were basically rubbish. What our clients pay for is better peace of mind. With our focus on quality, they don't have to worry about poor quality translations anymore. Their employees can focus on their own jobs instead of spending hours fixing what should have been up to standard in the first place. So paying a little more now will save you time and money in the end.
 
It is no wonder you see one-liners like “if you think it's expensive to hire a pro, wait till you hire an amateur” or the more commonly known “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” buzzing all over the social media networks. Well, the same goes for the translation market. If you only pay peanuts, don't allow your expectations to get too high. Prepare for disappointment at best. If you want excellence, be ready to pay for it. We promise you, your employees will have more time to focus on their own jobs, and as for you, you’ll sleep better! Now how's that for a lullaby? Here’s to a fantastic 2014! 

 

The usual suspects!

 
Native speakers. Yes, the usual suspects. I get tons of application e-mails and I scroll through CV after CV. And after all these years, I'm still amazed that there are so many translators working in both directions. The first thing that always crosses my mind is that those people don't have enough work. 
 
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I get flooded with CVs boasting perfect translation skills in 2 up to a staggering 5 languages. Funnily enough, most claim so in clumsy English at best. So far – that means in nearly 10 years – only one person has passed our tests in two languages. A rare case of perfect bilingualism. One person in a decade, that's not a score that will push us to change our stance, let alone our policy.
 
But it really is a serious issue. If linguists and translators themselves forget the number one principle in translation – only translate into your mother tongue – how can we convince people on the dark side that they are wrong in their assumption that a translator can translate into all the languages he masters – or rather the languages he believes he masters. 
 
There's a sick mechanism in the whole non-native speaker thing that really upsets me: in most cases, translators working in both directions will charge less. So as a consequence, whoever plays by the rules will be more expensive. In a buyer’s market with little or no understanding of how the translation process works, and what it takes to deliver quality, the buyer may go for the cheaper option, with catastrophic results. 
 
The non-native speaker destabilises the market taking away work from the native speaker. An established translator may not feel the pressure, but a starting professional may be seriously affected by it. And it really is a vicious circle: the non-native speaker may be working into languages other than his mother tongue simply because he can't find enough work into his own language... Because non-native speakers ran off with it. It's a dog biting his own tail kind of story. 
 
In the end, the whole sector loses: quality is compromised, rates drop and we are left with the image of an undisciplined bunch unable to regulate themselves. That is not the sector Blue Lines wants to be associated with, so native speakers it is. Amen.

 

Is there still money for good translations?

 
Translation is a forgotten art in the world of communication. It’s kind of like the ugly duckling. If you’re looking for sex appeal, you’re at the wrong address. And that’s unfortunate, because we play a crucial role.
 
An image problem, that’s what it is, and the translation sector itself is partly to blame. We are too conservative. We are too modest. Translators are often just another face in the crowd. We need more real entrepreneurs, inspiring business leaders who aim to put translation on the map, whilst highlighting and fostering the unmistakable role of translation in communication.
 
Today, it’s all about content marketing. That’s what makes the difference. Good content quite simply translates into higher revenues. Well, that same logic can easily be applied to translations, which are not an unnecessary expense. On the contrary, they result in higher income. Think Apple, where the content is spot-on in all languages. And that’s an aspect that has a huge impact on the image you convey.
 
See for yourself… Do you trust companies or organisations which offer their services in appalling English? Point proven. Bad translation equals bad content. If you’re looking for your business to cross language barriers, ensure your content is a hit in all languages. Good content and good translations go hand in hand. Once we can convince our clients of this, the sector will automatically become more professional, and that’s something everyone would benefit from.
 
 
That takes us to our position in the digital world. Websites and apps are sales drivers. A great website or app will undoubtedly generate new income streams. If they boast quality content that is. In all languages of course. Usually that’s where it goes wrong. In budget plans translations are all too often forgotten. Fancy design, check. Fun features, check. Social media integration, check. Catchy content, check. Good translations, ouch, do we have anything left for those? “Doesn’t John speak some French and English? Can’t he translate the website?” - that’s a classic; which is bound to end in catastrophe. “In our market we’re doing well, but we can’t seem to replicate that success in other markets…” Well, the reason is often quite simple. 
 
 
We must reclaim our position in the world of communication, regardless of whether it’s ‘old school’ or ‘all digital’. That way, we’ll be taken into account in the drafting of budget plans for the integration of the digital strategy. We need to crawl out of our shells, start thinking more as entrepreneurs and spread the word. It’s the only way to play an integral part in the world of communication. Consider this the first step…
 
 

What it takes...

 
In our last blog post, we promised we’d elaborate on ‘what it takes’ to be – or become – an excellent translator. Well, here you are… 
 
Amy, one of our in-house translators, shares her thoughts.
 
“People sometimes ask me whether experience is a must to deliver a good translation. I believe it isn’t. It helps, that’s for sure, but there’s much more to it than that. Raw talent is an asset of course. If you were raised in a household – a bilingual one maybe – where the day started with an espresso, a pain au chocolat and a game of ‘spot the error’ in the subtitles on TV, you got a head start in life. 
 
Curiosity killed the cat, they say. Well, not if you’re a translator, on the contrary. A good translator is someone who’s eager to learn, someone who doesn’t shy away from looking up background information and skimming through old newspaper articles on the subject at hand, no matter how boring it is. 
 
Perfectionism – verging on the extreme – is another important trait. Yes, we want you to double-check every single name and date in the text. Even if that means giving up your lunch break to verify the date of birth of one of the Knights of St John.
 
A skill that’s often overlooked is punctuality. You can be the best translator in the world, but if you can’t meet your deadlines, your clients won’t be happy. It takes time to master the art of time management, but in the long run it translates into better performance and greater success.
 
You should also keep it cool. Say what? As a translator, you should never show your insecurities. If you’re not sure about something, by all means just ask, but without sharing your sense of panic. Be assertive and confident. As a true professional, ‘cool’ should be your middle name.
 
And last but not least, a translator should be passionate about his work. Contrary to popular belief, translation is not easy money. It takes time to build a client base and, more importantly, to acquire all the necessary skills. If there’s no passion, you’re bound to fail.”

 

Popular misconceptions

There are still a lot of misunderstandings about us translators. “Oh, so you're in a booth?” “No, I’m not, interpreters are.” “Duh, so there's a difference?” We've all heard this one before, probably more than once. But the most common misconception is that someone who knows a language can translate. Even into this foreign language. *loud buzzer sound* No, it really takes more than that to be a translator. Let alone a good one. And you only translate into your mother tongue; all the rest is *beep*. The bottom line: you don't translate into your passive languages. Tsss!
 
“Why not?” Well, because it's just not natural, and a translation should always feel natural and read like an original. Of course someone could render the same meaning in a foreign language. But a good translation is so much more. It's about understanding phraseology, style and culture. For instance, in English everything is 'you', whereas in French you have 'tu' and 'vous', just like in a lot of other languages. So which one should you use? A native speaker will always know; someone translating into a language which is not his mother tongue might not. The brain just doesn't work like that.
 
So yes, whoever wants to work with Blue Lines has to pass some tests. Mean tests, they say. And yes, in exceptional cases in the past we have allowed non-native speakers to take a test. “We reassure you, you won't notice the difference, I've lived and worked here for over 20 years!” Well, funnily enough our proofreaders did notice, time and time again. “Look, the meaning is there, but it just doesn't read naturally, something's just not right. We'd never say it this way. Was this really a native speaker? Was he on medication perhaps?” If you think we're making this up, trust us, we're not. Life would be much easier for us too if people translated equally well into foreign languages.
 
So no, a translator is not in a booth, and only a native speaker will make a good translator. If he has what it takes. But that ‘what it takes’ is for another post. 

 

Blue Lines

 
 
How we got our name? You’re not the first one to ask. Well, one night in 2003 the Massive Attack guys phoned us, telling us they wanted to dedicate their debut album to us. “But we haven’t even got a company name yet!” “It will be Blue Lines from now on.” Click, the phone went dead. That was that. Blue Lines was born. 
 
Erm, that’s not quite what happened. We needed a name and we wanted to be creative. Translators have that tendency sometimes. So we took a sheet of blue-lined paper and set out to find the perfect name. Catchy and cool. A name that sounds great and sticks – and not only on paper. We steered away from corny clichés, forced translations and other commonplaces. 
 
A week later the list with potential company names was longer than our Christmas grocery list. Returning to the initial draft, Blue Lines stood out and worked like a magnet on us. The name fit the bill perfectly: creative, original and in-your-face. Add nice to the ear, and the rest is history.
 
PS: next time Massive Attack launches an album, keep an eye on the credits!