Review of 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know

Pithy yet potentially daunting, 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know sums up in 101 short entries what one might learn in a lifetime translation career. It underscores the vast variety of the translation landscape and the multiplicity of skills needed. Someone reading it at the beginning of her career or considering a career in translation might exclaim, “Holy moly! I have to know everything! Be a marketer, bookkeeper, IT expert, and client relations specialist on top of translating!” That is indeed the case, which is part of what makes it an ever-challenging, interesting profession.

The book blurb says it is both for beginners and “seasoned professionals.” As one of the latter, I concur. I did know, on at least on one of the many levels of knowing, all 101 things, but I earmarked the pages for those things I like to forget that I know. For instance, “#31: Be a fly on the wall,” which suggests making a habit of “hanging out where your potential clients gather.” Like many translators, I have an introverted side (otherwise, working alone all day would be torture), so I have to force myself to network in person. Or #94, which suggests telling (not asking) your clients to credit you as the translator. I have the request in my terms and conditions but don’t often insist.

We translators have a higher-than-average tendency to get our panties in a bunch over near everything and most especially rates, clients, other translators, and machine translation. I appreciated the even-handed, positive tone of the book. For example, “#39: Good guys, bad guys” acknowledges that among clients there are the good, the bad, and the ugly, suggesting strategically weeding out the latter two, and “don’t waste time and energy ranting about bad clients.” Or the aptly titled “#86: Google Translate doesn’t,” which is not a diatribe, just a statement of fact.

The book is not wishy-washy. While noting the great diversity of the field and that all rules are made to be broken, it gives exact advice, not just “whatever works for you.” Desktop computers and large monitors: good; laptops: bad. Translating into your regional variant: good; imitating others, or invented “neutral” variants: bad. The entries are a nice combination of straightforward advice, like “always reply” to emails and calls, and reminders of the complexity and creativity of translation.

The book’s web site has a section for readers to add their tips. But, impressively enough, I think they didn’t miss a thing.

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