Specialized translators vs specialists translating: Interview by proTECT project

Some time ago I was contacted by Amaia GÓMEZ, EN, FR, CA > ES translator & interpreter and founder of proTECT project about our study on medical translation and medical translators. It turned out in wonderful collaboration with the thorough interview on top. Here it goes, in two parts: Part I and Part II.


P.S.: Many thanks to Amaia for this brilliant idea and thorough work on the interview.

Mistakes made by (medical) interpreters

A lot had been spoken about importance of having medical interpreter at hospital/doctor office to provide help for patients not fluent in doctor’s own language. This is of particular importance for countries like US, Germany, France and others with high volume of migration and medical tourism. For example, in US Hispanic population with many patients and their family members not fluent in English are usually underserved by medical professionals and hospitals because of language difficulties. They also tend to avoid going to a physician not to get into awkward situation. The number of bilingual medical practitioners is very low, that’s why the demand on medical interpreting is consistently high. However, in many cases this service is provided by underqualified interpreters or even social workers/family members, which leads to serious misinterpreting, often with clinical consequences. Despite of an active work and educational efforts from International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), many US hospitals still don’t have medical interpreters on board, or use services on non-certified interpreters. However, I had no idea about seriousness of this problem till I saw this study: Errors in Medical Interpretation and Their Potential Clinical Consequences in Pediatric Encounters by Glenn Flores et al., Pediatrics 2003;111:6 –14 (available here). In this study authors made audiotape recordings at pediatric visits with Spanish-speaking parents and English-speaking pediatricians facilitated by medical interpreters, either provided by hospital or amateur, and assessed number and type of interpreting mistakes, as well as clinical significance of these mistakes (more on Methods in study publication). Results were striking: the number of interpreting mistakes on average reached 31 (!) per visit, and there was no significant difference between hospital interpreters and amateur interpreters (like family member, nurse, social worker). Hospital interpreters had less clinically significant mistakes, but in total over half (!) of their errors had potential clinical consequences. Just a few examples on mistakes made by interpreters:

Or this one:

There is a well-known saying that a mistake in medical translation/interpreting could cost a life of a patient, but it’s the first time I see it myself.

Translation agencies and freelancers: win-win relationships

Translation agencies and freelancers: win-win relationships

That’s a lot of posts and articles for freelance translators/interpreters how to build successful relationships with translation/interpreting agencies. But I’d like to write on an opposite topic – how an agency can win a freelancer and build successful working relationships.

It all starts from the first contact, first impression, first e-mail. The worst thing is when you get a non-customized e-mail from mass e-mailing starting with ‘Hi all’ or more polite ‘Dear translator’. Forget it. The same is for letters without an introduction, when a potential customer jumps directly to the word count, deadline and budget. My dear, you write me for the first time, so please spend some time on introducing yourself. It’s like when you meet a guy in a bar, and he skips the foreplay in goes directly to… Well, you’ve got it.

Also what might be disappointing in a very first e-mail, is when a PM after a polite text add at the end something like ‘we’ve also contacted other translators, so we’d really appreciate you to react quickly’. Excuse me, what?

Sample translations. That’s perfectly OK for an agency to ask for a sample translation from an individual translator, whose job is not so easy to be tracked and checked, like, for example, of an accounting firm or a designer (that’s to the point why they can ask for a sample from a translator, and never think of asking a sample from an accountant/lawyer). But this sample translation, to my opinion, should not be done for free, since it takes time and effort, and it’s translators intellectual product worth paying for. If an agency wants a free sample, why not to offer them a sample from previous translation (non-confidential, of course). This what designers, software developers and many other freelance proffessionals do to show a new potential customer how they work.

Let’s assume you’ve passed the ‘first date’ step, and you’re working on your first project for this agency. You might have some questions on the text/terms, and you really expect PM to react quickly… but you’ve got no answer. That’s strange, you think, but continue your work on this project. This lack of feedback is one of the most frustrating things that might happen in translator-agency relationships. A quick feedback on terms/project issues, as a well a quality feedback after the project has been delivered and reviewed, makes a translator feel the importance of his/her work and behave like a team-player.

Payment issues are for sure very important, and transparent and translator-friendly payment practices in terms of payment method, invoicing and time to actual payment are usually primary parameters considered by a translator. Most translators got used to net 30-45 days to payment, and it’s considered normal, since most agencies rely on payments from clients and have sometimes very complicated invoice-processing algorithms. But when this period is extended by an agency for some reason, that’s the point where frustration begins. The explanatory e-mail on delay in payments from project or accountant manager could be helpful to keep translator-agency relationships alive, but better for an agency to stick to payment terms and not violate the mutual agreement. That’s easy: agency gets angry when translator doesn’t meet the deadline, translator becomes angry and frustrated when agency doesn’t pay in time.

Coming back to e-mails and project placement, there could be situations when a PM asks you if you could translate one sentence as a favor to the agency/client. That’s OK when the number of such one-sentence-letters doesn’t exceed 1-2 per month. But when they land in translator’s inbox regularly, that’s the time to think about a minimal fee for every small translation, even one-sentence job.

Rates. Of course, we will not speak here about translation agencies with ridiculous rates. We ban them and go forward. Let’s say you’ve negotiated a decent rate with the agency, and worked for them successfully for a year or so. Then you decide to increase your rate, and got rude ‘no, your rate is already too high for us’. Well, you can continue to work for this agency, but they’ve already lost you, since you’ve switched on your client-hunting mode, and that’s only a question of time when this agency would be replaced by a new client. Same is for agencies asking for discounts on bulk projects (however, this is negotiable, but when the project is really big and juicy, the deadline is friendly, and you have very good relationships with this agency) and hesitating on extra fees for PDF/formatting/urgency/work during the weekend.

Take-home message: We are all human beings, and we got happy when our work is valued, both financially and with decent feedback, and we got angry when somebody treats our services as commodity. Of course, there is a bunch of young and hungry freelance translators out there ready for low rates, tight deadlines and slave-master relationships. But true professionals worth hunting for expect to be respected for the time and effort they put into translation product an agency sells to the end customer.

Some thoughts on Interpreting the Future Conference, BDU 2012


Almost 3 months passed since the Interpreting the Future Conference, organized by BDU this September in Berlin, but I’d love to share some impressions, mostly for my Russian colleagues, who were not there. This year BDU Conference and TFR 2012 had the same dates (28 till 30 September), so it was a tough choice. By the way, you can read a wonderful blog post on TFR 2012 from ReinhardSchaler’s blog.

So, the BDU Conference… It was the first time for me to attend the conference organized by BDU (Germany’s Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators), and I’ve got a very positive impression. The conference was held at a very professional level, including the web-site, number and spectrum of presentations and level of speakers. There were many talks on business matters, freelancing, terminology, technical translation, working with direct clients (inimitative Chris Durban!), need for specialization and getting the expertise in specific field, standardization and many, many others. The exhibition was not as big as I’ve used to see at medical conferences, but there were a lot of local companies, software developers and translation agencies, that are not so well known at ProZ or other big translator aggregators.

The people who attend the Conference were really different from what I’ve seen in Russia at TFR 2011. The latest was attended mostly by young translators and interpreters, seeking for wisdom and knowledge from their senior colleagues (and there were many gurus from Russian translation industry to learn from). At BDU Conference, on the contrary, there were significantly less young people, and more middle-aged professionals, working on their goals in continuous education.

It was amazing for me to see a bunch of presentations on sign interpreting, included in the Conference agenda, and actual sign interpreters were working on the opening, interpreting the speech of the officer lady from German Ministry of Education. Great to see that sign interpreting in Germany is considered a part of interpreting profession, and this service is highly evaluated.

Along with presentations, panel discussions were of a great interest, held by outstanding experts. However, to feel comfortable one should possess a good command of German to follow the lead. Conference agenda included equal amounts of English and German presentations, and many German presentations were interpreted into English (great job done by volunteer conference interpreters). However, panel discussions were live, and I had to use all my knowledge of German to follow the course of discussion.

The section on medical translation, where I was involved as a speaker, was not so big, holding only 3 presentations, but full of attendees, and we had a lively discussion. My presentation on the study in medical translation performed by medical doctors and linguists was a bit of surprise, since the phenomenon of medical doctor migrating into translation field in Germany (and in many countries outside Russia) is exceptional, and the number of such translators is close to zero. But it was great to share the Russian experience with German colleagues, and to get some insight into German medical translation field.

Three days of intensive networking and professional education made a great experience, and I’m happy I’ve had the opportunity to attend this event. If you ask for my recommendation, whether to attend the next BDU Conference, I will say ‘yes’.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dear colleagues, friends and readers,

Warm regards and congratulations with Christmas and New Year!
It was a great year, full of new meetings, interesting events and exciting projects. I wish you all  wonderful Christmas spirit, crispy and sunny weather (though here in Cyprus we don’t have snow at all, but we’ve got it all in the beginning of December traveling in Germany). Have great holidays, and see you all in 2013!


Medical Translation: A Retrospective Study on the Quality of Medical Translation Produced by Translators With and Without a Medical Background

Dear colleagues,

We have a study to share on medical translation we’ve done toghether with my Russian colleagues.

In this study we assess the number and type of mistakes in translation samples done by translators with or without medical background.

You can find an article with preliminary results as the quest post at GxP Language Services blog, http://gxplanguageservices.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/guest-post-translating-with-and-without-medical-background-a-retrospective-study/
The PPT on this study from Interpreting the Future Conference 2012 is available from my website, http://www.onikiychuk.com (tab Publications).
For those of you who read Russian, I recommend to join discussion on Russian translation forum http://trworkshop.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=63&t=52754&p=862139#p862139
And for those who not, there is discussion in English at Proz.com

I’ll be happy to hear your comments/feedback on this study and its results.


Consistency of Medical Dictionaries

We usually treat dictionaries, including medical dictionaries, as valuable and impeccable source of information. But is it always right? Take a look on article from  Svetolik P. Djordjević, where he compares two highly validated medical dictionaries and discuss discrepancies between them.


Svetolik P. Djordjević

Abstract: Medical translators should be aware of ambiguities and inconsistencies found in standard medical reference works. I will point these out through a comparative analysis of Dorland’s and Stedman’s medical dictionaries, with appropriate examples.