The ATA Certification Exam: My Journey from Pencil to Keyboard

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Meghan McCallum

Earlier this year, I was delighted to receive the news that I had passed the ATA French to English certification exam. I now have an official Certified Translator seal and the designation of “ATA-certified French to English translator” in my credentials. And, of course, I’m looking forward to sporting the “Certified” ribbon on my badge at ATA59 in October!

ATA certification has long been a hot topic among translators—even more so in recent years, as it has undergone significant changes in both the technology used and the content of the exam itself. And the certification program has additional changes ahead, such as an increased exam price of $525 coming in 2019 as well as tentative “decoupling”—meaning that non-ATA members would be able to take the exam starting in 2020.

My story with the ATA exam starts with a failed attempt back in the handwritten days, and success years later on the computerized exam. I’d like to share my own personal experience with the ATA certification exam for translators who are considering becoming certified, those who might be wondering what the computerized exam is like, or anyone else generally interested in the topic.

Why Get ATA Certified?

ATA certification had been on my professional bucket list ever since graduate school. As a student in a master’s program for translation, I learned early on that ATA certification is a great way to distinguish yourself not only as a serious professional, but also as someone who can be trusted to produce quality translations in a specific language pair. From that time, I knew that ATA certification was something I wanted to strive for in my career.

My general career plan for after graduate school was to work at an agency for a few years to learn the daily ins and outs of the business, before eventually moving on to freelancing. I knew that once I was working as a freelance translator, having ATA certification would allow me to stand out from the crowd.

First Things First

Before even considering taking the exam, however, there were a few other items I wanted to take care of. First on the list was becoming an ATA member and taking advantage of the organization’s many resources. I became a student member and started reading The Chronicle, getting involved in volunteer opportunities, and attending conferences. I learned more about the exam process by speaking with fellow members, reading articles and blog posts about certification, and attending an exam preparation session at a conference.

I graduated from my master’s program and started a job at a translation agency. I was enjoying getting to know the agency perspective, learning as much as I could to prepare for my future in freelance translation. When I saw that there was a certification exam coming up in my city, I registered and started preparing.

The Pre-Keyboard Era: Taking the Handwritten Exam

My biggest hesitation with the exam was that it was handwritten, and no electronic resources were allowed. I had rarely translated by hand in my graduate work, and I certainly didn’t have any handwritten tasks at my agency job. Quite the contrary: my days were spent on an e-mail platform, a web-based project management application, and a CAT tool. Writing a three-hour exam by hand did not seem representative of what was actually practiced by professional translators.

However, the exam was only offered in the handwritten format at that time, so I decided to give it a shot. I prepared using some texts recommended by a professor from my graduate program. I had heard of the practice tests offered by ATA, but decided to practice on my own without taking a practice test. I knew this was a risk, but I felt that I might as well take it and see how my skills measured up at the time.

Exam day eventually arrived. We all came into the room with our arms (or suitcases!) loaded down with dictionaries, notepaper, and pencils. The three hours went by in a flash. I remember scrambling to get my sentences in just the right order, flipping through dictionaries for terms and writing and re-writing passages as my hand started to cramp. In the end, I did not have a good feeling about it. Not only was I unaccustomed to the handwritten format and the exclusion of online resources, but I realized that I just wasn’t in the habit of translating on a full-time basis as I probably should have been to pass the exam.

I knew it could take up to a few months to receive my results, so I tried to push it to the back of my mind and wait to see what came in the mail. I still vividly remember my heart sinking as I opened the thin envelope from ATA headquarters and read the dreaded opening line: “Dear Colleague: I regret to inform you that your certification examination from French into English did not meet the standards for ATA certification.” I wasn’t completely surprised, as the exam hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped, but of course I was still disappointed.

For me, this was confirmation that I still had much room for improvement, and I needed to practice translating on a regular basis before taking the exam again. And although I knew my translation skills weren’t quite where they needed to be yet, I also knew that my exam result was partially due to the format. I still felt strongly that the handwritten format was unrealistic, and promised myself that I wouldn’t reattempt the exam until it was in an electronic format.

Technology for the Win

Fortunately, the exam began shifting toward a computerized format in the years that followed. In the meantime, I spent a few more years working at the translation agency and eventually moved on to start my own business as a freelance translator. After I’d been freelancing for a little over two years, a promising opportunity came up. A computerized exam was going to be offered in my state, and I decided I was ready to try it again.

Leading up to the exam, I spent a lot of time translating in my daily work and reviewed all the exam information provided by ATA headquarters very carefully. The ATA-provided guidelines were extremely useful, outlining what exactly the exam tests for, online resources permitted, items to bring besides a computer, procedures required for saving the exam content to an external device for submission, what specific programs can be used to type the translation, and much more.

Again, I forewent the practice tests and took the risk of practicing on my own. I did feel much more prepared this time, however, as I had been keeping very busy with translation work and felt I had essentially been “practicing” full-time. Plus, I felt confident that I would perform much better in a format that more closely resembled my daily work; i.e., working on a computer instead of using pencil and paper.

The exam content had also changed since my first attempt several years earlier: instead of choosing between specialized texts categorized as medical/technical/scientific and legal/commercial/financial, exam candidates now select two of three general passages. This change eliminated the risk of me having to translate a passage from an area I don’t work in, such as legal or technical.

On the big day, I opened the exam packet and took out a detailed set of instructions. I read these instructions very carefully before starting, and consulted them several times throughout the exam to be sure I followed them. The instructions provided a specific use and audience for each passage so I could translate with this in mind. I also allowed myself a certain amount of time at the beginning of the exam to read through my three available passages and select the two I would translate. Before starting to translate, I made a list of key terms in the passages to ensure that I chose my English terms carefully and used them consistently throughout my translation.

Working with a computer and online resources indeed proved to be a better environment for me. I much preferred having the ability to type and make changes very quickly, as well as consult and compare a variety of resources. I felt much better during the actual exam, though I still worked very carefully.

Although typing saves a lot of time compared to writing a translation by hand, I still used the entire three hours to work on my exam. I reviewed each translated passage after finishing, and reviewed both translations again at the end when I had some time left. When reviewing, I went through a personal QA checklist, inspecting elements such as capitalization, numbers, punctuation, repeated words, etc. I also made sure to save my work regularly and prepared to load it onto the USB drive when the exam time was drawing to a close.

Although I wasn’t 100% sure what my result would be, I felt much better leaving the exam room this time around. Not only had I worked in an environment that was much closer to my actual day-to-day work, but I also had much more full-time translation experience under my belt.

Enjoying the CT Designation

This time, the envelope I received in the mail from ATA headquarters made me much happier—I passed! The best part of this moment was the feeling of accomplishing something that had been a personal career goal for many years.

Besides the personal accomplishment, I have also enjoyed immediate results in my work as a freelance translator. I made a point of updating my online profiles and website right away, and notified colleagues and clients as well. I have noticed an increase in messages from my website, and I’m now able to contact potential clients that only work with ATA-certified translators.

Another benefit to being an ATA-certified translator is the official seal. I like to use the seal in my e-mail signature as well as on official documents. I had a stamp made with the seal image, and I use it when I provide notarized statements of accuracy for personal translations.

Finally, as I mentioned before, I’m very much looking forward to having the “Certified” ribbon on my conference badge as well. I’m proud to join the ranks of ATA-certified translators and I look forward to carrying the designation as I continue my career for years to come.

Meghan McCallum is an ATA-certified French>English freelance translator specializing in corporate communications, human resources, marketing and financial documents. She holds an MA in language, literature, and translation (concentration in French>English translation) from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Before going freelance, she worked in-house for several years at a global language services provider, serving as a project manager and quality manager. She is the coordinator of ATA’s School Outreach Program. Website:

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Eve Bodeux

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThis is part of a continuing a series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Eve Lindemuth Bodeux is serving her second two-year term as Administrator of the French Language Division. In the 1990s, she was editor of the FLD newsletter (when it was still printed on paper!). A French to English translator, she has been active in the translation industry for more than two decades. She specializes in high-level business documents, international development and digital marketing texts. She has authored many articles for industry professionals, clients and the business community as well as her book for language professionals, Maintaining Your Second Language. She can be reached at

How did you get involved in translation?

When I moved to Colorado in the 1990s, I was looking for a job doing “something international.” I ended up getting invaluable industry experience working at two translation agencies before I went out on my own. I have a background in both multilingual project management and French to English translation as well as two master’s degrees—from both an American university and a French one. I have been a member of the American Translators Association for almost 20 years and the organization has been a wonderful resource for me as the industry and my own business have evolved over the years.

What subject areas do you translate?

I translate corporate marketing content, business documents and many RFPs. I also translate international development documents for NGOs active in francophone countries. In recent years, leveraging my experience with my own bilingual children, I have also translated several children’s books that have been published.

What job would you do if you weren’t a translator?

I have heard the saying that, “no one ever wants to be the backup singer.” I understand that this means that people usually want to be in the lead, not in the background, but, taking it more literally, I want to say that, as a life-long alto, I always thought it would be fabulous to be a professional backup singer. It would be less stressful than being the star, but still lots of fun. A few years ago, I saw Johnny Hallyday in concert in Los Angeles and he had a powerful group of backup singers, so that confirmed that this would definitely be my “dream” job in an alternate universe.

What is your greatest strength as a translator?

My family and educational backgrounds have provided me with in-depth cultural knowledge that is often the key to understanding the meaning of original French texts. I build on that by reading a lot in French, watching French movies, keeping up with French news, staying active with the French community where I live, and visiting France often. In addition to strong source and target language skills, cultural knowledge is imperative for accuracy in translation.

Tell us about a particularly interesting project you have worked on.

A few years ago, I translated several seasons of a French-language TV series about women giving birth in different parts of the world. It was fascinating to learn about the conditions under which women give birth in different places and how this rite of passage is viewed by cultures around the globe.

Where would you most like to live?

I have lived in Colorado for over 20 years and adore this state, my town and my own neighborhood. I love traveling and meeting new people and exploring new places, but I am proud to call Colorado home.

Do you have a favorite French or English book?

I like reading memoirs as well as, unsurprisingly, books about France. Two in English that can be read as a pair that I come back to over the years are My Life in France by Julia Child and Clémentine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain. Child’s book focuses on immediate post-war France while Chamberlain’s book focuses on pre-WWII France, and they both lovingly discuss food.

I picked up one of my go-to French-language books at a museum outside Paris. It’s entitled Femmes du XVIIe siècle : en verve and is a compilation of quotes from women in the 17th century on various topics such as friendship, beauty, loyalty, happiness, jealousy and others. You’d be surprised at how modern their ideas were.

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

I was born and raised in Alaska and am one of seven siblings. As I mentioned, I do love Colorado, but you can’t take the Alaska out of the girl and I go back often to visit.

If you could translate anything in the world, what would it be and why?

I have to decline to answer this directly because I like translating a range of content and think that the variety of topics we are offered is part of the magic of what we do. It is also part of what makes translation intellectually stimulating. My answer, then, is that I’d like to continue to receive interesting and varied projects.

What is your greatest achievement?

I don’t know if it is my greatest achievement, but I am proud of having released my book Maintaining Your Second Language in 2016. It was a labor of love and it thrills me to be able to share my ideas on language learning and retention with others who are passionate about language.

Les avantages insoupçonnés des glossaires

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Audrey Pouligny

[Editor’s note: This article was originally published at Le mot juste en anglais.]

Traducteurs : Quelques réflexions sur la manière dont les glossaires peuvent nous aider à éviter certains écueils avec nos clients, voire même améliorer et renforcer nos relations avec ces derniers.

Avez-vous peur de la critique ? Avez-vous déjà reçu un e-mail de la part d’un client, quelque peu embarrassant, vous expliquant que votre traduction ne s’avérait pas entièrement satisfaisante ? Cela peut nous arriver à tous, traducteurs débutants comme expérimentés. Mais ne soyons pas pessimistes ! Posons-nous plutôt la question suivante : comment pouvons-nous transformer une expérience quelque peu difficile, à savoir la peur de la critique et la critique elle-même, en une expérience positive ? Soyons honnêtes avec nous-mêmes. II est beaucoup plus facile de progresser quand nous parvenons à changer notre perspective. Observer les problématiques rencontrées par nos clients avec curiosité et enthousiasme, au lieu de ressasser nos frustrations, peut en effet nous permettre de nous donner cette impulsion.

Offrir un glossaire à nos clients est une stratégie qui nous permet de mieux gérer la critique. Le glossaire dans un tel cas se transforme en un véritable outil pour développer un style de travail collaboratif avec nos clients, tout en offrant l’opportunité de découvrir des bénéfices supplémentaires et inattendus.

Les glossaires ont leur rôle à jouer, dès lors qu’ils clarifient et matérialisent un accord sur la terminologie à retenir. Ils permettent de faire évoluer une relation stressante vers une relation de travail apaisée et collaborative.

Partager un glossaire à mi-chemin d’un projet peut ainsi créer un système préventif de validation de la terminologie avec vos clients. Par exemple, si vous traduisez un rapport d’entretien annuel d’évaluation pour une société caractérisée par  un domaine d’activité très spécialisé et technique, le glossaire pourrait se révéler un précieux allié. Proposer à votre client de revoir votre glossaire une fois arrivé à mi-chemin du projet vous permettra de vous assurer, d’une part, de la pertinence de la terminologie choisie par vos soins, et d’autre part, que cette dernière correspond effectivement aux préférences de votre client pour des raisons, notamment, d’uniformisation.

Vous pouvez également commencer à entrevoir comment cette stratégie peut constituer une excellente manière de développer une nouvelle spécialisation en tant que traducteur. Il faut bien commencer un jour, n’est-ce pas ? C’est en forgeant qu’on devient  forgeron. C’est dans cette optique que les glossaires peuvent nous offrir l’expérience tant nécessaire au développement d’une nouvelle spécialisation. Un glossaire envoyé à mi-chemin d’un projet s’inscrit dès lors dans une stratégie gagnant-gagnant, s’il nous permet de réduire notre niveau de stress, de renforcer notre tranquillité d’esprit et de développer avec nos clients des relations basées sur la confiance.

Un glossaire envoyé à la fin de votre projet de traduction peut également offrir à vos clients l’opportunité de réduire le temps passé par ces derniers en interne à effectuer leur contrôle qualité. Si je reprends mon exemple du rapport d’entretien annuel d’évaluation, au lieu  de se plonger directement dans votre traduction et de l’examiner à la loupe, votre client (probablement un directeur RH) pourra dans un premier temps consulter votre glossaire et sera immédiatement en mesure de déterminer si certains termes diffèrent  de ses préférences ou de la terminologie utilisée au sein de la société. Cette étape pourra ainsi permettre à vos clients de réduire le temps passé à relire votre traduction finale. Vous avez ainsi un argument de taille pour vos clients en faveur des glossaires : réduire le temps passé par ces derniers en interne à effectuer leur contrôle qualité. Et pour vous, quels sont les avantages ? Essentiellement les mêmes que ceux qui peuvent être retirés de l’envoi d’un glossaire à mi-chemin d’un projet : vous développez vos connaissances, vous réduisez votre niveau de stress et vous gagnez en tranquillité d’esprit, tout en renforçant vos relations avec vos clients.

Plusieurs avantages inattendus peuvent également être découverts dans le cadre de ce processus. En plus d’apprendre de votre client et d’être ainsi en mesure de diversifier vos domaines de compétences, partager des glossaires pourrait vous aider à offrir des services hauts de gamme et à vous positionner sur le marché comme un prestataire soucieux d’aider véritablement ses clients. Et par véritablement aider ses clients, je fais référence à quelque chose de tangible et non à de simples promesses. Grâce à vos glossaires, vous avez quelque chose de tangible à proposer à vos clients afin de vraiment les aider.

Cela étant, en procédant de la sorte, il demeure légitime de s’interroger sur le risque qu’un client puisse ensuite recourir à un service de traduction moins cher axé sur le volume et non la qualité. Au bout du compte, la question à se poser est de savoir si nous avons vraiment envie de travailler avec ce type de clients. Si la réponse est non, alors travailler avec des glossaires vous permettra de vous débarrasser des clients avec qui vous ne souhaitez pas travailler. L’utilisation des glossaires peut ainsi être envisagée comme une manière de créer votre propre style où vous pouvez consacrer votre temps et votre énergie au service de clients qui partagent vos valeurs et votre vision : le travail collaboratif, le savoir-faire, la minutie, le développement, etc. Le choix vous appartient. Vous pouvez choisir et définir la façon dont vous voulez travailler.

Et en pratique, comment pouvez-vous « vendre » vos services de glossaires ? La prochaine fois qu’un client retient vos services pour un projet dans lequel vous avez envie d’établir un dialogue, commencez à créer un glossaire, envoyez-le à votre client et n’oubliez pas d’ajouter la mention « glossaire offert à titre gracieux » sur votre facture. Par la suite, vous serez peut-être en mesure d’ajouter les glossaires à vos différents services, tout en défendant leurs multiples avantages.

Est-ce que cette stratégie vous permettra de vous positionner en tant que prestataire de services haut de gamme ? Est-ce que cela vous permettra de définir l’éventail de services que vous souhaitez offrir en tant que traducteur ? Pourquoi ne pas essayer ? Je serais ravie d’échanger avec vous et de recueillir vos observations et commentaires.

Audrey Pouligny is an English-French legal translator. She can be reached at and

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Andie Ho

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThis is part of a continuing series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Andie Ho is a French-to-English translator to the food industry.

How did you get involved in translation?

I earned my degree in French but didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, so after graduation I took a year off to work. During that year, I met a math grad student at Dartmouth who discovered that I also have a formal math background. He asked me to translate a 50 page research paper by an eighteenth-century Swiss mathematician for a project he was working on. I agreed, not knowing what I was getting myself into. That first translation was embarrassingly terrible, but it introduced me to translation, and the very next year I began my master’s degree in the field. Since then, I have continued doing math translations for the same person, and we are working on publishing one of them.

What subject areas do you translate?

My areas of specialization are food, cosmetics, and law. It sounds like a strange hodge-podge of subjects until you think about it: France is known for its gourmet food and high-end cosmetics. As for law, well, everybody needs contracts.

Tell us about a particularly interesting project you have worked on.

I translated some divorce documents for a wealthy couple. Their antics were worthy of a reality TV show, and the descriptions of their assets were unreal. I didn’t even know flooring could be designer-label!

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

I performed in Carnegie Hall when I was 16. My high school orchestra entered a competition and was one of three groups chosen to perform. We raised $60,000 for the travel expenses, and our saint of a teacher, only a few years out of college herself at the time, managed to take 50 unruly teenagers to one of the most chaotic cities in the country without losing any of us. If you’re a music aficionado, do yourself a favor and attend a concert in Carnegie Hall at least once in your life. The acoustics are phenomenal.

Do you have a personal motto?

I have a sticky note in my office that says “Why not me?” It’s not intended as a complaint; rather, it’s a reminder that I can achieve the same success as the people I look up to if I simply set my mind to it and work hard. Sometimes I dismiss an idea or goal because I assume it’s out of my reach, but if I just sit down and think it through, I can almost always come up a with a feasible game plan. I’m a pretty good problem-solver.

What’s your favorite word or phrase in French or English?

My favorite French word is si (the one that means “yes” in response to a negative question). English doesn’t have an equivalent, which occasionally causes confusion.

“Didn’t you like the movie?”


Yes you liked the movie or yes you didn’t like the movie?”

In French, there is no ambiguity.

What words or phrases do you overuse?

It’s not a word or phrase, but I have an unhealthy affinity for the em-dash. I use them à toutes les sauces. I know I have a problem, but I managed to get through this entire questionnaire without using a single one!

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Jennifer Bader

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThis is part of a continuing series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Jennifer Bader is an ATA-certified French-to-English translator specializing in corporate, legal, and financial translations. She is also a practicing attorney and and a founding partner of Provenzano Granne & Bader LLP. She has been a translator since 2011 and an attorney since 1999.

How did you get involved in translation?

I had left my job as a corporate attorney and decided to homeschool my kids. I didn’t want to stop working completely, so I started trying to think of what I could do from home with a flexible schedule. Suddenly I remembered a translation company that had come into our Paris law offices years before to pitch their services, and I thought, “Gee, I wonder if any of those translation companies take freelance translators?” As we all know, the answer to that is yes!

What subject areas do you translate?

Because of my professional background, I primarily translate legal, financial, and other business documents.

What talent would you most like to have?

This is not related to translation, but I wish I had a beautiful singing voice. Oh, well.

What is your greatest strength as a translator?

I think having been to law school in both the U.S. and France and having worked as a lawyer in both countries are my greatest strengths. I didn’t have translation credentials when I started, but I was so used to writing and so familiar with the kinds of documents I was translating that it was a very comfortable fit.

Tell us about a particularly interesting project you have worked on.

I did one translation that was completely different from my usual work. A children’s author approached me. She was writing a picture book about Jules Léotard, the 19th century French acrobat after whom the leotard is named, and who was the inspiration for the song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” She asked me to translate portions of his memoirs, which she had found scanned into Google Books. It was written in a very dated style and challenging to translate.

Where would you most like to live?

Having recently moved back to NYC from Baltimore, I’m pretty darn happy with where I live right now! I do miss Paris terribly, though. I would love to be able to spend more time there.  I’m definitely a big city person.

What’s your favorite word or phrase in French or English?

A very old French friend of mine always tells me, “Je te connais comme si je t’avais tricotée.” I love that phrase.

Do you have a favorite French or English book?

This is tough, since I have so many. My favorite area of literature overall is the 19th century novel. I think if I had to pick, my favorite French book would be Zola’s L’Assommoir, and my favorite English book would be Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (though that’s early 20th, not 19th).

What words or phrases do you overuse?

Do you mean in translating or in real life? In translating, I probably overuse “with respect to.” However, I would like to take this opportunity to defend all lawyers by stating that I have never in my life used the phrase “party of the first part.”

Tell us something surprising about yourself.

Hmm. I guess my translator friends mostly don’t know that I was a very serious ballet dancer when I was a child and teenager. I thought hard about whether I wanted to go straight to college or first try auditioning for ballet companies. In the end, I didn’t want to “ruin” the college experience by starting older than everyone else, and I thought I needed a more intellectual career. I stopped dancing altogether because I couldn’t bear the fact that it wasn’t leading to a career anymore. One day my sister will drag me back into class, she’s promised me.

What is your favorite quote?

I know I said my favorite literature is the 19th century novel, but my favorite quote is from a 20th century poem. Actually, my favorite quote is the entire poem: “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes.

If you could translate anything in the world, what would it be and why?

Most (or all) of my favorite books have been translated already. I guess I must have very conventional taste. I would love to translate a non-fiction book at some point, though—maybe a biography. Or, if it hasn’t been translated, a schoolbook that captures an era in French education, like Le Tour de la France par deux enfants. On a day-to-day basis, my favorite documents to translate are briefs in legal cases with long and complicated factual backgrounds, and preferably individuals rather than companies as the parties to the litigation. Those are a lot of fun.

What are some of your favorite translation or language resources?

For legal writing, and in fact for writing in general, anything by Bryan Garner is wonderful. For translation specifically, I use iate quite a bit (the European Union’s terminology database), and the Council of Europe’s French-English Legal Dictionary.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being sworn into the Paris Bar was pretty exciting. I got to wear a black robe.

Do you have a hero?

Hillary Clinton. Is that too political?

Do you have a personal motto?

See “Mother to Son,” above.

Getting My Poincaré Translation Published

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Bruce Popp

Faithful readers of this newsletter and attendees at the 58th ATA Annual Conference will know that Springer published my translation of a book by Poincaré in May 2017. The editor of this newsletter suggested to me that readers might be interested in hearing about my experience finding and working with a publisher. To tell that story, it is best to start at the beginning.

In March 2014 I started translating, from French into English, a book by Henri Poincaré that is considered a classic in the field of mathematical physics. I chose to translate this book because of my personal interest and with the goal of better understanding what Poincaré had done. That means that the translation was not commissioned or done under contract. I had no idea then whether it would even ever be published. I did however know that it could be published because there were no questions of copyright ownership on the original work; Poincaré died in July 1912. I also did enough checking to know that I could work in Microsoft Word and if necessary could do a conversion to LaTeX (a typesetting system popularly used in academia, especially in the sciences) if that was required for submission to a publisher.

As months and months went by and I kept coming back to work on the translation, I started to develop ideas and strategies for where and how the book would be published. I decided that I would not contact a publisher until I had a complete translation that I had edited on-screen. Also, I decided that self-publishing the translation would be a last resort; because of the specialist knowledge required to understand the material I was translating, it was clear that my target market would be academic and that I would need a publisher with access to that market—self-publishing would be a significant market barrier. To narrow the list of potential publishers, I looked for academic publishers that had already published books about Poincaré or his work. That led to a core list of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), Princeton University Press and Springer. I also had an informal discussion with a translator who had been an editor at Harvard University Press; that led to some good advice (more on that later) and the decision that the Press was unlikely to be interested in the book. After looking at websites of other possible publishers, I also added Cambridge University Press, Cornell University Press (I’m an alumni) and MIT Press to my list.

In March 2016 I finished a pass of on-screen editing of the complete translation of the book. I prepared single-page proposal letters for acquisition editors at the six publishers on my list. I tried to indicate why the book was relevant for them to publish and why it was worth publishing. I also stated that I had a complete manuscript that I was willing to share. I heard back from Cornell quickly: “We are not interested.” I also heard from Cambridge University Press fairly fast with some nice words about impressive effort and scholarly importance, followed by “It doesn’t fit into our catalog.” I also received an acknowledgment and promise to look at my proposal from Springer.

I heard from the AMS in June. Their management committee decided they were not interested; they thought it wouldn’t sell enough copies.

At about that time I prepared a version with Poincaré’s original work and my translation on facing pages that I had printed at Staples and I started editing it. While I was doing this editing, I also made notes in the margin (in a different color ink) of things I wanted to include in an “It’s in there!” section of the preface.

By August, about five months after I sent out the proposal letters, I had not heard from Princeton University Press or MIT Press at all, and had not heard from Springer beyond the editor’s acknowledgment that she had received the submission. I sent follow-up emails to MIT and Springer and a revised paper letter to Princeton. The following day (yes, really) I got a paper letter from Princeton responding to my original submission from March and indicating that my book didn’t fit their publishing plans. I got an email message from MIT apologizing for the delay and stating that they were forwarding the proposal to a different editor. I also got an email from the same editor at Springer apologizing for the delay (dealing with personal issues) and promising to look at the proposal.

In September I finished editing the paper copy and transferred my edits into the electronic copy. I never heard back from MIT Press. I started looking more at what was involved in self-publishing.

The next month, I got a second letter from Princeton University Press praising the scholarly importance of the project and apologizing for not having room in their catalog for such a worthy project. A couple weeks before the ATA Conference in San Francisco in 2016, I sent a third email to the editor at Springer. This time I got a real reply: “We are interested. Please fill out and return our submission form.”

I should emphasize that at this point, I had not sent my translation to any publisher. All discussions were based on what was in my proposal letter.

Finding a publisher took patience and persistence and then more of both.

When one story ends, another begins.

I filled out and returned their form. Beyond obvious questions like author, affiliation and completion schedule, it asked for key marketing advantages, my bio, a brief description of the book and a description of the target audience. (After one back-and-forth round of edits, the last two were used on the back cover of the book and the bio appears on the book’s page on the Springer website; except for the copyright page, pretty much everything in and on the book is my writing!)

And then I waited.

Just before Thanksgiving, I sent a follow-up email and was told that the proposal had been sent to the editor of a book series. The reasoning was that “books that are part of a series sell better.” (The book became volume 443 in the Astrophysics and Space Science Library.)

And I waited.

On December 6, I was sent a contract. I read it and compared it to the PEN model contract for literary translators (available online). I considered the advice that I had been given by the former Harvard University Press editor. Based on that I asked for:

  • More: A higher percentage for royalties, more free copies for me.
  • Escalating royalties: When the total number of copies sold reaches certain levels, the percentage for royalties goes up. The first bracket is 2000 copies sold.
  • Reversion of copyright if the book goes out of print (see PEN clause 13).
  • A commitment that my name would appear on the cover, and on the title and copyright pages (see PEN clause 11).

The contract already provided that I would have the final review of the page proofs of the book (see PEN clause 4). There was a good bit more in the contract but it looked reasonable. They didn’t offer an advance against royalties, and I didn’t ask for any. I also asked what they would do for marketing the book and how many copies they thought it might sell.

At this point things started to move fast. They replied the next day with a revised contract that included the higher percentage for royalties, all the free copies I asked for, and a schedule for the escalating royalties. (I didn’t ask for a particular schedule, but their proposed sales numbers and percentages looked okay.) They said that because they used a print-on-demand technology the book in effect would never go out of print and therefore a reversion of copyright clause was not meaningful. They said they couldn’t put anything about where my name would appear into the contract, but provided a sample cover from another book translation and said they would follow that example; they also agreed to review the cover design with me. (In the end, I was pleased with where and how my name appeared.)

The contract then went through a round of signatures and everything was done and signed within two weeks after I first received the contract.

I submitted the manuscript the day after the contract was signed and mostly things went pretty fast and smoothly from there.

Right away Springer asked for a list of head words for an index (and I provided two, one for persons and one for concepts) and a list of references cited by Poincaré. Producing the reference list was an interesting challenge, because Poincaré provided in-line references that ranged from incomplete to obscure descriptions. I had already looked for and at some while I was doing the translation; others I had thought wouldn’t be interesting. It is amazing how many scanned images of 19th-century books and journals are available on the internet. I found all the references without having to visit a physical library to look through rare books.

I was shown a couple drafts of the cover design and was consulted on some changes in the wording I had proposed for the subtitle of the book. I really liked the picture of Poincaré they had picked, my name was in the place and size I expected, and I easily agreed to the changes in wording.

In the manuscript I submitted I maintained page breaks so the page numbering matched Poincaré’s original work. Obviously this made editing easier for me. I asked the editor that the page breaks be maintained in publication. The outsourced layout service said that wouldn’t be possible and the editor didn’t argue the case for me. At the time I was disappointed; I had liked the bilingual layout (on facing pages) of the paper copy that I edited during the summer. I came to like, and now prefer, the layout without the page breaks matching the breaks in the source.

About March, I got copies of the page proofs (in PDF) and the manuscript that had been converted from Word to LaTeX and edited. I was able to use Word to compare the manuscript I had delivered to the edited one that was returned. There was very little editing and nearly all of it involved systematically applying the “house style”: They eliminated all contractions and added Oxford commas, and in the equations, they made the d (which stands for “derivative”) non-italic. They had not removed the page breaks correctly, leaving paragraph breaks that should’ve been closed up when the page break was removed. The page proofs had a small number of questions at the end of each chapter (e.g. “Where’s equation 4? The numbers go directly from 3 to 5.” Answer: “There was no equation 4 in the original and I didn’t renumber the equations.”)

More importantly, there was a serious problem with the formatting of many equations; most numerators and denominators in fractions were much too small, in many cases making parts of the equations unreadable. In the cases where I looked at the equation layout in LaTeX, I didn’t see any problem; I believe the issue was in a global option used by the layout service that wasn’t included in the file returned to me. I demanded that the problems with the page breaks and the equations be fixed and a new set of page proofs returned to me. The project manager at Springer agreed with me and I was copied on some emails with the supervisor of the layout service, who was persuaded to provide new proofs.

I got the new proofs in about a month and things went smoothly from there.

I was absolutely thrilled when the box with the author’s copies was delivered, unannounced, in early May. It took about 38 months from the time I started the translation to the moment I was able to hold the published book in my hands. The thrill still hasn’t worn off.


Bruce D. Popp, Ph.D. is a French into English scientific and technical translator.

Proust Questionnaire – feat. Gay Rawson

ata-fld-newsletter-logoThis is part of a continuing series of Proust questionnaires answered by members of the FLD Leadership Council. Gay Rawson is a professor of French at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.  She also has over 20 years of experience as a freelance FR <> ENG translator and interpreter working across of a variety of subject areas from local to international levels.

Do you have a personal motto?

Courage!  My advisor for the MA thesis used to sign her emails with this and now I do.  Seems like everyone can always use this.  I also try to remember these words: “Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle” apparently attributed to the Reverend John Watson.  I find it helps me frame my interactions so that I am more of a listener and problem solver.

What talent would you most like to have?

I wish I knew every language so that I could communicate effectively and speak to everyone in the language of their heart.

How did you get involved in translation?

I was doing a Ph.D. in French at the University of Iowa and they needed someone to translate and interpret for some political asylum cases at the Legal Clinic.  I was looking for extra money and interested in using my French in different ways so I applied.  I eventually was chosen to work on the project and it was life changing.  It was both humbling and powerful to be able to help tell someone’s story and, hopefully, play a role in their quest to find peace in their lives.

What is your greatest strength as a translator?

My path to translation and interpretation is not traditional.  I have eclectic interests that have allowed me to gather unique experiences.  When no one else wanted to do it and when no one else thought it was interesting, I tried it.  If we take cultural and linguistic competency as a given (I think this is the most important basic feature that a translator must have), I think my greatest strength is that I have a wealth of diverse subject areas and experiences that are applicable in surprising ways to most any situation.  I encourage my students to take full advantage of their degree in the liberal arts at my university (I am a professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota).  A true passion for lifelong learning and a natural curiosity have been my greatest gifts and are my greatest strengths as a translator.

What are some of your favorite translation or language resources?

I love collecting new resources all the time!  I have a webpage with some of my favorites:  Please send me any of your suggestions and I would be happy to add to this collection.

Lately I’ve been trying to learn slang to be able to relate more to my students (and kids).  Some of the websites we play with for that (not applicable in many situations per se but interesting):

Amusez-vous bien!

A Newbie’s Impression of the ATA 58th Annual Conference

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Gabriela Nunes

As a Brazilian translator and interpreter (my working languages are Brazilian Portuguese, English and French), one of my career goals was to attend an ATA Conference. Finally, in 2017, I had the pleasure of going to the ATA 58th Annual Conference in Washington, DC—and the meeting was an amazing event for the reasons that I list below. One of them was totally unexpected.

First, as I aimed to establish contact with new clients, the job fair represented an awesome opportunity to be in touch with them. Being a good student, I did my homework, having my résumés prepared in advance and my business cards attached to them. As a result, today I am working with some of those agencies that I met in the fair.

Going to the ATA 58th Annual Conference was also important to meet new and old colleagues (even those from other language pairs). For this, I used every opportunity to connect with other attendees and exchange business cards: breakfast, lunchtime, elevator, salsa and yoga classes, sessions, etc. I also went to the dinner of two Divisions to which I belong, the Portuguese Language Division and the French Language Division. On both occasions, I met wonderful people with whom I exchanged professional experiences and have been in touch since then.

Needless to say, being in Washington, one of the most influential capitals in the world, was also an opportunity not to be missed by me as a former international affairs student. So, I also enjoyed the tourism aspect of the event. I visited the main memorials of the city, government buildings and, of course, its malls and surrounding outlets.

In short, the ATA Conference was worth all the energy I invested into it: visa procedures, redesigning my business card, updating my résumé, finding nice roommates for the conference (which I did!) and rescheduling my projects. Incidentally, telling my regular clients that I would be unavailable during that week because of the ATA Meeting impressed them and reinforced my commitment to professionalism and continuous quest for excellency in my work. What a good surprise!

I recommend to every translator and interpreter working with English to attend at least once an ATA Conference. It does open our minds as professionals and does put us in contact with amazing people and insightful ideas. So, let’s start 2018 with plans for New Orleans. I hope to see you there!

Gabriela Nunes is a Brazilian translator and interpreter. Having lived in the United States, France, Switzerland, and Brazil, she works with Brazilian Portuguese, French, and English. Her fields of expertise are international relations, medical, and technology.

Reflections on the ATA Conference by a Second-Year Attendee, or The ATA Conference and the Cycle of Learning

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Michele Rosen

Now that I’ve attended my second ATA conference, I can see annual attendance will influence my career as a freelance translator. Each year, I’ve gone to the conference with a set of questions about the profession and the industry, and, so far, I’ve come out with enough partial answers and new questions to drive my professional development throughout the following year, until the next conference, when I expect the cycle to repeat.

Surrendering to the flow of information coming from the conference was easier this time around. In 2016, just six months after deciding to embark on a new career as a freelance translator, I went into the San Francisco conference with basic but important questions about how to set my rates and whether I needed to add a second language pair. I came home from that conference with copious notes and pointers to books, blogs, podcasts, and papers that helped me to find the answers.

For example, as a beginning freelance translator, I feared that translators who work in less-common and more-difficult-to-learn languages than French were somehow more valuable, and therefore more likely to be in demand and more highly paid, than translators in a common language pair like French and English. Initially, seeing all of the (more experienced) French-to-English translators at the conference, I started to fear, as I heard one Spanish translator say, that “everyone can translate French.”

However, as I began to explore the fountain of information I had collected at the conference, I began to see that, as Corinne McKay has noted, every language pair has its pros and cons. In a blog post entitled “Which Language is Best,” McKay explained that, in her view, French and German are appealing for U.S.-based translators “because there’s a good balance between work volume and rates, and because U.S.-based translators have some financial advantages” over European translators. At the same time, while there is a critical need for Middle Eastern and Asian languages, she cautioned that, “for some of these language combinations, there is a lot of competition from translators who are not native speakers of English but who translate into English anyway, even if they shouldn’t.” This information made it easier for me to decide to shelve my tentative (and frankly unrealistic) plans to become fluent in Japanese.

As I prepared to attend the conference in 2017, the previous conference served as a milestone that let me see how much I had learned since then. With a conference and a year of freelancing under my belt, I certainly didn’t qualify as a newbie anymore, but I didn’t feel quite ready to be a buddy. That said, I knew the conference would provide the opportunity to ask new questions about what it means to be a translator and to continue to figure out what kind of translator I want to be.

These questions led me to attend T&I Advocacy Day, at which such questions moved from the theoretical to the practical. The event, organized by the ATA in partnership with the Joint National Committee for Languages, was intended to introduce ATA members to public advocacy for issues important to the profession. The organizers scheduled meetings for attendees with Congressional staffers and asked us to focus on three topics: wage rate estimates for translators and interpreters from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), language services procurement policies, and best practices for machine translation.

During the strategy session with the Maryland delegation, we discussed how to explain to Congressional staffers why the BLS should change the way it estimates hourly rates for translators and interpreters. A major point of contention is that the BLS only surveys translators with full-time permanent positions to determine the median hourly rate for translators and interpreters ($22.17/hour in 2016). In pointing out how reductive this single rate is, Evelyna Radoslavova argued convincingly that it’s difficult to generalize about translators and interpreters because we all deal with different language pairs and subject matters.

While I agreed with Radoslavova that it was important to make this point to the staffers, we also agreed that the diversity in the profession makes it difficult to craft a more precise description of the profession than the one currently used by the government, which states that translators and interpreters “convert information from one language into another language.” This definition is clearly vague and incomplete, but it isn’t easy to come up with a more precise definition that won’t exclude some translators.

While this difficulty poses a challenge for language industry policy advocates, it also creates the opportunity for each translator and interpreter to define the profession for ourselves. I expect to be contemplating this scary and exciting idea for the next several months, until I have another chance to immerse myself in the impressive breadth and depth of the ATA annual conference.

Michele Rosen is a freelance translator and editor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.

Working In (And Maintaining) Two Very Different Foreign Languages

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Ben Karl

When I tell other translators what language pairs I work in, I inevitably get one of several reactions: wow, those are so different! That’s impressive, where did you learn that second one? How the heck did you pick those two up? They’re nothing alike! Which language is that pink dot on your ATA badge?

My two working languages are French and Chinese (Mandarin). When I moved to Montreal for university, I decided that in addition to jumping into French translation, I would start taking another language as well. Portuguese, a language I was drawn to at the time, wasn’t offered, but I could choose from all of the official UN languages and others, including Hebrew and even Tibetan. At 8:00 a.m. on the first Monday of my first week, I attended my first Chinese class. The rest, as they say, is history.

Working with two very different languages presents a number of challenges and rewards. Below are just a few of them.


  1. The “mental gymnastics” of translation

An article in the November/December 2017 issue of The Chronicle by Roz Schwartz includes the following quote from Nicky Harman, a Chinese to English translator:

“I’ve no evidence for this since I only translate from Chinese, but I think that languages that are very different from English are harder to translate because you have to do more mental gymnastics to get an acceptable English version. Not even the simplest sentence can be translated ‘literally’ (yes, I know that word opens another can of worms!).”

While my observations are also purely anecdotal, I would agree that working from Chinese to English is much more challenging and requires significantly more time and effort than working from French to English. English has borrowed extensively from French and, by virtue of the fact that both are Indo-European languages, they share many more similarities than do English and Chinese. The increased difficulty of Chinese affects all aspects of a translation project, from quoting to the translation itself to quality control, adding an additional layer of complexity and difficulty.

  1. Differences in prospecting tactics

The francophone world and the United States have relatively similar business practices. Marketing usually involves demonstrating your value to a potential customer and the customer deciding whether or not to buy based on a variety of factors, from price to perceived quality to simple convenience. China, on the other hand, has an additional level of complexity. Many people have heard of guanxi, a Chinese term that literally means “relationship” but encompasses the myriad personal connections that lubricate business dealings in China. This often means getting to know your client or counterpart on a personal level over multiple meetings, meals, and drinks. For a US-based freelancer, developing such relationships in China is very challenging. Therefore, in my experience, Chinese-to-English freelancers in the US generally work with US-based companies that are communicating with China, whereas French-English translators are able to work more easily with clients all over the world.

  1. The world’s most challenging writing system

Chinese is widely touted as one of the most difficult languages to learn. Tones completely aside, the writing system rivals all others in terms of difficulty and complexity (you may be seeing a common theme here: difficulty and complexity!). According to the BBC, there are over 50,000 distinct Chinese characters (thankfully only about 20,000 of which are still in use and listed in modern dictionaries). A university-educated Chinese person will know approximately 8,000 characters and to read a newspaper (and be a decent translator), you need to know upwards of 3,000 of them. Since there is no link between a way a character is written and how it is pronounced, Chinese is one of the only languages where you can see the words on the page, know what they mean, but not remember how to pronounce them; or conversely, know how to say a word but forget what it looks like. These complexities, coupled with the stark differences between English and Chinese, mean that I consult my dictionary far more frequently for Chinese than I do for French.


  1. Broad cultural and linguistic reach

With English, French, and Mandarin combined, I can understand and facilitate communication between nearly 1.5 billion people. That’s almost a quarter of the people living on the planet! I get to experience an inspiring amount of cultural richness in what I am lucky to translate on a daily basis. In a single day, I can “travel” from Mainland China to Quebec City to Geneva to Kinshasa and back again.

  1. Lack of grammatical similarities or cognates

French and Chinese have almost nothing in common. French is relatively highly inflected; Mandarin has zero inflection. French grammar is derived from Latin whereas Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language. This makes it all but impossible to confuse them or mix them up. Other than English loan words in Chinese, such as caffeine (kāfēiyīn, 咖啡因), pizza (pīsà, 披萨), salad (shālà, 沙拉), and others, including many place names, there are no cognates and therefore no need to keep a watchful eye on faux amis. When working in Chinese, I do not have to worry about getting tripped up by éventuellement, excité, or luxurieux.

  1. Daily intellectual stimulation

I often have the privilege of working on Chinese and French texts in the same day. Working from just one language to another can be challenging enough, so having the chance to work from multiple languages a day is an excellent way to keep my synapses firing. I definitely earn myself a nice glass of wine at the end of a long day (and that wine is often un bon vin français).

If you work in two very different languages or have had similar experiences, tweet the FLD at @ATA_FLD and Ben at @Bentranslates.

Ben Karl, MBA, CT is a French and Mandarin to English translator based in Reno, Nevada who specializes in marketing, financial, and creative content. Visit his blog, Ben Translates, or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.