Clark Translations: a tale of non-payment

Dear Bianca:

We all like to think of ourselves as special. We all like to think of ourselves as irreplaceable. We relish on the idea that the world is going to stop, even if just for a second, when we go through rough times or are about to die.

I have bad news for you: the world doesn't stop turning just because we are having personal difficulties. We all turn to ashes and we all leave everything behind. Even an entire life's work. Even one's reputation. But somehow, most of us find solace in the fact that we leave something behind: a legacy, a testimony to who we were and what we accomplished during our days on this Earth. So seeing that you are gravely ill and thus close to that moment of passage, why not make a balance of the legacy you are about to leave behind?

In case you are reading this post and have never heard of Bianca Clark, owner of the California-based translation company Clark Translations, this is Bianca:

Bianca Clark's public LinkedIn profile picture. I do not own this image. 

Bianca Clark's public LinkedIn profile picture. I do not own this image. 

Bianca is the owner of Clark Translations, a translation company who has been in business for over 10 years and enjoyed a five-star reputation until this year (2014). In just a few months, Bianca Clark disappeared, shut down all communications between herself and her language providers and left dozens of overdue invoices unpaid. 

There was no warning and in first few months, no one was given any glimpse of an explanation. Finally, an automatic email reply informed the world that Bianca Clark was going through a medical emergency and was thus unable to meet her pending financial compromises. No provision was made for hiring an accountant to settle any overdue invoice.

There was no apology, no personal contact, not a single word which might reveal Bianca's (un)awareness of the chaos she was causing to the very people who made her business what it was. There was however a thank you line, thanking all of us for our 'professionalism'. Too bad we were unable to reply and thank Bianca along the same lines. 

So, since so many months have passed (I have been waiting for a payment of over $2000 since January 2014) and none of us even knows if Bianca has succumbed to her condition, I decided to thank her publicly.

Thank you Bianca, for causing me and dozens others financial distress;

Thank you for denying me payment for my work, which was done and delivered as agreed;

Thank you for denying me a compensation for the time I spent making sure your clients would be satisfied;

Thank you for not giving a damn for anyone else but you;

Thank you for your hypocrisy in demanding professionalism and offering none in return.

And these are my wishes for you:

I wish you a long life;

I wish you reap a just reward for your actions;

I wish the market, your clients, language providers, friends and relatives see you for who you are and act accordingly.

And since the world may not yet be aware of who you are and what business you are supposedly trying to run, here is a list of links where anyone can find out more about you:

Clark Translations official website

Bianca Clark's public LinkedIn profile 

Clark Translation's banned profile on (accessible only to paying members)

Clark Translations on Ripoff report

Clark Translations on a blacklist of translation companies

Bianca Clark on Facebook

And I am sure anyone will find countless other bright mentions of Bianca Clark's fraud and non-payment practices on the web.

Thank you one last time, Bianca Clark, for being such a fine example of lack of character. 



Joana Belo Pereira


P.S. - If you, dear reader, have been affected by Bianca Clark's disappearance or know someone who has, please spread the word about Bianca Clark's business practices and write a review about Clark Translations on Google, the largest search engine in the world. 

If you, dear prospective client, are considering hiring the services of Clark Translations, please bear in mind that by doing so, you are allowing this lady to remain in business. 





Babeling and not dazzling: why I still won't Unbabel

I previously gave my opinion on Unbabel back in May 2014. ( My goal at the time was simply to act as a counterpoint for mainstream media, who insist on heralding Unbabel, a translation start-up based in Lisbon and San Francisco, as one of the most startling examples of entrepreneurial success. 

Since then, I have done what I can to dispel the idea that Unbabel is worth any translator's time and effort and that, contrary to its founding members theory, Unbabel's purpose is far from being revolutionary. Somehow I seem to have been able to make my voice heard, since I was invited by one of Unbabel's staff members to meet them and explain a translator's perspective about their business.

Although I have truly appreciated the invitation and the subsequent exchange of ideas, I left Unbabel still unconvinced of its added-value to the translation industry and the business world in general. Unbabel is under the illusion that marketing itself as a 'low-cost' machine translation company and targeting only customers looking for an 'acceptable translation' is a valuable business model, since it targets a market segment that would not be willing or able to pay for a professional translation anyway. I disagree with this statement and will try to explain why. 

What is the problem with this low-cost philosophy?

Picking up on the analogy made several times during our meeting at Unbabel: Specialized translators are like high-fashion, and Unbabel wants to be like Zara. 

It doesn't take much to understand what fast-fashion chains like Zara and H&M, among others, rely upon to produce inexpensive products: cheap labor and bad quality raw materials. In many instances, even slave labor. I can understand that translation is not even regarded as a profession by many people, but the fact remains that most professional translators are highly-educated individuals, both from a formal and informal point of view. So why should we accept the hourly rates Unbabel proposes to pay its 'editors', which are only appropriate for low-skilled workers? Why should we sell our product so cheap? 

What is the added-value to the final client?

Please exclude my snobbery, but I simply cannot understand why anyone in need of a translation would choose to hire a company whose final product is, at least for now, barely readable and which certainly makes a bad impression on its clients. From my perspective, either pay for the real thing or forfeit that option entirely. As with many products, you can trick yourself into thinking that the cheaper Chinese version looks the same as the more expensive one, but you would only be fooling yourself.  In the end,considering its quality (or lack thereof) Unbabel's final product is terribly expensive.

What are the standards that Unbabel is setting for the translation industry?

Terrible standards, actually. Most likely, there never was such a big need for translators and translations, but nevertheless,  our profession has never been more at stake than it is nowadays.  Rather than reversing the current pattern of unrealistic expectations by clients, Unbabel is simply exacerbating the problem, by allowing clients to believe that ordering a translation is the language equivalent of ordering a vanilla latte. Unlike this milky beverage, the only way of concocting a decent translation in a few minutes is by using sour milk and expired vanilla extract, with its correspondent digestive consequences. The problem is twofold: unrealistic deadlines and even more unrealistic prices. Once clients are used to pay peanuts for work that should be executed by qualified individuals and that same work gets an artificial label of 'acceptability', how likely are clients to learn what a good translation actually looks like and what is its real actual cost and added-value? 

Translators are not running a professional charity.

I can understand how this sentence may shock many staff members at Unbabel, since, as far as my research could determine, Unbabel was founded and is run by engineers and management graduates. From my personal and professional experience, the prevailing idea among people with that kind of background is that 'language people' are ludites and ignorant lazybones without an inch of knowledge, skills or expertise to show for. And from what I could gather during my meeting at Unbabel's headquarters, staff members were under the impression that translators would do 'editing' work and even provide feedback for others' editing work for free, because...I mean, it's fun, right? It's not actual work, it's something that you do on your free time, like a crossword puzzle, no doubt a welcome distraction from the real grown-up world of coding.  I was never a fan of unpaid or even voluntary work in any field and if wanting to make a living as a 'language person' is the moral equivalent of being 'greedy', than I would rather live with that label that being called 'altruistic'. 

For taskers, go to TaskRabbit.

Towards the end of our conversation there seemed to be a consensus forming, in the sense that Unbabel's staff members appeared to accept that it may prove impossible to offer 'editors' a rate closer to the usual fees of a professional translator. As far as I understood, they didn't seem troubled by the idea that the entire operation might at some point be on the hands of untrained, unqualified individuals. So, taking that idea one step further, I suggest using TaskRabbit and getting taskers to do the work, since professionals, ironically enough, do not fit the criteria anymore.  


To sum up:  although I was given the opportunity to reverse my opinion of Unbabel and its practices, I am still unconvinced about almost every aspect of this project. I do not consider it to be viable, fair or even honest. And as long as Unbabel's project remains fundamentally unchanged, this will be my final word on the topic.

CAT Tools: debunking some (not so) strange beasts

Regardless of whether you are a veteran or a newbie to the translation industry, you are bound to quickly come across one of the most feared and controversial animals of the translation world: say hello to the CAT Tool. So what are, who are they, what do they do and why it is so important to make your own personal decision about them ASAP.

What is a CAT Tool: 

CAT Tool stands for Computer-aided translation or Computer-assisted translation. It is a software program specially designed to assist translators during the translation process. 

Which CAT Tools are out there: 

I cannot provide you a full list, because it keeps growing. From my personal experience, TRADOS and MemoQ have been the two most requested CAT Tools so far, but any translator could give you a different answer. 

What does a CAT Tool actually do:

A CAT Tool allows the translator to do a number of things. Firstly, it takes the document that needs to be translated and breaks it down into segments (which are usually whole sentences or phrases). Secondly, a CAT Tool allows you to plug-in a TM (Translation Memory). From a translator's point of view, a CAT Tool should allow for speedier work and more coherence in the terminology you use. I  would say that from the client's perspective, using the TM is probably the most important aspect in a CAT Tool, because the TM allows the translator to pull from it any expressions or vocabulary which has already been used in previous translations for that particular field/client. More often than not, clients and agencies DO NOT want the translator to be innovative: they want someone who will assure the consistency and coherence of the document and will produce produce a translation in line with previous ones. 

Why is it so important that you make a decision about CAT Tools ASAP:

As you have probably figured out by now, there is a number of decisions you should make regarding CAT Tools. So let's try listing the most important things to consider.

  • CAT Tools are an investment. If you do decide to work with CAT Tools, you will have to approach that option as an professional investment, for two main reasons: you will have to take as much time as possible to learn how to use them (trust me, it is best NOT to use them at all, then to make mistakes while completing a translation for a client). You will have to feel confident using them; in addition, CAT Tools are expensive. There is not other way to put it, since most of them cost several hundred dollars and will be outdated after one year, requiring that same investment to be renewed year after year. 
  • CAT Tools cannot be an instrument of pressure. Unfortunately for us, translation agencies can be very pushy about CAT Tools, which is why is so important that you have a firm stand. If you are a freelance translator, you need to make clear to them that YOU (and not them) have the last word about whether or not you want to include CAT Tools or not. If you are not ready to use them, then don't. If you are ready but don't have the budget to acquire them, talk to the agency; if they have any interest in your work, they might just provide you with a license at no cost. 
  • CAT Tools cannot be an instrument of slavery.  One of the reasons why CAT Tools are so controversial is because they have been widely used as an instrument of slavery. Agencies will push you to establish different rates (new word, fuzzy match, repetition) in order to lower the overall cost of a translation. This may seem logical at first, but you need to bear in mind that even in a job with many repetitions, you are still going to have to go through the document, i.e., you will still have to spend your time doing the job. When in doubt, do the math before taking the assignment on board: if the rate offered by the agency will not cover the amount of time you will need to deliver the work, then you should probably turn it down. Translation is not just a business to the agency: it is first and foremost YOUR business, so act from a business perspective at all times.   

How you can start educating yourself about CAT Tools: 

Again, the keyword is research. You can either ask agencies which CAT Tools they require their translators to use, or decide for yourself which ones you'd like to work with. Companies that make CAT Tools usually have a very comprehensive website where you can read the FAQs, see some videos and probably even download a sample of their program. In the case of some CAT Tools you can even decide to do a certification program with the company. 

So I hope I have managed to debunk some of the myths and doubts surrounding CAT Tools. It is virtually impossible to say everything in one single post, so please keep posting your comments and questions. 


This blog post is dedicated to Alireza




The one-million dollar question: how can I start as a translator?

Recently, I have been approached by some young translators looking for some advice on how to thrive in the translation world. I do not consider myself neither an expert neither a super-experienced translator (9 years in the market is already something, but it barely compares to those who have been around for 30+ years), but I do remember feeling terribly frustrated, scared and without any sense of direction when I started; which I why I will do my best to help out those who are taking the first steps to succeed in this industry.

Initially, I had planned to write a rather long blog post, but after some consideration I realized that there isn't one single question to be answered when you are starting out: there are dozens of them, some as simple as: how do I talk to clients, how do I market myself, which rate is appropriate for my language combination (s). These are all valid and important questions, but while some of the answers may seem straightforward, for most of them, it will be up to you to decide what the best solution is. 

So on this first blog post I will give my opinion on one or two important issues for young translators; other blog posts will follow, in which other matters will be discussed. Please feel free to comment and leave your questions, suggestions, etc, so that I have some idea of what to write about in the future. 

1 . I am a translation student, I am about to finish my studies, I want to start doing some translation work but I don't how to get it. Can you help me?

This is the number one question everyone wants to see answered. Every recent graduate in any field goes through the same angst: how do I get my foot on the door? Any industry can feel intimidating when you feel that your qualifications are not enough to put you in a par with other more experienced colleagues. So here are a few things that you should keep in mind and actually apply to any professional situation, be it inside or outside the translation industry:

  • Know thyself. No, it's not about knowing your whole life story by heart: it is about knowing what you have to offer. Just because you have very little or no work experience does not mean that you are incompetent, useless or incapable of forging a formidable career once you get started. It only means that you need to know how to make yourself attractive to potential clients without lying. Therefore, take as much time as you need to carve a CV that will, if not impress, than at least present yourself as a possible future beacon for the translation work. 
  • Know the market. Your translation market is defined by a number of factors: the country you live in; your target language; your source(s) language(s). The sum up of all those factors determines the dynamic of the market you will be working in; ideally, every translator should learn as much as possible about his/her market long before they start working. Why? Well, it is paramount to know if you have a strong or weak language combination (a strong language combination is a rare, or at least unusual one that usually gives translators a lot more leeway when negotiating with clients). It is essential to be updated on the tax laws for freelancers in your own country, so that you begin to have a notion of all tax duties which you will have to fulfill once you get started.  Finally, it is important to have a notion of the size of your potential translation market: as a Portuguese translator, I am relatively lucky, since I have the opportunity to work not just for Portuguese clients, but on occasion also to clients from Angola, Mozambique and even Brazil. So try to get a sense of your market: its trends, its current and future needs and match that with your own training and education.
  • Know how everyone else does it. None of us were born translating professionally. There is a myriad of paths that end with you having a professional career as a translator. So first of all, don't feel like a freak: use that energy to put yourself to work. The keyword in this stage of your career is: research. Research translation companies, join translators' forums, look for ways to build up your skills and your experience, learn about CAT Tools, learn how to invoice, choose a professional email address, etc. There probably will never be a better time to do some voluntary translation work, but do it in a balanced and conscious way: it is always too easy for everyone to start taking you and your free work for granted. 
  • Last but definitely not least: always express yourself in a positive way. I am always flabbergasted at the way recent graduates express themselves: like they are constantly apologizing for their lack of experience. What they don't seem to realize is how damaging that attitude is, particularly when you are starting your career. Find a way to focus on your accomplishments and highlight the points that make you proud. For instance, if you graduated top of your class, why not say that? If you are computer-proficient, why omit that? As you get more and more experience, you may be surprised to learn that even the most bizarre skills and knowledge have their own place in the translation world. 

Finally, remember: Rome was not built in a day (or a year, for that matter), so keep focused. It is daunting to face your whole potential future, but you will do a lot better if you keep cool. 


This first post is dedicated to Waheeba. 


Como comprar uma cadeira de Area infinita

Por ironia do destino, teria gostado que alguém me tivesse informado que, ao adquirir uma cadeira, mais valia esperar sentada...noutra peça de mobiliário. Por outro lado, a verdade é que há uma série de milagres a acontecer na Área Infinitas, uma sociedade especializada em design de interiores, com presença no Amoreiras Shopping Center, Cascais Shopping, Centro Comercial Colombo e ainda no Norte Shopping. Enquanto consumidora e cliente, tive a honra de experimentar a qualidade do atendimento e do serviço da Área Infinitas; foi uma experiência de tal forma iluminadora e tão infinitamente impressionante que decidi partilhá-la com o resto do mundo. 

Capítulo I : o deslumbramento

A Área Infinitas não pode deixar de impressionar o consumidor à procura de artigos de decoração e mobiliário com um tom diferente; a verdade é que o panorama nacional neste setor nem sempre é o mais aliciante: oscila entre o ostencioso, o caro e o desinteressante. A Área Infinitas, pelo contrário, aparenta oferecer uma alternativa não apenas interessante mas também mais acessível em termos de decoração. Infelizmente, como costuma ser a norma, as aparências iludem. O pior, no entanto, é que os clientes só se irão aperceber dessa ilusão infinita quando for tarde demais; o mesmo é dizer, depois de terem pago. Há áreas em que simplesmente não se deve entrar.

Dirigi-me à Área Infinitas na miragem de adquirir uma cadeira de trabalho: as minhas costas não sobreviveriam muito mais tempo na cadeira que tinha na altura. Olhei para a oferta de múltiplas cadeiras, em vários estilos, formatos e cores e escolhi. Dirigi-me à caixa, onde fui informada de que a cadeira em questão não estava disponível para entrega imediata, teria de ser encomendada. Metade do valor seria pago de imediato e o restante seria pago aquando da entrega, que ocorreria num prazo máximo de seis semanas. Corria o dia 18 de abril de 2014; com a promessa de ter acesso a uma nova peça de mobiliário extremamente necessária, tive a ingenuidade de pensar que este até poderia ser o início de uma bela amizade. 

Capítulo II: imprecisões

Contei os dias no calendário da agenda para ter a certeza de que não tinha havido um equívoco da minha parte. 23 de maio era a data limite para poder trocar o sofrimento diário de uma cadeira nada ortopédica, pela postura mais confortável e ergonómica daquela que tinha encomendado. O dia 23 de maio passou-se sem notícias nem avisos: foi como se a encomenda nunca tivesse ocorrido. Não houve justificações, explicações ou qualquer tipo de informação de cortesia da parte da Area Infinitas. Coube-me a mim telefonar e indagar acerca do destino da cadeira. Segundo a assistente de serviço, tinha havido um problema com o fornecedor em causa e a entrega estaria adiada para daí a 2 semanas. Não foram oferecidas quaisquer alternativas nem qualquer solução para o problema que, afinal de contas, era apenas meu e de mais ninguém. A Area Infinitas não existe afinal para prestar um serviço ao cliente; existe para fazer vendas de catálogo a prazos infinitos (talvez até seja essa a inspiração para o nome). Apesar da falta básica de cortesia, a verdade é que precisava da cadeira, por isso resignei-me a aguentar as dores diárias de costas e a esperar. Afinal de contas, quem precisa de um prazo, quando pode ter vários pelo mesmo preço?

Capítulo III: promessas, promessas, promessas 

Decorrido o prazo de 2 semanas, instalou-se o silêncio absoluto. Não houve chamadas, emails ou qualquer outro tipo de comunicação da parte da Área Infinitas com vista a esclarecer a situação. Mais uma vez, coube-me a mim pegar no telefone e perguntar. Perguntar o que se passava. Perguntar quando chegaria aquele objeto, indispensável para mim, pelo qual já tinha até pago mais de 100€ sem nunca ter tido ainda a honra de o utilizar. "Vem para a semana." Volvida essa semana, voltei a telefonar. "Vem para a próxima semana". Passada a segunda semana, voltei a telefonar. "Vem para a semana". Apercebi-me nessa altura de que o caráter infinito da Area Infinitas tinha inúmeras nuances kafkianas, todas elas com a marca de uma má empresa.

Capítulo IV: a inexistência real de um serviço de pós-venda

Em Portugal existe a tendência para criar títulos e cargos desprovidos de qualquer conteúdo ou significado; a Area Infinitas conseguiu aprimorar e aperfeiçoar essa arte subtil e conferir-lhe uma nova mestria. "A data de entrega da sua encomenda será a 8 ou 9 de julho." A voz em causa vinha do serviços de pós-venda e parecia quer convencer-me da sua sinceridade, mas não estava a ter grandes resultados. Com mais de 30 dias de atraso na entrega, nesta altura eu não estava à procura de promessas vãs. Queria uma resposta definitiva, de preferência por escrito. 

"Já me foram indicadas várias datas de entrega, nenhuma das quais foi cumprida". 

"Ah, mas essas datas eram previsões, nós agora temos a confirmação da data de entrega."

"E como é que eu sei que essa data vai ser cumprida?"

"Porque eu estou-lhe a confirmar isso mesmo."

"Bem, nesse caso agradecia que me enviasse um email com essa confirmação por escrito, com uma referência explícita às datas que acabou de mencionar."

Como é óbvio, esse email de confirmação nunca chegou. Faz parte do modus operandi de qualquer empresa "de qualidade" nunca colocar nada por escrito, a menos que reverta a seu favor. A esse propósito, o próximo capítulo é um deleite. 

Capítulo V: o caráter infinito das boas notas de encomenda 





in Nota de Encomenda da Area Infinitas 

Há documentos que conseguem ser autênticos exercícios de imaginação jurídica. Talvez os quadros superiores da Área Infinitas não sejam particularmente versados nos direitos dos seus clientes (embora estejam inteiramente convictos dos seus próprios direitos enquanto vendedores); o fato é que as condições gerais de venda da Área Infinitas, segundo os funcionários da empresa, prevalecem sobre a legislação portuguesa e a legislação comunitária em matéria de direitos do consumidor.

É um verdadeiro exercício de ignorância e arrogância: a legislação estipula que o cliente tem direito a conhecer o prazo de entrega do produto que adquiriu; a Área Infinitas, pelo contrário, considera que tem apenas o dever de mencionar prazos meramente indicativos. A legislação estipula que o consumidor tenha direito a devolver o artigo adquirido e a obter, se não um reembolso, então pelo menos o direito a trocá-lo por outro.

Mas claramente os milhares de juristas envolvidos no processo de legislar estão equivocados: ao consumidor não assiste nenhum desses direitos. Já é um ato de clemência da parte da Area Infinitas permitir a meros mortais pensarem que poderão um dia usufruir do privilégio de verem a sua encomenda a ser finalmente entregue.

Capítulo VI:   

8 de julho passou sem novidades da cadeira que, nesta altura, já tinha adquirido o estatuto mítico de objeto inexistente, para infelicidade da minha postura. Pensei nas ironias da sociedade: uma empresa pode legitimamente oferecer serviços que não tem intenção de vir a  cumprir, mas um carteirista, se for apanhado em flagrante, será pelo menos conduzido até à esquadra para uma breve troca de palavras.  Em ambos os casos, as ações poderão só ter consequências para os lesados. 

A 9 de julho o telefone tocou finalmente. A acreditar na voz infinita, a cadeira ter-se-ia finalmente materializado e poderia ser levantada no dia seguinte. (Mais um prazo não cumprido)

No dia 10 de julho, dirigi-me à loja com duas testemunhas e pedi diretamente o livro de reclamações. Não houve desculpas, explicações ou justificações da parte de qualquer um dos funcionários da loja perante o sucedido. Não houve arrependimentos. Nem sequer houve um alçar de sobrancelhas. Certamente não foi a primeira nem será a última vez que a Area Infinitas recebe ex-clientes insatisfeitos pouco dispostos a encetar uma miragem de diálogo.

Nesse dia, após uma minuciosa verificação de cada milímetro da cadeira, trouxe-a para casa. E eliminei a Area Store Online da minha lista de lojas. Mais do que um uma loja de design de interiores, a Area Infinitas é sobretudo mestre na arte de meter ao bolso e produzir ilusões. A menos que pretenda adquirir castelos no ar, penso que ficará mais bem servido noutros estabelecimentos.


P.S. - Para mais lendas e histórias sobre a qualidade dos serviços prestados pela Area Infinitas SA, por favor consulte o grupo no facebook criado para o efeito:

Murphy's Law for freelancers

The world hates us. The world loves us. The world sees us in a bitter sweet fashion. The world doesn't know what to make of us.

It used to be different: 9 to 5 was the standard in many countries, along with a string of other life certainties that have since vanished, replaced by far looser organizational forms. So here we are, at the epicenter of trendiness, still unsure of what to do with ourselves.

Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances are in this privileged and yet limited position: some are perpetually overworked, others inevitably underworked, sometimes out of option, sometimes willingly. Sooner or later, most of them stop wondering about the whys and the why nots of this "condition". I haven't reached that stage just yet, probably because being a freelancer is a state of life that hasn't become more meaningful over the years. And I would like to challenge some of its so-called advantages, which so easily turn into predicaments. At the same time, I will also try to acknowledge its advantages (although my glass tends to be perpetually half-empty, so I might need a bit of help in that department). 

In any case, Thursdays will be freelancing day, and what better way to start than by elaborating about a wonderful and ubiquitous law of freelance life...Murphy's law. Allow me to illustrate:

Once upon a time, there were landlines. They belong to a long lost land of wonders nowadays, but in the old days, a freelancer actually managed to stay out of touch just by leaving the house. And even more wonderfully, clients would have to accept that fact and wait until his/her return. Not anymore. These days, taking your eight hours of sleep is worse than juggling with broken glass, not because you're an insomniac, but simply because people expect you to be awake and in working spirits 24/5 (and often even 24/7).

Before you know it, your desktop has become a myriad of different Time Zones and you have acquired an extra global taste of metropolitanism just by consecutively replying to emails from the four corners of the Earth. You may even begin to harbor some underserved feelings of self-importance; worry not: they are about to be destroyed.

A mailbox's plea

A mailbox's plea

After another marathon of excellence and exhaustion to make sure your client gets the very best of you, and of your work, you get the confirmation email. With many thanks. And then silence sets in. First minutes go by, then hours. Your email box is as uneventful as your last Facebook event. You stretch your legs and arms in defiance and get ready to move away from the computer. I mean, it only seems logic, right? Seize the day, that's the motto!

...Maybe not. Chances are, you will make it out the door. You might even get as far as the garage or the bus station. In a really lucky day, the stars may align and concede you some moments of almost peaceful tranquility...until you check your email box again and conclude that:

  1. Your client emailed you exactly 30 seconds after you bid goodbye to your computer;
  2. Your client tried to whatsapp, iMessage and Skype you (not necessarily in that order) 1.30 minutes later;
  3. He/she had a life or death emergency and REALLY needed you to do your thing sooner than ASAP;
  4. While you were taking your morning or afternoon walk/reaching Nirvana/catching up on House of Cards and listening to the birds, polar bears became extinct, Middle East peace talks came to a halt, floods in Bangladesh took a turn for the worse and killed millions of people;
  5. All of this and more could have been avoided, had you been just stayed at your desk for a little while longer;
  6. You are now officially on your client's blacklist and he/she will make sure you never see the light of day again, professionally speaking.


If any of this sounds familiar, than you have more than likely been a victim of the Freelancer's Murphy Law: the very moment you decide to step away from permanent availability is the moment you become urgently needed. Enjoy it.

Next week: some other amazing Freelancer Law. Stay tuned!

High living

Welcome to our home.

We own exactly 10 pieces of furniture and 5 chairs (and we're trying to reduce them even further, although the process has been a bit bumpy). Although I can't speak for the both of us, for me certainly one way of dealing with it has been to learn more about the tiny house philosophy, and trying to incorporate as much of it as I can into our daily lives.    

High Living

High Living

One of the people who has contributed the most to the Tiny Houses movement has been Kirsten Dirksen, a filmmaker and documentarist. Her work truly sheds a light over what it takes to live the "High Life" and what happens when, mostly for economic reasons, one is not able to afford the dream flat. In fact, it is not uncommon to be impossible to afford any kind of housing at all, at least not according to traditional patterns.

Her documentaries and short films are freely available on YouTube and feature countless personal stories of young New Yorkers adapting their square footage expectations to the rough reality, as well as other American and Europeans who try to make the most with every little space they have.  

The world in a Billy

The world in a Billy

Over here, from the top of our "Penthouse" (aka micro studio), we make our own attempts at micro living. It takes constant persistence and unfaltering stubbornness, otherwise, before we know it, we have been taken over by stuff. It's too incredibly easy to see something you like and decide to take possession (budgetary constraints aside, this is the basic mental process we go through).

The morning after, however, it's a totally different story. It corresponds to the end of the love affair and the beginning of the realist love relationship. Sometimes it is meant to be; sometimes it was doomed from day one, but a purchase receipt is more legally binding than a marriage these days, so people carry on. 

Today is Tuesday and it's micro living day. I'll be reporting our failures and successes from our tiny micro studio on the 8th floor: that's one of the few perks of owning relatively little: there is no furniture obstructing our windows. Welcome to High Living. 

Microliving management

I've lived in a few different spaces so far. Although I have no memory of the first flat we ever lived in (I was two when we moved), I can clearly recall the second one, and how spacious and large it felt to be inside it, the walls standing quite further apart from each other. It was 130m2 and it felt like the whole world would fit inside.

About twelve years later we moved, in what would become the first of many progressive downsizing moves. We lost one bedroom and about 50m2 in total, but was no question of forfeiting any worldly possessions at the time. The result was a permanently crammed, stuffed and dusty flat, where no object ever seemed to be able to find its place , nor we to locate it and where the only solution we seemed to be able to find was to get more of everything, not less. 



Around the year 2000, there were more things booming besides the bubble: for the first time ever DVDs, books and other former rarities were being sold together with your daily newspaper like complimentary buns (no, I did not live in a cave, but cultural artifacts had never exactly been that affordable in my country before). We collected a wide range of prepacked memorabilia: old movies, recent blockbusters, the classics, modern novels, the complete works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc, etc. The list went on and on. Objects pilled on. They were hardly ever used or handled.

Fast-forward to 2007, the year during which the art of living off a suitcase came to being. All of a sudden, it wasn't about downsizing anymore, it was about micro sizing, the ultimate necessity for a life on the move and on the air.  After fighting poorly designed luggage and inefficient backpacks, I decided that packing had to become an exercise in zen accountability: would I be in deadly danger if I did not take x or y?

In 2008/2009 I moved to the next stage of micro living: I had half a student's room to myself for a whole academic year. Quarrels and bickering aside (priorities inevitably clash when you put together smokers and non smokers, drinkers and non drinkers), it was actually a pretty enlightening experience. I realized that most of what I owned was painfully inadequate to fit into a smaller space and that it wasn't easily transportable either. I became aware of the importance of multitasking objects, which are quite often so hard to come by. And most importantly, I realized that owning books was quite tricky and that they tended to stick around even after that had ceased being relevant.


That was when the pruning began. It is still going on. For many reasons, it is currently impossible for us to move out of our lovely 37.5m2 microloft, so expertise in microliving is badly needed. I will be reporting on my doubtful and tentative progress once a week from now on. Stay tuned: from now on, every Tuesday will be microliving Tuesday. 

Why I won't Unbabel

I think it would be fair to say that we, translators, have all seen more than our fair share of schemes to put us out of business. And some day, maybe tomorrow, maybe in twenty years' time, machines will learn how to translate properly. We'll be replaced, it's bound to happen. But it's not here yet.

However, if you look at Unbabel, an up-and-coming translation startup that promises a true revolution in the translation of internet content, laymen and even some translation professionals might be curious enough to try it. Some laymen might even believe in the promise of low-cost, high-quality translated content (same old, same old); translators, on the other hand, will hopefully be quick to spot the trick.

As a disclaimer, I can truthfully say that I do not know any of Unbabel's founders or staff members; the experience I report here is my own experience as a registered service provider on Unbabel's website.

First of all, as a machine translation software, Unbabel's product is yet years away of being fully viable. The content it automatically generates is simply not usable; quite often, it is hardly understandable. Unbabel is aware of the shortcomings of its output, which is why it recruits 'editors' to proofread it. I'm sure that by now you've guessed what the inverted commas are about: in fact, Unbabel's automated content is of such poor quality that what is really needed is not an 'editor' but a proper translator, someone who can delete everything and start from scratch.

Sadly, translators are expensive and good translators are as hard to find as a needle on a haystack. And clients do not need the best professionals, they just need someone, anyone, who will do the job uncomplainingly and preferably almost for free.

Enter Unbabel's excruciating recruitment process: everyone is invited to join. You don't have to be a professional translator, you don't have to be a translation student. You don't even have to be bilingual, or language proficient. You just need to know a minimum of two languages and be connected to the internet. No need to own a computer, Unbabel was designed to allow anyone to translate on the go. To quote their website: 'If you speak two languages, you're in. Unbabel on your laptop or mobile phone.'

Sounds great, doesn't it? Unfortunately, as soon as you sign up, things take a turn for the worse.

In theory, 'editors' will be able to make a minimum of $8/hour. I'm sure that sounds like a lot for an activity that apparently even a child can do during swim class. However, it should be pointed out that there are two different kinds of 'tasks' (i.e. work): free tasks and paid tasks. In order to have access to paid tasks, each 'editor' must be complete what is supposed to be a first round of free tasks (about 20), which are then randomly evaluated from one to five stars (no feedback is provided). And then comes the blow: 'Only the best translators can get paid tasks.' 'Editors' are not told what it takes to become one of the chosen, properly paid ones. Not is there any guarantee whatsoever that your 'editing' will ever be reviewed.  Most likely, the content that you so kindly provided for free will be on its way to the client long before you get any kind of assessment.

I will spare you more grueling details. I even suggest that translators should sign up (there's a direct plug-in to your facebook account) and see what it's all about for themselves. And then preferably spread the word.

From a business point of view, I can certainly see the appeal of this business model. If I was a client, I might be ecstatic at the prospect of being able to 'save' so much money. But as it happens with everything else in life, you get what you paid for. In Unbabel's case, it's easy to see that the company gets what it wants, and the client may eventually get what he/she wants, but what do 'editors' get? 

Quoting Unbabel's website, professional translators may expect the following: 

 'Improve your MT post-editing skills.' (Training in MT post-editing for free? How generous...oh no, wait, I'm actually paying for it with my work)

'Reduce your downtime'. (I suggest using a stopwatch and checking how much faster it is for a translator to translate everything from scratch instead of having to correct messy MT sentences)

'Starting at $8/hour' (I am absolutely baffled by the prospect of earning less than the average cleaning lady, if I ever get to be a 'paid editor' at all)

'No useless administration work.' (Freedom from invoices. I guess it explains why you can work for hours on end without making a dime: they are actually doing you a service)

'No negotiation and dealing with customers' (I would actually appreciate the opportunity to negotiate the 'editing' rates, but maybe there's little point to it, since I most likely will not get paid)

'Translate modern content.' (I never knew how empty my professional life was until I started translating the latest gossip about Britney and Olivia Wilde)

To sum up: I cannot, in good faith, wish all the good people of Unbabel the very best for their future. I cannot, in all honesty, recommend their company to anyone but my worst enemies. And I'm sure I'm not the only one out there harboring these feelings, which is a shame, because both translators and clients need better translation companies, companies that can deliver true value and worthwhile results to both ends of the translation chain. 


P.S. - In August 2014 I have met in person with some of Unbabel's representatives. Here is my opinion on that exchange of ideas:




Life through the lenses of a suitcase

For the past seven years I have been both an international commuter and an expat; apart from one-year stay in Czech Republic, this frenetic check-in/check-out rhythm was mostly work-motivated. In my mind, if I was willing to travel, I would go to places, eventually. I didn't. It took me seven years to realize that I was on a wild goose chase, but in the end, I decided to pack my final suitcase and revert to life on the ground. There has seldom been a more deceitfully advertised profession as interpreting, but that will be theme for a future post.


Living off a suitcase is an exercise in memory, choice and priorities. There is no room for hesitations of changes of opinion. You stick to the suit you chose and end up cursing your boots for being too heavy. Packing makes you a skillful master in the art of dimensioning, weighing and fitting your most essential objects, the ones which will accompany you on the days, weeks or months to come. As a frequent traveller you quickly develop a mental excel sheet with all the essentials, the ones without which taking off would be a dangerous activity.

boarding pass

Despite most modern commodities, international commuting is ultimately exhausting. Being grounded, though, is no less of a challenge. And just because the days of living off a bag have been indefinitely suspended, it does not mean that downsizing is not going to carry on. 

But for now, allow me to say goodbye to one of the greatest institutions in the sky: cirrocumulus, also know as big white fluffy cloud. Hoping to see you soon.

The 40-something itch

This upcoming Friday it will be 40 years since the country I was born in reclaimed its freedom and crushed the heavy boot of dictatorship. Although it is a national holiday there, I am still working abroad, which means I won't be celebrating. It seems strangely appropriate, since many people, both those who made the revolution and those who came after it, have begun to question if it was the right choice. Freedom can be unsettlingly elusive.

There seems to be a most distressing parallel between the life of then and the life of now. Many has changed on the surface, but I am not sure that the cultural and social revolution which was so badly needed actually took place, or if it has, if it went deeply enough. We are still old-fashioned. We are still too conservative for our own good. We still believe in cultivating appearances. We still measure a man by the size of his wallet and the price tag of his suit. As for women, well, it would take me several tomes to accurately describe the myriad of social mores still in place.  

The country did not exactly have a lot of time to enjoy the perks of a favorable economic climate (late as we have usually been since the Renaissance, we managed to get out of a national market economy right at the end of les trente glorieux - the three decades after WWII that offered a blooming economic climate to so many countries and which ended with the first oil crash of 1973) and was severely hit by the economic crisis. And yet, it would certainly not be fair to say that the crisis is the main culprit: those in charge, both in the public and in the private sector, appear to be particularly keen on the concept of creating a low-cost Xanadu for multinationals and nationals companies alike. 

While Shangri-la is invaded by call centers facilities (how else could we apply our supposed natural talent for foreign languages?), the most talented people, both young and old, are emigrating by the dozen. I guess that there is no interest in transforming the country into a place where people want to live their lives, rather than a place people only suitable for tourists. Well done.

Going back to the before and after of the revolution, the sad symmetry seems to be that, before, people were afraid to speak their mind lest they would be taken away by the secret police. These days, people are afraid to speak their mind lest their employer (if they still have one) finds out what his/her employees actually think. 

Vive la liberté!

* more optimistic posts will come. Stay tuned!

The make or buy decision

If you happened to be hanging around with my friend S. during regular business hours, you'd probably notice one of her prominent characteristics: will passing a window-shop, chances are she will stop for a moment, observe the objects on display and then turn around and say:

- I could do that. And that. And that. It's actually not that complicated to make.

Will not exactly an official part of the DIY movement, S. is a crafty person. She has both the skilled, the experience and the confidence to be able to tell anyone that most things and techniques can be learned online. If someone is selling it, then there is probably a YouTube video tutorial about it. More often than not, she is proven right and, being an invested and patient person, she usually comes round to produce the coveted object after a few sessions of practice.

S. is not the only one among my talented friends that prefers making over buying; reasons abound for this preference, some being about personal development and character building, others being more prosaically about finances and money worries. Ecological and environmental concerns tend to fall somewhat in the middle.

But the main point for me was: as post-modern Westerners and cosmopolitans, there isn't much that we cannot buy just by pressing "purchase" on our computers or tablets. The ready made culture is all pervasive, conspicuous and lazily addictive, which is no wonder, since Humans all seem to have a natural predisposition towards laziness. Yet, many of us make the conscious choice of not buying and instead, picking up raw materials and craft something of ours.

I wondered about this for some time today while studying for my upcoming exam. One of the topics we covered in class was the "make or buy decision" from an enterpreneurial viewpoint. For a company, the biggest part of this decision is about crunching numbers and figuring out what brings in the biggest profit. For an individual, the same approach can be taken and generally is (most of us are quick to figure out that take out meals or restaurants are costlier than homemade food), but we generally factor in other elements as well. And the fascinating thing is, in the end it all seems to be about our perception of what's worthwhile and what's valuable. 

I have two left feet when it comes to cooking (up to the point where my boyfriend pleads me to keep away from the stove) and I very much feel pampered if I have a meal at a nice restaurant, so I tend to be more relaxed about spending money in that department. However, invite me to a night of drinks and you'll find me immediately scroogy. Chances are, I will tear your good mood apart while commenting the waste it is to spend a cent on booze. To me, it is most definitely not worth even a single one of my pennies, which is why I am always baffled by the pleasure so many of my friends and acquaintances seem to derive from cocktails, wine, beer and the like. But then again, I tend to spare no expense just to be able to enjoy the perfect cup of coffee...and here comes the fascination again: what lies behind these choices? How do we select what's worthwhile from what's valuable? Chances are, it goes well beyond the economic make or buy decision, so I'm curious: what do you choose to make yourself and what do you choose to buy? 

End of summer blues

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have an irresistible tendency to suffer from the blues; today, I'd like to briefly comment on my end of summer blues. 

The end of summer is rapidly approaching: it is always a two-phase process with many more variables other than weather and calendar involved.

Phase 1: The date in which you are going back to your normal, regular, non-Summer life approaches. At first, it is but a vague and faraway nagging reminder that yes, work/study is coming back in full strength soon enough (usually, two weeks from now). Anxiety attacks do not usually manifest during this phase because, well, you are still in full blown Summer Swing and you can't be bothered to think about the distant future. Nor should you, by the way.

Phase 2: All of a sudden, you realize that the holidays will be over next Wednesday. Wait! That's next week , a mere few days away. That's when you look at a calendar for the first time since you put on the 'time-off' hat and start counting every single measly hour of fun there is still hopefully ahead of you. But basically, that's when you say your goodbyes and bitterly accept the fact that you're going back to the grind soon. You desperately Instagram every available grain of sand and start facebooking sad emoticons every two hours. Hard partying increases because the end of the world of holidays as we know it is about to come to an end.

Possible phase 3: It is the day before. You may have packed your bags (in the best case scenario), but then again, you may not. Either way, your body suddenly feels insanely tired and overworked, but mostly, bitterly sad. You may have reached new heights, you may have grown immensely as a person, but now, your former existence is over and you are required to revert to your former self as soon as possible. Preferably by Monday.

In the meantime, before the end of summer blues settle in, some sun and ice-cream are still awaiting. Let's enjoy them. 


My wonderful 'time off'

Being a freelance is hardly a simple, straightforward life arrangement. In theory, if you happen to be an organized person, everything should run fairly smoothly. In practice, managing one's time is a Herculean task, at least for me.  

It's been eight years since I started to work as an independent language professional. In those eight years I have strived to make the best possible use of my time; I have afraid to say that I have not been terribly successful at it. I haven't even improved a lot over the years, I am sorry to say. So maybe it's time for a change.

Those who are not self-employed tend to look at us as being privileged: 'You have all the freedom to plan your days as you wish. You don't even have two work every day. You don't have to be stuck in an office from 9 to 6, Monday to Friday. make a lot more money than us'.

If all those assumptions were entirely true, I might just want to stay a freelance forever; and trust me, I don't. I long for a more settled routine to ease my days and my years. I am tired of having to be available 24/7, including during Christmas and the summer holidays. I hate never knowing whether I will become a pauper or the next billionaire over the next month. I hate having to chase my clients to get what I am due. I hate having to negotiate my rates over and over again. I hate the empty days, weeks and months when everyone else seems to be working full steam, while my email box is not buzzing and my phone is silent. I hate the feeling of lack of evolution. I hate looking back at the end of each year, making the math and concluding that things have not improved. 

For me, being a freelance is mostly an experience on stress. Seven days a week, as soon as I wake up, I check the usual websites where prospective customers post their job offers. 50% to 70% of the offers in my language combination ask for 'best rates', or describe their project as being 'lowcost', a disguised way of saying that what they are really looking for is cheap but highly skilled labour. I don't bother to place a bid on those offers. Next come the projects that seem potentially interesting, but where I don't stand a chance, because 138 people have already placed their bid before me. Experience tells me you need to place a bid within the first hour, otherwise the chances of getting any kind of reply from the job poster are very slim.

Bidding within the translation industry is a never-ending exercise in humility and ego-crushing: you are competing for the very same offer with people from all over the world. There are easily 500, 1000, 10 000 or even 100 000 souls who could do a better job than you, who have more experience than you and who undercut your bid by by 50% because they don't mind working 12 hours a day as long as they get work. 

How does your 'time off' get affected? Greatly, I would say. There is never an appropriate time to relax and unwind, because the minute you choose to go for a walk or have lunch with a friend is the moment when you'll get that one phone call, or that one email from a client who requires your immediate, undivided attention ASAP. And they really mean ASAP. They need it done in an hour. They need those 10 pages by tomorrow. They need that awful legal document translated by 9:00 on Monday (which gives you two choices: either sleeping becomes an optional activity, or your weekend plans have just been blown up). Oh, you need an extended deadline? That's a shame, because I'm sure I could get someone else to do that for a lower rate and in half the time. Sometimes I get the feeling that all translators have suddenly become cheap Chinese commodities. 

My wonderful 'time off', that sometimes stretches for months on end, is not really 'time off' at all. It is a lot more frustrating and less productive than a real holiday. It is unbearably stressing. And there isn't much I can do about it, except to wait. Or change profession, which hopefully I will be doing soon enough.  





Also know as the blank page, any new beginning in writing tends to be daunting. There is an instinctive fear of failure that goes along with it. In any new venture, the first lines are supposed to convey a strong, well-written and throughly polished message about who you are and what your project aims at. 

I haven't until now been able to state out in a clear way what my goals are. But I have figured out a way to fight the blank page terror. It is incredibly simple. Start by picking up an incredibly small notebook, or an incredibly small piece of paper. It should not be any bigger than a size A5. Then proceed with the task of filling it out with your own handwriting. Try not to cross out any sentences or words. This first stage does not aim at correcting anything; rather, the goal is to get your mind to focus just enough so your writing output starts flowing.  

Once you've filled out your tiny sheet of paper completely, just go on to the next one. Repeat the process as many times as needed until you run out of ideas, or out of paper, whichever comes first. In time, tiny little sheets of paper will start feeling a bit too confining and limiting. That's when you feel confident enough to cross over to a more sizeable sheet of paper (say, a standard A4), or, who knows, maybe you're even confident enough to move on to a computer screen. Either way, congratulations. You have successfully defeated the Big White Monster of Writing: The Blank Page.