Tuiteros correctores

2-19-2013 10-00-58 AMNo es poco común que leyendo comentarios e incluso artículos en las páginas de Internet a veces me entre una especie de comezón en las manos por corregir los errores y horrores ortográficos, los calcos y los anglicismos que andan rondando el universo mediático. ¿No nos pasa a todos los traductores y revisores? Vemos un errorcito y enseguida se nos enciende la alarma. Uno intenta calmarse, centrarse en el mensaje, pero ya es muy tarde para eso: el mensaje y su redactor han bajado un poco de categoría, es inevitable.

Recuerdo que cuando estaba en la secundaria y comenzaba a entender un poco más de gramática española me sentaba a veces con el periódico y un bolígrafo a corregir errores. (Patético entretenimiento para una adolescente, pero qué se le va a hacer: soy una comelibros incorregible.)

Pues ahora dos argentinos han hecho lo que muchos de nosotros no nos atrevemos a hacer por miedo a convertirnos en indeseables cibernéticos. Han creado cuentas de Twitter dedicadas a la corrección en español y, en sus ratos libres, se ponen a corregir los tuits de los demás. Con su osada movida han logrado atraer la atención de miles de seguidores y su experiencia les ha valido para crear un blog y dos libros. Aunque de seguro se han ganado el oprobio de muchos, estos valientes correctores aseguran que son más los que agradecen el servicio.

Lee el artículo en BBC Mundo


16 Truths About Being a Professional Translator

For Jessica

Last week, I happened upon this list titled “15 Truths about being a professional dancer”. It turns out the writer herself was inspired by yet another list titled “16 Harsh Truths that Make us Stronger”. I found the lists deeply honest and incredibly inspiring and just what I needed to give myself perspective and focus in a professional and personal environment in which we not always get the answers that we need, or even answers at all.

1. The life of a freelancer is not easy.
If you are like me and you decided to become a freelancer because you dislike being tied to a schedule and love not having to get up early in the morning, know that this freedom of movement and location comes with strings attached. It means that you will not get the perks that come with a paid position, such as benefits and a steady paycheck. You won’t get your taxes deducted for you. More than anything, being your own boss means you have many different bosses: your clients and project managers who get to decide that they no longer need you or that an editor’s bad review is reason enough to dispense with you.

2. You won’t always get it right. Sometimes you will make mistakes. Life isn’t only made of successes, otherwise growth and learning would be almost impossible. Mistakes are great opportunities, so don’t waste them. Use them to ask yourself why it happened and whether there was anything you could have done to avoid it. Sometimes mistakes happen out of ignorance, and as such are blessings in disguise, because then they mean you have learned something new.

worldhead3. You don’t know everything. Maybe you have a Master’s degree in philology or know your favorite grammar book from beginning to end by heart. Maybe you’ve been working in a particular field for fifteen years or even teach classes at university. It doesn’t matter how much you know, you still don’t know everything. Language is ever-evolving, but knowledge is too. There is always something you can learn, so keep your eyes and ears open.

4. There may not be a tomorrow. This is not directly related to the profession, but it is worth mentioning as an undeniable fact of life. The end need not only take the form of death: you could lose your eyesight or the use of your hands, without which you would be effectively unable to perform in this profession. Relish every project as if it were the last. That may sound silly, especially with projects that we find incredibly inane and a waste of our mental capabilities, but it can go a long way towards making you appreciate what you have.

5. There’s a lot you can’t control. Budget cuts, recessions, companies closing, shifts in markets… all of these can have an effect on your inflow of work. Your perfectly crafted translation may also fall into the hands of an overzealous legal reviewer, or someone who thought they knew better than you and errors and meaning mistakes were introduced. The internal politics of a company may dictate the vagaries of what parts of your translation eventually go untouched. Here there is not much you can do. You can fight and explain why your choice is better, but ultimately it is the client’s decision. Let it go.

pacman6. Information is not true knowledge. Only through experience can we become true masters. You may know your grammar back and forth, read ten thousand newspapers everyday in all your languages and keep in touch with what’s happening in the world, but until you actually translate, translate, translate you won’t be able to hone the skills necessary to be a good researcher, reader and reviewer. This also applies very much to interpreters: you can have all the Powerpoint slides for the conference and be well-read on the subject, but only experience interpreting will give you the edge that you need to be really good.

7. If you want to be successful, demonstrate your value. A lot of professionals spend a lot of time trying to grow their business and acquire new clients. While it is important to constantly be on the lookout for new business opportunities, it is also crucial not to neglect the ones we already have. Deliver quality work on time, ask questions that show you care and be professional, respectful and friendly in your business communications.

fatskinny8. Someone else will always have more than you. Envy can become an occupational hazard when you see others with your same amount of experience and expertise (or less) climbing quickly up the professional ladder, getting juicy contracts and interesting clients. Don’t let it get to you. If you work hard and focus on your own goals, your time will come. It would also serve to ask yourself when you see someone land an amazing job whether you would really be willing to do that kind of work.

9. You can’t change the past. You made a terrible mistake in a past translation or failed to catch an unbelievable gaffe while reviewing someone else’s work. Whether your expertise was put into question or not, you must take the lesson, examine it, learn from it, then move on. It will not do to torture yourself with something you can no longer change. Rather, focus on what you can change: the present and the future.

lombriz10. The only person who can make you happy is you. Making it professionally cannot make us happy. Even while you are living the life you dreamt of years ago and doing what you love you may be prey to occasional spells of sadness or general malaise. Thinking that “if only things were this or that other way then it’d be perfect” is the best way to make yourself miserable. Ask yourself whether the negative aspects are really that bad and whether there is something you can do to change them. If you are doing your best and the rest is out of your hands, then relax and enjoy.

11. There will always be people who don’t like you. When it comes to the language arts, everybody fancies themselves an expert and a critic. People are also not generally open to feedback, especially when it comes to how they speak, and some might resent you for your corrections or linguistic disagreements. Let them! Your job is to do your job to the best of your ability. If other people are incapable of receiving feedback in a civil way without mixing personal and professional aspects, then that is their problem.

12. You won’t always get what you want. About half the time, maybe more, you won’t get what you want. You will send cover letters and CV’s to hundreds of places. You will follow dozens of leads. You will talk to potential clients that look very promising until everything just flounders, often without you ever finding out what went wrong. You will fail that test. And that other one. You won’t get the rate you asked for. You won’t be given the time you think is ideal to complete your work. These things will happen. And it is easy to be discouraged in this profession that seems to prize low rates over any other consideration and with clients that seem hellbent on making you work twenty hours a day trying to complete a deadline. Keep working hard. Keep sending out letters and curriculums. It will pay off in the long run.

13. You will change your mind. Sometimes we make grand plans for the next few years or so, and forget to take into account that we change. Changes are sometimes imperceptible, but they do happen. Think back to when you were 21 (and if you are 21 think back to when you were 15). Do you still want the same things you wanted then? What makes you think that in five or six years you still will want the same things? It’s okay to shift our priorities as we grow and gain new experiences. It’s ok to let go of a dream that has only become a burden because you no longer want it. It’s ok to reinvent yourself every once in a while and reimagine the possibilities for your life.

14. If something isn’t working, try something new. While repetition is the basis of mastery, some things in life don’t quite work that way. If you continue knocking at the same doors and getting no response, then it’s perhaps time to knock on different doors. If you keep taking that test and failing, maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether you truly are prepared or if you really want it that badly. Sometimes we focus on certain goals and we get it through our heads that things will be better somehow if we achieve it, but are not interested in the least in the process of getting there. Goals are as much about the end result as about the road towards it.

15. You will never feel 100% ready. If you are considering a career change or have received a great opportunity but don’t feel quite ready yet, ask yourself why it is you’re not ready and when you think you might be ready. Will another opportunity present itself in the future? What do you think you need in order to be ready for career change (like going freelance after being in-house or switching from translation to interpretation)? Sometimes you just won’t know if you are ready until you go ahead and do it.

16. Not everybody knows what we do! It is difficult, I know, but be sympathetic with the public at large. Most people have never met a translator and have very little idea of what we do. It is our job to illuminate them and explain to them what our profession entails. Ask yourself: do you know exactly what server maintenance is all about and do you ever think about the people who made your toilet? Our profession is unfortunately not high-profile and while UN interpreters enjoy a lot of prestige, the people translating billboards and end user license agreements are not. Be open about your profession and be patient. Most of the time, people are very curious about what we do and appreciate any light you can shed on the profession.

Happy freelancing!

Translator’s Block

la foto

On wanting to talk about creativity and the obstacles that impede its flow, I came upon a challenging and ironic scenario: I was suffering from writer’s block myself. I am of course not a stranger to this problem; in fact, it has become a most faithful companion. It sits at the breakfast table with me, tells me its plans for the day (namely, thwarting my every effort to put down in a structured text the loose ideas that have been floating in my head for days or weeks), and barely ever leaves my side. Inspiration, its nemesis, only comes to take its place in flitting and inconvenient moments, namely, when I am prevented by some constraint or another from putting my inspiration into action (riding the bus, in the middle of a class, at work).

I am sure this has been the experience of anyone who has undertaken the creation of anything. For every article I am able to churn out after much travail and turmoil, there are five others sitting there, half-baked, in an unfinished state or but all abandoned in the paltry form of outlines.

Writing something from scratch can be quite an excruciating endeavor, especially when one has concerns for good style and rhythm. But what about the creative process in writing as applied to translation? Is there such a thing as translator’s block?


Our lack of inspiration may have something to do with our collective notion of the creative process. We have this idea of the creative process as flowing from stage to stage in a montage-like fashion, whereby we progress from beginning to end with a few hurdles inserted here and there for comedic value. Rarely do we take into account the distractions, the other things in our lives that require attention (our own body’s needs, if nothing else) and, most importantly, those moments when we lose sight of what we want to do or simply have no idea how to proceed.

In the progression of any given translation project, I can recognize the moments when those other things have come between me and the much desired progress. Much like writers would love to simply sit and spill out words onto the empty page as if on divine inspiration, I suspect translators have the same ambition. I am not talking about coming across unfamiliar words or concepts that we need to go and research; after all, the research can be a big part of the fun of translating. I am talking about those moments when you are truly, utterly, seemingly irremediably stuck.

The blockage may result from a variety of issues: a sentence in the source text is incomprehensible. Or perhaps an entire paragraph is; there is no direct equivalent of the source word in the target language (“cue”, “feedback”, ); the target sentence is too long; the options for translation are unconvincing at best; the translation won’t fit in its target destination (a button, an ad). Or, put bluntly, the subject matter just simply does not interest you in the least, in fact you find it excruciatingly boring.

Faced with challenges of this sort, I do what a lot of people in my position would: I go away. The going away almost never results from a conscious decision, however. It is more like a survival mechanism and happens completely outside of my volition. The second I am confronted with a challenge on the page, I do my due diligence, open the browser, check my options, and if nothing readily convinces me, I just… wander. Two minutes later, I am foraging in Facebook; five minutes after that I am reading an article about an extinct tribe in the Amazon or the mating habits of gorillas. It is in those moments when I decide to pay that bill, do my laundry, take care of the pile of dishes in the sink or call my mother. There is nothing like being stuck in the task at hand to infuse you with the energy you had previously lacked to go out for a run or do the groceries.

Alas, this process cannot go on forever. There are deadlines, project managers to placate, clients to satisfy, money to be made. There is no time for dilly-dallying on the tragically beautiful conciseness of English’s conceptual language, its capacity for packing several layers of meaning into a single catch-all word. More than likely, that “short” 200-page translation of marketing copy that made it to your inbox only two hours ago is needed in three hours (“URGENT, we’ll pay you a rush fee!”), and that 20-page document for review is due tomorrow, even though you got it just last night.

Thus, treasure troves of “general” texts shock full of hidden metaphors and cultural references are shoved into your desktop, tagged with next-day turnarounds that seemed reasonable at first but are now hysterics-inducing. The deadline looms overhead. More than likely, it is only one of several due dates. Meanwhile, you are stuck, stuck with a word that you don’t understand, confronted with an ever expanding-horizon of research you had not foreseen.

It often seems to me in those moments that I have no business doing this for a living. If I cannot reliably come up with a possible solution on the spot for this particular concept without having to look in the dictionary, then what good am I? And what good is all my reading, my frenzied learning, gobbling up words like magic potions of youth and learning nuances and etymologies and sundry other linguistic tidbits if Knowledge eludes me when I most need it?

Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes later I return to the page. The solution pops into my head effortlessly. It turns out that the mulling over part was happening at the back of my head all the while. I get unstuck. That forage into the Internet liberated something in my head. Sometimes thinking too hard and being too close to the problem can hamper the flow of ideas more than anything else. Suddenly the minutes spent frantically searching for meaning in the monolingual dictionary, the glossary, thesaurus or that lowly online dictionary your professors think no self-respecting translator would dare use yield some sort of fruit.

Paranoia is creativity’s worst nightmare. Fear blocks our access to the resources we’ve cultivated over time, leaving us feeling stranded in an island of helplessness where we feel completely disconnected from the task at hand. It is ultimately fear that must be conquered. When we come up against a block in the road, a word, phrase or sentence that just will not budge, and the solution does not come readily to us, a lot of us will panic and stare like the proverbial deer in the headlights. It is only through turning our face away from it for a moment, forgetting why it’s there -by doing something mundane or completely unrelated – is what often liberates us and opens the way to a creative solution.

Do you ever get stuck while translating? What are your strategies for getting unstuck? How do you deal with a stoppage in the flow of ideas, especially when you have a looming deadline?

Scliar y el felino


Detalle de la portada de Max y los felinos.

Por Luiz Schwarcz 

(publicado originalmente en el blog de la editorial Companhia das Letras)

Unos pocos días después de que el libro Las aventuras de Pi ganase el premio Booker –el premio literario más prestigioso del Reino Unido y unos de los más serios y mejor organizados del mundo– surgió una polémica gracias a un artículo publicado en The Guardian. El periódico inglés fue el primero en notar que la trama de Las aventuras de Pi es idéntica a la de Max y los gatos de Moacyr Scliar. El premio ya había suscitado cierta controversia por el hecho de que el libro es mucho menos erudito que los ganadores tradicionales, pero esta nueva acusación fue la que llegó a mi puerta.

A pesar de que el libro original no fue publicado por la Companhia das Letras, Scliar venía editando sus trabajos con nosotros y me telefoneó indignado:

— Hay que hacer algo, ché. Esto es plagio, Luiz. Tenemos que llamar abogados, este tipo de cosas no puede pasar.

Hablaba constantemente con Scliar, como bien saben los lectores de este blog [blog de la Companhia das Letras], pues ha sido uno de los mejores amigos que he tenido desde el inicio de mi carrera profesional.

— Calma, Moacyr, voy a orientarme con abogados y ver qué es posible.

Mientras buscaba estudiar el caso, cobraba fuerza la polémica. Con muy poca delicadeza, Yann Martel, el autor del libro premiado, declaró que no había leído el libro de Scliar, sino solo una reseña negativa de John Updike publicada en el New York Times, lo que lo hizo pensar más o menos lo siguiente: “Qué buena idea mal aprovechada. ¿Y si fuese retomada por un escritor de mi talento?”. Scliar nunca fue reseñado por Updike. Las declaraciones de Martel quedaban cada vez peor.

La indignación de Moacyr seguía en aumento. Los ánimos se caldeaban. El New York Times decidió cubrir el episodio, y en sus páginas valorizaba el talento de Scliar. Fue suficiente para que mi teléfono comenzase a sonar con llamadas de dos importantes agencias de los Estados Unidos buscando representar la obra de nuestro gran escritor a nivel mundial.

Telefoné a Moacyr con la información.

—    Amigo, la ICM y otras agencias quieren representarte en Estados Unidos. A pesar de que todo surgió a causa de un episodio lamentable es una gran oportunidad. Tienes que aprovecharla.

En aquel momento, los abogados decían que era imposible conocer una causa penal en base a la apropiación de una idea, aparte de que el costo de una causa penal como esta sería altísimo.

Mi teléfono volvió a sonar, y en esta ocasión no se trataba de agentes sino del editor de Martel, Jamie Byng, de Canongate, buscando mi mediación en el asunto. Jamie es un editor con mucha energía, una figura impar en el mundo editorial por su espíritu  emprendedor y su creatividad. DJ en sus ratos libres, organiza famosas fiestas durante las ferias de libros, en las que él mismo asume el control de la música.

En el teléfono me garantizaba la buena fe de Martel y me pedía, en conjunto con el autor, que llegáramos a una solución pacífica. Dar cuenta de la polémica literaria sobre la premiación era suficiente para ambos.

Convencí a Moacyr de que la causa no sería viable y le propuse que Martel diese una entrevista en que valorizara la obra del brasileño y se retractara de las desafortunadas declaraciones. Moacyr, por su parte, haría declaraciones en que afirmaría que no iniciaría ningún proceso legal. El lector del blog puede acceder a la materia publicada en aquel momento por Estado y Folha.

Al ir a ver Las aventuras de Pi en el cine recientemente, no pude dejar de sentir un sabor amargo, aparte de echar en falta al gran amigo que partió.

Desafortunadamente, fiel a su carácter súper dedicado a sus amigos, Scliar no aceptó las propuestas de las grandes agencias que querían promoverlo. Se mantuvo fiel al agente literario que lo representaba, quien prometió sacar algún provecho de la polémica y recolocar las obras de Moacyr en el mercado de la lengua inglesa en Europa, promesa que no se llegó a cumplir. Y mientras la novela de Yann Martel se proyecta en la pantalla grande con una megaproducción, el mundo continúa mereciendo conocer mejor los libros de uno de los mejores escritores brasileños del siglo XX.

Leer el artículo original aquí.

A Week in Links – 1/28 – 2/2, 2013

Culture and technology

_65518989_websites2_464From websites to call center recorded messages, it would seem the entire service industry has adopted a more familiar and approachable tone of voice to address its customers. An Irish comedian complains about over-familiar websites that use colloquial language in an attempt to seem more human.

BBC News – The rise of over-familiar websites

digitalWe tend to think that our modern technologies are superior to anything that has come before and we have an inability to imagine a future in which our present technologies may become obsolete. Yet it would seem some older technologies will outlast some of our state of the art inventions -at least in certain niche markets. In this article we learn how certain professions are keeping carbon paper and typewriters alive.

The Economist – Only the digital dies

International News

maliThe French intervention in Mali has quickly escalated over the course of the past few weeks. Many across the world wonder what has motivated a socialist president who proclaimed his would be a “normal” presidency eight months ago when he defeated Mr. Sarkozy and his imposing persona. Yet as important as what is happening in the capital of the ex-metropolis, perhaps even more important, is what is taking place internally on the ground, and the movements leading up to what may only be the beginning of a long-lasting intervention.

London Review of Books – What are they doing in Mali?

Spanish Language

azarosaThe vice-director of the Real Academia Española illuminates us on the differences between similar words that are confused by many native speakers, often with hilarious results (formica vs. fornica). The examples are extracted from the book La azarosa vida de las palabras. While quite illustrative to Spanish speakers across the world, the list admittedly includes words -and errors- that only occur in Spain. – Los veinte errores más vulgares de la lengua 


dontwanderStaying focused on any one thing is one of the most significant challenges we face on any given day. Everything we aspire to -reading a book, mastering an art, meeting that deadline- is often marred by all those distractions that are constantly fighting for our attention. It turns out that, according to a study, we are happier when our minds are focused on the present moment -even if the task at hand is unpleasant.

Pacific Standard – Memo to the Mind: Don’t Wander, Be Happy

A Week in Links – 1/21-1/26



It is a matter of common knowledge that our internal clocks dictate our patterns of eating and sleeping. But how did this internal clock -or, more specifically, clocks- evolve in our ancestors? This article explores the sources for our internal rhythms and how these are related to the evolution of the Earth, as well as what happens when they malfunctions. “Written inside of us is the birth of the solar system and workings of the planet itself.”

The New York Times – January is the Cruelest Month


xlargeAlmost as important as who are the men behind mass shootings in recent history in the United States is the question of their media portrayal and the way their stories as individuals that have committed heinous crimes are narrated. “Because these are told as stories of individuals with specific reasons for killing others, there is no reason to talk about race, class, or gender; there is no reason to talk about society, nor is there any reason to think that Aurora, Newtown, or Columbine are becoming Chicago or Detroit.”

Gawker – The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity: Innocence In the Age of White Male Mass Shootings

Popular Culture

The American television drama reached its high point in the 2000s, with the HBOwalter_white_by_kyllerkyle-d5jxqi6 classics The Sopranos and Oz, which would signal the beginning of an era of dark social dramas that told convincing stories of complex characters haunted by questions of morality and the eternal return. It is now Walter White’s turn to haunt our television sets. This article explores the deeper social themes and commentary of American society in Breaking Bad.

London Review of Books – It’s the Moral Thing to Do


sl25fo01It seems this year’s Nobel prizes have spurred more controversy than excitement. With Chinese author Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize in literature have come several debates about the Academy’s motivations for showering this greatest of honors on a writer endorsed by the Chinese communist party and active in its politics. But should the artist be judged on the basis of his political motivations or on the basis of his craft? This is a debate that will surely continue as long as the prize exists.

Página 12 – Tinta china (in Spanish)


Reinventing the curriculum vitae is not something that happens every day. Even with new technologies, the vast majority of us think that there is really nowhere else to go because, how creative can you get when it comes to listing your experience plus your education on a sheet of paper or its equivalent? Philippe Dubost, however, had a different idea. He made his CV into an Amazon product page. Creative? Definitely. I only wonder what Amazon will have to say if people start copying Philippe’s idea en masse. Will they be happy about this unintended and bold new use of its website, or will they frown upon it? Only time will tell.

Screen shot 2013-01-27 at 11.47.47 AM

Philippe Dubost, Web Product Manager

A Week in Links, 1/14-1/20


The Real Academia de la Lengua Española seems to have buckled under much pressure. After new changes presented in its new “ortografía”, published in 2010, have failed to take hold two years on, the Academia is now backpedaling, stating that accent removals on the adverb “solo” and demonstrative pronouns were mere recommendations, not impositions.

>> – La RAE pierde la batalla contra la tilde en las palabras “sólo” y “éste”


More translation, not less is the bottom line of this article outlining predictions for 2013 in the world of translation and localization. Companies are realizing that they need to have a more active global presence that goes beyond localizing packaging and marketing copy and goes on to include entire websites, as well as mobile and social network communication with customers. This rapidly growing trend will spell doom for the translation industry as we know it, and will bring forth new and innovative ways of dealing with increased output.

>>Wired – The End of the World for Translation as We Know It

The World at Large

Many reasons have been put forth for France’s intervention in Mali. Do modern socialist democracies concerned with the environment and belonging to an institution lauded with the Nobel Peace Prize continue to have imperialistic impulses? Well, it’s not about the empire so much as about the resources. This article examines the real reasons why France was so hasty in coming to Mali’s “aid”.

>>DW – The Interests Behind France’s Intervention in Mali

Culture – Literature

What makes a literary hit that transcends the ages? A universal theme? A powerful story? Compelling writing? Whatever it is, this article from Diario Kafka examines what makes for the complete opposite: how to make works of literature that become irrelevant with the ages. It turns out the most straightforward way to achieve this is to cater to the “posers”, those individuals that, without wanting to spend all the time and effort it takes to become familiar with a particular subject, much desire to accumulate the social currency that comes with knowledge.

>> – The great pretender (in Spanish)

Social commentary

For those interested in education, this blog entry discusses a topic of much interest to educators: how to deal with the false sense of entitlement in students nowadays, a by-product of the cult of individualism.

>>The Grumpy Giraffe – The Cult of Individualism: I’m Special and You’re Not