Thursday, 8 December 2011

How to deal with late payments

In the current economic climate, late payments are becoming commonplace. Whilst payment terms have never been too favourable to suppliers, they are getting more and more unattractive, with 60, 90 or even 120-day payment terms making an appearance these days. And despite these terms being already in the clients' favour, it is quite common for the actual payment to be late. After all, it's quite convenient for the client to keep the money in their account for as long as they can, earning interest.

Needless to say, this is quite annoying for the supplier, who has to chase the payment through endless phone calls and e-mails, wasting time when instead they should be working and earning money. But the real problem is with cash flow. Even if translators have very few outgoings compared to other businesses, they still need a certain disposable income every month to pay for their bills, food, etc. At the end of the day, you can't tell your phone company "I'll pay your bill when my client pays me".

And this is even worse for small translation companies which might have significant outgoings, such as rent, staff salaries and paying their own freelance suppliers. Late payments and the subsequent problems with cash flow could soon become a huge burden which could potentially send the business into bankruptcy.

Not all is lost, however, as there are ways you can protect yourself against late payments.

First of all, if you are contacted by a new client, do your research before accepting a job. Check that the company is genuine and find all their details on the Internet, such as address, e-mail address, website, etc. If it is a member of the public, it might be more difficult to check that it is a genuine enquiry, so be extra careful.

It's also a good idea to check with other translators if they have worked for that client and get some feedback. In any case, what you should always do is look up the company in websites such as Payment Practices, the Black and White list in GoTranslators, the Blue Board in Proz or many other similar sources that will tell you if the client is a bad payer.

Also, protect yourself by signing some Terms of trade. It could be your terms, or their terms, but make sure you understand them fully and you both agree on them.

If, despite doing all this, the new client turns out to be a bad payer, or one of your regular clients starts paying considerably later than usual, you should always start by chasing the payment politely. After all, it can happen that invoices are misplaced or forgotten about, or simply not received. We are all human and can make mistakes, so I would advise to start on the assumption that it is a genuine error.

If you don't get a reply to your initial reminder, or they say they are going to pay but haven't done so within a week, it's a good idea to send them another e-mail or phone them directly. How they react to this second contact is crucial: if they don't reply or start giving excuses such as "the cheque is in the post", "the person who deals with the payments is on holidays" or "the system is down", be very careful. Excuses are just a delaying tactic, and lack of response obviously means that they don't care.

In that case, you can seek cover in the law. For instance, in the UK, clients who pay late must by law pay penalty interest and compensation. For debts of less than £1000, the penalty is £40, rising to £70 for larger debts. Then interest is charged at 8% over the Bank of England rate. Whilst many translators choose not to apply this charges, it is useful to know that it is your legal right to demand them if the client exceeds the payment terms set at the beginning of the project/on the invoice.

If after that second contact you still haven't received payment in, say, two weeks, it is certainly advisable to send another invoice with the compensation and penalty interest added to it. Alternatively, you can contact the client once again stating that, if you haven't received your payment by X day, they will be hearing from your debt collection company the next day. Most clients usually pay at this point.

The last resort is, of course, sending a Recorded Delivery letter stating your intention to go to court (Small Claims court in the UK).

Once it gets to this point it is very likely that you will lose the client, but at the end of the day you have to think that A CLIENT WHO DOESN'T PAY IS NOT A CLIENT.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Versatile Blogger Award nomination

Today, I was very excited to find out that Curri Barceló has nominated MediaLoc for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks very much, Curri!

Now I'll do my bit to keep the award going. I have been told that the rules are:

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

I've already done number 1, so here are 7 random facts about me:

1. I was born and raised in Zaragoza, Spain, but I have lived in England for a few years. And yes, I miss certain things about my home country, but I prefer the UK (and I'm not crazy! ;) ).

2. Music is my passion, and by music I mean listening and dancing to it, unfortunately I can't play any instruments. But I started learning English thanks to some of my favourite songs of the 90s, and you can still catch me dancing for hours on end any Saturday night!

3. I couldn't care less about football. I must have been one of the few Spaniards not to watch the final of whatever cup it was last summer, and despite living fairly close to Old Trafford I only worry about Manchester United to know if the traffic is going to affect my travel plans. I guess some of you might be shocked, but I've got other things to worry about to be honest! :-p

4. What I do love, however, is travelling. I am fascinated by other cultures and seeing other parts of the world. If only I had more free time!

5. I can sew and I'm into fashion. But rather than following trends or designers, in my case it's more about learning what suits you and using it to make the most of your figure (hey, I can only try!).

6. Must be the Spaniard in me, but I love cooking. Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, anything. I love getting inspiration from different cuisines and then creating my own versions.

7. Somewhat related to the previous one, I have a sweet tooth. I never say no to chocolate. ;-)

As for the blogs, these are my 15 picks. They're all well-worth reading if you're interested in translation or languages in general:

1. Fluent in 3 months
2. Adventures in freelance translation
4. Want Words
5. In Other Words
6. Martin Wunderlich
7. Naked Translations
8. About Translation
9. (Not Just) Another Translator
10. Musings from an overworked translator
11. Games with Words
12. The Linguist On Languages
13. Mox's Blog
14. No Peanuts for Translators!
15. Translation Guy Blog

Now I must dash to let those bloggers now! I hope you enjoy reading these blogs as much as I do!

Monday, 12 September 2011

What you need to be a games localiser

It's been a while since my last post, but as usual the summer period has been extremely busy. In the past I've talked about general translation issues, and today I thought it was about time to explain a little bit more about what MediaLoc does: games localisation. Therefore I decided to reproduce an article I have written especially for those interested in knowing what you need to get into this industry. Hope you like it!


Have you ever wondered why everyone seems to like their Xbox 360 or PLAYSTATION®3 so much? Games used to be a kids’ domain; however, nowadays companies are constantly branching into new markets and releasing products that defy the traditional definition of a videogame. Most of you will have seen the adverts about “games” that you can sing along to, that keep you fit and even help you cook! Whilst games might still not be everyone’s cup of tea, this expansion, which is taking place across many foreign markets, means that there is plenty of work out there for translators interested in the field.

However, games localisation involves much more than translation, and linguists working in this area need to be aware of certain technical and legal issues that might not necessarily apply to other fields. To start with, games companies are extremely protective of their products, and this means that often the translator has to work without having seen the product at all, despite having signed any necessary confidentiality agreements. It is not uncommon for the translator to only know the title of the game and the platform it will be played on. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they might get a few screenshots of the characters or the menu screens.

This lack of information becomes an acute problem when attempting to translate strings composed of a single word, with no context at all. Aside from the usual problems of gender and number, and whether a word is a verb or a noun (“pause”), certain terms will have completely different translations depending on the context; for instance, “wheel” in a racing game could refer to the steering wheel or to one of the four rotating wheels of the car.

Another common problem that games translators have to face on a daily basis is the lack of space on screen, meaning that in particular occasions they cannot exceed a certain number of characters when translating, which in screens such as the menus can be extremely challenging. And to this challenge you have to add the fact that games translators have to branch into other fields, such as translation of scripts and subtitles. Most localised games these days are dubbed, subtitled or both, so it is also important to have the necessary skills to carry out this type of work.

Other issues that need to be taken into account include the use of TRCs, placeholders and concatenation. TRC stands for Technical Requirements Checklist and it refers to a list of terms or “authorised names” that the translator must strictly follow; they include terms such as the names of the platforms and peripherals and in many cases the terms are copyrighted, so it is imperative to use the approved translations.

Placeholders are also very common in games localisation and can pose endless problems. For instance, even the simple sentence “You have won a %d” will have to be translated slightly differently in many languages depending on the gender of the object that “%d” is replaced with, as in “You have won a car”.

Concatenation can be even trickier. In the games localisation industry, it refers to combining several separate strings to form a sentence. Using a similar example to the one in the previous paragraph, the translator could find themselves having to translate the following table:

You have won a
Has ganado una

When combining them, the results will be “You have won a gold coin”, “You have won a silver coin” or “You have won a bronze coin”. However, it is clear that this syntax is not going to work in many languages. For instance, in Spanish “Has ganado una oro moneda” is incorrect; “oro” should appear at the end and be preceded by a preposition: “Has ganado una moneda de oro”. Since the syntax has been programmed into the game and cannot be altered, in a case like this it would be useful to translate the first string as “Has ganado una moneda de” and leave the last cell empty, or just with a full stop. However, this is only a very basic example and challenges of this type can be much more difficult to solve.

Any translators wishing to work in the games localisation field should be able to tackle all these issues and also start familiarising themselves with the games and the associated terminology used in them. Some of the most common terms can vary from one company to another, or between different platforms and consoles, so it is very important to become aware of these differences. Similarly, it is not uncommon for games translators to specialise in a few genres; the style and terminology can vary widely and, whereas some games contain a lot of technical information (for instance, car specifications in racing games), others use a very flowery language that will put the translator’s creativity to the test (role-playing games, or RPGs, with long and complicated stories).

It is also helpful to find a job in-house within a game company.  Even though the industry is fairly young, most translation companies specialised in this area will hardly consider translators without game experience. Obviously, it helps to be an avid gamer, but working for a game company also provides an excellent perspective on what type of issues you will have to face as a freelancer.  Some companies, such as Blizzard and NCsoft have in-house translation teams, and most of the others have localisation testing departments, which check all the text once it has been implemented in the game.

In terms of tools, it is not necessary to have specialist software, as most of the work comes in Excel or even Word format. However, using TM software can be very beneficial due to the sheer number of repetitions and the need for consistency within the games, which can sometimes surpass the 100,000 words mark.
There has not been much written about games localisation to date, but those interested in the field could benefit from reading the “Game Localization Handbook” by Heather Maxwell Chandler (2005). It provides a comprehensive description of the games localization process and will be undoubtedly helpful for anyone thinking about branching out in this industry.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Why cheaper isn't better

In the current economic climate, it's quite understandable that companies are trying to save money. However, going for the cheapest translation service could end up being a very costly mistake.

After all, if you were buying clothes, for instance, you wouldn't expect to find Chanel quality at Primark prices, would you? I guess both brands serve different purposes, but I'm sure you know what I mean. Well, translation is the same as fashion or as any other industry, you are simply not going to find excellent quality at rock-bottom prices. If the prices are too low, there is always a reason for that. After all, qualified and reputable translators spend a lot of their time and money investing on training, research and technology, and when you pay for their services you're not only paying for their language skills, which obviously have to be excellent, but also that time spent on continuing professional development, which helps them improve themselves constantly and produce work of the highest quality. Translation is an art, there is no doubt about it.

Fortunately, more and more translation customers are beginning to appreciate that quality and are prepared to pay fair prices for these services. So much so, that translators who are very good at what they do tend to be extremely busy most of the time, so they are not going to accept work from companies which are only willing to pay substandard rates.

That means that translators who accept lower rates are either not very good, and they can't get work from anywhere else, or new to the industry and use the strategy of setting lower rates to enter the market and get some experience. For instance, it's not uncommon for recent graduates to do this, and, as a frequent guest lecturer at different universities, I always discourage them from doing that; firstly because setting your rates too low indicates that you don't value yourself too highly, and secondly because it lowers the market's average rates, which will be detrimental to them in the long-term.

But coming back to the first group of translators I mentioned, if they have been in the industry for a considerable amount of time and still charge very little for their services, chances are that the work they produce is substandard. As I said, most of the time they accept low rates because they can't get enough work, so they sell themselves cheaply in the hope of attracting clients. But working at low rates means that you have to produce a lot of work to earn a living, and therefore they will rush their translations, not paying enough attention to detail. Other times they're simply so bad that any clients which care in the slightest about quality will stop sending them work, so they are desperate and set their rates ridiculously low to get any projects they can.

Who hasn't seen awful translations in the past? Mistakes such as the famously hilarious "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid" seen in a Japanese hotel or "Drop your trousers here for best results" from a Bangkok dry-cleaners happen all too often. These were obviously translated by a non-native speaker of English or, worse still, a machine translation programme, but I've seen far too many times translations by native speakers full of grammar, spelling and other mistakes. (As I mentioned in my previous post, it takes more than speaking a language to be a translator!). These can be fatal for any company trying to enter new markets; instead of appealing to your target customers, a bad translation can ruin your company's reputation. After all, if you didn't bother to communicate properly with your potential customers, how are they going to trust your products and believe you will provide the service you say you will? These communications are the first impression they get from you, and if you look like a cheapskate you can forget about making it in the market.

So translation shouldn't be seen as an annoying expense, but as an investment instead. And as with all good investments, it makes financial sense to spend a little more to get much better results.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

What it takes to be a translator

If I had received a pound every time I've heard someone say "Oh, I speak X languages, I'm sure I could be a translator"... Funnily enough, it's usually followed by the question "How much do you actually earn?" This just shows the common misconception that speaking 2 or more languages is enough to be a translator, and an easy way to make money. Of course, it couldn't be further from the truth, and as a professional I find this statement quite insulting.

My usual reply to such statement involves something along the lines of "Well, could you write a novel in your native language?" "Or hold a conversation on nuclear physics?" The point I'm trying to make is that to be a good translator, first and foremost you need to have an excellent command of your native language. And that does not only imply being able to write without grammar and spelling mistakes (which, believe it or not, it's quite a challenge for some people), but also to use the appropriate terminology, tone, register, etc. As we say in the translation industry, the text has to be "fit for purpose". In addition, a thorough knowledge of the source language is also needed so that you can understand all the subtleties, hidden meanings, puns, etc. and convey them in the target language. This is by any means no easy feat; as any translator will tell you, translating puns, sayings, wordplay and similar expressions can be a nightmare, as most of them do not have direct equivalents in the target language, so you have to stretch your creativity to the limit.

In addition, as exemplified by my "nuclear physics" question, a translator needs to know inside out the field they work in, be it games localization, mechanical engineering or legal contracts. It's simply not possible to know absolutely everything about anything in the world, and that is why translators usually specialise in 2-3 fields. In order to get the terminology, style, tone, etc. absolutely right they need to understand the text to the level of a professional who works in that field. In fact, it's not uncommon for legal translators to have received legal training, or for games localizers to be avid games players, for instance. Usually, it's quite easy to tell when something has been translated by someone who is not familiar with that subject area, as they pick slightly different terminology or simply don't stick to the "conventions".

And last, but not least, it's also important to consider that most translators are self-employed. This means that, in addition to their linguistic knowledge and their command of their subject areas, they also need to have business skills. They have to be savvy enough to carry out their own marketing campaigns and get new clients (which presumably they will keep with their awesome translation work!), manage their websites, blogs and other media presence, manage their income, sort out their taxes and do accountancy work (unless they use an accountant), etc. And if you think this isn't enough, you can also add more administrative tasks such as providing quotes (which might or might not lead to projects), answering queries by e-mail or phone and project management (in the case they subcontract work or collaborate with other translators).

So, who still thinks that being a translator is easy? Don't get me wrong, translation is one of my passions and I very much enjoy it, but it's definitely not as simple as speaking 2 languages.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Hello everyone,

Thank you for visiting MediaLoc's Translation and Games Localization blog. In this blog you will be able to read about the translation industry in general terms and, more specifically, about the field of games localization (or localisation, as we say in the UK!). I hope you like it!

To give you a bit of background, MediaLoc is a company highly specialised in the field of games localization. Our main aim is to provide an excellent-quality service with a very friendly approach, and that's why we only work with the best translators in the industry. But we also like to do our bit and raise the profile of games localization.

MediaLoc was founded by me, Silvia Ferrero. I have been a translator and interpreter since 2002, and during this time I have localized and tested games across all platforms for some of the best-known videogames companies and localization agencies, including 5 years working in-house for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. My main specialisation is obviously games localization, but I also do translation work in fields such as IT, business and marketing, environment and tourism, as well as copyrighting for advertising purposes. In addition, I am a regular speaker and guest lecturer at universities and translation events, where I give presentations about games localization but also more general subjects such as how to build a career as a translator and interpreter. In addition, I am the Chair of the North-West Translators' Network.

As you can see, I am very much involved in the industry. I am grateful for all the invaluable help I received from colleagues when I started out, and I believe it's only right to give something back to the industry. In addition, I also want to help raise the profile of our translators and interpreters and train our future professionals in the best way possible.

I do hope you enjoy reading this blog, and any feedback is very much welcome.