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Book review: The Prosperous Translator

The Prosperous Translator by Chris Durban


Chris Durban, a veteran French-to-English translator specialising in finance and capital markets,  doesn’t do things by halves, and that applies to her other face as the educator of the translation industry.

I first came across her name through her hugely popular column in the ITI Bulletin titled The Onionskin. You find collections of translation bloopers are everywhere on the internet and the printed media — just the sort of light entertainment you need as you get back to work on a rainy Monday morning — but The Onionskin was something else. Chris would contact the company that’s just made a laughing stock of themselves and find out how that happened. Who ordered the translation and who provided it? What was the reason for choosing that particular source? How come nobody involved in the process noticed how bad the translation was until it was too late?  And most importantly, how can a disaster like this be prevented from happening again? The Onionskin was all about educating the client, the buyer of translations, and the end product was “Translation: Getting It Right — A guide to buying translation“, a small booklet  packed with all the information you need before hiring a translation provider. Over 100,000 copies (now available in nine languages including Japanese) have been distributed in the decade since its first appearance.

But while educating our clients, Chris has also been busy educating us translators, the supply end of the supply-and-demand relationship in the translation industry. Chris, with co-author Eugene Seidel, has been answering readers’ questions under the aliases Fire Ant & Worker Bee in the Translation Journal since 1998, and 12 years’ worth of these pearls of wisdom are now available as a printed book, The Prosperous Translator.

The book retains the original question-and-answer format of the column, which may be a little frustrating if you are looking for a step-by-step guide on how to become and make a living as a translator. Be patient and read on — and you are rewarded with a good read. Questions and answers are organised into sections that take you through the stages of a career in translation, right from “how do I become a translator?” through “how do I become a specialist professional?” to “how do I work with others as the head of the local translators’ association?” Askers include students, fledglings, in-house translators, seasoned freelancers, translation agencies and even translation buyers, a mix that makes for a diversity of angles from which the same question is looked at: how to succeed as a translator. All the questions are answered in the inimitable FA&WB style — direct, no-nonsense and very funny.

Some of the questions may be over a decade old, but the key message of the book is still relavant — perhaps even more so in the time when everyone is feeling the global recession biting — that a high-pay, quality-driven market segment does exist; you just need to work strategically in order to crack it.

I found this book very useful, both in showing me a new way of looking at the translation world, and in giving me a wealth of practical tips.



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