Sunbelt 2013


First of all, I would like to thank all of you who came to watch and listen to my presentation about freelance translators’ support networks yesterday afternoon at the Sunbelt 2013 conference in Hamburg, Germany.

Having my background in Translation Studies, I was a guest at Sunbelt. Nevertheless, I felt very welcomed in the Social Network Analysis community and enjoyed the presentations, discussions and – my favorite – the Twitter workshop. I was also very delighted to have met two acquaintances from the Marie Jahoda Summer School 2012, Sophie Mützel of WZB Berlin and Philipp Korom, who does research on elite groups at Univeristy of Graz.

As an “ambassador” of a small and not very well-known research field, I first introduced my audience to Translation Studies and to Translator Studies and gave a quick overview on Translation as a profession and an industry. I explained that freelance translators in Germany are members of the Freie Berufe and therefore have strong business ethics and social norms which are diffused in their social networks. Then I presented the research design of the study I conducted and talked about the preliminary results.

But, see yourself – here are my slides:

Limitations: Originally, the scope of my study is more extensive and includes aspects of actor-networks, work processes and the usage of tools and resources. This presentation only shows parts of my research, specifically tailored to the target audience at the Sunbelt conference.

–Look out! ─ Word Exchange! -> Translators’ Days Heidelberg


In two weeks, the Translators’ Days of Baden-Wuerttemberg will take place for the 9th time. This year, the Institute for Translating and Interpreting at the University of Heidelberg will host the event.

When: Sunday, May 12 – Friday, May 17, 2013

Where: University of Heidelberg (various locations)

Link to Program.

The program – referred to as ecletic by the hosts – combines guided university tours in different languages, documentaries and discussion rounds with academic lunch breaks, talks about translators and translating and even an interpreting slam.

9th Translators' Days 2013 in Heidelberg
–Look out! ─ Word Exchange!

The Translators’ Days were initiated by the “Freundeskreis zur internationalen Förderung literarischer und wissenschaftlicher Übersetzungen e. V.” (an association for the international promotion of literary and scientific translations). Their goal is to draw the attention of a wider public to literary translations and to provide translators with an  opportunity to enhance the public visibility of their work. This objective is also mirrored in the program:

The famous German author Ingrid Noll will meet two of “her translators”, literary translators read from their latest translated books and each day, “gläserne Übersetzer” (which refers to the translator being completely transparent, seemingly made of glass, as spectators can watch him or her translating) will demonstrate their skills.

My personal highlight is the SWR2 Forum titled “Translation – Art, Science or Craft?”. On Monday, Mai 13, 2013 from 08:00 – 09:00 pm, translation studies scholar Prof. Dr. Norbert Greiner, literary translator Karen Nölle, and publisher-author Michael Krüger will discuss about the role and the perception of literary translators. The SWR2 Forum will be recorded and made available as Podcast on

I will live-blog from the forum, here, on

PS: For international guests there will also be a few events in English and in Español.

are translators in robot-replacement danger?


Drew Halley announces the universal translator to be here already! In her article on Singularity Hub, she discusses several systems such as IraqComm, Google Translate and argues that the basic technology is already here and only needs to improve: “…the translation is a bit rough, and doesn’t always catch the finer points of what was said. […] Granted, the process is pretty clunky, but it’s here and it works.”

Just pause a moment and think about how many times you have experienced communication difficulties even if you were talking with someone with who you share the same mother tongue. Isn’t human communication and interaction particularly complex because of these “finer points”? She doubts “it’ll be absolutely perfect in the foreseeable future” but still concludes:

“We can add one more job to the robot-replacement endangered list: translators.”

we can do it!
*picture credits:*

Thinking along about changes in the U.S. labour market and exploring labour statistics in his blog, Andrew McAfee ponders the possibility of technological unemployment. He cites Paul Krugman stating in an interview that “we are seeing machines doing things that we thought, and just a few years ago, we thought had to be done by human intelligence.” According to Krugman, the possibility of technological unemployment are not the result of a skill-biased technological change, instead, it’s all about the money: “one obvious possibilty… is that technology has shifted in a way that really favors capital over labor… that makes it possible to replace people with machines, but with a lot of machines so that the amount you’re willing to pay workers falls because you want to spend your money on buying more machines.” (quoted from Andrew McAfees transcription of the Krugman interview)

The dreams and aspirations of some software developers (and other business people) to replace human translators by high-quality machine translation dates back to the 1950ies and human’s desire to be able to speak with anybody without language barriers is probably as old as the homo sapiens itself. But… why should we replace human translators and interpreters? Are the dedicated R&D projects an adventureful race for the holy grail of which nobody knows whether it actually exists? Is it simply the pressure of cutting costs for language services that drives companies and governments to spend billions of dinero on this endeavor? Why would the U.S. army spend loads of money on developing a software which produces only acceptable results for Arabian-English interpretation when they can recruit human interpreters who do not only understand and speak both languages but are also culturally literate of both worlds?

Many clichees and stereotypes exist about translation and the role of translators in economy and society. This situation leads people to come up with undifferentiated statements predicting the end of human translation soon to come. Even David Bello, who wrote a book about translation, states in his article about Google Translate (GT): “Translators don’t reinvent hot water every day. They behave more like GT – scanning their own memories in double-quick time for the most probable solution to the issue at hand.” This very simplified explanation of what goes on in the translator’s mind draws another picture of the error-prone human brain vs. the impeccable machine.

In the 1980ies, 80% of the participants of a representative survey conducted in Germany stated that translation is one of the professions that will become redundant in the future. Furthermore, 75% of the people asked regarded translation as a female profession. According to their opinion, translation requires great levels of empathy and patience. At the same time, it does not leave much room for personal imagination or individual scope for development. (Silbermann & Hänserroth 1985)

For sure, translation business is a hidden business. Most translators work as freelancers, they tend to work from home (btw: freelance translation is among the best-paying jobs you can do from anywhere, according to, and they are so-called portfolio workers, who offer a variety of services (such as proof-reading, web-design, authoring etc.) to their customers. Some of them even combine translating with one ore more other professions. Most professional translators have created and shaped their very individual niche and attend a certain number of regular customers with who they have developed trusted business relationships over the course of years, so they are able to deliver their high-quality services (Gold & Fraser, 2001). With regards to these facts, machine translation needs to replace a lot more than simple “language services”, which might not be as easy.

Especially tech people seem to underestimate the complex social nature of us human beings. We are social animals, we want to be listened to and cared for. Social rules and norms are highly complex and impact (verbal and non-verbal) communication and social interaction. It’s not that easy to replace humans from jobs where human qualities are needed, even for global players interested in cost-cutting.

Silbermann and Hänseroth also asked professional freelance translators if they view translation as an endangered profession. 46% of the interviewees answered no, neither for economic nor technological reasons. 33% of them answered yes, due to economic reasons and only 7% expected a danger of being replaced by technology. In the past quarter century, technological development caused the translation industry to prosper. It experienced growth-rates of 5% (and more) per annum and is by now – according to Nataly Kelly at Common Sense Advisory, „the biggest industry you’ve never heard of”. „The language services industry – which encompasses interpreting, translation, localization, and the accompanying technologies – is worth $33 billion globally”, and its still growing: „the number of jobs for these two professions will expand by 42% from 2010 to 2020, making it one of the fastest-growing professions in the country”, she writes on

Now, how will this story continue?

Tiny tweak: Fake it ’til you become it.


Last fall, I went to a business breakfast for women. I love these meetings, because they are both professional and social at the same time. We enjoy delicious food together, get to know new people who either are entrepreneurs already or who aspire to start their own businesses. It’s always an inspiration. Every business breakfast follows the same schedule: We meet, introduce ourselves very briefly, have breakfast and one of the participants will give a talk about a selected topic (which usually has to do with their own business).

Women tend to be overthinkers when it comes to starting a business. They have great ideas, but – full of doubts – never take action.

That very morning, the speaker – let’s call her Julia – started with telling a story about her own journey. When Julia turned 30, she suddenly felt a bit anxious and awkward. Not because she was getting older, but because back in her early and mid-twenties she used to imagine herself being an entrepreneur – before turning thirty! However, she didn’t know how and where to start. At a start-up congress, she attended a round table for female entrepreneurs. The speaker said: “Women tend to be overthinkers when it comes to starting their own businesses. They have great ideas, but they hesitate and, full of doubts, never take action. Men are the opposite: They have a business idea, they go for it and, eventually, might become successful – or maybe not.”

Julia recalls this being her wake-up call. She stopped hesitating and soon after, she started her own business.


This sounds a lot like those post-modern heroic legends like the ones featured on MTV Made, doesn’t it?

Those stories go like this: A chubby, unsecure kid who hardly knows how to hold a ball in both hands aspires to be the next basket ball star of the varsity high school team. Comes MTV with a drill instructor, the kid gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to do crunches and stuff, cries a lot and looks very pitiful. After 8 weeks, the kid hardly passes the tryouts. More crunches and crying. Suddenly, something wonderful happens: The kid transforms into a sporty teenager, scores 5 three-pointers in a row at the final game and everybody is very impressed.

So, without a yelling drill instructor at our sides, how do we get from the point of hesitating to the point of taking action and making “it” happen?

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy says it’s about the tiny tweaks!

In her research, Amy Cuddy looks at how testosterone (=power hormone) and cortisol (=stress hormone) levels are influenced by an individual’s body language. She invited different people to her lab and asked them to do certain body poses for two minutes. Participants who did power poses (like stretching out in an office chair and leaning back with their arms crossed behind their heads) have been found to have lowered their cortisol levels by 10%. Those who were asked to hunch up in an office chair (which is not considered a power pose), increased their cortisol levels. The latter group, thus, felt more anxious and stressed out.

Amy advises us to do power posing every day for two minutes: In the bathroom, in an office behind closed doors or wherever possible: Stand up straight, feet hip-wide, shoulders back, arms stretched out. Make yourself big. Posing like this, she says, makes us believe that we are more confident, lowers our stress hormone and increases our power hormone levels. Thus, we will become more confident in the end and others will see us this way, too. It’s that simple.

Configure your brain! (Amy Cuddy)

In her TED talk, she gives a great explanation of how this works in detail and what the science behind it is. At the end of the video, Amy reminds us to “fake it ’til you become it”. There’s nothing wrong with that, she insists. You’re not an impostor. You really just put yourself out there and practice what life and work would be like if your dream had already become reality.

A very good friend of mine once gave me a similar piece of advice: When you are hesitating about how to start with something and you get all anxious and would prefer to not start at all, just imagine that your goal had become reality already and then think about which steps to take.

So the very first steps of entrepreneurship are “fake-it” steps: Attend a start-up meeting in your region. Talk to others about your future business. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Enjoy yourself. Be open and friendly (– remember, you will attend these meetings regularly now, meet the same people over and over again and you’ll build social relations with them). Pretend to be just one day away from founding your business (– no need to tell this to anyone. Just pretend it to yourself.). This works for aspiring freelancers, too. Go ahead, try it :-). But watch the video first. It’s great.


Towards a broader perspective: entreprini

April_2013_New_York 070

Lately, I haven’t been blogging much here on This is partly because my friend Anja and I have started the LOVE YOUR TRANSLATOR campaign (–> read more on for more respect for professional translators’ and interpreters’ daily work and we’ve been very busy with blogging, tweeting and building the LYT community on Facebook. Another reason is that I have been dedicating much of my time to finalizing my PhD thesis (still a few weeks to go!) and due to all the writing, I simply didn’t feel like blogging most of the time.

change is good :-)

However, over the past months I came across so many interesting and intellectually stimulating blog posts, scientific articles and movies. I also met many inspiring people. So, I now have plenty of stuff to write about and my Drafts section is facing severe overflow. The only problem: Many of the topics I would like to blog about only lightly touch issues of translating, but focus on subjects such as freelancing, solopreneurship, the creative industries, job prestige etc. etc. Considering the initial mission and vision of, these topics would’ve been way beyond scope! In order to achieve a better fit and be able to blog about these topics, I’ve been reconsidering the scope and name of this blog for a while now.

So, from April 1st, 2014 on (no April fool hoax! ;-) ), this blog will be renamed to ENTREPRINI.

According to Urban Dictionary,

An entreprini is… An aspiring entrepreneur. A young entrepreneur. An entrepreneur young at heart. A new entrepreneur.

The term entreprini sums up nicely how society, the media and many individuals from the creative and cultural industries (and beyond) perceive the contemporary entrepreneur: New, young at heart and aspiring.

This blog will critically assess the views, trends, studies, debates, and urban legends about and around freelancing, entre-/solo-/micropreneurship, and portfolio careers in the creative and cultural industries, as well as new work, new media and social networks.

Stay tuned and don’t forget to update your RSS readers and bookmarks: It’s now!

*** picture credits: photograph by Marie-Luise Groß; statement by



Technology & Globalization

The technological development of the past decade has had a significant impact on the daily work of translators. Globalization, the meteoric evolution of machines, robots, gadgets, computers, software, and the world wide web have caused the market for translations to grow steadily between 5 and 10 percent p.a. over the past years and this growth rate is predicted to rise even higher in the future (according to Common Sense Advisory).

Although the technological development has positive effects on the translation industry and helps translators do their work more efficiently, again and again people question the future of human translation. The vision of a universal translator makes computer scientists smile. And translators are worried about the future of their profession. Software companies strive for making the translation process more efficient, whereas translators and Translation Studies scholars caution against tools that domineer translators and inhibit human translation qualities like creativity and cross-cultural knowledge.

Coming up next!

The TechWeeks @ Series aims to shine some light on the most important discussions around the relationship between translators and technology and relines them with the latest research findings.

Stay tuned for the following topics:

  • How does technological development influence the translation industry?
  • Why are tech people so eager to replace human translators?
  • Struggling with Inconsistencies: The Boon and Bane of Translation Memories
  • CAT-Tool usage and adoption among translators – what is the Status Quo?
  • Print dictionaries vs. MT – Translation aids usage now and then.
  • Girls love literature and Boys play with gagdets? On the role of Gender in Translation, L10N, and Technical Writing.

The TechWeeks will start in August and run until September 29th, 2013.
One of the topics listed above will be featured each week.

Please don’t hesitate to leave comments, share and discuss.

Treat of the day

words and ideas

…translators do not translate languages or words. They translate ideas.

This is how translator Kevin Hendzel defines translation in his blogpost Translation is Not About Words…

He explains:
“…in today’s commercial translation market, that means we translate the ideas of people who are deeply invested in some highly complicated activities and are willing to pay us to convey them. Since we must understand those ideas to do this accurately, we must know not only what we know, but we must also know what they know, too.”

The Value of Science Blogs

...there is a clear need for other communication channels... to reach all scholars working in the field...

Recently, Rohan Maitzen discussed in her blog post “Accept no substitutes: blogging is a valuable supplement to scholarship…” whether scientific blogging could take on its place alongside traditional scholarly writing and publishing activities.
Initially, the argument took its natural way, cross-firing from the very white side to the very black one, i.e. from blogging as a complete supplement of traditional publishing to not accepting scientific blogging at all in the sacred halls of the ivory towers.

For the sake of “knowledge mobilization” in her field of literature studies, Maitzen points out, blogs could be powerful channels for making scientific knowledge available to anyone interested: “There are good reasons for us to engage with the rest of the world. It’s not as if academics are the only ones interested in literature, after all.”

This need for spreading, discussing, scrutinizing and mobilizing established knowledge particularly applies to inter-disciplines like Translation Studies (TS), which are challenged by ongoing violent disruptions of old disciplines (cf. Hillis Miller). This process towards a new disciplinarily includes discussions and confrontations.

With its branches of applied sciences (such as Translator Studies), TS have the duty to inform practitioners and to share – and discuss! – insights with them. It’s a give-and-take relationship: Without translators and the translation industry, there would not be much we could research about. Who should we investigate? And who would benefit from our findings?

Translation Studies should not be autotelic.

Most scientific journals have the objective to enable discussion and knowledge exchange among researchers. Interested practitioners either do not have access to these publications or – let’s be honest – might be overwhelmed by the scientific verbiage and unwieldy texts.

Besides only looking at blogs from a let’s-get-ready-for-tenure-perspective (i.e., whether they should be counted as “valuable” academic publications or not), researchers should consider them as what they where meant to be, originally: Digital journals, written by anyone for anyone, offering total freedom to their authors and enabling direct dialogue with and among their readers around the world. This sounds quite romantic, I grant, but blogs are one of the last spaces where scholars may write happily and freely, without having to stick to style guidelines or consider rigorous reviewers’ requirements.

Blogs are becoming more and more important as communication channels which can directly pass on knowledge from academia to the interested public. This knowledge mobilization may then take on the form of a knowledgescape – “the migration of ideas, concepts and methods across disciplinary bounds” (Duarte, Rosa, Seruya, 2006) – and into society.

treat of the day


translation family jewels

…Ross Smith (2008, p.23) referring to Translation Memories (TMs).

TMs are created, transformed or extended by translators, who are then asked by the client or agency to hand over the TM.
The debate about who “owns” a TM or parts of it — the translator(s)?, the client?, the author(s) of the source text(s)? — remains conflictive.

Read more on the topic in Smith’s articles:
“Your own memory?” and
“Copyright Issues in Translation Memory Ownership”

Competition or Coopetition? — Of fishermen and translators


Brasilian fishermen in the town of Bahia cast for fish either in a lake or in the sea. Both groups face different working environments: Fishermen fishing in the lake work alone or take their families with them in their boats. Fishermen fishing at the sea need to team up with other fishermen and share large boats with each other.

fishermenIn a scientific experiment, Bahia fishermen had to pitch a ball ten times into a bucket standing 3 meters away. Anytime they completed this exercise without missing, they won a small amount of money. They could also chose to enter a competition, in which they competed against an imaginary competitor. In this case, they would win even more money, but only if they scored higher than their competitor.

The results were quite surprising: 46 % of the fishermen from the lake entered the competition. The more working experience they had, the higher was the probability of chosing the competition.

Only 28 % of the fishermen who work at the sea entered the competition.

Andreas Leibbrandt of Monash University, Australia concluded that the fishermen who would work in teams during their everyday business, would simply lose their competitiveness, in terms of having a certain type of pleasure from entering (and winning) a competition. The fishermen from the lake, who are used to working alone and standing in direct competition with other fishermen, are more likely to take on a competitive situation.

So, what has this to do with professional translators?

In one of the interviews I held with freelance translators, one interviewee talked about the negative influence of translation agencies in online communities such as These large to mid-size companies artifically created and suggested a highly competitive environment in order to raise their own margins. This leads to market erosion and dumping rates. He explained that normally, there is not much competition between freelance translators. Of course, they need to stay competitive on the translation market, but in most cases they do not feel as if they were directly competing against each other. This keeps rates stable and is important so translators can delivery quality and make a living.

Coopetition occurs when companies interact with partial congruence of interests. They cooperate with each other to reach a higher value creation if compared to the value created without interaction, and struggle to achieve competitive advantage. (Wikipedia)

This perception was also shared by another interviewee who is very well connected with other Spanish-German translators in her local area (through her membership in the German Translators’ Association BDÜ). She said that although all the translators in this group basically offer the same service (Spanish-German translation), everyone of them is so specialized with their own niche (or services portfolio), that they don’t feel any competition among each other. Furthermore, no-one of this group would ever go ahead and cast for fish in another member’s pond. (-> This is how she called it. I searched for quite a while, but couldn’t find the idiomatic English expression. Any suggestions welcome. Anyway, the most important thing is, you know what I am referring to ;-).)

This perceived non-existence of direct competition, coming along with a strong sense of community towards other freelancers, is also affirmed by Debra Osnowitz (2007: 468; DOI 10.1007/s11133-007-9070-0) in her case study of network dynamics in the Freelance Editorial Association: “…rather than view each other principally as competitors, these contingent workers [i.e., editorial professionals] saw their colleagues as sources of community and mutual support.”

Just yesterday, I talked about this perceived negative impact of translation agencies with a friend of mine who works as a freelance translator and is a researcher in the field of Translation Studies herself. She brought another perspective into the discussion by stating that there are also advantages in working with/for translation agencies. Freelance translators have to do a lot of administrative tasks (book-keeping, billing, complaint processing etc.) and if they work with an agency, the agency will take care of these tasks.

She interposed that older freelancers might never have become used to the fact that there are some big players on the field, as opposed to the situation of about 20 years ago, when freelancers and small translation bureaus were the main actors.

So, this brings us back to our fishermen: Can we transfer the insights from Leibbrandt’s experiment on the working environment’s influence on whether someone fancies competition or not on the population of freelance translators?

I want to be a rockstar: Decoding Humanities


Programmers have long been regarded as pale nerds, feasting on pizza and coke, pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle and being absolute brains when it comes to telling computers what to do. Everyboy knew that we needed programmers and software engineers so our digitalized world would keep on spinning. And spinning. And spinning even faster.

Yesterday, John Padgett held a keynote on history and networks at the Sunbelt conference. He showed pictures of databases from over 30 years ago and network simulations – neatly scribbeled down on paper. Imagine that – a database running on a cellulose plattform ;-)!
Anyways, nowadays, the techies are taking over.
We are collecting huge amounts of data and only slowly start ro realize what we will be able to do with this data. Researchers are hooked on the idea of decoding human behaviour, which is mostly internet user’s behaviour. But as the internet of things is becoming more and more a reality, there is even more data about real-world human behaviour at our fingertips.

And now think about what we – researchers from all other disciplines beyond software engineering & Co. – could do with this data, not as dull end-users who feed survey data into a tool, click on a few buttons and then retrieve a chart or a table from it. No – think even bigger! Imagine what you could do, if you were able to build your own tool. If you could tailor this tool to your needs and adapt it yourself, whenever you need it. Think of all the possible research questions you could answer. Think of all the answers that would maybe even come to you without you even asking!
If you work together with IT-guys, wouldn’t it be nice, if you actually understood what they are doing? If you could approach them on eye-level when talking about software issues?

Talking about Big Data, there is a gold-rush mood starting in academia and also taking over the Humanities. This is great! So, Humanities students, scholars and researchers should use this enthusiasm and enhance their skill sets. Learn how to code!
How? Well, you know how to use Google and Amazon? Then start searching for resources, online-communities, tutorials and free guides. Or get yourself a book at Amazon.

I decided that I wanted to be one of those code-data-visualization-rockstars myself after I attended the workshop “Studying Human Behaviour on Twitter” by Derek Ruths this Monday (again, thanks a lot, Derek!). I am strongly convinced that for Translator Studies, there is a vein of gold in data coming from online social network(ing) platforms.
So, I got myself two books (I know, they are printed versions – haha – I am a book lover, just can’t help it…) and I am learning Python and some other useful things which I don’t know yet.
Anytime I will find a helpful resource or there is anything new to show, I’ll share it here on, I promise. So stay with me on this journey – it’ll be exciting!