The commercial world of translation and interpreting can be a harsh taskmaster for the independent contractor. In this two-part series, we ask: Is the government any better? BY NINA BOGDAN

Part I: NCTA member Farah Arjang’s attendance at a U.S. Government/ATA-sponsored conference yields little more than questions.

Those who choose to work as freelancers may revel in a life of no bosses, no mandatory business attire (every day is casual Friday!) and the freedom to work at 2 AM, but they are also at the mercy of demanding agencies that care only about the bottom line and non-paying customers who disappear as soon as a job is delivered. Linguists also frequently find themselves to be convenient targets of misplaced blame (everyone knew that it was really that pesky diplomat who misspoke; not the interpreter), and of comments such as, “If you’re such a good translator, why do you need a dictionary?” or, my all-time personal favorite, “You’re a translator? That’s a pretty easy job, right?” → continue reading


In September 2007, Princeton University launched what it hailed as “the largest, most extensive effort in the country to educate students about the important role that translation plays across academic fields and in cultural understanding.” We check it out.

By Stafford Hemmer

Officially, as News at Princeton reports, the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication seeks to “allow students to develop skills in language use and in the understanding of cultural and disciplinary difference. Translation across languages allows access to issues of intercultural differences, and the program will encourage its students to think about the complexity of communicating across cultures, nations, and linguistic borders.”

Certificate, certified—and totally certifiable

In the blush of its novelty, Sandra Bermann, chair of Princeton’s Comparative Literature department and a member of the program’s Executive Committee, eagerly elucidates that “words like democracy or constitution mean different things in different parts of the world,” reflecting the optimism of yet another translation certificate program to arise in American academia. “Certificate” and “Certified” also mean different things in different parts of the world, too. 

In order to call oneself a “translator” in a country like Germany, for example, one is required to study the discipline at a University and/or pass certification examinations administered by the state or federal government. In the USA, by contrast, no such government-sanctioned qualifying body can recognize a “certified translator” who can offer “certified translations.” It falls upon many US-based translators to educate clients about what constitutes certification, and even then, fellow translators have still had to ask each other—more than once on the NCTA list, for example—”How do I certify a translation?” A not-insignificant concern when dealing with clients who need transcripts, diplomas, immigration documents, divorce decrees translated … you get the picture.

Certainly the ATA imprimatur is a powerful endorsement, despite the deserved criticisms about the quality, nature, and prevarication of its testing practices. Still, ATA is merely a private, non-profit organization, acting on its own interests and on behalf of its members. A truly objective, government-run certifying body, administering U.S., or better yet, international, standards, is woefully absent in this country.

What about that Berkeley program?

To those of us NCTA members who graduated from the now defunct Certificate in Translation and Interpretation Studies Program offered by the University of California at Berkeley (through its Extension campus), whether as students, instructors, administrators, or conspirators, the philosophy, approach, structure—and optimism—behind the new Princeton program is hauntingly familiar. Princeton’s curriculum lends itself to ready comparison with that of Berkeley/Extension. For Princeton undergraduates already proficient in at least one foreign language, the newly christened “Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication” brings the art of translation to the plethora of disciplines represented by the 17 departments involved in the program. Berkeley’s students, who demonstrated their language proficiency upon application, benefitted from a program structured by professionals in the fields of both translation and interpretation, along with a renowned university’s staff and administration representing diverse fields of study.

Like Berkeley, Princeton offers a two-year program which began this fall with one of two core courses entitled “Thinking Translation: Language Transfer and Cultural Communication” (also called “Issues in Translation”), followed, in the succeeding semester, by the collective “Senior Seminar in Translation and Intercultural Communications.” Berkeley’s infamous first semester “Survey of Linguistics” managed to weed out just under a third of the first cohort’s initial 66 participants. The seemingly directionless second-semester course did little for student retention. This drop-out rate is unlikely to happen at Princeton, because that program is not designed for adults seeking continuing education credentials on top of their busy home and work lives, but instead for current undergraduates (mostly juniors and seniors) who are complementing their degrees in the humanities, sciences, or engineering.

The rest of the program also resembles Berkeley’s program structure: in the second year, the Princeton students gradually refine their course of study first by selecting from a menu of courses in “Translation Practice”—such as “Cultures and Critical Translation”—followed by a final semester of additional, pre-approved electives that are likely to be language- and discipline-specific. And, just as with the Berkeley program, the Princeton undergrads complete the program after submitting a “Senior Thesis.” One other requirement of the Princeton program is that participants must spend between six weeks to one year abroad, whereas most of Berkeley’s enrollees had already studied abroad when they themselves were undergraduates, or lived abroad when they were being raised.

So what happened?

There are important differences between both Princeton and Berkeley that augur well for Princeton’s future. The reasons for Berkeley’s past are too complex to cover here. Princeton runs an executive committee of department members or chairs. Berkeley’s program was ultimately controlled by the Board of Regents for the University of California—making it virtually impossible for administrators to respond to important program changes or student demands, simply because they could get not get on the Regents’ quarterly meeting agenda.

The Princeton program also offers the structured environment of an undergraduate setting, with students eager to succeed, whereas the Berkeley program had to be fit in with the responsibilities of work, family, and the rest of everyday post-graduate, real-world living. It was frustrating to see so many Berkeley students who held immense potential to be so discouraged for a number of reasons—whether they had been out of college for too long, whether they had to commute three hours each way for class twice a week, or whether they were simply enraged at the administration’s inability to advocate for the changes the program needed. The program was terminated in 2002, after graduating a mere three cohorts. May Princeton enjoy a greater success.


Two of our earliest members look back to the very beginnings of NCTA—and before.


Roots …

Back in the dark ages of 1978, many talented translators in Northern California toiled in isolation. There was no forum, no place to be heard, nowhere to share knowledge and resources, opportunities, encouragement, and friendship. ATA accreditation was out of reach unless you could afford traveling to the annual conference.

When I arrived in San Francisco in 1975 with my husband and a two-year old daughter who had moved nine times in her short life, I wanted to settle down and resume my freelance translation career. It looked like an uphill battle. What do you do when you don’t know anyone?

No local association meant no local seminars, no roster of colleagues, no built-in exposure to potential clients, and no standards and ethics committee … all the things we now take for granted. Networking was a slow process. There was little reaching out, you might be viewed as a competitor, and even the good translation companies were not in business to help you meet other potential clients. It was you and your typewriter!

I count myself very lucky to have stumbled almost immediately upon The Lanfranco Institute, which would later become one of NCTA’s first corporate members. This led to meeting Tom Bauman, then head of the translation department at Wells Fargo Bank, and ultimately to a good in-house job. At the ATA conference held at Stanford in 1976, Tom was the de facto representative of the Bay Area translator community, most of whose members did not know each other. The idea of starting a local association was gestated during those brief days of learning and networking together.

A colorful crowd of 60 to 70 people attended that first meeting at the Chinatown Holiday Inn on March 4, 1978 in an upbeat mood. Our motives were as varied as our circumstances. Not all the talk was positive behind the scenes. There were the altruists, the self-interested, the simply curious, and the defeatists who predicted failure. This last group was soon out of commission as of course the NCTA thrived thanks to generous and competent leadership. Among others, Hélène Riddle, Kelly Gray, Deolinda Adao, Greg Eichler, and Irene Vacchina were decisively instrumental as early Board members and language group coordinators. Steve Goldstein took on the crucial role of editor of Translorial, which glued the membership together from the start. Read about them in the first few issues now starting to be available at the website. MLB

… and branches

The Saturday March 4 entry in my 1978 appointment book reads: “2 PM-6 PM Thomas Bauman’s North. Calif. Xlator Assoc., Washington Room, Holiday Inn, Chinatown.” Thus it came to pass that I was present at the creation …

I recall a very dark green room and a modest attendance. I don’t recall what was said and vaguely recollect some of those who were present. I left thinking that it was a good idea, but not for me, only a part-time translator on occasional evenings. Which is why I did not get to sign the association’s charter. But having signed in at the meeting, I eventually received notice of upcoming meetings, one at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, and subsequent ones on weekend afternoons in a room at the Main Library.

George Kirby, who was president after the initial period, recruited me to the board of directors. When the library room became unavailable, Edith Fried, a founding member, offered the haven of her dining room for the board meetings. My appointment books provide only vague details for the 1980s, but I well remember the realization that we were laying the building blocks of a vigorous organization. We continued Translorial, we published a directory from a rudimentary database, we hired an administrator, we defined our responsibilities, and we organized events.

These events included the formal annual General Meetings, held at the University of California Extension, and my favorites, the Post-Christmas Christmas parties with their buffets of national dishes brought by the guests. These were traditionally held at Ines Sweeney’s house in Oakland, and later at our house in Palo Alto, with truly impressive turnouts. There was also a memorable (10th or 15th?) anniversary banquet in Chinatown, attended by the ATA president; and a party with entertainment held at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco.

I served on the board for about 10 years that included two terms as president, during which time we became a chapter of ATA, evolved to adopt current technologies, and saw our membership grow from about 50 to about 500.

It is a tribute to the founders that their vision bore such fine fruits. TR


With rates under increasing pressure from globalization and other trends, many translators are turning to specialization. But the leap is not always easy.


This article was inspired by recent postings from several NCTA members inquiring about transitioning into certain fields, and the respective pay rates that one might expect. In today’s general translation marketplace, with more competition and lower pay, translators are looking to focus their content expertise, and specifically in the specialized fields of medical and legal interpreting.

Many translators and interpreters are what I would call generalists. A random peek into their profiles shows the ability to work in a variety of fields, ranging from finance, engineering, and education to telecommunications, law, medicine, and science. These professionals tend to work on a few projects in each area, allowing them to (justifiably) tout the range of their capabilities.

Other translators and interpreters, however, specialize in one or two fields at the most. A specialist can be a generalist, but not vice versa: even the slightest interpreting errors in fields such as medicine and law can have grave consequences for the limited English-proficient (LEP) client. As an interpreter in these two highly specialized disciplines, I know that success requires significant dedication, study, and training. It can take anywhere from four to six years to be a proficient interpreter in either of these fields.

The best medicine

Working as a medical interpreter, I am of course well-versed in medical terminology but am also familiar with many medical procedures as well. When a doctor gives an NOP order, I know exactly what that is (no oral products). When a patient requests a DNR order, I also know that he does not want to be resuscitated in a life-threatening circumstance. It’s not reasonable to expect a translator who doesn’t have such training—a generalist—to walk into a medical interpreting setting and be able to know what these terms refer to.

Other times, the medical translator specialist will be required to work in emotional and stressful conditions such as emergencies or life-and-death situations. There was an occasion where I interpreted a religious prayer conducted by a hospital chaplain for a terminally ill patient. This event had nothing to do with medical interpreting, yet of course it was an important part of the job.

Rules of law

In the field of legal interpreting, many will find the compensation fairly good. Legal interpreting is one of the most comprehensive interpreting fields in that it requires broad knowledge of numerous other subfields. For example, family and probate law will require knowledge of financial terms. Criminal cases will require knowledge of science and medicine pertaining to forensic evidence. Civil suits involving worker’s compensation or personal injury will require knowledge of medical, vehicle, and insurance terms. Immigration, small claims, juvenile, and other specialized areas all have their own terminology. And, needless to say, courtroom interpreting can be challenging and intensive when opposing lawyers, witnesses, and judge are all talking at once.

When generalists take on the work of specialists without the proper training, few of them will be able to render acceptable translations or interpretations. Once, a medical glossary translated by a generalist provided me with incredulous comic relief. The term athlete’s foot was literally translated as “the foot of an athlete”; hives was translated as “disease of beehives”; and speed (methamphetamine) was translated as “velocity.”

The client comes first

A generalist may go into a medical or legal interpreting setting believing that he can render an interpretation without the adequate training, and thinking that no one will know if he makes an interpretation error, but this may not be the case. I have known of some interpreters being sent away in the middle of a job for poor performance.

On one occasion, I provided interpretation for a couple whose child was hospitalized. At the end of the session, the father posed several questions to the doctor in perfectly good English. I inquired afterwards why they needed my services if the father was proficient in English. The father answered that my services were for the benefit of the mother, who did not understand English; that even though the father’s English was good, it did not mean that he could accurately interpret for his wife. They were more comfortable employing an interpreter. Another time, while interpreting in a deposition, the client, client’s attorney, and I all spoke the same native language. If an interpreting error was made, the client’s attorney would definitely have noticed.

Some generalists will accept assignments that they are not qualified to do for financial reasons. I view being a translator or interpreter as a noble profession that is rewarding in so many ways. We are the conduits that enable LEP clients to have fair access to a number of services that might not have been possible because of language barriers. Without them, we wouldn’t be working. Therefore, we owe it to them to be properly trained and qualified so that we can deliver the exceptional service that they deserve.

“One who hopes” The Promise of Esperanto

By Wassim Nassif

How do you get a German, a Lithuanian, a Yiddish-speaking Jew, a Pole, and a Russian to resolve their differences when there is no common language among them? Such was the dilemma faced by Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist living in Bialystok, a small rural village in northeastern Poland (then a part of the Russian empire), in the 1870s.

Zamenhof believed that much of the distrust and misunderstanding among his ethnic neighbors was the result of their simple inability to communicate, stemming from the differences in their various languages. This led him to believe that the creation of a neutral lingua franca—in effect, an international language—would, by breaking down the barriers to communication, open up social and economic understanding not only in his small rural community, but possibly on a much wider and more universal scale as well.

Thus Zamenhof embarked on a ten-year odyssey of researching and developing what would eventually become the constructed language Esperanto. The fruits of that labor, the Unua Libro de Esperanto (First Book of Esperanto), was published in 1887.

History of the language

Esperanto was conceived by Zamenhof as a language that would be simple to learn for speakers of any of the world’s languages—surely a daunting challenge. At the beginnings of his efforts, he contemplated a revival of Latin as a potential solution, but soon realized the language would prove too difficult for the task. Upon learning English, however, Zamenhof noted several grammatical structures that seemed advantageous—such as the fact that comprehension was not dependent upon how verbs were conjugated—which suggested concepts that would later be incorporated into his finished language.

Zamenhof still had the problem of a large vocabulary base, and how to develop a method of constructing words in an efficient manner. The solution came to him when, upon strolling down a road, he encountered two signs: “vejcarskaja” (Russian for porter’s lodge—place of the porter) and “konditorskaja” (confectioner’s shop—place of sweets). Reflecting on the structure of these nouns, he realized that the proper use of suffixes could greatly decrease the number of words needed in the vocabulary—a lexicon which in turn was chosen to be recognizable by the greatest number of speakers of the greatest number of languages. As a test of his emerging language, Zamenhof worked on translations and poetry to determine which of his linguistic theories really worked, and which needed to be discarded as being overly cumbersome or ungainly.

While at university in the early 1880s, Zamenhof set aside his ambitious linguistic project until he could complete his medical studies. During that time, he had handed his work over to his father for safekeeping. Unbeknownst to the younger Zamenhof, however, his father, thinking the project was pointless, burned the work. All that remained were four lines of a song Zamenhof had written. Devastated but undaunted, he bravely restarted work to prepare a new language textbook—the effort that resulted, in 1887, in the publication of the Unua Libro.

Learning Esperanto

Esperanto is not genetically related to any of the natural languages. However, its phonology and vocabulary were influenced by Indo-European languages, specifically those used by the ethnic populations of Bialystok. As a second language, therefore, Esperanto is far easier to learn if one is already a speaker of any of those European languages, than if one is a speaker of other natural languages—especially highly irregular, non-phonetic languages such as Chinese, English, or French.

There is also evidence that studying Esperanto before studying any other second language, especially an Indo-European language, speeds and improves learning. Learning subsequent foreign languages is easier than learning one’s first, where the use of a grammatically simple auxiliary language lessens the “first foreign language” learning complications. In one study, a group of students who studied Esperanto for one year, then French for three years, ended up with a better command of French than the control group, who studied French without Esperanto for four years.

Most of Esperanto’s vocabulary is made up of Latin, Greek, English, French, German, and some other Indo-European roots, with a few words from Slavic languages. It has a very logical structure, with similar suffixes for the same parts of speech; for example, -o for nouns, and –a for adjectives. Its phonetic alphabet—consisting of 28 letters, mainly a modified version of the Latin alphabet—ensures that all words are pronounced the way they are written, and vice versa. The alphabet does not include the letters q, w, x, and y, but adds six accented letters: c, g, h, j, and s with circumflex accent and u with breve accent, as well as several created letters that are not found on any national computer keyboard.

Esperanto has a relatively regular grammar, as well. As an agglutinative, or “combined” language, it has no grammatical genders and limited regular verb conjugation. Nouns and adjectives have two cases, nominative and accusative, and two numbers, singular and plural. Nouns and adjectives must agree in case and number. Verbs do not agree with their subjects. The accusative ending can be used to show the destination of a motion, or to replace certain prepositions when preferred. This allows for a more flexible word order, such as that found in Greek, Latin, and Russian.

Despite Esperanto’s somewhat clinical-sounding rules for building words and sentences, these very guidelines lead to a great deal of double meanings, and in fact Eperantists are quite fond of wordplay and humor based on their language.

Esperanto today

Today, Esperanto is the most widely spoken of the constructed languages. While not an official language of any country, it is nonetheless the official working language of several non-profit organizations, mostly Esperanto organizations. In addition, UNESCO has recognized the value of Esperanto in two different resolutions.

A survey of the number of Esperanto speakers worldwide by SIL International—a service organization that works with people who speak the world’s lesser-known languages—found that 1.6 million people speak Esperanto at a level that goes beyond greetings and simple phrases. There are even, the survey found, between 200 to 2,000 native Esperantists—individuals for whom Esperanto is actually akin to a first language!

People often learn Esperanto online through websites like lernu! ( The word lernu is Esperanto for “learn,” in the imperative mood. Lernu! is a multi-lingual website, whose goal is to inform the community of Internet users about Esperanto and help them learn the language, easily and free of charge. The courses designed to teach Esperanto are arranged to suit varying levels of difficulty. Students who encounter any problems can get help from live tutors.

Despite representing only a tiny fraction of the world’s population, and thus falling far short of Zamenhof ’s goal of a universal language, Esperanto remains a passionate dream for its adherents. Building on the legacy of Zamenhof ’s vision—developed as a result of the unhappy and sometimes violent misunderstandings he witnessed in his home village of Bialystock—these standard-bearers continue to keep the flame alive, for worldwide understanding, equality among nations, and mutual respect among peoples and countries.

“Esperanto,” after all, means “One who hopes.”

For more information
News and chat:
Tongue twisters:

The Bay Area is the home of Esperanto-Ligo por Norda Ameriko (The Esperanto League for North America, a National Esperanto Association,, as well as the San Francisco Esperanto Regional Organization ( and the League of East Bay Esperantists, both of which have offices in Oakland.

How to say it in Esperanto
Creative Therapy Associates’ famous “How Are You Feeling Today?” poster/postcard reproduced on Translorial page 19 is also published in Esperanto by AIMS International Books ( In English, the emotions are, from right to left and top to bottom: Exhausted, Confused, Ecstatic, Guilty, Suspicious, Angry, Hysterical, Frustrated, Sad, Confident, Embarrassed, Happy, Mischievous, Disgusted, Frightened, Enraged, Ashamed, Cautious, Smug, Depressed, Overwhelmed, Hopeful, Lonely, Lovestruck, Jealous, Bored, Surprised, Anxious, Shocked, and Shy.

Other common expressions
Hello: Saluton [rough pronunciation: sa-LOO-ton]
Goodbye: Is revido [jis reh-VEE-do]
I love you: Mi amas vin [mee AH-mahs veen]
Thank you: Dankon [DAHN-kon]

Test yourself
What does it mean: Unu bieron, mi petas. [Oo-noo BEE-airon, mee PEH-tahs]

Answer: “Beer, please!”

Just for fun

According to a February 25, 2004, press release, the Esperanto version of the Wikipedia (—an open-content, polyglot encyclopedia—had 11,000 articles, making it the tenthlargest language in the Wikipedia.

The first film produced in Esperanto was called Angoroj (1964). Incubus, produced a year later, starred William Shatner, himself an Esperantist; it is the only known professionally produced feature film with entirely Esperanto dialogue.

Besides Esperanto, the most famous constructed languages are the Klingon and Vulcan languages of the movie and TV series Star Trek, and the languages of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle-earth mythologies (Sindarin, Quenya, Khuzdul and others).

The minor planet (1421) Esperanto is named in honor of the language. It was discovered on March 18, 1936 by Yrjö Väisälä, a Finnish astronomer.

Though the United Nations does not recognize Esperanto as an official language, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been translated into Esperanto.

Google, the Internet search engine, has the capability of displaying the Google interface, tips, and messages in Esperanto. When using Esperanto as a search keyword, Google will return about 2.6 million hits, some of which are sites written in Esperanto.

Esperanto accounts for more than 99% of all published material on constructed languages.

As depicted in the poem “Utopia” (article page 20 of Translorial), albeit in black and white, the flag of Esperanto is green with a white area (green 2:3, white 1:1) in the top left corner with a green 5 pointed regular star pointing upwards centered in it. The meaning of this symbol stands for the hope (green) of the five continents united (5-pointed star) in common understanding and peace (white color). And because Dr. Zamenhof was a thorough gentleman, he even wrote the anthem to go with it.

Loyalty Management in the New Economy The COTRAD Co-operative Model

 By Christian L’Écuyer, President
Les Traductions COTRAD Translations (Quebec, Canada)

(Editor’s note: This article is a condensation of a much larger piece originally published in “The Voice,” the Newsletter of the Translators and Interpreters Guild (Canada), in 2002. With generous permission from its author, the article has been significantly abridged and edited for publication in Translorial.)

What is a co-operative, and how does it work? Does it have realistic and potentially profitable applications—both in monetary and social terms—for translators in today’s commercial environment?

Unlike a purely commercial venture at one end of the spectrum and a non-profit association on the other, a co-operative lies somewhere in between. It actually combines a “cooperative,” people-oriented strategy with sound business principles designed to generate self-sustaining (and beyond) income. Sometimes known as “employee-owned companies,” co-ops may be less well-known than other types of businesses, but they are far from uncommon. As of 2001, according to a study by the government of Quebec, there were 47,000 co-ops in the United States, with over 100 million members.

In the Canadian model, where self-employed professionals cannot create or become a member of a trade union, co-ops have tended to emerge in a particular market or field in response to needs that have often remained unmet in the economic environment, participating in the mainstream economy largely by default. Viewed this way, cooperatives are often seen by their proponents as correctives to the prevailing profit-driven economic structure in a specific market.

In this structure, co-operatives may in fact have a greater success rate that that of commercial ventures. The reasons for this may be traced to investors’ frequent lack of interest in serving a particular community, or too keen an interest in the bottom line. Co-op members are concerned with profits, too, of course, but their criteria for success encompasses more than just merely financial rewards. A co-op’s strengths and successes, in fact, stem from sustained grassroots links with a community of members, in the localities in which they live, or even through the Internet.

This egalitarian perspective is showcased by the democratic structure of a co-op, in which share-holding is not a factor: the association operates on the principle of “one person/one vote” for all business decisions, as distinct from a system in which seniority, job title, or even relative economic value determines influence. Participating in the co-op as both workers/artisans and as managers/directors, all regular co-op members share in the joys and pains of co-ownership and co-management. This means that regular co-op members can bring issues to the attention of fellow “cooperators” and to the elected board, and participate in finding a solution from within. They are the ultimate decision-makers. In this sense, some cooperators consider their statutes and by-laws as a type of collective agreement.

The COTRAD example

In an organization like COTRAD—as with any other generalized co-operative—the “company” model comprises two parts: an association of members, and the actual business run by it. As distinct from consumers’ co-ops, where membership is open to all who care to shop there, membership in professional organizations such as COTRAD is limited to skilled workers—here, translators and language specialists.

Within this context, COTRAD has evolved its own “co-operative difference.” Among its unique characteristics is the equal distribution of work allotted to each member, in order to eliminate a sometimes cannibalistic mentality regarding job assignment, and to give all members a chance to earn a reasonable living.

This equity is achieved through a work allotment formula based on specific criteria as derived from the association’s experience over the past five years. In short, the member who has received the least work in the preceding ten weeks gets first choice in accepting incoming work. A sub-formula allows integration of a member’s fields of expertise in the process. The allotment formula, or “work roll,” is updated as new work comes in.

COTRAD requires regular members to manage a particular aspect of the overall business side: supervising the insurance file, maintaining the database for professional development, picking up the mail, actively promoting the co-op’s services, making sure the amounts paid or received are consistent with figures in appropriate databases, etc. These administrative responsibilities are done more or less on a bartering basis, in the sense that they are the members’ claims to ownership of the co-op.

The association is administered through a project management approach. Although an administrative assistant is employed on a part-time basis, the group nonetheless believes that involving the regular members in the administrative aspect of their own business is the best way for them to keep control of it. This process insures that the co-op remains the property of its artisans and reflects their inputs.

COTRAD hires, or “recruits,” new members only if the translation volume in a given field has increased in a steady and consistent manner, or to comply with the required minimum number of members. Candidates must of course provide an up-to-date résumé, an example of their translation skills with source text, and—in the case where a candidate does not have a recommendation from a current member—a 200-250 word composition in the second language, on cooperation or a related subject.

It is important to keep in mind that COTRAD is a legal entity separate from the individual translator or language specialist. Thus, it is first in the client’s line of fire when things go wrong, which is why the association pays extremely careful attention to the monitoring of all outgoing jobs. Monitoring involves one or more of the following: spot-checking, copyediting, intermediate revision, or full revision. All target texts are spot-checked by the project manager, who then decides if it is good enough to be sent to the client as is. If not, further copyediting or revision is applied to the target text. Such close monitoring is a value-added process that clients tend to appreciate.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the COTRAD co-op is that translators are always paid. If the client has not paid a validated job within a reasonable period of time, the co-op will pay the translator his/her full honoraria and then use whatever legal recourses are available against the delinquent client.

When developing a new section or module of the cooperative, COTRAD calls on freelancers, allowing members to monitor the linguistic skills of the prospective new cooperators and put their co-operative spirit to the test. Rates are negotiated on a per job or per period basis, as in any agency, but members of COTRAD are paid according to specific guidelines (see sidebar).

In all, a little over 90 percent of the total fee paid by the client is re-circulated among the members who participated in getting the job done, and in getting the job in the first place. All surpluses generated in the fiscal year are reinvested in the company’s growth fund.

As to management training, there are currently very few schools of co-operative management, in Quebec or in North America as a whole. Many managers in commercial enterprises are trained to think in terms of hierarchy, not of democracy. This can create problems in managing a co-op, especially the tendency for such managers to want to transform their co-operatives into share-holding ventures.

That said, it is quite interesting that some profit-based approaches nevertheless struggle to emulate a community-based business model that is over 175 years old; we should thank work-team theorists for bringing the work co-operative formula back in the spotlight of 21st century management and for arousing a new interest in the true co-operative approach.

© Tous droits réservés / All rights reserved, La coopérative de traduction COTRAD, Aylmer (QC), Canada, July 24, 2002. Copyright of the version of these articles that appeared in ‘The Voice’ in July and December of 2002 is shared with TTIG.

Getting started

Co-ops tend to generate a higher level of motivation among members than a traditional corporation does. It also nicely smoothes out the pitfalls of independent work.

Four or five members with common and/or complementary interests is all it takes to start; virtually no startup money is required, only the usual dictionaries, software and computers. All members work from home, are linked through e-mail, or fax, or phone. They meet perhaps every three weeks in a chat forum, on an intranet site, or in person to resolve management issues or organize special production projects. Members revise each other’s work without fear of reprisals and at lower cost; as to the business side, all members look for, receive a commission on, and can accept work in all specialties that all members have. Add an administrative assistant to the group if you have some start-up money, and you’re on your way. Bonne route!

COTRAD’s payment guidelines

The company keeps 15 percent of all jobs as the “co-op’s earnings,” to pay its overhead, the administrative assistant, the accountant, its Internet connections, and its phone lines; to guarantee the members’ and the general public’s preferred shares; to defend a member’s work if necessary; and to provide for the members’ common fund, called the Co-operative Advantage Fund.

The project manager and/or finder share 12 percent of the paid amount. It is important to keep in mind that the finder or project manager for a particular job is usually a fellow member. Thus, this money is effectively redistributed among members (another way to reduce cannibalism and inequity).

If a translation is sent to the client after spot-checking, the translator gets approximately 73 percent of the fee. Should a translation need full revision, the translator would be paid only 50 percent. Although 23 percent is subtracted from the honoraria in the latter case, it helps a fellow member make a living and saves professional embarrassment in the process.

Add to these honoraria the 5 percent or so from the Co-operative Advantage Fund that the language professional can use for professional development workshops, collective insurance premiums, or for other work-related advantages, and the pay system is complete.

For more information, for more on the COTRAD Translation Cooperative., the International Cooperative Alliance. You will find on this site numerous internal and external links on a variety of coop-related subjects. Reading ICA’s « Declaration of Cooperative Principles » is a must. Among other functions, the ICA has the mandate of representing the world’s co-ops at the UN., the National Cooperative Business Association in the US., the Canadian Co-operative Association., a Canadian Counselling and Research Co-operative
You may also want to search the Web for “icagroups” (International Cooperative Alliance Groups); “cooperatives US;”“workers’co-ops”US; etc.; the USDA for its section devoted to cooperative businesses; and various American universities for their Co-op Management Programs—their sites often have links to successful American cooperatives or co-op resource groups.