People who rock the industry: legal translator Aurora Humaran

People who rock the industry: legal translator Aurora Humaran

Together with Anne Diamantidis of The Stinging Nettle, we continue our series series: “People who rock the translation industry!”. We are interviewing people who have made a positive contribution, no matter how small or large, to the translation industry – at the international, national or local level. Meet, or get to know better, a legendary legal translator Aurora Humarán.

Hi Aurora! Tell us a bit about yourself. What are you up to, professionally speaking?

I hold a certified translator’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), which means that apart from reading Nida and Steiner, I studied Constitutional Law, Private Law, etc. I have always loved words, languages, and communication, so translation was an almost inevitable profession for me. I also graduated from Fundación Litterae/Fundéu in 2005, as a certified proofreader/editor. Currently, I’m studying Portuguese, working (very slowly) on a Master’s degree at UBA, and am always ready and willing to continue studying. My translation and editing work mostly involves documentation and other types of text in the legal, finance/accounting and media/marketing fields.

Just is Spanish, the translation bureau that I founded and head, focuses on legal translation from English into Spanish and Spanish into English. Last year I was appointed Corresponding Member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language and, at present, I form part of a special academic committee, whose task is to analyze new words to be included in the Diccionario de la lengua española.

I have been an avid reader since early childhood. In fact, I taught myself to read when illness confined me to my bed for a couple of months before my Elementary School days started. I normally read four or five books at a time. My favourite writer is Jorge Luis Borges, but I have several other “friends” (Baricco, Dickinson, Sontag, Cortázar, Carpentier, Papini, Brecht, Neruda, Capote, Wolf, and a long list). Of course, I also do a great deal of reading about translation (currently finishing Translators through History, edited and directed by Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth).

What am I up to? I am re-launching my website with the aim of increasing my clientele. I strongly believe that freelancers need to be constantly investing time and money in their businesses. It’s the no pain-no gain formula.

What were the turning points in your career? How did you get to be where you are now?

I remember a couple of special days in my career, even one day before the career itself when I was about 16. I am a huge Beatles fan, and had decided to translate all of the Beatles’ songs into Spanish. I started with “Girl,” and the first sentence of the lyrics surprised me: Is there anybody going to listen to my story… That was not the “going-to future” I had studied! Well, it was, but it meant something else. I have never stopped questioning language since that day when I decided I would be a translator.

Although I have translated professionally from day one after I graduated (which happened 30 years ago), I only went 100% free lance in 2003. So for many years, I translated at night and on weekends, while working as a secretary, or as a teacher (of English, of Spanish, with adults, with kids, and I also worked with mentally-challenged children), and several years in marketing. I like to say that translation is my husband, but I’ve had lovers, marketing being the one I was most passionate about. The translator I am today is the result of all of my experiences in major corporations (Cyanamid, Clorox, Reynolds, and Coca-Cola), and at the head of classrooms (8 years in total).

Unlike other colleagues who stop translating after they establish a translation bureau, I cannot imagine my life without actually being a working translator myself.

Why did you decide to set up International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters?

I started questioning the inequalities posed by globalization—its advantages, well, we all know about those—when I discovered the international world of T&I at I was a heavy poster, Mod for the Literature and Poetry forum, and even organized a conference for the site. The contact with colleagues from all over the world helped me get a macro-vision of our situation. Some years later, the site changed its mission, and like hundreds of other colleagues, I started feeling uncomfortable (censorship was probably what made me the angriest). The site has now embraced other players (who are clearly not enemies, but who just as clearly have interests that are in conflict with ours as translation and interpreting professionals), so I stopped participating, and decided to start my own forum, which I did in 2007; I needed a place to continue talking with colleagues about translation (Eco’s latest book, unfair rates in Greece, how to get started with Dragon, anything and everything about our world). I created this free forum called N. de T. (Translators’ Note) which acted as a new nest for many people who had left, but although there are almost 2,000 members as of today, the forum has always been limited in scope: most of the participants are from the Spanish speaking world. It was too limited for my objectives.

So I started considering the possibility of creating an association where it would be possible to discuss rates, to talk only among professionals, and that would be unique in scope. It would also provide the kind of legal framework that a mere forum never could. There are other international associations, but their scope is limited: to conference interpreters (AIIC) or to medical translators (TREMEDICA), etc. I had the feeling that the globalized world needed a really comprehensive association that would embrace all translators and interpreters from any language pair, any specialization, and any country. Before IAPTI, there was no such association.

Little by little, the community is understanding what IAPTI is about. Unbelievable as it may sound, some people questioned why we had founded IAPTI, since wouldn’t it simply replicate FIT? But, in the end, there’s no point of comparison, because the difference between individual associations and FIT is like the difference between a corporation and a chamber (i.e., an association of associations). So, IAPTI is a comprehensive organization for any and all individual translators all over the world (agencies are not allowed). FIT is a federation embracing most of the T&I organizations in the world.

What is the role of IAPTI in raising professional standards?

We have devoted a lot of time to the training side of the profession by organizing conferences and webinars to cover all aspects of our work and to help raise professional standards. Our members have an exclusive forum where they can exchange thoughts in absolute freedom and discuss absolutely any topic. This kind of communication contributes greatly to raising the bar in our profession, and so do the articles we publish in our website. This is one of the most important objectives for IAPTI’s staff team.

Machine translation, translation automation, crowdsourcing – what’s your opinion about these controversial issues?

The concept of crowdsourcing is a cruel one which might work in some areas of human life, but is unacceptable in professions like ours. It’s another lie of the globalized world by which a few become richer and millions get poorer (while working for free to help the rich become richer and while inexorably lowering quality standards). I recently read Wikinomics (by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams), and it confirmed what I already felt about this.

Machine translation… Machine translation is not a single creature, so we need to be very careful and critical about discussing it. Which machine translation? There are many possible MTs.

MT can be free or paid. Although this is a tool I have not started using yet (I might in the future), I guess that the choice depends on each translator’s possibilitie$. (IAPTI will soon hold a webinar where translators will be taught how to start using free MT for their own benefit.)

From a second perspective, there is online or offline MT. As we all know, we can be sued for using online MT as it compromises confidentiality, so mine is a huge and obvious NO to online MT. Of course, you can ask your client for permission, but let’s stop here and analyze what our client would conclude. I don’t think I need to go into further detail. Regarding offline MT, no objections. It’s just another tool, but for the exclusive use of the translator.

The third possible analysis has to do with MT and PE (post-editing): namely, who will be the beneficiary of the technology. If I am post-editing my own machine translated work, fine! Go for it! If asked to post-edit for a third party, again, a huge NO (no matter the rate!), since this is like committing suicide. If you read what the MT vendors are telling their clients, you can see that they are offering cost reductions (and time reductions), so if you post-edit for others, you feed others’ machines and you will be increasingly less necessary. These vendors need to convince their clients to pay USD 100,000 for the cost of their systems, so they need to prove to them how much they will save on FY 1, FY 2, etc. Why would they be saving more and more money? “Thanks” to those who post-edit for them.

The EU was surely one of the pioneers in this practice (a fact which, of course, does not bless it or curse it, as the EU is a human organization), but today the same agencies who took control of translation memories are using machine translation to increase their profit margins.

Let’s remember an important fact: Agencies and MT vendors are acting as our representatives without our having authorized them to. They go to our clients to sell them the concept of an increasingly cheaper and faster service. It’s crazy, to say the least, to join that party and help them destroy us.

Again, these third parties help consolidate concepts which are opposed to what we have been trying to explain to our customers for years: that ours is a profession to be respected, that we cannot translate at the snap of their fingers and that we are entitled to fair payment.

Regarding translation memory (TM), I would like to debunk another lie by unscrupulous agencies and MT software vendors: The reaction most translators are having against MT (sheer rejection for obvious reasons) is totally different from the reluctance with which we have finally welcomed TMs. I started using TMs when I realised all of the benefits they could bring to me. The same thing has happened to most professional translators. Through the years, I only accepted discounts on a couple of projects, which just confirmed what I had always imagined: that it is not fair (for us) to accept them. This position that I have (of not giving discounts based on my having a TM, just as I do not give discounts based on my having a dual monitor that helps me translate faster) limits me. This is the process: An agency falls in love with my CV, sends me an NDA (which I fill in, sign, and return). Then they send me Excel file where I am supposed to detail my discounts. No discount whatsoever, so love is no longer in the air. I keep aiming at direct clients and agencies who do not care if I use or I do not use TMs, double or triple monitor, wireless mouse or Dragon Naturally Speaking, provided my translations are good.

You’re actively fighting against low rates and bad payers. What are the effects of globalisation of rates?

Some agencies (usually the largest most exploitative agencies) look for cheap translators, like major manufacturing corporations look for cheap labor in Asia. Totally unfair. A handful of people get rich, while the majority of translators end up working as teachers.

How can a single freelancer make a difference? How can we fight poor payers?

Well, a single freelancer will not be able to change the situation, but many freelancers pulling in the same direction will certainly do it. Remember “The Power of One”? If you embrace the profession, and then he does it, and I do it, and those other three over there do it, etc., no doubt the profession will revert back to its rightful owners: translators and interpreters. In a word, us.

There are many ways in which we can fight poor payers: not working for them, rating them (we should rate clients not only when they do not pay, but also when they offer lousy rates), discussing these topics in translators and interpreters forums so that the information flows, etc. At IAPTI we are working on several projects to help fight them, but this is strategic information I cannot share. Pepsi wouldn’t share its strategy with Coca-Cola, would it?

Social media and translation – a useful business tool or a waste of time?

A useful business tool. I decided to update my website, and am about to devote time to the social media to reach more clients.

In your opinion, how does the future of our profession look?

Very cloudy (the adjective is not naïve). The good news is that this future depends highly on what we do. I think we are in time to change our own future. For that we should be paying less attention to the uses of the em dashes and the subjunctive, and more attention to the negative concepts that these self-proclaimed representatives of translators and interpreters are trying to consolidate.

Aurora has been awarded our You Rock the Translation Industry Badge!

The negative concepts are: quality doesn’t matter, this is a free market, we cannot discuss rates, let’s democratize translation (I will as soon as Pfizer democratizes medicines), it’s OK to share your translation memories, it’s not the rate that matters, but what you get at the end of the month, if you are critical about post-editing for the benefit of others you are a luddite, confidentiality is just an obsession some translators have, etc.

I am reading a lot about new technologies, and whenever I attend a conference, I resist the temptation to listen to that speaker analyzing the uses of the interjections in the Medieval world, if next door they will be talking about machine translation. By the way, it comes as no surprise that those lectures on MT are full of numbers and data, and charts, and diagrams, which help them stun translators—a good moment to brainwash them and convince them that this is an opportunity rather than a threat.

What piece of advice would you give to a beginner?

More or less what I tell them every time a university invites me to talk to students (something I do with passion): Never stop studying. Invest your time, your money and your brain in your business. Understand that what every professional does affects the entire community of translators and interpreters.

Remember that veterans are always ready to help you. Never forget that “paying your due” is an exploiter’s lie. You can live well out of this profession while still following ethical practices.

And get ready to enjoy the best party ever.

Aurora Humarán

Thank you Aurora! You’ve been awarded our You Rock the Translation Industry Badge! Well deserved. Do you have any comments or follow up questions to Aurora? Use the space below!


  1. Liam Curley , on Dec 12, 2012 at 09:33 Reply

    Thanks Marta and Aurora

    Great interview! Like any entrepreneurs, translators and interpreters need to live and breath their business, constantly evolving and developing new ways to improve.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 13, 2012 at 09:14 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Liam! It’s great that you understand the need for us to have this business edge. We have to do all that we can to spread it! And Aurora is great in doing that.

  2. Valerij Tomarenko (@En_De_Ru) , on Dec 12, 2012 at 12:10 Reply

    Great interview and insights! I especially like your take on (no) discounts (TM or a dual monitor). A spot on definition of the market segment we should target at: clients who care about quality and service, not TMs, double or triple monitor, etc. In my opinion, It is also the market segment which is least susceptible to the threats (another part I especially like). Brilliant!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 13, 2012 at 09:15 Reply

      I liked that bit as well, Valerij! It seems like agencies forget that TM is just a tool for *us*, not for them. I agree with Aurora here, and I’ll try to implement it in 2013.

  3. Kim Eddy , on Dec 12, 2012 at 12:32 Reply

    Food for thought. A no-nonsense approach to the vast world of translation and a great reminder of some basic principles we should follow if we want to be successful in more ways than one. Thanks!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 13, 2012 at 09:17 Reply

      A no-nonsense approach is one of the things I like about Aurora the most!

  4. Dolly , on Dec 12, 2012 at 21:31 Reply

    Simply excellent. Just clapping my hands 🙂
    Thanks a lot for posting this great interview!

  5. Esther Hermida , on Dec 12, 2012 at 22:13 Reply

    I had the privilege of meeting Aurora in person during her presentation at the ATA conference held in San Diego, CA this past October. I was not disappointed, she is passionate about her profession on the record and off.

    She is a consummate professional who stands up for those in our profession who are too afraid to speak for themselves.

    Thank you for this posting this!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 13, 2012 at 09:18 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Esther! Aurora really is an outstanding personality, and I can say that in all honesty, even though I’ve never met her in person (yet).

    • Aurora Humarán , on Dec 14, 2012 at 10:04 Reply

      Thank you very much, Esther! I still cannot believe that so many colleagues chose to listen to a presentation on Neutral Spanish on a Saturday morning. 🙂

  6. Aurora Humarán , on Dec 13, 2012 at 09:11 Reply

    There is nothing like being congratulated by one’s peers. I truly appreciate your words, Liam, Valerij, Kim, and Dolly! And thank you very much to Marta and Anne for giving me this opportunity to talk about my husband, and my unwavering decision to preserve the future of our marriage. 😉 My best wishes for a great 2013!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Dec 13, 2012 at 09:18 Reply

      Thank YOU Aurora for finding some time to answer all these questions. You rock! 🙂

  7. Daniel E. Josephy Hernández , on Dec 18, 2012 at 22:04 Reply

    Great interview, it made me think of the IMF, actually (“the few working the most for the 1%”). #Occupytranslation ?

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 2, 2013 at 17:34 Reply

      #Occupytranslation sounds like a great idea – I wish we had it earlier, when the Occupy movement was still alive…

    • Aurora Humarán , on Jan 12, 2013 at 11:44 Reply

      A very relevant hashtag indeed!
      Thank you for your comment, Daniel.

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