Wednesday, April 27, 2016

6th Annual Conference of the Colorado Translators Association

Last weekend we attended the 6th Annual Conference of the Colorado Translators Association. I enjoyed the conference: all the sessions I went to were interesting, useful, and well presented. I saw again friends and colleagues I’ve known for years, and met new people. Two of my current students were at the conference; I think they found it worthwhile. I also saw students from earlier courses, now well launched on their translation careers.

Three interesting books were on sale at the conference: Eve Lindemuth Bodeux’s Maintaining Your Second Language (“practical and productive strategies for translators, teachers, interpreters and other language lovers”); Tess Whitty’s The Marketing Cookbook for Translators (“foolproof recipes for a thriving freelancer career”); and the 3rd edition of Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator.

Eve, Tess and Corinne with their books
Eve, Tess and Corinne with their books
The first session we attended on Saturday was “Future-Proofing Your Translation Business”, the keynote on marketing given by Tess Whitty on strategies for a thriving career as a freelancer. Tess spoke of protecting and improving our business assets (especially our translation skills), investing in continuing education, time management, mind-sets to avoid (for example atelophobia, the fear of not being good enough), and goal settings: 95% of people don’t write down the goals they set for themselves. The remaining 5% are those who do reach their goals.

The second session was “Inside the Mind of a Project Manager: Common Questions and Concerns”, a presentation on how to work better with beleaguered project managers, delivered with verve by Andie Ho. Andie spoke of the care and feed of PMs (i.e., how to keep them happy). She mentioned such common-sense things as making sure we keep communication channels open, being honest about our abilities, and not being afraid of asking intelligent questions. No platitudes such as “there is no such a thing as a dumb question” from Andie: her rule of thumb is that if you can find the answer within two minutes with a simple Google search, then, yes, the question was dumb and wasted the PM’s time. Final thoughts from Andie’s presentation: “PM are not out there to get youare you out to get your PM?”

The next presentation was “Creating a Compatible Customer Base within the Language Services Industry”, by Karen Tkaczyk, on how to get a better class of clients. The main takeaway for everyone here was that the “ideal customer” doesn’t exist, and that we should aim instead at assembling an ideal basket of good customers.

“Automating Termbase Creation”, by Sameh Ragab (who came to Boulder all the way from Egypt just for the conference), was a must-go presentation for anyone interested in translation tools. Sameh answered the question “Why is terminology important?” by saying that good terminology helps make our translations more clear, consistent and easier to review, thus achieving faster turnaround. Good terminology increases brand value, both for clients and for us. I’m looking forward to reading Sameh’s presentation on the CTA’s website: he promised he would include references to all the enticing programs he described.

Sameh Ragab, outgoing CTA President Thaïs Lips, myself and Andie Ho
Sameh Ragab, outgoing CTA President Thaïs Lips, myself and Andie Ho
Our last presentation on Saturday was “Vetting ClientsHow to Use Payment Practices and Other Sources to Prevent Late or Non-Payment”, by Ted Wozniak: a good description of how to use Ted’s Payment Practices site (and other resources) to avoid poor payers.

On Sunday we took part in two workshops: “Create Focus and Simplify Your Marketing Efforts with a Marketing Plan for Your Translation Business”, by Tess Whitty, and “It’s All About Style: Creating Consistent Documents for Clients” on how to create a style sheet to improve consistency, by Alice Levine. This session on creating a style sheet was an eye-opener, for me: I didn’t know that the best way to create a style sheet is not while translating, writing, or editing, but as a separate step, when all your attention goes to deciding what should go on the style sheet. After the exercises we did during the workshop, now I see why: it’s important, and deserves full, undivided concentration.

The setting, once again at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the foothills above Boulder, contributed stunning views and a beautiful mountain environment just outside the conference.

Sketch of NCAR from afar
Sketch of NCAR from afar
Thank you to the CTA’s organizing committee for a job well done!

P.S. I haven't mentioned the presentations that I didn't get to, but if anybody who has attended them would like to send me a brief recap of what was said there, I'd be happy to add to this post.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Quick Tips: when Studio cannot create your target file

You know that sinking feeling when you have completed a carefully crafted translation in Studio, spell-checked and self-edited it, then run it through QA (using Studio's internal QA function and/or Xbench) - only to discover that when you try to export your target translation, Studio refuses to create it, saying there is something wrong with your MS Word file?

It is only at that moment that you remember you should have round-tripped the source file first thing, before translating it, to see if it would convert back cleanly.

If this happens to you, don't panic: there is (usually) a quick solution.
  1. First, just to be sure, save everything: your translation with its memory.
  2. Then create a new project. Add to it a copy of the memory you used, and the original file (or files) you had to translate.
  3. The project should pretranslate your file for you. There may be a few segments left untranslated (if you split or joined them). Don't do anything to them yet.
  4. Try exporting the target file. If the program succeeds, go back to the (new) project, complete any missing segment (joining and/or splitting them as necessary), and export your target file. If the program manages to do that, you are done.
Most likely, however, #4 here above will fail with the same error message you got the first time round. At this point there are still things you can try:
  1. Open your source MS Word file, and save it in two different formats. If your source was a *doc file (MS Word 2003 or earlier format), save it as both an *.rtf file and as a *.docx (MS Word 2007 or later format). If it was a *.docx file, save it as both *.doc and *.rtf--and if it was an *.rtf file, save it as both *.doc and *.docx file.
  2. Add the two new versions of the file to your new project. Pre-translate them. Try to save them as target. Most likely one of the two versions will save cleanly as target. If it does, you are done--you have a clean target file, and, if you need, you can then save it in the format needed by your client. 
If none of the new files saves correctly as target, you are out of luck and of quick solutions. If you have a support agreement with SDL, now is the time to open a ticket. If you don't, start looking on the SDL knowledge base and elsewhere online for more specific solutions.

This quick trick may not work always, but it works often enough that it should be in your bag of SDL Trados Studio tricks.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How localization engineers could help translators

When you translate software strings from English into another language, you sometimes wish you had more information available.

Often localization engineers, the people who prepare strings for translation, work for a software company that then outsources the translation to an agency. The localization engineer in company A talks with a project manager in agency B, who, in turn, deals with various freelancers (or even single-language vendors). The chain of intermediaries can quickly get too long. Answers to questions sent up the chain take forever, and suggestions or remarks by translators are lost on their way to the client.

Localization engineers usually have great technical skills. However, since they don’t translate themselves, they sometimes don't know what would help translators and what would hinder them.

Localization engineers (and project managers) could help translators improve the quality of the localized software by a few simple actions:

  • Provide an easy way for translators to send their queries and remarks;
  • Provide explanations and definitions;
  • Indicate how much space is available for each translated string;
  • Provide a glossary of required and forbidden terminology;
  • Give translators the whole translation memory (not only an extract): a complete translation memory allows translators to perform context searches, and helps ensure translation is consistent;
  • Provide screenshots, or make resources available to see the strings in context;
  • Do not provide the strings in alphabetical order (as I often see): that may look more orderly, but also deprives translators of much needed context.

This is just a partial list: a few thoughts that came to mind while working on a badly organized project, a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What happens to your marketing efforts...

...if you don't take the time to research your prospects.

As a translation company, we keep receiving large amounts of very generic e-mails from translators, all addressed to "Dear Sir or Madam" and variations on the same theme, including "Dear Ladies and Gentlemen", "Hello Dear" (?), "Good Day", "Hi there", "Hello", Hello Sir/Madam", and so on.

The following is just a part of today's crop:
A simple rule in Outlook ensure that all such message end up in the junk e-mail folder, thus negating these translators' marketing efforts.


If you are looking for new clients, take the time to research your prospects, and customize your marketing for each of your prospects. You'll have much greater success.

If, on the other hand, you insist in sending out generic e-mails in bulk, remember, there is a term for that: it's called "spam" and it is actually forbidden in many countries.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Advice to younger translators

I find myself at times writing about what younger translators, who are just entering our profession, should or should not do... about tools, about rates, about professional practices. In my mind I see this as sound advice backed up by years of experience. Others might disagree and see mine as the outdated and out-of-touch opinions of someone too old to understand what it is like entering our profession today.

When I begun translating professionally, our world was different: our market was local, limited to the city or town where we lived. Our tools were primitive: my first translations were all written on a typewriter: word processors and PCs arrived only a few years later for me. Our choices of reference materials were limited to the dictionaries we had painstakingly collected ourselves, or, if we were lucky enough to live in a big city, to the books available in the local libraries. There was no Internet, and fax machines were innovations that enticed enterprising translators with the mirage of offering their services to more distant agencies (but to send a fax out of town you had to pay exorbitant long-distance phone charges).

Now we live in a work of computer aided translation, translation management systems, and our clients (and competitors) span the entire globe.

But I believe that the very fact of having witnessed such changes in our profession gives me insight in what beginning translators should do to enter the market.

Just a few suggestions:

  • Be professional in the way you approach prospects. 
  • Learn about our profession: this doesn't simply mean learn well another language, nor does it mean learn how to translate. It means learn more about business practices in the translation world, more about professional associations, more about the new wonderful resources available from our computer screens - from the wealth of reference, to such things as lists of translation companies and how they are rated by other translators. 
  • Learn the technical side of our profession: learn about the tools available to translators, and about those that translation clients use. 
  • Learn to specialize: becoming a real specialist in a few selected fields will increase your chances of becoming an in-demand translator. 
  • Learn to keep professionally up to date. 
  • Learn to improve the way you write in your native language: translation is writing, and you should perfect your skills as a writer. 
  • Learn to improve the way you write in the language you clients or prospects use: translation is communication, and you must lean how to communicate effectively with your network of prospects, clients and colleagues. 
  • Especially when you are complaining about something, learn to decant your messages. You may be right in complaining, but a complaint written in anger and fired off too quickly could further damage your relationship with a client, prospect or colleague. Important messages should be written, then left aside for some time, reexamined with a cooler head, and only then, if it still looks like a good idea, sent. 
  • Find a way to receive sound advice: advice about your translation, by other (more experienced) translators, but also advice about your communications. As translators we work alone, and to communicate only remotely, through email, text messages and so on. It is easy to write something that is then misinterpreted or misunderstood by your recipient: what you wrote thinking it would elicit a smile may easily cause offense. If you can, have your important communications be read and vetted by a more unbiased pair of eyes. 
  • Learn that it is not important to boast of your accomplishment, but rather to inquire how you can help your prospect solve a problem. Be an aid, a problem solver, not a know-it-all that likes to show off his talents or accomplishments.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reverso Context, an app for language learners that can also help translators

A few months ago Reverso announced the release of Reverso Context as an app for iOS and Android, also available as a web page. I downloaded the app, and found something that will look familiar to users of Linguee: translations of words and phrases in context (hence its name).

The app has a slicker interface than Linguee and offers more functions and commands (see the screenshot below).  It records a history of your searches and their results -- a good way to find which terms to add to your glossary, although this function would be more useful if it included a way to download your history.

You can propose alternative translations and explain why the translations suggested are bad. And you get links to several other Reverso applications including free bilingual dictionaries.

The Reverso Context interface, with some of its features
The Reverso Context interface, with some of its features
  1. Search
  2. Search in Reverso dictionaries
  3. Reference to other searches
  4. Translations of the search term
  5. Filter on the target language to refine the search
  6. Translations in context
  7. Make favorite
  8. Copy the translation
  9. Add translation to Reverso Collaborative dictionary
  10. Report a problem in this example (for example, wrong translation)
  11. See translation example in context (that is, go to the site where this translation is used)
Reverso Context is aimed at language learners more than to translators. According to their literature:
"This way, users can seamlessly improve their foreign language skills in a way that’s not available in any other similar tool, learning how to use new words and expressions in their day-to-day lives just like native speakers do."
The claim of uniqueness is exaggerated, since the main functionality of Reverso Context (showing translations of words and phrases in context) is something that Linguee also does. Just like in Linguee, the prudent translator should check if the site from which the proposed translation comes is authoritative and reliable.

As for contents, sometimes Linguee has better translations, and sometimes Reverso has an edge. The major differences are that Reverso Context offers fewer language pairs than Linguee, and that Linguee leans towards Europe Union documents, offering perhaps more real-world material.

But we don't need to choose one tool over the other: the best way to take advantage of these apps is to use them both, together with your other favorite linguistic search engines, in a multisearch tool. I use them through WordWeb Pro (which I'll review in a forthcoming article), but you could use other tools, for example through IntelliWebSearch, Multifultor or even Xbench.

Reverso Context offers 10 different languages (v. Linguee's 25 languages), and while in neither tool all languages are translated into all other languages, the number of language pairs is greater in Linguee.

Reverso Context is a useful addition to our terminology toolbox. The app works in iOS, Android, Windows, and as a web page that can be used through a browser. Unlike Linguee, it displays ads -- but they are unobtrusive. Very useful.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Quick Tips: yEd Graph Editor, a good quality (and free) diagramming software

If you ever need to create a good quality diagram, but don't have available Visio or a similar program, try yEd Graph Editor, by yWorks: a good quality, easy (and free, even for commercial use) diagramming program.

I used yEd to create the flowchart I used in my post Cat tools and translation style.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

CAT tools and translation style

Most professional translators use Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools. Many of the translators who don't use CAT tools, however, claim that CAT tools are useless for more creative translations: no time is saved by translation memories – no repetitions, fuzzy or 100% matches – while using the tool weakens the translator's writing style.

I believe that these translators are both right and wrong. Yes, segment matching is less useful for translating documents that are not repetitive, but the use of translation memory is still of great help even for texts that are not repetitive at all: concordance search – offered by all translation memory tools – is what helps most, here: it lets us see in our translation memories how we translated similar words or phrases before, even in sentences that are not close enough to the one we are translating to appear as a fuzzy match.

On the other hand, indiscriminate use of CAT tools, especially in documents that need a more creative approach, may hamper translation style if the translator uses the CAT tool as he would normally use it for technical texts.

One of the drawbacks of CAT tools is that they make it far too easy to carry over the sentence structure of the source language into the target language. CAT tools offer segment joining and splitting as a partial remedy, but busy translators working under time pressure seldom use these features, which, in certain instances, are not available (usually you cannot join across hard returns), or are cumbersome: what if you need to move the first sentence of a paragraph to the end of the same paragraph? You cannot do that by just joining two sentences together.

Other drawbacks are:
  • Using the same sentence order in the target language as in the source language;
  • Using the same number of sentences in the target language as in the source language (even when the target language text would be better by joining or splitting sentences);
  • Letting the sentence structure in the source language affect the target language – for example, use of a sentence pattern in the translation that is similar to the sentence pattern used by the source language, even when a different sentence pattern might be better in the target language;
  • Writing numerals in the target language the same way as in the source language – even when the two languages may differ on such things as the separators used for thousands and decimals, or which numbers should be spelled out and which should be written in digits;
  • Patterning punctuation and capitalization in the target language after the source language – for example, use of capitals after a colon when translating English into Italian, or leaving a space before a colon when translating from French;

All these kinds of problems (against which translators should pay attention even if they do not use CAT tools) are exacerbated because text segmentation makes it more difficult to see the structure of the page, especially when using more modern tools like Studio or memoQ that use a table approach – MSWord-based tools such as Wordfast Classic make it easier to see where on the page any given sentence goes.

So, if concordance is the feature that best helps translators of more creative texts, but slavish adherence to the source structure is what may most hamper them, what's the alternative?

  • For certain translators the answer is "don't use CAT tools", but what if you want to take advantage of CAT tools helpful features without risk damaging the beauty of your translation? I believe that an answer is the following workflow:
  • First you change the segmentation rules in the translation tool, to segment not at the sentence, but at the paragraph level. If the segment on which you are working is an entire paragraph, the tool cannot lull you into using the same number of sentences, the same sentence structure or the same sentence order as the source text. You are free, for example, to move text from the beginning of a paragraph to the end, if that better suits your style.
  • After changing segmentation, next you should consider the translation produced in the CAT tool as a mere draft to be exported and fine-tuned outside the tool: this way you can perfect your final version in a word processor without being distracted by the sentence-to-sentence pairing offered by the CAT tool.
  • After revising your translation as a standalone document, you should finish your work by comparing it to the source, to make sure the meaning and style of the original are conveyed and preserved in the target.
  • Finally, in this workflow you create an updated translation memory by aligning the source text to the final draft produced outside the CAT tool. This way, your translation memory is up to date, and available for future projects, while your translation does not suffer the stiffness that may be introduced by mechanical use of CAT tools.


While I propose paragraph segmentation, I know that other translators who use CAT tools for creative translation prefer to start with normal segmentation. That way they are sure not to miss any sentence, and they take care of any necessary changes to sentence structure afterwards, when they revise their translation outside the CAT tool.


Both options of this workflow are illustrated in the following diagram:

Summary workflow for the use of CAT tools in creative translation
Summary workflow for the use of CAT tools in creative translation
I've deliberately not given step-by-step instructions for specific CAT tools: Paul Filkin in his excellent blog  Multifarious already described how to use Studio for a similar purpose in his article Translating Literature... and you can adapt this method to other CAT tools.

Bear in mind that while this approach may suit transcreation or creative translation, it is not what works best when dealing with technical translations: it is a technique that helps slow you down, not speed you up. For most freelancers, it would give flexibility with one hand while taking away speed with the other. Besides, in technical, legal and most other commercial translations, preserving a similar structure between source and target is usually a good thing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Translation company or freelance translator?

I’ve recently received the following e-mail from a translation company that is fishing for customers. In doing so, it makes claims based on dubious arguments, doing a disservice both to translators and to its own prospects:
In this globalization era, translation requests can come from any part of the world in any languages. In order to satisfy that demand, a translation agency must be prepared for a wide range of languages and subjects. A solution is to assign jobs to freelancers. 
However, there can be drawbacks from their temporary nature:
  • No long-term commitment;
  • Inability to handle large, rush work load;
  • Require different linguists for TEP =Complicated, time-consuming management process.
So how do you overcome these obstacles? The answer is [Name of this translation company redacted, as I don't want to provide the with free advertising]:
  • We commit a long-term cooperation through signed contracts and agreements;
  • Large, rush requests are not a challenge with our abundant resources;
  • One contact for all TEP process.
The arguments that this company makes are flimsy but, nonetheless, they are potentially harmful for translators. I’ll examine them in turn:

No long-term commitment. I am not even sure what they mean here: why wouldn’t interested parties be able to reach a long-term commitment with a freelancer? It’s just a question of negotiating and agreeing on terms.

Inability to handle large, rush work load. This very much depends on how large is “large”, and how much of a rush is “rush”. It is true that an individual freelancer is likely not going to be able to do as much work in a given time as a group of translators - but many professional freelancers are able to take on larger projects by teaming up with trusted colleagues. Also, there is always a trade-off between speed and quality: a large project that needs to be completed quickly may need to be assigned to a team of translators, but a project of similar size that needs the best possible quality and consistency is better handled by a single translator and a single editor.

Require different linguists for TEP (Translation, Editing and Proofreading) => Complicated, time-consuming management process. Same as above: many professional freelancers are able to do so by teaming up with trusted colleagues. The process needed is not particularly complicated for most projects, and is probably less time-consuming when undertaken by a team of translators than when handled by a translation company (fewer steps involved).

We commit a long-term cooperation through signed contracts and agreements. Freelance translators or teams of translators are as able to sign contracts and agreements as a translation company. Saying or implying otherwise is casting a slur on the professionalism of freelance translators. This translation company is unwittingly insulting the very same freelancers it then needs to translate the jobs it receives from its clients.

Large, rush requests are not a challenge with our abundant resources. The elephant in the room here is that any translation company ultimately will pass on these “large, rush projects” to freelancers: no translation company - not even the largest - has more than a few translators on staff (if that). So the “abundant” resources they boast of come from the same pool of resources used by all other translation companies: freelance translators. What a good translation company can offer is project management and searching ad selecting the necessary resources. Depending on the size of the project (and on the skill of the translation company) this can be a valuable service.

One contact for all TEP process. This can be an advantage offered by translation companies, but more often than not clients will find themselves in a situation in which they still have to deal with multiple people: the translation company may have an account manager as principal point of contact with a client, but then the actual work is handled by project managers, and often the projects from a single client are handled by multiple project managers, who, in turn, also handle projects for other clients.

There certainly are situation in which clients are best served by a well-organized and reliable translation company. And, yes, these situations are usually large projects translated into multiple languages, But there are also many scenarios in which clients would be better served by relying on a small group of trusted translators. Clients that want the best possible quality in their translations, in fact, should choose this route: it is only when a client establishes a real long-term relationship with professionals committed to learn all that the client requires, wants and needs, that translations of the best quality are possible.

2nd Edition of Trados Studio 2015 Manual

Mats Linder has just published the second edition of his SDL Trados Studio 2015 manual. The new edition covers SR2 of Studio, plus various other updates and new stuff.


As before, the manual comes in two different versions: an unmarked “normal” one and one in which all changes to the previous version are highlighted in yellow: I tend to use the highlighted version of the manual more than the plain one: the yellow highlights come in very handy when you want to discover what new features and changes SDL did to the program.

I always recommend Mats’ manual to all serious users of Studio: It is true that Studio includes a very thorough help system to document the program, but I’ve always found that the SDL provides with both Studio and MultiTerm very opaque, Mats’ manual, on the other hand, is well organized and easy to follow. If there is a drawback is that Mats’ covers Studio but it does not also cover MultiTerm (an excellent program very badly served by SDL’s documentation).

The new manual is 514 pages long – so even experienced users of Studio are likely to find plenty of help there.

The price is the same as before, USD52 or EUR40 (with a 50% discount for all buyers of previous versions).

You can purchase the new edition of the manual at http://tradosstudiomanual.com/