Friday, March 31, 2006

Consequences of "frictionless communication across languages" has an article about the future impact of machine translation: hopes, dreams, possibilities, etc. One thing that jumped to my eye was this sentence:
"Some even believe that frictionless communication across languages would help different cultures and religions to see eye to eye, helping to bring about peace on earth"

Whoever said that, must not have paid much attention to Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
"Meanwhile, the poor Babel Fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

BBC America - Dictionary of Slang

When I studied English, I was more familiar with the British variety, including accents and slang. Now I've been living in the USA for a dozen years, and what I've not forgotten, is woefully out of date.

Help is at hand, however, from the web site of BBC America: they have an online dictionary of contemporary slang, so if you are puzzled by what they are talking about when they say "This place is quite a good battle", or "I don't know what's up with the's all over the shop", give it a look: it might help.

(Hat tip:

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Article Done

With a lot of back and forth between Franco and I, we managed to trim it to slightly more than 3,000 words.

Final step is copyediting by an English native speaker (Franco's wife). Tomorrow we'll send it to Multilingual.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Article on Translation Quality Mesurement Almost Ready

I am currently working with Franco Zearo of Lionbridge on a final draft for an article on translation quality measurement, to be published on Multilingual Computing.

Much of the work is trimming what we have written to a maneageable size. One of the things we had to cut (because it would deserve its own article, or series of articles), is a section on the six phases for setting up a robust quality system:
  1. Design
  2. Calibration
  3. Sampling
  4. Measurement
  5. Statistical Analysis
  6. Process Improvement
If you are interested, there is a bit more about what goes in each of the six phases in a post I just published in post I just published in Translation Quality Blog.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

How To Argue with an Umpire has a fairly funny piece about the problems of arguing with the World Baseball Classics umpires through a translator:


TRANSLATOR: "Oh-san respectfully inquires how your family is doing, particularly your mother."

...then it continues for a while.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Website Localization published a couple of days ago a very interesting and detailed article ("Translating Web Sites Considerations for Multilingual Online Businesses") on what to consider when deciding whether and how to translate a business web site.

There are a few things I disagree with, for instance
"If at all possible, if your company employs local salespeople or marketing staff in that country then you might consider having them write or translate the copy on the web site—they know the product and any important selling points and local “slang” that is important to include."
Local salespeople or marketing staff should certainly be more knowledgeable about the products they are selling, and possibly may be more up to date with their industry's jargon than us mere translators... but they are not translators, and I have seen time and again that translations done by non-professionals very quickly run into serious problems.

Much better is when translations are entrusted to qualified professional translators, and the in country technical and marketing staff freely support the translation team(s), answering their questions and checking the draft translations.

But other than that, the article is very informative, and could be a valuable resource when advising a customer what to do when localizing a web site.
(Hat tip: iSpeak blog)


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

First "Translation Summit"

From yahoo! Finance:

This apparently has to do with providing translation to the government in the post 9/11 world.

If the press release is any indication, it should prove a bonanza for anybody who enjoys cliché-ridden content-free jargon, for example:

"...augment existing government translation capabilities" "...acting as a clearinghouse for facilitating interagency use of translators..."
"...mission..." "...think out of the Beltway box..."
That's on a par with the business claptrap we used to have to suffer through during the obligatory frequent meetings at the business software company I used to work for.

After reading that stuff I think I'll need a dose of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" as an antidote.


Real-Time Human Translation?

From: PRWeb., an online translation company, has apparently set up a system for providing rapid low-cost translations online.

I have some doubts, however, about the quality one can expect from such a service: digging a bit in their website ("How to work for us"), one finds that, among the types of jobs available there are
  • NonNative - People who are fluent in a language pair but do not have certification and are not a native speaker of that language
  • Native - People who are fluent in a language pair AND are a native speaker in that language pair
  • Professional - People who have had at least 5 years industry experience in that language pair

"Native speaker in that language pair", is a bit unclear, but probably due to no more than some sloppy writing (native speaker of what: SL?, TL?, both of them?), but what is clear is that translations would be done by many people that are neither professional translators nor native speakers of the target language.

Non-native non professionals doing rapid translations: I think that doubts about the resulting quality are legitimate.

UPDATE Margaret Marks is also blogging on this: "...I am thinking of starting a service to deliver translation in less than real time, for instance yesterday."

New Website of ATeLP - Association of Translation in the Portuguese Language

From newswire:
"The ATeLP is a cultural and scientific association which has the aim of cultivating, developing, promoting and disseminating information about the practice, study, teaching-learning, research and application of general translation and, more particularly, of specialized translation from and into the Portuguese language".
You can find the new website here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blogger and Spam

I apologize for not posting anything since last week.

Unfortunately, this blog had been locked by Blogger, as their algorithms had somehow deemed it a "spam blog" (no idea why: it is clearly a legitimate blog, but until some human person took the time to look at it, it remained locked)... so, although the blog was still up, I could not post anything new.

The blog has now been looked at by a human member of blogger support and whitelisted.

Before saying that all's well that ends well, I'll wait a little while, since, apparently, a number of blogs that had been similarly locked and then whitelisted, afterwards completely disappeared.

So, let's keep our finger crossed.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Adaptive and Adaptable

An interesting pair of words: I recently had to look at what the difference is between them in the course of editing a large project on networking hardware and software.

The English word "adaptive" had been translated with the Italian "adattabile". It looked OK, and it made sense, but I was not sure that the meaning was completely correct, so I started to look it up: looking at various dictionary definitions of the two words, both in English and in Italian (where I had to also see whether there was a difference between "adattivo" and "adattativo".

As usual, a big help was Google, when I searched for "difference between adptive and adaptable".

Turns out that, at least when one is talking of hardware and software, the difference is between a system that one can adapt or change ("adaptable"), and a system that is able to adapt or change itself, depending on the pattern of use it goes through ("adaptive"): thus "Software which supports richer reuse must be highly flexible and easily adaptable. Ideally, it should be adaptive, in the sense that it can adjust to certain context changes without the programmer intervention."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Advice to Beginning Translators (2) - Sending Out Your Résumé

Here is the second installment of my Q&A session with a young colleague:

Do you think that sending résumés online should be aimed at specific targets in the current market, i.e., certain countries, companies in a specific industry (e.g., software companies), rather than translation companies? Also, should I address other channels besides sending things out online?
As regard specific industries, you should address those in which you specialize.

On-line inquiries should be your first priority, but don't get discouraged in nobody answers you for a while: remember that receiving 2 or 3% answers to an aimed mailing campaign is considered a wild success... and I believe that answers to e-mails run at an even lower rate.

Many agencies and companies are not really equipped to answer to all the unsolicited collaboration offers that keep piling up. However, if your résumé is deemed interesting, it may very well be stored in a database, and you could receive a call back months (or even years!) later.

Another thing that you should do is to go in person to visit nearby translation agencies, to leave there your résumé and a good impression.

When you can, you should also consider joining a translator association (in Italy, AITI), and take part in the association's activities, again in order to network - you never know where the next job offer is going to come from.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Using Google to Validate Translations

CBCnews has an interesting article ("Translation, by the numbers") on how to use the relative frequency of terms in Google to validate translations.

What the author describes is akin to the technique of looking for SL [common name] + "scientific name" in order to find the Latin name for a species (which then can help finding the TL common name for that species), but with the added twist of using the relative frequency of the candidate translations to decide which are valid and which not.

This is a useful technique for translators, and I am sure many of use use variations of it. My only quarrel with the article is that the author describes it as something non-translators should use in order to avoid translation howlers... and I'm not at all sure of the wisdom of bypassing professional translators in these instances.

Hat tip to Translation Notes, where I first found a link to the CBC article.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Advice To Beginning Translators (1) - Résumés

Sometimes I receive e-mails from young colleagues that are just getting started in our profession, asking for practical advice from someone with more experience.
When I receive such messages, I try to answer and be helpful. A couple of weeks ago I received one such request, and, with my correspondent permission, I'll also report here the parts that I think may be more generally helpful:

I have a university degree in modern languages, I also studied management in England, where I worked for a while; on my return to Italy I worked in a "new economy" company. While working in marketing and in an IT I did some business and technical translations.
Now I would like to get some real translation work from translation agencies or IT firms, but I realize that I do not know how to market myself: Last year i tried to e-mail some agencies and companies, but without getting any answer.
I was wondering if you could give me some tip on how to contact prospects without selling myself short,

Let's start with a few remarks about your résumé:

  1. Make it easy for whomever is going to look at your résumé to find the information they expect.
    Draft a different résumé for each market, conforming to each country's standards: for instance, in France people normally include their photos in their résumés, in Italy they include their birth date, but, for examples, both things should be excluded from a résumé sent to a US company. Also, in some countries a résumé should be put in chronological order, while in others a reverse chronological order is preferred.
  2. Clearly indicate at the top of your résumé your language pair and the position for which you apply (e.g. "English > Italian Freelance Translator", or "Spanish > English Interpreter")
  3. List your work experience before your education. (An exception could be if you have so little work experience that your education is more likely to impress your prospect).
  4. As regards your work experience, rather than a list of translations done, I think it is better to indicate the kind of job you did, and your specializations: e.g., "2002-2004: Freelance Translator, specialized in business software documentation (especially CRM applications) and software localization..."
  5. List professional associations to which you belong, publications, etc.

You can find some further pieces of advice in an article I wrote a few years ago, when i managed a translation team for a large software company. The title of the article is "How Not to Be Hired", and you can find it here.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Official" Translations (2)

A reader has answered my pot about "Official" translations with the following interesting comment:
This is not so vague as you seem to say , it's just literary translators' lingo. And there may be reasons to say so: just imagine I want to quote Rilke's Herbsttag. If I look for a translation, I will find something like this:
A translation by Pintor, one without any credits, one by an amateur, one by a blogger. Which one is the "official"? Pintor's, I would say (although I know there are is a more recent one, in a beautiful edition of Einaudi's Pleaide, and I would choose it as the official one, in primis because I know the translator, as she was my teacher at university and I know she spent something like 3 years on it). What has made it official: the translator's quality, the fact that it is published by a renowed publishing house, etc. At any rate, one shouldn't compare technical translation with literary translation, and not only because of remuneration. This is, of course, my humble opinion.

An aside: I am not sure where I have made any comparison between technical and literary translations, apart, maybe, by my being a technical translator commenting on something that falls in the province of literary translators.

However, I would like to answer to the main points noted in the comment: If calling something the "official" translation in this sense is current lingo or jargon among literary translators, then I shall defer to my colleague, as I acknowledge that current widespread usage normally trumps abstract rules.

Personally, however, I would prefer to call such translations "authoritative", or even "canonical". I realize that I am probably splitting hairs, but "official", in my mind at least, implies some official body which sanctions what is good and what less so.

Also, my colleague gives a good example of an official translation that is clearly prima facie better than the other translations found ("A translation by Pintor, one without any credits, one by an amateur, one by a blogger"). What about the case when there are several different authoritative translations for a given work? Is one of them to be considered the "official" one (and if so, on which grounds)?, or could there be more than one "official" translations?