Saturday, December 15, 2012

Xbench 3.0 – Now in public beta with some major new features

ApSIC have announced today the public beta of Xbench, their terminology management and translation QA program.

I’ll write a review of the new version of Xbench after working with it for a while, but there are some major improvements that should please many translators:
  • Full unicode support
  • Separate 32-bit and 64-bit versions
  • Support of MemoQ 6 XLIFF files
  • Support of Wordfast 3.1 Pro
  • Integration of the spell checkers in the program itself (you no longer need to download and install the dictionaries separately). 
The QA functions are also improved, with two new tests that will certainly interest those of us who often translate software: checks for CamelCase and for ALL UPPERCASE string mismatches.

Unlike most other beta programs, Xbench 3.0 comes with good documentation: an excellent help system and a new 70-page manual.

You can read about all the new and improved features in ApSIC's blog, but if you want an introduction to Xbench, see my old presentation: it is no longer up to date, now that 3.0 is out, but should give you a good idea about what this program can do to help your translations.

A big change is that version 3.0, when it is finally released, will be available through a paid subscription; those who pre-order before the end of the beta period will enjoy a discount  (up to 80% if you subscribe by December 27, less so if you wait). Version 2.9, however, will remain free and will still be available for download. I believe that charging for the program will be good for the translation community: the program's priorities will no longer depend on ApSIC's internal use only, so they should match even more closely the needs of other translators.

To download the public beta you can go to (if you are in a hurry, the link for the download is here). If you want to pre-order a subscription to take advantage of the discounts (and I strongly recommend you do so), the link is here.


There was some confusion about the pricing scheme for Xbench licenses - ApSIC have now clarified things in a new post on their own blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

750 Words - A simple but surprisingly good idea to get you in the habit of writing

There is plenty of advice given to writers - but most of it boils down to "get in the habit of writing - and the best way to do so, is by writing every single day". For some, this may be easy, for others not so much: there are too many distractions, and sometimes (make it often) we may not feel like writing. In fact, I believe most of us are always ready with some excuse not to.

Enter, a simple site that encourages you to write every day: not for publication (what you write remains private - this is not a blogging platform), but to get you in the habit of writing something (at least 750 words, in fact) every single day. The site encourages you in a number of ways, most of which may appear cheesy: the badge of an egg when you start out becomes a turkey after three days in which you have achieved your 750 words goal, and on to a penguin (five days), a flamingo (ten), and so on. There are badges for continuous days of writing without distraction (doing the 750 words without an interruption), badges for continuous days of writing fast (750 words within 20 minutes) - badges for night owls (sorry, for "night bats" according to the site), and for morning roosters for those who complete their writing either late at night or very early in the morning.

If all this seems silly, it most certainly is... but it also works, at least for some of us: it provides that little extra encouragement to write every day, and make a habit of it.

Since you know your writing is private, you don't get stressed out by the pressure of producing well-finished prose, and since each day's writing is no longer editable after the end of the day, you are encouraged to go on and write something new, instead of fiddling with your previous output. (Even if your writing is no longer editable on the site, however, it does not disappear, and you can always download it for later use elsewhere).

You can use the site for different purposes: to write morning pages and to freewrite are two obvious examples, but I find it also works to help you write the first draft of something you may then post in your blog or publish elsewhere (this post, in fact, was started as a draft in

The site is free (although if you find it useful donations are welcome), and very simple to use. Try it: you may like it and find it helps you develop the habit of writing every day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trados Studio Manual - now with its own blog and Facebook page

I mentioned before that there is now a Trados Studio manual, available for purchase from SDL's Open Exchange. I've not as yet reviewed the manual thoroughly, but I've used it for reference several times already, and I highly recommend it: it's useful, well organized and well written - a far cry from the mess that is SDL's own documentation. Now that  Mats Linder has written two editions of the Studio manual (one for Studio 2009, one for 2011), and that he has updated them to also cover the latest SDL's upgrades (including Stdio 2001 SP2) I urge him to write a good manual for MultiTerm - the need there is even more pressing, considering how badly the MultiTerm help system is written.

Mats has recently also launched a blog dedicated to the manual and a Facebook page where he links to useful sites and blog entries by other knowledgeable people, with the purpose to give practical tips on translation matters.

I recommend both the blog and the Facebook page - they are certain to be useful to SDL Trados studio users.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Feeling lazy? A sure-fire way not to get work

Novice translators often get advice on how to get work and how to successfully conduct their freelance business. Several leading translators, in fact, have published books aimed at less experienced colleagues (among these books, I especially recommend those by Corinne McKay, the Jenner twins and Chris Durban).
            However, what if you feel lazy, don’t really want to receive work, but, for some reason, you have to make a show of looking for it? Maybe your significant other has been nagging you to send your résumé to your prospects, and when you temporized by saying “I need to research them first”, she answered by providing you with a list of 7,600 translation agencies and a paid subscription to Payment Practices.
            What then: Are you doomed to the drudgery of toil? Not to worry: Here you’ll find a 10-point proven strategy to make sure no translation company in their right mind will ever send projects your way (and it works for direct customers, too):
1.         Be full of it: Write a bombastic cover message for your résumé. Feel free to add implausible claims (“...I am a Vogon native speaker, but can also easily translate into Klingon, as I spent two weeks on vacation there once, and I specialize in all subjects...”). A patronizing and condescending tone is also very helpful in turning prospects away (“ you should know, language translation is a profession only a selected few can undertake...”).
2.         Deliberately misspell your cover message, and add some egregious error of grammar, syntax, punctuation and usage (very effective, for instance, is to claim “I have challenges to provide high-quality service and meeting deadlines,” as in an application I received some time ago).
2.1       Bonus material: If you don’t know how to write a thoroughly off-putting cover message, take heart: Here is a real masterpiece I received (with a few details changed to protect the sender) that you can use as a template:
“Good morning!
I hereby request the following question, I saw this email and you were recruiting freelance translators, I wonder if that offer is still open?
               I am a young Portuguese who have a graduation in Portuguese and Dutch by the faculty of letters of Coimbra. And for three years I teached English in Portugal. Over these three years, at home, I did a translation of various texts, literary and non-literary, for example: user guides , how to apply a product; how to put a machine to work in a factory; the warning letters and simple letters; poems; short stories; emails with requests; cookery recipes; medical prescription; college and University diplomas and etc.
               I´m available and able to make in these three languages translation. I can also translate from Italian to Portuguese and Spanish to Portuguese, because I had a year of Italian and Spanish in University.
               I am currently living in Burma.
               My work as a translator will be done at home in the computer and then I send my translations through my email for your company.
               If you are interested in my services as a freelance translator, could you tell me what email can I send my CV?
               Please contact me at (address) for any further information.
Best regards,
Jane A. Translator”
3.         Don’t mention your language pair in the title of your message. Let your prospects guess.
4.         Don’t mention your language pair in the header of your résumé, either. If you really feel compelled to add it, the bottom of page three (possibly under “other information and personal interests”) should do nicely. If they finally get there, your prospects will be happy to discover you don’t translate in a language they are interested in.
5.         If you have worked as a translator in the past, do include every detail of all projects you ever did (in fact, list all language assignments you did since middle school, for good measure). Remember: Your goal is to bore your prospect, and a seven-page single-spaced résumé should easily do the trick.
6.         Wide margins and a legible layout are for chumps. Use the narrowest margins your word processor lets you get away with, don’t indent between paragraphs, and don’t use any font other than Arial Narrow (8 points maximum). If your prospects cannot read your résumé, they will not be tempted to hire you.
7.         If (as you should) you are writing your résumé in a language which is not your own, make sure not to have it revised by a native speaker: She could accidentally correct all the errors you have worked so hard to add.
8.         In the unfortunate case that a prospect, despite your efforts, answers your message and asks you to take a short translation test, be original: don’t just say you don’t do free tests (they might respect you for that), and certainly don’t accept to translate the test and do your best on it. Instead, accept the test, use Gurgle Translate, don’t spell-check, and send the test late (if they gave you a deadline), or not at all (if they didn’t).
9.         If you decide to take a test, ignore any instructions that come with it: following them would waste your time, and you might unfortunately find in them some suggestion of how your prospect would like you to proceed. You want to show you are an independent spirit, not someone who meekly accepts to do what he is tasked to do.
10.       And finally: Now that we live in a Web 2.0 world, with plenty of social media available to show what you really think to all and sundry, let your personality shine under your real name. Badmouth translation companies and belittle other translators on AmateurZ and BabbleBook. Suggest plenty of erroneous terms in online translation fora (in fact, suggest them in at least three different languages you don’t know). Display a righteous attitude (better yet, a paranoid one), and let everybody know that all translation companies (and all direct customers, for that matter), are out to get you to work for free, that all other translators are infinitely worse than you, that of course translators can and should translate from their second language into their third one, and that the sole reason for university translation departments the whole word over is to churn out plenty of lemmings ready to jump off a cliff and take all the work away from you.
P.S. This will be the subject for another article, but learn to be very rude on the phone, especially if some project manager calls you.
NOTE: This article, together with many others from several prominent translators, was written for Mox II: What they don't tell you about translation, the new collection of Mox cartoons by Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. Mox II was published today: go and order it - it is the perfect gift for any translator.  

Mox II

Many translators already know (and identify with) Alejandro Moreno-Ramos's downtrodden translator, Mox.

Last year Alejandro published Mox Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation, with articles from several prominent translators and over two hundred cartoons, many never published on his blog before.

Now he has done it again with his second book: Mox II - What they don't tell you about translation, which  has been published today - a perfect gift for other translators (or for yourself).

mox ii present translator

As in the first book, the adventures of Mox, Calvo, and the other characters in the strip are accompanied by a series of articles from prominent translators - and this year I had the honor of being invited to contribute one of of the articles. With Alejandro's permission I'm republishing my article (it will be in my next post) - but I urge you to order the book so you enjoy the other articles and the new cartoons.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The great thing about translation management software... how it faultlessly ensures translation quality.

Many translators bitch and moan about translation companies who use translation management software: how tiresome it is to log in to download even small projects, log in to create invoices, and so on and so forth.
Sadly, these translators don't seem to see the big picture: by using such translation management platforms translation companies ensure the quality of their projects - no more wrong files sent out to translators, or received from them.

Everything is tidy, ship-shape and tightly controlled... or, is it?

A translation company (whose name I'll charitably refrain from mentioning), has just sent me a small project to edit. I logged in their translation management platform and downloaded the translated package: All there for me in one tidy zip file: a folder with the source file, a second folder with the bilingual translated target file to edit, a third folder with the translation memory, a fourth folder with the translation memory log.

  • The source file did not correspond to the translated file (and it was not just a question of different file names: the content was also was fundamentally different); 
  • The translated bilingual file I was supposed to edit had segments in which the target language appeared also in the source language place (I could more easily understand the reverse, and attribute it to a sloppy translator); 
  • The analysis log referred to the source file (the one that did not correspond to the target one) and to a project with a different name and number than the one I had received.
Yep... translation management platforms work great: no longer problems for translation companies who rely on them.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Monday, October 08, 2012


In Italian schools they used to have students memorize poems - tons of them, beginning with easy ones in elementary school, going up to long sections of the Divine Comedy by the time you were in high school. 
At the time, I resented having to repeatedly read and recite verse, but now that I've long forgotten most of the poems I had memorized, the few that remain have become treasured possessions.

Here is one of the best of them: Giacomo Leopardi's L'Infinito


Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle,
e questa siepe, che da tanta parte
dell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
silenzi, e profondissima quïete
io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per poco
il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
infinito silenzio a questa voce
vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,
e le morte stagioni, e la presente
e viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa
immensità s'annega il pensier mio:
e il naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.

Giacomo Leopardi

Friday, October 05, 2012

What I've been doing instead of blogging

This year I've been blogging a lot less than in the past few years. Part of the reason was blogging fatigue, but mostly because I've been working on a special project for the Italian Language Division of the ATA: our new revamped website.

I started out thinking it would be a quick job of selecting a nice template and adding some updated content, and I ended up by hand-coding or tweaking all the pages and creating some special graphics for the site (such as the banner image of the home page).

In addition to that the ILD Twitter account is now active: @ATA_ILD, and of course, Tradurre (the ILD's blog) has been active for years.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Comment spam

In the last couple of weeks this blog has been on the receiving end of a real tsunami of comment spam, mostly from one sort or another of sleazy term paper mills, but also from sundry fly-by-night translation agencies that have somehow got the (mistaken) idea that sending contentless comments here (and, I've no doubt, to many other blogs as well) would somehow increase their web presence and lead to translation wealth.

This means I've had to delete dozens of comments, both from the (fairly efficient) Blogger spam folder, but also from the automatically published comments.

If in doing so I have inadvertently deleted a real comment of yours, I'm sorry, and I apologize.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to spend a fortune and not learn anything

I've noticed that much of the most recent comment spam arriving here (and nicely caught by Blogger's spam filter) is from sites that sell research papers and other shortcuts of very dubious ethical value to lazy students. All of it seems tailored to the American market.

I've also noticed (teaching online at DU), that the use of paid-for essays, plagiarism and such must be on the rise: until last year, for example, students were only required to subscribe to the university's ethical policy. Now not only they have to do that, but their papers also are scanned using a software program that flags suspected plagiarism.

So: these students are paying for university (normally, paying a lot: university is expensive here), then they pay extra for someone to do their homework for them. Don't they realize that this way they are short-charging themselves, and that this way they will not really learn from what university has to offer?

P.S. This is not aimed at my students: I know they are doing their best in my classes - it's just a general comment prompted by too many spam comments purporting to sell "cheap essays".

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Early-bird deadline for the ATA Conference

Friday, September 20 is the last day you can register for the ATA Conference at the discounted early-bird rate.

In their reminder e-mail, the ATA give ten good reasons to attend the ATA annual Conference:

    Practical education from translators, interpreters, and company owners
    More than 1,800 attendees to meet at this year's Annual Conference
    Three days of translation tool workshops and presentations
    Meet vendors and try a little hands-on experience in the Exhibit Hall
    Program, handouts, and more from smart phone, tablet, or laptop
    Some of the best one-on-one information networking
    Find out more about ATA's goals and how you can be part of them
    Things to do, places to go, and fun to be had
    Tweet, email, or post your comments online in debate of T&I issues
    Learn from others, be inspired, and remember what makes your career so great

    Review the complete ATA Annual Conference Program now. 

But in addition to that, this year is particularly special for the Italian Language Division: we have more sessions than ever before, and two very special guest speakers: Italian best selling author Beppe Severgnini, and his English translator, Giles Watson.

You can see more details about the Italian Language Divsion events in the ILD's new website.

See you in San Diego!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Great post on how to be a good commenter

John Scalzi, a popular SF author, and, with his 14-year-old "Whatever", one of the first and best bloggers around, has just published a great post with guidelines about how and when to comment, with ten questions each commenter should ask himself or herself before commenting. It will be useful for anybody who comments on blogs or contributes to online discussion threads.

The first three points are:
  1. Do I actually have anything to say?
  2. Is what I have to say actually on topic?
  3. Does what I write actually stay on topic?

There are ten in all and each with a cogent and persuasive explanation, in Scalzi's usual snarky style.

Go and see the post for yourself, and, if you are a blogger, spread the word.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Anti-translator idea of the week

A translator has recently seriously proposed on ProZ a "blueboard for translators" (scroll down until the second post by "Mirellauk"):
There is a growing need for a tool that allows outsourcers to blacklist or at least publicly comment on unreliable translators. Each translation company has its own grading system but, generally, information is not shared. Dealing with unprofessional translators is costly, time consuming and can have serious reputation consequences for a translation company if and when corrective steps are not pursued.
It is fundamental that such tool is created through the cooperation between agencies and freelancers, for instance on a site like Proz, and I am convinced that professional translators would benefit from it.
There are many things wrong with this, from the fact that such a system is morally repugnant (given, among other things, the power disparity between translators and agencies, as a wiser colleague points out in the same thread) to the certainty that it would be abused by unscrupulous agencies, and to the completely unwarranted facile assumption that "professional translators would benefit from it".

Even if one wanted to look at this from the point of view of a translation agency, such a system would signify a complete abdication of the translation agency's own responsibility: "dealing with unprofessional translators is costly, time consuming and can have serious reputation consequences for a translation company" - yes, selecting unsuitable translators would damage a translation company's reputation - and that's precisely why translation companies should take full personal responsibility for the whole selection process, without trying to fend off all or part of the selection to an unethical and unprofessional idea such as this.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Take advantage of the multilingual features of Wikipedia

Although Wikipedia should always be taken with a grain of salt, the information it provides is usually a valuable help when we translate. One feature you can find particularly useful is the list of multilingual links that often accompany a Wikipedia page.

If, for example, you are looking for information of what "surge limit" means in a compressor, you won't find an article specifically devoted to it in the English Wikipedia, but you'll find an explanation of "compressor surge" under the Wikipedia article on Compressor stall. This page links to the articles devoted to the same subject in several other languages. Even if your language is not among the direct links (Italian is not, in this case), checking the articles in other languages may supply you with useful hints to arrive at the correct translation.

In this case, the French and Spanish pages for "Compressor stall" are titled in a similar way: "Pompage" in French, and "Pompaje" in Spanish. This was a critical clue: the Italian Wikipedia does not have an articled simply titled "Pompaggio", but, in the article on "Compressore" you can find a section about the differences between "condizione di stallo" and "condizione di pompaggio" - which, in turn, leads to an article on "limite di pompaggio" that specifically mentions that "limite di pompaggio" is, in English, "surge limit". I thus confirmed that I could use "limite di pompaggio" in my translation.

As you can see, the way to arrive to the correct translation is often roundabout, but learning to make good use of what Wikipedia has to offer for us yields goods results.

Monday, August 20, 2012

From BOMB magazine: An interview with Mary Jo Bang, poet and translator

Mary Jo Bang recently published a new translation of Dante's Inferno - a modernized translation that seems to have caused quite a stir.

Zachary Lazar interviewed the translator for BOMB magazine:
Imagine a contemporary translation of Dante that includes references to Pink Floyd, South Park, Donald Rumsfeld, and Star Trek. Now imagine that this isn’t gimmicky—this is the hardest but most important part to imagine. Imagine instead that the old warhorse is now scary again, and perversely funny, and lyrical and faux-lyrical in a way that sounds sometimes like Auden, sometimes like Nabokov, but always like Mary Jo Bang. 
The article also links to the entire translation of Canto XXXIV.

A very brief excerpt (verses 61-69):

"Quell'anima là sù c'ha maggior pena",
disse 'l maestro, "è Giuda Scarïotto,
che 'l capo ha dentro e fuor le gambe mena.
“That soul up there suffers the worst,”
My teacher said. “Judas Iscariot.
His head stays inside, while his kicking feet stick out.
De li altri due c'hanno il capo di sotto,
quel che pende dal nero ceffo è Bruto:
vedi come si storce, e non fa motto!;
Those other two whose heads hang down,
The one dangling from the dark mug is Brutus—
Look how he thrashes without uttering a word—
e l'altro è Cassio, che par sì membruto.
Ma la notte risurge, e oramai
è da partir, ché tutto avem veduto".
The other is Cassius, who looks much more muscular
Without his skin. But night’s coming again
And we have to go. We’ve seen all there is to see.”

Literary translation funding available from the National Endowment for the Arts

I've received the following message, which I believe should be of interest to literary translators in the USA:
The National Endowment for the Arts is pleased to announce that application guidelines are now available for the FY 2014 Literature Fellowships for Translation Projects. Through fellowships to published translators, the National Endowment for the Arts supports projects for the translation of specific works of prose, poetry, or drama from other languages into English. We encourage translations of writers and of work that are not well represented in English translation. All proposed projects must be for creative translations of literary material into English. The work to be translated should be of interest for its literary excellence and value. Priority will be given to projects that involve work that has not previously been translated into English. 
The deadline for application submission is January 3, 2013. For full grant application information and guidelines, go to: 
Fewer than five percent of all books published in the United States are works in translation, and an even smaller percentage of these books are works of fiction or poetry. To address this lack of foreign literature in the U.S., the NEA began awarding literary translation fellowships in 1981. Since then, it has been one of the most reliable sources of funding for literary translation in the country, awarding 339 fellowships for works in 62 languages from 72 countries. 
The NEA's website highlights many recent recipients of NEA Translation Fellowships: 

  • Writers' Corner features recent fellowship recipients, including bios, excerpts from the work to be translated, and a statement about the importance of bringing these works to American audiences.
  • The Art Works blog features interviews with recent translation fellows, including:
  • Johanna Warren, recipient of a 2013 NEA Fellowship for the translation of short fiction by contemporary Salvadoran author, Claudia Hernándezo   David Hinton, recipient of a 2012 NEA Fellowship for the translation of selected poems of Mei Yao-ch'eno   Esther Allen, recipient of a 2011 NEA Fellowship for the translation of Zama, a 1956 novel by Argentine  writer Antonio Di Benedettoo   Charlotte Mandell, recipient of a 2010 NEA Fellowship for the translation of Zone by Mathias Énard
  • The NEA's weekly podcast includes interviews with leading artists and arts experts, including
  • Natasha Wimmer, recipient of a 2007 NEA Fellowship for the translation of Roberto Bolaño's epic novel 2666o   Unai Ellorriaga, recipient of an NEA International Literary Award for Plants Don't Drink Coffee, and Amaia Gabantxo who translated the novel from Basque to English

Friday, May 25, 2012

Agencies rating lists, some rules about commenting

About four years ago I wrote a long post on Agency rating lists. I had almost forgotten that post, but today someone left a comment to the post:

Hello, great post - I´m just struggling with an agency in New York - [Redacted] - hands off!! Two invoices overdue for 66 and 16 days trying to cut 50% of last invoice arguing the end client is requiring this due to repetitions. None of this was in the contract, the low rate was general, for all text of a mega project (including legal and IT parts). The text is online for over a month now, we are a team of around 10 translators struggling for our money. Absolutely incredible. This agency is an outsourcer [Redacted] called agency and has no seriousness at all, being herself a translator and teacher for translation... !!!

I have not published this comment, and quoted here with the relevant names redacted. On the one hand, I have no reason to believe the angry translator who left the post is not telling the truth about her particular experience. On the other hand, I've checked this agency both on Payment Practices and on the Blue Board - and in both places the agency in question enjoys an excellent reputation.

If the translator who left the original comment reads this post, I encourage her to leave her comments in the appropriate fora, such on the Blue Board, on Payment Practices or on the other agency rating lists - some of them do investigate non-payment claims, and might be able to help.

This is also a good occasion to set some rules on comments  about other translation companies: this blog is not the venue for it - please go and add your comments on Payment Practices, the Blue board, TCR or any of the other payment practices lists. Since I have no means of investigating claims of non-payment, leaving such comments published here could damage the reputations of perfectly legitimate companies. If the claim is true, this still is not the place for it: most other translators, when researching the reputation of translation companies, do not look here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Searching for definitions?

We always need to find definitions for terms we encounter in our translations. One way to do so is to enter our search term in quotes, and add the word "definition" before launching our search in Google (or other search engine). This is a good technique that usually helps to find more formal definitions, for example from certain on-line dictionaries (as well as from other sources). Adding the word "definition" to a search, however, is not the only option to help you find the definition of some term.

A often useful way to find hidden definitions is to search for a specific pattern such as "a [your search term] is a" as a complete string, for example "an hydraulic pump is a". The results found by such searches often come from the body of documents, instead of dictionary entries, and sometimes are even more useful to help you understand what your term means than regular dictionary definitions.

Similar pattern searches can also help: for example "a [your search term] is used for", "the purpose of [your search term] is", and so on. You can refine such searches by, for example, limit them to a specific domain, or perhaps to a specific region. Your results may vary depending on the search engine you use.

This technique can be adapted to most languages, for example "Un [your search term] es un" in Spanish, or "Una [your search term] è una" in Italian.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Questions from an aspiring translator (or interpreter)

I've just received the following message, and since I think that it might be of interest for other aspiring translators, I'm positing here my answers to this person who is considering translation (or interpretation) as a future profession:

I'm interested in interpretation and translation. I was looking on your website and wondered if you could take a few moments to answer some questions:

Q. How realistic is it to expect to make a living with interpretation/translation? 

A. Perfectly realistic. I've been working full time in translation since 1985 (so, 27 years now - how time flies!). My wife also, after a career as an engineer, switched to translation and has been a full time translation for the past fourteen years. I know many people with successful full-time careers as translators or interpreters. Bear in mind, though, that my view may be skewed, as I tend to associate mostly with other translators, and I might have lost track of other people who started out as translators (or interpreters), but then abandoned the field.

Q. Is it difficult to find full time employment in either field?

A. Yes. Most translators who work as translators (or interpreters who work as interpreters), do so as freelancers. There still are, however, some companies who have a translation department with staff translators, and of course many translators and interpreters are employed by international organizations, most notably the European Union (and other European organizations).

Q. Do opportunities and pay increase with education (such as obtaining a Masters or PhD) in either field?

A. Yes, though it also depends on which subject the Master or PhD was earned in. Bear in mind that a PhD is mostly useful if you are pursuing an academic career.

Q. Would combining a degree in interpretation/translation with a major in another program be beneficial to my success?

A. It certainly would - a key to success in translation (and interpretation) is knowing what you are translating

Q. If you could go back in time, would you still go into interpretation/translation?

A. Sure: it's been a very rewarding career.

Q. Would you recommend this field to someone just starting out?

A. Yes... but with two provisos:

  1. Translation (and allied fields) are increasingly dependent on technology (computer assisted translation tools, etc.). This career is no longer suitable for technophobes (if it ever was).  
  2. Since most work opportunities are as freelancers (and I don't see this changing any time soon, if at all), you need to be the kind of person who is able to work on your own. You also need to learn what "being in business" really entails (but see my book recommendations below).

Q. Is there any other information that you think a prospective student should know about the fields?

A. I can highly recommend three books, to start with: How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, by Corinne McKay, The Entrepreneurial Linguist, by Judy and Dagmar Jenner, and The Prosperous Translator, by Chris Durban.

A final consideration, perhaps unrelated to your questions: many people seem to think this is a career suitable for part-timers. I strongly believe that, in most language combinations, this is definitely not so – becoming a good translator or interpreter requires a very significant investment in time and study.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An update on the Microsoft Glossaries

I've written previously about the Microsoft Glossaries, and how the freely downloadable set of glossaries was  superseded by the Microsoft Language Portal.

The glossaries are still available for download (as "UI translations"), but only to paying MSDN or Microsoft TechNet subscribers.

Some Microsoft technology, however, is available for download from the Microsoft Language Portal: you can download, in TBX format, the Microsoft Terminology Collection in various languages. The number of terms included for each language differs due to the varying levels of localization (for Italian there are 18,520 terms) - it is however, a useful set of terms for anybody working on the translation of software files (at least, for Windows).

You can use the tbx files directly with such a tool as Xbench, or you can import them in most terminology tools.

Another useful thing to download from the Microsoft Language Portal is the style guides for the languages you work with - the one style guide not available for download is the English Style Guide (sold by O'Reilly as the Microsoft Manual of Style).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Does the Blue Board tell more about bad translators than about bad translation companies?

I've just received from an English translation company, which will remain unnamed, the following message:
Dear Riccardo, 
My name is [...] and I am a Linguist Manager at [...].
We are looking long term English to Italian translators located in the US time zone. We are contacting you as we believe you would have the expertise to help us.
We are working with translation rates of 70USD per 1000 words translation and 20USD for proofreading per hour. We will require for you to take a 300 word test (free of charge) as part of the recruitment process. [...]  
If interested in the collaboration, please reply to this email with an updated CV and I will provide more details. Kind regards,
Now, 70USD per 1000 words is 7 cents per word: clearly unacceptable.

But they can afford to offer such bottom rates because apparently there are plenty of people very happy to work with them: their Blue Board rating is 4.9, and full of comments like "Professional and reliable company with professional and friendly people", "Great collaboration, prompt payment. Very reliable", "I've worked for [...] for a few years now, and with several PMs. They've treated me right".

They may be "professional and friendly", "prompt with payment", even "very reliable", but if what they pay is so low, I hardly think they can be said to have treated translators "right".

So once again the Blue Board proves useful: not so much in identifying a good company to work for, but rather to help find translators happy to work for peanuts.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A truly useful article on the quality of legal dictionaries

R. De Groot and Conrad Van Laer, of Mastrich University, published a few years ago a very useful article: The Quality of Legal Dictionaries: An Assessment.

In this article, De Groot and Van Laer assess the quality of many bilingual and multilingual legal dictionaries for the European Union languages. A truly interesting and useful part of the article is at the beginning, where the authors write some general remarks about translation issues to consider when tackling legal terminology - this is in effect a short but useful course on legal translation.

My thanks to Daniela Zambrini, who pointed this article out in a recent post on ProZ.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

SDL Trados Studio Manual: first impression

I've just bought Mats Linder's SDL Trados Studio Manual. I plan to write a fuller review later, once I've had a chance of using the manual for a while, but my first impression is excellent: the book (which comes as two pdf files with the same content, one formatted for printing in A4 size, the other as an A5-sized booklet) is well organized and contains a wealth of information on SDL Trados Studio 2011.

Price: USD 45 (available through SDL's Open Exchange).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A master translator speaks

From Worldcrunch, a brief but interesting article on Josée Kamoun, the French translator of Philip Roth, John Irving and Jonathan Coe: Why Philip Roth Sounds So Good In French: The Method Of A Master Translator

“The translator dances the tango with the text. When the text leads with the left foot, the translator steps back with the right. It is an extremely tight embrace, and, if possible, graceful...”

Friday, March 09, 2012

I wonder if they are going to pay him in lettuce: rabbit signed up as court interpreter by ALS

From the Birmingham Mail: Jajo the Rabbit 'hired' as translator at Birmingham courts

Money quote:
"[The owner] successfully filled in an online application for carrot-chomping Jajo with Applied Language Solutions, which supplies linguists to West Midlands police and local courts.
The rabbit [...]  later received emails from the firm welcoming him aboard as a translator – and inviting him to an online seminar to learn more about his role."
Guess they are not kidding when they say the ALS contract has been somewhat problematic for court interpreting in the UK.


And now Jajo, the interpreter rabbit, has his own Twitter account:

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Some advice on how to prepare for a translation school entrance exam

I’ve recently written some advice for a high-school student who was asking how best to prepare the entrance exam for the School of Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University. After writing my answer, I realized it could interest others, so here it is:
  • Do translation exercises to train for your exam. But, mostly, read a lot: both in your native language and in the foreign languages you are going to study. Read novels, read non fiction, read the news. Read magazines: for English, The Economist or The Atlantic are always good choices (and many translation tests are taken from them). Read grammar books as if they were absorbing novels. Read books, in your native language and in your foreign ones,  on how to write. Remember: a translator is first of all a writer, and all writers are readers first.
  • Don’t be overly impressed by other students who arrive at the entrance exam boasting perfect knowledge of three, four or more foreign languages. Strangely enough, such prodigies usually won’t be seen, once the exams’ result are out.
  • The evening before the exam, listen to music, relax, do something fun. Above all, don’t cram. You should arrive rested, not fatigued.
  • If you can (depends on your character), try to be relaxed at the exam; don’t get stressed out. Think that if you don’t pass, it isn’t the end of the world: you can always try again.
  • During the exam, write quickly a first draft, so as to have enough time to edit yourself thoroughly. Writing is re-writing.
  • Once you have completed your translation, set aside the source text and don’t look at it. Read your translation as if were an original. Correct it and change it to improve your writing, how it flows and reads.
  • Only after you have completed this first edit, look again at the source text and compare it to your revised translation. Check sentence by sentence, making sure you didn’t omit (or add) anything, and that you have conveyed correctly the full meaning of the source.
  • Don’t rely overmuch on dictionaries, especially bilingual ones. If you are well prepared you should already know all that you need to pass the exam. If you don’t know your languages (including your native tongue) well enough, dictionaries will be of little help.
Some of this is based on my experience as a student, so many years ago. The rest is lessons I’ve learned since, both as a translator and as a teacher.

A last bit of advice: if you do get in Translation School, take full advantage of it: you’ll gain an invaluable experience, and an excellent preparation for our profession.

But don’t forget to also study what most translation schools don’t teach: the business side of translation - what an invoice is and how to prepare one, how to draft an estimate, how to keep accounting, how much you should charge to earn a comfortable living, how to write a résumé and a cover letter, how to contact customers and how to keep them happy. Some good books to get started on the business side of translation are, for example, Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation.

Best of luck with your exam!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Tip for translators from English: i.e./e.g.

There is a good reason why many style guides recommend against using "i.e." (id est = "that is") and "e.g." (exempli gratia = "for example"): too many native speakers do not know how to distinguish between the two, and whereas they would not say "that is" when they mean "for example", they often do use "i.e." instead of "e.g.".

So, as translators, whenever we see one of these abbreviations, we should make sure from the context what the author actually meant: these abbreviations are too often used incorrectly.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Italian electronic dictionaries: an update

Several years ago I had written a couple of posts on the Italian dictionaries available online or on CD:

Patches for Italian dictionaries on CD-Rom


English-Italian dictionaries: CD-ROMs and online

After almost six years, someone wrote to me today, asking for further advice, since her copy of the Rizzoli-Sansoni dictionary no longer worked, even using the suggested patch:
I happily used this dictionary on my XP machine until this morning: when I clicked on it, it opened with the word list but without the definitions as occurred before the patch install. I worked for 2 hours trying everything I could think of, including trying to reinstall the patch.
I have a few questions which I hope you can help me with:
  1. Is there a patch for Service Pack 3 for the Sansoni? Would that be the problem? The old patch will not even re-install. It says it cannot find the my reasoning is perhaps it has something to do with Service Pack 3 or some recent upgrade from Microsoft. 
  1. I found a site that has a CD ROM Ragazzini 2011 for 50 Euro. Are you familiar with it? If you are, do you like it? Is it also tied to the web as is the Sansoni? I was really hoping that if I have to spring for a new dictionary, it would be complete in itself and not depend on the availability of the Internet or be at the mercy of upgrades of Service Packs and operating systems.
I like the Sansoni because I can search for phrases, for instance on Friday I looked up "beat around the bush" and found the correct phrase to use. The on line dictionaries only allow you to search for a word. I absolutely need a dictionary that can do the phrase search.
To sum it up, I would like to repair the Sansoni if possible and then would definitely be open to buying a new dictionary on CD Rom with these features: not accompanied by a hard copy, one that is stand alone and not tied to the web or updates to computer operations and very importantly, can search for phrases.
I answered my correspondent by e-mail, but since I think this could be of general interest, I’m reposting part of my answers here:

The old Rizzoli-Sansoni dictionary (and other dictionaries on CD-Rom based on the same Edigeo software, such as the Picchi English-Italian and the Tam Spanish-Italian) work in Windows 7 without any need for a patch. Using the old patch (available from the Edigeo Web site), they still work - at least on my old XP laptop, which I keep updated with the latest patches from Microsoft, so I don’t think the problem has to do with Microsoft: a more likely explanation is the interference of some other piece of software.
For anybody for whom the old dictionaries no longer work, there are several options available:
  1. Upgrade to Windows 7 – your dictionary problems might go away, but you would have to pay for the new OS, and, if your laptop is too old or does not have enough resources, Windows 7 might not run well on it (or not run at all). Also, of course, there is no guarantee that an old dictionary will keep on working – any Windows update might break them.
  2. Contact Edigeo: they created the software for Rizzoli-Sansoni, and might be able to help.
  3. Instead of trying to get the CD-Rom for the Ragazzini, I suggest instead a subscription to Ragazzini (and maybe some other dictionary: they offer several different general and technical dictionaries) from the Zanichelli online dictionary site. The yearly subscription is cheap: about 10 Euro per dictionary (prices vary depending on the dictionary you are interested in).
    The advantage there is that you always have the most up to date version of the dictionary. The disadvantage, of course, is that when you don’t have access to the Internet you also don’t have access to your dictionary. The Ragazzini online does allow full-text search, so you would still be able to find phrases.
  4. From the site you can get a variety of dictionaries as downloads (for about 40 Euros per dictionary), or as online subscriptions (for about 20 Euro/year). Among the dictionaries offered, there is the Sansoni, but they also have Picchi and several other good dictionaries.
  5. Rely on the many dictionaries available online for free. I’ll write an update to my old article soon, to see what is now available, and what no longer is.
    Remember, however, that free online dictionaries, even when they offer the full contents of the paid versions, usually limit search to headwords only (no full text search).

Friday, January 27, 2012

New utility to keep track of changes in bilingual files

Change Tracker, a recently released freeware utility, helps translators, editors and project managers seeing what was changed in a translated bilingual file.

The program works by aligning two files (or two sets of files), to compare the original translation with the edited bilingual files, showing what was changed, added or deleted between one version and the other (similar to what the Track Changes feature of MS Word does – but for bilingual files). This information can be seen in the program interface, and also exported as an Excel file.

I’ve tried the program on a pair of files translated with Trados 2007, and with a set of files translated with SDL Studio. In both instances, the program worked well, producing a clear report of all changes made to the translation.


Several popular CAT file formats are supported:

  • Trados 2007 and SDL Studio (TTX, SDLXLIFF)
  • MemoQ (XLIFF)
  • Idiom, Translation Workspace (XLZ)
  • Oscar (TMX)
  • Wordfast (TXML)
  • Microsoft Helium (HE)
  • Microsoft Word (e.g., from Trados Workbench: DOC, DOCX, RTF)

This could e a very useful addition to your QA toolbox.

An important change to this site… and a summary of last year

I've finally decided to give About Translation its own domain name - so you can now find this blog at (the old address,, will redirect here).
My apologies for the very sparse posting during the last couple of months; I'll now start posting more often again, but, before that, a summary of how this blog did last year:


According to Site Meter, at the beginning of 2011 the total number of page views for About Translation was 220,036. By 12/31/2011 the numbers had climbed to 299,475, so the total for the year was 79,439 – up from 63,822 in 2010 (and increase of almost 25%).
The best day of 2011 was May 16, with 529 page views, and the best month was November, with 8,923. By the way, there seem to be a huge difference in statistics, depending on who is doing the counting. I use Site Meter, but Blogger (which started providing statistics only in July 2009) seems to count about three times as many page views as Site Meter: according to Blogger, the total for November was 28,101.
The free version of Site Meter does not provide stats by the post, so for these I have to rely on Blogger. The three most read posts of the year were Can translators ignore theory? (November 15 – 1,091 page views so far, and 19 comments), Why high-volume discounts seldom makes sense (November 25 – 694 page views), and Questions and answers: how to start out (May 18, 689 page views).

Awards and other things

During the year, About Translation was selected among the Top 25 Language Professional Blogs (and Top 100 Language Lovers) of 2011 by and Lexiophiles. It was also chosen among the Kwintessential Top Ten Translator’s Blogs of 2011.
Finally, Corinne McKay and I reprised the Blogging 101 presentation, which was well received at the 52nd ATA Conference in Boston.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop Internet censorship

Much of the content of this blog has been illegally reposted without attribution at least twice in the last couple of years, so you would think that I should be in favor of legislation allegedly protecting me from Internet “piracy”.

But the PIPA and SOPA bills currently before Congress are an overbroad approach that would do but much harm, by stifling legitimate discourse on the Internet.

For more information about why PIPA and SOPA violate free speech and harm innovation, please see:

How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation

To take action to stop the bills by writing to Congress, you can use this Electronics Frontier Foundation site.