Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I'll be traveling abroad for the holidays, and won't be carrying my computer with me, so this is probably my last post for the year.

At the beginning of the year I said I would try to post more often:
For this year I am resolved to post more often, at least whenever some idea for an interesting post arrives, and not let ideas wither away for lack of attention. They say that if you don't write down resolutions, you'll never do anything to make them happen. So here I am: sharing my resolve to write more on this blog and perhaps elsewhere.

I think that I mostly succeeded, though some months have been better then other.

Thank you to all of you who visited this blog and to those who shared your ideas with your comments.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A useful tool for Trados users

Many Trados users complain that it is impossible to use most Trados keyboard shortcuts when working on a laptop. Using the mouse to click on the toolbar icons feels awkward to people accustomed to touch type, and trying to activate the keyboard shortcuts through the virtual keypad accessed via the Fn key often ends up as an exercise in frustration.

A simple (and cheap) solution is to buy an USB numeric keypad: mine cost only a few dollars, is very lightweight and is also useful when working on a spreadsheet or entering numbers.

It may also help those of us accustomed to enter accented characters via the Alt+number route.
If you use an USB keypad like this, however, you may have to experiment a bit: on my computer, for example, the Alt+number accented characters only appeared after hitting the backspace key. This may differ on different laptops.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Trados: beware of wrong links

I have complained in the past of various problems Trados has with fuzzy matches. A particularly insidious one is the way Trados treats Internet URIs and other links.

For matching purposes, Trados processes URIs as if they were no different than any other text segment. By doing so, it considers two identical URIs (say, for example "") as 100% matches (which is OK), but it also consider two different URLs (for example, "" and "") as fuzzy matches.

This is wrong and dangerous.

If the two URLs are as different as and, the problem may seem trivial: a glance suffices to see that they are different, and to copy over the correct URL.

But other addresses looks much more similar, and we can easily accept the wrong link while translating quickly:

Trados, in fact, consider these two links as 97% similar.

But there is no such a think as a "similar" link: it either gets you to the correct page or file, or not, and the way Trados matches them adds to the risk of inserting a wrong link in our translations.

Changing the internal logic to treat URLs differently would be trivial, but the Trados programmers (or, more likely, their managers), cannot be bothered to spend the necessary time for a simple improvement that would ensure higher quality.

Friday, October 24, 2008


A good editor is an essential part of a translation team, but working with a bad one may be a nightmare.
  • A good editor must be a good translator, but sometimes a good translator is not a good editor: a good translator who has too high an opinion of himself and who is convinced that the definition of error is "something translated different from what what I would do" is unlikely to make a good editor.
  • A good editor must know when to change things that are not real errors. This may be necessary to achieve an appropriate register, to standardize style and terminology in team projects, to follow the style guide provided by the customer, etc.
  • A good editor must also know when, instead, it is better to leave things alone (for example, when the translation is done in a style different than one would use, but which is still appropriate).
  • A good editor needs to know how to indicate when a translation is wrong, how to indicate the type of error, and when instead to indicate that the changes made are preferential.
When I work as an editor I tend to make many changes in the translations I receive. But I also take care to say to the customer when the corrections are because of real errors (serious or otherwise) and when I am suggesting stylistic changes. For example:

"You'll see that I have made a lot of changes, but the translation was not, in fact, incorrect: these are almost all preferential changes made to give more of a "marketing" flavor to an otherwise correct translation."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"The sorrow with any translation"

A couple of interesting quotes from a recent, excellent article (from "The Australian") on new translations of Virgil:

"The sorrow with any translation is that you're never really quite there, [but] you may be someplace almost as good."
[Stanley Lombardo, professor of classics at the University of Kansas]

A translator must strive to see the work in its own terms, [Ruden] believes, while knowing that such a goal will always be just out of reach. "But it's something that you keep pushing and pushing and pushing, until you pass out from exhaustion."
[Sarah Ruden, poet and classicist]

The entire article is very much worth reading, and a welcome change of pace from the humdrum translations we might be working on.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Writing in a foreign language

As translators, we are not supposed to work into our second language, only from it. However, we have to write in a foreign language when we live and work in a foreign country: We need to be able to write it well to correspond with our customers and colleagues, to give classes and presentations, to write resumes and applications. If we want to communicate more broadly, we may decide that a more widespread language (like English) opens to us a wider stage.

We should strive to write our second language as well as possible, with elegance and precision, style, restraint, and power. We may even find that writing in a foreign language is easier than translating into it: when we translate, we are bound to the path chosen for us by the original author; when we write, we are making our own way.

I came to love English, to appreciate its difficulties and beauty, its subtleties, its style. Over time I learned to think in English, now I often dream in it. Do I write like a native? I don't think so: we are often blind to our faults. But I'm attuned to the way good English is written: for certain things, it is a more flexible tool than Italian.

In English a good standard is saying things in a simple manner, trying to be concise, to use the active voice. Far too often, in Italian we find instead convoluted sentences, needlessly complex syntax, the use of language not to communicate but as a way to show off. Hence, so much legal and bureaucratic verbiage, and also the misplaced love for half-learned, and one-fourth-understood foreign (especially English) words when Italian ones would do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The seductive power of words

Words are the embryos of ideas, the seed of thought, the framework of reasoning, but their contents goes beyond the simple official definition found in dictionaries. There, words appear exact, precisely and scientifically measured... And in these cold, orderly lists you cannot find the inner expanse of each word, but only the doorway to them.

From "La seducción de las palabras", by Alex Grijelmo, Santillana Ediciones Generales, 2000, as published by Punto de Lectura, 2007 (the translation o the passage is my own).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The right word

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug”

Mark Twain

Monday, September 08, 2008

New widget for this blog

In the right-hand bar I've added three Technorati charts, to track the relative frequency in blogs of the strings "translation", "translation quality" and "Trados" over a period of thirty days.

By clicking on the charts, you go to a Technorati page with links to the actual posts.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yet again: Trados fuzzy match woes (Expanded)

Continuing from my post of August 25, some further evidence of just how badly designed the fuzzy matching algorithms are in Trados:

So, according to Trados, "INSTALLING DISPLAY" is a 67% match for "Installing Display", while "Ownership of the Services and Marks." is a 65% match for "Description of the Service and Definitions."

A smarter matching algorithm would give more importance to meaningful words ("Description", "Service", "Definitions") than to grammatical ones ("of" "the" "and"), and would treat a difference between upper and lower case as much less significant than the chance similarity of two sentence structures.

By the way if "Installing Display" is changed to "Installing the Display", it does not come up as a fuzzy match at all (unless the fuzzy threshold is set extremely low), since it becomes a mere 40% match:

The worse thing is that all these problems have been known for years, but Trados (and now SDL/Trados) programmers have done nothing to improve the situation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trados: which bugs have been fixed?

I've just received a rather pushy call from an SDL/Trados representative. He wanted to know if I was considering upgrading from Trados 2007 to the newest version. When told that I was actually consider whether to change to a competitor's product, he asked why.

The reason I gave him was defects in the program, and old bugs never fixed.

I wonder however, if any of the more persistent bugs have been fixed with the latest releases - as far as I know, they haven't, but I would be happy to learn otherwise.

In particular, I'm thinking of such longstanding defects as the poor quality of low-fuzzy matches (see the previous post), the fact that formats are often mangled in MS Word documents, the irregular behavior of Workbench when translating MS Word tables with multiple columns (when Set Close/Next Open Get skips entire rows), the absence of shortcuts to open directly the previous segment, or the feebleness of the search functions within Tag Editor.

As far as I know, all development efforts were focused on supporting Vista/Office 2007, on corporate features, and on fixing some really disastrous new bugs (if any were introduced or discovered recently).

No real improvements to longstanding bugs, defects and annoyances as mentioned above. Does anybody know if this is still true, or which defects (if any) have been fixed after, say, version 7.1 and which improvements have been implemented?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yet again: Trados fuzzy match woes

I sometime wonder whether SDL Trados programmers even understand the concept of fuzzy matching, or, if they do, whether they care or have pride in their job - only incompetent programmers would create or use a fuzzy matching algorithm that leads to ludicrous results such as these:

That's right: according to Trados, the segment "Ownership of the Services and Marks." is a 65% match for "Description of the Service and Definitions."

After all, "of the" and "and" are exactly the same in both sentences.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Translator v. linguist

One thing that riles me is the habit many translation companies have of calling us "linguists". According to my dictionaries, a linguist is either a specialist in linguistics or a person who knows more than one language.

Neither meaning directly applies: not all translators are specialists in linguistics, and most specialists in linguistics are certainly not translators. And though all translators do know more than one language, not all people who know more than one language have what it takes to be translators.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Tautology, according to the Visual Thesaurus, is (among other things), "verboseness resulting from excessive repetitions."

For too many technical writers - especially, in my experience, those drafting ERP software manuals, a verbose, leaden and tautological style seems to be the only one they are able to use. Hence such pearls as

"The Server Date information is displayed for informational purposes."

In our translations we can, in such instances, improve on the original. For example, "La Data server è visualizzata a scopo informativo" provides the same information in Italian and is more concise.

Besides omitting redundant words, the translation can be shortened by rearranging the sentence structure:

"You can create a link in the Documents frame to link to a file or a Web page,"

May be translated more concisely and without loss of information as "Nel frame Documenti si può creare un collegamento a un file o a una pagina Web" .

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"File received, thank you!"

Sometime it's the small things that make a difference. Such as a translation company always sending an acknowledgment whenever we send them back the translated files.

That way we don't have to worry whether the files have actually been received, or know that there is a problem only the day after the deadline, when the PM sends us a message asking where the files that we were supposed to send yesterday (and that we did send yesterday) are.

Of course, that cuts both ways: we also should acknowledge messages and files as they arrive, and not let the PM wonder whether we actually got what they sent us or not.

Should we haggle like Levantines?

I was recently contacted by a translation company with a good reputation. They asked us for the usual information, including our rates and our résumés, and asked that we do a free translation test.

Since the test was of reasonable length, I agreed, and scheduled it for next week.

Today they called me asking for urgent help with the translation of a short document. I'm already overbooked, but I wanted to start on the right foot with a new customer, so I agreed to help.

They then proceeded to beg for a discount: could I do it for our minimum rate, instead of the price that would result from our word rate? The difference was minimal (about 5 dollars), but I declined, and refused the job.

We may have lost the chance at a new customer, but I prefer that to the prospect of haggling every time we receive a project.

Our customers should remember this is a professional service, not a fish market. If they don't, it is up to us to remind them.


They wrote again today, without reference to our phone call and messages yesterday, thanking us for our availability and asking a 15% discount from our rates. Declined again, of course.

Top 100 Language Blogs

LexioPhiles has published a list of the "Top 100 Language Blogs". The top of the list is dominated by blogs about learning languages (especially English), but there is a fair number of translation blogs.

About Translation chips in at number 42.

Other translation blogs of note on the list: Über Setzer Logbuch (23), yndigo (34), fidus interpres (43), Translation Blog (52), Blogging Translator (53), Musings from an overworked translator (69), Brave New Words (78), “la parole exportée” (87), Freelance Chinese Translator (90), and Thoughts On Translation (100).

Check out the other blogs as well: they cover a broad range of subject from linguistics to grammar and from ancient languages to "exploring the effects of Web 2.0 on the English language".

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rush Jobs

Corinne McKay has an excellent post on "How to do an acceptable job on a rush job".

I would add a few things:

  1. Set a rush rate with your customers, and demand it for rush jobs. When you set a rush rate, also remember to define what a rush job is for you, for example:
    "Rush/weekend rate: from +30% to +50% of base rate, depending on the project. Rush: projects that require the translation of more than 2,500 words, or the editing of more than 7,500 words, or the proofreading of more than 10,000 words in a day. Weekend: projects that require a substantial part of the work to be done on Saturday, Sunday or other holidays."
  2. The importance of QA is greater on rush jobs - the quality is already going to be lower because of the time constraints, and the chance of making errors increase when we work faster. All the more reason to devote the necessary time to QA.

  3. If you are translating with a CAT program, use a Translation QA tool (XBench is a good one, and is free; you can find a list of other QA tools in this post from Translation Quality Blog). A QA tool helps catching such errors as untranslated and inconsistent segments. The latter are particularly slippery: in the flux of fast translation you may accept a fuzzy match without changing the translation, but you do not notice that a small word completely changes the meaning of the sentence. A QA tools is also very useful to catch inconsistent numbers and measurements, and wrong terminology (if you have a key terms glossary).

  4. Both in your source segments and in your target ones, search for those words which, by themselves, are liable to completely change the meaning of a sentence. It is just too easy to forget (or add) a short word such as "not" and completely change the meaning. After all, "Do not pay attention to him" and "Do pay attention to him" look remarkably similar, when you are in a hurry (especially when you see them as suggested matches in a CAT tool).

On a lighter note: if you can listen to music while translating, put on your earphones (to help your concentration), and some fast music. If you enjoy classical music, the William Tell overture helps establishing a fast typing rhythm. When you are in a tearing hurry, Khachaturian's Saber Dance from the ballet Gayaneh is just the ticket.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to win back discontented Trados users

Today I received a phone call from an SDL representative: he had seen that I had accessed the SDL site (to download an updated copy of WorldServer Desktop Workbench), and tried to sell me some new service or product.

Unfortunately for my caller, I had just loaded a new termbase in MultiTerm, so some of the glaring shortcomings of SDL technologies were fresh in my mind. The phone call, far from a successful sales pitch, soon became a diatribe against some of Trados' long-standing problems.

I then received a follow-up e-mail:
"...[I] am sorry you feel discontent with our products. I would like to win back your commitment to our technology, just let me know in what direction we can possibly do that."

My answer summarized some of the more pressing (and annoying) problems with Trados and MultiTerm:

  1. MS Word interface: fix the formatting problems - it is unacceptable that Trados consistently messes up the formatting of even simple MS Word documents. Other TM products that also use MS Word as an interface (for example, Wordfast) experience far fewer formatting problems with MS Word (or none at all).
    Please note:
    • advising translators to use TagEditor instead is a cop out, and, at best, only a partial solution,
    • saying that the MS Word document should be formatted some other way, that styles should be applied in some other more controlled manner, or similar advice is useless for translators: we translate the document we get, not the document we wish we would get.

  2. Concordance search: a translator should be able to search not only on the source language, but also on the target.
  3. TagEditor: recommending the use of TagEditor for the translation of MS Word documents would be more acceptable if TagEditor were a richer text editor. For starters, it should offer more powerful search functions (at least the equivalent of MS Word wildcard searches; better still, full regular expressions).
  4. MultiTerm: a more user-friendly and less counterintuitive interface and process would help.
  5. Artificial limitations to the freelance edition of Trados. Two translators who acquire two different freelance licenses should be able to run them on the same home network, without the need to purchase a more expensive version of the program.
What are the things that bug you most as regard Trados, MultiTerm and the other SDL products? What would you add to my list (or remove from it)?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Maxthon: a browser for translators?

Most Internet users probably only use one browser: Internet Explorer or Firefox on Windows or Safari and the Mac.

There are other browsers, however: Opera has been around for years and has a faithful following, and although Netscape bit the dust earlier this year, Safari is now available for Windows, too.

A less-known browser that might interest translators is Maxthon. It is offered in two Windows version (1.6, which is more stable, and 2.1, which is niftier), and has a functionality I have not found in any other browser: the possibility to display two different pages side by side.

I am often asked to test localized web pages. Using other browsers I have to switch from one tab to another (or in older browsers such as IE 6, from one instance of the browser to another).

With Maxthon, however, I can display two pages side by side in the same application Window (see for example, this screenshot of Beppe Grillo's blog in English and Italian).

Other uses could be displaying side by side two different online dictionaries or reference sites.

Maxthon is free to download and use (although paying customers get preferential technical assistance), and so far I've found it fast and reliable.


Several commenters have pointed out that there are ways to split the screen in Firefox and other browsers as well. So far I've not been able to find a way to do it in Opera, but in Firefox it is as simple as adding the SplitBrowser add-on (thanks to Torsten).

Another browser that offers split screen capability is Avant, which also claims to be "the fastest browser on Earth". I have not, however, tested it, as yet.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Blog comment spam

I've just deleted a bunch of spam comments from some anonymous user who wanted to use this site to scatter links to whatever services they provided. This is something which happens from time to time.

A hint to other would-be spammers: if you have something interesting, and would like me to link to it, the way to do it is NOT to put the same comment to a number of my posts. I leave the comments open, but I monitor them, and reserve the right to delete any comment if I think it is spam, (or for other reasons, such as offensive language).

If you have something interesting, and would like me to link to it, I may do it if you send me a message to aboutranslation {at}

Monday, June 30, 2008

"We need urgently a translator" - or, how not to entice one

Yesterday I received this message:
Dear miss, dear mister,

We need urgently a translator who translates technical documents from english to italian for our firm [name deleted].

Therefor we need a test for his person in order to know his translation qualities . The english texte to translate as a free test is enclosed to the email.

So, you need a translator urgently.


But in order to entice someone during the weekend, a well written message, addressed to your candidates by name (if you need to send to multiple persons because of the urgency, there is always mail merge), with a polite inquiry about availability, rates (and an offer to pay a rush surcharge) would have greater chances of success than a message from an aol e-mail address, with almost no information about the customer, obviously sent to all and sundry, full of errors and, to top it all, demanding a free test.

Friday, May 23, 2008

14-Hour Days

I know I've not written anything in quite a while, but since late April I've been working some very long days: a quick look at the e-mail, one hour drive to Boulder, eight straight hours of software testing every day, then the drive back to Denver. (At least I get to listen to some good book on tape - right now an interesting biography of Julius Cesar).

In the evening, again the e-mail (trying not to leave important things behind).

After that a bit of editing for my partners or some short translation projects from good customers, and a bit of work for the on-line translation course I'm teaching for Denver University.

This first testing project should end next week (although more is probably coming soon). I'll try to write some post about localization testing, probably next week, or the week after that.

Friday, May 02, 2008

An unfortunate choice of words

I open my mailbox this morning and I'm greeted by a message from SDL TRADOS: "Upgrade Amnesty for SDL Passolo 3 and 4".

The message then goes on to say that users of Passolo version 3 and version 4 may still purchase licenses to the current version of the software for the reduced upgrade price.

I would normally call this an upgrade offer extension, and if that had been its title, there would be little to say.

By choosing to call it an "Upgrade Amnesty", though, SDL TRADOS seems to indicate that it considers those of its users who do not upgrade on the SDL schedule as offenders. After all, the meaning of "Amnesty" is clear, according to my Random House Webster dictionary:

1. a general pardon for offenses, [...] often granted before any trial or conviction.
2. Law. an act of forgiveness for past offenses, [...].
3. a forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Agency rating lists: update

In my February post about agency rating lists, I said that to access the TranslatorCafé "Hall of Fame and Shame" it was to necessary to pay TranslatorsCafé's $120 membership.

I have now been informed that any payment to TranslatorsCafé is sufficient to access the Hall of Fame and Shame. From the message I received:

[...] any payment (starting from $10 for credentials verification) [is] enough to get full and unrestricted access to the Hall of Fame and Shame without any time limitation. Active members also have full access irrespective of their membership status. For those who cannot pay, there is always a possibility to ask any moderator to provide with free access.

I will also update the original post with this new information.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ask to see it first

Corinne McKay, in her excellent blog Thoughts on Translation, recently had an informative post on whether translators should be paid by the word or by the hour.

After a paragraph detailing the advantages of pricing by the word, she starts to mention the disadvantages:

Pricing by the word has an obvious disadvantage from the translator’s side, which is that you are agreeing to work for a flat and fixed rate. So, when you get to those three pages of barely legible handwriting, or the document that’s been scanned, faxed and photocopied eight times before arriving in your inbox, you have to decide whether you need to negotiate a higher per-word rate.

All true, but that's why one should always ask to see the project first, and only then quote on it. In the case of handwritten documents, and the like, also, quoting by the source word makes little sense: much better to provide a quote by the target word (unless one wants to spend time counting words on paper).

My standard answer for requests such as those mentioned above is normally:

Our estimate for the work is X dollars, based on the information you provided and our standard rate of X cents / word. We calculate the word count on the source language, except for documents not available in editable electronic format, for which the word count is calculated on the target text. For handwritten and other hard-to-read documents, there is a minimum fee of X dollars / document. Please note that this is an estimate only. We can provide a binding quote, and confirm our availability for the job, only after seeing the actual documents to translate.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Microsoft's Language Excellence: new life for the MS Glossaries

Microsoft Language Excellence's team (formerly MILS) launched today the Language Portal, a new terminology Web site.

The new site makes available more of Microsoft's linguistic resources than ever before.

Using the Language Portal interface, one can search Microsoft terminology and UI strings from most released products: Language Excellence has thus made available the MS Glossaries, once hidden under MSDN.

The portal offers a page for sending terminology feedback back to Microsoft, a link for downloading Microsoft's Style Guides, a "Language Portal Blog", articles, links to events and to other linguistic resources.

In the search interface one can look up a word or string and search its translation in any of the dozens of languages in which Microsoft products are translated (of course, the coverage for some of the languages will be more extensive than for others).
The search may be run on all the products available, or restricted to a specific piece of software.

The results page is divided between a Terminology pane, which provides Source, Target, Definition and Product, and a "Software strings" pane, with Source, Target and Product.

Searching through this interface will probably not be as quick as searching on the Microsoft's glossaries stored locally on your computer hard disk; on the other hand, the results obtained should be more up to date, and searching for translations in several different languages will no longer require downloading several gigabytes of zipped files on the off-chance that they may come handy one day.

grepWin: a great help for complex search and replace operations

grepWin is a simple, yet powerful, freeware tool for difficult search and replace operations on text files (for example, xml or html files).

For complex search and replace operations, nothing really beats RegEx (regular expressions) searches, but regular expressions may be very difficult to create.

grepWin includes a "Test regex" utility: by using the utility on a sample of the text, you can debug the search and replace strings until the desired result is obtained, and only then execute your search on the file(s) you are working on.

For added security, the tool offers the option to create a backup copy of the work files.

The tool is still very bare-bones; for example, there is no help system (you need to know regular expression syntax to use it effectively), but I find that its search capabilities are more powerful than those in other popular search tools such as Funduc's Search and Replace, or the search and replace functionality included in most text editors.

If you need an introduction to regular expressions, an excellent little book is "Teach Yourself Regular Expressions in 10 minutes", by Ben Forta (Sams Publishing).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Answer to SDL

My previous post received a detailed comment from SDL, "so you can retain a balanced view".

Here are my further comments, in rebuttal of SDL's comment:

  • It is not practical for SDL to maintain products doing back more than 3 years.

    Possibly so, but this has nothing to do with the subject of my post, which did not ask for ongoing support for users of 6.5, but for retaining the ability to upgrade older products at a discount. There are plenty of companies with more generous upgrade policies.

    For example the current requirements for an upgrade price to MS Office 2007 Professional are:

    Your PC needs to already have one of the following software products installed in order to use this upgrade.
    Microsoft Works 6.0-10
    Microsoft Works suite 2000-2006 or later
    Any 2000-2007 Microsoft Office program or suite
    Any Microsoft Office XP suite except Office XP Student and Teacher.

  • The software is not buggy

    Many of the same bugs persist, from year to year. I've documented examples of Trados erratic behaviour in some previous posts (for instance this one, or this).

    For an egregious bug try this: have the text to translate in one big MS Word table, in which several columns are formatted as tw4winExternal to protect their contents, and only one is translatable text, with each segment on a separate row in the table (this is a common format in which interface strings are often sent out for translation).

    Open the first segment, translate it. Click "Set/CLose Next Open/Get", or "Translate to Fuzzy". The program skips several rows, and opens a segment much further down.

    This bug has been known from at least version 6.5 (it was not present in 5.5, as far as I know), but has not been corrected. The only solution is to manually open each segment.

    Technical support response has been "use Tag Editor" - which begs two questions: 1) the customer asks for a bilingual MSWord file, not a ttx file, and 2) TagEditor works, but has its own series of problems (for starter, the lack of any advanced search capabilities: using MS Word I can use at least a pared-down version of regular expressions, Tag Editor does not have even that)

  • To get a PSMA and hence have ongoing free upgrades it is a minimal fee

    The fee is not minimal, especially for people not wishing to upgrade as often as SDL would wish.

  • SDL provide support through a knowledge base and also free support for installation of the product even for non supported people
    This has nothing to do with the issue I raise in the post. I note, though, that boasting that "SDL provide free support for installation of the product even for non supported people" is disingenuous: what would you have otherwise "Sorry that Trados doesn't install on your machine. For an additional few hundred bucks, however, we can help you"?


I've added the current requirements for update pricing of MS Office.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Trados 6.5 and SDLX 2004 (or older) no longer eligible for upgrade after April 1st, 2008

With a remarkably misleading title ("Our upgrading guidelines are changing"), SDL announces that, from April 1st, 2008, Trados v6.5 (or older) and SDLX 2004 (or older) will no longer be eligible for upgrade price, and that people wishing to upgrade their old software after that date will have to buy a new (i.e., full price) license.

The first page of the announcement only indicates that

our upgrade guidelines will be changing from Tuesday 1st April, 2008

Only if you click on "Visit our Frequently Asked Questions section", you'll find that

If you are on versions Trados v6.5 or previous or SDLX 2004 and previous, we recommend you upgrade to SDL Trados 2007 now in order to retain discounted upgrade pricing for the software. From the 1st of April 2008 onwards, there will no longer be upgrade eligibility from these versions.

Stopping eligibility entirely is, indeed, a change, but the way it is presented is misleading and borders on the outright dishonest.

So, many translators who were working happily with Trados 6.5, and had no intention to upgrade right now (but thought they might upgrade later, when they purchased a new computer with Windows Vista and Word 2007), will either have to upgrade immediately, or be compelled to pay full price later.

Of course, they might also decide to stay with the current version, and look for a competitive upgrade to some other tool later.

Way to go, SDL: instead of improving your buggy software to build up customer loyalty, compel the customer to upgrade RIGHT NOW, or lose that benefit forever.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Word chains

You know the kind: a "fee" becomes a "processing fee" - clear enough, that's a fee for processing something, and very different from "fee processing", which is something you do to fees.

But then words start to accrue, like barnacles on a fouled hull. "Fee", "processing fee", "double processing fee", and so on. And on.

For the translator, the problem compounds: is a "double processing fee" a "double fee" for "processing", or a "fee" for "double processing"?. Depending of what we are talking about, either reading could be correct, but usually not both at the same time. The translator, in most languages, needs to make a choice.

Asking the customer helps less than one would think: the technical writer or programmer who was the author of such a gem as "special ad-hoc double processing fee handling program safety time log" may no longer be around. Even if he is, he has no idea what it means, or which word modifies which other.

When I worked for a software company we had a competition in the translation department for spotting the longest such word chain. The eventual winner was a whopping thirteen words long, without article or preposition.

English is such a concise language you can often omit articles, prepositions and other functional words, but by doing so "maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding".


(No: "special ad-hoc [etc.]" is not a string from some actual translation. I made it up for this post - but I have seen even worse)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The best tool for translation

This week, in the online course on translation I'm teaching for the University College of Denver University, I had this questions for my students:

What tools do we have available (software or not, narrowly aimed at producing translations, or with a broader usefulness)?

There are many way this can be answered. If I change my question to "What is the best tool for translators"?, I would answer that many of us who started translating when computers were not widespread would say the computer itself, and word processing software, are our most useful tools.

But what has changed life for translators even more has been the Internet. Formerly, one was limited to the dictionaries one had bought, hard copies of glossaries of variable quality, or some reference books. Perhaps an encyclopedia or two. If one lived in a big city with a good public library, there was more: still, even with a university library available, searches would be painstaking.

Now we have unlimited information on our screen: instant access to hundreds or thousands of source and target documents similar to those we are translating.

Now that there is so much information, what makes the difference is the ability to make good use of it and to separate the reliable and useful from the unreliable and useless.

Localizable resources

Dr.Dobbs has a fairly interesting article on the use of page resources for the localization of web sites.

Page resources are literals stored in an application-specific assembly and bound to a culture identifier.

Fairly technical, but of interest for those of us who translate, localize or build multilingual web sites.

Friday, February 29, 2008


Something that annoys me is wordiness: I don't mind long texts, if there is little redundancy, but words that are there just to take up space, are another matter.

There is a dear friend that always translates "including [something]" as "ad inclusione di [qualcosa]". When I edit her, I can usually pare that down to "incluso" - one word instead of three, 7 characters instead of 16 (I know, I'm nitpicking).

Worse when the redundant words create an interference. From a letter I translated today: "Ali was originally born in Cairo". Unbidden, thoughts came to mind: is there a way one can be born otherwise? "Ali was originally born in Cairo, then he thought better of it, and was finally born in Alexandria, instead", perhaps?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When are two names 67% the same?

Would you prefer:
  • To have "afxc04z5.htm" suggested as a translation when the html file in the string you are translating is actually "afxc04z5_10.htm"?
  • Would you rather copy manually the file name from the source segment to the target one, avoiding the risk of accepting a wrong file name while typing rapidly?
I would always opt for the second option - it's just too easy accepting a fuzzy match "as is", when you are typing fast, and this type of error is serious (it would break a web site), and remarkably difficult to spot (file names looks similar, and re-reading the translation there is no logical clue to indicate that something is amiss).

The brillant programming team that gave us useless fuzzy matches like this or this one, once again chooses the wrong answer:

When is DWI the same as murder?

Not when someone is run over by a drunk driver, but maybe when that driver, after his arrests, signs a mistranslated waiver.

[...] The form, waiving his right to a lawyer, states that Segundo was charged with “a murder,” and his penalty was “1 anus in jail and a $ 1, 000 fine.”

(from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

Signora Presidente and Ms Chairperson: different paths to gender-neutral language

Yesterday a translation of mine returned, marred by some questionable edits: turns out the editor was not even a native speaker of Italian. But that, as they say, is another story.

What is interesting is that one of the "corrections" she marked in my translation was this sentence (suitably changed here to protect my customer): "La Signora Jane Doe, Direttore del Centro..." [Ms. Jane Doe, Director of the Center ..."].

My editor changed that to "La Signora Jane Doe, Direttrice del Centro...". My old elementary teacher would have agreed with the editor and marked my translation with a blue pencil. That would have been right, back then: "La ... Direttore", feminine article plus male noun - a blatant error of concordance.

But usage changes with time. Now the old feminine names for titles and professions are disappearing from Italian: no longer "Direttrice", but "Direttore"; no longer "Avvocatessa", but "Avvocato", and so on, ever more often.

A similar trend in English has replaced "Chairman" with "Chairperson", and brought many other new gender-neutral nouns in English.

Yet, if the underlying reasons for these trends are the same, the two languages have taken strangely divergent roads to similar ends. In English, where gender is almost absent, this change towards neutrality has stripped the gender from most of the few words that retained it. In Italian, where every noun has a masculine and a feminine form, the trend among women has been to adopt the masculine labels for their professional titles.

In English, women resented words such as "Chairman", because the masculine ending implied that only men were suited for such a position. On a strikingly different path to the same goal, Italian women rejected the feminine versions of their titles, finding them demeaning, as if a "Presidentessa" was a second class Chairman, and an "Avvocatessa" a lawyer only by sufferance.

As indeed my elementary teacher would have agreed, when teaching to our class that a "Deputatessa" was the wife of a Representative, while a "Sindachessa" only the wife of the Mayor.

A final twist to this meandering story. The elementary teacher I was referring to was a man, as were all the other elementary teachers to the all-male school forms in our public school. I doubt that in Italy, nowadays, one would find many male elementary teachers left.


He looked old to me, then, Maestro Buffon, certainly older than my parents; old enough that it was my grandmother who had been his elementary teacher.

And yet, he was probably younger than I am now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

English-Italian dictionaries: CD-ROMs and online

I believe that most, if not all, major EN>IT IT>EN dictionaries are now available on CD-ROM or at least with CD-ROM available (in addition to the paper dictionary).

I don't have a link for the Ragazzini (Zanichelli), but the Picchi (Hoepli), Rizzoli-Larousse "Sansoni" (which, sadly, does not contain the full text of the great Sansoni-Macchi), and Hazon-Garzanti are now available online.

Of the above, I think the best and most complete general English-Italian dictionary nowadays is Picchi's, closely followed by Rizzoli-Sansoni.

You can try them for yourself, using the following links:

Using these dictionaries "for free" online is tempting, and occasionally useful. Remember, however, that the CD-ROM versions have some important advantages: faster searches, availability even when you are not online, and additional functionality, (much richer search capability, from full-text searches to the use of boolean operators).


I've added to the body of this post another two online dictionaries, Oxford-Paravia Concise and Collins, which have been suggested by colleagues.

I will probably write a comparison review of these online dictionaries in a future post.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The translation of Aesop's Fables

Aesop's fables have been so frequently published that it is widely assumed that in Europe only the Bible has more editions.

The Chronicle Review has a very interesting article (No Children's Tale: Aesop's translators have had varied agendas) on the varied history of the translation of Aesop's Fables, and of how they have changed with the times and with the different intentions of the various translators.

Today we assume that translators always work from the original text. It was not always so, hence (for example) the translations of Russian authors into Italian that were actually translations of the French translations. Even so, it is startling to read that

Caxton's translation is an English translation of a French translation of a Latin translation prepared by a German in 1476.

That German, at last, presumably translated from the Greek.

A very interesting article, well worth reading.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Agency rating lists

How do you know if the new prospect that has just contacted you is going to become one of your best customers, or a headache that will pay (IF they pay) only late and after sundry reminders and threats?

In pre-Internet times, there was no quick answer: a translator could check with some trusted colleagues if they had heard of that particular agency, but that was about it.

Later, translators started to exchange such information online, in an unsystematic way in bulletin boards and newsgroup.

For some years, now, there has been something better: sites or list specifically devoted to collect information about translation agencies from translators, and make such ratings available (usually for a small fee) to other translators.

There are three such services that I use regularly when checking new prospects (or even old customers that come back after a long absence): the ProZ Blue Board, TCR, and PP. There are other similar services, although, for some of them, it is difficult to assess their reliability (I'm thinking, for example of the Translation Directory "black list", since it is difficult to know what selection criteria have been used to add translation companies to this "black list"). There are also smaller free Lists and others that specialize in a specific country or language.

To use most of these services there is a fee to pay, but it is well worth it. For the Blue Board (if you want to use it fully), the fee is the ProZ paid membership; same for the Translators Café area devoted to agency reviews (the "Hall of Fame and Shame). For the other two services, I use Payment Practices (PP) and the Translation Customer Review (TCR) list, the fee is respectively 20 and 12 dollars.

A few pieces of advice. Pay attention to trends, if possible: two companies with an average rating may be different if the rating of one is improving and the other worsening, and a positive or negative rating may not be worth much if too old. (In many of these lists, however, it is possible to ask for more up to date information). Also, if the information is available, check how many people have rated the translation company: a rating that averages twenty responses is more informative than a single one.

If the rating list shows who has given bad ratings to a company, try to verify the reputation of those translators: a bad rating given by a translator known to be unreliable may mean something different from the same rating given by someone who has a stellar reputation.

Follow the rules set by the service, and don't abuse them. In particular, I believe that to threaten your prospect with something like "if you don't pay I'm going to give you a bad rating on XYZ board" is forbidden by these services' rules. In many jurisdictions this would be illegal (blackmail). Even if it worked, you would pay a disservice to your colleagues (a bad payer that pays only because threatened remains a bad prospect, and should be rated as such, to protect other translators).

Try to see why a prospect has a bad reputation: you can probably live with someone who consistently pays late, if they are also known to pay always, eventually, and remember that normally it is better to get a customer that pays on time at, 45 days, than one who sometimes pays at 20, and sometimes at 90: you need to be able to plan your own payments.

Bear in mind that you are usually hearing only one side of the story (and as a translator, you are perhaps naturally inclined to side with your colleagues)

Beware that you can also err by excessive caution: we acquired one of our best customers a few years ago: they had found my name on the ATA site, and called to see if I was available for a big project. I checked them out: they were the successors of a company with a truly bad reputation... however, I had a good impression of the project manager who called me. I called her back with my doubts, mentioning the past reputation of the company. She explained that the company had recently been taken over by new owners, who were trying to overcome the bad impressions and practices left by their predecessors. I trusted her, and my hunch. We never regretted it.

  1. PP - Payment Practices
    Fee: $ 19.99 year
    - structured information about the translation companies
    - structured feedback from translators visible
    - information may be updated over time
    - no feedback from agencies

  2. TCR - Translator Client Review List
    Fee: $ 12 year
    - less structured information
    - feedback from translators visible
    - information may be updated over time
    - no feedback from agencies

  3. ProZ Blue Board
    Fee: free for limited access; otherwise included in ProZ paid membership - $ 70 / year for limited membership, $ 129 / year for full membership
    - limited access without paid membership to ProZ
    - structured information about translation companies
    - feedback from translators visible
    - feedback from agencies

  4. Translators Café Hall of Fame and Shame
    Fee: free for very limited access; otherwise included in Translators Café paid membership - $ 120 / year; unrestricted access is also available with any payment to TranslatorsCafé, starting with the $10 fee for credentials verification. Unrestricted access also available for free to active members, and upon special request to moderators, to those unable to pay.
    - (usually) limited access without paid membership (or other lower payments) to Translators Café

  5. WPPF WorldPaymentPracticesFree
    Fee: free
    - Simple yahoo group
    - Fewer members than other lists
    - Feedback from translators visible

  6. Translation Agency Payment
    Fee: free
    - Simple Yahoo group

  7. "black list"
    Fee: free
    - sent as an e-mail for free upon joining the Translation Directory mailing list
    - Feedback from translators not visible
    - No visible means of updating the list, apart from agencies been added to the list from time to time
    - No feedback from agencies

Please note that there may be other lists available, and that I have a less personal experience with the rating lists after the first free: for example, I could not explore the Translators Café list better, as my lack of a paid membership did not permit me to access it fully.


I have updated this post with new information about the fee necessary to access the TranslatorsCafé "Hall of Fame and Shame"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An English novelist's take on the translation of his books

David Baddiel struggles with fiction in translation in the Times Online.

Now, say what you like about the irrelevance of authorial intention but the truth remains that I never meant the phrase “careers officer” to be heard in the reader's head a bit sarkily.

An interesting, though lightweight, article about how David Baddiel discovers that his authorial intentions have not been faithfully carried out by his German translator... and about Baddiel's thoughts on the trustworthiness of the translation of fiction.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blog maintenance

Now that I have decided to post more often, I begun some long overdue blog maintenance.

Yesterday night I pruned the blog roll: there were several dead links, or links to blogs that have been idle for a while. Now all the links are to blogs that have been updated at least in recent months. I might change it further in the future, by adding and removing links.

Any suggestions for links to translation-related blogs are welcome. Bear in mind that I will link only to blogs that I can actually read (that means I will only link to blogs written in English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and maybe Catalan).

Harder to do, and more time consuming is improving the template for the blog. I started with the easy part (adding a picture as a background for the title: that is a stretch of I25 in New Mexico, driving North towards Denver), but I plan to change several other settings, to improve layout and readability. Again, any suggestions are welcome.

Finally, I have removed the security feature from the comments - unless I start to get too much comment spam, I'll leave it off to make commenting easier.

Something about this blog

I started this blog a couple of years ago. I wanted to write about translation, give to the world my unbidden opinions. Mostly, I suppose, it was a case of "me too" other people had blogs, it looked cool (in a nerdy sort of way), and it didn't look like too many translators had one.

At first I mostly posted short comments about news on translation, then I stared to add, at least occasionally, longer articles.

I didn't know who my readers would be at the beginning, but I thought I would mostly write for other translators: share my experience with them, sometime some cool tool I found, sometime venting about problems with a CAT tool, sometime about the translation courses I taught. I find that the readers here, at least those who leave comments, are indeed other translators. My most popular posts seem those devoted to advice for beginning translators, translation education, or translation tools (whenever I vent about some Trados misfeature, my site counter goes up for the day).

The posts I worked the most on were devoted to wildcard searches in MS Word. I often refer to those posts myself to refresh my memory whenever I need to try some new complicated MS search.

In 2005 and 2006 I posted more than once a week on average. Last year it was a difficult year: stretches of much pressure at work interspersed with periods of worry when not enough work arrived. I didn't write much, nothing at all for long stretches of time.

For this year I am resolved to post more often, at least whenever some idea for an interesting post arrives, and not let ideas wither away for lack of attention. They say that if you don't write down resolutions, you'll never do anything to make them happen. So here I am: sharing my resolve to write more on this blog and perhaps elsewhere.

Knowing that someone is interested in what I write makes it worthwhile: thank you for visiting here!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Voting on Trados features

In my previous post I complained about Trados fuzzy matching algorithms.

Among the comments I received there is one from an SDL marketing representative, who sais to enter suggestions and ideas in a portal they created to gather the votes of other users. The address of this portal is

If true, that is, if SDL is actually going to act on their user's opinions, this would be a step in the right direction: too many of the features added in recent years were not aimed at helping translators but rather only translation users or companies.

It is time that SDL remembered that Trados was supposed to be a tool for translators.

Shouldn't Trados programmers improve their matching algorithms?

I sometime wonder what the programmers at SDL/Trados think that "similar" means, but I'm sure that what they think must be different from what most translators think.

Take for example the strings
  1. "- LEAD DESIGN -",
  2. "- LEAD PROGRAMMER -", and
  3. "Lead Design".

Most translators, when asked to translate "- LEAD DESIGN -", would find the translation of "Lead Design" more useful than knowing the translation of "- LEAD PROGRAMMER -".

Seemingly, Trados programmers disagree: as you can see from this screenshot,
Trados considers "- LEAD PROGRAMMER -" a 75% fuzzy match for "- LEAD DESIGN -", while "Lead Design" only gets a 67% score.

How the program arrives at this result is clear: both strings 1 and 2 follow similar patterns (all caps, leading a trailing dashes), while 3 doesn't.

But writing a more intelligent algorithm shouldn't be all that difficult: a better algorithm would give more weight to the actual words, and not to such irrelevant characteristics as case or dashes.

Trados programmers should, in short, try to think of what is useful to translators, and implement that in new algorithms, rather than rely on old ones that have probably not changed in over ten years.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Myths and legends about translation tests

  • Be wary of translation tests: agencies may use them to piece together a translation for free.

    This, as far as I can find out, is one of the favorite urban legends of translation. In 24+ years of professional experience I've never seen any evidence that something like this ever happened. Even if it did, the agency in question would soon disappear: the quality of the resulting translation would be so bad and uneven that any customer would soon flee.

  • I don't want to do a free test: I'll send them some sample of previous work of mine, and they can evaluate that.

    You can try, but usually whomever sends out the test does it for a purpose: comparing candidate translators to one another - something that you cannot do with translation samples of different originals. Also, bear in mind that a well designed translation test does not only test the quality of the translation: it checks how well the candidates followed the instructions received.

  • I don't want to do a free test, they should pay for it!

    Go for it, if you can get it. The most likely outcome is that you'll just exclude yourself from the selection process.

    I used to work as a manager in the translation department of a large software company. To evaluate candidates for staff positions (well paid staff positions), we used tests to compare the quality of the translations done by the candidates, and how well such candidates would follow the instructions received.

    The first tests were unpaid. Those who refused to do them were just removing themselves from the selection. The company was not being stingy (we invited the candidates who passed the first screening to the company's HQ, all at the company's expense), we just were not interested in people that would not invest a couple of hours of their time to show they were interested in working for us.

Having said that, I recommend against doing free tests longer than reasonable (say, 250 to 500 words maximum). Probably an experienced translator could do away with tests, or maybe limit them to only very good prospects.

But, as I was saying, just refusing to do tests is a quick way to remove oneself from the selection process.

Monday, January 21, 2008

European Commission Translation Memories Available for Download

The European Directorate General for Translation (DGT) has made publicly accessible its multilingual Translation Memory for the Acquis Communautaire.

The Acquis communautaire is a collection of texts and their translation in 22 languages. It comprises the entire European legislation, including all the treaties, regulations and directives adopted by the European Union (EU) and the rulings of the European Court of Justice.

The memories can be downloaded from The DGT Multilingual Translation Memory
of the Acquis Communautaire: DGT-TM
, which also contains an explanation of what the materials available are and how they can be used.

I found the announcement on the Global Watchtower, the bulletin of Common Sense Advisory. The original announcement also includes valuable insight about how translation companies (and I think also translation professionals), will be able to take advantage of this multilingual corpus.