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.