Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Issue # 0 of FreelanceMag has just been released

Issue # 0 of FreelanceMag, “the first magazine dedicated to translation and to the freelance translators community” has just been released. FreelanceMag will be published both on paper and online.

I was contacted a couple of weeks ago, and asked to contribute an article. I didn’t have time to writing something new, so I contributed a post I had published here some time ago: “A marketing kit for translators”, which has now been titled “Marketing Tips for Freelancers” in the new magazine.

You can get Issue # 0 for free from the FreelanceMag Website.

You can freely distribute this first pdf issue of the magazine:

Please do not hesitate to distribute the PDF issue to all your contacts to help us getting known in the industry.
Please also note that we offer free advertising in our magazine to people/companies who subscribe to the one-year paper version of FreelanceMag.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The quality of SDL (paid) technical support

Last year, for the first time, we decided to pay for SDL technical support.

We did this mainly because the maintenance agreement includes the upgrade to the next major version - we calculated that by upgrading all our licenses to the current version by the April 15 deadline for the discount pricing, and by paying at the same time for the one-year maintenance agreement, we would get Trados 2009 at a convenient price.

So far the quality of paid support has been generally good: accurate and quick response in helping with the installation and licensing of the various components, good suggestions (in general) about how to overcome certain problems (e.g., the suggestion about how to use Trados 2007 with Office 2010), some less than good suggestions (suggesting that in order to speed up downloads one should disable firewall and antivirus is not what I would call a good idea), and one thing we really appreciate: almost all our support tickets are apparently handled by the same person, so we don't have to explain everything again every time we open a ticket (tellingly, it was not our favorite support person who suggested we disable antivirus and firewall to speed up the download).

Things that I find should be improved: the web interface for entering support tickets is overcrowded and clunky. The quality of the articles in the knowledge base seems to be hit or miss: there are many helpful articles, but my impression is that a non-technical user would be at a loss.

Overall, I would give SDL tech support a B+ grade (higher than the grade I would give to SDL's software, as a matter of fact)

SDL: please get some bandwidth!

I've recently had to download several large files from SDL (we finally got round to install Studio 2009, now that some customers are asking that we use it).
I found the download from the SDL site extremely slow.  I checked, but the problem was not on our side: downloading even large files (e.g., the complete Open Office installation package) completed in just a few minutes from other sites. Nor was it a transient issue: when I saw how painfully slow the download was, I aborted it, to try again the next day... and the next one. No changes, even after opening a support ticket to complain about it (the very dubious suggestion from SDL was to disable my firewall and antivirus software. As I have no desire to also download malware I decided not to follow their suggestion).
In the end I bit the bullet and downloaded all files: it took some seven hours in all, but the download eventually completed.
Now I'm again downloading something from the SDL site: a mere 18 MB for the UE auto-suggest English Italian files. A download that should take just a few seconds took more than five minutes to complete.
SDL is clearly not paying enough for bandwidth.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Actually, no, I won't excuse the mass e-mail

A certain biggish translation company always sends me urgent requests for my availability. Unfortunately, they are always sending the same message at the same time to other translators as well...
Hi sorry please excuse the mass e-mail :). We have an urgent draft translation request. Pls see details below and sample file attached and let me know if you can take this job.
Dear project manager,

I understand, of course, why you have to resort to mass e-mail (translation spam, in other words): you have to find a translator desperate (or inexperienced or gullible) enough to work for the pitiful budget you claim you have (but I do wonder if that is true), or the low rates you offer, and rash enough to accept your kind of deadlines. I imagine that you don't actually expect to receive high-quality translations with this approach.

And that is the main reason I won't excuse the mass e-mail: constantly sending urgent requests for translation to all and sundry, as you do, clearly signals that your company sees translators as interchangeable cogs in your machine, that you think any translator is as good (or as bad) as any other, that such things as education, experience and specialization really don't matter, that the only thing that matters in your model is to find someone (anyone) available for cheap at a moment's notice, and too bad about the quality.

I have to wonder if your customers are fully aware of what you do with their translations. Do they know that they may get their translations quickly, perhaps, but that what they are getting is likely of poor quality? Are they aware that to find a cheap translator with your mass e-mails you are often sending your customer's files to many translators who won't translate the document, in addition to the one who will get the assignment? Is this really in your customers' best interests?

If you need me for a project for which you think I am the most appropriate translator, I'll be happy to send you my quote for the job; otherwise, please refrain from contacting me: I am tired of having my inbox clogged with your (and your fellow project managers) translation spam.

Best regards,


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to run Trados 2007 with Word 2010

Supposedly, Trados 2007 (the last "classic" version of Trados) does not work with Word 2010: since Office 2010 was released after Trados 2007, Trados does not detect the new version of Office.

SDL, however, provides a workaround. I have tested the fix with Word 2010 on a Windows 7 64-bit Ultimate machine, and it does work, as you can see from this screenshot.

The workaround is neither guaranteed nor supported (as the SDL article makes clear). But since it seems to work, it might extend Trados "classic" usefulness on newer machines.

For detailed instructions, see the following instructions (suggested by SDL's original article: "SDL Trados 2007 Suite toolbar compatibility with Microsoft Office 2010", article # 3359):

To use Trados 2007 toolbar with Microsoft Office 2010, hook up Word 2010 with SDL Trados Translator's Workbench 2007, as follows:

  1. Make sure that Trados, MultiTerm and Microsoft Office (Word, Outlook, etc.).
    are not running
  2. Find the file Trados8.dotm in the folder C:\Program Files\SDL International\T2007\TT\Templates.
  3. Copy Trados8.dotm into the following folder:
    • Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\[USERNAME]\Application Data\Microsoft\Word\Startup\
    • Windows Vista or Windows 7: C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Word\Startup\
    • If the folder already contains a Trados8.dotm file, overwrite it
  4. Find the file MultiTerm8.dotm in the folder C:\Program Files\SDL\SDL Multiterm\Multiterm8\Templates\.
  5. Copy MultiTerm8.dotm into the following folder:
    • Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\[USERNAME]\Application Data\Microsoft\Word\Startup\
    • Windows Vista or Windows 7: C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Word\Startup\
    • If the folder already contains a MultiTerm8.dotm file, overwrite it. 
Start Microsoft Word 2010. You should now see, and be able to use, Trados's Workbench or MultiTerm from Microsoft Word 2010.


I've updated this post, adding the above detailed instructions, since the link to SDL's article was not working properly.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Useful suggestions for translation bloggers

Fabio Said, of Fidus Interpres, has written a thoughtful and useful comment to my post about the updated Blogging 101 presentation.

While I'm not sure I agree completely with  his suggestion about the RSS feed (I have set the feed of About Translation to full text, but personally I don't mind those blogs that only show the first lines of the post in their feeds: three or four lines are usually enough to decide whether a post is interesting or not), I plan to incorporate his suggestions in future versions of my presentation.

Thanks, Fabio!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lionbridge's path to profit

A previous post about Lionbridge's Translation Workspace has just received the following comment from Arnie, which I quote here in full:
Even though I have not worked for Lionbridge for years, they still keep me updated on their exciting Path to Profit. I just received the next instalment and you couldn't have made it up. Last week I received a message (which, incidentally, clearly stated ‘DO NOT REPLY’) in which we are asked to reduce our rates because the climate makes it ever so awkward for Lionbridge to make ends meet. A few days later we are invited to join their Job Posting Pilot Program, which means that for a monthly fee you increase your chances to get work. Of course this program is only open to people who already pay a monthly fee for the use of their pointless Workspace… So they somehow believe it would be to our advantage to a) work with their tool and in their workspace, and pay for this, plus b) pay to be able to get work, and c) work against a reduced rate of our normal rate. Does this sound good? In the meantime, TAUS seems to have quite a few TMs from Lionbridge available, so I wonder if the information translators feed into this magic Workspace is also somehow put to work to line the Lionbridge pockets? I find the whole thing totally ridiculous and a blatant insult to our intelligence.
We also have received this message, which demanded from all Lionbridge's providers a 5% discount on all invoices for all work between November 1 and January 1. The message was then followed by some slight backpedalling (we could disregard the "DO NOT REPLY" label, which supposedly had been added by mistake), and by further messages from some regional offices (one of which indicated that the 5% discount was not mandatory, but that PMs would be instructed to assign jobs by preference to those providers who had acceded to Lionbridge's demands).

My question to Lionbridge's customers: do you realize that your translation provider is actively pursuing a strategy that seems designed to chase away Lionbridge's best translators?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Updated “Blogging 101” presentation and article ready for download

The updated version of my “Blogging 101” presentation, and the pdf file of the “Blogging 101” article from the November/December ATA Chronicle are ready for download: you can either click on the previous links, or click on the Blogging 101 tab above.

If you downloaded the previous version of the presentation, the text is similar, but I updated the links and some of the text.

Since I could not be there, the presentation was given at the 51st ATA Conference by Corinne McKay (thanks, Corinne!).

Monday, October 25, 2010

A marketing kit for translators

When you contact a new prospect or when you are contacted by one, the last thing you want is to forget some important information about your business. To make sure you don't miss it, it is better to have such information ready in advance.

What follows is a brief list of tools I find useful. You may decide for a different set that works better for you; what's important is to have your own marketing tools ready ahead of time.

The Kit

Desktop Folder

Keep together, in the same folder, with a link on your desktop:

Your résumé

In pdf format; probably in two separate versions: a short one (1 page), and a more complete one (no more than 2 or 3 pages).

  • Source files for résumé

In MS Word (or whatever you used to write the résumé). Whenever you update the editable version of the résumé, you should also create an updated version of the matching pdf, to always keep them in synch.

Rates sheet

A pdf with your standard rates, including definitions of terms, currency conversion, terms of payment and so on.

This should contain your rates and the definitions of the terms you use that could be misinterpreted. For example, I define what is editing and what is proofreading; I spell out under which conditions I charge a rush rate, and point out that words are counted on the source text normally, but on the target text when the work involves non-editable files or hard copy documents.

  • Source version of your rates sheet

Probably as Excel (or other spreadsheet) files. Again, whenever you update your rates, you should create new pdf versions of the rates sheet.

Currency conversion

If you quote in different currencies for customers in different countries, the rates sheet should include your rates in the different currencies - or you should have a separate rates sheet for each currency.

If you provide quotes in different currencies but you base them on your "home" currency, show your exchange rate, and update it as necessary.

A simple quote calculator

You don't need anything fancy, in fact the Google gadget recently offered on Judy and Dagmar Jenner's Blog Translation Times is fine. You need the calculator for providing quick, nonbinding estimates. For drafting your binding quotes you also need a spreadsheet template customized with your rates.

Graphic files

Any graphic files (for example, your logo) that you use in your communications to differentiate your business from your competitors'. If you have a website, include in a subfolder all the graphic files you use. Update as needed.

E-mail and phone

Your value statement

A one-sentence description of what distinguishes you from other translators. For example, ours is "We are a small partnership of experienced Italian and Spanish translators, and we specialize in providing high-quality translation and editing to larger translation companies".

Keep this in a text file and use it as a template for your e-mail and other communications with your prospects and customers.

  • Template cover message

Keep it short and to the point. You may need different versions for different types of customers.

  • A shorter version of your rates, with only a few items.

For example, "Our normal rates are: translation + editing USD 0.15/source word, translation only USD 0.12 / source word, editing USD 0.04 / word, and proofreading USD 38 / hour."

  • Signature block

In Outlook (and any other e-mail program you use, including Gmail and other web-mail services) a signature block that contains your e-mail address, phone number, fax (if you still use it), web site and tag line.

Phone communication
  • Phone cheat sheet

A file with a bullet list of what you should always remember when talking on the phone with a prospect (or when you communicate with a prospect by e-mail or IM, for that matter).

In the cheat sheet, remind yourself to be especially clear when spelling out your e-mail address, giving a phone number or your surname.

For example, when I leave a voice-mail I deliberately slow down at the point in which I give my phone number, and then repeat it: too many people speed up and mumble exactly when they give you their phone number to call them back. Remember, if you make it hard for your prospects to call you back, they may decide it is too much of a bother to do so.

Also, if you have to talk on the phone speaking a language that is not your native one, write yourself a short reminder of any word you know you often mispronounce (for example, on my monitor I have a post-it to remind me that I should pronounce "might" as "mahit" and not as "meit".)

  • Phonetic spelling alphabet

For phone communications, to spell out difficult words I also keep next to my phone a printed copy of the international spelling alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and so on).

Finally, get in the habit of using your marketing kit always: don't reinvent the wheel every time you contact a prospect or are called by a customer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ATA Conference in Denver: insider tips from the Colorado Translators Association

If you are going to Denver for the 51st ATA Conference, check out the suggestions offered by the Colorado Translators Association about things to do in Denver, where to eat, where to go shopping, and so on.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Call

Sometimes, it's about people you never met, but it affects you because you had heard so much about them, and you were looking forward to the chance of meeting them later.

Usually, it's about someone you love, it's the call you always dread when you left home to live abroad.

It's always at night or early in the morning, or at least it always seems so. It's the call that tells you to come home, you mother is worse and won't last much longer. You board the plane hoping to arrive in time; you land, and it was too late. It's the call that tells you your father-in-law has died, and you have to turn and tell your wife, but she already knows.

Three days ago, again, the call woke us in the morning: this time from the rehabilitation center: my father had, suddenly, worsened, and the head nurse had requested an ambulance to take my father to the emergency room.

We arrived as soon as possible, to be told that my father was again struggling for his life. The doctor on duty didn't give us much of a chance, then, but my father survived the night, and the next one. Now he is back in a hospital ward, still conscious, but very weak.

Back to where we were almost three months ago.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Back online

Hiatus. An interruption in the intensity or amount of something; a missing piece (as a gap in a manuscript)

A gap in posting, an interruption in our lives.

When last I wrote here, I didn't say much why I was suspending posting. I was hurrying to Italy to stay close to my father, who had been admitted to the hospital in critical conditions. My father remained in intensive care for over six weeks, followed by another month in intermediate care. He was dismissed from the hospital only yesterday, not to return home, but to go to a rehabilitation center, where he may remain for several months yet, still very weak and by no means out of danger.

We arrived in Genoa in July, with a minimum of summer clothing, never expecting we would stay so long. We are still here, and, although we are planning to return to Denver for a short while, we'll have to come back to Italy for another extended stay, until my father is strong enough to be moved closer to my brother.

Packing in a hurry, we forgot many things, but fortunately we brought a couple of portable computers: an older laptop for me, a newer netbook for Nina. Since my father's house has a decent Internet connection, both of us have been able to translate - although not full-tilt.

Being here is taking an increasing toll on us, both because of the many gloomy reports from the doctors and the few cautiously optimistic ones, and because of our unsettling situation, without a date for our return and a backlog steadily accumulating in Denver.

I had to cancel our planned participation at the ATA Conference; there was a session listed under my name (IC-11, Blogging 101, on Saturday morning), but it will be given by Corinne McKay, who has very kindly accepted to present it in my stead. Corinne, with her engaging style, will certainly do a much better job than I could - I encourage everybody to go and enjoy her lively presentation!

I've kept up working and also teaching my online localization course for Denver University, but something had to give, and it was this blog. I'll now try to resume: I learned a few things about working away from home for months on end, and I'll share them with you. I'll also write about new Italian dictionaries, and about some utilities to help extending the useful life of an underpowered computer.

I plan to tinker with the back-end of this blog: a new and more readable template, branching out to an Italian language blog for posts about Italian translation, and even, if I find a way to load them in Blogger, some Flash tutorials about new tools and techniques.

I hope I won't leave again such a large gap between posts, although I cannot promise it yet: my family emergency might yet prevent me from blogging.

Please stay tuned, and thank you for reading About Translation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

About Translation on hiatus

I'm sorry for not posting anything recently.

It was at first a case of blog fatigue, then, just as I was planning to resume blogging with some new articles, I had to travel to Italy for a family emergency.

I don't know when I'll be able to resume blogging (or working, for that matter) on a regular basis, but at this moment I don't have the heart nor the head for it.

As soon as the situation changes I'll post about it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Since when is Miss Universe a charitable organization?

Every year, dozens of stunningly beautiful women take part in the Miss Universe Pageant, amid glitter and luster, sponsors and luxury.

But beauty (they tell me) is more than just skin-deep: the Miss Universe Organization must be a charitable one (although it is jointly owned by Donald Trump and NBC).

At least, this is the only explanation I can think of for the message I received yesterday from a translation company: I was asked if I were willing to interpret without pay for a full week:

My company is the official provider for interpreters to the Miss Universe Pageant and as such it is my duty to seek interpreters that would be interested in participating in the event. This year the event will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 23rd. The tentative arrival date in Las Vegas is 8/16/10 and departure date from Las Vegas is 8/24/10, directly after the event. This is strictly a voluntary type assignment in the sense that the Pageant does not provide any type of monetary compensation for services. They only provide transportation […] hotel accommodations, […] per diem […] for meals [..] and […] dry cleaning […]. However […] interpreting at the Pageant is a wonderful and enriching experience. […].

I’m sorry, but while I might consider working pro bono for a worthy case (Amnesty international, for example, or the WWF), I’m not interested in working without pay for a beauty pageant.

If the Miss Universe Organization needs professional services, they should be prepared to pay professional rates. No to Peanuts!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lexiophiles’ Top 100 Language Blogs 2010

Lexiophiles has just announced the Top 100 Language Blogs 2010. The list continues to be dominated by blogs about language learning and language teaching, but it also includes several  good translation blogs (About Translation didn’t make the cut, this year). The translation blogs included among the Top 100 are:  

Congratulations to all the blogs selected!

Check them out, if you didn’t know them already: you’ll surely find some new interesting blog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Voting is under way for the Top 100 Language Blogs of 2010

As in 2008 and 2009, Lexiophiles is choosing the Top 100 Language Blogs, divided in four different categories: Language Learning, Language Teaching, Language Technology and Language Professionals.

For each category 100 blogs have been shortlisted, and About Translation is included in the “Language Professionals” category. You can vote for one blog in each category.

50% of the final score will be based on user votes; voting started on May 12th and ends on May 24th. Winners will be announced on May 28th.

If you like this blog, please do vote for About Translation (you can do so by using the button below or the one on the top right of the page, and then select the radio button for About Translation in the Lexiophiles’ Language Professionals page), but make sure to also check the other fine blogs listed: you'll probably find some interesting blog you didn't know before.

Vote the Top 100 Language Professionals Blogs 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Logical word order

It is sometimes easy to be misled by he word order of the source text, and to translate using a construction that means something different from the original.

From a contract I recently edited:

English: “Please read the following penalty schedule carefully”
Italian: “Leggere le seguenti informazioni sulle penali con attenzione”

Here, the position of “attenzione” is only awkward, rather than misleading. It would be improved by moving the word closer to the beginning of the sentence: “Leggere con attenzione le seguenti informazioni sulle penali”.

However, in other instances the word order might mislead the reader, even if only for a moment:

English: “… [of the] electronic end user agreement…”
Italian: “… dell’accordo di licenza con l’utente finale elettronico…”

Strictly construed, this translation might be interpreted as “…of the license agreement with the electronic end user…”.Since we do not have “electronic end users”, “electronic” in the original can only refer logically to the agreement; meaning that the agreement appears online or in some electronic media, such as a CD or DVD.

The source text should therefore have been translated as “…dell’accordo elettronico di licenza con l’utente finale…”, or maybe “…dell’accordo di licenza elettronico con l’utente finale…”, but certainly not *“… dell’accordo di licenza con l’utente finale elettronico…”.

Pay attention to the logical word order in your translations: when you read with fresh eyes what you wrote you'll sometimes see it means something different from what you intended.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Which free machine translation works best? The results are in

Some time ago I wrote about the study that Chinese translator Ethan Shen was conducting to compare three different free MT engines (for my earlier articles about this study, see Google, Bing and Babelfish and Google, Bing and Babelfish: some preliminary results).

Ethan has now completed phase 1 of his study, and the results are both interesting and - for me, at least - unexpected. Here below you can read a short report on Ethan's study.

From Ethan’s website you can download the full report, if you prefer to have all the details.

Real World Comparison of Online Machine Translators

by Ethan Shen
Gabble On Research Project


This paper evaluates the relative quality of three popular online translation tools: Google Translate, Bing (Microsoft) Translator, and Yahoo Babelfish. The results published below are based on a 6 week survey open to the general internet population which allowed survey takers to choose any language, enter any free-form text, and vote on the best of all translation results side-by-side ( The final data reveals that while Google Translate is widely preferred when translating long passages, Microsoft Bing Translator and Yahoo Babelfish often produce better translations for phrases below 140 characters. Also, in general Babelfish performs well in East Asian Languages such as Chinese and Korean and Bing Translator performs well in Spanish, German, and Italian.


Most Preferred Engine and Margin of Preference by Language Pair and Text Length Results

The above table describes the relationship between user preferences and translated text character length for 15 single direction languages pairings. The most preferred engine is given at each intersection (Google, Babelfish, or Bing) along with the magnitude of its lead over its closest competitor in that category (colored percentage). The language pairings excluded from this table represent sets for which preferences were overwhelming (over 100%) or insufficient data was available.

From this data, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. For long passages of text up to 2000 characters, survey takers generally prefer Google Translate's results across the board.

    a. The extent of Google’s lead varies dramatically from language to language. In some languages such as French, the strength of Google Translate’s engine is overwhelming. However, in several others like German, Italian, and Portuguese, Google holds only a very slim lead when compared to its biggest competitors.

    b. These observations validate our Hypothesis 1 that no single engine can perform equally well across a spectrum of languages or conditions.

  2. The greatest relative strength of statistical translation focused engine (Google Translate) has not clustered around the European Union working languages as expected. German, Italian, and Portuguese, all EU working languages are the most hotly contested from a performance perspective.

    a. One possible explanation is that large additional bodies of parallel English-French text are available from the government of Canada for which are official documents are translated into both. To a lesser extent this could explain the strength of Google Translate in Spanish as many Latin American country offer English Translations of official documents.

    b. This data partially refutes Hypothesis 2.

  3. Traditional Rules Based Translation Engines (Babelfish) performed generally well in East Asian languages such and Chinese and Korean.

    a. One possible reason for this outperformance is likely that the language specific grammar and word usages rules are more effective that association based transliteration in these situations.

    b. These finding are in line with Hypothesis 3, but the size of the data set is not large enough to confirm in a statistical significant manner.

  4. Across almost every language Bing Translator and Yahoo Babelfish gain ground or surpass Google Translate as the text length gets shorter.

    a. In Chinese, the gradual erosion of Google relative performance as total text length shrinks from 2000 characters to 50 characters is stark and representative of the comparative strength Rules Based or Hybrid Translation Engines as phrases get shorter and more straight forward.

    b. It appears that at 150 characters or less, the fiercest competition between performance of different translation models become the most heated. Some similar effects were seen at 200 characters, but to a less significant extent.

    c. Though data is not shown, a similar effect is seen for passages that are only one sentence compared to passages with multiple sentences

    d. This data strongly validates Hypothesis 4.

  5. The most interesting observation is that translation quality is not a two way street. The engine that is best for translating in one direction is not necessarily the best tool to translate back the other way.

    a. The two most obvious cases of this are French and German. Though Google Translation dominates when translating both these languages to English. It faces heavy competition when translating back from English to the foreign language.

These results are taken from a longer full research write-up.
To read the hypothesis, experiment design, extended results, practical applications and references, the full report is provided here:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Idiomizer: a wiki for idiom translation

I recently received an announcement about Idiomizer, a new wiki site that collects idioms in many languages and their translations into other languages.

According to the announcement,
IDIOMIZER is a translation
reference for idiomatic exchange across languages, absolutely vital
because different cultures use different phrases to impart the same
meaning. One of its many powerful features is the ability to view
multiple languages simultaneously.
IDIOMIZER seeks the input of translators, linguists
and language lovers worldwide in making the site a useful and enjoyable
tool and we encourage you to register and add to our idioms.
Registration is required, but free. Once you have registered, you can search through the idioms, add new idioms, add translations and definitions, and generally contribute to the site.

Perhaps this is not “absolutely vital”, but it should prove a useful addition to many a translator's toolbox.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The launch of Translation Workspace (" can start working for free")

What first comes to mind when someone tells you that “you can start working for free”?

My first thought was “start working but not get paid for it”. I know, Lionbridge didn't mean it that way in Monday's promo offer for Translation Workspace. They meant that you can start using their new translation platform without paying for it (but only until the end of June).

Given, however, that you will have to pay for Translation Workspace to continue translating for Lionbridge (doing work that you used to be able to do with the clunky, but free, Logoport), the first interpretation contains at least a grain of truth.

Lionbridge claims that you will be able to use the new system for other translation projects, no longer for Lionbridge jobs only. Since most professional translators already own one or more translation memory programs, having to pay for an unwanted extra tool is an unappetizing prospect.

I doubt that many translation companies will switch from other CAT tools to Translation Workspace: apart from technical considerations (why move to a tool that uses the MS Word interface, when most other CAT programs are moving away from it?), Jost Zetzshe mentions another issue in his latest Tool Kit:
I foresee a huge problem once Lionbridge starts talking to other LSPs, who are of course direct competitors. I imagine a response something like this: “They want me to give them a month-by-month rundown of how much I translate?”.
Since the monthly payments depend on the number of words handled, Lionbridge would know how many words each translation company runs through the new platform.

The same for freelancers, of course. Would you tell your customers what percentage of your turnover they represent? Think how such information could be used against you: if Lionbridge knew that most of your work is with them, they would be in a better position to play hardball when negotiating rates or demanding discounts.
For more about Translation Workspace, see my previous post: Lionbridge’s Translation Workspace: my thoughts.

I begun writing this post Monday morning, after receiving Lionbridge’s promo offer for Translation Workspace. In the evening, I took part in the CTA “Thought Swap”, where some other questions were raised about Workspace. I have now added below some of these questions, with my ideas about their answers:
  • Is the data safe? Won’t we risk Lionbridge having access to the memories we use for other customers? From what I hear, such concerns are unfounded: the servers in which the data is stored are under third-party control, and Lionbridge will not have access to other users’ private memories and data.
  • Is this an attempt by Lionbridge to monopolize the translation market? Even such a large player as Lionbridge has not a big enough market share to monopolize the market. According to Common Sense Advisory “Ranking of Top 30 Language Services Companies”, in 2009 Lionbridge was the second largest translation company in the world by revenue. The market share of the thirty largest translation companies combined,  however, was only about a quarter of the global market. Our industry is still very fragmented, and no player is able to monopolize it. Translation Workbench is certainly aimed at improving Lionbridge’s position. Whether it will succeed, is an open question.
  • Are they going to use the data to feed machine translation? No way of knowing for sure, of course. Many translation companies (and other companies as well: see Google) are mining the data they own to build up translation memories and feed them to statistical MT systems. This is going to continue and increase in the future. I believe that translator will have to adapt to this and learn to use MT as a tool (just like we did with TM earlier).
  • What about LSPs (or freelancers) who work mainly for Lionbridge: won’t they be forced to adopt Translation Workspace? Companies and people who rely for most of their income from a sole customer are in a much weaker position when trying to resist that customer’s demands.
  • Will we have to pay for the words we translate in Translation Workspace for Lionbridge? (That is, will the words translated for Lionbridge be applied against the subscription?) No. According to all Lionbridge’s material on Translation Workspace, work done for Lionbridge will not count against the words purchased with the subscription.
  • What about words translated for Lionbridge, but indirectly (for example, an LSP accepts a project from Lionbridge, and then assigns it to freelancers): will these be applied against the words paid for? Probably not. The LSP should be able to assign the work to its freelancers in a way that does not otherwise affect their TW tenancy. It might depend on how the projects are set up, though.

Please note: all of the above is my own opinion and interpretation, based on the information I have. It does not reflect or represent in any way Lionbridge's official position. I am not affiliated with Lionbridge, and have no access to any Lionbridge insider or confidential information.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

New book on the business of freelance translation

Judy and Dagmar Jenner have just published “The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation”.

Judy gave a presentation on her “business-school approach” to freelancing some time ago, at a CTA session, and I was impressed how helpful her approach was. The book is available both as a paperback and as a downloadable e-book. I just ordered my copy, and plan to review the book here, as soon as I have a chance to read it.

Congratulations to Judy and Dagmar!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Watercooler is going to change its home

You may have noticed the link to Watercooler is no longer displayed on the right. Andrew Bell is planning to move it from its present location as Ning network to some other service (this because of the changes that are happening at Ning).

In the meantime, the link to would no longer work. For the time being Watercooler can be accessed at the following address:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A great resource for translators

I don't remember if I mentioned it before, but if you work in translation and want to stay up to date with what is happening technically in our field, what new tools are coming, what are the best tools for our job, and what is the best way to use the tools you already have, a great resource is Jost Zetzsche's The Tool Kit, a computer newsletter for translation professionals.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Time estimating for dummies

A brief glance through the message board of most translators’ portals will find dozens of messages like this one:

I'm a beginner, can anyone tell me how many pages usually a translator should asked to translate a day?

The messages may differ slightly, asking for words or lines instead of pages, but they are all essentially the same: “I don’t know what I’m doing: how long will it take?”

If you are a real beginner, you may really not know, but asking others is not going to help you either, even when other translators provide an answer: knowing that others translate 2,000 words a day on average, doesn’t mean you’ll also translate at that speed.

As a beginner, you need to learn how to estimate how long you’ll take to do a job:

  • If you don’t have already a word count for the job you are going to do, first count how long the text to translate is. If it is a hardcopy or pdf job, a rough estimate (to the nearest 100 words) is good enough.
  • Then time yourself carefully, starting from the moment you begin a job and until you deliver it to your customer.
  • Include in the time you count all the time you spend on the job (including time spent researching the assignment, translating it, proofing it and entering it in your accounting system).
  • Also include in the time count any short breaks you would normally take. It is tempting to stop the watch any time you go to the bathroom or answer the phone, but it would be wrong: if these are normal activities, you need to include them in your time reckoning.
  • Do not include in the time count any time spent on other translations you might be doing in addition to the job you are timing, and do not include really major interruptions that would not normally happen.

At the end of the job, a simple division will tell you your hourly speed: if the job was 1,800 words and it took you 6.5 hours to complete, your speed was 1,800 / 6.5 = 277 words per hour. Now from your hourly speed you can calculate your daily speed for that job: 277 * 8 = 2,216 words / day.

Continue to do this until you have a good idea what your speed is under different conditions: different kinds of assignments, using different tools, and so on. Repeat this exercise from time to time, to make sure your statistics are still valid, and repeat it again any time a major change happens in your routine or in the tools you use.

And, please, don’t fool yourself that if you normally can translate 2,200 words a day, you can accept that tempting 8,000-word assignment due tomorrow, if only you can stay awake long enough: you may be able to get away with it, some times. Disaster will strike in other occasions (and customers will remember).

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A grammar exercise for translators

Here below is an article I recently wrote for the translation class I teach at Denver University. I would like to know what other translators think about the worth of exercises such as the one described below. Specifically, what do you think the advantages and drawbacks of an exercise like this can be for a student of translation?

Studying grammar to uncover translation problems

Too often students of translation (this is especially true of self-taught translators) concentrate on words alone: students learn word meanings as if they were labels, unconsciously trying to match them to the words in their native language. Grammar, frequently, is neglected: the student thinks of it as something he had to learn while learning a language, perhaps, but that now he already knows (or so he assumes).
Studying grammar, however, is important throughout the study of translation, and even beyond, when the translator is already a working professional.
One exercise I think is important and interesting is to study the examples given in grammar books and see how they should be translated to convey their meaning best. Usually there will be several correct solutions, although often none perfectly so.
Take a book on the English verb, or the section of a grammar book devoted to verbs. My first example is taken from Meaning and the English Verb, a slim textbook by Geoffrey Leech I had for a course in text linguistics I followed at the University of Genoa.
The way you can do the exercise is this: you read a statement about the use of a verbal tense...
8. The simple present is suitable for employment in the expression of 'eternal truths' [...] "The Atlantic Ocean separates the New World from the Old."
Simple enough, apparently. In Italian also we can use the present tense: "L'Oceano Atlantico separa il Vecchio Mondo dal Nuovo". But here already we can think of other ways such a sentence could be written in Italian. Perhaps we can use of the passive voice: "Il Vecchio e il Nuovo Mondo sono separati dall'Oceano Atlantico". Too heavy? Maybe "Il Nuovo Mondo è separato dal Vecchio dall'Oceano Atlantico". This also seems worse than our first try.
Back to the simple present, at least for now. Let's go to the next example, and see how it can be translated best.
This is from Rafael Seco's Manual de gramática española:
El presente expresa una acción no terminada que se ejecuta en el momento de la palabra. Entiéndase bien que el presente no debe estimarse como un instante fugaz, sino como un plazo de tiempo más o menos largo, en el cual está comprendido el momento en que se habla. Así puede decirse en presente: "Pedro estudia para abogado". No es que Pedro, en el preciso instante en que se habla, esté trabajando en sus estudios, sino que este trabajo lo viene realizando durante cierto período de tiempo dentro del cual está comprendido el instante en que se enuncia el verbo.
How best do we translate this simple sentence in English? Does the simple present work here, or is the present continuous better? If so, why, or why not?
I think you can see how doing often such an exercise may be invaluable for really learning how best to express a language's nuances in a different language.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Merlin-Translation: unthinking plagiarists

In my previous post I told of how is stealing posts wholesale from this and from other blogs.
It now appears that not only they are thieves, but stupid ones to boot:
As you can see from the screenshot, they also reposted my warning against them!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Warning to translation bloggers: your blog may have been pirated

And, sorry, no, this is not an April Fool's joke.

It is said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Wholesale plagiarism, on the other hand, is stealing.

It appears that has lifted in full and reposted without any attribution many articles from this blog (all the most recent ones for sure, but I've not had time to check the older articles), as well as articles from other blogs (a very quick perusal showed articles from the blog of Language Translation, Inc. and from Transubstantiation; I'm sure that a more thorough search would find many more stolen articles.

I invite other translation bloggers to check the site and see if their material also has been stolen. If it has, I suggest a joint action to compel Merlin-Translations to take down the infringing material.

A big thank you to Jill Sommer, who first spotted this scam and warned me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lionbridge’s Translation Workspace: my thoughts

Late last year Lionbridge announced Translation Workspace: an online CAT tool that all Lionbridge's translators will have to use (like Logoport now). With the difference that, unlike Logoport, translators and agencies will now be able to use the new tool for their own projects and other customers.
The catch: unlike Logoport, which was free, users will have to pay a monthly  subscription for Translation Workspace. From what I heard, the minimum subscription charge will be 10 Euro a month for freelance translators, and 50 Euro for agencies. Besides that "tenancy fee", users will also pay more depending on how many words they process through the system in a given time period (for now at least, work done for Lionbridge will not be subject to this surcharge).
Although there may well be some useful features in this new web-based tool, the advantages claimed in a Lionbridge blog post do not seem impressive:
Finally, a robust tool that sets translators free from their PCs and laptops, and from the fear of losing their work due to a crash.
I don’t see how the new tool will set translators free from PCs and laptops: you’ll still need a computer to connect to Workspace. Not losing your work due to a crash is certainly a benefit – which you can also achieve in other ways (for example, using RAID disks, performing on-site and off-site backups, or, better, a combination of such solutions).
No more panic attacks when the power goes off.
When the power goes off, your Internet connection also goes down, so, no more Translation Workspace.
Bye-bye to time-consuming backups and file downloads.
I hope they are not suggesting to stop backing up your computer. Sounds like a bad idea to me.
There is no need to fill up the memory of their machines with heavy TMs and other language assets, and invest in external hard drives to keep up with the growth of their data.
Memory is cheap these days, and so are large hard drives. Even big translation memories do not take much space.
Everything will be there, in the cloud, allowing them to share, collaborate and get into the crowd.
For large projects, real-time collaboration could be a big advantage, true (if implemented well), but for all other projects this doesn’t seem to offer any real benefit over other tools (some of which also allow hosting memories on line).
Lionbridge touts this as a low-cost alternative (to SDL, presumably – and I think that is the main reason why SDL has recently come out with its own cheap offering, as I mentioned in an earlier post). If you look at the details, however, it’s not all that convenient: we are a small company, and 50 Euro a month (about 70 dollars), mean 840 dollars a year for a tool nobody else will be using except for Lionbridge work. That is, we’ll have to pay for the privilege of working for Lionbridge.


For another translator's take on Lionbridge Workspace, go and read Jill Sommer’s post “Would you pay to work for a translation agency?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Translation and Interpretation: Theory and Practice

On Monday I'll once again teach GS 4300 - Theory & Practice of Translation & Interpretation , a foundation course for the Certificate in Translation Studies of the University College, Denver University (after clicking on the link, scroll down the Global Affairs course page list until you get to the 4300 courses and click on the course title for a brief description of the course).

Several years ago I posted my class outlines in this blog. During the next three months I'll once again post periodically about the course, writing about what I'm teaching, my thoughts about the course and on the topics touched during it, what I learn from my students' questions, and what they learn from the course. I'll appreciate any comment you may have on these posts, as they'll help me improve the course as I'm teaching it and for the next time.

On Monday I'll start my introduction with this paragraph:
A deep knowledge of one’s own native language and of at least one foreign language is a necessary prerequisite, but, alone, it is not enough. To become a translator one should also fully understand the subject matter of the text to be translated, and have knowledge of things such as translation tools, reference materials, translation processes, and, above all, self knowledge: knowing what one knows as well as an awareness of what one does not know.

In your opinion, what are the prerequisites for becoming a translator?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Edith Grossman, translator of the Quijote

Hillel Italie has written an excellent article on Edith Grossman, celebrated translator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Cervantes.

The article quotes Grossman on the inadequacy of reviews with regards to translations, in a passage which I think will really resonate with many literary translators:
'Ably translated,' compared to what? The reviewer clearly doesn't read Spanish. How would they know if it is ably translated? They quote long passages to indicate the style of the writer and never credit the translator.
Many translators will also be interested by the description of how Grossman arrived at her translation of the famous first lines of the Quijote, as well as by the analysis about the English market for literature in translation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Isn't "free-lance position" an oxymoron?

We frequently receive messages from translators offering their services to our company. The messages that arrive range from well written and effective (in that they at least encourage me to give a look at the attached résumé), to irritating and off-putting (I gave examples of both kinds in this earlier post).

I find puzzling the many messages that say "I'm interested in applying for a free-lance position".

I may be wrong, but I think that "applying for a position" means applying for a job on staff, i.e., a salaried position, not to offer one's services as a contractor.

A piece of advice to all aspiring translators: sending unrequested applications is difficult enough: don't stack the deck further against you with badly written messages!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Answers to an aspiring translator

I’ve received the following message (slightly edited to hide the author’s identity) from an aspiring translator.

I'm an aspiring translator; I've across many websites stating that Italian is in demand. Is this true? Also in your opinion, is it necessary to speak a language fluently even though translation deals with reading and writing? Is it absolutely necessary to live abroad for several years to become a translator? Can I add languages just by learning to read and write in those languages?

I’m sharing my answers in this post, in case other beginning translators might find them useful.

  • I'm currently learning French but I've across many websites stating that Italian is in demand. Is this true?

For translation into English, Spanish, German, French and Italian are the main Western European languages. Studying a language depending on current demand is futile. Study a language because you feel attuned to it, or because you find it interesting and challenging, not because you suspect it might be in demand.
  • Is it necessary to speak a language fluently even though translation deals with reading and writing?

Yes, although, if you do not plan to become an interpreter, it doesn't hurt too much if you don't acquire a perfect accent in your foreign languages. A professional translator only translates from a source language into his or her native language.

The proficiency you have to gain in your source language is the same as in your native language: a precondition for becoming a translator is to be able to read and understand one or more foreign languages just as well as your native one. You need to be able to understand all subtleties of the language you work with, all cultural references - just as if you were a native speaker of that language. Only then, you'll be able to convey what the foreign language says (and what it implies) into your native language.

  • Is it absolutely necessary to live abroad for several years to become a translator?

No, but it is necessary to live and study abroad long enough to become thoroughly fluent in the foreign language. How long that may be, depends on your knowledge before going abroad, the quality of the courses you follow there, and your innate language-learning skills. Plan to spend at least several months abroad for each foreign language you study.

  • Can I add languages just by learning to read and write in those languages?

You need to become fluent in your working foreign languages, and that includes learning to write with ease in all your working languages. Although as a translator you won't translate into the foreign language, you must be able to communicate with customers who only write and speak that language.

Finally, something you don't mention, but that is nonetheless essential: your knowledge of your own native language.

A translator is a writer, and must be able to write his own native language with correctness, clarity, subtlety and grace. In many respects, in fact, a translator's task is more difficult than a writer's: a writer can go where he pleases, and perhaps in doing so he can avoid his own weak points. A translator also is a writer, but he must follow a predetermined path, taking in stride all the obstacles the author scattered along that path, either on purpose (the subtleties of the original), or by chance (where the author failed and wrote obscurely where he should not have done so).

If you are interested in becoming a translator, I recommend you enroll in a good university-level translation program. The best in the States is offered by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, but there are also good programs elsewhere, including several offered online (among these, the program offered by the University College of Denver University, where I teach).

PC World's shallow comparison of Chrome, Bing and Babel Fish

I’ve recently written about Ethan Shen’s survey to determine which free MT platform is best. Earlier this month, PC World published a review of the machine translation capabilities of the new beta version of Google Chrome, comparing it to Bing Translator and to Yahoo’s Babel Fish.

Ethan’s approach is more interesting and will prove more useful. PC World’s review is really too facile: saying that “It's fair to say, however, that Chrome's translator is up to the task.” on the basis of a single, short piece of translation, is really not doing a good service to PC World’s readers.


I had not seen the comparison of the three machine/translation platforms that had appeared on the New York Times a few days ago. It is much more interesting and well done than PC World's, but I fear it might have a built bias that favors statistical MT platforms such as Google: isn't it likely that such famous lines as the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude aren't already in the giant databases that feed Google Translate and similar systems?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google, Bing and Babelfish: some preliminary results

In a recent post, I mentioned a study that Chinese translator Ethan Shen is conducting to find out which of three major free machine translation platforms is best.

Yesterday I received the following message from Ethan, about some preliminary results from the study. He also reiterates his invitation to take part in the survey (you can participate in the survey at: Which Engine Translates Best?).

With his permission, I’m reposting here the message Ethan sent me:

Thanks for helping me promote my research project. We’ve reached the half-way point of our research period and I’ve made some quick observations of the data trends we’re seeing so far. I’ve made some recent changes to the survey engine to eliminate brand bias and first-result bias, if you think your readers would be interested in the below early results, I’d love to make one more publicity push to help reach our 10,000 vote goal. I’ll keep you up to date!
  1. At the highest level, it appears that survey takers prefer Google Translate's results across the board.

    • In a few languages (Arabic, Polish, Dutch) the preference is overwhelming with votes for Google doubling its nearest competitor

  2. However, once you remove voters that have self defined their fluency in the source or target language as “limited”, the contest becomes closer for some of the heavily trafficked languages

    • Bing Translator leads in German
    • Babelfish leads in Chinese
    • Google maintains its lead in Spanish, Japanese, and French

  3. Observing just the self defined “Limited fluency” voter reveals a strong brand bias. If your fluency in the target translation language is limited, it would stand to reason your ability to assess the quality of the translation is very limited. And yet…

    • Limited fluency voters choose Google over Bing by 2 to 1
    • They also chose Google over Yahoo Babelfish by 5 to 1

  4. As I had guessed in my hypothesis, Systran’s and Microsoft’s hybrid RBMT model performs better on shorter passages

    • For phrases below 50 characters, Google’s lead in Spanish, Japanese, and French disappear. And Microsoft’s lead in German widens
    • Beyond 50 characters, Google’s relative performance seems to improve across the board.
    • For passages that are only one sentence, the same effect is seen, though to a lesser extent than under 50 characters.

  5. After March 4th, we’ve implemented changes to our survey-taking platform to hide the brands and randomize the positions of the results before voting. There has not been enough data collected since then to draw conclusions, but Yahoo Babelfish seems to be receiving the biggest boost, perhaps showing the effects of the recent neglect of that tool.
Ethan Shen

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

SDL launches low-cost entry-level CAT solution

SDL announced today it will introduce an entry-level, low-cost translation memory tool. The new product, the Starter edition of SDL Trados Studio, will be subscription software only, at a monthly fee of 8 Euros.

The most serious limitation of the Starter edition is the 5,000 translation units limit per TM: enough for working on a new medium-sized project, perhaps, and therefore for giving a new user an idea of how the full product works; not enough for working on major projects where a translation agency sends to the translator a larger TM. The Starter edition will open only certain SDL translation packages, not all, like the freelance edition. Finally, the Starter edition does not include Trados 2007 or Multiterm.

You can read the full announcement on the SDL site, and you can also see there a full product comparison chart.

My first reaction: the Starter edition is more of an extended demo than something useful for a professional translator, although it might be good enough for an "occasional translator" (SDL's words).

The lack of Trados 2007 means that users of the Starter edition will not be able to handle legacy Trados formats. I believe the aim is to encourage adoption of SDL Trados Studio, which so far has seen little actual use (all the agencies with which we work, for example, have continued to request ttx or bilingual MS Word files, not SDL Trados Studio files). This is also clearly a move against Lionbridge's Translation Workspace, another recently introduced subscription tool aimed at a similar audience.

Forgotten anything?

I've written before of how some translators could improve their résumés when they contact translation companies searching for jobs.

It is also important, however, to write a good cover message: short, polite, and to the point. The cover message should entice the recipient to ask for more information or to read an attached résumé. It should not be a  generic "Dear Sir or Madam".

The worst example I've received recently is this (reproduced here in its entirety):

Dear Madam, Sir,
Fnd attached the documents for me to apply as a freelance translator ENG to FR. If you need more infos, do not hesitate to contact me.

Never mind the "Fnd" and the "infos": the message does not mention any specialization, any reason why we should choose this particular translator (if we were looking for one), nor any reason for reading the various files attached. He even forgot to sign his message!

As translators we too often forget we are writers, and, as writers, we should craft our messages carefully, then edit them until they sound natural and look interesting (especially if they are sales messages). It takes time to write an e-mail so well that it looks as if it had been jotted down effortlessly.


Just to show that such messages can easily be improved, another one received today:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am a full-time professional English <> Xxxxx freelance translator with over 15 years of experience in Financial, legal, technical, educational, and general subjects.

I am thorough, accurate and reliable, with good interpersonal, verbal and written communication skills. A perfectionist with great attention to detail, which makes me a very good proofreader/editor, I am committed to consistent quality and customer satisfaction.

Deadlines are always met. I am professional, flexible and easy to do business with.

I work with the following programs: Trados, SDLX, Wintrans, InDesign, Frame Maker, Illustrator,etc.

Please, see attached my CV for further information.

Look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best regards,

[Translator’s name, e-mail address and phone number]

Certainly not perfect - the message is addressed to “Sir or Madam”, the mention of “general subjects” is always superfluous, and there is a bit too much corporate-speak in “I am comitted to … customer satisfaction” – but this is much better than the first example.

For more on poorly crafted cold-call messages, and how to avoid some serious errors, see Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s "How Not to Manage Your Customer Relationships", in Translation Times.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Google, Bing and Babelfish

I’ve just participated in the Which Engine Translates Best? survey, designed to test which among three leading free translation engines is best (for more details, see this post of mine, from a few days ago).

At least for gisting, both Bing Translator and Google Translate can prove surprisingly useful. I had expected Google to be the best of three engines, and, in my opinion, so it proved in this test, but Bing came a close second. A nice thing about Bing is that, unlike Google, it warns of its limitations: “Automatic translation can help you understand the gist of the translated text but is no substitute for a professional human translator” is prominently displayed in the Bing page, while Google Translate says nothing of the sort.

Babelfish made a complete mess of all translation samples (at least for English into Italian: I’ll probably test again the engines using different language pairs), and also turned everything to all uppercase.

Pity that Babelfish is so clearly outmatched by the other engines: with a name that directly refers to Douglas Adams’ stroke of genius, the science-fiction fan in me would love to see it shine brighter.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My first ProZ ban

A thread of mine has been banned from ProZ (I confess, I like spending some time there, reading and participating in the discussion threads).

My original post was deemed in breach of the catch-all rule # 1 (“The forums are provided solely for discussions within's scope”). Since that scope is then as broad as it is ill defined, the rule could be interpreted as “anything can be banned if we feel like it”.

My post was a gentle poke at all those Italian translators who think that the institution of an “Albo dei traduttori” would be a miraculous cure for all translation ills, from low rates to late payments. Never mind that they never explain exactly how the “Albo dei Traduttori” would cure those ills, never mind that it has very little chance of actually being instituted, and never mind that, even if it were, in the form it has been proposed it would very likely soon be found to violate UE anti-trust laws and regulations.
I sent to the ProZ staff member who decided to ban the thread the following message:
What exactly was in breach of the rules in my (off-topic) post about the Italian "Albo dei traduttori"? It was lighthearted satire, contained no profanity, no politics, no personal attacks against anybody, and was germane to the discussion in the Italian forum (where some translators see the institution of an "Albo dei traduttori" as a panacea for all translation woes).
I imagine you won't answer, since the site's rules are fuzzy enough that something can always be found in breach of this or that purposely ill-defined and overbroad rule, but I would really like to know what was so offensive about the thread.
I don’t expect the message to be answered, of course.


"I sent to the moderator..." corrected to "I sent to the ProZ staff member...", as it was not an Italian forum moderator who quashed the thread, but a member of the ProZ staff.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Courses for interpreters

I have received news of three different courses for interpreters.

The first course, Interactive Training for Professional Interpreters (now in its second year) will be held in Denver, for 5 Saturdays - March 6, 13, 20, 27, & April 3. It is  sponsored by Cesco Linguistic Services.

According to the message I received,

This 40 hour course is designed to responds to the training needs of individuals that already work in the interpreting profession or intend to pursue this career.

The course is an intensive 5 full day class of 8 hours each, providing instructional lessons and practical exercises in each mode of interpretation, in different contexts for any language.

If you are interested, contact Cesco Linguistic Services for more information.

The other two courses are organized by the National Center for Interpretation of the University of Arizona:

The Agnese Haury Institute for Interpretation will take place July 12 – 30, at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

The Agnese Haury Institute for Interpretation is the longest running intensive Spanish/English interpreter training program in the United States. The Institute, now in its 27th year, is an intensive three-week course dedicated to improving language and interpreting services in diverse areas

The Medical Interpreter Training Institute will take place July 12 – 18, at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, and consists of 54 hours of intensive terminology and skill building training.

Both courses are aimed at Spanish interpreters and other bilingual professionals.

For more information, contact the National Center for Interpretation.

Windows Live Writer – WYSIWYG blogging editor

Thanks to Licia Corbolante, who suggested it, I’m now trying Windows Live Writer as an editing interface for blogging. First impressions are very positive: I can edit my posts in a much more user friendly WYSIWYG editor, the preview shows how the post will actually look like when published (and not just a rough approximation, like in Blogger), and the editing features are just generally much more powerful.

There are several other interesting features,such as the possibility of inserting tables, greater ease in inserting pictures and video, an I don’t know yet what else.

On the downside, this means I’ll soon have to update my “Blogging 101” presentation.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blogging 101

As a part of the Social Media for Translators presentation organized by the CTA, Corinne McKay, Eve Bodeux and I each gave a 30 minutes presentation. Corinne talked of Facebook, LinkedIn, and social networking; I gave a presentation, titled "Blogging 101", on how to create and write your own blog, and Eve talked about how to use Twitter to best effect for professional networking.

You can download a copy of my presentation (as a PowerPoint presentation or as a PDF ile) by going to the CTA - Blogging 101 page of this blog.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Five years of About Translation

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of About Translation.

The number of visitors in these five years has kept on growing: from a few thousand visitors in 2005, to a current total well over 90,000 visitors and 150,000 page views.

Now that Blogger permits more than one page per blog, I've added a permanent page devoted to the posts that may be most useful to other translators (for example, the articles on wildcard searches in Word), and an About page, where I moved the information about this blog. I plan to add some additional permanent pages in the future: any suggestion is welcome, of course.

Knowing that you find this blog interesting enough to read it is one of the reasons why I keep trying to improve it. Thank you!

Friday, February 19, 2010

For Colorado translators: Social Media for Translators

The CTA has organized this session on social media, to which I'll participate with a short presentation on blogging.

Monday, February 22, 6-8:30 PM, Social Media for Translators

This session will feature three CTA members to give you hands-on tips for making the most of social media in your business. Experienced blogger and techie Riccardo Schiaffino will talk about blogging and how to customize “off the shelf” blogging tools for your own use, Eve Bodeux will talk about using social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter (and similar sites for your non-US countries) and Corinne McKay will provide information about blogging and podcasting as a marketing tool.
Location: Meeting Room L200, College Hill Library, 3705 West 112th Avenue, Westminster, CO 80031
Cost: $10 for CTA members, $15 for non-members.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Which (free) MT is best?

Ethan Shen, a Chinese translator, used for years, while studying in high school and college,  a variety of free MT translation engines. A question remained unsolved for him, however: which MT translation system is best?

To finally settle the question, Shen has devised a comparative study, and is looking for volunteers. Shen has set up a web site in which you can paste or input text to translate. The survey site feeds the source text to three diferent free MT systems (Google Translate, Yahoo/Babelfish and Microsoft Bing's). You are then asked to review the resulting translations, rate them, and add your comments.

Shen is looking for 10,000 testers between now and the end of March, for any of the language pairs supported by these machine translations systems.He will then analyze the results, and I believe he plans to publish the results of his research, or write about them.

If you would like to participate, you can do so by following the link to Which Engine Translates Best? March Madness Edition.

As an enticement to participate in the survey, Shen's company will award a new Apple iPad to a participant in the March Madness contest (you can find the details on Shen's survey site).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who really wrote those words?

I'm reading "Writing Tools, 50 essential strategies for every writer", by Roy Peter Clark. Instead of rules to follow, his  book provides tools to exploit (although many of the tools sound quite similar to the rules provided by other books on writing).

Each tool has its own chapter, and each chapter gives  practical examples from many different authors, including some foreign writers. For instance, in his chapter on ordering words for emphasis, Clark quotes the famous opening of Cien años de soledad: "Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamento, el Coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo."

But Clark quotes this in English: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." Yet, in providing an example about words and their placement for emphasis, Clark attributes them to Gabriel García Márquez, alone, not also to Gregory Rabassa.

If these words serve as an example in a book in English about writing, Clarke should have mentioned that who chose them in English (and not others that might have legitimately been used), was Rabassa, the translator, not Márquez, the original author.

This is "the translator's invisibility", according to both meanings Lawrence Venuti gives to the term.

As translators, we lend our pens and words to others, and let them make them their own... unless we blunder: when we choose well, transform powerful source into spellbinding target, the translator's words become the original author's own. But if we fail in our choice of words, then the failure is ours: it's only then that we become visible.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Customers beware: the ethics of scattershot translation projects

Today I received a quote request from a new source, a translation company with which I had never worked before. They asked availability and rates for an urgent legal translation project. Together with their message they sent (not only to me, but to an unspecified number of English to Italian translators) a file with the source documents.

When I opened the files, I found a couple of very confidential documents, with the kind of information that, if I were the original customer, I would assume would be treated with the utmost caution by the agency.

At a minimum, this agency should have sent a message indicating the type of document to translate (e.g. "police records, about 1200 words"), and also that, before they could send it out to prospective translators, they needed to have a confidentiality agreement signed.

Sending confidential and sensitive documents to all and sundry, as they did, is a clear and serious breach of confidentiality.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

First Impressions: OmniPage 17

OCR is not something we use very often, but sometimes it is useful or even necessary, when customer send us documents in hard copy or in a scanned graphic format.

The program we have used for the last few years is OmniPage Professional. We recently upgraded from OmniPage 15 to OmniPage 17. My first impressions are, on the whole, positive: OCR accuracy with documents not of the bast quality is improved, the program is much better at recognizing that stray dots on the page are not text (on the flip side, for Italian, this means that sometime the program does not recognize words such as "i" or "il", taking them as noise instead of characters).

An annoying defect I had not seen in the previous version is that the program sometimes puts the recognized characters on the wrong line in the target text.

On the whole, a useful program, and a real life saver when we need to translate repetitive documents that arrive to use in graphic form.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

When translation rates are too high

You often see translators bemoaning falling translation rates and complaining of translation agencies that want to pay only a pittance.

Same of those translators, however, should pay much more attention to what they do than to the failings of translation agencies:

I've recently been asked to quote on an editing project where the Italian translator consistently misspelled "" as "si", "detto" as "ditto", "quel" as "quell", in addition to other mistakes such as "calico" for "calcio", "scora" for "scorsa", "so" for "si", "do" for "di", "siento" for "sento", "blocci" for "blocchi", and so on and on. In a short span of 107 words, I counted seven misspellings and two other errors, before giving up and telling the customer that this should be retranslated from scratch, not edited.

When they are paid a few cents a word, some translators are actually overpaid.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to have more desktop on your laptop

Recently, my desktop computer suffered from a chain of problems. I had to send it for repairs twice; In the meantime, I’ve relied on my laptop.

When I use my laptop for short periods, or when I travel, I just use its built-in screen. For more sustained work, though, the small laptop screen is a hassle, with its tiny fonts and limited vertical space. So I connected the laptop to my desktop monitor.

At first, I just turned off the laptop monitor and used only the desktop one. Now, however, I’ve learned a trick that could prove useful to other people working from a laptop: I use both monitors at the same time, but, instead of displaying the same Windows desktop on both monitors (as you would do when projecting a Power Point presentation, for example), I extend the Windows desktop over the two monitors.

Several translators use a setup with two desktop monitors connected to the same computer. I did not know it could work also with a single desktop monitor and a laptop computer.

To use the laptop in this dual screen mode:
  1. Put the laptop under the desktop monitor
  2. Click Fn+F5 (your laptop might use different keys)
  3. Select the dual monitor setup
  4. Right click on the Windows desktop, click properties and select the Settings tab
  5. Grab the inactive monitor icon, and drag it under the active one
  6. If the computer displays a message that the second monitor will be activated, click on “Yes”; otherwise, select the check box “Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor.”
  7. Click apply
  8. If necessary, click again on the Windows desktop, click properties, select the Settings tab, and adjust the resolution of the two monitors
Now, instead of a single 1280 x 768 laptop monitor, or even a 1280 x 1024 desktop one, I can effectively use a 1280 x 1792 split screen.

In the top part (the desktop monitor), I have my translation editor (MS Word or Tag Editor). In the lower part (the laptop monitor) I have Workbench with my translation memory, XBench with my glossaries, and maybe other reference applications, like WordWeb Pro.

Two big monitors side by side would be even better, but this is already a big improvement over a laptop’s small monitor.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to run two copies of Trados freelance while sharing the same Internet connection

You work from home, together with your partner. You decide to try a program that supposedly can help you do your job better and faster. In spite of a few defects, you find that the new program really helps, so you buy a second copy for your partner, and install it on her computer. Runs great on her computer as well, but, as soon as you launch it from yours, the program detects the copy running on her computer and reverts to demo mode.

This is probably the most annoying limitation of Trados freelance: two copies cannot run on the same network, even if you have paid for both copies. SDL wants you to buy a pro license.

According to SDL’s the reason is that running two copies of Trados at the same time is something only an agency would, and they want agencies to buy the more expensive pro version. So, if you are not an agency but you live and work with another translator, you are out of luck: you can either run Trados on two disconnected computers (so you cannot share a fast Internet connection), or you can have both computers connected, but only one of them running Trados.

There is a way you can still share the same Internet connection without violating the terms of the freelance license: put the two computers on different networks.

The way I’ve done it is by adding an inexpensive wireless router to our wired home network.

Our computers and various devices connect to our Internet router via Ethernet cables. Also connected to the wired router is a wireless router, to which our laptops can link. When it is time to launch a second freelance copy of Trados on one of the computers, I just unplug the Ethernet cable from my laptop. At that point the laptop is no longer on the same network as my partner’s desktop PC, but it still accesses the Internet (through the wireless router).

This is just a workaround and still a nuisance (the physically disconnected laptop no longer reaches some of the peripherals). I suspect that I could find a better solution if I knew networking better, but this is a useful stopgap: this way we can have two copies o Trados running at the same time, from two computers that share the same Internet connection.


Read the comments for better way to sidestep this issue. Also, as Paul says in his comment, SDL finally did the right thing, and this issue no longer affects SDL Trados Studio 2009 (the newest version of the program).

One thing I did not mention before: we do have one copy of Trados 2007 pro installed on my desktop PC, so normally this old Trados issue does not affect us - my wife works on her licensed copy of Trados freelance, and I on my licensed copy of trados pro. However, we also have a second freelance copy installed on a laptop, for use wen, for example, I work offsite. Right now, however, my desktop PC is out for repairs, and I have to work from my laptop, so I was forcibly reminded of this really annoying Trados built-in limitation.