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.