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.