Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I'm sorry I have not posted since the end of November: I had to bring up to date our invoicing (as well as sending some payment reminders to a few customers), close our accounting for the year, and was also pretty busy with the University (I taught two courses at the same time during the Fall term, and was also mentoring two students through their Capstone project).

I'll catch up with some very interesting comments that have been made in the Can translators ignore theory? as soon as I'm back in Denver, after the Christmas holidays.

Speaking of holidays,

my very best wishes to you of Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Letters of Blood, by Göran Printz-Påhlson

Open Book Publishers has recently announced the forthcoming publication of Letters of Blood and other English Works. The book contains the English translations of selected poems by the major Swedish modernist poet and critic Göran Printz-Påhlson. As well as Letters of Blood, the collection includes the full text of his statement "The Words of the Tribe".

Göran Printz-Påhlson died in 2006. He was a critic, a poet, and a translator (he translated American, Irish and English poets into Swedish, and Swedish poets into English).

Open Book Publishers is an open-access non-profit publisher specializing in the Humanities and Social Sciences. They publish their books in paperback, hardback and digital format (pdf, epub, mobi), and include the full versions of all titles for free reading on Google Books.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why high-volume discounts seldom make sense

I'm sure you can all recognize an exchange such as the following:

“I'm sorry, we cannot accept your rate of $ 0.X/word. But if you accept $ 0.Y/word, instead, we can guarantee you plenty of work."

A problem, sometimes, is that the promised "plenty of work" never actually arrives but your new customer insists you have to bill them at the high-volume rate. The real problem, however, is if they keep their word and start to swamp you with plenty of big projects.

Yes, your income might appear to go up, and you'll feel the thrill of always being busy. Doubts will begin to creep in, however, when you find yourself turning down assignments from other prospects because you are always busy working for your high-volume customer - especially when you have to refuse higher-paying projects.

Also, if you are always busy working for your high-volume customer, the percentage of your work coming from them creeps up over time, which puts you in a risky situation: you are letting yourself become a hostage of a single customer.

If (but I think I should really say "when") your high-volume customer comes back to you demanding further discounts (maybe lamenting the difficult market situation, or whatever), and you have allowed yourself to rely on them for 80% of your income, you'll be hard pressed not to give in (not only that, but you'll have already showed them you are an easy mark - after all you already lowered your rates for them, didn't you?).

So, in short, if you give in to request for volume discounts:

  • Sometimes you will give the discount, but won't get the volume
  • When you do get the volume, you'll find yourself turning down higher paying jobs because you are so busy on the lower paying ones
  • And finally, you'll find yourself an easy target for further discount demands.

So tell me again: why did you think it was a good idea to agree to your customer's high-volume discount request?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can translators ignore theory?

Being informed about translation theory is knowing what others have said and thought about translation: its purposes, how to judge whether a translation is accurate, successful, or well written. How to translate to achieve specific goals, what responsibilities translators have, and whether they are primarily responsible to the author, the original text, the reader, or the customer who commissioned a specific translation.

To be sure, without knowing or being aware of translation theory one can still translate. But translators who learned translation from teachers who reject theory out of hand and only emphasize learning by simply translating, are still following a translation theory of sorts. A theory, however, they are not aware of, and that they cannot, therefore, examine critically and tap for specific occasions or assignments.

Downplaying the importance of theory, while teaching translation through a series of commandments, as Mark Freehill seemingly does (from what could be seen in his presentation at the recent 52nd ATA Conference), is contradictory: his students will learn a confusing mishmash where on the one hand they are told that there are many different ways to translate a text (true, of course, as far as that goes), but on the other hand are taught absolute “commandments of interpretation” and “deadly sins of translation”.

Take the “deadly sin” of his that was most hotly debated during his presentation:

Never, never, never give in the temptation to improve the original. If the original is vague or clumsy or just plain wrong, then a good translation will faithfully reflect the flaws. After all, that was how the original author wrote it.

Stated in such stark terms, this is nonsense. Freehill referred, in his examples, to legal translations, saying that the reader of the translation has a right to know where the original went wrong. Fine (maybe) if the reader commissioned the translation precisely so as to find its weak points, perhaps to challenge them in court. But what if the customer is, instead, a foreign attorney who had his brief translated to file it in a US Court? Should a conscientious translator merrily translate the text “as is”, errors, warts and all, or should he point out to his customer unclear and wordy passages, suggesting suitable improvements? What about a translator commissioned to translated a hastily (and therefore badly) written press release. Shouldn’t he do his utmost to make the translated press release as smoothly flowing, well written and informative as possible in the target language?

During Freehill’s presentation Chris Durban remarked that by teaching his students never to improve on the original, he was condemning them to the bottom of the market. I agree. By limiting the choices available to his students, Mr. Freehill is depriving them of vital tools necessary to succeed in translation.

For an interesting discussion between a translation theorist and a professional translator, see Can Theory Help Translators? A Dialogue Between the Ivory Tower and the Wordface, by Andrew Chesterman and Emma Wagner (St. Jerome, 2002)

Monday, November 14, 2011

New landing page for Xbench training

I’ve changed the tab for my Xbench presentation, to convert it into a landing page. In the process, the web address for the page has changed, so if you had linked to it to access my presentation, the link no longer works.
To access the presentation you can either go to the tab here on top (now renamed “Xbench Training”), or go directly to

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Attention to details


I found this image in an instruction leaflet I was proofreading. Do you notice anything peculiar with this image?

It must have been flipped horizontally during DTP – otherwise this watch would seem to go counterclockwise!

Friday, November 11, 2011

My newest blog

I've just created a new blog (Riccardo Schiaffino, Italian Artist in Denver), to display some of my artwork. Little to do with translation - except I'm now trying to incorporate some classic translations into my artwork.

Original and Translations - acrylics on paper

It should be fairly easy to identify the original and the two classic translations in this work...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

“The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”

When the new ATA tagline (“The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”) was unveiled during the annual meeting of all voting members, I wrote in my notebook “consider me underwhelmed”.

According to the ATA October 2011 newsbrief, the tagline

would help both clients and the public understand what interpreters and translators do [...] In just six words, it sends the message that linguists are all about communication, about giving "voice" to information, ideas, and culture.

If that is the purpose of the tagline, it does not succeed: worded as it is, it says instead that the ATA speaks for translators and interpreters, but it gives to the public no information about what translators and interpreters actually do.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Blogging 101 and Xbench presentations now updated

I’ve just updated the Blogging and Xbench presentations available for download: they are now up to date as presented at the 52nd ATA Conference. You can download them from the tabs here above.

Open post on “Blogging 101”

As promised during the presentation, here is a post for questions and answers about our blogging presentation, or for other questions about blogging for translators.

Please feel free to ask any question by adding a comment to this post.

You can download the most up to date version of our presentation from this blog (to download the presentation, select the “Blogging 101” tab above, and then follow the link to the ppt file).

If you have a blog or will start one, write to Corinne or to me: we love to see new interesting blogs o translation and related subjects.

Monday, October 31, 2011

52nd ATA Conference: 3rd (and final) day

This was the third day of the conference, and I was a bit nervous, as I had two different presentations to give, one in the morning, and the other in the afternoon.
The first presentation I attended was How to Read a Prospectus, presented by Francesca Marchei and Barbara Arrighetti: another excellent presentation from the Italian Language Division – technical, but very useful for English into Italian and Italian into English financial translators. The two presenters focused mainly on certain terminological niceties about different types of investment funds, and on changes to Italian law aimed at providing investors with information in an easier to understand format… that, however, may throw unexpected hurdles in the translator’s path.
The second presentation I attended in the morning was Out, Damned Theory, by Mark Freehill. I’ll have more to say about this frustrating presentation later. Its aim, seemingly, was to show how no theory is necessary in teaching or learning translation, or in translating. This, of course, is itself a theory of translation of sorts. (And it did include the “ten commandments of translation”: Freehill condemns theory, but has no problem with prescribing what should or should not be done.) But, as I said, I’ll criticize this presentation later.
After Freehill’s presentation, it was time for Corinne’s and my presentation on blogging for translators. I believe the presentation went well; we had a good audience, and I think they found our material interesting. As soon as I’m back in Denver, I’ll post here the most up-to-date version of our presentation (meanwhile, you can still download the old one). I’ll also add an open post to answer any question from people who did not have time to ask them at the end of the presentation.
After the lunch break, it was time for my second presentation of the day: a detailed introduction to Xbench. Again, there was a good audience, and the presentation went well. It was only marred by a flaky microphone: the people in the room probably heard me well enough, but I’m afraid the session’s recording was not of good quality.
The last session of the day was Corinne McKay’s, Judy Jenner’s and Chris Durban’s Smart Business Panel – good advice for all translators, but especially for those who feel insecure marketing their services.
A good presentation, all in all. Nina and I will remain in Boston for a couple of days more, to sightsee and visit at least some of this city’s many attractions.

Friday, October 28, 2011

52nd ATA Conference: 2nd day

I skipped the plenary session to put some finishing touches to my presentations – and was also late for the first presentation I had selected for today (Corinne’s and Eve’s session on how to work successfully with a translation partner). Nina had arrived before me, and told me the session had been very good and well presented. Nina than stayed for a second presentation on a similar subject (cooperation between translators in virtual workgroups), this time by Friederike Butler and Jeana Clark – again, a very informative session.

The second session I attended was Overview of Editing Basics for the Translation Professions, by Literary Division’s Distinguished Speaker Greer Lleud. Lleud has many years of professional experience in the publishing in various capacities, and provided clear explanations of the various types of editing professionals and what they do: what distinguishes line editing, for example, from copy editing. Although the content mostly concerned editing in the publishing world, it was also useful for translators and translation editors.

In the afternoon I went to two Italian session: Translating Style, by Tim Parks, and Class  Action (Italian Style), by Barbara Arrighetti. Both very interesting presentations – in particular Parks’, as he provided several examples of good (and bad) work from English into Italian and from Italian into English, from translations of Henry Green, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elsa Morante and Niccolò Ammaniti, proving how style in translation may get all the more difficult precisely in apparently simple passages.

Barbara Arrighetti presentation on the differences between common law class actions and recently introduced apparently similar actions under civil law was technical, but very clearly explained, and certainly useful to all Italian legal translators.

All in all, another interesting day at the conference.

52nd ATA Conference: 1st Day

We arrived in Boston on Wednesday, escaping the first winter storm in Denver (just two days earlier it was still shirtsleeves weather). Yesterday was our first day at the conference, with two interesting presentations.

The first one was by Tim Parks, the Distinguished Speaker for the Italian Language Division. In addition to being a well-known writer, Parks is a translator and teacher of translation. In his first presentation, Retranslation of Classics for an Authentic reading Experience, he spoke of the challenges of translating such a well-known and politically loaded book as Macchiavelli's The Prince. The presentation was excellent, with several interesting examples from older translations as well as Parks' own recent one - and also from translation from Macchiavelli's Italian into modern Italian.

Parks will have another presentation this afternoon, Style in Translation (speaking, this time, on the translation of modern Italian authors).

The second interesting presentation of the first day was by Tuomoas Kostiainen, on Working with Non-Trados Studio Clients/Translators, i.e. which workflows are available for translators who work in Trados Studio, but have to deliver translations to customers who are not working with Studio as yet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Don’t worry: MT is not exactly perfect yet

While I believe that for certain applications MT will keep on improving (and will become a useful tool even for many translators), the sky is not falling on our profession. At least not yet:


The verb “Switch”, in “Switch your TV to the corresponding Component Video input to view your XYZ video playback” is translated in opposite ways by Google Translate and by Bing Translator – and both of them are wrong. Google translates “switch” as if it were “switch on”; Bing as if it were “switch off” – when of course the meaning is neither the former nor the latter.

This is just anecdotal evidence, of course, and by itself means little, but it underlines the fact that a machine translation program does not understand the text, and that relying on MT can lead to some disastrous errors.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy International Translation Day!

Every day is a translation day here – but since today is “International Translation Day”, I’d like to share with you two images you might like:


We found these painted tiles several years ago, I don’t remember if it was in Assisi or in Urbino. They were in a ceramics shop, together with similar tiles for many other professions and crafts. As soon as we saw them we decided to get a pair, and they have hung outside our office ever since.

I especially like that both translators are reading with a smile on their faces… perhaps, they are happy to use a quill (no blue screen of death for them!), and work at a more sedate pace.

Happy St. Jerome’s Day, everyone!

Friday, September 23, 2011

SDL Trados 2011

I’ve just downloaded an advanced pre-release version of Studio 2011 – although there is almost no point in installing it now, with the actual release date so close.

I’ve also received a list of the major new or improved features from Studio 2009. I’m certainly looking forward to checking out the track-changes feature, and the improved filter bar. For most languages the ability to use MS Word’s spell checker will be a big improvement over HunSpell.

Trados 2011 will finally be able to translate bilingual doc files (i.e., files created with Workbench 2007 and earlier). Bear in mind, however, that, unlike Studio 2009, Trados 2007 will not be bundled in with Studio 2011: this means that with Studio 2011 alone you won’t be able to create Trados 2007-style MS Word bilingual files – for that you’ll still need a standalone Trados 2007 installation. It will still be possible to purchase Trados 2007 as an extra with Studio 2011 – but from what I understand, you’ll have to pay extra. So, if you plan to buy Studio 2011, it might be a good idea to buy Studio 2009 now, before Studio 2011 is released: that way you’ll have Trados 2007 at no extra cost, and you’ll be able to upgrade to 2011 for free soon afterwards (do check with SDL for details, though).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Introduction to SDL Trados Studio

On Saturday, October 8, from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, at the Westminster College Hill library, the Colorado Translators Association will offer an SDL Trados Studio training session. The four of us who are going to present met yesterday in a very productive planning discussion. We have a very information-packed outline, and are now busy working on the actual presentations.

This three-hour session is meant for users of all levels, provided they have a basic understanding of what a translation memory is. We'll be looking at the translation workflow in Studio 2009: learn how to prepare files for translation, how to upgrade memories, how to create simple and complex projects, how to set up profiles, how to translate and edit and (the icing on the cake) we also will see how to use some useful features such as QA, Autotext and Autosuggest. Finally, we'll get a glimpse into the future, with some of the new features in the upcoming Studio 2011. The presenters will be CTA members Anna Kuzminsky, Anouschka Zecha, Riccardo Schiaffino and Margherita De Togni.

Registration is already open (see for details). We have space for 20 people and are anticipating this session will sell out, so if you are paying by check, please e-mail Corinne McKay at to let her know that your check is on the way.

Cost: $40 for CTA members, $50 for non-members, limited to 20 participants.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The ATA conference is fast approaching

There are several sessions that look interesting at this year’s ATA Conference. The Italian division, in particular, will be very active, with two presentations on literary translation by special guest Tim Parks and a couple of interesting sessions on English to Italian legal translation.

You can find a list of all the scheduled sessions from the Conference’s preliminary program.

I’ll have a very busy Saturday at the conference, with two presentations within just a few hours:

  • Blogging 101 (presented with Corinne McKay), Saturday 11:30 AM (session IC-10)
  • Xbench: A Free Tool for Terminology and Quality Assurance, Saturday 2:30 PM (session LT-9)

If you are interested, older versions of both presentations are available from this blog (see the tabs above). I won’t post the most up to date version until after the conference.

If you are going to the 52nd ATA Conference (Boston, October 26-30), but are unsure what to do (because it’s the first time for you), Jill Sommer has just posted a very useful QA session.

See you in Boston!

Monday, September 05, 2011

What's wrong with the passive

From a grammatical point of view, there is nothing wrong with the passive, of course. And there are many instances in which the passive is the best choice. But in other instances it is frowned upon as it can lead to an amorphous and obfuscating language in which nobody is ever clearly responsible for anything.

or, putting it in a more active way:

The passive is useful, in its proper place, but several proponents of a clear style (such as George Orwell) advise against overindulging in it, as it can lead to a style better suited to hide information than to reveal it.

The difference, in short, between

"the buck stops here"


"errors were made"


I wrote the above to answer someone on another forum; he was asking why MS Word’s grammar checker always flagged the passive voice.

As with so many other “writing rules”, the suggestion not to use the passive voice when the active one would do should be taken with a pinch of salt. I use the passive when necessary, of course, but I also find that trying to change passives into actives helps me tighten up my writing.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Nobody can demand a discount from a freelancer

I reprint here something I wrote in a long comment thread in Jill Sommer’s Musings from and Overworked Translator. The comment is about whether CAT tools are convenient for translators, when they make it easier for translation companies to “demand” discounts. I’m reposting it here as I believe it might be of general interest.

By "nobody can demand a discount from a freelancer" I mean that we are always free not to work with certain customers, if we believe the conditions they insist on are not convenient for us. Of course, they also are free not to use our services, if they consider it not convenient for them.

We sometimes grant discounts for fuzzy or 100% matches, when we think it is still convenient for us to do so. For other customers we invoice the full text, no matter how many matches. And we are prepared not to work any longer with certain customers when it is no longer in our interest.

A VP from a certain major translation company last November announced that a "compulsory" 5% discount would be applied on all translator invoices for the next few months. Those of us, however, who declined to grant the so-called "compulsory" discount continued to be paid at our usual rates.

Of course that means that one should be ready to ditch a customer who makes unacceptable demands. We were able to resist the "compulsory" discount because that customer represented for us less than 15% of turnover – we might have had to swallow and grant the discount if they had represented 80% of our total invoices.

But I believe it is up to us to manage customers: If we want to have more freedom in accepting or rejecting conditions, we also need to be careful not to have too much of our income come from too few customers.

One of our first customers a few years ago asked us for a 20% discount across the board. In exchange they would "guarantee" more work. We decided not to work with that customer any longer, even though up to that point we had invoiced them several thousands (or dozens of thousands) dollars a year. Again, we had managed, through foresight (and a bit of luck), never to have that customer represent more than about 20% of our turnover – that was what gave us the freedom to decide not to work any longer with them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What’s sauce for the goose…

I’ve recently criticized here translators who don’t know how to communicate with translation companies, and start their messages with “Dear Sir / Madam” (going downhill from there).
What’s sauce for the goose, however, is also sauce for the gander. Translation companies and project managers also should refrain from a scattershot approach, sending translation requests to “everyone”, as if any translator were perfectly interchangeable with any other, in the hope that someone is desperate enough to accept a rush assignment due in just a few hours.
From a major translation company:
Hello Everyone,
We have an urgent request for [Name of the project]. Please find below the details. Would request you to please confirm your availability at the earliest. Upon confirmation from me or [Name of PM] please start working on the request.
We are not available for this job.
Also, our name is not “everyone”: a little bit of courtesy and respect for professionals would not hurt.
Best regards,
(No, it is not from TP – it is from a company who should know better – and, to their credit, often does).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Another giant of translation studies passes away

Eugene Nida, a giant of translation studies, passed away on August 24.
You can find a long and interesting post about him, his importance in translation studies and bible translation, and especially his famous notion of dynamic equivalence in Susan Bernofsky's Translationista blog.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Translate in the Catskills 2011

Ever since hearing from Corinne McKay so many good things about Translate in the Catskills, a conference focused on target language writing skills for translators, I had longed to go. Yet, I had doubts: the event was aimed, seemingly, only at translators who work from French into English or the other way round, and I was unsure how useful it would be for me. After all, I can barely understand spoken French, and though I can read it, still I was afraid any session on English into French translation would be wasted on me. I knew I would be able to follow discussions about French into English, but how applicable would they be for me, since, after all, I do not normally translate into English?

I mentioned my doubts to Corinne; she said last time there had been some people who translated neither from nor into French. She suggested I should contact Chris Durban (translator extraordinaire and the event’s organizer) to ask for details. Chris was friendly and helpful, and provided me with a list of former participants I could contact. In the end, she suggested I give it a try, and see for myself.

So I took the plunge: enrolled, and went. I am just back (after a far more complicated journey than expected – but that’s another story I may tell in a separate post). I’m very happy I took a chance on this event: I attended most of the into-English sessions, and even a few of the French ones, finding much to help improve my work. I won’t try to give a blow-by-blow of what was said during the various sessions (but if you go to Corinne’s Tweeter page, you’ll find hundreds of tweets sent in the real time from the conference); I will concentrate, instead, on the main ideas I found valuable.

  • Translators are writers

To be a good translator, you have to remember you are a writer. That means concentrating on making your target text effective. Translate accurately, of course. But that, by itself, is not enough to craft an effective, well-written target text that does not feel translated: If you only concentrate on accuracy, neglecting effectiveness, you’ll produce, in Chris Durban’s words, “a description of a text, rather than a text in its own right”.

Sometimes (or at least in certain fields) your translation may need to wander rather far from the source to achieve the desired effect in the target language. Sometimes, you’ll need to shorten, lengthen or even change your text, because often what your customer needs but cannot articulate is rather different than a run-of-the-mill translation. A translator who sees himself as a “humble servant of the source text” (Ros Schwartz’ definition of this gun-shy attitude) is unlikely to be as effective as one who makes the text her own.

In certain fields at least, use of translation memory is a hindrance – unless you find ways to ensure the target text flows well and is effective. I’ll suggest a technique to achieve this in a later article.

  • Techniques to achieve more effective translations

Use statistical analysis to see what a translated text should look like, comparing it to similar documents written originally in your target language.

To give an example presented by David Jemielity, if in translating into English CEO’s letters to shareholders you follow your source language conventions, you might refer to the company in the third person. You may even be asked by your customer to follow this path... after all, they are French (or Italian), and they are accustomed to writing of themselves this way (“Nel 2010 ACME ha fatto questo e quest’altro...”). However, if we can show our customers that CEO’s letters written originally in English are overwhelmingly in the first person (“In 2010, we did this and that at ACME...”), we may convince our customers to let us translate their letter this way, to make it more effective for them.

Similar strategies, buttressed by clear documentation, may show us other ways to improve our translation: sentence length and variety, use (or not) of the article before a company’s name, use of nominalizations, and so on.

  • Marketing ideas

Look for direct customers by taking part in their industry’s events. When you attend such events, don’t ask if they need translations. Try other tactics, such as asking questions, complimenting the speaker, letting slip in the fact you are a translator. Gently point out to someone you have met at such an event, that something in their presentation was unclear, or that it should be phrased differently in your target language, offering (for free) to suggest improvements to the text. Don’t do this, however, in an aggressive way (“gotcha!”), nor when you are asking a question during an open session.

And let’s not market against ourselves: Be careful in what you say in online fora, tweets or blogs. Translators all too easily fall into bitching mode (about bad agencies, expensive software, opaque tools, cheap wannabe translators, or whatever). Remember, however, that what you write online may come back to haunt you.

But I don’t want to give you the idea it was all work all the time: those who arrived early went for a hike to the top of one of the mountains (I guess we would call them hills in Colorado). We went out for dinner on Friday. On Saturday Ros Schwartz presented her new translation of Le Petit Prince (you’ll have to order it from the UK, though: for copyright reasons it won’t be sold in the USA). Movie night on Saturday: an exclusive showing of The Woman with the Five Elephants – an interesting documentary on Svetlana Geier, a veteran Russian-German translator, who passed away last November, after completing new translations of Dostoyevsky’s major novels.

It was interesting to see this old translator (Geier was over eighty-five, at the time) dictating her translations to an elderly typist, who clacked away on a mechanical typewriter or editing by having her translation read out loud (and commented) by an old musician (not exactly what we Trados users are accustomed to!). If you have a chance, don’t miss this film; even if you are not a translator, you’ll be fascinated by the underlying history: Geier directly witnessed Stalin’s purges (her father was tortured an imprisoned for 18 months) and the German invasion. Her knowledge of German helped her and her mother getting away from Ukraine. They ended up in Germany, where she remained, working as a translator and teaching at the university.

So, this highly regarded German translator was a native speaker of a different language. Just to show you that even one of the most cherished principles of our profession (that translators should only work into their native tongue) has its exceptions.

A big thanks to Chris Durban for organizing this energizing conference, and to all the presenters who did so much to make this a fruitful and memorable event!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Requiescat in pace: Peter Newmark passed away on July 12

I met Peter Newmark when I attended a translation seminar at the Polytechnic of Central London in 1990. Newmark was an excellent teacher: always interesting, able to intersperse talk of practical and theoretical aspects of translation with anecdotes of his experiences as translator and interpreter while serving with the British army in Italy during WWII.

Although that seminar was all too brief, I learned much from Peter Newmark – and meeting him also led to his books: unlike most books in translation studies, which easily become too technical and theoretical, Peter Newmark's books are of real use for the practicing translator (I’m especially fond of his two collections of “Paragraphs on Translation”, and of course the name of this blog is a direct homage to Newmark's “About Translation”).

Antony Pym wrote an obituary on the European Society for Translation Studies’ site; Margaret Rogers wrote a longer personal note, published on the Notes on Translation Studies blog.

Monday, July 18, 2011

To the translators who send us their résumés

Dear translators,

I realize that, especially for beginners, finding new customers is difficult. So I am all in favor of your efforts to market your services by sending out your résumé.

However, I sometimes have the strange feeling that many of you don’t really send out résumés and applications to acquire new customers, but rather to collect rejections and silence – so as to be able to truthfully complain on ProZ and similar sites that you have sent out hundreds of résumés without any success.

If this is the real reason many of you send out your résumés, it would explain many otherwise puzzling facts:

  • messages full of spelling horrors and other mistakes
  • messages with attached a résumé in a file… but with no text at all in the body of the message
  • messages sent without any indication of your language pair or specialization
  • résumés that either hide, or sometimes actually don’t include, your language pair

All of that is either a sign of real ineptitude on your part, or a well-planned effort ideally designed not to acquire any new customer.

My suggestion: if you do want to find new customers, carefully review and edit your résumé (or rewrite it from scratch), and pay particular attention to write a cover message that is short, clear and to the point – with the aim of inducing the recipient to open your résumé and be dazzled by your expertise.

And, please, do your homework: address your message to a real person: “Dear Sir or Madam” message are directly filtered to my junk mail folder.

Best wishes of a more successful job search,


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Don’t search from the wrong side: a reminder for SDL 2009 users

A frequent complaint against SDL Trados Studio 2009 is that sometimes the program doesn’t find matches the user is sure are in memory.

The problem is real and we have seen it, but I believe that sometimes what the user is complaining about is a mismatch between Studio 2009 and Trados 2007.

In Trados 2007 it was possible to search a concordance only on the source text. This was a severe drawback (no target concordance), but it was simple to use: highlight some text, click on the concordance button (or hit F3), and you got your results.

In Studio 2009, on the other hand, you can find concordances not only on the source, but also on the target. This is great, but it also means that depending on where you highlight text, you may not get the results that you expect.

For example, if you copy your source text to target (to overwrite it – a frequent technique when translating marked-up text). You have on the right of the editor’s pane (the target part), text that is still in your source language. You highlight a few words, because you are sure you had encountered them earlier, and want to see your previous translation. You click F3 to invoke the concordance search…


…and don’t get any match. Yet you are sure you have that string in memory. What happened?

What happened is that if you selected the text in the target part of the screen, and then called the concordance search, you were searching for a concordance on the translated text – but since the text you selected is not translated yet, the concordance doesn’t return any result.

If you selected the same words on the left (the source part of the screen), then launched the concordance search, you would get the result you expected:


So, even though it is true that Studio 2009 sometimes does not return matches you do have in memory, the program is not always to blame – just remember to launch your concordance searches from the appropriate side of the screen.

Update – Solutions for different concordance searches

Thanks to SDL’s Paul Filkin – here is how to handle the different concordance searches in Studio 2009:

    • F3 will take the source when you are in source, and target when you are in target
    • Ctrl+F3 will always search the source no matter where you take the text from.
    • Ctrl+Shift+F3 will always search the target no matter where you take the text from.

…and (again according to Paul), you can even customize these shortcuts, to better suit your needs.

I like having a tool with a rich set of options – even if that sometimes means a steeper learning curve.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Volunteer translators wanted for Le mot just en anglais blog

Some time ago Jonathan Goldberg of Le mot just en anglais, asked me to post here an announcement that he was looking for a collaborator for his excellent bilingual blog.

That announcement resulted in three very helpful collaborators for Jonathan’s blog, but he still needs help with his blog:

I still desperately need translators - native French speakers who will be prepared to translate from English short articles in fields that are close to their hearts and at a regularity of their own choosing. In all such cases, the translators will be be credited and a link will be provided to their own blogs.

So he asked me to post the following announcement, in French and in English, to help him find collaborators:

Blog de qualité et très actif (Le mot juste en anglais), fruit d'un effort collaboratif de linguistes en herbe dans différents pays, cherche un/une Francophone (français langue maternelle), de préférence traducteur/traductrice de profession, pour traduire depuis l'anglais au moins un article par semaine (échantillon disponible sur simple demande). (travaille bénévole)

Very active, quality blog (Le mot just en anglais), a collaborative effort of language lovers in different countries, needs the assistance of a native French speaker, preferably a professional translator, to translate at least one article a week. (Sample article available on request.) (voluntary work) Credit will be given to the translator at the end of each article, as well as a link to the translator's website or blog, if such exists. 

If you are interested, please write to with a short biography, city of residence and telephone number.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reminder: commenting in About Translation

I've just deleted a comment that didn't even pretend to be about the post it purportedly commented: it was just a crappy ad for some crappy product or other.

Just to be clear: everyone is free to comment here. I won't delete comments because they contradict or even attack something I write. I don't mind strong language, and if you are not politically correct, fine with me. If your (cogent) comment contains a link to your web page, so be it: I have no problem with it.

However, if your comment is of the "Nice post! For a really excellent whatever check our website" variety, either try to articulate why your whatever should interest the readers of that specific post, or don't comment: your comment will be deleted as soon as I see it.

Also, if you are a translation company, you are very welcome to comment here, but if it looks like the sole purpose of your comment is to drive readers to your website, I will probably delete your comment (again, I won't delete your comment if it has something to say about the post to which it is attached).

On the other hand, sometimes comments are not displayed immediately. That might happen for two reasons: if the comment is to an older post, I need to approve it before it is displayed (the reason for this is that I found that most comment spam goes to older posts, not newer ones); the second reason is if Blogger's spam filter judges it as spam: the filter is not perfect, and sometimes it quarantines legitimate comments; in that case I will have to rescue the comment from the filter and approve it, before it is published.

Some news about this blog

On May 31st, while I was abroad, this blog reached a new nice round number: 250,000 page views served.


On the next day, the results of the annual Lexiophiles’ poll of best language blogs and sites came in: About Translation placed both among the Top 100 Language Lovers 2011 sites (in 93rd place) and among the Top 25 Language Professional Blogs (in 16th place).

Top 25 Language Professionals Blogs 2011 Top 100 Language Lovers 2011Make sure to check the other sites chosen by the poll: you are sure to find some new interesting language sites.

A big “thank you!” to all you readers – without you (and without you comments) this blog would long ago have dwindled to nothing, but knowing there are people interested in reading what I have to say gives me the energy to keep on writing here and trying new ways to improve the site.

Thank you!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Denver Public Library v. foreign language readers

We are just back in Denver, in time for a weekend that included the Denver Public Library’s annual book sale.We normally enjoy the book sale: a chance to contribute to the library and, at the same time, find some interesting books.

There was an unusual quantity of foreign language books this year, including many Italian ones. Unlike last year, when the Italian books available mostly came from a couple of private donors, this year all of the books came from the library’s own shelves.

I had a bad feeling about that: I thought the library had decided to reduce its Italian collection. I asked a librarian, but it was even worse than I thought: the Denver Public Library has decided to get rid of most foreign language collections in their entirety.

Considering the painful cost-cutting measures the library has to implement (including the planned closure of up to half its branches) I could understand a decision not to purchase foreign language books any longer. But why not keep those they already had, at least until they were in fit conditions for borrowing (and the stamps on the books clearly showed most of them had been borrowed many times from the library)?

So, if you want to read Petrarca, Dante, Goldoni, Calvino, Pavese or Levi in the original, you are out of luck at the Denver Public Library.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Questions and answers: how to start out

I received these questions from a colleague who is just starting out in our profession, and with her permission, I’m sharing them here together with my answers (after removing a few identifying details), in the hope they may be of interest for other translators:

I am a Spanish to English translator, just starting out in this field, but I’ve heard that we Spanish to English translators are a dime a dozen. I have received conflicting suggestions about the best way to go about getting into this field:

  1. Subscribe to TranslatorsCafé and forget about sending your resumes to agencies.
  2. Send your résumé to any and every agency. 
  3. Writing a blog that I could use to market myself. I guess if I could do it in two languages that would be even better, but I don't have any ideas. 

And several other different suggestions.  Any advice would be appreciated.

While it is true that there are many Spanish to English translators, good translators are not all that frequent, so if you are a good translator, you’ll eventually break through.

My idea about the advice you have received:

  1. Subscribe to Translator Café (but don’t forget ProZ or other portals). I think you should, but wait to test the waters before paying for the membership. There are many translators that get much work from such translation portals, but the work offered on such sites is normally poorly paid. So, do subscribe to such sites (and perhaps, even pay for a membership), but do not rely on them as your only source of work.
  2. Send your résumé to translation companies. I advise against a scattershot approach in this: much better to take the time necessary to research your prospects, see in which way they prefer to be approached (résumé sent to a particular person or persons, or to a specific address, or filling up a form online). Résumés sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” are normally deleted sight unseen.
  3. Using a blog as a marketing tool. Good idea, but you should think carefully how to achieve your aim: who is your public? To attract customers, your blog should be aimed at direct customers or to translation companies (difficult to do both at the same time). If you do not plan carefully your blog, you might end with a blog that maybe is widely read (if you make it interesting), but by the wrong public (I, for instance, didn’t plan when I started writing About Translation. It  has now attracted a large enough public for such a niche endeavor, but the wrong public if my aim had been to attract more customers: most of my readers are other translators).

Some further ideas you didn’t mention.

  • Contact local translation companies in person, and see if they are interested in your services – you are likely going to find the rates in Mexico, where you live, very low, but you might expand from there to agencies elsewhere once you have gained some experience with them; also, if you return to your hometown in the USA to visit friends or family, take the time to go an introduce yourself to translation companies there (try to set up an appointment in advance: don’t just drop in on them).
  • There are some good resources on the web to help beginning translators – I believe the “beginning translators” posts here in About Translation are one, but better ones are, for example, Corinne McKay’s blog (Thoughts on Translation) and book (How To Succeed as a Freelance Translator – the second edition has just been published), and Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s really useful book The Entrepreneurial Linguist. You can also find much useful advice (amid a sea of useless blather) in the translation fora of such sites as ProZ and TranslatorsCafé  and on social networks such as LinkedIn.
  • Join the ATA and also your local translators association in Mexico, and/or in your hometown in the USA.
  • Try to get ATA certified. This is usually difficult in your language pair, but useful if you manage it.
  • Enroll in a university-level course in translation. There are several excellent ones – including the Denver University’s University College program where I teach.
  • Finally, if you decide to start your own blog. Check out the “Blogging 101” presentation here – you might find it useful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time to vote for your favorite Language Professional Blog for 2011

Best Blogs 2011 Poll

If you like this blog, you can now vote for it in the Language Professionals Blogs category of the LexioPhiles "Top 100 Language Lovers 2011" poll.

Just follow the link and vote for your favorite language professional blog. Of course, if you choose to cast your vote for this blog, I would much appreciate it!

Interesting bilingual blog is looking for a French co-blogger

Have you ever checked out Le mot juste en anglais? It’s a blog aimed at French speakers who wish to enhance their understanding of English.

Jonathan Golberg, the blog author, is looking for a native French co-blogger, and asked me to post the following announcement:

Si vous êtes de langue maternelle française et que vous aimez l’anglais ; si, de surcroît, vous voulez prêter main forte à un blog franco-anglais (,
contactez Jonathan Goldberg :
Ce blog linguistique publie des articles soignés, sérieux ou drôles, et invite ses lecteurs à une participation active.

If your mother-tongue is French and you have a keen interest in  English, and if you would like to collaborate in maintaining  a French-language  blog ( aimed at enhancing understanding of written English, please contact Jonathan Goldberg at The blog endeavors to publish high-quality linguistic articles, both serious and humorous, and it invites readers to comment and exchange views.

I’ve checked Le mot just en anglais out (notwithstanding my limited knowledge of French), and found it well done and quite interesting – among the latest posts, for example there is an extended article on the word “birther” (as in those strange people who still cannot believe a black man born in Hawaii is the legitimate president of the USA).

Monday, May 16, 2011

International Legal Translation Conference in Lisbon, October 7 and 8, 2011

If you are a legal translator, the International Legal Translation Conference that will be held in Lisbon on October 7 and 8 could be an interesting even to go to:

The Conference will feature two full days of practical learning sessions -- translation and terminology workshops (in Portuguese, English, Spanish, more languages if possible) -- for the professional translator and interpreter of legal materials.

Among the session abstracts there are several that sound interesting and of practical value for legal translators.

Attendance to the conference counts towards earning ATA's continuing education points.

I won't be able to attend this year (we are going to the ATA conference in Boston in October), but I'm seriously tempted for the future: I have very fond memories of the summer month I spent in Lisbon many years ago, attending a summer course in Portuguese and discovering a truly lovely city.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trados 2007 v. Studio 2009, warts and all

Yesterday, my partner Margherita De Togni and I gave a presentation at the 2011 Colorado Translators Association Mid-Year Conference: “Trados 2007 and SDL Trados 2009:  Warts and all”. The presentation examined ten defects of Trados 2007 (“classic” Trados) to see if things had been improved in Studio 2009.

The answer, for us, is a qualified pass for Studio 2009 – we find it a better CAT tools than the old version, with some really useful improvements (such as the filter bar and the concordance search on the target text as well as on the source). Some of the most frustrating issue with the MS Word/Trados combo are no longer an issue (messed-up formatting, skipping the text in tables or text boxes), some, unfortunately, are still there (unprotected URLs presented as editable text, poor fuzzy matching algorithms).

For many, of course, the most glaring defect in Studio 2009 is the program’s inability to handle legacy bilingual Trados/MS Word (.doc) files - but there are rumors that this is going to be addressed in the next major release of the tool.

If you would like to see or download a pdf file with the slides from our presentation, please click here (or the presentation title above); for details on the URL problem, see: “Trados: beware of wrong links”; for more on the fuzzy match problems, see the following posts: “One reason I believe the sooner Trados disappears, the better...”, “Proof positive that Trados programmers should change job”, “Shouldn't Trados programmers improve their matching algorithms?”, “Yet again: Trados fuzzy match woes”, and “Yet again: Trados fuzzy match woes (Expanded)”.

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 Conference | Colorado Translators Association

We'll be in Boulder this weekend for the first ever Colorado Translators Association mid-year conference. Corinne and the organizing committee have done a great job of promoting the conference and selecting interesting presentation (maybe I shouldn't say so, since one of them is our own presentation on Trados 2007 v. 2009).

The conference will be complemented on Sunday by ATA certification exams, and by two Trados training sessions.

After the conference, I'll post the slides from our presentation here in About Translation.

WhiteSmoke: writing tool or malware?

Some time ago I wrote a not very favorable review of WhiteSmoke, a grammar checker program which claims to be the best in its category.
Although what I found in looking at the program for my review didn’t match the inflated claims made for the software by its publisher, I didn’t think much about it, and described it as a not very useful, but legitimate, tool.
When I tried to remove the program from my computer, however, I found the software wouldn’t unintstall cleanly – and that it had peppered registry and hard drive with pieces of itself. I finally managed to uninstall it using a third-party uninstaller tool.
Later still, I found, to no great surprise, that several security programs list WhiteSmoke as malware. Not as bad as a computer virus or full-blown Trojan, perhaps, but definitely not something you want to install on your hard drive.
So the closing line of my review changes from
“The grammar checker is somewhat better than MS Word. If that is important for you, then you might consider paying for the annual license”
“Although this grammar checker might be somewhat better than MS Word, who cares!: you don’t want to risk infecting your hard drive with an uninstallable program that is borderline malware”.


This post had disappeared, together with the two comments it had received. The disappearance had nothing to do with WhiteSmoke: Blogger suffered some problem yesterday, was offline for ours, and apparently lost or misplaced many (or all) blog posts created yesterday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You cannot specialize in everything

From an unsolicited “Dear Sir or Madam” application I’ve just received:

The fields of knowledge in which I am specialized are scientific texts in general as well as medical and pharmaceutical amongst others

Advice to beginning translators: do not follow this example – you cannot specialize in everything, and if you claim that you do specialize in everything you make painfully clear to your prospects that you do not, in fact, specialize in anything.

Lexiophiles' Top 100 Language Lovers 2011 competition – Nominate your favorite blog on

It's that time of the year again: LexioPhiles launches its "Top 100" Language Lovers 2011 competition.

From May 3 through May 16 you can nominate your favorite language blog; voting will take place between May 17 and May 29, and the results will be given on June 1.

About Translation (which was chosen among the Top 100 language blogs in 2008) has once again been nominated (Thank you to those of you who nominated this blot!)

And, of course, If you like this blog and don't mind my irregular publishing schedule, I'll be grateful for your vote when the voting will get under way.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

New version of Xbench released

ApSIC has released today a new version (2.9) of Xbench.
As usual with Xbench, the slight increase in the version number does not mean slight improvements to the tool: the new version now directly supports SDL Studio 2009 bilingual files, PO (gettext) files, the use of multiple personal checklists during QA, and several other very useful improvement to a great free tool.
The new features are well documented in the updated help file; you can read a fuller list of the improved or new features in ApSIC’s blog.
Only downside… I’ll now have to update my Xbench presentation Winking smile.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Somehow, I don’t think they’ll be successful…

I just received an announcement from a wannabe translation portal:


I have some doubt they’ll be able to attract too many customers. It’s very clear they have not found too many proofreaders, yet. But then, what do I know: I’m no “writting” specialist, myself Winking smile.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

WhiteSmoke: a review

As an Italian translator living in the United States, I write in English all the time: emails to customers and colleagues, this blog, articles and presentations; now even Twitter.

I try to write as well as I can, but I'm well aware English is not my native language; to improve it I read and study books on writing and taking courses online or from the Teaching Company. If some software offers to help improve my writing, I am interested; I was happy, therefore, to agree when WhiteSmoke offered me a limited-time license if I would then write a review here on About Translation.

WhiteSmoke makes heady claims of helping to improve your writing, using a mixed bag of tools: style, spelling and grammar check; dictionary and thesaurus; "writing enrichment"; writing templates. It even offers bilingual dictionaries and automatic translation.


WhiteSmoke grammar check

To run the program, you have to be connected to the Internet. The program only checks up to 3000 characters at a time (about 600 words): enough for a medium-size blog post, but not nearly enough for longer articles. You can check longer documents in sections, but that is awkward as it involves either cutting and pasting into WhiteSmoke's window or splitting your document across several files.

The WhiteSmoke people boast their program is the best grammar checker available. To buttress this claim they sent me a document with a long list of errors that WhiteSmoke corrects while MS Word does not. I tested both programs against this list, and, indeed, WhiteSmoke performed remarkably better than Word.

I was not, however, content with relying only on such cherry-picked sentences, so I also tested both programs against the list of errors used by Daniel Kies in his "Evaluating Grammar Checkers: A Comparative Ten-Year Study". Using Kies' list as a test bed, WhiteSmoke's advantage over MS Word was far less clear. Both programs missed several types of errors, and the suggestions they offered were sometimes misleading or wrong. Paradoxically, the suggestions by any grammar checker make the most sense to the people who need them the least: someone with a shaky knowledge of English can easily be led astray and implement with disastrous results some inappropriate correction.

WhiteSmoke does not provide readability statistics, a feature offered even by MS Word that can help achieve a concise a more readable style. For a writing improvement program, this absence is puzzling.

While several of the WhiteSmoke tools are useful (for example, the dictionaries and the thesaurus), they are easily available elsewhere. Nevertheless, WhiteSmoke does offer a feature not available in other programs: their "language enrichment" suggestions. Unfortunately, these suggestions can lead to a cliché-ridden style as they merely propose adverbs and adjectives to sprinkle in one’s writing – the opposite of what most books on style and writing recommend (remember "Omit needless words" from Strunk and White? Well, WhiteSmoke's enrichment is all about adding extra words, instead).


WhiteSmoke “enrichment” tool

Apart from the first day, I was unable to test WhiteSmoke's automatic translation service (the server was down every time I tried). From what I saw on that first day, the translation from English into Italian was worse than Google's. Anyway, I don’t see the point of adding machine translation to a program aimed at improving English writing – especially when several free translation sites are available, if all you need is gisting.

The translation tab sports a link to request “human” translation – while this is commendable (at least it implies that MT is not the way to get good translations), it leads to a site that offers translations at abysmal rates ($ 0.07/word for English to Italian, and other language pairs even cheaper).

The bottom line: WhiteSmoke has some useful features, but most of them are available elsewhere (dictionary, thesaurus, spelling checker, automatic translation, even the writing templates). The enrichment feature is not easily available elsewhere, but, in my opinion, it is worthless.

The grammar checker is somewhat better than MS Word. If that is important for you, then you might consider paying for the annual license (starting from $ 69/year).


If you are thinking of installing this tool, please see my update post: “WhiteSmoke: writing tool or malware?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Once again: SDL, please increase your bandwidth!

Back in December, I complained about the slow downloads from the SDL site.
It’s now three months later, and the issue is still there: I’m currently downloading Multiterm SP 4 (150 MB, 1 hour download), and yesterday I downloaded three webcast recordings (between 20 and 25 minutes for each 50 MB file).

For comparison, yesterday I also got the new Internet Explorer 9: 17 MB, 6 seconds.

SDL is clearly still not providing enough bandwidth. This is unacceptable, especially for a company that only provides software via download (no store-bought installation CDs or DVDs, here), and whose installation packages are very large (Multiterm SP 4 – 153 MB; SDL Trados Studio 2009 SP3 – 361 MB, SDL Trados 2007 Suite Professional – 268 MB).

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Gender neutrality in Italian

Italian has taken a different route than English to gender-neutral language: in English nouns that have a gender are the exception (ships or countries used to be feminine for example, and referred to as “she” although the trend is towards referring to them with the neutral “it”), while in Italian all nouns are either masculine or feminine.

In English the move toward gender-neutral language has brought such changes as “police officer” for “policeman”, “chairperson” for “chairman”, replacing a gendered noun with a neutral one.
Italian also is undergoing a change, with the same aim, but in a different direction: most such titles are now being used in the masculine even when referring to a woman. So “il Ministro delle pari opportunità, Mara Carfagna”, using a masculine article (il) and noun (ministro). Alternatives are to use the feminine article “la", treating the noun “ministro” as invariable (“La Ministro delle pari opportunità, Mara Carfagna”), and using the formerly masculine noun “ministro” with a feminine termination (“ministra” or “ministressa”): “La Ministra delle parti opportunità, Mara Carfagna” or “La Ministressa delle pari opportunità, Mara Carfagna”.

A short test with Phras.In gives me the following frequencies:

Il Ministro Carfagna 23,300
La Ministra Carfagna    7,080
La Ministro Carfagna       194
La Ministressa Carfagna           7

Of these forms, clearly “il Ministro” is currently dominant, “la Ministra” has a respectable usage, but is probably preferred by those who do not prefer a genderless language, “la ministro” is irrelevant in terms of frequency, and the few occurrences of “la ministressa” are ironic or disparaging (for example “la ministressa Carfagna ha riproposto la riapertura dei bordelli di Stato”).

I believe that in areas where there has been a long tradition of female professionals, the preferred usage remains for gender-separate nouns, for example "professore" and "professoressa" or "dottore" and "dottoressa", while professions, such as the law, that used to be exclusively or almost exclusively male-dominated, now tend to adopt the masculine version of the title for both men and women, so “L’avvocato Rossi” could be either a man or a woman.

See also this previous post (with several interesting comments): Signora Presidente and Ms Chairperson: different paths to gender-neutral language.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Xbench presentation

Yesterday I gave a presentation to the Colorado Translators Association on Xbench, ApSIC’s excellent terminology management and translation QA freeware tool.
You can download the presentation from the Xbench Training tab of this blog.
To download the tool itself, just go to ApSIC’s webiste

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Blogging directly from Office 2010

I didn't know it was possible to blog directly from Office 2010, but apparently it is – this post, in fact, was written and posted directly from MS Word 2010. You just need to go File > New, and select "Blog Post" from the available templates.

I will probably keep Windows live as my primary blogging word processor (for one thing, I don't see a way to add categories from the MS Word blog template), but this new feature of Word may prove useful for other bloggers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good advice on selling (your services)

I don’t remember who suggested to me that I subscribe to Jeffrey Gitomer’s newsletter, Sales Caffeine. Whomever it was, I’m grateful. Selling is certainly my strong suit, yet it is something all of us who freelance or have our own company have to do.

Gitomer has written several books on selling, and markets them through his web site and newsletter. But the free articles in his newsletter are already great value, with good, no-nonsense advice.

A case in point from a recent article:

The secret of selling is four words: perceived value and perceived difference. Two of the four words are the same: perceived.

If your prospective customer perceives no difference between you and the competition, and perceives no value (better stated, a greater value) in what you're offering, then all that's left is price - and you will most likely lose the sale. Or if you win the sale, it will be at the expense of your profit.

Excellent advice: if we can offer better value to our customers and prospects, the fact that our rates are higher than most, won’t matter. It’s only if we cannot offer better value (or if we cannot explain why what we offer is better value) that we’ll suffer from price pressure on translation rates.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forthcoming XBench presentation

Thursday, February 24, between 6 and 8:30 PM, I’ll give a presentation at the Colorado Translators Association on how to use XBench for terminology and translation QA.
This session is suitable for most language combinations and translation platforms (XBench is a Windows program; it works well together with a variety of different CAT tools) and technical levels.
The cost at the door is $10 for CTA members and $15 for non-members.
The presentation will be at the Lafayette Public Library, which is located at 775 W. Baseline Rd. in Lafayette:
We will be in the lower level meeting room. The reservation is under Colorado Translators Association.
Here below is a brief description of the main points I’ll touch during the presentation.

XBench for terminology and QA

XBench is a Windows software tool for Terminology management and QA. It is developed by ApSic, a Spanish translation and localization company. It offers a wealth of useful features, at an unbeatable price: the program is freeware.

1 Terminology search and management

You can use XBench to search your glossaries, translation memories and other bilingual resources using simple or more powerful search functions.
In XBench you can include glossaries in multiple formats, various kinds of translation memories and several types of bilingual files.
XBench can be called from most application via simple (and configurable) keyboard shortcuts.
Finally, you can update on the fly the glossaries or other bilingual resources you use.

2 Quality Assurance

In addition to using XBench for terminology search and management, you can use it to check and improve the quality of your translation projects. If you use XBench for team projects, you can write your instructions directly within XBench, then distribute your XBench projects to your translators.

3 Saving projects

You can save each XBench project with the set of glossaries and settings you specify. This way, the next time you work on a similar assignment, you can use the same XBench project, with the same set of files and QA checks.

4 Documentation


5 Other tools to use with XBench


6 Future developments and support of other CAT tools

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another exciting offer from AmateurZ

Another exciting offer from that bottomless source of poor translations at rock-bottom rates:
[…] has a very high volume contract in which we need a vendor (NOT INDIVIDUAL LINGUIST) to provide translation and edit from […] Italian to English, […] and English to Italian. We […] are only looking for vendors who can provide both translation and edit.
Vendor must:

  • Have US citizen translators and state in your email that you have US citizen translators.
  • Be able to provide a 1 day turnaround time for small documents.
  • Have experience with legal documents […]
[…] please email me your company […] rates and confirm you are a US citizen. If you are not a US citizen or a vendor, your emails will not be read.
So they want to find a company able to provide fast turnaround on translation and editing projects done by US citizens only in a specialized field. I sent them our rates. They e-mailed me their counter-offer. How much are they willing to pay?
The highest we can go is $0.10 per word, for translation editing and proofing.
My answer:
Then you are not going to find any decent translator. No point in going further with this.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I wonder how much they can pay translators, if they charge that rate

Just received this offer from a so-called “translation company” from abroad:

We are service providers to global translation and publishing companies, […]

The three-step TEP (Translation Edit Proof) procedure: Your document is first translated (Translation) by a bilingual specialist; it is then reviewed (Edit) for accuracy by a second translator who is familiar with the characteristics of your target audience and it is finally proofread (Proof) by the original translator or a third translator who approves eventual changes made and checks for flow.

We […] build relevant translation memories to help you achieve highest quality and homogeneity possible at minimum cost. We also help you create glossaries for your projects should you not have one to ensure consistency throughout the difference phases of the translation process.


                  FRENCH, GERMAN, SPANISH AND ITALIAN <> ENGLISH                     

=> EUR 0,075 / per word

Texts are edited, revised, proofread and spell-checked before delivery.

Now, if they charge their customers Euro 0.075/word for T+E+P, and even if the margin they keep for themselves is a paper-thin 20%, how much can they afford to pay their translators, editors and proofreaders?

A quick estimate gives me the following:

Eur 0.075 – 20% = Eur 0.06 (available to pay for work outsourced)

if we divide this half for translation, 30% for editing and 20% for proofing, we get the following rates:

Translation, Eur 0.03/word

Editing, Eur 0.018/word

Proofreading, Eur 0.012/word

That’s in Euro. at today’s exchange rate, in dollars the above rates are:

USD 0.10 – 20% = USD 0.08 (available to pay for work outsourced)

Translation, USD 0.04/word

Editing, USD 0.024/word

Proofreading, 0.016/word

Do you think that is enough to pay for good “bilingual specialists”?

Me neither.

The sad thing is that these guys are from the UK. You’d think they should know better.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How not to find translators

Today I received an e-mail from a new prospect from France asking me (at around 4 PM Rocky Mountain Time), if I would be interested in a 3,000 project for them, to be delivered on Monday morning (Central European Time).

When I answered with our rates (plus a hefty weekend surcharge), I received an automated message, written in neither my native tongue nor in English, asking me to verify that I was indeed a real human being, by entering some “captcha” letters.

Guys, if you are in such a tearing hurry to find a translator on Friday night, you shouldn’t make people jump through hoops just for the dubious privilege of answering your message: chances are your prospective respondent, at this point, would decide not to bother answering your message at all.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do you see your comments here?

If you have written a comment here in About Translation, and you do not see it, let me know: another blogger told me that her comments never appeared here.

I never delete a comment just because it is critical of something I wrote. The only comments I erase are those that are clearly spam (along the lines of “excellent post, come and see my web site at”).

Comments to older posts go through moderation (to cut down on spamming), but I normally publish them within a few hours. Comments to recent posts should appear immediately, unless they are caught by Blogger’s spam filter (but I check the quarantined comments often, and allow all those that are not spam).

So, if you do not see your comments, write to my gmail address (RSchiaffino {at} When you write, include the text of your comment, and tell me which post it refers to: if I cannot find your comment among those waiting for moderation, I’ll post the comment myself, mentioning that you sent it. I’ll also try to see with blogger’s technical support if anything can be done to prevent comments from disappearing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New on About Translation

In the past few months I have made some changes to this blog: a new template, which I hope you find more legible (no more dark blue text on a lighter blue background), easier to distinguish tabs on top, and a new background image (it’s a photo I took of an old diplomatic letter).

The most important change is the “Quick Tips” section in the sidebar: I’m using Twitter to micro-blog about interesting tools, books, sites I find, or stray thoughts. I’m still not accustomed to the Twitter format – 140 characters is very little room for a post, but it should be enough for these quick jottings.

Monday, January 10, 2011

First CTA event of the year: goals for 2011

I’ve just returned from the first CTA event of 2011.

Due probably to the cold weather and icy roads, there were just nine of us, this time. We discussed our goals for 2011: things such as how to expand our business, which kind of customers to target, and so on.

The CTA is going to be very active this year:

  • On January 22nd we’ll have our belated holiday party (the deadline for registration is January 14: you can register on the CTA Website).
  • In February I will give a presentation on XBench and on its many uses for translators.
  • The big even will certainly be the CTA mid-year conference, which will be held on May 14, in Boulder, in a really spectacular location.

… and of course there will be several more interesting events.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

Best wishes of a Happy and prosperous 2011!