Tag Archives: translator

Part II. Selection of translators for literary/non-literary translation process

5 Nov

(based on “Translation in Practice”, a symposium edited by Gill Paul, 2009)

Both types of translation require careful selection of a person who will produce the translation. Although time spent on pre-translation and/or post-translation activities is much greater in case of literary translation, that does not mean you can bring the text to an indifferent translator, which is not rarely the case with non-literary translation. On the contrary: “those who translate literary fiction require something beyond this [an ability to convert words liter­ally from one language to another] —something much more creative, involv­ing an instinctive understanding of the way that words and phrases can work together to best effect.” Once again, literary translation of any given book will most probably be read by at least hundreds of people, which makes it vitally important to allocate much more of proper resources (both time and people) to the translation process.

The next aspect to cover is the relationship between project manager/editor and translators. It should be noted that the process of literary translation in most cases requires that editors have their favorite 3-4 translators (BTW, occasionally these editors may take on new translators). When doing so, they do not base their choice on price only. This is a very distinct characteristic of commercial (for-profit) literary translation process, in contrast to commercial non-literary translation industry, where the price is quite often the only criterion for choosing a translator.

Translators of non-literary text are not required to share the enthusiasm of an editor for this or that book. They can even say no, just because not all books can or have to “strike the necessary chord”. On the contrary, non-literary translators usually don`t mind translating different texts of absolutely different nature (provided that these belong to their specialization).

The final and the most striking difference between selection procedures for two types of translation is the amount of communication between editor/PM and translators. One is often missing if automated translation mechanisms are used by translation agencies. Literary translation process vitally requires a lot of communication and can`t be automated by definition.

Part III. Author, outside reader, sample translations.


Listening to voices of experts: yes or no?

7 Oct

I once met a translator who was (and probably is now) a great opponent of marketing. He was a freelance translator, and, of course, while being an active opponent of marketing activities, he had to “resort” to the most simple forms of marketing a lot – both unwillingly and unwittingly. The thing is that his viewpoint on translation and marketing was a mixture of arrogance, unwillingness to learn from others and fear of the unknown. Instead of proactively searching for new clients, this translator bought membership of a well-known web platform for translators in the hope that clients with decent rates would sooner or later show up. Wow.

A year before I had been on the same path considering marketing blah, blah, blah to be a trap for people (marketing-related books, CDs, etc. cost a lot of money). But being more open-minded about business development in general than the mentioned freelancer, I was lucky to notice there was a lot of hype about marketing among translators (I created my Twitter account that time). Soon I realized that marketing was much more than just registering at PROZ and sending occasional quotes to job posts in my language pair. Among other things, marketing was (and is now) about spending money on training – yes, books, СDs, etc. I have now a robust library of business and marketing materials I use to compile my marketing plan for the next year, or to fine-tune my marketing strategy here and there.

Buying marketing-related training materials is not the only option though. Translators have to apply the info they find there. Another great marketing tool is your on-line image you create using (for example) social media or direct mail. This is another step a lot of freelancers try not to take – by any means possible.

These two steps (spending money on marketing materials and becoming visible on-line) helped me find new clients of absolutely another type – direct ones, or those fellow translators who own boutique TAs and, thus, are willing to pay generous rates. I don`t use my smartphone now – I simply don`t have to be the first to send a quote or answer an email from a pathetic TA. This is the reward people get when they start to communicate and spend money on professional development.

But the main idea of this post is a much more important conclusion: don’t be too arrogant when it comes to your development. There are people who can tell you something of value. There are people who can help you get more – both financially and personally. There are people who know more than you. And they are ready to share the knowledge.

Planning tips for freelancers and freelance translators

3 Jan

This blog post will be a very positive one. I will share my method of compiling plans for any new year (or any other period of time you use for planning). I hope the thoughts I will share will inspire you to make your own list of your milestones/goals for the upcoming year.

It is a well-known fact that the first step to success is to define what success means to you, otherwise you will miss the moment you have succeeded. It’s like having a top-notch receiver with a poorly constructed antenna. High sensitivity of the radio receiver will count for nothing, since your antenna does not bring any signal to the input.

January 1 is therefore a perfect day to start planning. Streets are empty, your loved ones are still sleeping. You take your pen and put down 5 to 10 milestones for the upcoming year.

It is very important to be precise as much as possible. I always try to avoid generalized sentences like “My income will increase”, or “I will have more direct clients”. Lack of preciseness won’t let you critically see the results achieved and compare them with specific figures. In other words, you won’t be able to adjust your plans for future years compared to the end of 2014.

After you have set your goals, print them out and hang them somewhere on the wall, so that you see them every day.

Then try to write down several steps which will help you achieve your goals. This is a great opportunity to brainstorm your marketing or business ideas. Put down even the oddest ideas. You will always have time to strike them out. Step out of your comfort zone!

Step by step will develop your own unique to-do list. And it is only natural that your list will be eventually revised by you, since circumstances tend to change quite often. You have to adjust your marketing efforts as conditions change.

The end of the first half of the year is a perfect chance to draw preliminary conclusions from the data you now have, as well as to adjust your plans accordingly.

Let’s hope that all our plans will be fulfilled. As usual, have a nice day!

Can my bilingual secretary/spouse/nephew do this translation?

23 Apr

This post is going to be about a rather controversial question. During the last weekend I read a lot about translation industry, blogs of well-known translators who literally rock the industry.

It seems a lot of translators have been contacted recently by certain direct clients who right from the start said that they didn’t need a translator at all. The only reason why they didn’t give the file to their bilingual secretaries or relatives was because he or she is too busy to take this assignment. That`s exactly why they just have to outsource it. Otherwise they would happily tell their personal assistants to do the translation. Why not? She speaks French fluently, her English is seems to be impeccable.

Logical consequences of this situation are twofold. You (as a contractor) feel that you have to talk them into hiring a translator. I’m not speaking about any person in particular but language professionals in general. You have to find certain words to persuade them that in case they have serious material to be translated, they have to deal with serious people. This is sometimes quite difficult to do. CEOs, CFOs, different heads of departments, etc.  feel that no one is going to teach them how to do business. Now that’s the stance!

Second consequence (a logical one as well) is that price in this case becomes a very sensitive issue, due to general (sometimes absolute) lack of understanding what it takes to produce a translation of a highly technical document.

Why is it so? One of the reasons is that the market is inundated with the exact type of translators – expatriates who suddenly decided that they were translators, people who spent two years in Mexico and then suddenly thought they were able now to translate INTO Spanish, people who studied a foreign language in school. As they have nothing in terms of experience, it is natural that they use price as the main differentiator in order to enter the market. Vast majority of those amateurs will leave the industry very fast, but this little time they were there would influence the industry a bit. One more client will fall into this trap of perceiving translation as a mere leisure activity.

A few years ago I was contacted by a friend of mine who then worked in a company trying to import agricultural equipment here in Ukraine. The reason he contacted me was that they had a pile of manuals (in English) they had to translate into Russian/Ukrainian. These manuals were full of highly technical information, diagrams and graphs, tables, etc. I don’t want to mention this rate they offered me. It took me five seconds to see the first page of this manual to tell him that they would fail unless they multiply their budget by 10.

During the next three months I heard the same story from my colleagues in the city – they all were contacted by the same person (employee of the company responsible for “getting it done” – another buzz phrase such clients would use when talking to employees). I’m really sorry for this person because he was told to do something that people could not do for centuries.

This company still operates. I think they bought the equipment and had all documents translated. Sometimes I dream about seeing the face of this CEO when he eventually contacted right people and was told the price. Cognitive dissonance in its earnest form.

Recommendations: hire professionals. Don’t let your success in business overshadow the way the nature puts things right. People use wheels for centuries in order to transport things, so why do we sometimes try to invent a square wheel? There is nothing wrong to haggle a little. You can have a discount when the amount of words you have to translate is a six digit number. But like any discount, this should be a tiny fraction of a translator`s per-word rate.

As usual – have a nice day!

Long Live Machine Translation!

8 Apr

We believe that if men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.
John F. Kennedy

February 16, 1996. Kasparov lost his fifth game to Deep Blue computer. I remember this news; although I was 11, I played chess passionately, that`s why this news could not escape my attention. They showed a big black box and said that this was the winner. They BTW also showed owners of the winner – IBM managers.

The computer we had there within our hobby group in 1996 was much smaller, like a today`s tablet. It was also less powerful and  “smart”, still, you could practice some simple moves and basic chess openings. But none of us could seriously think of a computer winning a chess match until we saw the news. It literally ignited fierce debate about the future of chess and the human race within our group of teenagers.

I haven`t touched a chessboard since that time. Why?  This game is too slow for me now. But I do remember this debate: will machines, desktop PCs or smaller devices ever be able to replace us, humans? The answer came from another passion of mine – languages, namely translation.

First let me shock you: they will.  They are doing this right now. For the last 10 years I see more and more people relying on different off-line and on-line tools helping them obtain a very rough translation of this or that text. So basically these tools do the job they are intended to do – they help people grasp the meaning of the text.

In case these tools produce something that remotely resembles a meaningful material, why not hire an experienced editor? The reason why this idea fails is that any decent editor (when asked to do PEMT – post-editing of machine translation) will charge his/her normal translation rate. To regret, the condition of any text Google Translate will produce now is far from sound (you can run any piece of text through GT and see the results). So, this editor will have to simply re-translate the text. In other words, your costs of hiring a person to copy`n`paste your text into Google Translate will be added to the cost of actual human-led translation (bear in mind that Google Translate has some limits on how many words you can translate at a time. You will have to allocate resources to this task as well).

Some editors/translators will go further – they will double their rates (you don`t have time to argue; you are too lucky to find someone to edit this nonsense. Why not use this advantage?)

The most hidden secret: translators happily use machine translation when they have lengthy tables with almost identical information in each cell.  They gladly use Google Translate when they have these endless spare parts lists. But a big BUT! You have to distinguish between this absolutely controlled and ‘humanized” machine-assisted translation from uncontrollable production of letters by a machine which previously simply collected fragments other people indicated as equivalent (this is what Google actually does. It translates nothing, in fact). Operators run cranes, so why not? Still, they don`t let cranes build up something on their own.

So, long live Google Translate! You help experienced and seasoned professionals drive amateurs away, since they produce something you can get free-of-charge.

My recommendations: 1) stay away from agencies which post jobs about “post-editing” of machine translation. This is another way to deceive both translators and you, my dear clients. 2) Encourage your employees use Google Translate! If you need a quick translation of two words in Japanese, go on-line!  But don`t allow statistics ruin your marketing campaign. 3) Accept the future: MT (machine translation) will sooner or later replace humans for the most of dull everyday tasks.

Still, let me remind you that Deep Blue won only once, on the fifth try.

As usual – have a nice day!