Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas

After a very busy December, time to rest and wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.

May your work flow, and your workflow work.

Best Wishes to you all.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Where should you get your translation done? Some advice...

What sort of a question is that? You just google translation, or translator or any other similar search term specifying what languages you want and hey presto! you have the choice of a zillion translation companies etc. Or you can use Google translate. It's so easy.

Okay, that's true. But let's say you are very particular about how your material is translated. After all, you have invested a lot of time and money to make sure it says exactly what you want it to say. You have been very particular about the tone and style used and you hope that your translation will convey this.

Your brand depends on it, or rather your new brand in the target language depends on it. This is part of another debate about translation vs localization and other concerns, which I may go into some other time. It is often not enough to simply translate. A good translator will guide you as to what makes sense for your target language reader or listener.

Choose a reputable translator (i.e. someone whose job is to translate, all day, every day, usually a freelancer, or independent) to do the work.

Talk to them (i.e. the translator - not a project manager, or sales guy) and find out how they work, and how they can be sure their work will do the job you need it to do.

It is of course evident that the translation should be good (that is another debate: what is good as regards translations?).

At the very least you should be happy with it. Before committing it to print or other forms of publication, run it past one of your trusted customers in the target language/territory. If they give the thumbs up, then you have probably found a good professional translator, who will listen to you, finding out what your true requirements are, and do their utmost to produce top quality material in the target language.

Does it matter where the translator is located? Some say that it matters little where your translator lives, or rests their head or hangs their hat.

In these digital times data can be exchanged in an instant; conversations can be had with people around the world (and you can even look them in the eye - in a manner of speaking - via webcam, smartphone or whatever other communication device you use).

Distance has, in some respects, been abolished.

Let us think about this, however. A native speaker of your target language living a few doors away from you can be met with very conveniently and they will, of course, have more knowledge of this language than you can ever dream of. They would seem to be prime candidates to do your translation.

This is the established wisdom. The ITI guide to buying in translations says that the native speaker on your doorstep will pride him or her self in keeping abreast of the latest developments in their native language. And this is true.

Again, the digital age is on your side. This native speaker can watch his or her favourite TV channels and listen to their favourite radio stations, read their preferred newspapers etc as if they have never ventured further than the local supermarket in their home town. They are surely totally up to date.

And indeed, compared to the translator of the analogue age who felt marooned in a foreign universe and heard only faint echoes of what was happening in their native tongue, they certainly are.

I would guard against exuberant optimism (to coin a phrase), though. Having been for many years myself in the position of the native in a strange land, I can vouch for the fact that despite all the ways you can imagine to keep up, you do get rusty. You sometimes have to search for your words. You may have to engage someone in the target language (your language) to have a look at what you have produced, just to make sure it flows correctly.

Thankfully I am now in England, so I am mostly immersed in an English-speaking universe, so I can mimic the tone and style you might be looking for to get your translation just right.

Do take care in selecting your translator. Have a look at where your native speaker translator is based. If they live in some far-flung corner surrounded by speakers of some obscure Martian language ask them how it has been since they had a chat with someone down the pub in their native language. It may have been a very long time. So it might be best to choose someone who is actually living in the target country.

Ask also, if they are based in a country were their mother tongue is spoken, how long they spent immersed in the language and culture of their target language. If they have spent only a year or two prior to gaining a 'translation qualification' they may simply not have a deep enough understanding of their target language and culture. They will be competent, but no more. They may miss the little thing that can make all the difference.

You, surely, are looking for more than mere 'competence'.

Do your homework, compare and contrast, speak to the people who will be doing the work. You will then have a good chance of getting a great translation, which may well turn out to be the cornerstone of your success.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

There, but for the Grace of God...

Who has never made a mistake in a translation or any other form of work or part of life?

I daresay none of us could raise our hands in answer to the question above.

Yet wherever we look (online, because, there, people hang out their dirty linen for all to see), we find the same sort of futile dispute: 

"you paid me late or not at all and forgot to tell me my work was not satisfactory, or my work was good and you found some 'editor' or 'proofreader', as they are called, to tear it to shreds unjustifiably; you are not a mindreader and failed to divine what work was required even though the instructions you received were at best ambiguous and contradictory and the source was rubbish; your work was bad and I certainly won't be working with you again (that's why I didn't pay you for six months)"... 

Etcetera, etcetera. 

I think these people would do well to take a good look at themselves before tearing into others and admit that they, too, may have made a mistake or got something wrong. I am not encouraged to work with companies or individuals who go in for this sort of public slanging match, and I'm sure many others feel the same.

The best way to deal with criticism, I have found, is to respond calmly and with dignity, using logic and examples to justify any choices made and accept any errors and correct them. The best way to deliver criticism is to be charitable and constructive. We all appreciate being treated as human beings, with respect and compassion, and we should realise that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

Problems, and how we solve them, are at the heart of good business and good businesses.

If your customer has a problem or complaint you and your business will be judged by the way you handle it, and this should be seen as an opportunity to get to know the client better, and persuade them to appreciate your business and the way it is run. 

Sometimes it is better to avoid an argument about a particular phrase or term and get on with life rather than insisting on proving one is right. 

Sometimes the customer wants to be right over something. This happened to me the other day. The customer insisted on using a particular English word in a particular way, even though its true definition was different. So be it. I will be working with them again. 


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

King Alfred the Translator

If you get the chance you should watch Michael Wood's BBC TV series King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons.

In part one he tells the tale of King Alfred and his struggle with the 'Vikings' (i.e Danes and others who invaded and settled in England in the 9th century).

Using original sources (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and others), often spoken by a reader of Old English - fascinating to actually hear this beautiful tongue, the foundation of the language we speak today - the programme gives a vivid impression of events as they unfolded at the time (albeit the literate victor's version).

Throughout, Alfred's love of learning and literacy is always keenly felt. He was particularly interested in translation of Latin texts into a language 'capable of being understood by all'.

One of the texts he worked on was the The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, which was translated 'sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense'.

From these last words we understand that the work of translation is ever the same.

The translator must remain faithful to the source, but also translate the ideas and meaning in a way the reader can understand fully.

This is sometimes a very narrow path and it is sometimes hard to keep to it. To my mind it is the mark of a good translator.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Wise words for anyone who writes in English

I have been reading George Orwell again and think his advice for writers (in Politics and the English Language) is as valid now as it was when written.

He writes,

"I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short word will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous."

We would all do well to keep to these rules when we write, and anyone translating into English should bear them in mind to avoid sounding wooly or pompous.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Wine terminology: when is a chai not a chai?

When translating wine terminology from French to English you sometimes need to do a bit of detective work to be sure of what the original French-language author meant.

An example is when writers refer to the word 'chai'.

In the Bordeaux area, this often means a place where wine is stored, usually in barrel, usually a ground floor affair rather than an underground cellar.

By extension, and perhaps erroneously, it can also be the place where the wine is fermented in vats before moving on to the 'chai'...

This place can also go by the name of 'cuverie'. In other places it might be known as simply 'cave', which can be a winery, or a cellar.

In English one could be lazy and just go for a generic 'winery', but it is often better to make the distinction, because a barrel cellar or hall is a very different place to a vat room.

Similarly, when confronted in a viticultural text by fairly regional terms such as 'épillonnage' or 'esbroutignage', there is little to be gained from consulting dictionaries or glossaries.

One's best bet is to ask the author, or someone who is a vine grower in the particular region, what particular vineyard operation is being described.

More often than not they won't know exactly what is meant because they use a slightly different variation, but will be able to suggest a logical meaning from the context, which you will probably have guessed anyway. Very often in English this will lead to a simple translation (for the sort of terms mentioned above), such as 'shoot removal' or some such.

The English language of viticulture, at least in England, is not rich in confusing regional variations. A spade is usually called a spade, or an earth moving implement, if you want to sound pompous.  

The moral of this tale is probably that one often needs to go beyond the words to find the true meaning, which will, in turn lead to a good translation.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What does it take to turn in a great translation?

A few ideas on this subject, in no particular order.

Osmosis and symbiosis, living with the text and living the text.

Putting oneself in the place of the author.

Putting oneself in the place of the reader.

Having good dictionaries.

Knowing the subject (in both source and target).

Having some idea of what the author wishes to achieve.

Reading and rereading your translation several times before you even think of sending it to a client.

Really knowing your source and target language. In my own case I lived and worked in France for 20 years and besides being of English mother tongue have now lived in England for the last 15 years, etc.

Research, research and research (never give up on a term until you are positive it is the right one)

Negotiating proper deadlines. A rushed translation is often a bad one (unless it is run of the mill stuff).

Don't be afraid to ask (the agency, the client, whoever) if you are not sure.

I am sure you could add many more things that make a good translation. Let me know your thoughts.

Five Simple Maxims

I couldn't resist this extract from a letter by R. Beske from Seattle in yesterday's Financial Times.

On information (following an article by Michael Skapinker ' Companies need to cut through big data hype'), Beske writes these five maxims:

-The information you have is not what you want.

-The information you want is not what you need.

-The information you need is not what you can obtain.

-The information you can obtain costs more than you want to pay.

-What you are willing to pay will get you exactly the information you already have.

I think these sage aphorisms apply to many walks of life, and no doubt to our efforts in translation.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How old are you in your languages?

Idle musing led me to realise that in some of the languages I know I am much younger than my physical age, having learned them at different times.

In English, for example, I am long in the tooth. In French and Spanish, I am much younger.

Presumably, were I to learn another language now (which one would it be?), I would be really, really young.

I suppose this means that if you want to stay young (at least in spirit), you should learn a language.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

"Losses in translation"

Private Eye (no 1335 8th March 2013) comments on the adverse effects of the purchase of Applied Language Solutions by Capita (or 'Crapita' as the Eye puts it).

Far from achieving the 40 per cent savings on court interpreting promised at the outset, one police authority (West Midlands) is estimated to be paying well over £2m compared to £1.8m spent before outsourcing to Capita.

Moral of this sorry tale? Cheapest is not always the most cost-effective, perhaps?

Translation and interpreting outsourcers, take note.

Language Barrier

Read a fascinating article (Business à la française) by Simon Kuper in the Financial Times weekend magazine (9th March 2013), in which he reviews various explanations for the differences between the French and British/American way of doing business.

We find out that the only obstacle to communication is in fact language, or lack of it. Real bonds and trust are built by people who share a language they speak perfectly.

The author cites a study by Zürich based economists who concluded that 'on average a common language "increases trade flows directly by 44 per cent"'.

A very good reason to leap over the language barrier. And great encouragement to linguists, who will always have a major part to play in the development of trade and commerce.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Is it time for a slow translation movement?

Andrew Neather in a thought-provoking piece ('We must make hard choices in Google's brave new world' London Evening Standard), touches on the problems faced by people who will be digitised out of a job by the emerging new 'Big Data' (Google, Apple, Amazon etc) trusts.

Translators are one of the groups Neather singles out as being threatened by this monopolisation of data.

As he puts it "... I can punch “I am writing an article about the future of the internet” into Google Translate and get a split-second Finnish translation — “Olen kirjallisesti artikkeli tulevaisuuden internet” — for free. But it in fact depends on thousands of translators’ previous work, their texts compared by Google across millions of pages. Their (uncompensated) labour is rendered invisible."

There is also the question of whether the 'translation' is correct. If you do not already know Finnish, how can you be sure?

But let us not despair just yet. The fact is, there is no substitute for a human doing the actual translation. The human translator will know what is right and what is not. The Translation Memory (TM) is a great help, and can speed up repetitive work, and Machine Translation (MT) is just that; neither can replace a human brain, for all its 77% water content.

The slow food movement was born out of the need to fight the onslaught of industrially produced anonymous foodstuffs, and to rediscover local produce made by real people. The recent news about product substitution in factory made food across Europe seems to vindicate the aims of this movement.

Perhaps it is time for translators to stand up for their own work and reject the industrially produced sausage meat which passes for translation in some spheres.

Translators of a future slow translation movement would provide true crafted work entirely fit for the purpose of human communication. Human Translation (HT) would become the norm for those seeking quality.

But this is no radiant future. This is the present, and most professional translators will recognise it as what they do every day.

It is up to us to continue to work to the highest possible standards and ensure our clients and prospective clients are aware of this.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Can you turn a silk ear into a sow's purse?

Yes, I have changed the order of the phrase to illustrate the dilemma translators often face when confronted with sentences which seem a bit bizarre and might benefit from some recasting or editing.

The question of whether to modify your translation to improve the source's legibility in the target text is a thorny one.

In the silk ear illustration above, the author presumably knew the English language expression and was merely reversing it for effect. Whether it would be best translated literally is another matter, best left to the translator into the target language.

In other cases, where the source text is unclear or incomprehensible, the translator should act, and ask for clarification from the owner of the material, and offer to render it clearer in the target. You can and should try to make the silk purse from the sow's ear you were given. Your client will thank you for it.

This is customer service, common sense, or courtesy, whatever you wish.

In general terms any opportunity to engage with your customer should be seized upon and used to promote and demonstrate the depth and quality of the service you have to offer. The customer will thank you for it, and become or remain a returning customer.

With a bit of luck they will talk to others about how well you worked with them and added value to their translation. This good feedback may help you to gain more customers.

Here is an example from work we did recently: the customer was a company offering an online service which they named in their source (native) language.

It sounded OK in the source language. In fact it was great. The customer was very proud of it and would gladly have used it everywhere.

In English it most certainly was not, and might have led to much hilarity on the part of the English speaking reader, had it been left as it was.

We suggested that it would be much better to translate the name of the service, but not literally. Instead, after a quick brainstorming session, we came up with a catchy name for the service, which also encapsulated it in the same way as in the source.

After explaining what we did and why the customer was delighted. We are now getting all their business.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Burns Night

A tongue-in-cheek tale of a translation from the Scots into German then retranslated into English.

The Scots is from the poem by Robert Burns 'Address to a Haggis' and begins

'Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!'

The second line, retranslated from the German became:

'Great Führer of the sausage people!'

Doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Monday, 14 January 2013

The wonder that is the wood pulp information system

Wood pulp missive collection point

Having completed a piece of work for a client and sent them an electronic copy of the invoice I was most surprised a few days later to get a request to send, i.e. post an invoice to their address.

Their accountants or some such money counting trade needed it for their files. And it needed to be an original.

And it needed to be sent in a paper container made of wood pulp, like itself, subjected to a long and time consuming process involving a lot of water, then a lot of dewatering and a lot of heavy machinery.

The paper bag needed to have the address written on it with pen and ink so that I could then take it to a little shop and hand it to someone who could weigh it and ask me for some money. In exchange for the money this person would then hand me some other little pieces of paper with glue on them to be stuck to this paper bag. This operation would allow my paper to be conveyed to the address I had written.

Then I would be able to take the invoice in its bag festooned with little pieces of sticky paper sporting brightly coloured images, including a silhouette of the Queen's head, to a large red cast-iron cylinder with a slot cut into it (see photo). I would slip the whole thing inside and later someone in a van would stop by and using a special key open the cylinder and take my, and many other missives, on the first stage of the mysterious journey to their destination...

In its time the above was an extremely efficient document transmission system which helped make our modern world. In the present age of electronic documents and transmission over digital networks it seems a bit of a palaver all the same.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Oops, fell off the cliff, wall or into the abyss!

Cliff, chasm or abyss?

Well we nearly did anyway.

At least in English it was the cliff, or rather falling off it, which threatened us with oblivion.

In Spanish, commentators chose to speak of 'un abismo', the abyss.

The French offered a choice of a wall 'mur' (either financial or budgetary), altogether less dangerous; or an abyss or chasm 'gouffre fiscal'; but did not choose 'abîme' which is also an abyss or chasm.

Perhaps just to avoid confusion with '(en) abyme' which refers to a story containing another story, or a diamond in which another diamond is mounted, if my memory serves me well.

In any event it has been entertaining to see how journalists and others have been attempting to make an endless series of budgetary discussions sound exciting, particularly as everyone knew some compromise would eventually be reached.

Unless it has all driven you up the wall.