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TGIF: Bonus video – MADtv parody on Schoolhouse Rock April 30, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.

I just discovered this funny parody of the Schoolhouse Rock video I posted last week on nouns. Be sure to watch the original to refresh your memory before watching this to truly enjoy it. MADtv is Emmy Award winning American sketch comedy television series that made/makes fun of just about anything it can in American pop culture. It aired from 1995 to 2008 on Fox and is in syndication on the Comedy Channel. It is currently looking for a new TV station to continue airing its shows.


TGIF: Verb (That’s What’s Happenin’) April 30, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
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It’s Friday. Time for another TGIF video. I’m continuing the Schoolhouse Rock grammar videos and am really enjoying watching them again. This video first aired in 1974. In the video a young man goes to the movies to see Verb, the superhero. He learns all about verbs and what they can do. Enjoy! (Verb!)

How to successfully work with people over long distances April 30, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.
1 comment so far

Freelance Folder features a blog post on How to Successfully Work With People Over Long Distances today that I feel is an important topic to translators and worth sharing. If you don’t live in the global metropolises of Washington DC or New York City, most likely you do not work very often with local agencies and clients. I have one client in Ohio, but most of my clients are spread all over the U.S. or Europe. One of the things that always fascinates people I meet when I talk about what I do is that I work with clients all over the world. This also presents challenges, and one of the biggest challenges we face as translators is that of working with people who we’ve never met face to face. Several of my clients call me on the phone, which I encourage since it allows me to build a good rapport with them and ensures they get an instant answer as to whether or not I am available to accept their translation job. However, most of my business negotiations and everyday communication occurs non-verbally via e-mail.

Communicating via e-mail can be difficult, because it is so easy to be misunderstood by the recipient. As Freelance Folder states, “Without seeing a client’s face or reading his or her body language, it can be pretty hard to know if you’re getting the full message.” One study found that 78% believe they were communicating clearly, 89% of those receiving the e-mail believe they were correctly interpreting what was written, and only 56% correctly interpreted the message.

Freelance Folder offers 5 Tips for Dealing with Long Distance Clients. They are:

  1. Check Your Emotions at the Door. It can be tempting to shoot out an emotional response to an e-mail that seems upsetting to you, but don’t fall into this trap. If an e-mail provokes an emotional response, then allow yourself enough time to recover from that emotion before you respond.
  2. Stay Professional and Businesslike. You’re running a business. Your client is also running a business. Communication between the two of you should reflect that. While it’s okay to be friendly, in general I’ve found that it’s best to stay away from overly personal communications with your client.
  3. It’s Okay To Negotiate. An online negotiator definitely has a more difficult job than one who can negotiate face-to-face. For that reason, I think that many freelancers avoid negotiating terms with clients. However, negotiations are an important part of doing business. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
  4. Beware the Hidden Tone. When sending an e-mail occasionally an unfriendly tone creeps in. Usually, the tone is not at all a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time, but rather more a result of how rushed I am. If you have this problem get someone else to read your e-mails before you send them.
  5. There Probably Is No Hidden Agenda. Without nonverbal cues, it’s easy to fear clients who contact you through the Internet. This is where your due diligence comes in. Before accepting work, check the client’s reputation and background. In my experience, in most cases there is no hidden agenda.

The post is definitely worth a read if you work with people over long distances. At the least, it will definitely make you stop and think the next time you are drafting an e-mail to a client.

Walpurgisnacht and May Day April 29, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture.

I miss Germany, but I really miss Germany during the holidays that I celebrated when I lived there. Two of those holidays occur within 24 hours of each other: Walpurgisnacht and May Day.

walpurgisnachtWalpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night) is a traditional religious holiday celebrated by pagans and Satanists, as well as Roman Catholics, on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. Walpurgisnacht gets its name from Saint Walburga (or Walpurga), a woman born in what is now England in 710. Saint Walpurga traveled to Germany and became a nun at the convent of Heidenheim in Württemberg. She was made a saint following her death in 778 (or 779), and May 1 is her saint day.

In Germany the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, is considered the focal point of Walpurgisnacht. Witches (Hexen) and devils (Teufel) allegedly gather on the mountain (also called the Blocksberg), which is often shrouded in mist and clouds, lending it a mysterious atmosphere that has contributed to its legendary status. The tradition of the witches gathering on the Brocken was immortalized in Goethe’s Faust: “To the Brocken the witches ride…” (“Die Hexen zu dem Brocken ziehn…“)

In its Christian version, the former pagan festival in May became Walpurgis, a time to drive out evil spirits—usually with loud noises. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then. The bonfires reflect the holiday’s pagan origins and the human desire to drive away the winter cold and welcome spring. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day. I experienced Walpurgisnacht for the first time when I lived in Austria. We went to a bonfire and jumped over the bonfire to welcome spring. When I was in grad school at Kent we did a translation about the Brocken, so my interest has always been piqued by this holiday.

May Day is observed on May 1st in many countries around the globe as the International Workers’ Day, but I never saw too many labor protests in Germany. Even though the day was inspired by labor protests in the U.S., the holiday has historically had special importance in socialist and communist countries, which is one reason it is not observed in May in America. In Germany, May Day is a national holiday and an important day, partly because of Blutmai (“bloody May”), a labor protest in which 32 people died and 80 people were injured, in 1929. The holiday also tends to be a day of demonstrations that often turn into clashes between the demonstrators (hooligans) and the police in Berlin and other large cities. If the weather is nice, law-abiding people use the day for picnicking or relaxing with the family.

maibaumIn addition to being an international day of labor and protests, May 1 is also celebrated in the Rhineland by the delivery of a Maibaum (May tree) covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The unmarried men of the villages gather together to chop down trees and help each other deliver them to a love interest’s house. A tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. I never saw many of those. Anyone who would go to the trouble of gathering trees probably wouldn’t put forth the effort for someone they disliked. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the Maibäume, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so. They also placed a tall Maibaum or Maypole in the town square. In small towns virtually the entire population maibaum2turns out for the ceremonial raising of the Maypole and the festivities that follow, with Bier und Wurst of course. I never saw any Morris or Maypole dancing in Bonn. I know how to do it though, having learned it here in the U.S. in grade school. I loved watching the trucks filled with trees drive through the village as I biked home late at night and then waking up in the morning and seeing trees propped up against the houses and the town square decorated. It always seemed so magical.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night) and based the words on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Mendelssohn completed an initial version in 1831. It was extensively revised and published as his Opus 60 in 1843. The text describes pagan rituals of the Druids in the Harz mountains in the early days of Christianity. If you have a bit of time, you might enjoy listening to this in the background while you work.

Thanks to Wikipedia and About.com for the background to this post.

Proofreading for commas April 29, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Translation Sites.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of proofreading in the last week or so. The translations I proofread were beautifully translated. The formulations flowed beautifully, word choice was outstanding, understanding of the source text was faultless, etc. However, the comma placement was horrendous. So bad in fact that I started wondering if it was me. It isn’t. Translations should not mimic the source comma placement (in my case English mimicking German comma placement). Here are some tips to ensure you are using commas correctly in American English (borrowed from the University of Purdue Online Writing Lab).

Compound Sentence Commas

1. Skim your paper, looking only for the seven coordinating conjunctions: and, nor, but, so, for, or, and yet.

2. Stop at each of these words to see whether there is an independent clause (a complete sentence), on both sides of it. (For more help, see our handout on independent clauses.)

3. If so, place a comma before the coordinating conjunction. Examples:

She wanted to buy a new car, but she didn’t have enough money to do so.
The wind blew fiercely, and the rain poured down.
Alaska was not the last state admitted into the US, nor does it have the lowest total population.

Comma Splices

1. Skim your paper, stopping at every comma.

2. See whether you have an independent clause (a sentence) on both sides of the comma.

3. If so, change the sentence in one of the following ways:

* reword the sentence to change one clause into a subordinate (or dependent) clause (see our handout on dependent clauses)
* add a coordinating conjunction after the comma
* replace the comma with a semicolon
* replace the comma with a period, question mark, or exclamation point, and capitalize the first word of the second clause

comma splice: Americans speak too rapidly, this is a common complaint by foreign visitors.
correct: Americans speak too rapidly; this is a common complaint by foreign visitors.
correct: Foreign visitors commonly complain that Americans speak too rapidly.

Introductory Commas
Introductory commas after dependent clauses

1. Skim your paper, looking only at the first two or three words of each sentence.

2. Stop if one of these words is a dependent marker such as while, because, when, if, after, when, etc. (see our Commas After Introductions).

3. If necessary, place a comma at the end of the introductory dependent clause. Examples:

While I was writing, the phone rang.
Because the weather was bad, we decided to cancel our planned picnic.
After the last guests left the party, we had to begin cleaning the house.

Other introductory commas

1. Skim your paper, looking only at the first word or two of each sentence.

2. Stop if the word or phrase . . .

* ends in -ing
* is an infinitive (to + verb)
* is an introductory word (well, yes, moreover, etc.)

3. Place a comma at the end of the introductory phrase. Examples:

To get a good grade, you must turn in all your homework problems.
Walking to work, Jim stopped for coffee at the diner.
Yes, I agree that the exam was difficult.

4. If the sentence begins with a prepositional phrase (a phrase beginning with in, at, on, between, with, etc.), place a comma after the prepositional phrase if it is longer than three words or suggests a distinct pause before the main clause. Examples:

On his way to work, Jim stopped for coffee at the diner.
In those days we wrote with a pen and paper.
Across the street from the library, an old man waited for a bus.

Disruptive Commas
General guidelines

1. Go through the paper, stopping at each comma.

2. If the comma isn’t necessary for clarity or called for by a rule, get rid of it.

For disruptive commas between compound verbs or objects

1. Skim your paper, stopping only at the coordinating conjunctions: and, or, nor, but, so, for, or, and yet.

2. Check to see whether there is an independent clause (sentence) on both sides of the conjunction. If so, place a comma before the conjunction. If not, do not place a comma before the conjunction.

disruptive comma: They bought two pizzas, but ate only one.
correct: They bought two pizzas but ate only one.

For disruptive commas between subjects and verbs

1. Find the subject and verb in each of your sentences.

2. Make sure that you have not separated the subject from the verb with one comma. It’s often all right to have a pair of commas between a subject and verb for nonessential clauses and phrases that might be added there, but rarely is a single comma acceptable.

disruptive comma: That man sitting in the train station, is the person I’m supposed to meet.
That man sitting in the train station is the person I’m supposed to meet.

Series Commas

1. Skim your paper, stopping at the conjunctions.

2. Check to see if these conjunctions link words, phrases, or clauses written in a series.

3. If so, place commas after each word, phrase, or clause in the series (except the last one, as demonstrated in this sentence: no comma after the word clause). Examples:

People who are trying to reduce saturated fat in their diets should avoid eggs, meat, and tropical oils.
The candidate promised to lower taxes, protect the environment, reduce crime, and end unemployment.

Commas with Nonessential Elements

1. Skim your paper, looking for a phrase or clause in each sentence that explains or gives more information about a word or phrase that comes before it. (See also our handout, Commas With Nonessential Elements.)

2. If you can delete the phrase or clause and still keep the meaning, the phrase or clause is probably nonessential and needs two commas, one before and one after (unless the phrase or clause is at the end of the sentence).

3. As an alternate test for a nonessential phrase or clause, try saying “by the way” before it. If that seems appropriate to the meaning, the phrase or clause is probably nonessential. To understand the essential vs. nonessential distinction, compare the following sentences. In the first, the clause who cheat is essential; in the second, the clause who often cheats is nonessential.

Students who cheat only harm themselves.
Fred, who often cheats, is just harming himself.

Can you certify my translation? April 27, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation Sites.

Certified translations are probably the most misunderstood concept in translation. Many countries in Europe have certified translators who have to take an exam in order to be able to certify their translations with a personalized stamp. In Germany they are called “staatlich geprüfte Übersetzer.” There is no such thing in the United States. To quote Denzel Dyer, “In general, a certified translation (in the US) is one to which the translator has added a statement that the translation is true, accurate, and correct “to the best of my knowledge and ability.” The statement may be made under oath, or “under penalty of perjury,” and may be notarized to confirm the identity of the person signing the statement.”

You do not need to be certified by the American Translators Association in order to certify a translation. In my case, I include my M.A. with my name and indicate that I am an active member of the ATA. You are merely certifying that the translation has been translated “to the best of [your] knowledge and ability.” Any translator can produce a translation which is correct to the best of his or her knowledge and belief.

Many times an individual will contact me and need a certified copy of a birth certificate for immigration or legal purposes. Just the other day I translated a birth certificate and vaccination booklet entries for a private individual. Another client frequently asks me to certify my translation of medical reports for a clinical trial. Depending on what the client needs, I add a cover sheet with my declaration that I have translated it “to the best of my knowledge and ability” and take it to a notary public, who also signs it and stamps it. Note that this declaration must be attached to the translation, with individual pages of the translation initialed. That requires delivery of the actual paper, so I usually mail it to the client. I charge a fee for the time I spend driving to and from the notary, the notary’s fee, and printing and postage costs.

Here are some possible formulations you could use:

I, [insert name here], a translator of proven expertise in translating German to English and an active member of the American Translators Association, do hereby certify that the foregoing is, to the best of my knowledge and ability, a true and correct English translation of the original German documents.

In Solon, Ohio, USA, this ___________ day of ______________________________.



I, the undersigned Notary Public, do hereby certify that [Jill R. Sommer] appeared before me and acknowledged that she is an active member of the American Translators Association and that she executed this document of her own free act and deed.

In witness whereof, I have set my hand and seal, this ___________ day of ______________________________.


I, [insert name here], a translator of proven expertise in translating German to English and an active member of the American Translators Association, do hereby certify that this document, which I have translated on behalf of [client name], is, to the best of my knowledge and ability, a true and correct English translation of the German document:

I, ________, declare under penalty of perjury that I understand the German language and the English language; that I am certified by the American Translators Association for translation from German to English; and that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the statements in the English language in the attached translation of ___________, consisting of ____ pages which I have initialed, have the same meanings as the statements in the German language in the original document, a copy of which I have examined.

Does anyone have any other formulations they would like to share? Everyone probably does. Feel free to add them in the comments. I sometimes feel the comments are the best part of a blog post, because I learn so much from you guys.

TGIF: A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing April 24, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
1 comment so far

Continuing the Schoolhouse Rock Grammar Rock videos, here is “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing.” Wow, these are really taking me back. I remember watching this on TV like it was yesterday (although you can tell this was made in the 1970s from the color scheme)! Have a great weekend, everyone!

R.I.P. Geocities April 23, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

From the PCWorld blog:

GeoCities, a free Web hosting service that achieved fame in the mid-90s, died Thursday at the Yahoo headquarters in Silicon Valley. GeoCities was 15 years old.

GeoCities had suffered a long and drawn-out battle with its health over the past decade. An antiquated service model and outdated technology are widely blamed for the struggle. An official cause of death, however, has yet to be determined.

GeoCities: 1995 – 2009

GeoCities is survived by two cousins, Angelfire and Tripod, along with an uncle, Jeeves. All three are believed to be terminally ill.

Of the 12 remaining GeoCities users, only one was available for comment. “Holy crap!” said the user, a red-faced fellow named Strong Bad. “The scroll buttons and animated GIFs on that site were unbeatable.”

The GeoCities site is expected to remain functional through midyear as a tribute to its life. Funeral arrangements are now pending.

Although I haven’t thought about GeoCities for a long time I have fond memories of trolling its sites in my days of an Internet research.

Pretty soon they’ll be making US pay THEM to translate their texts April 23, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

I love the title of this post. It is the first thing that popped into my mind as a translation of something someone on one of my German forums wrote this morning (Vielleicht sollen wir bald noch Geld mitbringen, wenn wir was übersetzen wollen 🙂 ), and I was struck by the truth to it. The discussion was sparked by a inquiry by an agency in the UK offering EUR 0,075 per word for German and French <> English. That was the agency price, so you can only imagine what they were paying their translators – if translators were even involved at all. We all receive ridiculous offers every now and again. I myself was offered $0.02 for medical about a month ago. Needless to say I didn’t even bother replying.

But there is a kernel of truth to this flippant response. Agencies are trying to depress prices more and more to survive these economically troubled times. Where will the price dumping stop? If agencies are offering $0.01 to $0.02 there’s nowhere else to go… Will agencies soon start insisting we pay them for the privilege of translating for them? Think about it…

Hopefully things aren’t as dire as some of these discussions on listservs make it out to be. I still have plenty of work at my rates, and I know translators who have raised their rates and are still getting plenty of work. The bottom has not yet dropped out of the industry, but the bottom is dropping out for some agencies, who are becoming more and more desperate. Their quality will suffer as a result, which will (hopefully) cause them to lose clients. It will be interesting to see how things shake out by the time the economy gets better again.

Knowing when to step back and take a deep breath April 22, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

Business has started to pick up again (thank goodness!), and I had an Aha moment yesterday that I wanted to share with you. I got absolutely slammed with work over the past weekend. I had 27,000 words to proofread for one client and 5,000 words for another, several personal documents to translate for an individual, and a difficult AGB that I needed to finish. And then another client called begging me to accept another proofreading job (“only 300 lines”). I had initially turned them down flat-out, explaining I simply had too much to do as it was, but then the owner called and I managed to let her talk me into putting it off until Monday. Little did I know she meant Monday at noon my time, but that’s another story unto itself. Monday rolled around, and I had finished everything but the 27,000 words and the rush job. Somehow over the weekend or in the chaos of Monday morning between answering phone calls from the client every ten minutes and scrambling to make the deadline (I finally had to put my foot down and tell them in no uncertain terms to stop calling or I wouldn’t make the deadline), I somehow managed to lose the translation of the personal documents.

I needed to print the pages out yesterday to have it notarized and mail it to the client, and I could not find the file on my hard drive. I have a system that usually always works. Anything I am working on is either in the Attachments folder of my e-mail program or My Documents. Once I finish the job (and send the invoice) I zip up all the files and move them to an archive that is broken down by month and delete them from My Documents. When I get crazy busy, this sometimes has to wait until things slow down enough that I have time to do it.

I looked for the file I needed in both folders – three times! – and could not find it. I looked in my temporary folders. I started to wonder if I had possibly translated it and then forgotten to save the file in the franticness of the weekend. Talk about a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach… I couldn’t remember what I had called it, but I had a vague idea. I definitely knew that it contained the client’s last name. I initiated a search of the hard drive, searching for the client’s last name inside the file itself, and went off to make a cup of tea. As the water started boiling, it occurred to me that I had used a template of a birth certificate and that the file might have been saved in my Templates subfolder. Sure enough – it was!

Organization of files on your computer is so important. I know several colleagues who constantly lose files because they don’t know where they have saved them. I am a double Virgo, so this kind of disorganization would drive me insane. I lost 15 minutes yesterday trying to find the file. Being organized is important, but so is stepping back and taking a deep breath every once in a while. If I hadn’t stepped back and made a cup of tea I might still be searching for the file…