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Common misconceptions about translation April 22, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Translation Sites.

Percy Balemans (@pikorua) just published an excellent post, Common misconceptions about translation, on her blog today. It is a rehash of things we always hear from clients, colleagues and people who want to break into the business, but she includes some very good arguments and explanations to things we hear every day. My favorite is the one with the client who wants a 2500 word file back in an hour. It’s definitely worth a read. I’ve been following her on Twitter, but wasn’t aware she had a blog.

Update: I’ve changed Percy’s gender in the post due to a comment. Thanks for letting me know, Bint. Guess I should have clicked on ‘About Me.’ I had her confused with someone else I follow on Twitter. Mea culpa!

USA Today: Despite heavy recruitment CIA still short on bilingual staff April 19, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation Sites.

There is an interesting article on the USA Today website about how only “13% of CIA employees speak a foreign language nearly five years after the 9/11 Commission urged the agency to expand its ranks of bilingual operatives and analysts to help thwart future terrorist attacks.”

I found it particularly interesting to read that the CIA is using recruitment tools such as “Internet ads on YouTube and Facebook.” That is sure to be an effective way to find qualified employees to perform confidential and top secret duties (NOT!).

The article is very critical that the CIA still has not made significant progress recruiting bilingual employees eight years after 9/11. Considering the fact that President Bush ordered the CIA to boost its ranks of foreign language speakers by 50% back in 2004 this seems like an Epic Fail to me, but then again what do I know? I got fed up working for the federal government a long time ago.

TGIF: Conjunction Junction April 17, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
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Thanks to the ALTA Blog for reminding me about one of my favorite influences from my childhood, Schoolhouse Rock. They wrote about interjections in a blog post called Interjection Junction a few days ago. It made me smile and then I shared some Schoolhouse Rock videos with my nieces when I babysat them on Wednesday.

In case any of you were wondering about my path to becoming a translator, Schoolhouse Rock played a huge role in making me the grammarian I am today. Airing during Saturday morning cartoons from 1973 to 1985, Schoolhouse Rock taught my generation all about American history, grammar, and multiplication. Schoolhouse Rock aired 41 short segments featuring catchy tunes, and most of my generation passed our U.S. History tests by singing the Preamble of the Constitution to ourselves. I know because I looked around the room and almost fell out of my chair laughing when I saw everyone silently singing to themselves. To this day I can still sing “Conjunction Junction,” “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs here,” “The Shot Heard Round the World,” “Mother Necessity,” and the classic “I’m Just a Bill” – and it was 25 years ago!

Schoolhouse Rock was conceived in 1971 when, according to the History of Schoolhouse Rock, “David McCall, chairman of big-time New York ad agency McCaffrey & McCall, noticed that his son could sing every Beatles and Stones lyric ever recorded but couldn’t handle simple multiplication tables. His solution was simple: Link math with contemporary music and the kids will breeze through school on a song.” And the rest is history. I’ll be posting some of my favorite Grammar Rock clips over the next few weeks. This one is my all-time favorite, Conjunction Junction. I hope you enjoy them!

Unethical behavior when acquiring a new customer April 16, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Marketing ideas.

There is an interesting discussion on the PT listserv this morning on one particularly questionable method of acquiring new customers, and I felt the need to share my thoughts on it with all of you. One of the colleagues on the listserv reports that one of her customers, who publishes a magazine in several languages, receives mails practically once a week in which one of the foreign language articles is copied and edited within an inch of its life (emphasis mine – what she really said is “mit viel Farbmarkierungen versehen” = with lots of colored changes/highlights, but I have a feeling that is what is being implied…) to show that the translation is not very good – but there are no concrete suggestions for improvement. They must be corrections for corrections’ sake – we are all familiar with this kind of “proofreading” (in German we call it “verschlimmbessern” – making something worse by trying to improve it). The person sending these mails simply marks up the text and then encloses a letter in which they claim that they can do a much better job translating the texts – and at a lower price. Luckily her client values her translators and tosses the letters out, but anyone would get upset if they got mail like this every week. The client made the comment today that she has only seen such “uncollegial” and unethical behavior from translators. I certainly hope that isn’t the case.

This kind of behavior to win over a new customer is appalling. As one colleague pointed out, the method is not only unethical, but also stupid. The person sending the e-mail and trying to win over a new customer is merely showing how devious and underhanded they are and cutting off the branch they themselves are sitting on. As one other colleague so aptly pointed out, “Das Erste, was ein Vertriebsmensch lernt: Weise auf die Vorzüge Deines Produkts / Deiner Dienstleistung hin, aber rede nie schlecht über Mitbewerber” (The first thing a salesperson learns is to point out the advantages of your product / your services, but never talk bad about your competitors). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

This is different from seeing a badly translated website or sign and making fun of it. Let’s face it, there are a lot of badly translated texts out there, and some clients probably used their secretaries who speak the other language to translate them – or thought they could do the jobs themselves because they studied in the U.S. for a year ten years ago. You can tell when a translation has been written by a professional and by an amateur. There’s nothing wrong with correcting these texts to make the company realize they need to use professionals in order to come across as professional. But tooting your own horn and making corrections for corrections’ sake in the process to try to win over a new customer is not a good way to go.

When you are marketing yourself to new customers, please try not to use this method. Point out the advantages of working with you without making their existing translators look bad. There is a huge difference. Besides, the client and translator might have a really good, long-standing relationship, and it could blow up in your face.

Bilingual briefing at the White House a historic first April 14, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

Everyone said Barack Obama would be embracing languages, but I don’t think anyone ever expected it would happen so soon. When the White House announced it was loosening restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba Monday afternoon, the news was delivered in Spanish and English – a historic first. After White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs read a statement about the changes to reporters, he stepped aside while Dan Restrepo, Special Assistant to the President and a Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, read the statement in Spanish. How cool is that? I think it showed an unprecedented amount of respect for the Spanish-speaking citizens in the U.S. Bravo, Mr. President!

illy’s tax stimulus package April 14, 2009

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

Have you ever looked at the “possibly related posts” at the bottom of the blog posts here in WordPress? If not, you may be missing out. Some of the possibly related posts are pretty lame, but the latest one for my last post, T minus one and counting… Tax Day is almost here, was really interesting. Apparently illy, the maker of that delicious Italian coffee, is offering a special deal. According to the Slashfood post, illy is apparently “offering a deal on their brand new espresso machine. After June 30th, it will cost approximately $695. If you purchase this new machine before June 30th, you’ll just pay $150.” So if you were looking for a way to spend your tax refund check (oh, who am I kidding? none of my readers get tax refunds… I mean, if you want to buy a new coffeemaker…) you should check out the new espresso machine. The only hitch is that by buying the machine you “can enroll in their automatic coffee delivery program.”

My beverage center in my kitchen

My beverage center in my kitchen

Now, I don’t drink enough coffee to make an automatic coffee delivery program worth it. I don’t want to become addicted and get a headache if I have to go without coffee one day. I do appreciate a really good cup of coffee every other day or so. Most translators I know are huge coffee fans. We have lived in Europe, hung out in Viennese/Parisienne/(insert city here) cafes and appreciate a good cup of joe. If you are anything like me you buy imported coffee. I just finished up my illy and have cracked open my big pack of Jakobs Krönung, which should last me a while. I have a German Tupperware coffee container (see photo) that fits a 500 g pack of Jakobs Krönung perfectly. Another factor in translators’ love of coffee (and tea) is that we sometimes have to pull all-nighters to meet a deadline. This coffeemaker might be just the ticket…

T minus one and counting… Tax Day is almost here April 13, 2009

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

I have had my taxes finished for about a month and a half now, but I choose to wait to mail in my returns until April 15th since – like most freelancers – I always owe the government instead of getting a refund like everyone else in the world. I’ve known this day was coming and have had the money set aside (unfortunately I had to dip into my “house down payment” savings account to cover the bigger-than-expected federal tax bill and my accountant’s fee), but it still hurts to write all those checks to the U.S. Treasury, State of Ohio and local city tax office – plus my first quarter estimates. The returns are signed, the checks are written, and the envelopes have been stuffed and sealed. I’ll be mailing them out on the 15th.

I was surprised to see that business really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was in the first quarter. My revenue compared to the first quarter of 2008 is down only $200, but I think my second quarter revenue is going to be down quite a bit compared to 2008.  It’s already down about $7000 compared to this time last year. This overworked translator misses being overworked!

TGIF: Happy Easter from the Easter B April 10, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, TGIF.
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There won’t be a translation video today. I’m in Cincinnati for a friend’s birthday. Instead, I hope you click on the following link and enjoy this little Easter video. Happy Easter, everyone!

Writing for a global audience April 8, 2009

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

As the world grows smaller, the Plain English movement is becoming more and more popular. The Plain English Campaign, which is based in the UK, has been in existence since 1979, but it is really starting to gain in popularity due to globalization and the Internet. Whether it’s called Plain English or Plain Language, the idea behind it is the same. In a nutshell, Plain English ensures that readers all over the world will understand a text by teaching authors to avoid stilted jargon and complex sentence constructions. Plain English advocates the use of “plain English” in public communications and tries to avoid the use of “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information” in government departments and official organizations, but it isn’t a bad idea for multinational companies or companies who want to do business overseas to learn about it either.

The Northeast Ohio Translators Association is planning a presentation on Plain English on May 30th. We are also inviting the local tech writer group, Northeast Ohio STC. I am very excited about this presentation, because I think it will give translators insight into the minds of the authors of our texts and will illustrate how Plain English might make our jobs easier.

WikiHow has a featured article called “How to Write for a Global Audience.” As it explains:

If you’re advertising or writing about a carbonated beverage, what do you call it? Soda? Pop? Fizzy drink? Mineral? All of these terms are “correct” depending on where your readers are. Today, there is a greater chance of your work being read by someone on a different continent, especially if you write online. It’s predicted that by 2011, there will be 1.5 billion people with Internet access, with most new users coming from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Problems can also arise within the same language depending on which country the text is targeted (as we all know, Brazilian Portuguese is not the same as Portuguese in Portugal, Spain and Mexico have very different languages, etc.). One cited example in the WikiHow article is the use of rubber: “asking to borrow a ‘rubber’ in the U.K. will get you what in the U.S. is called an ‘eraser,’ whereas the same request in the U.S. is likely to be interpreted as a slang word for ‘condom’.” Authors need to be aware of all possible cultural quagmires – as should translators.

As translators, it is (hopefully) ingrained in us to use the proper terminology based on the target audience and know when to best use passive and active voice in a text. We are also instantly cognizant of cultural differences that may present a problem and know how to best convey ideas that might not have a cultural equivalence in the target language. I was also taught to mirror the author’s register (meaning if the author uses informal language the translation should as well and vice versa) and to avoid using colloquisms and contractions whenever possible. But the article also includes tips that you might not realize.

Ah, if only the authors of the texts we need to translate would learn more about Plain English…

As an aside, although they don’t focus on Plain English per se… if you are interested in learning more about globalization and global marketing I can recommend two good books: Business without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing by Donald A. DePalma and The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. Both books are suggested reading for Kent State University’s Localization class.

Knowing your limitations April 7, 2009

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

I want to expand on my most recent post, You are only as good as your last translation. I believe one of the things that separates a professional translator from a “not so professional” translator is the ability to know your limitations and turn down work you are not qualified to translate.

Case in point: yesterday I was offered a 4-page translation on the non-destructive testing of fusion-welded seams (sounds like fun, right?). Business has been slow in the past few weeks, and I was very tempting to accept the job. I probably could have done a passable job, but it would have taken me forever to translate and I wouldn’t have slept very well worrying about whether I used the proper terminology.

In the end I turned it down and recommended one of my colleagues who specializes in technical translations and who I am sure will do a wonderful job. She was grateful for the recommendation, and I was grateful that I didn’t accept the job and possibly lose the client by delivering a sub-par translation.

Accepting any and all translation jobs you are offered is a rookie mistake. Hey, we’ve all done it. The key is learning from that mistake and not repeating it. If you have a text that you read and don’t understand during the first read-through, do yourself and your client a favor and turn it down. If you know someone who would do a great job, recommend them to your client. Your client will appreciate your honesty and will remember your professionalism – and most likely will call you again in the future for a text that is right up your alley. And your grateful colleague will hopefully one day return the favor and possibly introduce you to a future favorite client.