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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.

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.

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.

You are only as good as your last translation April 7, 2009

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

Everyone has bad days. Days when you are simply unmotivated. Days when you can’t put a decent sentence together to save your life. Days when all you want to do is crawl back to bed and pull the covers over your head to escape the world. We’ve all been there. However, unfortunately in our field you are only as good as your last translation. Most clients are not forgiving when you send them a sloppy translation, as is their right because they have to ensure their client is happy. It doesn’t matter how many outstanding translations you have delivered to them in the past; if you screw up a translation you will most likely never hear from them again.

So how can you combat this? Consider hiring a fellow translator to proofread your translations and catch your (hopefully rare) boneheaded mistakes. Try to negotiate a longer deadline to ensure you can read over the translation when you have ruminated on it for a bit. I am always amazed how things that made no sense yesterday are suddenly crystal clear today.

If you ensure every translation you deliver is good quality and delivered on schedule you can be assured that you will have happy repeat customers. And that’s money in the bank…

Separated by a Common Tongue: Foreclosures Trap Translators in the Middle April 1, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Translation Sites.

Ted Wozniak alerted the GLD list members about an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal Online – and no it isn’t an April Fool’s joke. The article is entitled Separated by a Common Tongue: Foreclosures Trap Translators in the Middle. The title is obviously a mistake, because the article actually features the job of PHONE INTERPRETERS – not translators – and their role in mediating between the financial companies and the growing communities of Asian and Latin American immigrants. It is an interesting article that talks about how business is booming, but it is also generating more stress and guilt trips in the interpreters. Some of my favorite quotes include:

While they once had to do little more than relay a standard sales pitch, now they must mediate in what is frequently a sensitive cross-cultural negotiation.


All the interpreters are allowed to do is translate, word for word. Sometimes that includes insults. “You know where you can shove the house…,” an exasperated homeowner told Spanish-language interpreter Yolanda Almader recently. “We tell our interpreters to interpret everything” uttered by customers, says Craig Wandke, interpreter-operations manager for Language Line. “Profanity is the only exception.”


But translators aren’t allowed to insert their personal feelings into the conversation. The company’s code of ethics bars interpreters from making unsolicited comments, showing bias or volunteering explanations. “We have to remember at all times that we are word movers, not interveners or advocates,” says Mr. Wandke, the interpreter-operations manager. He says the job is hardest on the “most caring individuals” because “they want to clarify above and beyond.”

Joe Biden and intestinal fortitude March 28, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation Sites.
1 comment so far

I have recently subscribed to Barack Obama’s Teleprompter’s Blog. Not his speechwriter – the actual computer teleprompter (or TOTUS). I have no idea who is writing the blog, but if you aren’t reading Barack Obama’s Teleprompter’s Blog, you should be. The blog is hilarious and offers insight inside the White House in a very light and tongue-in-cheek manner. Today’s post entitled Who Gave Joe The Pen? reports on a translation flub in an op-ed piece that was reprinted in English, Spanish and Portuguese on the occasion of the Vice President’s trip to Latin America. It’s worth a read because I know my fellow linguists will chuckle.

Yeah, good luck with that… March 9, 2009

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

I just wanted to share two translation requests I received tonight. Enjoy!

Dear Sir or Madam;

Medical Translation from German into English

We are in a need of German to English Medical translators.

We might need at times to translate an average of 380 pages of medical transcriptions. The work will be performed for at least a year. We prefer that these service we deliver to us already proofread, edited and reviewed for final delivery. We expect zero errors and omissions.  We might have penalties for any return document(s) by client with more then 1% of error and or omissions.
You also need to agree to sign a confidentiality agreement, take training as needed and get certified about HIPPA rules.
Translators must vast experience (at least 3 years) on medical transcription is a plus, medical education or combination of both.

If interested please provide an update resume and rates per word and page s well as the extended of the work (only translation vs translation, editing etc. no later then 3/11/09 12:00 PST USA

If questions please send them by email.

Gee, zero errors and penalties? Sounds like a dream job – not. No one is that perfect. They can’t even write an e-mail with zero errors. They also didn’t mention if the translators would be reimbursed for the training and certification. I’m guessing no. Sorry, but I’d rather clean houses or be a secretary somewhere than be on tenterhooks for the next year working for this agency and wondering if the client was going to complain.

And this next one was just unbelievably ridiculous. Not surprisingly, it came through ProZ:

We are looking for German to US English freelance translators for a potential big project in the medical field.

The details are as follows:

Source format: .PDF and .doc files
Target format: .doc files
CAT tool: Trados
Proposed rate: 0.03 EUR/target word (I know it is a bit low, but the project is about 2000 pages and the client cannot offer higher rates)

If you are interested in this project and accept the proposed rate, could you please send me an updated copy of your CV in Word format? Your CV will be sent to the client (hiding your contact details) and, after the client’s approval, Silvia will contact you sending a short unpaid translation test, which will be reviewed by the client.

Should you have any question, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

A bit low? That’s downright insulting. Just a little under $0.04 a word for MEDICAL!!!! My delete button got quite a workout tonight!

Call me crazy, but I have a feeling both these agencies are bidding on the same job since the requests came in within an hour of each other. What do you think?