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The distinction between interpreter and translator April 18, 2011

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

An ongoing debate in our industry is whether or not to push the distinction between an interpreter and a translator. We in the industry all know that interpreters talk and translators work with the written word, but people outside the industry automatically assume I am an interpreter when I say I am a translator. I have to explain to almost everyone I meet that I prefer to “sit behind my computer and find the perfect word” instead of rambling on until my point gets across (because, believe me, if I were an interpreter that would be EXACTLY what would happen – I was not blessed with the gift of off-the-cuff speaking like my interpreter colleagues…).

It certainly doesn’t help that those in television, movies and print media don’t even know the difference. We all cringe when we hear “We need a translator in here!” when a police officer on a show like Law & Order: SVU or CSI needs to interview a witness who doesn’t speak English. But it seems only a translator or interpreter even notices the difference. The most recent episode of The Good Wife is a good example of this. An ongoing storyline features America Ferrera’s character as an undocumented worker who had been brought to the States at age 2 and was working as a nanny for the political opponent of the main character’s husband. The husband’s cunning political consultant leaked the story, but has fallen for her character so he was secretly trying to get her naturalization paperwork pushed through and even saved her father from being deported the week before. This past week she was working as an intern for the main character’s law firm. She just happened to notice a mistranslation in a previous translation that gained them a decisive advantage in the deposition between an oil company and a drilling company that was owned $87 million and just happened to be nationalized by Hugo Chavez that day. She then interpreted for the team of lawyers in the deposition – and even for Hugo Chavez in Venezuela via a monitor. Her efforts won them a settlement – all as a lowly intern. What a gal!

In real life, the Jenner twins and Corinne McKay were recently featured on NPR explaining the difference between an interpreter and translator, and NPR got it wrong in a story the very next day…

It’s enough to make anyone throw their hands up in the air and stop bothering. A colleague on one of my German listservs is quite vocal about no longer bothering with clearing up the misconception. She feels it simply isn’t worth the effort. I say we still need to continue fighting the good fight, but we need to know when to inform and educate and when to simply move on and not belabor the point. As Corinne states in the comments of the aforenamed blog post, she adheres to Chris Durban’s advice of “keep it short, upbeat, don’t harass and harangue!”

The need to stress one minor point is still desperately needed though… As one of my colleagues so concisely put it “The skill and training to translate and/or interpret in one direction does not mean you can do it in the other. People unfamiliar with the work involved somehow imagine that anyone who translates German to English, for example, can obviously translate from English to German (or Chinese to English, for that matter — “it’s only a couple of sentences!”)”.

♪♫ Everybody’s working on the weekends… ♪♫ February 26, 2011

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

After about a month of being underworked I have returned to the world of the overworked translator. I was lucky to earn enough to cover my rent and bills last month, while this month it looks like I am on track to exceed my monthly income target. I have turned down a lot of projects over the last few days (and suggested colleagues who may or may not be available). However, I have several clients to whom I simply can’t say no, so I am working this weekend – by choice. This seems to be a common habit in our industry. Everyone always complains about the clients who call at 4 PM on Friday with a job that absolutely must be done by Monday morning. And when you ask for a rush rate? Yeah, good luck trying to get one from the clients, because it seems there are a lot of our colleagues who are perfectly willing to consider Saturday and Sunday a normal work day. Perhaps because they work a full-time job and only translate on the weekends or simply have no life outside of translation…

I hope to be able to take a day off at the end of this coming week to balance my time spent translating this weekend. Both big projects are due March 1st and March 2nd respectively, plus a little mini-job for Monday that I really should have finished yesterday but chose to procrastinate on. If we work on the weekends the least we can do is take time off during the week instead. I have no intention of burning out after only 15 years in the industry.

I don’t intend to spend my entire weekend stuck behind my keyboard and monitor. I have plans with friends and family this weekend that I am not willing to cancel. Being a translator truly forces us to be masters of time management, because otherwise we simply wouldn’t get everything done. But I can guarantee you that there is one thing I WON’T be doing this weekend – housework!! LOL! I have a Living Social coupon for a cleaning service that I intend to cash in very soon…

Sharing What I Do as a Translator February 25, 2011

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

Fabio from Fidus Interpres just published a blog post with the exact same title as this one on his blog based on an exchange he had with another translator on LinkedIn to “exchange infos about each other, explaining what we do so that maybe we can be an interesting resource for each other in future translation & localization projects.” Instead of writing an extensive comment on his blog I thought I would take a page from his playbook and share what I do here. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I invite other bloggers to do the same on their blogs. I think it will be fun to learn a little bit about each other.

Like Fabio, I very rarely outsource jobs, and if I do I rely on translators who I have met in person or have worked with successfully in the past. However, as Fabio said, you never know if one of your clients may need someone with a skill set that matches that of one of your colleague’s.

I have been translating (and proofreading) from German into English (American English) since 1995.

Most of my customers are translation agencies in the United States and Europe (usually Germany but occasionally Switzerland, England or Austria). I worked for the FBI as a contract linguist for about four years, and now work for several agencies with government contracts. I do not work for the larger translation agencies. I find the smaller agencies appreciate my skills more and are more willing to pay my rates. I prefer to work for agencies that value me and respect me as a professional.

I have a Master’s degree in Translation from Kent State and lived for six years in Bonn, Germany and one year in Salzburg, Austria. My time living abroad helped me not only become extremely fluent, but also gave me the cultural knowledge one needs to be a successful translator. I also have a working knowledge of Russian, which sometimes helps me translate documents that have been uncovered in the former Eastern Bloc countries for my agencies with government contracts.

I specialize in documents in the fields of medical and computer. I love translating medical reports, medical documents for insurance and pension claims, FTP manuals, computer games, mobile phone apps and games, and anything and everything software-related. I taught myself HTML back in 1995 and have taught web design for the translation students at Kent State, so I have a deep love for Geekspeak and the Internet. I have also been known to translate legal documents relating to Nazi hunting, Internet fraud, witness statements and interviews, police reports, legal claims, and the occasional contract. I proofread a lot of the police reports related to the 9/11 hijackers who lived in Germany back in 2001 and 2002. I am not a big fan of personal documents (birth certificates, letters of reference, school transcripts, genealogical documents), but I translate them when a client asks me. I also translate I also translate responses for market research surveys, so this means not only am I a fast translator since the deadlines are often tight and the word counts are high but I am also very good as deciphering the most terrible misspellings and typos you can imagine. I am also very, very good at formatting Word and WordPerfect files cleanly (I set a tab where I need it instead of using tabs and spaces to get there) and making them look almost like a mirror image of the original.

I’m not arrogant to claim that I am the best translator out there, but I am good at what I do and my clients are very happy with my results. If you have complicated, high-falutin’ German that sounds like it comes from an ivory tower or need the translation to sound like poetry I’m probably not your girl. But if you need to know what the text says, it needs to be conveyed clearly and sound good, and you need it to mirror the original I’m the one to call.

I do not translate financial, chemistry, patent, or technical texts. If I read a text and don’t understand it I will turn the job down and most likely be able to recommend someone more than capable of handling the text. I have built a very good network of contacts on both sides of the ocean. I recently helped a client find a German to French translator by recommending three excellent colleagues who I know from living in Bonn.

I also do not translate into German. German grammar is too complicated for a non-native speaker who was not exposed to it from a young age, and it takes me too long to translate into my non-native tongue.

Now, how about you? Would you like to tell us about your translation background (specialization, experience, likes and dislikes)?

What is your gut telling you? February 17, 2011

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

No, not that you need to get out and exercise more. ALL of our guts are telling us that! I’m talking today about intuition, your gut feeling. We’ve all had those job requests where our gut tells us “RUN!” but we take it anyway and live to regret it. You spend all weekend researching a bunch of terms and slowly plodding through the text only to have the client come back with a lot of complaints a week later because you didn’t know the subject matter enough. Or you take a job only to learn three months later that the client is a known scam artist and you’ll never see the $3000 he owes you. We all have our stories…

I have learned to listen to my gut more. This is something they don’t teach you in school.

If your gut is telling you something isn’t right, chances are the job offer is fishy or you simply aren’t up to the job. That e-mail from the Prince of Ghana is most likely not from the Prince of Ghana. The other subtle warning signs in the mail like typos and bad grammar are causing your gut to clench and say “don’t even bother responding.” That check you received in the mail from that client in Nigeria is probably a fake, just ask your gut.

One of my colleagues wrote our listserv today asking what seemed like a simple question about word prices for creating a specialized dictionary. She seemed to think it would only take one work day to create, and the client was requesting a word price instead of an hourly rate. Her colleagues suggested she demand an hourly rate and budget at least a month for the project. I would also have suggested asking for $40 a word since there would be a lot of research involved. I bet she’s glad she listened to her gut and asked for a second opinion from her colleagues. I bet if I had asked that colleague what her gut was telling her she would have answered “don’t do it.”

If your gut tells you something isn’t right or that you really shouldn’t try to translate that technical specification because you don’t recognize one-third of the words and would have to look them up, try listening to it. Ignore all the voices in your head telling you “well, I need the work” and tell the client no. Because if you listen to those voices you could really end up regretting taking the job (and possibly being institutionalized, but that’s a post for another day… LOL!).

Have you ignored your gut and lived to regret it? Feel free to share your experience here. I’ll start…

The freelance translator at home: instructions for use February 16, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation.
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Catherine from the blog Catherine Translates has translated a blog post entitled The freelance translator at home: instructions for use, which is a translation of Céline’s Vivre avec un traducteur, mode d’emploi. This post is brilliant and needs to be shared with as many people as possible. I felt like Céline had installed a web cam in my home, because she definitely described how I go about my life. It is an instruction manual for everyone who comes into contact with a translator. As she explains, “This guide will help you understand the lifestyle and needs of your significant other” (who is a freelance translator and not an in-house translator – although that in itself is truly a very rare breed nowadays). I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

Do you enjoy eating cabbages? October 21, 2010

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

One of the members of the ATA German Language Division shared an interesting blurb from the October 16-22, 2010 edition of the Feedback section in New Scientist with us, and I thought you might enjoy it as well. Thanks, Cantrell!

DO YOU enjoy eating cabbages? We’re not sure whether the teenager known online as binarypigeon does, but her mother tells us that when she wanted to test the limitations of online automatic translation systems, she typed the phrase “I enjoy eating cabbages” into one. She told it to translate this into Japanese – and then translate the resulting phrase back into English, and then translate that to another language, and then back to English, and so on.

After approximately 20 such translations, binarypigeon’s simple statement had turned into: “Therefore, that is eaten because of possibility of fact of thing of possible possibility, designated that and that of a certain specification regarding that reason being shown it becomes, is inferred or as been, because either one types, whether it has been shown the fact that possibility should do my cabbage to that of the reason of this type, either one should enjoy some dependence of the range hypothesis our appointments which are shown, whether, these of appointment of the appointment which is shown are done.”

In the light of this, Feedback hopes that international bodies like the United Nations will continue to rely on human translators rather than mechanical ones for a while.

Thanks Feedback and thanks binarypigeon! I think this example shows that machine translation still has a long way to go before it will ever be a viable option to replacing a human translator.

Tomorrow’s International Translation Day September 29, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Translation.

International Translation Day is celebrated every year on September 30th – on the feast day of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered as the patron saint of translators. This year there is apparently a big ProZ.com virtual conference going on. Has anyone attended and can vouch that it is a good thing? Since it’s a ProZ thing I’m not all that inclined to participate. But I do have an open mind and would love to hear others’ opinions on it.

Instead I will be translating and hopefully taking some time off to read a good book on the couch. With the weather cooling down it is starting to be my favorite time of year – Fall – when there is nothing I enjoy more than cuddling on the couch with a mug of chai and a good book. This year I have a cat to cuddle on me. She got spayed on Monday and is feeling extra-clingy. Should be a good day. Happy International Translation Day tomorrow, everyone!

Translating phone numbers July 22, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Translation.

Whenever you encounter a phone number in a translation, ask yourself if the reader can actually call the numbers as they are written. The client who provided the source text, in most cases, doesn’t have any idea how international calling works.

First of all, the international access code, such as 011 for the U.S., is different for each country. You need to know the target audience of the text. If the text is intended for the U.S. you can localize the number for the U.S. However, it is pointless to indicate how to dial long distance from the U.S. to a reader living in Germany or Japan. According to the standards of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), you should begin with a “+” (plus sign).

The country code for the country you are calling comes after the plus sign. You can find all the numbers you need on the Web. Canada and the United States are the exceptions. They are both “1.”

The area code is usually enclosed in parentheses, which indicates that it is optional. The European equivalent of the area code is the city code, which is preceded by a “0.”  The zero is analogous to U.S. or Canadian callers dialing a “1” before the area code. The zero in European city codes is sometimes enclosed in parentheses, which means that it is optional when dialing within the country. You should remove the “0” (and, if necessary, the parentheses) when translating the number.

The use of hyphens, slashes and periods is frowned upon by ITU-T. A number in Bonn might be 0228 345678 or 0228/345678 but would read +49 228 34 56 78 for international dialing. Finally, a U.S. number such as (216) 234-5678 would be translated as +1 216 234 5678 for foreign readers.

Toll-free 800 numbers are of no use in Europe or Asia (as are the German 0180 numbers in the United States). Encourage your clients to omit 800 numbers if the documents are to be published outside the country.

Who knows how long this will all be relevant now that Skype and VOiP calling is gaining ground.

A word on dictionaries for German translators (and perhaps other languages) July 13, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tools, Translation.

The basic library for getting started as a German-English translator consists of:

  • 1 good general bilingual dictionary (Muret-Sanders is a probably the most complete and reliable bilingual dictionary. I also like Pons or Harper-Collins)
  • 1 good monolingual German dictionary (Wahrig Deutsches Wörterbuch)
  • 1 good monolingual English dictionary (preferably unabridged – I have a massive Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language on a stand)
  • 1 good commercial-legal dictionary (Hamblock/Wessels Großwörterbuch Wirtschaftsenglisch or Dietl/Lorenz Dictionary of Legal, Commercial and Political Terms)
  • 1 good technical dictionary (Langenscheidts Fachwörterbuch Technik und angewandte Wissenschaft (by Peter Schmitt) or Ernst Wörterbuch der Industriellen Technik)

Once you become more established you will want to buy more dictionaries as you need them. I try to buy at least one dictionary a year (usually at the ATA conference). Here is some advice on dictionaries from a handout from Dr. Sue Ellen Wright, Kent State University, October 1994. Dr. Wright is a Professor of German and a member of the Kent State University Institute for Applied Linguistics, where she teaches terminology, computer applications for translators and German to English technical translation. She is one of the world’s leading experts on terminology and terminology management and is active on in the national and international standards community as well as standards for translation quality management.

1. General bilingual dictionaries

  1. Langenscheidt – Condensed Muret-Sanders
    Probably the most complete and reliable bilingual dictionary in any language pair for a reasonable price. [If you don’t think the price is reasonable, check out the price for the Encyclopedic Dictionary!] If you can scrape the $$ together don’t waste your money on anything else – go straight for the German-English, but bear in mind that you may want the English-German for stylistics.
  2. Langenscheidt – Muret-Sanders Encyclopedic Dictionary
    The greatest bilingual dictionary ever written. Period. In any language pair. It’s so great people who don’t do German ought to read it. If you ever have the money, buy it. Not only does it document general language, it also contains much general scientific vocabulary and a surprisingly rich selection of medical and biological terms.

2 Bildwörterbuch
The German-English Oxford-Duden is the great-granddaddy of the pictorial dictionary. It’s a super reference for translators and language students because lots of times we don’t know what word to look up in the first place, but we know how a thing looks or operates. Don’t let misinformed Americans convince you that the word “Duden” is a synonym for a pictorial dictionary! Duden is the German equivalent of Webster’s and Larousse and publishes a wide range of dictionary products. It’s nice that they also invented the pictorial dictionary, but that shouldn’t be an invitation to misuse their name.

3 General monolingual German dictionaries
Brockhaus, Duden and Wahrig all have their proponents. I personally think it is a good idea to have all three, but then I have had the time and money to invest in more dictionaries than most students do. Brockhaus in einem Band is also a terrific resource.  The important thing is to purchase at least one general language dictionary first.

4 Duden – Das große Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache
If the Muret-Sanders encyclopedic is the ideal bilingual, this is the best quasi-affordable German resource. This six-volume set is what Duden is really famous for, and why I don’t like to see the name misused. So when you get rich instead of just good-lookin’, this is a terrific investment.

5 Grammar and Style
The Duden in 11 Bänder and the Duden-Taschenbücher are great additions to any dictionary collection. [My note: I’m summarizing here. The most important Duden Bänder are Stilistik (the original collocation dictionary), Grammatik, Rechtschreibung, and Gutes Deutsch (another mainstay for stylistics). The Duden Taschenbücher Sue Ellen recommends are Die Regeln der deutschen Rechtschreibung, Wie schreibt man gutes Deutsch, Wie sagt der Arzt?, Wörterbuch der Abkürzungen, Wie schreibt man im Büro (business correspondence), Wie formuliert man im Büro (business composition)]

6 Business German (small stuff)
[Note: If you were to ask Robin Bonthrone he would tell you that none of the business and financial dictionaries are worth the paper they are printed on. If you must, Schäfer Financial Dictionary and Zahn Glossary of Financial and Economic Terms are two decent choices.]

7 Commercial German (serious dictionaries)
Wilhelm Schäfer’s Wirtschaftswörterbuch: Band I: Englisch-Deutsch and Band II: Deutsch-Englisch is a good choice. Dietl/Lorenz Dictionary of Legal, Commercial and Political Terms and Romain Dictionary of Legal and Commercial Terms are also good. If you do a lot of legal Romain is a highly recommended dictionary. I also like Hamblock/Wessels Großwörterbuch Wirtschaftsenglisch.

8 Technical Dictionaries
Peter Schmitts Langenscheidts Fachwörterbuch Technik und angewandte Wissenschaft is supposed to be one of the best technical dictionaries out there. Ernst Wörterbuch der Industriellen Technik (although not perfect) is a good general technical dictionary too – just don’t get the notion that you will find everything here, nor that what you find will always be right for your context. Sue Ellen “disrecommends” buying DeVries & Hermann. She equated its use would be equivalent with the old use for the old Sears and Roebuck catalogues.

9 Specialized Dictionaries
[She did not recommend any in particular because you have to seek out the items you need for any given topic. I’ll write about the medical dictionaries I use another day.]

A Final Word on English Dictionaries:
The American Heritage Dictionary is good, but Random House and Webster’s New World are also reliable. I particularly like the Concise Oxford when I’m called upon to produce good “mid-Atlantic” English. Once you have a good modern “college-size” dictionary scrounge the flea markets and used book stores for the 2nd or 3rd edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language published by Merriam Webster. The 2nd is the last great truly encyclopedic unabridged dictionary, and the 3rd represents a milestone shift to non-prescriptive lexicography. You’ll never regret the effort it took to find either of these classic dictionaries. (My copy of the 2nd was a $3 flea market find. I purchased a min-condition salesman’s sample of the 3rd a few years ago for $65. A realistic price for either probably lies somewhere between those two extremes.) [Note: I got my Webster’s Unabridged as a close-out at Border’s for $20]

Amazon, InTrans Book Service, Adler’s Foreign Books and Kater Verlag are all good sources for dictionaries.

Any German translators care to chime in as well with their favorites?

A Modern Language Analyst by Everette E. Jordan May 18, 2010

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

As most of you regular readers know, I am moving in a few weeks and am purging my belongings. I have almost finished going through 8 years of ATA Chronicles and just found this little gem. For those of you who didn’t get the pleasure to hear him live, Everette E. Jordan was the keynote speaker at the ATA’s 44th Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona on November 6, 2003. He was the Director of the National Virtual Translation Center at the time. The NVTC is a federal center that helps translate a backlog of documents for the CIA, FBI, and other government agencies. I have since become disillusioned with the NVTC (and he is no longer the director there), but in my eyes Mr. Jordan was, is and always will be a rock star. He speaks a ton of different languages and is a very poised speaker (not to mention good-looking and a really nice guy who is devoted to his family). I have a framed photo of us from that conference in my office. At the time ATA and the federal government were really working hard to establish a relationship, and the NVTC was trying to recruit linguists for their herculean effort of translating the backlogs of documents.

Anyway, back to Mr. Jordan. He was an outstanding keynote speaker. In fact, I think this is the only keynote speech that has ever been reprinted in the ATA Chronicle. To end his speech, he recited a poem he and a colleague had written styled after the famous Gilbert and Sullivan song, I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General, to describe the job that a government language analyst performs on a daily basis. It brought the crowd to its feet.

I am the very model of a modern language analyst
I scan and translate info that the average person might have missed.
I’m quite adept at understanding language spoken quite absurd
If modesty permits me, I’m a master of the garbled word

I’m very well acquainted, too, with leaders quite political
And deal with situations from the mundane to the critical
I’ve heard the best and all the rest and dabbled in analysis
While trying to avoid the dreaded translator paralysis.

I’d like to think my studies have equipped me to work miracles
To tackle concepts ranging from the humorous to lyrical
I’ve met and mastered every grammar point designed to trip me, all
The adjectival short-form passive future participials.

It’s safe to say I know my subjects by their name without a doubt
I keep them on a list to say what’s hot, what’s not, what’s in, what’s out
My scientific knowledge must be stunningly meticulous
My slang and techno-jargon, all stupendously ridiculous.

For all and any question you encounter in this lurking trade
Consider me a living, breathing, walking, talking, language aid.
So when you need someone to translate what mere mortals might have missed,
Just call on me, the model of a modern language analyst.

If you want to read the entire Keynote Address, you can read it on pages 9-11 of the January 2004 issue of the ATA Chronicle, which can be found on the ATA website. However, you must be an ATA member to access old issues of the Chronicle online.