Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A new "career" for Twitters (or Twits)

But it pays. So in these difficult times, we might just end up doing it:

Twitter users can now get their "tweets" automatically translated by using SpeakLike Twitter Translation. SpeakLike Twitter Translation extends the influence of individuals and marketers to new audiences around the globe, helps grow followings, and increases the worldwide appeal of Twitter. SpeakLike Twitter Translation allows members of SpeakLike and Twitter to specify tweets that they want translated into any two of 10 currently supported languages. SpeakLike automatically posts the translated "tweaks" to the user's Twitter feed.

SpeakLike Twitter Translation, like other SpeakLike services, uses a proprietary workflow based on a "crowdsourcing" model. A crowd of translators around the world is always at the ready to translate tweets, emails and chats for SpeakLike users. SpeakLike bridges the gap between expensive, time-consuming translation services and error-prone machine translation with a system that combines self-learning technology with human oversight to ensure business-quality results.

"Our Twitter integration builds on what we learned with email and chat translation. Not only must it be easy to use, but it must be fast, good, and cheap," said SpeakLike Founder and CEO Sanford Cohen. "Machine translation just won't do. The only way to ensure you are communicating the message you want is to have a human involved. SpeakLike makes this possible for all Twitter users."

"In a global social media environment, the value of being able to distribute your content to as many demographics as possible, in multiple languages, only enlarges your influence. Want to expand your reach beyond domestic followers? Translating your tweets helps increase your reach by an order of magnitude. There is simply no more effective way for reaching more people in a short amount of time."


This morning, we were proofing for $25 per piece. This afternoon, we are overseeing MT in a crowd. Crowd is not a company, uless you are called SpeakLike, and know how to speak like a Twit(ter).

In-house translating is back!

Amazing as this sounds, I predicted this at a workshop mid last year, saying that the savvy companies will get rid of agencies and employ translators in-house, or go to freelancers directly. I had also warned that this will not be all rosy, as often the care of translation projects is given to the 22 year old early-school-leaver chick on the reception desk who is monolingual and often brainless.

Today, I got this interesting news in my mailbox, all the way from Canada:

"The current economic downturn has forced many companies to find cost-effective ways to translate their documents with fewer staff and smaller budgets. Firms that once paid for professional translation now rely on employees who speak foreign languages to translate documents, something that industry leaders say can end up costing firms if these in-house translations are not accurate. As a result, a leading translation company is responding with a new service designed to help firms guarantee the accuracy of these in-house translations.

"A mistake in translation can change the meaning of key documents and lead to misunderstandings, legal problems, or unexpected costs," said Marcel Vilanez, the founder and CEO of Technovate Translations, a leading translation agency. "That's why we want to create an affordable way for companies to make sure their in-house translations are accurate."

"We are unveiling a new service called 'Translation Quality Assurance Check'. This program will help companies by checking over translations done in-house to ensure accuracy and correctness," Vilanez said. "This program will allow companies to save and still get accurate translations."

Aha! So now good freelancers will be reduced to spell-checking for $25 a piece? And if you think that unlikely, you are mistaken. I already had one of my agents ring me and tell me how she had to reject a request for "100 pages of overseas translated text that the client wants looked at in maybe 2-3 hrs, and while you are doing that could we also localise it to the Australian market, and check if the translation is correct, and there are no typos or grammatical errors." Did they hear of someone, somewhere in the world, doing speed-reading and speed-checking? That's half a page per minute!!

We live in interesting times.

Monday, March 30, 2009

European Commission Discusses an EU Masters in Translation

The creation of the European Masters in Translation network was the central theme of an international conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 16-17 March. More than 100 universities and other stakeholders involved in translator training met to agree on the criteria for training programmes to become part of a common EMT quality label.

"High-quality, attractive translator training curricula provided by universities throughout the European Union contribute to a secure supply of skilled professionals not only for the commission and the EU institutions, but for all translation markets," said Leonard Orban, European Commissioner for Multilingualism.

The European Master's in Translation should become a quality benchmark for translator training consisting of a set of competencies to be acquired in a masters degree in translation. The scheme was launched in 2005 at the initiative of the Directorate-General for Translation of the commission, and was developed in cooperation with recognised experts on the translation profession from universities.

The first two conferences, organised in October 2006 and March last year, prepared the basis for the cooperation by proposing a standard set of key competencies within a translation study curriculum. The standard competencies can be introduced by any university providing translator training and wanting to participate in the EMT network. Although the commission gives advice, the responsibility for translator training rests with the universities.

The establishment of the network will be the culmination of the four-year development of the EMT scheme. When it is operating, the network will help promote the exchange of best practice between participating universities and, ultimately, enhance teaching standards, the professionalism of future translators, and the creation of a truly European market for skilled translators.

The commission recently warned of a potential shortage of translators in some languages, confirming the need for a steady supply of professionals from translator training institutes.

Mentoring new entrants to our profession: worthwhile and enriching

I will never forget the incident when, at one of my exhausting and exhaustive workshops, a well-established colleague asked me if I wasn’t afraid to share this much of what I knew with other translators. Seeing puzzlement on my face, she explained, “Aren’t you afraid they will take work away from you?”

Well, the answer is a resounding “No”, and for a number of reasons. One, there is plenty of work around for those who know how to find it. Two, I have enough confidence in my capabilities to know that I won’t be losing my clients to newbies. Three, and this is most important, I don’t see my mentees as “competition”, but as long-term alliances for the future.

I have mentored most of my adult life – new teachers as a school principal, new writers as a publisher and new translators as an experienced one. There is nothing highly structured in what I do, and I follow my intuition and good sense in deciding who will benefit from my knowledge sharing. So far, it has been extremely rewarding, not just emotionally, but professionally and financially as well. Many of my mentees have particular skills and gifts that complement mine, thus facilitating the creation of healthy working teams.

At another professional gathering, a colleague told me rather haughtily, “No one mentored me. I had to learn everything alone from scratch. Why should I offer it on a plate to someone else?” I thought to myself, God, if we only had more people willing to mentor more often, we would have fewer such psychologically scarred humans around. Mentoring is not “giving it on a plate” to a mentee, it is a relationship-building exercise that enriches both sides of the equation.

I am increasingly finding out that the newer generation of translators, especially those arriving from Europe with T&I qualifications, have a lot to offer in this relationship. They have a much more cosmopolitan view of the profession and are their grasp of the theoretical basis, which most of us are beginning to forget in the hustle of everyday work, is still fresh. So it often happens that the mentoring goes both ways. As Galileo Galilei said, “I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him.”

Many professional organisations as well as commercial corporations have official mentoring programs. The American Translators’ Association (ATA) has one in place, “established to develop and implement a program to train ATA members as mentors and mentees in an enhanced, informal mentoring relationship.” Mentors get awarded PD points for participating; there are workshops on how to do it.

I am aware that there are among us those who love to mentor, but the don’t feel very sure how to go about it. Some fear that they might not have the resources – time especially. So I would like to state here what mentorship is categorically not:

  • It is not an act of professional “baby-sitting”. It is more an act of teaching how to ride a bike. You don’t do it all day, seven days a week. And if you do it right, then your mentee should be cycling up the hill in 6-12 months. Electronic communication has made life so much easier.
  • It does not include setting up businesses for your mentees – but it includes looking over their feasibility studies, business plans and marketing exercises (you might make them better, but who knows, you might also learns a new approach from them).
  • It does not involve giving your mentee jobs, or sharing your clients with them, unless you are so inclined. I do recommend my mentees to my clients, if they are not working in my language pair.

I was very pleased to see that a number of experienced AUSIT members are mentoring already – albeit outside of their official AUSIT capacity. At the AUSIT Biennial Conference in Brisbane, VIC/TAS long-time member Eva Hussain gave a very interesting presentation called “Injecting New Blood Into T/I” in which she explained how her own mentoring program at Polaron is being run. She stressed the fact that the majority of us are over 45 years old – aptly termed Translatosaurses – and that AUSIT faces extinction, if we don’t get mentoring the newer generation. Eva strongly believes that surrounding yourself with young, enthusiastic and innovative people is the only way to progress in this industry, or any other industry for that matter. Otherwise we risk getting left behind. Her suggestions were summarised as follows:

  • Talk to people wanting to get in
  • Mentor new starters
  • Support student placements
  • Support internships programs
  • Support students in AUSIT
  • Get information
  • Move with the time.

I am aware that others are doing this as well. Worried about the lack of Greek-language interpreters in QLD because of attrition due to old-age and illness, the ever-active Effie Antoniou has been mentoring young Australian Greeks in Brisbane for the past three years, preparing them for their NAATI exams. In WA, Trish Will is doing her bit, and trying to get others interested. Silvana Pavlovska is taking on young T/Is on traineeships at the International Interpreting Agency – I met some of her trainees at my workshops. Brad Paez (VIC) has prepared a research proposal to look into issues vital to students – such as English competency and localisation issues, and is working with the Professional Development Committee on specific activities to assist students learn about and become committed to the industry. Moira Nolan has been working tirelessly in Tasmania, running crash courses since 2004 and starting a new "interpreting study group" this year.

I am sure there are tens of others motivated by their commitment to professionalism and improving of this industry. All we need is to streamline it somehow, and make sure that information will be shared between the mentors, and that there is a targeting policy aiming at beefing our membership and ensuring we don’t join the exhibits of some natural history museum. And this is what the AUSIT National Professional Development Committee (NPD Committee) is looking into doing.

A New Leadership Paradigm

Laid back leadership?

After hearing some of the numerous comments made after the 2008 AUSIT Biennial Conference organized by our team in Brisbane last November I really began to wonder if I shouldn’t share the ingredients that made our Team Miracle such a potent organising power. Participants wrote that they enjoyed both the fun and exchange of knowledge, that it was the best conference they ever attended, that it was very smoothly managed and encompassed many diverse topics. The only complaint seemed to be that it was impossible to attend ALL the interesting sessions.

Throughout the past few decades, the corporate and public sector has been showering us with many varied definitions of leadership: that one is born to lead, that it can be learned, that a leader needs to be at the front pulling the team, or at the back pushing it up the mountain; that they lead by example, using motivation, or manipulation (also called social skills). Somehow, though, all this academic and para-academic effort does not seem to produce better leaders. “Leaders” have lost sight of what leadership is all about. What we need now is not more theories or fads, not more people espousing rhetoric about leaders with vision, but rather a change in our leadership paradigm.

I recollect how, as a young teacher, my colleagues would congratulate me on being “naturally gifted” simply because my students were always focused and never skipped class. When at a relatively young age I became Principal of a large college, my school was equally well managed and people told me I was a “naturally gifted administrator”. One look at my desk would have belied any such assumptions. But it got me thinking about what it was that I was intuitively/subconsciously doing right.

I was to find the answer many years later, at the Brisbane Conference: it was called “invisible leadership”. Because I was completely unaware of doing any leading, and every one just fell in step; comfortably and at their own speed. So instead of a “spearhead” leadership paradigm, we had the “infantry” paradigm – and those who saw the Team Miracle stand proudly to ovation at the Abel Smith Theatre on the last day of the conference will know what I am talking about. A long, straight line that extended from one end of the stage to the other, shoulder to shoulder, heads up with big smiles proudly on their faces. The Infantry on the march to success. There was no leader in sight, because every team member was a leader at some time, in some area, moving this line forward step-by-step.

How did it happen?

I think the best description of Team Miracle I heard came from one of our team members on the closing day of the Conference,. She said, “No agendas, just friends!”. The Queensland branch is very lucky that way, as the Branch Committee has been together for over 4 years now, encompassing current and past members who are always ready to assist in tight moments.

Friendship aside, I think the second most important aspect of success was that we had a ball organising this event. True, it was hard yakka, but we never thought of it that way. Meetings were relaxed events over coffee and cakes, or overlooking the river, full of exchanged ideas and planning, but also of light-hearted banter and mutual support. We all stayed positive, slightly self-deprecatory and did not take ourselves too seriously. Everyone was putting their best foot forward, while not needing to outshine any one else. It was “all hands on deck” – unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno.

The third aspect is that we communicated vociferously – and still do – a lot. Over 6,000 emails were exchanged between the members of the organising committee in the year preceding the Conference, while another 3,000 were sent by the Chair alone to relevant persons outside the Committee. I am sure other members were sending out as many emails as the Chair. But sending them out does not in itself constitute communication– it was the speed with which members responded to emails, their commitment to reaching an agreement quickly, and their effectiveness at carrying out allotted tasks that made our electronic group such a success.

Fourthly, and no less importantly, we all shared the same goal – from the start this was to be the “Mother of all Conferences”, and Queensland was going to show Australia that it could be done. Of course it bothered us a bit that we had never done anything like this before, but we weren’t going to be daunted by that. We took stock of our assets – what each of us knew best how to do – and built the conference around them. So every body excelled and the Conference was a success.

And finally, Team Miracle was a success because each member had different strengths. A successful leader will surround themselves with people who have different competencies - or rather this kind of leader “attracts” them. These members “took over” the leadership at some stage of the process – during fund raising, negotiations with third parties, etc. EVERYBODY in Team Miracle took responsibility for the whole event, so there was no blaming if one aspect didn’t work or was delayed, as everyone felt responsible and part of it.

What are the characteristics of a “leader who leads invisibly”?
(a) Be genuinely interested in your team members and other relevant people, not just at a professional level, but at the human, emotional level.
(b) Show appreciation, extend friendship, be there when things don’t go well. Don’t be afraid to show emotions. Be passionate (but practical and realistic) about what you do.
(c) Praise in public, criticise constructively and very gently in private.
(d) Motivate by making people feel they CAN DO and showing trust in their abilities. Share your vision – not just of the goals, but also of how you see them achieving these goals.
(e) Start on the task you want to have done. Others will come to your help when they see you doing, not when they hear you yakking about doing.
(f) Be the hardest working team member. If someone beats you to that position, strive to beat them at it. It is amazing how much gets done.
(g) Don’t stress your team out. Be a Laid Back Leader, as one of our team members said.
(h) Keep your eyes out for gems that don’t shine unless you take a shine to them.
(i) Stay curious. Life is full of surprises, even in places you think you know very well. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
(j) Cultivate loyalty. The best catalyst is someone’s liking for you. A team works best if it is made of friends, so encourage bonding.
(k) Don’t hector about “objectives” and “goals”, but affirm/reassure that the journey will be fun for them. Fun motivates people more than anything else. Avoid going overboard with the “rah rah” factor.
(l) Visualise what you want at the end of the road, and keep waving the picture – you need to be sure that the rest of the team is also visualising the same thing. If they are not, you need to redraw the picture so that everyone’s colours are in it.
(m) Learn when to let go of dodos. If you have difficulty doing that, place the dodo on a shelf, but stop pretending it is an active team member.
(n) Make your holes so they fit the pegs – don’t try to fit the pegs into your preconceived holes. But be aware that as a team leader you might need to be made of plasticine, and fit into all the holes no one else fits into.

How does this apply to AUSIT?

It is true that when a community extends beyond a certain number, face-to-face contact becomes difficult. However difficult and impossible are two different things. You can’t get to know everybody in one month, but if you are leading a large team – such as an AUSIT branch – make time and effort to get to know a few each week. After all, how can one lead an unknown quantity and expect the quantity to produce quality?

Ideally, a branch chair should do three things: encourage, assist and develop. Encourage the growth of membership, assist the membership in their professional development and networking efforts, and develop an environment which promotes their industry interests. None of these can be achieved if the branch chair does not know their members on a personal level, or when the members don’t know who is leading them.

The same set of qualities also applies to national leadership. It is true that they will need to be modified – you can’t meet half of your membership at a café on a Saturday morning – but the basics are very much the same. It is not enough to be read once in a while; the national leader needs to be “seen” attending various functions in various states, so that the state membership does not feel that they are being ignored. This is especially so with the more remote of our memberships – Tasmania, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Ideally, these should be opportunities for networking with the goal of strengthening ties and loyalties. And it can’t be done once a year at a major event only attended by a small percentage.

Ongoing communication, knowledge sharing and reaching out to members is a matter of the highest importance, so that the enthusiasm of the leadership is not only felt, but spread across the membership. Thus an organisation like AUSIT can be sure to retain its members, as well as attract new ones. After all, we need to constantly market ourselves to our existing members to retain their loyalty and interest. . Eventually word of mouth will spread and new members will be motivated to join in.

While of course it is a complex task to lead, it basically comes down to a leader who – because of their genuine interest in people - has the ability to inspire and be inspired.

Rushdie, Rushdie - take thy foot out of thy mouthe

Salman Rushdie, variously known as a poor writer and a rich fugitive, but never as anything brilliant intellectually, has once again filled a few pages (this time of our own Australian) with his never-well-researched rubbish.

It is about literature (his does not qualify, so we are spared), about translation (what would he know??) and about adaptations for the screen. The whole drivel can be read here, but even more informative are the comments at the bottom :-D. Looks like Rushdie is criticizing something he did not actually watch. Well, well.. we can write critiques on hearsay these days, too.

Staying on or Straying from the Cultural Path

Daisey Cheyney in Helsinki Times

The trials and tribulations of the translator:

(a) The distortion factor

A linguistic construction can have an array of meanings and translation is no way as black- and-white as swapping a word from one language to another. Translations have long been viewed in a less than positive light. Even the canonical Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes likened reading a translation to “looking at the Flanders tapestries from behind”, a distortion of the original.

Factors such as historical spirit, wordplay and cultural bias and the extent to which a translation may be distorted are intrinsic to how ‘translatable’ something is. In particular, if the concept requiring translation is heavily culturally specific, the originality of languages such as Finnish can be a challenge for translators.

“Translating from a very foreign language is slow and painful,” says Herbert Lomas, a Finnish to English translator, who has been honoured officially for his services to Finnish Literature. Keith Bosley, another prolific translator whose extensive work catalogue includes the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala and numerous Finnish poetry anthologies, describes how translatability can differ: “For me ancient Finnish is more translatable than the French poet Baudelaire, even though my French is much better than my Finnish.”

Aspects such as style and register are inseparable from meaning and it is this inseparability that makes it challenging. The maintaining of certain aspects often occurs at the expense of others.

(b) No time:

Complexity differences are not only a challenge when translating classical literature across languages or for a modern audience. This is illustrated by the Piraha tribe from Brazil, whose language has no exact words capable of describing number or time, nor any distinct words for colour. To most, the very idea of a vocabulary lacking such a fundamental part of our lives seems unfathomable. Other examples closer to home include the Sami’s elaborate vocabulary for reindeer and types of snow. ‘Ruka’, the Russian equivalent for ‘hand’ stretches from fingertips to elbow as opposed to fingertips to wrist. The Finnish word ‘jalka’ doesn’t distinguish the foot from the leg.

Abstract words, particularly words to describe emotion, are notoriously challenging. Consider Greek, that has several different words for ‘love’, each with a different nuance, or the German ‘futterneid’, a word to describe the feeling that someone else’s food is better than one’s own. Variations in the number of words in a particular domain between two languages reflect cultural facts.

(c) Preserve or destroy?

If the target language lacks a particular concept or adequate vocabulary to describe a particular concept, what can a translator do? If the concept is an intrinsic part of the plot, then excluding the concept is not an option, so the translator will aim to approximate and contextualise any cultural, historical or geographical references. The art of translation and what constitutes a success is little understood. Is a successful translation one that is measured by the similarity of experience between the readers?

There are a few main points that translators undeniably agree on. Transferring the spirit and energy of the original takes precedence over a mechanical approach. All linguistic devices need to be considered to ensure that the omission or transfer does not detract from the experience.

“Translating is not as easy as a lot of people think. It’s maintaining the format, the register, the terminology and so on,” says Greek to English translation student, Frosso Skontiniotou. He goes on to explain how idiomatic expressions and metaphors can be a challenge: “Every writer has their own style and this might not be clear to the translator and therefore the transfer of the style to the target audience may be difficult.”

Identifying the culturally-specific element humour can be a challenge in the original language, let alone transferring it into another language altogether. As English to Finnish translator Kersti Juva, whose literary classic translations span from Shakespeare to Dickens, explains: “Humour is a very elusive element in literature. The most difficult task is to detect the humour in the source text; if a translator misses a joke there is no hope of it appearing in the translation.” The general principle for translating cultural nuances is ultimately equivalence, something that may or may not be possible. As Bosley so succinctly puts it: “You can’t turn a bar-mitzvah into a confirmation.”

(d) Domesticate or foreignise?
There are two strategies available to deal with ‘non-translatables: foreignisation or domestication. Translators aim to produce something readers can understand without unnecessary effort, but whether to foreignise or domesticate appears to be a point of much debate. According to the British Council web site, there is more consensus today about the need to maintain the foreign essence in form and content, and foreignisation is seen as a means to fertilise the native literary ground.

Different stategies are adopted with varying results, and success is not always guaranteed. For example, in the English translation of Stieg Larsson’s book trilogy Millennium the spending habits of the principle character are domesticated. Although events take place in Zurich, the currency described in the book is Swedish krona! Considering that the audience is like ly to be outside Sweden, a conversion to Swiss Francs may have been a more suitable choice for the translator.

(e) Crossing the border

Over 60 per cent of all translated literature is done from works originally written in English. This figure contrasts sharply with the paltry one to two per cent of literature translated into English.However, according to the Finnish Literature Society translations from Finnish into other languages are an area that is continuing to flourish. A growth that may be a result of the Finnish publishing sectors increasingly commercial stance as well as Finland joining the European Union in 1995. The target language of the translations from Finnish is predominantly German with over 184 titles translated between 2002 and 2007. A possible explanation for this is that translated books impressively account for over half of the German fiction market. Of these, the most successful genre was mystery, in particular the crime writer Matti Yrjänä Joensuu.

The Kalevala is the most translated Finnish publication to date, with over 200 different adaptations in over 60 languages. Many of these are translated from existing translations, meaning the text may have become curiously distorted through successive translations. The resulting effect of being ‘twice removed’ one might compare to Chinese Whispers, the game in which errors accumulate during the retelling.

It is all too easy to pick holes in a translator’s work or become pedants over whether the translator has created an exact equivalent reading experience. I say we should be thankful to the under-recognised translators for sharing what is more often than not a labour of love. The odd lapse in judgement or hiccup in accuracy is surely a small price to pay for the exposure to such a multitude of cultures, access to which is not confined to geographical location. Translations help to enrich the development of world cultures, something that can only be deemed positive. Without them we would seem to be headed for cultural isolation.

Competition as fierce as for power-sharing and representation in a national government

It is quite amazing what volunteers can achieve when it comes to national pride.

Pejoratively known as the Galla by the rest of Ethiopia, the Oromo form around 47% of the Ethiopian population. They have a history marred with conflict and attempts of self-determination. Many of them ended up as refugees throughout the world, due to their political activism.

Now Google has given them a reason to show some national pride.

On the Oromo forum Gaada, Qeerransoo Biyyaa writes about the translation of main Google pages into their language Afaan Oromoo. The whole project was done by volunteers.

"The pleasure of seeing one’s language go global has been what, I think, made the voluntary translation a huge success for Google. Often, poor people have devoted hours and years of translation for Google, without compensation. Imagine marathon human translators in Africa, making sacrifices for Google and themselves. Within each country, I have witnessed groups competing to make their own languages go global and technological on Google.

I was part of a Google Translation Group known as the Gumii-Dagaagina Afaan Oromoo, established in the US to translate Google products into Afaan Oromoo or Oromo, the language spoken by nearly 50% the Ethiopian population. It struck me to see how the political competition among nationalities in Ethiopia also translated itself into competition to be the first to make one’s language part of the giant search engine on earth. This feels like technological nationalism.

The Afaan Oromoo group started translating Google products in the year 2005. The team was composed of about 40 people. High-profile college and high school students, linguists, and technology geeks were involved. Nevertheless, the high dropout rate of volunteers was a major problem down the line. Qeerransoo Biyyaa persevered to complete two important products 100%, Google Main Search Site and Main Search Help Pages — both important for accessing Google Interface.

The translation was a huge struggle as a person needs to integrate concepts from technology, language and culture simultaneously. It was sometimes hard to find equivalent technological terms in Oromo or other language from Ethiopia. This is simply because technological terms are as foreign as the technologies themselves to Ethiopia.

Among the Horn of African languages, the competition among languages is as fierce as the competition for power-sharing and representation in a national government.
One hopes that the availability of Google in African languages will play a certain role in improving the unfair New World Information Order, where information flows predominantly from the global NORTH to SOUTH. When Google fully develops support for languages like Afaan Oromoo, Amharic, Tigrigna and Somali etc., information may gradually start to flow in both directions, from South to North and vice versa. If that happens, it can be dubbed ‘the Grand Information Justice’. Naively speaking, information justice can lead to better understanding among world’s nations, peoples, cultures and languages. It can foster more co-operation and friendship among peoples, nations, and ethnic groups."

Good on you, folks!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interpreter Pay in Australia (the Fair, apparently)

One of my colleagues in Brisbane, a Spanish to English translator, quoted the following as a comment on the fact that interpreters seem to be paid $20.00 per hour:

Kim Chap 12 (Hurree Babu)

"Of course I shall affeeliate myself to their camp in supernumerary capacity as perhaps interpreter, or person mentally impotent and hungree, or some such thing."

Hurray to Hurree!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

First Casualties

The Boston Business Journal announced that Lionbridge Technologies Inc., a provider of technology translation and testing services for companies expanding internationally, will lay off roughly 325 employees as a part of a restructuring plan to reduce overhead costs.

Lionbridge swung to a $114.2 million net loss in 2008 compared with a $9 million net profit in 2007 on a $120.5 million writedown on its goodwill value. Revenue for 2008 rose about 2.1 percent year over year to $461.4 million.

“This plan allows up to adapt our company to the current demand levels and preserves our ability to invest in strategic initiatives such as our cloud-based language platform and global sourcing and search capabilities. We are moving forward as a leaner company while maintaining our focus on innovation and customer quality,” said Lionbridge CEO Rory Cowan in a statement.

So basically Daniel Gouadec's prediction of consolidations and the return of the inhouse translator might not withstand the realities of recession. A survey of members of the Spanish translation company association, ACT has shown that the economic crisis is hitting the translation sector hard. Fifty percent of ACT’s current membership took part in a telephone survey. Nearly 50 percent revealed that their sales were down in the second quarter compared to the first. While 29 percent said that trading had not changed, just 24 percent said that they had experienced an increase in sales during the period. Analysis of the results suggests that this is likely to be as a result of niche or particular sector marketing, which has helped some translation companies expand its order book.
“Despite the world economic gloom most Spanish translation companies that responded to the survey said, although invoicing was down, they felt that their companies are standing up well to the crisis.
“More than 80 percent said that they were still honouring their commitments to suppliers at the normal payment terms. Twelve percent said that their current trading allowed them to honour their commitments to suppliers better than usual. Only six percent said that they were finding the going tougher.

How many of them lied?

"Members of the Dutch Association of Translation Agencies are bracing themselves for the full impact of the financial crisis. Soundings taken at the November 2008 general meeting showed that members had yet to be affected, but there was an expectation that some may not survive."

That was 5 months ago. I wonder what has changed by now.

And while everyone else is going down the gurgle, the US Army still spends money chasing the wild dream of MT - it just gave BBN Technologies $2.7 million in additional funding to continue refining a translation system for military personnel to use in tactical situations. The program’s purpose is to field two-way translation systems that allow speakers of different languages to communicate with one another. What the heck for? Killing does not necessitate two-way communication. Just shoot.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


From Mother Jones:

Lawyers representing more than 100 current and former contract linguists in Iraq are preparing to file a class action suit against Falls Church, Virginia-based GLS, which is majority owned by DynCorp International. The linguists allege that the company illegally changed the terms of their employment agreements, using threats and intimidation to coerce them into signing modified contracts for far less money. GLS denies any wrongdoing, holding that the pay cuts were not only legal, but also a financial necessity given the firm's narrowing profit margins. But Robert Burlison, the linguists' lead attorney and organizer of the class action, says that greed lies at the root of the case. The company, he says, has undertaken "a concerted effort to make more money and to do it on the backs of the linguists."

Underlying the impending class action is the question of whether GLS broke the law by unilaterally modifying the terms of its linguists' employment agreements midcontract, before they came up for renegotiation.

Aggravating the situation, according to numerous written complaints and former GLS linguists interviewed for this story, was the firm's alleged attempt to strong-arm personnel into modifying their contracts. Knowing that a revolt was brewing among its contractors, GLS "began sending mobile teams to get signatures for the modification of the contract, [and] that's when they started intimidating and harassing linguists," says Elboraii. The stories collected on the protest website are strikingly similar: allegations of GLS managers demanding signatures on the spot, often not allowing linguists to review the modifications in advance, and threatening them with termination should they refuse. In one case, when a team of linguists requested more time to consider their options before signing, a GLS manager allegedly said, "Your names will go on a shit list tonight if you do not sign…[and] once you're on the list, it will be extremely difficult to pull you off." GLS managers also allegedly shamed interpreters for abandoning US troops, warned that there were plenty of other qualified candidates to replace them should they refuse to sign, and said those who didn't would likely wind up on the unemployment line, competing with thousands of others thrown out of work by the recession. In a few cases, things seem to have turned even uglier. "They actually started humiliating linguists and calling them names," says Elboraii. One linguist reported a conversation he had with a GLS manager in the chow hall of his base, where the manager allegedly shrugged off the linguists' complaints, saying, "You know the Arabs…when they hear they're going to be fired, they will all spread like cockroaches."

Read the whole story here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Overloaded, overcharged?

Kim Gizzard from The Daily Reflector reports that "In her first visit with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State Clinton presented him with a “reset” button designed to symbolize that the United States was interested in starting a new relationship with Russia. The only problem was that a two-letter difference turned it from the Russian word for “reset” to the Russian word for “overcharged” or “overloaded.”
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Clinton told him. “Do you think we got it?”
“You got it wrong,” he answered, in English.

Working with interpreters in Moldova, I learned that translating is no walk in the park. For phrases like that one, you can't merely substitute one language for another. A language teacher once told me that American idioms like “chew the fat” and “face the music” are a nightmare for people trying to learn English.

Some ideas simply cannot bridge the language barrier. For example, the teacher told me, when a minister from the South tried to get his translator to tell a congregation in Africa that he was “tickled to death” to meet them, the terrified churchgoers were told that their guest speaker had “scratched himself until he died.”

It's like the time I bought my husband an anniversary card that was written in Romanian. The way the translator explained it, the card sounded romantic. But when I got home and tried to write it in English using a translation Web site, it read, “I love your red blood corpuscles.”

(...) the Russian word for reset is perezagruzka, not peregruzka. But since Lavrov speaks English, maybe Clinton should have skipped the translation altogether. She could have just told the Russian foreign minister that she was “tickled to death” to see him.

Translation Issue

The current issue of the prestigious Hudson Review is dedicated to translation of literature and poetry.

There is also an interesting article on the translation of poetry. Apparently "many more poets than before are interested in translation" and thinks "poets are drawn to the challenge . . . the discipline appeals to them," because "the digital era means all poetic forms and media from all places circulate rapidly and incessantly. Language differences, not distances, are the only barrier. Translation thus breaks down the final obstacle to the true international poetry community."

Which brings us to the Globalization of Poetry! Can't they leave anything intact, these globalizers??

Talking of poetry and translation, if you don't mind didactic nonsense and mouthfuls of air, here are the woes of Arab translators in Dubai. They are scared, apparently, to work on poetry: "How do we make Chaucer understandable in, say, Arabic translation? Would it show Chaucer’s original poetry with Arabic equivalents or a modern version of Chaucer?" Obviously individualism did not hit there yet - no one is saying "each one of us will translate Chaucer as we personally interpret his work, as he speaks to our gut and heart". Mr. Huwaireb, who is organizing some form of an international poets symposium in Dubai, bemoans that "translation remains a hurdle towards enjoying a variety of world poetry, especially at a prominent gathering of world poets". Why? Because "translation of poetry goes beyond conventional elements of literal translation as far as ambiguities and mystic speculations are concerned, making it an art of its own"

I am not sure if it is a typo, or the writer is a LOTE speaker, or what - but the "literal" translation has very little place ANYWHERE. And yet again and again, I mentor young Arab translators working from English, and the hardest thing to beat out of them (that's not literal, ok?) is this need to do it "literally".

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"I feel quite strongly about translators because they're so underestimated.."

Christopher Hampton, a British playwright, screenwriter and translator, is translating "God of Carnage," a searing dark comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza, from French into English for its London debut, and then from British into American English for the Broadway production.

Mr. Hampton, an Oxford-trained linguist, has translated five of Ms. Reza's seven plays, among them "Life x 3" and the smash-hit "Art," which grossed more than $300 million world-wide.

"I feel quite strongly about translators because they're so underestimated," says Mr. Hampton, a 63-year-old with shoulder-length gray hair. "Sometimes you read a novel and you can't see who translated it, or they get paid very badly, and I think it's a very vital cultural exercise."

Translating Ms. Reza's plays, which are littered with slang and technical jargon used by lawyers and other professionals, can be tricky, Mr. Hampton says. He usually works on them alone for five or six weeks, and then sends her the results and waits "for the complaints to come in."

You can read more about Hampton's work here

"Nothing To About Worry Microsoft From"


The title already starts on the wrong foot, nu? "Microsoft Invites Developers to test Web-site translator". I was married to one of those (developers, not translators). They speak in tongues at the best of times, C++, Java, etc.. and it mostly isn't coherent. To expect them to decide if they like the output of this widget - whose amazingly incoherent performance can be tested here - will be an absolute success: both parties talk gibberish.

Couldn't they buy something more functional from Systran? Even Google does it better!

Incidentally, the testing website has a "slogan" on the top that does not get translated. It says: “And this one thing is what gives the confidence, however out of place this confidence might seem, to be absolutely unworried about the permanence of this bond. How can you somehow lose your reflection?” - Vikram

Can I safely assume this is the Widget translating from Hindi into English? Or maybe, it is the widget itself talking :-D

We will stay in business for a long time yet, fellow translators. No, nos moverans. Not by Microsoft, anyway.