Nov 20, 2014

Well MET near Madrid.

It's been nearly three weeks since I returned from my first meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators association, METM14. In that time I've wondered how to share all that I brought back from the gathering, and I'm afraid I still don't know how to put it all into words. I've become increasingly reluctant to participate in translation conferences in the past few years, took a break of about a year and a half from them, because too many had become venues for pushing a corporatist agenda which I feel has little to do professional language service of real social value. The unexpectedly excellent IAPTI conference in Athens last September marked my return, and what pleased me most there was the clear focus of the event program on the professional practice of freelance translators and interpreters. No sales pitches, no Linguistic Sausage Producers explaining their multiphase chop-and-grind workflows to redefine quality as a complex function of engineering incompetence, empty promises, pseudoscientific LQA scores and extrusion rate. MET's outstanding 10th annual meeting in San Lorenzo de El Escorial near Madrid was an exquisite dessert after the feast in Athens: once again I had the great pleasure to meet a number of professional peers with experience and competence well beyond my own, some who have been mentors of mine for years with their contributions for practical corpus linguistics in translation and other topics dear to me.

And once again I had the delight of a program that was, for me, truly something completely different. In all the professional conferences I have attended in the past 15 years, this was the first one where a substantial number of attendees were serious, professional editors. Many translators take on "editing jobs" for better or worse, but at METM14 I was surrounded by people who pursue this activity with a professional seriousness and rigor which was quite frankly new to me. And their perspectives on some matters which are routine in my own work seemed more than a little weird at first.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone on the pre-conference workshop day as I sat in an excellent session by Mary Ellen Kerans on corpus-guided decision-making. A paper that she co-authored years ago with two other colleagues gave me my first exposure to the effective use of corpora for my translation work, but I had always applied these techniques from my own rather settled perspective as a translator. On that day, I saw how editors use the same techniques for very different purposes, and after about a half hour of considerable confusion, I enjoyed surprising new insights in how I might improve my own work by considering these other perspectives.

The editors' perspectives continued to alternately confuse and inspire me for the next two days. I learn something at most conferences, but usually what I walk away with are ideas that are not too far from my usual professional comfort zone. Here I was challenged in new and different ways, and I really loved that. I had been aware of MET for a number of years because of a few colleagues in Stridonium who were members, and I've looked at the conference program off and on for about five years and was always impressed by their focus on peer-to-peer teaching, but what I found was really well beyond my good expectations.

I attended the event with another colleague from Portugal who is relatively new to translation; she was a little nervous about her first professional conference, and although I expected she would gain some useful insights, I did not really know what would await a new professional at METM14. Any concerns were quickly dispelled; I was extremely pleased to see how many new professionals were welcomed and encouraged to participate by so many with more experience than I am likely to gain still in what remains of my professional life.

My friend was thoroughly inspired by the people she met and the presentations and workshops she attended, and on the long drive home after the last day she put together puzzle pieces from a number of talks and hit me with new ideas for teaching translation support technology to new users that still have my head spinning and will be the foundation for my next book, which I hope to release by early next year. This was just one of many occasions where I have found that newcomers to a profession can contribute some of the most important insights for improvement.

Defenders of the Portuguese language at METM14
Next year's annual meeting (METM15) will be held at the end of October in Coimbra, Portugal at the university there. If you are getting tired of the same old topics presented by the same old suspects and programs clearly driven by agendas at odds with the ethics and interests of freelancers and staff professionals who put quality first, then you may want to join me next October in Portugal for another healthy serving of professional dessert.

Emma Goldsmith has blogged a good overview of the sessions she attended at METM14, which can give you a feel for some of what you may have missed. The conference program offers more, less personal information. But don't rely on the impressions of others; come next year to a great event in a great country and then tell others yourself what this unusual mix of extreme professional competence has to offer.

Nov 5, 2014

Translators Without Borders: the ACCEPT project

In 2012, a grant of 1.8 million euros of EU funds was awarded to the ACCEPT project. The avowed aim of ACCEPT (Automated Community Content Editing PorTal) is to enablemachine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit environments”.  A one-page description of the project is available here.

The diverse interests involved are intriguing, and potentially conflicting. The grant-seeking consortium is comprised of academia (the universities of Edinburgh and Geneva), digital media-focused companies (Acrolinx, Symantec and Lexcelera). Managed by Lexcelera, a non-profit translation entity (Translators without Borders, or ‘TwB’) participates in the project as well. The representatives of Acrolinx (Andrew Bredenkamp) and Lexcelera (Lori Thicke) also sit on TwB’s board of directors, while Symantec also has TwB linkage (one of TwB’s advisory board members, Uli Paulin, is a former Symantec employee).

As the sole non-profit member, Translators without Borders has a long history of providing pro bono linguistic aid to selected NGOs, including Doctors without Borders (as the choice of name would suggest). TwB’s projects in Africa have helped disseminate important healthcare information in previously unsupported (or outright ignored) languages. There is no argument that this is potentially life-saving work, and the core reason why the base of the TwB pyramid consists of thousands of freelance translators who enthusiastically contribute to its efforts on an entirely unpaid basis.

The apex of the TwB pyramid is rather less straightforward. Its board of directors and advisory board are primarily composed of major industry players who own or operate commercial concerns that have a strong and undisguised interest in exploiting machine translation and the ‘cognitive surplus’ (or unpaid crowdsourcing if you will).

This is where ACCEPT invites at least some query or scrutiny, because it entails using the non-profit TwB (advised by Lexcelera) to provide motivated volunteers to improve machine translation. The ACCEPT grant application emphasized an at least partially altruistic goal, supported by the presence of TwB and its volunteers. It bears repeating: ACCEPT’s stated purpose is to enablemachine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit environments […]” (our emphasis). 

TwB operates on a demonetized basis (apart from a few specific projects in Africa). Using its unpaid participants in a project with an admitted commercial motive, funded by and for the EU, appears – at very least – curious. From a distance, one might ask whether TwB’s name and fame (derived from the idealistic and unremunerated contributions of donor translators focused on developing nations) has helped profit-making concerns – Acrolinx, Lexcelera, Symantec – obtain public monies for developing valuable digital media translation solutions. The ACCEPT project may yield results that justify its public funding, but they will be specifically for EU (First World) nations. TwB and other non-profits would doubtless receive some benefits, but the outcomes and assets would be ripe for use in prime commercial settings far removed from developing nations and the motivations of most volunteers.


The first part of this series, which raises questions of possible conflicts of interest, is here.

The second part, in which some TWB projects are discussed, is here.

Nov 4, 2014

SOLISTA - the individual language service management solution you've been waiting for!

For nearly five years, I have been involved in the testing and localization of a project and business management solution for translation agencies and outsourcing corporate departments - the Online Translation Manager (OTM), which is available from on the software as a service (SaaS) model as well as for on-site installations in special cases.

I use the service myself, although up to now I have not operated a translation agency in any sense and I seldom outsource work of any kind. I do so because it
  • makes sense for me to use the solution so I can do a better job of English localization,
  • provides me with several options for secure, encrypted receipt and deliveries of jobs from clients, 
  • is fanatically correct and compliant with all the myriad legal requirements for my business in the EU, and
  • it saves me a lot of time and grief when I use it for the entire course of a project.
But OTM has its downsides. For many freelancers, it would be like hunting sparrows with a Gatling gun. And there are many features which are not actually relevant to my freelance business and annoy the Hell out of me because I can't circumvent them.

All that is about to change. recently announced the development of a "personal edition of OTM, designed especially for individual freelance service providers" - SOLISTA. It will reduce the burdens of administrative routines and free your time and energy for better and/or more profitable use of time while providing a legal security and compliance with tax requirements, etc. that no other freelance language service management solution can. I have argued with the developers for five years now that this is needed and when they came to the same conclusion, they managed to show me a product vision well beyond what I had hoped for. I am excited.

The product is now in its final stage of specifications planning, and the development team is eager for feedback to ensure that the initial release will meet the needs of a broad range of translators, interpreters, editors and other language specialists in the best way possible. 

So is currently conducting a survey in three of the 30 interface languages planned for the release and welcomes your thoughts and guidance on what you need to handle the administration of your business more effectively. Please take a little time (5 to 10 minutes estimated) to ensure that they get it right the first time with the survey in


The software will runs on a web browser and provide the following benefits among others:
  • 50% less administrative effort with integration of scheduling, project management, accounting et alia
  • use of CAT tool analyses to prepare quotations and invoices
  • quotations and invoices in 34 currencies (at ECB exchange rates)
  • multilingual communication with clients and colleagues
  • effective online marketing of your services
  • data transfer and backup on secure servers in Germany (not in the Cloud!)
Other interesting, special features will be provided for members of professional associations (SOLISTA Plus). But I can't talk about that now....