Jan 31, 2009

Social media marketing

After a recent discussion on Corinne McKay's blog Thoughts on Translation regarding the utility of LinkedIn for translators, I've been giving some thought to my approach to that platform as well as Xing and a few others. The only environment of this sort where I have invested any serious effort over the years is the translator's portal ProZ, where I have established some very satisfying client and colleague relationships. However, one seldom encounters people from outside the translation profession there; to develop one's direct client base through online networking other approaches are needed. So when I found a reference to a list of 42 free e-books covering various topics for social media marketing I was rather pleased. The post is in German, but most of these works are in English, and it's easy enough for those without German skills to scroll through the list and download titles that may be useful.

Pleasant and well organized: another translator's web site

I've known Stefanie Sendelbach, an English/Chinese to German translator, for a number of years in professional forums (even before she finished her degree I think) and have also had a few very pleasant business dealings with her. I'm often reluctant to communicate with German clients and colleagues in English, but her command of my native language has always seemed so good that it's easy to forget that it's her second language. She's young and new in the business compared to many others, but I've always had the feeling that she can probably hold her own with many that have a much longer resumé.

That positive impression was reinforced again today when I took a look at her web site for the first time. My first impression was "wow - clean and quiet!". A little too much white space at the top, maybe, but the page makes a very calm impression, and it is very well organized. No flashing graphics, gaudy colors or anything else to set my nerves on edge. The best part, of course, is how her information is presented. I really like the fact that she explains the navigation on a number of her pages, telling visitors which links will take them to what information. I seldom thought of such things in the past when doing my own web pages, but after a decade and a half of cutting my way through the thickets of inscrutable web interfaces, I appreciate the value of her approach.

I also see her contact information in three places, yet it doesn't feel irritatingly redundant. She's just smart enough to be sure that you know how to get in touch with her now if you need a job done.

She's also got a nice little update column for news on the home page which mentions her new book in German on web site translation (HTML und PHP in der Website-Lokalisierung: Einführung - Hintergründe - Anwendung) and other useful information.

Other basic information that potential clients might want to know about her services is presented in a straightforward, understandable way, with good navigation in German and English. Overall I think this is another site worth looking at when one is considering how to put together a good web presence to promote your freelance translation business.

Jan 30, 2009

Sad Sack Sam strikes again!

Many translators wonder why they have a hard time acquiring and keeping customers. For those with basically good linguistic skills, a little business education can go a long way. In rare cases, perhaps the only hope lies with psychopharmacology. Susanne Aldridge called attention to a rather disturbing mail exchange between a translator and his prospect posted on a German marketing blog. The original post is here.

I've put this post under the keyword "marketing", because the approach of this self-designated translator is, of course, a fine example of what not to do. His behavior is so extreme that the point is obvious, but in some cases I see others encouraging practices that might in many cases prove counterproductive. There are so many good ways to build one's business, so why waste time spamming "prospects" and chasing after clients who aren't in a desirable market segment. Too many do, but now of course, their excuse for failure will be the Great Worldwide Financial Crisis. Hey, your crisis is my opportunity!

I seldom make changes to old posts; for better or worse I let them stand unless the information is completely outdated and a possible source of technical trouble. In this particular case, however, I've made an exception after receiving 14 e-mails (and still counting) from a deeply disturbed individual with bizarre obsessions involving sex, baldness, Scottish water creatures and scatology. This is, unfortunately, the typical operating mode for this individual, who has made a number of bizarre attacks on clients of mine over the years and has apparently been stalking one colleague on XING for weeks now. His example is more valuable than his name, which appears to be known to all, as he is one of the most dedicated spammers of agency lists that I have ever heard of. The recipients of his mail are, alas, not as open to business as might be wished, so I passed on an opportunity which he surely deserves and wished him Godspeed.
In contrast to cases like the Great Snake, there are no specific warnings required here; the warning is writ large in every communication with this individual with Braille subtitles for those who can't trust their eyes.
Here's a truly unique approach to marketing from which we can all derive some good laughs. Now go and market otherwise.

Edited comment:

Sonja said...
Oh yes, I've seen this mail exchange and found it rather embarrassing. It does cast a negative light on all translators but then we cannot be held responsible for somebody else's mental state, can we? What strikes me as odd is that is still in business after so many years, and apparently so many years in trouble. How come natural selection hasn't worked here?

Jan 25, 2009

Good animated OmegaT demo

Samuel Murray has put together a very nice animated demonstration of the basic translation processes for OmegaT. It's sort of like a free version of what Jost Zetzsche has done with other CAT tools on the Translators Training site. (Jost's comparisons include OmegaT alongside many other tools.) If you've never seen a CAT tool in live action or you're curious about the basics of OmegaT, this is a quick and simple way to find out what it's all about.

Learning basic TM system concepts with little risk: OmegaT

Marc Prior, in various discussions on- and offline, has made some interesting points about TM tools. He is the project coordinator for OmegaT, a cross-platform, Java-based freeware tool, as well as a German/English translator like me with many years of experience. Recently he commented that these freeware tools, while perhaps not the ultimate solution for a translator, do in fact provide a means of learning about basic concepts which are important for all TM tools with no risk. While I certainly did not disagree with this statement when I read it, I also did not reflect on it and give it the weight which it deserved.

I work in a relative high-stress, high-production environment with a strong demand for my services that leads me to say "no" to project inquiries so often that some days I feel like a parrot. It's hard to find the time to work on every interesting thing which is offered, so ergonomics and efficiency are extremely important to me, and if I know that a tool like MemoQ or Déjà Vu X will make a translator 5 to 30% (allowing for varying situations) more efficient than some other tool, I will recommend them strongly and point out the ROI and how much money is lost through opportunity costs inherent in making other choices. All that is true, but...

... there is a more basic issue which Marc pointed out, which I also experienced, but it was so long ago that I had simply forgotten about it.

For someone accustomed to translation by simply typing in a text editor, dictating or overwriting text in some other environment, the basic concepts of CAT tools can take quite some getting used to. Concepts like segmentation, fuzzy matching, concordances, translation memories versus terminogies and more are not simple at first. Even though I picked up the theory quickly enough due to decades of IT experience, in practical work it took a while for some of it to sink in. Only after I thoroughly botched one of my first jobs with Trados by treating close fuzzy matches at 100% matches (missing the cue of the yellow field color vs. green field color) did I learn how critical it is to rely on information in the portion of the window where differences are highlighted.

All too often people buy software because they think they should, but they don't have enough basic familiarity with the ideas to evaluate what will really work best. They might follow the debates of the pundits and decide based on reason or fear to purchase a particular tool, but too often that tool languishes unused or is never used to its full potential. I've been using Déjà Vu for 9 years now, and I am still learning important ways to improve the effectiveness of my work with it, and the same is true of every other tool I use, such as Trados or Star Transit.

So while I still believe that a translator is better off getting a good commercial tool with the ability to process a wide variety of formats, including formats from SDL Trados jobs, I will give Marc the point and the match on this argument. If you understand so little about the basic concepts relevant to CAT tools that you might not get full value out of a 30 or 60 day trial period, OmegaT is a good tool to start with and figure out what people are talking about. I'm not particularly thrilled about the current interface of OmegaT, but it's not awful, and specific issues I have with it like the lack of tag protection (although there is, thankfully, a function to verify tags) and the apparent inability to have divergent target translations for the same source text (a real killer for me) do not nullify its value as a learning tool with professional potential. Setting up projects and adding resources to them are quite straightforward. If I were teaching a class on the basic concepts of translation memory tools and didn't want to hassle with demo versions for which participants had failed to get an evaluation key (this happened to me once - what a pain!), then I would probably use OmegaT.

However, I would be very careful doing professional work with the tool. There are many people who do, but most of them are well aware of the limitations and compensate for them in appropriate ways. I am not a particular fan of the Open Source ideologies, but I do appreciate projects with community spirit and value for education. This is one of them.

Compendium of Translation Software, 15th edition

The Compendium of Translation Software (15th edition) has just been released as a free PDF download. This 129 page reference aims to provide a comprehensive overview of basic data on computer-based tools for translation and the support of translation processes. It includes information on tools for machine translation, machine-assisted human translation, project management, word counting, invoicing and more.

Looking at the entries for software I use, I note that the information is not completely up to date. Current versions are wrong in some cases or supported formats are missing. However, it's a good place to start, and if you are looking for a tool with support for a particular language, this is a useful research tool.

Here are some typical entries:

Déjà Vu Version: X 7.5.303
Company: Atril Software
Category: Translator workstation; Translation memory system
Languages: any
Requirements: Pentium III 600 MHz; Windows98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/Vista; 256MB RAM
Input: Word 2.0 and higher, PowerPoint, ASCII, RTF, SGML, HTML, XML, RC, PageMaker, Interleaf, FrameMaker, JavaScript, QuarkXPress, VBScript, Adobe InDesign, BIF, EBU STL, GNU GetText
Feature: includes example-based machine translation techniques, supports TMX, integrates with CATALYST, and SDL Trados TM
Note: various editions: Editor, Standard, Professional, Workgroup
Price: € 490 (Standard), €990 (Professional), €2250 (first licence for Workgroup)

MemoQ Version: 3.0
Company: Kilgray
Category: translation workstation, translation memory
Note: compatible with TMX, TTX
Price: €450

SDL Passolo Version: 2007
Company: SDL International
Category: Localization support tool
Languages: any
Requirements: PC 486; WindowsNT/2000/XP; 16MB RAM
Features: designed for software localization; Translation Simulator for checking for translation problems
Price: contact company

Translation Office 3000 Version: 8
Company: Advanced International Translations
Category: Translation support tool
Note: accounting tool for freelance translators
Price: €159

Outsourcing translation work from DVX Workgroup to OmegaT

Discussions of CAT tools never end in the online forums and elsewhere, and there are often heated arguments about which tools are best, whether claims of compatibility are to be taken seriously, etc. Not infrequently, fire-breathing Open Source fanatics or even calmer souls who prefer free software to commercial stuff that would probably increase their efficiency and certainly improve their marketability make a case for tools like Metatexis or OmegaT. I've always been rather skeptical of tools like these, especially after discussions with developers who have confirmed some of the limitations. One "knockout criterion" for me was that this software allows the translator to translate only a limited number of formats, not including many of the most popular ones. The usual workflow for MS Word documents with OmegaT, for example, involves conversion to ODT format for translation and subsequent re-conversion. I suspect there may be some issues here, because I used to use OpenOffice to clean up trash codes in MS Word and RTF files, and sometimes the formatting got messed up.

After a several discussions with Marc Prior, the project coordinator for OmegaT, one workflow which would give both of the aforementioned free tools the ability to work on projects involving any format which can be processed by Déjà Vu X or SDL Trados became apparent. It's quite simple, really, if you have access to DVX Workgroup. The steps are as follows:
  1. Export an "external view" as an RTF table with all segments or whatever portion you want to have worked on by the OmegaT user.
  2. The OmegaT user opens the RTF external view and copies the source column to a new OpenOffice ODT document.
  3. The ODT document is translated normally in OmegaT with care taken not to damage the codes enclosed in curly brackets (example: {13})
  4. After the target file is exported, the table column in it is copied to the target text column of the original RTF external view table.
  5. The RTF external view table is re-imported to the DVX project.
Since DVX can process all Trados formats if they are pre-segmented, this method also enables OmegaT to process any Trados files with a guarantee of 100% compatibility.

TM content can be exported from DVX or Trados as TMX and placed in the TM folder of the OmegaT project. While the matching may not be optimal this way, so the translator may have to work a little harder, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Fuzzy matches are processed a little differently in OmegaT, for example by putting [fuzzy] before a segment which is automatically inserted. Perhaps this will force some people to stop and think about a match before blindly continuing to the next segment. If one accidentally continues to the next segment, the automatic markers will make it easier to find the error. I did notice in my brief tests that subsegment matches from a TMX file were displayed in one of the panes on the right of the screen; this was very helpful. Terminology can be shared with OmegaT via tab-delimited text files with three column (source, target and additional info). Unfortunately OmegaT does not appear to support fuzzy matching of terminology, so it may be necessary for the translator to do manual lookups if a term occurs as a plural but is listed in the singular in the glossary.

Thus outsourcers who work with Déjà Vu can cooperate safely with users of freeware tools like OmegaT and be assure of reasonably efficient information exchange and completely compatible final results.

Jan 22, 2009

A Darwinist view of the translation business

It's amazing how many utterly clueless people out there think they can go into business as translators. My favorite of the week is the young fellow who apparently has never heard of an invoice number before. I'm a big believer in education and sharing knowledge; since the earliest days of my professional career I have been giving training seminars and creating publications and tools to help others in a wide variety of ways. However, in some cases I really do think that it's best to let natural selection take its course. Natural selection works in many ways, of course. Social organization - for us, networking and building good client relationships, for example - increase the chances of survival. But in cases where the organism is born without a functioning brain or suffers severe, irreparable dysfunctions of other vital organs, perhaps the merciful thing to do is to let it die quietly... or find a more intellectually satisfying activity like mowing lawns.

Research of all kinds is a basic prerequisite for success as a translator I think. Or thought once in any case. I have seen so much bad work from people in the business a long time, much of it not only linguistically bad but also badly researched. So I suppose one can be lazy and incompetent and still make a living as a translator, and I suppose that's a good thing, because there are agencies and other clients out there offering projects paying rates that wouldn't buy peanuts for a monkey, and I think that these two groups can come together in a just and appropriate match.

But I do not think that this is a match and a niche to which many beginners aspire. However, some of us, myself included, coddle these beginners far too much. Even with translation degrees from respectable universities they often have no preparation for business life and lack the most basic understanding of issues relevant to success as a freelance professional. It's not like this knowledge is concealed; there is plenty of information available online, in books, from chambers of commerce and other sources. It is very easy to find on the whole. Yet it seems that masses of "translators" are completely unaware of it.

What should be done about this? Nothing really. Point briefly to an appropriate reference like Corinne McKay's book, or the ones from Alex Eames and Oleg Rudavin and probably a dozen others I don't know. Then leave them to their own devices until it is clear that they are able and willing to learn and not waste others' time through laziness. Knowledge is a wonderful thing that should be shared freely, but only with those able to appreciate and apply it.

Jan 21, 2009


After many years of working in other roles as a researcher, teacher, software developer and more than I will probably ever remember I ended up as a translator. There were many reasons for this, and there are many reasons why I love the profession and can picture myself being involved with it as long as my mental capacities remain intact in very old age. Communication and ideas are important to me, and translation is the medium for communicating across language divides between cultures and countries.

For the past eight years I have watched with anguish as communication has been perverted to political ends and has often been reduced to a farce on the world stage. There has been too much spoken from the barrel of a gun and too many lies force-fed to people often too stupefied to think for themselves any more. At a time when the armed forces of my native country suffers from a desperate shortage of translators and interpreters skilled in Arabic, many of those in uniform with the necessary skills were discharged as unfit because of their sexual orientation. While the color of one's skin may no longer have mattered as much as it did fifty years ago, under the Bush regime, it was all too clear that the content of one's character was not a positive, primary consideration.

Tonight I listened with tears to the words of a man who has taken on a great challenge to right some great wrongs and try to steer a course through difficult economic waters. I do not know whether he will succeed or whether he and his administration will be wrecked by one or more of the many hazards to be navigated. But I am pleased that we once again have a man in the office of the president of the United States of America who has the willingness to listen, to think and to serve interests beyond those of a narrow circle. I am pleased to see a president who is capable of showing respect to adversaries, and whom I believe sets a moral example in tolerance, compassion and family values. And I think that whatever the success of his presidency, he will approach the tasks ahead of him with the courage, concentration and agility they require.

I hope that my international friends and those who are open to the possibility of friendship will see an extended hand and not a clenched fist from the country of my birth and that we translators can enjoy many future opportunities to build bridges of language over which convoys of peace and prosperity can travel.

Jan 19, 2009

Fellowship for beginning literary translators working into English

The Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois has announced a fellowship for literary translators working into English, which is quite comprehensive in the scope of its activities and would appear to offer a superb introduction to the world of publishing. The fellowship includes a stipend of USD 18,000 and medical benefits. Details can be found here.

Literary translation isn't my thing, because I lack the talent for it as well as the desire to starve for my art. I prefer the sort of work I do, because it is much better for paying the bills. However, if I were a young translator with a strong interest in work of this type, I would be very excited by an opportunity like this. The recipient of the fellowship will translate a novel, screen other work for possible publication, work with other translators and editors, learn about the submission process and more.

Jan 17, 2009

Hidden in plain sight: a new use for the DVX lexicon!

Tonight is one of those times when I really feel like kicking myself. Or maybe celebrating instead. I consider myself a "power user" of the CAT tool Déjà Vu X, but there are so many features in that software and so many possible ways of applying them that one can easily overlook very useful options. I just discovered one of those.

Maybe I'm the only one who has never paid attention to the "Lexicon" option in the export dialog for "external views" (this is an Atril term that describes, among other things, the RTF tables used for proofreading by persons who don't use DVX). When I finally noticed it tonight, several useful applications became apparent.

I use the DVX Lexicon quite a lot in a number of different ways. I use it as part of the process of analyzing the statistical breakdown of words in a text to decide "critical" terminology to be coordinated with a client. I use it to collect key terms that I want to share in a glossary with a customer, some of which might have a low frequency and thus be missed in my statistics-based term work. I also use it for lists of "obligatory terms" from customers, though this function is less useful in DVX than in its predecessor DV3, because the Lexicon is no longer an absolute override list for the assemble function.

Up to now, when I have used the Lexicon for coordinating terminology with a customer, I have shared it via an Excel export and, after changes are made, the original Lexicon is deleted and a new one is created by importing the edited Excel list. Comments are sometimes exchanged in additional columns of the Excel sheet, but these are not really properly tracked, and after the list is exported into DVX they will probably be ignored for the most part.

If, however, instead of exporting the Lexicon as an MS Excel table or tab-delimited text one exports it as an external view in an RTF or HTML table, comments can be included (for the import as well!). Be sure to include the IDs so that an edited Lexicon can be re-imported. Changes are shown upon re-import (thus no need to use the MS Word function for tracking changes).

What are the disadvantages of this approach versus the other methods of Lexicon export? Neither the frequency information nor the column for the number of words is included. That's it. If this information is really interesting, a second export can be provided.

What are the advantages?
  • Inclusions of comments or examples in the comment column of the export if the comment function (Ctrl-M) is used for entries in the Lexicon. This is a good way of discussing/negotiating issues involving terminology and keeping track of this information.
  • Selective exports of the Lexicon (e.g. only commented entries)
  • Web-ready terminology export (as an HTML table)
  • Tracked changes upon re-import. One can accept or reject these changes in the import dialog. Only changes are shown in that dialog.
I will certainly be incorporating this feature in my future projects, because it offers important additional options for simplifying terminology communication with clients. I only wish I had noticed this years ago!

Jan 15, 2009

Correction woes

There are few things I find more spiritually mangling than correcting the work of other translators. I would much rather shovel manure in stables somewhere. (Really - I used to own a farm and I rather like doing that. And the leavings of horses, donkeys and sheep smell better than much of what passes for translation.)

There are exceptions. A few translators I know - a very few - are simply brilliant or have such a pleasant, ordinary way with words that reading their work is relaxing and often delightful when I find some clever choice of words. I'll review the work of such people any day. I'm fortunate to live and work with one of them, so I get to do this at least several days a week, and it's actually fun. We have great, sometimes heated discussions over little points, and the results are usually something to be proud of.

This does not, however, reflect the reality of most requests for proofreading or editing work. There are plenty of flaming discussions in online translators forums on the subject of review work, with many different viewpoints being expressed for different purposes. I'm not interested in getting wrapped up in these debates about how professional or unprofessional it is to suggest alternative wording (always a good thing for the sake of better communication I think, though many would probably want to stick a pitchfork in me for saying so). What the whole universe of proofreading and editing reduces to for me is the simple fact that the majority of the German to English translation work I see as well as the majority of English text submitted for review is deeply flawed. I am influenced by the things I read, and when I have to deal with such texts, it is like gargling poisonous liquid. I try not to swallow and hope that not too much gets absorbed.

For years I merely refused to take on such work. Recently, however, I was foolish enough to point out frightening errors on the website of a company that claims great expertise in English-language documentation, and as a favor to a client I like very much, I agreed to fix the problem. Then, without thinking much about it, I agreed to review a few patent texts in need of certification. Now patents don't have to be worded brilliantly, but the technical terms should at least be correct. If a glossary is supplied and at least three people have proofread the text beforehand, you would expect it to be in good shape, right? Not if the processes aren't in order and the text is not being reviewed by technically qualified persons who are preferably native speakers of the target language. You can't expect generalist Bulgarian translator or a patent attorney with an electrical engineering degree to do a good job reviewing a text in English covering steel alloys, for example. It might happen, but I won't bet my reputation on success in such cases. But unfortunately, some translation agencies are willing to do just that.

When the fog clears from my brain, I'll just go back to saying "no" in every language, with every intonation I can muster. Translation is fun, and even nightmarishly difficult texts that put my hourly earnings on par with a worker at the local McDonald's can be a welcome challenge (if only to recognize such traps and quote them properly next time!). But editing monkey translations? Nein, danke!