Feb 28, 2011

Berliner Übersetzerstammtisch am 03.03.2011

Liebe Leute,

hier die Einladung zum nächsten Übersetzertreffen am:

Donnerstag, 3. März 2011, ab 20.00 Uhr

Wir gehen wegen der guten Resonanz in das:
Restaurant Z
Friesenstraße 12
10965 Berlin-Kreuzberg
U-Bahn: Platz der Luftbrücke oder Gneisenaustraße
(Zu Fuß jeweils knapp 10 min)
In angenehmer Atmosphäre wird frisch zubereitetes griechisches Essen serviert.

Bis Donnerstag!

Das übernächste Treffen findet wie gewohnt am ersten Donnerstag des
Monats statt, und zwar am 7. April 2011.

Feb 23, 2011

Sic Semper Tyrannis

The painting shown here was created many years ago by Latvian translator and agency owner Uldis Liepkalns to commemorate the fall of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. It's not the most beautiful of his works, but I think it captures the spirit of the bad end of a bad man rather appropriately. I'm grateful to Uldis for allowing me to post his work here; I've been thinking of it quite a lot in recent days as various Arab countries have ignited in popular revolt. At the ProZ conference in Prague I had the pleasure of meeting an Egyptian colleague who told me plainly what life was like under Mubarak, and I could not restrain myself from breaking into a bit of celebratory song in my Prussian chambers for him, his children and many others as his fellow citizens stood tall to take back their country. I found the news reports alternately appalling and inspiring, and I hope to have the privilege soon of visiting an Egypt more open to the needs of its people.

This image was particularly strong in my mind as I read the latest reports about the Libyan clown and butcher Muʿammar al-Qaḏḏāfī who has expressed his intent to die as a martyr. May he get his wish soon and slowly. A re-enactment of Mussolini's end came to mind for him as well.

My native country and my host country, as well as too many others, have been too often content to pursue the petrodollars of these kleptocrats and turn a blind eye to the suffering they created for their own people. But "liberation" in the style of President Shrub is no good solution either, I think. The people of these countries must choose their own moment and apply their own moral imperatives. When I think of the many valued colleagues who enrich my professional and personal life who spent their childhoods in dictatorships of varying degrees of awfulness, a few risking their futures as the "elite" of closed societies to bring about change, I am inspired by them and encouraged by the imperfect progress of the past twenty-some years. I wish the same or better for those beginning the journey toward new societies.

My western colleagues and I spend altogether too much time worrying about peanuts and status and respect for our profession. All of it important to some degree, I'll grant you. Bills must be paid, though frankly I don't give a damn if someone rates my status as a professional below that of my maid. Like Arlene once said to Richard, "What do you care what other people think?"

But I think it is important to care what people think of the current political upheavals and to take care and think ourselves about their significance and support the legitimate aspirations of those seeking a better life. And I think even a reflective atheist can hardly refrain from a prayer for their future.

Why I moved on from a great tool like Translation Office 3000

I have to smile when I hear colleagues, even some who run agencies, tell me about how they run their entire business with Excel spreadsheets. Or how they had the perfect custom solution whipped together by a genius Access programmer. I used to do that shit. As part of my plan to give up medical device consulting, sell my farm and move to the urban horror of NRW, Germany I did a stint learning to develop database-backed web applications using Active Server Pages, Cold Fusion and other tools popular at the time. I was pretty good at it and used to annoy the Hell out of the developers at a transitional employer by scripting working solutions in hours that they had told management and customers would take many man-months of effort. Never believe what developers tell you; I don't think they are liars, they just don't have a clue, and I don't think all the recent fads of "lean" and "agile" development and whatnot have changed that much. There are organizations with plausible roadmaps that underpromise and over-deliver (Kilgray and come to mind), but your average software cowboys, however skilled, aren't real strong in the project management and planning department. Thus these custom solutions are nearly all unsustainable or far too expensive in the long run.

A direct client of mine in the nutrition industry is a case in point. They have their labels, product literature, contracts, etc. translated into at least 20 languages. All this is done with Excel spreadsheets (where they keep trying to shove more text into the cells than certain versions can hold, so content is forever being truncated and lost). Projects used to be managed by the company's purchasing agent in his copious free time. I'm sure he used to be a PM at a major translation agency, but maybe not. Anyway, he's no dummy: he talked his bosses into hiring someone to coordinate those projects full time. And a full time job it is when you do everything with scratch pads and Excel sheets. After I spent several years advising them on the benefits of TM technology, they considered Déjà Vu and other solutions, but finally opted to have the head of their IT department write their own solution. Last time I asked (a year ago) the costs were in excess of 30,000 euros and all the system could do was import and export Excel spreadsheets. Conversion of the data to various layout formats still proceeds by copy and paste. They want and need the control offered by off-the-shelf solutions like Ontram, the memoQ Server, SDL Teamworks, OTM from, etc. but somehow they are convinced that they save money and gain control by growing, rolling and smoking their own.

They're smoking something, alright. Take it from an IT fool with his foot in that swamp for nearly 40 years now: if you are doing more than minor custom integrations of off-the-shelf, well-supported solutions, you are probably driving blindfolded down a dead-end alley. Early in my career I saw Avery waste a fortune developing its own LIMS to handle data from the corporate analytical laboratory, only to dump it for a standard commercial tool that offered standard data migration options. The wealth of old data was probably never rescued - last I heard the custom database format could not be cracked. Things have gotten better since the 1980s, but not as much as some believe.

Which brings me to AIT's Translation Office 3000 and its proprietary database. At least the developers created some reasonable data export options; it's hard to imagine any viable application without that today. TO3000 is a popular solution for individual translators who do not outsource. I like it, and I used it for three years after my original tool (the agency version of LTC Organiser) was discontinued, and the disturbing lack of internal coordination at LTC in 2006/2007 caused me to pull back from adopting their new Worx solution. Customer support from the AIT team in the Ukraine is also prompt and cheerful, if not always informed on matters like local legal requirements for invoices. If you are a freelancer who never outsources or run a language services office that does everything in-house, TO3000 is a viable, affordable solution that is easy to learn and implement. I like the company and think they do great budget products for translators. That's why I have links to AIT on my blog, to help colleagues find respectable solutions for managing language service projects. Their support is also very good; I recently needed help to load my old database on a new system to handle a legal matter, and the AIT told me exactly what I needed to know and provided me with all the resources to accomplish it. I give them top marks.

Translation Office 3000 is a single-user desktop system. It includes a customer database, project quotation, scheduling and invoicing, some e-mail features and other basics needed to keep track of your business. The RTF templates are easy to customize to meet your personal or local statutory requirements. There is no database for suppliers (subcontractors), which is why I don't recommend it as a solution if you outsource. That requires a second tool, and the more places related data must be maintained, the more effort you have to maintain it and the greater the likelihood of some sort of organizational meltdown eventually.

It's a great system, but... I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that a healthy business really requires more to avoid wasting time and possibly losing clients and projects.

I'm a lone freelancer. I hardly ever outsource. Once in a while I'll work in a team on something, well, maybe rather often if you count those who edit my work, which you really should. Right there the issues with TO3000 begin.

But as I've mentioned elsewhere, there were certain specific issues that led me to look further:
  • I needed a second person to access the records to enter customer and project data and issue invoices
  • I needed to avoid the time and expense to maintain a local server, and I needed regular backups that could not be forgotten
  • I needed to check the status of projects and correspondence while traveling 
  • I needed to reduce the number of programs I juggled to manage my business
  • Most of all, I needed reliable deliveries to my customers. With secure encryption. Deliveries kept getting swallowed in e-mail systems, and delivering huge projects was a major nuisance. If my partner at the time needed to make a big delivery, I had to do it, because she had no idea how to upload to the FTP or web server. All this was a huge drag on my time and created uncertainty. And clients were not happy to learn that the delivery had occurred hours or days before but never arrived.
  • I needed to handle transactions in a legally compliant manner that meets international auditing standards. This includes a requirement for time-saving templates that are correct and do not require legal research on my part.
Although TO3000 is a great program backed by a great team, it fails on every one of these points. Its real advantage is price: for under 200 euros you can get a license and get started. But you're on your own for security, backups, legal compliance, etc.

So even for a "little" freelancer, a more comprehensive solution makes sense. And there are plenty of these. The Translation Office Manager (TOM) is one solution that I've looked at repeatedly as it has improved over the years, and one agency I work with in Düsseldorf has apparently made it the backbone of business there. AIT offers Projetex for agencies, though I never managed to get the database scripts to work, and feedback I've heard from others using it is not good. AFAIK both of these require local server maintenance: once again security, backups, legal compliance, etc. at your own risk.

The current Worx, Plunet and others provide a more professional approach with options closer to my needs and some that I would hope to see eventually in the solution I do use. However, the costs for these are hardly transparent upon casual inquiry, and they are inevitably higher than the system I adopted. I've done way too much IT support over the years; I am good at it, but I hate it. So I wanted a hosted solution that requires a minimal time investment on my part. And I need absolute reliability for my deliveries, easy, accurate record keeping and full legal compliance for an international business. (I may be small-time, but I have clients scattered around the world.) Most of the time TO3000 largely covers my project organization needs, but more and more I find myself in team situations for larger projects that require agency organization functions. And I am on a strict budget: paying full college support costs for a kid isn't cheap even in a country without tuition charges.

The Online Translation Manager from offers me all the flexibility, scalability and access I need for a monthly cost that is half my rate for a single hour of work. I adopted this solution 14 months ago, and I have used it in 5 different configurations for various businesses and test systems. After half a year I began to support its localization, because I believe in the value of what the system offers and I see rapid progress in its development for the diverse needs of an international market. Right now I'm working on dialogs and instructions for the version 4.1 release scheduled for next Monday, a minor one, but one which contains more real improvements than I experienced with my other business management solutions in several years. This is not a perfect system. No system is, because requirements of users vary widely. But it is the best general system I have seen so far, and is likely the one with the most potential as evidenced by its support policies and development roadmap. Time and again I see parallels with Kilgray, a company with a product (memoQ) not ready for prime time when I first saw it a few years ago, now beating the pants off the industry "leader" SDL for functionality, user-friendliness, support and cost and charging ahead with useful new innovation at a rate that shows no signs of slowing. Which horse will you bet on? The charging thoroughbred leaving its competitors in a cloud of dust and gravel? Or the lame mare who plods along remembering former victories and daydreaming about a quiet pasture? (I have a nice one here at Vehlefanz Manor where she can retire.) I'll bet my small stack of cash on, because OTM keeps me winning, gives me security and leaves me time for life.

Feb 22, 2011

Quackery in translation

From the title I suppose I should make this another rant about the machine translation and those with a stake in it who try so hard to convince struggling translators (as well as those who don't struggle) that a Great Future awaits them as janitorial post-processors of the bilge spewed out by Wise Machines of Ever Loving Grace. But then it's hard to improve on Miguel Llorens' recent essay on why the MT crowd hates Google or Steve Vitek's latest comments, so I won't  try. I would much rather talk about my ducks. Really.

The last three months have been a time for Something Completely Different as I've readjusted to solo life and enjoyed re-established contact with my dog and my daughter who, in defiance of the counsel of her two translating parents, has decided to do what we do and be a conference interpreter as well rather than something more intellectually satisfying and/or socially rewarding like studying higher mathematics, chemistry or public sanitation. From my new base of operations in a former Napoleonic HQ I've been contemplating whether to extend my campaign against the wild boar to the steppes of Russia and how many birds I can manage in the large dovecote I have over my new stall space. On those rare days when the ground isn't frozen I've put gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, white and red currants and a mirabelle tree in the garden, filled my living room with sprouting herbs and grafted apple trees (taking scions from my favorite tree at my former residence), and yesterday I picked up some runner ducks to fight the slugs I expect in the garden and keep me entertained. I used to have a drake of that breed as the wannabe leader of my small flock of geese at my farm in Oregon. He made me smile almost as much as the donkey Mathilda.

If it sounds like I've been doing almost everything but translating, that's largely correct. After nearly six years with almost no breaks in a workaholic relationship, it was time to pull the brake. Hard. For two years I watched at point blank range what decades of overwork can do to a highly productive person, and I could feel myself what toll a mere half decade was taking. Finding translation projects, even interesting ones, is easy in my language pair; if you're good and even moderately functional in matters of marketing and public relations, you'll fill up as much time as you care to. Thus it is particularly important to exercise restraint and care to do other things.

Now that I'm rested and have gone through a few months with a throttled income stream, it's time to stop tapping the savings and actually earn my way in the world again. I've never been unaware of the roadkill hazards of life in the fast lane, which is why I parked myself in the quiet countryside of Oregon decades ago to tend my garden and my animals and kids, but if you like people and feel a need to help them in difficult situations, it's all too easy to get drawn into the vortex, even though you know better. Alex Eames talks about this a little - the need for balance - in his new, improved advice guide for translators. For that matter, all the good "how to" books I've read so far for the profession of translation touch on this to some extent. That's probably because it's the most widely ignored good advice in our business.

Someone asked me a few months ago about my predictions for the future of translation and the translation industry (I originally wrote "translation injury* here - that tells you where my mind has been). I think the context was a discussion of the ludicrous forecast of a prominent globe-trotter who pushes MT like the dealers in a certain park in Berlin Kreuzberg push other things. I hear there may even be a panel at the upcoming memoQfest 2011 in Budapest to discuss such things, and if there is I'm sure it will be enlightening.

But I'm less concerned about the future of translation than I am about the futures of good translators. Those futures should hold more than whizbang hardware, cuddly CATs and sleeping under TEnTs under the watchful webcams of aforementioned Machines of Ever Loving Grace. One translator I know in Berlin has got it right. He's a bit of a dharma bum, disappears to the Far East for a good part of each year to see friends and family and hang out with smells and bells and funny guys in orange robes. And I am greatly encouraged by the fact that translation as a career is family friendly in ways that the rest of the working world will never be until it recognizes the wisdom of certain Nordic countries and establishes minimum quotas for women in upper management while forcing men to take the parenting leave that too many can't admit they want and that their children need in any case.

Tools aren't just for fools; they are an important part of the professional activities of a very great number of us, and I do not think that percentage will grow smaller. Who knows? Even MT may prove to have real value some day, though I expect I'll be transmuting lead into gold in my spare time long before then. But if you want to be your best as a translator and stay that way, get a life and put it first.

The picture of the Indian Runner Duck was clipped from a Wikimedia contribution by Nienetwiler under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Switzerland license. My camera isn't working and this one looks just like one of my two boys, so I thought I'd use the pic.

Feb 15, 2011

Oberhaveler Übersetzerstammtisch am 17.02.2011

Liebe Kolleginnen und Kollegen,

zum nächsten Übersetzertreffen lade ich euch herzlich ein. Es findet statt am:

                Donnerstag, 17. Februar 2011, ab 19.00 Uhr

Wir gehen noch einmal in das schon gut bekannte:

                Restaurant Kellari
                Gutsplatz 1
                16515 Lehnitz/Oranienburg
                S-Bahn-Station S1: Lehnitz

Griechische Küche wird geboten - aber wem sag ich das.

Von der S-Bahn-Station Lehnitz sind es auf dem Birkenwerderweg ganze 200 m nach Norden bis zum Gutsplatz und zum Kellari.

Bis Donnerstag!

Das übernächste Übersetzertreffen findet wie üblich am dritten Donnerstag des Monats statt, also am 17. März 2011.

Feb 10, 2011

English to... with the BDÜ

As a number of my agency friends have mentioned to me over the years, English is often a "gateway language" in large translation projects, with the original source text (in whatever language) being translated into English and that translation being used as the starting point for further translations into third languages. This is because it is usually easier and cheaper to find a translator who knows English in addition to his or her native tongue than one who knows German or French, for example. Thus if I need a translation from German into Malay, I might have more options if I take the German > English > Malay route rather than go directly from German to Malay.

I rather doubt this is what is going on with the BDÜ data for translation from English into various other languages in the 2009 rate survey. The German association for translators and interpreters has many members of foreign origin in it, and some of these simply translate from English as a source language as well as from German. And as anyone involved with English in Germany knows, Germans are very fond of writing original source texts in English and usually do so far better than any native speaker of English could be expected to.

As might be expected, the highest numbers reporting are those for English to German. There is also, as I understand it and as one might expect, some serious competition for that combination in Germany. For most other languages, those wishing to work with local resources will have less of a selection (except for Russian - thanks to Germany's Ostpolitik there are quite a few Russians with distant German ancestors who have come heim ins Reich), so one might expect higher rates to be paid for English into those languages.

Here are the data for the averages of the most frequent rates charged by translators for the respective language combinations (English to German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian). Those who want all the data (with highest and lowest rates and medians) can purchase a copy of the full report from the BDÜ web site for € 15. These data may be useful for those in other countries who deal with clients based in Germany - this is what those clients can expect to pay close to home. The column labeled "Average N" contains the numerical average of the number of respondents for both categories; other labels should be obvious.

Source word equivalent data was calculated using Alessandra Muzzi's online Fee Wizard (which uses the EU translation databases for statistics), except for Russian, which I calculated myself using a few articles from Правда.

Feb 9, 2011

Doing it by the hour with the BDÜ

Some have likened their translation efforts to working in a red light district, but in Germany at least, a bit of research soon reveals that most translators charge significantly below the going rate in the "sister profession" unless you consider the recent "flat rate" fad that made such a stir in the press some time ago. (This is the country where "Geiz ist geil" after all.)

The question of hourly rates comes up occasionally on online forums, and although I seldom charge by the hour for translation except when there is no other transparent way to bill, that is the way I always handle reviews (when I'm feeling masochistic enough to do them). So it's reasonable to ask what professional colleagues here typically charge by the hour for services.

The rate surveys published by Germany's translators and interpreters association BDÜ not only include information on line rates and word rates for translation; they also include hourly charges for translation, review and interpreting.

I've included a sample of hourly rates that are relevant to me. Bear in mind that these are averages with fairly large samples. My own rates are significantly higher in nearly every category, and I know one agency that happily pays double the averages listed for agencies. In the end, it's usually a matter of negotiation and individual value delivered in a specific situation. The interesting consistency in rates for court work can be attributed to Germany's JVEG, the law governing compensation for such work. The complete survey can be ordered from the BDÜ web site for a mere 15 euros and is well worth the investment as a source of intelligent "intelligence".

Data for other languages are generally similar.

German to English (values in euros per hour)

Values for interpreting are listed on pages 59 to 60 of the BDÜ report. These are broken down into categories for agencies, direct customers and colleagues according to whether the activity takes place at a trade show or as an escort, in courts or notary offices, for the police or public authorities, or negotiations.The range runs from about 35 euros/hour to 90 euros/hour. Police are the real cheapskates here, though not as bad as one agency I know that paid a friend 15 euros per hour to drive through a snowstorm to interpret while she was 8 months pregnant. But few people will put up with that sort of abuse. I hope.

And speaking of abuse...
... there is my all-time favorite activity: correction. Or "revision" as my British colleagues call it. Proofreading. Review. It goes by many names but as far as I am concerned can never be compensated highly enough. Here are the BDÜ data for English:

French and German are really not much different.

Feb 6, 2011

Latest BDÜ rate survey and the three-year trend

As I continue to unpack boxes from my recent move, I am discovering many useful things, albeit some a bit late, like a few invoices to pay and my ice cleats, which might have prevented a few bad falls some weeks ago. Among the more pleasant discoveries are my garden seeds and the latest BDÜ rate survey conducted in 2010 for the previous year. For some, these surveys may serve as a "seed" for better orientation in quoting jobs and planning business.

The surveys contain a lot of data; I could comment extensively on a lot of the trends I have seen since the first survey for 2007 was published, but sensibly such a commentary should be broken up into a number of smaller chunks for better mental digestion. Overall, I would say that the trends are not disastrous, but they should be a source of concern. However, the problems I see are hardly unique to language services.

First, let's look at a bit of raw data for my language pair (German to English):

The data for target line (1) rates in euros are as follows:
(1) 55 keystrokes including spaces in target text, a typical way of measuring translation text in German-speaking countries, because compound word structures often make word rates rather nonsensical despite statistical equivalence calculations with large samples. Traditionally, target text is counted because of difficulties in counting handwritten or other hardcopy source texts.
Source word rates reported are:

How do these different methods of calculation compare? I used Allesandra Muzzi's Fee Wizard, which draws on statistics from EU translation sources, to calculate the equivalence factor:
This means that 1 euro per target line is about equivalent to 13 euro cents per source word. My experience with source line calculation (which I do to enable fixed price quotations) has shown over the years that 1 euro per source line is about equivalent to 14 euro cents per source word for German.

The comparison of the BDÜ's published line rates with the word rates revealed the following:
Word rates from agencies were actually slightly higher on the average than line rates, but generally the trend is that translators are charging less at word rates than at line rates. There are a number of possible reasons for this; the international market does indeed tend to deal in word rates rather than lines, but translators working the international market frequently use agencies, and there the differences are not so crass. Personally, I believe the problem is ignorance on the part of translators in Germany. Many simply do not understand how to calculate a word rate and accept whatever is offered or what they see in various online translation dumping portals. I have lost count of how many times German acquaintances have asked me how to quote a job at a word rate. Conversely, my colleagues abroad are generally baffled by line rates; I've explained them to one Dutch agency owner at least half a dozen times in the last 8 years and even created a calculation spreadsheet for him, and I still think he doesn't get it. Whenever a German customer asks for a line rate quote from him I get a call for help.

Lately I try to avoid the issue and just do lump sum project quotes where possible. Everyone understands the "bottom line".

This is the third year that the BDÜ has published a rate survey, so I decided to see how the averages of the most frequently reported rates have changed over those three years. This chart shows the trends for German to English in the various client categories:

For English to German (the other direction), the data are as follows:

The BDÜ rate survey has quite a lot of data on other translation combinations, including some for English to French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian, as well as interpreting rates and other information. For a modest investment of € 15, the rate survey is a bargain for many of us. Copies can be ordered from the BDÜ web site.

Feb 1, 2011

Evening get-together for translators in Berlin

For years, Andreas Linke has organized an excellent Stammtisch in Berlin, which I first heard about from Jost Zetzsche. The information for the inner-city gathering (as opposed to the one on the outskirts of the city, which I usually attend) is as follows:

                February 3, 2010 (Thursday) starting at 8:00 pm

The meeting place this time is:
                Restaurant Z
                Friesenstrasse 12
                10965 Berlin-Kreuzberg
                U-Bahn: Platz der Luftbrücke or Gneisenaustraße
                (about 10 minutes on foot in each case)

Come and enjoy freshly prepared Greek food and a fine atmosphere with colleagues!

Seminar schedule for BDÜ Baden-Württemberg (February and March 2011)

I received the following interesting notice in my inbox this morning, which I would like to share for the benefit of those within reasonable traveling distance to Baden-Württemberg. 

What does it take to successfully manage a translation business, large or small?
Why is it a smart idea to visit industry events and trade fairs to acquire new customers?
What should a professional translator know about electrical engineering, to target customers from the sector?
How can interpreters develop their personal technique for taking notes?
And what about human anatomy?

Answers to all these questions will be provided at the upcoming seminars and workshops hosted by BDÜ Baden-Württemberg, the South-Western Germany section of the largest German professional association for translators and interpreters.

Seminars and workshops – February and March 2011:

12-13 Feb 2011 (2 days)                Language services providers as entrepreneurs (Stuttgart)
19 Feb 2011 (1 day)                        A different approach for winning customers: advertising at trade fairs (Heidelberg)
11-12 Mar 2011 (2 days)               Fundamentals of electrical engineering, with a focus on renewable energy (Mannheim)
19-20 Mar 2011 (2 days)               Note-taking techniques for interpreters, part 1 (Stuttgart)
26-27 Mar 2011 (2 days)               Medical translations from an anatomist's perspective (Stuttgart)

An online registration form (for BDÜ members, as well as non-members) and pricing details are available on

Do you find some of these topics interesting? Join us for some stimulating training sessions. We look forward to welcoming you. For more details or any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on

With kind regards,

Daniela Piccirillo