Nov 30, 2008

Training resources

Things at the Universität des Saarlandes have certainly changed since I was an exchange student there more than half a lifetime ago. At the time I was impressed by the wonderful liberal arts, language and archeology courses; now these have largely been gutted I'm told to make way for everything having to do with computers and technology. In 1981 the teaching in computer science there was so hopeless (and the cigarette smoke in the classroom so thick) that I gave up on those courses and learned to read Sumerian inscriptions instead.

Things might be different if I were a student there today. In the areas of language and translation technology, the university seems to be a real center of excellence. Part of the services it provides to the wider world is an excellent resource web site for instruction in translation, localization, language technology, project management and many other issues important to professional translators. This free material is useful not only to instructors but also to autodidacts. Check it out at: The material is available in four languages: English, German, French and Spanish.

Advice for DVX users working with Trados projects

There is a lot of information available in the discussion lists and online forums on how to use Déjà Vu X (or other tools) to do projects involving Trados uncleaned files. Yet the questions still come up frequently. (I wonder about some people's research skills, though language barriers do complicate matters in our international profession.) In the past I have put together a few summaries of Trados-related procedures to assist my colleagues or educate clients. These are currently being revised, expanded and collected in a larger opus on small-scale project management which I hope to complete sometime next year. In the meantime, here are links to the existing information for those who may need it and haven't found it elsewhere yet.

Handling Trados projects for MS Word and RTF files in Atril's Déjà Vu X

This instruction set shows one approach to translating DOC and RTF files when the client wants the work done in Trados but for technical or personal reasons one prefers to do it in DVX. Some common problems and possible solutions are also discussed.

Translating SDL Trados TTX Files in Déjà Vu X

This guideline describes how to translate the standard TagEditor format (TTX) using Déjà Vu.

Proofreading and editing Trados projects with Atril's Déjà Vu X

This five page overview shows how to use DVX to simplify the often onerous task of proofreading uncleaned Trados files.

Nov 28, 2008


Since beginning this narrative I've found so many wonderful and useful resources in the course of my research. One find for today is MultiLingual, which calls itself "the information source for the localization, internationalization, translation and language technology industry". There are a number of offerings, including a print magazine (with a very affordable digital version with a free sample online) and free guides to localization, writing for translation, project management and other useful topics. The guides are obviously supported by advertising, but the content is good. The sample of the digital magazine has a nice review of Jost Zetzsche's which goes far beyond anything I intended to write on the subject, so I recommend you go read it. Subscribers to the magazine receive 8 issues per year and a resource directory.

I'm fairly sure I must have run across this publication before at a trade show or when considering whether to attend Localization World (MultiLingual is a partner in producing that event). However, like many things, this was forgotten in the crush of daily life and mountains of work. In any case, I'm glad I've got the most interesting guides on my hard drive for reference now, and I'll probably end up forking over the ten bucks for a digital subscription. But first I have to get back to work....

The Great Administration Platform Migration Odyssey

Since 2004 I have used the LTC Organiser from The Language Technology Centre Ltd. to handle my translation project organization, invoicing, customer records management, financial reporting and other related tasks. At the time it was the best option I found for what I wanted to accomplish as a single translator who needed to manage team records for outsourcing (Projetex had not been released yet) with an interface which I found superior to TOM (Translation Office Manager).

Although the package made my administrative work much easier and I used the reports to great effect in my business plans which I had to submit to banks when we decided to build a house, I was never really satisfied with the product. There were many little bugs which were never resolved, such as the "tab bug" in the quotation view of the last released version, which would clear the data for an entire line item if one tried to tab between fields. I had serious doubts about the LTC programming team, which were fully confirmed when I was in discussions with the company about beta testing the new Worx product in 2006 and I was suddenly informed that the availability of that online tool would be delayed by about 9 months. The fact that top management had been unaware of problems in the development team up to that point says a lot. I am a former software developer, and I've been part of that game since I was ten years old. Any company that has so little oversight of its development is best avoided. Maybe they have their act together in the meantime, but I really don't care any more. The fact that close associates of mine had support issues with the product for years (though whose fault that was I really don't know, the company had excuses for this too) sort of closed that book for me.

We recently decided to migrate to one of the most popular tools for freelancers to do their admin and accounting work, Translation Office 3000 a k a TO3000. God only knows where the 3000 comes from - maybe it's an inside joke to say that the software is 1000 years ahead of its time. I can't agree with that, but I will say it's pretty good. I've owned a license for several years, but I never did more than play with it, because when I got it, we still did the occasional bit of outsourcing. After we finally stopped giving in to end client requests to manage projects for languages we don't work with and some Murphy's Law experiences with good translators we sent work to made us quote Poe's raven when it comes to outsourcing, the product suddenly became very relevant. When the LTC Organiser was discontinued last year, I realized it was just a matter of time before I would upgrade to the latest version of TO3000 and leave LTC behind. So a few months ago, I downloaded the fully-funcional demo version 9 onto my not-so-new-anymore laptop and tested it. I immediate realized that the workflow for setting up price sheets and quoting jobs was far better than what I have suffered with for four years, and many features which irritated me in version 7 had improved. And the templates for invoices, quotation forms, etc. are all RTF files, so my partner can update them if I don't feel like doing the work. With LTC I had to get Crystal Reports to customize my paperwork if I didn't feel like paying the company a zillion GBP per hour to do it for me.

So I played for a few weeks, decided that TO3000 was the future and promptly forgot about it in a blizzard of work. With the end of the year coming up, however, I want to make a clean break, and my partner has promised to help with a backlog of invoices to be written that goes back to last spring (we are very, very busy), and she doesn't want to waste her time with the old system. So I ordered the upgrade and got the license key today.

This was the point where I started to get nervous. I switched laptops about a year ago, and the other day I tried to install my legal copy of Abbyy FineReader 7 (yes, I know I'm out of date) on the new laptop, because I no longer use it on the old one. No dice. It was an upgrade from version 6, and I have long since lost the v6 files and license info on yet another laptop that died in a spectacular way, so basically I'm screwed as far as that Abbyy license is concerned. One of these days I'll contact tech support, and I'm sure the nice folks there will have a solution for me. It'll be a while, because I've got projects that will keep me distracted for a while.

So after my FineReader experience, I figured I would not be able to install an upgrade on a machine which had never seen version 7. When it worked without a hitch, I screamed "BLESS THESE PEOPLE!!!" so loudly that Monique thought something was seriously wrong. On the contrary. I love those rare instances when a tools provider gets it right. They know we are licensed users, so there's no bullshit about the upgrade key working. I was prepared for a long, complex correspondence with AIT to explain about the change of computers, etc. - but I don't have to waste my time. I wish every company were that customer-friendly.

My database from the test phase into which I had already entered a master price list and a few clients was taken over by the upgrade, so my work a few months ago wasn't in vain. With our client base and my schedule I assume that transferring all the relevant data will take me a few weeks at least unless there's a clever import function I haven't found out about yet.

Since there is a lot to do before the system is completely in place, I'll be posting updates regarding the individual phases to give an overview of the process. I'm sure I'll have a few false starts - or maybe a lot of them - since I have not spent a lot of time learning how to use the software up to now. General impressions were more important. So now, Dear Readers, you'll be able to follow the progress of a practical setup for an overly busy translator more or less in realtime. We'll see how it goes....

Déjà Vu X as an editing tool (for Trados jobs too!)

Déjà Vu X (DVX) from Atril is probably the most powerful, feature-rich, stable CAT tool on the market today. Its use as a translation tool is discussed widely - its use as an editing or proofreading tool less so. There are two ways in which editing is done with DVX:
  • in bilingual tables (RTF or HTML exported "views" from projects)
  • in the DVX Editor (unlicensed version of the product) or any higher version
The first method is something I do often, providing a commented RTF file with particular segments to which I want to draw attention or a bilingual table of the entire text of one or more files for easy proofreading by clients. Any changes made to the translation can be easily re-imported into my project, checked for acceptability, then applied automatically, after which I can update my TM with just a click or two of the trackpad.

If you work with translators who have DVX but you don't have the tool, you can ask then to make you an "External View" export as an RTF or HTML table. Another option, if the Workgroup version of DVX is available, is to export a bilingual Trados RTF file which you can also review, edit and translate if you have the right tools. (I suppose this would include "Trados-compatible" tools such as Wordfast, but I've never tested this idea. Since segmentation is performed basically the same in MS Word I don't see why it wouldn't work.) Atril has a brief guide for editing "external views" which is available here.

Another option for those without a DVX license is to work with the Editor (unlicensed) version of DVX. This can be obtained simply by downloading and installing the latest DVX version from Atril's Web site. Here once again you are dependent on working with someone who has a license of some sort for DVX who prepares the material to be reviewed. There is a short manual describing its functions which is available here from the Atril web site. No access to TMs or termbases is available here, but the Lexicon can be created (manually, no import) and edited for use in performing terminology QA. The comment function also works, making it easy to give feedback on changes. Spellchecking with the DVX or MS Office module works. The powerful filter function in the context menus of the source and target areas do work, allowing you to review the use of a term or phrase throughout the entire document or project (if you are in the all files view) in a second.

So much for explaining editing for non-DV users. There are also important editing capabilities of DVX of which many licensed, experienced users are unaware. In terms of economic potential, I would rate the ability to import, edit and comment Trados bilingual files as being the greatest. One colleague of mine refused to edit bilingual files for years when requested to do so by agency clients. What she didn't know was that she can quickly import these files into a DVX project where they can be reviewed, changed as necessary, commented (the comments can be exported as one of those external views described above) and re-exported as a "new, improved" bilingual RTF, DOC or TTX file. Once again, I suppose this would work for files created with tools that use Trados-compatible segmentation, but I've never tried it. There is a trick to getting the entire target content in RTF/Word files to import: the "fuzzy match rating" of No Match segments must be changed from zero to some higher integral number. Full instructions for how to edit bilingual Trados jobs are available in a short (currently 5 page) guide I write and made available on the "How To" tab of my ProZ profile or here. This will not allow you to make up for deficiencies in Trados, such as skipping numbers and dates. These will need to be fixed in the uncleaned files using an appropriate text editor, TagEditor, etc. Also, be very, very careful of codes, especially those for segment boundaries. Changes in segmentation must be performed with the Trados (or Trados-compatible) tools themselves. However, for purposes of YOUR TM, you can combine or split segments as you like without affecting file integrity.

When editing those Trados jobs in DVX, you can make perform quality checks using terminology, filter functions, etc. and give extensive feedback using the DVX comments feature. The ability to export comments as an RTF table is probably one of the most valuable features for me. It allows me to get away with ignoring requests to use standard feedback forms in Excel or Word, which would otherwise slow down my work too much and interrupt the flow. Clients find the exchange of information using these tables to be very convenient.

The ability to take on review jobs and give convenient feedback (the comment feature in TagEditor sucks - if the end client doesn't use Trados, there is no convenient way that I know of to pass on feedback and get answers) is a huge advantage for DVX users. This can be done independently with DVX Standard or any higher version. (If you're a cheapskate, you could always use the Editor and have a friend with a DVX license create the projects and export the files, but a real professional will license tools once they prove useful and the ROI is good. However, this might be a useful thing to do in a company where just a few people translate regularly and others may review occasionally.) This increases the range of projects that DVX users can handle and increases earnings potential for those who have excess capacity.

Nov 27, 2008

Jost Zetzsche's Tool Kit newsletter

What can you get for USD 15? Maybe a decent meal at an inexpensive restaurant. A paperback book probably - hardbacks cost more. If you need a consultant to help you deal with a problem on your computer or to advise you on how to work more efficiently, expect to pay a lot more. Or not. For just 15 US dollars a year, Jost - the author of the Translator's Toolbox, co-creator of the Translator's Training web site, author of user manuals for popular CAT tools and more - offers a biweekly advice letter with lots of useful tips. Click on the icon link above to find out more. I've received two issues so far, and the information is very worthwhile - one tip applied is worth the price of the year's subscription.

Practical use of corpora in acquiring or enhancing a translation specialty

For a long time now, I've had an interest in the use of text collections in particular subject domains as a means of developing specialized terminologies for my own use or the use of my clients. When I found my first practical guide on the use of bilingual corpora for terminology development, I immersed myself in the topic with delight, bought myself a license for Trados MultiTerm Extract and began to mine a lot of my past work to upgrade the termbases I had been creating for years.

There are, however, other useful applications of corpus linguistics for working translators. One interesting approach is described by Maher, Waller and Kerans in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Specialised Translation in an article titled "Acquiring or enhancing a translation specialism: the monolingual corpus-guided approach".

The article discusses absolutely practical ways in which working translators can use concordancers and desktop-based indexers to acquire or enhance linguistic expertise for special subjects in their target languages. The target readers for the article are
  • novice translators seeking to specialize
  • experienced generalists who want to go "up market" with a specialty
  • translators who wish to enhance their subject-area expertise for a special client
  • translators working in a team who need to harmonize their use of language
The basic differences between concordancers and indexers are explained, and specific tools are mentined (the freeware AntConc concordancer from Laurence Anthony and the commercial, but inexpensive desktop indexer Archivarius). A concordancer looks up and aligns keywords (generally in the KWIC or keyword-in-context view) to allow you to see how they are used and identify patterns; frequency assessments and other functions are also available. A desktop indexer works like Google or any other search engine, except that it allows specific folders on the user's computer to be selected, so special text collections can be searched in a focused way.

After reading the article, I downloaded the tools and tested them. I was very impressed. Archivarius is much better than Copernic, which I have used for some time - a key difference is that it can deal with morphology in 18 languages. I personally only care about two of these, but it ought to make many translators happy. A 30-day fully functional trial with 99 launches is available, and individual licences range between about 20 euros for students and 45 euros for businesses. (Maybe a freelancer qualifies for the 30 euro "personal" license - that wasn't clear to me when I looked at the web site. I'll find out, however, because I will license this tool!) Dealing with morphology means, for example, that I can search "gleich" and get "gleiche", "gleicher", "gleichen" and "gleiches" in German.

The article has a nice discussion of access to free, readily-available texts. I also discovered in my research that there are large corpora covering specialist domains available for free in some languages. The American National Corpus is one example - I found a Berlitz travel corpus there with over a million words. Not my interest, but for someone who specializes in tourism or wants to, this is probably useful. The authors put together a special corpus for corporate financial reports using publicly available documents, and other examples were given.

The discussion of sampling adequacy is very valuable in my opinion. This is a question which has nagged me for a long time; the several books on the subject of corpus linguistics which are in my library dance around this issue and never commit to hard numbers that I can do something with. I am grateful to the authors for sticking their necks out and saying, for example, that while 40,000 words might be an adequate basis for a language teacher wanting to get started in a specialist area, a translator's linguistic questions probably won't be usefully addressed with less than about 250,000 words, with 500,000 being the point where things really start to get good.

The authors use a practical model of a high-quality base or "substrate corpus", which is carefully selected, cleaned of reference lists, non-linguistic content, extra spaces (these screw up frequency counts for phrases not to mention their identification) and maintained plus Q&D (quick-and-dirty) corpora, which cover specific topics for a current job, etc. Q&D corpora of a million words or more can be assembled in minutes using online corpus collectors, such as the Sketch Engine. The article gives good, practical advice on blancing these two types of resources and how they can and should be stored on your hard drive.

The discussion of "fair use" is thoughtful. I agree with it, but others, including some lawyers, may not. These topics get debated in public forums a lot, and have been the subject of articles in professional journals as well where intellectual property issues regarding translations and translation memories are raised. For those with an interest in such topics, there is enough out there to keep you busy reading for months. I tend to be cautious and share resources only when I am sure no legal objections will be raised.

The authors offer practical advice or storing and organizing corpora, including the importance of naming conventions for files and maintaining a log of corpora. This advice should be read carefully, as it reflects some hard-won experience.

In their conclusions, the authors emphasize that this appoach not only has value for compensating uneven or insufficient knowledge of a field, genre or register, but it can also be important for counteracting source language interference for people like me who live in the country where the source language is spoken and do not have daily contact with speakers and the culture of the target language. That's a valuable point, because many of us have observed such problems with ourselves or others. (If you haven't, you're either a hermit or just incredibly dense.)

Given how often the question of specialization and how to acquire it is raised on forums like Translator's Café or ProZ, I think the article can help an enormous number of translators improve their situation. I particularly appreciated the clear language of the article and its example-based, practical advice. Many people, especially those coming to translation from other career or edicational backgrounds than languages or linguistics, who try to investigate the topic of corpus linguistics get snowed under to quickly in a blizzard of academic bullshit. This is an article that you can read in an hour and apply in a useful way in the next hour.

Nov 26, 2008

German-English dictionaries for welding and soldering

I'm often asked to recommend German-English dictionaries for various subjects, since my partner and I are fanatical collectors of references in many areas. So from time to time I will discuss some of the references that have proven very useful in practical work and perhaps a few that haven't.

The Dictionary of Welding by G. R. Lohrmann is one of those bargains I found on eBay. I think it cost me three euros or so there. (the US site) wants $51 for the dictionary. I think I got a much better deal, but I've gotten so much use out of the dictionary in the four years I've had it that it would have been worth it to pay the full price. Which, by the way, is much less if ordered from the German site :-) The dictionary is small - my hand just about covers it - but in translation jobs involving welding equipment and procedures, it has come through for me most of the time. There are about 5000 terms in the German to English part and another 6000 in the English to German section without a lot of filler. The cover, by the way, is not hardback, despite what the American Amazon link says - it's vinyl. All the better for sticking the thing in your pocket if you want to take it with you for a construction site interpreting job or some such thing. Published in 1998, the book is a little dated, however. According to the publisher's web site, a new edition is planned for release in September 2009. I definitely plan to get it and maybe put my old copy back on eBay.

The same publisher (DVS Media) also offers the Dictionary for Electronic Soldering by Mikhail Kudish- its availability seems to be better on the German Amazon siteor from the publisher, but I find this dictionary less valuable. Its production values are much worse - it is just a long typewritten vocabulary list in alphabetical order, the quality of the binding (paperback) is worse and the material is already 18 years old. It's probably due for an update or at least a serious DTP facelift. Still, if you need a German-English soldering terminology, this is probably it. General engineering/technical dictionaries will have the basic terms, but probably not as much specialist detail as you'll find in this reference.

Nov 25, 2008

Getting one's online presence right

There are a number of ways for a freelance translator to let the world know s/he is alive and ready to take on interesting, lucrative work. Some of these (in no particular order of importance) include:
  • public profiles on translation portals
  • a business web site
  • a blog related to one's business or at least mentioning it enough to matter
  • published articles, glossaries, tools and other info
  • participation in public translation and terminology forums
  • e-mail signatures
and probably others I haven't thought of. Which of these points is most important? I have no idea. In one way or another, all of them (except the blog, which is very new) have attracted business for me personally. I think the "right" online presentation or mix of presentations will be a very individual thing. It's easier to say what won't work (having no presence being near the top of the list) than to say what will work best for you.

There are numerous portals and other venues where translators can post public profiles or enter themselves in directories where potential clients might find them. Most of these are free, though in the case of the commercial portals, paid memberships give one a better ranking in the listings as well as offer other benefits. I maintain profiles in quite a few places (more than I can remember honestly), but over the years, the two listings that have brought in the most business for me have been those at and Translationzone (the SDL Trados site). The latter has declined in value as the site has become more of a marketing venue for Dark Side technology, but I have had some excellent business from direct clients and agencies looking there for a Trados user with my skill set. Overall, however, ProZ has brought the best result, with new contacts from my profile at least each week and in some weeks nearly every day (and sometimes it seems like every hour). The sheer size of the platform means a lot of traffic and a lot of opportunities, some of them even worthwhile. There is a lot of confusion and criticism of this and other portals by translators who see lousy job posts at dumping prices and fail to understand that this isn't where the action is at for the successful translators. In fact, I forgot to mention "quotations submitted in response to online job posts" to the list above because it has so little significance to my business. When I submit a quote (at my prices), I usually get the job (and if I don't I can often guess who got it in certain fields - it's a small world with a limited number of good people in my favorite areas). What accounts for this success in quotation and the fact that I am usually to busy getting contacted to initiate contacts myself: my profile. It is very useful to browse the profiles of other translators to see how they present their information. One example I found recently which I really liked was from a German to Italian translator, Stefano Incerti. It's not the most extensive or complete one I've seen, but it presents his information well. I might have taken any one of a dozen or more examples of good ProZ profiles I know (hm... maybe I'll write a "favorites list" some day to help others who might be looking for ideas for their own online profiles). The reason I mentioned Stefano is that I really wanted to mention his web site.

I see a lot of web sites for agencies and translators. Obviously, some will be good, others less so. I found Stefano's site appealing because of its good aesthetics, easy navigation and unique way of presenting information about himself and his services. The site is trilingual, and he even includes a little status indicator to tell you if he has capacity or not. I wasn't familiar with the text analyzer he linked, so I appreciated finding it there. His web site is arranged very differently than mine and others, truly original as far as I can tell, yet very functional as well. If I were to "steal" his concept and re-do my site according to it, I would make changes, not because I find anything wrong, but rather because I am who I am and he is who he is. I think this is a great site that works for him. If he translates half as well as he maintains his public presence and follows other basic business principles, he must be thriving.

Web sites are an important marketing tool for translators. How important. I suppose I could wander over to my billing computer and do a quick summary of all the business I've done in the past four years with direct clients and agencies who have found us on the web site I slapped together quickly at the end of 2004 and have scarcely had time to update since then. Let's just say it paid for the effort. My site is long overdue for an overhaul both in its content and its aesthetics, but it works. I'm sure others work better. Another site that I really love is from a local British colleague whom I've never had the pleasure of meeting, Victor Dewsbery. Web designers will find a million "wrong" things to nitpick there, but I think the site is fantastic. The content is great, and it reflects topics that are important to Victor as a person and a professional. I use his reference list for the English names of German laws there all the time. The navigation doesn't bear the mark of genius (from what I've heard of his work, maybe he reserves that for his translations), but it's absolutely clear and easy to use in two languages. I really don't think you can improve on his site for absolute usability.

Along with web sites there is the issue of owning your own domain and using the mail server from that domain for your professional e-mail communications. I know there are lots of good translators out there who use AOL, gmx, Yahoo and other free mail accounts - even Hotmail - but many people see these as a sign of amateurism. As silly as it may sound with domains being so cheap and easy, having your own domain for a web site and e-mail gives an impression of greater seriousness despite what those who don't have one may think. Given the low cost and good ROI, it's rather stupid not to do it.

Blogs are less frequently used by translators but are growing in popularity. One of the most interesting is Corinne McKay's Thoughts on Translation. I don't know what impact blogging has had on her business or that of any others, but the fact that agencies are also getting into the act indicates that the medium is being taken seriously. I would be very interesting to hear about results from someone. I do mine for fun and as an alternative to some of the portal forums, which can be so full of information and interactions that one can't find a lot of desired information buried in the trash. I'm fascinated by the potential of this medium for communication and education and looking forward to seeing where it leads.

Published articles, glossaries, tools and other info: I do a lot in this area. So do others. I find it fun to share this way, and it's also my way of returning favors for all the information that has been shared with me. Sometimes the most useful things in business are free despite what I said in my TANSTAAFL post. My efforts here have probably given me more credibility than I deserve, and I encourage others to share their knowledge and skills in this ways both for the common good and for personal profit. Yes, things like my ancient insurance glossary on ProZ really do bring in new business. I would do more of this if I had time, not because I need the extra business (though it might help to focus what comes in on what I like most), but because it's simply enjoyable.

Participation in public translation and terminology forums like KudoZ and others is a great way to learn, network with colleagues and show your strengths in various areas. This can lead to direct business opportunities in some cases, but the general benefits of networking, like helping to overcome the isolation of what can sometimes be a very solitary profession, are more important than any deal. Anyone who doesn't understand the value here probably hasn't tried it or hasn't found the right forum: the BDÜ, ITI and other professional organizations have their own forums, so not everything out there is on a commercial site.

We all send e-mail. Including an e-mail signature with your business contact information at the bottom of many communications is another way of letting people know what you do and how to find out more. For example, a signature I often use for communication in English is:

Best regards,

Kevin Lossner
Simmer-Lossner Translations & Consulting GbR
Specialist translators for German -> English
Dorastrasse 9, 16540 Hohen Neuendorf, Germany

[T] +49 3303 / 508857

[F] +49 3303 / 508859

Inquiries: (response receipt) (no response receipt)


It's stored in my Outlook settings, so I can use it automatically or insert it easily in a message. This is a useful, "gentle" way of letting people know what I do and how to contact me if they want me to do it. Speaking of which, I need to end this novel-in-the-making and get back to the doing bit.

How To Reduce Your Localization Cost by Up To 40%: 30-minute Speed Primer For Translation Buyers

This is another little masterpiece from Robert Kloiber at Academy Translations in Australia.

The guide is 16 pages long, and like the other one (the guide to technical writing for translation), it is well-written and easy to understand for persons of any level of technical sophistication. It is a superb overview and learning tool for end customers, agencies and translators on how to approach the process of localization and what one's expectations should be. There are a few gaps in the current version - for me most notably the no mention of test scripts for reviewers to follow when checking an interface (as opposed to automated test scripts) and nothing about virtual machines as a testing environment - but all the information presented is spot on for establishing effective, efficient localization procedures and saving time and money. Translators who are considering getting into localization or localization consulting should have a careful look at this. (I won't get into the marketing issues involved in this - that's another can of worms.)

Robert tells me that he has other useful guides, which will be released "on a drip feed" on his blog (which is a work in progress at the moment). If they are of this quality, they are worth watching for!


This acronym, popularized by Heinlein in the 60's, translates to "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch". It can be applied at many levels to translations and the profession of translation.

I was reminded of it today when I looked saw a comment on the ProZ forums in a thread giving advice to a woman beginning her career as a translator. It has been running for quite a while, and numerous colleagues have made useful suggestions and given encouragement. Today I read a comment about how hard it is to start out because one is competing against so many experienced colleagues. I was a bit baffled by this statement, especially as it came from someone in a language pair I know to be in high demand and which also pays very well. So I took a look at the poster's online profile and found something like the following:

ExpertiseDetailed fields not specified.
Rates Slobovian to English -
Standard rate: 0.08 EUR per word
25 EUR per hour
KudoZ activityQuestions answered: 5,
Questions asked: 3 Easy / 150 PRO
Masters degree in translation
ExperienceYears of translation experience: 1.
Registered at Apr 2006.
About meI graduated in Slobovian before
successfully completing an MA
course in Translation.
Would you hire this person to do your translation? I certainly would not; perhaps she has built a good clientele through other channels, but given the complete lack of time investment to tell the world what she has to offer, I suspect not. So yes - it will be hard starting out that way, and it will be hard working that way even with years of experience most likely. How can you expect the customers who have the kinds of texts you enjoy and do best to find you when you don't tell us what those topics are. I'm a chemist among other things, and I love doing chemistry-related translations. I make that very clear in my public profiles and other marketing efforts. As a result I get a lot of work that I am highly qualified to do, and I love it. God only knows what kind of scraps will be offered to someone who makes no effort to find something better or tell the world what to offer. And that at unprofessionally low rates. Experts in Slobovian (not her real language) typically make double what she's asking from a good agency and triple to five times as much or more from direct clients who appreciate quality. Too many people who register with online translation portals expect a "free lunch" and wonder why the jobs offers don't come rolling in or why their quote submissions fail. One suggested remedy is to improve the speed of access to posted jobs through paid memberships, but this alone won't do it. The disgustingly obvious rule that applies here and almost anywhere else is that nothing comes from nothing, and you must be willing to think, learn and apply what you learn to take control of your business activities, or you and your clients may never be satisfied as much as they could be.

The principle applies to translation consumers as well. The opportunity costs of cheap or free translations are huge - far greater than the people pursuing this path realize at first. I won't start on this topic - it is covered with great thoroughness in free brochures from the ATA, ITI, BDÜ and other organizations. However, I think that we as translators can offer our clients an important service by educating them with regard to these opportunity costs. However, first we must understand them, and when I see "colleagues" doing free translation tests (stupid) before even discussing rates with a prospect (even stupider) and posting rates that I wouldn't pay to my cleaning lady, I don't think all of us are in a position to do this.

Nov 24, 2008

How To Write For Translation: The Essential Technical Writer's Guide

I discovered this 36-page PDF gem while visiting the relaunched web site of an Australian partner of mine, Academy Translations. It's available as a free download through a little request box in the sidebar.

The booklet is a nice, concise overview of important issues, not a detailed technical treatise on how to write. As such, it is also an excellent reference for others involved with documentation and translations projects... including translators.

Some of the advice to technical writers, such as the controlled use of language, is just as valuable to translators as it is to original authors. I long ago gave up hope that more than a small fraction of the people writing the technical documentation I translate will follow these principles. There are a few delightful exceptions, but very often I find five synonyms or more in a source document, which good technical style and clarity would require to be reduced to a single term in the English translation. Or the writers fail to understand the proper use of lists, with bullet lists used to explain key ordered sequences, followed by similar instructions in an ordinary paragraph, where the steps are no longer immediately recognized as distinct. Although I often use other methods, I think the style advice for writing documentation is very good.

The booklet also discusses design aspects, such as the use of authoring software, appropriate templates, text formatting and allowing for text expansion, and the importance of style guides and terminology glossaries are expressed. As far as style guides and glossaries are concerned, anyone who translates much is aware that too many clients do not provide such material, and that source documents are often very inconsistent in both respects. Taking this from a translator's perspective, I see it as an opportunity rather than a liability. Keep your own short style guide handy, and submit it for approval as part of a quotation. This is likely to have one of two results, both of them positive:
  • the client will accept your suggestions, probably be grateful for them, and you will look like a pro or
  • the client will provide the style guide information that should have been given to you in the first place.
In the case of a software manual where the names of buttons are written in various ways (Cancel, "Cancel", Cancel, Cancel, , Cancel, etc.) in the same document, I expect the first reaction.

When glossaries are not provided by clients, they have long been part of the "add-on business" or extra service I provide. Depending on the scope, budget and schedule of the project, a terminology project sometimes precedes the translation itself. At the very least, a glossary of terms I want the client to be aware of for purposes of review and possible discussion is submitted with the delivery of the translation. These lists often become the start of the previously neglected corporate terminology.

The guide goes on to give advice on collateral and marketing material, including tips for DTP programs used to produce such material.

Writing online help is covered, with similar issues to conventional documentation (style guides and terminology).

Web site translation issues and tools are presented, and the final sections (which are much too short) cover brand issues and what to do when thnigs go wrong.

The guide is certainly worth its price and more. I found it a refreshing read in exactly the sort of clear, simple style it encourages. Most importantly, it got me to thinking again about what I do right in my work and where my attention should be focused for improvement.

Nov 23, 2008

Less than "perfect"

Here it is again - Sunday night at 9 PM (yes, I know the time at the bottom of the post says otherwise, but I can't figure out how to reconfigure it from PST to CET) and another mass spam mail arrives from one of the world's "leading" translation agencies with a rush job of about 3000 words to be delivered by 5 p.m. tomorrow. Legal stuff requiring some attention to detail. It's always the same with this company and a few others in their league that I dealt with in the early days of my life at a translator. Lots of text, short deadline and usually a crap rate offered. (I'm not even sure what they think my rate is any more. I have ignored them for so long that I'm sure their idea of what I'll work for - not counting the rush charges for most of the stuff they come up with - is off by 50 to 100%.) One of these "big boys" recently announced a new "quality assurance policy" which basically states that they won't be doing proper proofreading and/or editing of translations any more. When I got a request a few weeks later asking me to do "spot checks" of a huge document but spend no more than an hour (or maybe it was two) on the review, I just shook my head and hit the DELETE key.

For all their fancy downtown offices in major cities around the world, I really think these zookeepers give translation a bad name, and I generally don't consider it worthwhile to deal with them and their bureaucratic nonsense. For me at least, the best agency relations are those with smaller "boutique" shops that really care about their customers, whose managing directors still personally visit customers whose accounts don't run into the millions and who understand that quality is fundamental to their survival. I work with a lot of small agencies, and most of them are delightful people to deal with. I wish I could say the same for the other end of the spectrum, though there are individual exceptions.

Nov 21, 2008

The never-ending story of free test translations

A few nights ago I got a very nice letter from a colleague whom I'll call Susan (not her real name of course). She had noticed a positive post I made years ago on the ProZ Blue Board regarding a major translation agency in the USA, and she wanted to know if I had done a free test translation for that company and received any feedback. I had to tell her quite honestly that I no longer remember, because that was a long time ago, and - although I did quite a bit of work for that client back then and I think both sides were satisfied - I haven't bothered with US agency clients in a long time because of the unfavorable exchange rate with the euro. Maybe they'd still be willing to pay me what I want, but I feel sorry for the companies stuck in Dollar Land, and I don't want to embarrass them by confronting them with the typical European rates for an experienced translator with in-demand specialties. Not when there are plenty of prospects close by where I also have better access to legal measures of resolving any payment problems.

Susan was upset because she did a free translation for that US company months ago and never received any feedback. When she contacted the project manager again and asked for a look at a marked-up copy of her allegedly "inadequate" test, she was icily informed that this was against "company policy". She described this practice as abnormal and unfair. Well, I won't express an opinion on the fairness issue, but the lack of feedback is all too normal. But I wonder too if it is normal for corporate ATA members to engage in blatant violations of point II D of the ATA's "Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices". The company in question is a corporate member presumably bound by this code. I checked. Maybe, like the Ten Commandments, the First Amendment (under the G.W. Bush regime) and other unreasonably restrictive principles, this code is meant to be violated.

So after replying to her letter, I decided to have a look at the latest posts in the ProZ forums before getting back to work. And what did I see there on top of the list of new messages? Another new, long thread about an agency expecting free test translations and giving no feedback.

This subject never goes away. Anywhere. I read about it constantly on the private boards for BDÜ members. It comes up at every gathering of translators I attend. Online translator forums have numerous forum threads and articles from translators debating the issue, with some translators declaring their objections to tests and others, including the occasional agency PM, declaring their necessity.

I agree very much with point II D of the ATA's code of conduct, and I refuse to waste my time or my prospect's time with an unpaid translation. Why should I engage in such foolishness when I spend so much time turning down work every day that it is sometimes a challenge to get to the projects I have accepted? But even in the days when I was starting out and jobs were few, I avoided this trap in most cases. Why do I object to doing something that so many agencies and inexperienced translators consider a necessary evil? Here are a few of the many reasons I don't think any of us should play that game:
  • Asking for free translation is not a serious business proposition. It is generally accepted by serious business people that one must be willing to invest money to make money. If you can't afford to pay a few dollars or euros for a half page or page "sample", then maybe you can't afford to pay my invoice for a larger job when I submit it. Tests go both ways, and I might like to test your ability to pay. (Rest assured that I will be checking this out on rating lists like Zahlungspraxis, Payment Practices and the ProZ Blue Board too.)
  • If translators are good and very busy, asking for free work (which, of course, causes them to lose money by leaving less time for the paid work) is not likely to get you taken seriously. Why should I trust and want to do business with someone inclined to pick my pocket at first acquaintance?
  • If a translator is young and inexperienced - probably not earning very much yet - is it really fair of me to exploit her further by demanding work for free? If the samples of her volunteer translations for Greenpeace, the quality of communication in her correspondence and the qualifications listed on her clearly organized, well written CV or profile give me the impression that this person might be capable of doing a good job, shouldn't I want to make a good impression by showing respect for the value of her effort and offering to pay for it? It's a small investment to pay for a page for what could become a very profitable relationship for me as an agency owner. But what if I have a long list of candidates whom I "must" test? Well if I'm not able to narrow this list down by other criteria before getting down to translation tests, then maybe I'm not efficient enough to be running a successful business in the first place....
Those are points dealing with the financial side. But perhaps even more important is the utility side. Are these tests really a useful predictor of how a translator will perform? I doubt it in many cases. Some have pointed out that there's really no guarantee that the test will be done by the translator. It might be hired out to a third party. Perhaps, though that seems like a lot of bother. That idea never occurred to me until I heard someone claim it is done sometimes. In cases where the outsourcer relies on a third party to review the tests and is unable to judge the quality of the feedback, there is the risk of missing out on a good translator because of an overzealous or incompetent reviewer. I have experienced this myself a few times in the past. In one case a German geologist was hired to "correct" a translation of soil analyses that I had done. She claimed that the terminology was all wrong, and she even went through and "fixed" my grammar and word order to give them a thoroughly Teutonic flavor. In high school I used to work for a laboratory that did these and other analyses for the EPA and many other clients, and I am thoroughly familiar with the relevant terminology, not to mention the basics of English grammar, but the timid agency could not bring itself to contradict the verdict of an "expert". I wrote them off, figuring those losers will get what they deserve. In a few other cases, I have heard objections where British reviewers were hired to screen my work for the US market, but these were fortunately overridden by the end clients in every case. That makes me wonder, though, how many times there are problems with the review of test translations if a Parisian is asked to check out a French Canadian's work intended for the Quebec market or a mix-and-match occurs with the Spanish or Portugese markets. My partner and I occasionally get asked to screen tests (paid ones - our clients are ethical) that are headed for the British market, but although I can certainly judge the translator's understanding of the German text and general facility with the English language, I cannot in many cases say whether the tone is exactly the right one for a British reader.

I see "testing" as a fairly complex matter, one which for the reasons cited above should always be compensated and where the reviewers should be chosen with care. (In many cases the end clients are also not really able to judge quality - I've seen too many cases of "denglisch" being perceived as better English by persons whose English is so limited that they understand it better when it is written like German. A good agency should be willing and able to deal diplomatically with such situations and provide appropriate resources for reviews.)

These days I do no outsourcing at all (if my capacity if booked, I prefer to refer clients to a competent translator who takes full responsibility for a project and get full remuneration). However, in the days when I did a little bit of it, it never occurred to me to ask anyone to work for free. Like the reputable agencies I deal with, I offered a small, paid job that I could re-do quickly if necessary but which would enable me to evaluate the person's skills and trustworthiness. To do otherwise simply feels very wrong to me.

Microsoft Terminology Translations

Since the disappearance of Microsoft's TM material from the FTP site a few years ago, a lot of us who translate material involving Windows terminology have been frustrated. The Microsoft Language Portal is, to me at least, a very inadequate substitute. Well, finally - following hints on a British translation blog - I managed to find a somewhat better replacement: the Microsoft Terminology Translations list. This is by no means as good as the old material, which was divided up according to product, so one could be reasonably sure of the scope of a term or phrase found. The current list offers no context whatsoever, so it is unclear whether a string applies to Windows Vista, XP or an older OS. Maybe the material available to MSDN subscribers has been updated to cover Vista now and covers this, but I presently have no access to an MSDN subscription, so I simply don't know.

After I downloaded the term list, it took me less than 5 minutes to get rid of the superfluous material and prepare the data for import into a TM or termbase. There are just under 11,000 complete pairs for German and English.

Nov 20, 2008

eBook: The Translator's Toolbox by Jost Zetzsche

Reviewed: Version 7.0 (November 2008)
Price USD 50
Format: PDF, CHM
Info link:

The 361 pages of this eBook are offer a wide-ranging overview of computer technology relevant to translators and its possibilities. It is delivered in two formats: PDF for better reading and Windows Help (CHM) for more efficient searching of topics. As the author describes it, "This book is not a tutorial on what to do or not to do with your computer. Instead, it is a list of suggestions based on what has worked well (or not so well) for me." As such, it is an excellent overview of value to translators at all levels of experience and technosavvy. The book focuses on tools and techniques for Windows users, so Mac and Linux fans will find a lot, but not all, of the material irrelevant.

Some of the sections I found interesting and useful covered:
  • Windows OS & techniques for optimizing it
  • Advanced browsing tips for Google (searching in page titles, excluding file types, text embedded in URLs, etc.)
  • Reducing risk from phishing, viruses, trojans and various other modes of attack
  • All sorts of utilities including collaboration tools, OCR, etc.
  • Office suites, DTP programs and graphics applications
  • CAT review / overview, including QA tools and TM quality maintenance
  • Terminology extraction and management tools
  • Localization tools
  • Management tools for your business
  • A quick reference for handling complex file formats
  • Voice recognition apps
The book was updated in November 2008, so the information is absolutely up to date as I write this. That's important in a field where the technology changes so rapidly and companies are busy swallowing each other and changing formerly independent tools into vassals of the Evil Empire and others.

The author, Mr. Zetzsche, has a great perspective and understanding of the technology scene. His discussion of CAT tools, for example, puts them in exactly the right perspective. As he noted, "We’re at a point in the development of translation environment tools when it’s generally understood that translation memory tools are not primarily time-saving applications; first and foremost they are programs that allow translators to increase the quality and consistency of their work." That is a very important point to remember when many translators, agencies and end clients think of them primarily as ways to speed up jobs and cut costs. My own experience, particularly when dealing with complex, heavily tagged formats, is that working with CAT tools can occasionally require much more effort (and should be charged accordingly), but that it is still worthwhile to do so because of the access to reference material in the environments. The higher quality that results produces downstream savings for customers, but there is no justification for applying discount scales to such projects.

The book is written in clear, competent English that is accessible to anyone who uses English as a working language. The range of topics is broad enough that almost anyone - from beginning translators and those without a clue regarding technology to those with a good understanding of the craft and its tools - will find something of value. The book is well worth the price.

Calculating equivalent rates for translation billing

Many of us who have dealt with an international clientele have encountered different approaches to counting text for charging translations. Charging by the word is probably the most common practice, but in various places one might encounter calculations per hundred words (Australia), thousand words (UK), "lines" (common in the German-speaking countries), "standard" pages or other units. Then, of course, there is the matter of charging by the source text count or by the target text count.

These issues are discussed at great length and with great passion by many translators, some of whom are convinced that only certain methods protect one against being "cheated" with particular language combinations. I can't judge the validity of this belief for every language, but when I hear that opinion expressed for the language pair I work in, I know it is nonsense. In September 2008, I published an article on a translator's portal (since removed and found here) as well as a spreadsheet tool to help inject a little quantitative thinking into the debate.

Careful analysis of various types of documents show that the rates can be converted between all the common methods of calculation with very low standard deviations. Thus if you calculate the conversion factors between different methods (for example source words versus target lines), on the average (i.e. after doing a number of jobs) your earnings will be pretty much the same as if you had calculated using your familiar method. Individual jobs may be a bit more or a bit less, but it's important - unless you are looking at a one-off job for a client whom you will never deal with again - to take a long-term perspective and accommodate client requests if a quotation by a particular method is requested. I usually charge by source lines off 55 characters each (including spaces); if a British customer asks for a quotation in GBP per 1000 words, that's not a problem. (Well, given the rapidly dropping pound it might be, but currency exchange is another kettle of fish altogether. Maybe I'll deal with that another day.)

The Excel spreadsheet I put together is designed to make rate comparisons between two types of texts and to track hourly earnings on individual jobs. After all, what is most important isn't the rate per word/line/page/etc. but how much you earn for a given amount of your time.

Alessandra Muzzi of Amtrad Services in Italy has put together a very nice online fee conversion calculator (as well as a downloadable spreadsheet). This has been around for a number of years and is much more user-friendly than my spreadsheet, but comparisons between text types are more difficult (you have to enter data in two different workbooks) and there is no tracking feature for hourly earnings. Still, for getting a quick idea of how one calculation method can be converted to another, her tools are quicker and easier to use than mine.

Update September 16, 2012: After realizing recently that this tool has been unavailable for a longer period after a domain change, I reviewed it for current relevance and decided to add it to the growing Sodrat Suite for Translation Productivity, part of an Open Source resistance movement to the abusive complexities of ill-conceived technology in the translation profession.

Nov 19, 2008

Adding value to projects and client relationships

When I need a break from an intense bout of translation, I often check out the ProZ forums to see what the "hot issues" of the day are for the translators there. Given the general level of panic about the economy in many places around the world, it's not surprising to see frequent threads asking people if the downturn has affected their business. Some days it almost seems like folks are begging for an excuse to panic. However, the consensus among the more reputable translators seems to be that business is just fine so far. Some of the more cautious individuals are adjusting their payment terms, but that seems to be the extent of measures taken. And I suppose a lot of people are too afraid to increase their rates to compensate for the considerable increases in the cost of food and utilities in the past year.

It is probably inevitable under the developing circumstances that clients (agencies or direct customers) feeling the pinch may try to save money by using "cheaper" translators. As most of us with experience know, lower rates very often do not mean cost savings, and it is perhaps more important than ever to understand the value of the services you offer and document it clearly. Documents like the translation buyer's guide from the ATA or the various translations of it from other organizations are useful tools to help clients understand this issue, but there are more subtle and effective ways to help clients realize that you give the best value.

David Mullen suggests delivering "at least one new, UNSOLICITED idea to your clients each month". This idea can take many forms for a translator, which would fall into two general categories: unrestricted ideas that can be shared with multiple clients and client- or project-specific ones.

Unrestricted ideas:
1. Corinne McKay suggests writing articles for trade publications as a marketing strategy; this is not only a good way to acquire new customers, it can help to enhance the perception of existing clients that you are an expert in their field and thus worth a premium rate. Share reprint, links or copies in other forms with clients who may find them of interest.
2. While trade publications offer a certain "prestige", the value of samizdat should not be forgotten. For example, I have written a number of guidelines for technical procedures of use in translation, such as efficient OCR, file conversions, interoperability of CAT tools, etc. and distribute many of these free via public web sites or e-mail to clients or prospects as a way of explaining our working methods and quality control procedures. Sharing your own special expertise in this way can help clients understand that not all translators offer the same skills and care in their work. Self-publications can
3. Sharing terminologies in particular fields can be another way of confirming your credentials and value. While these might be passed on and used by other translators, I don't see that as a bad thing - it helps a client to keep terminology consistent when you don't have the capacity to take a job, and regular updates build loyalty. Take care to separate general terminology from client-specific terms and never share the latter with other parties of course.

Client- or project-specific ideas:
1. Same as #3 in the previous category - terminology. Collect specific terminology for a project and share it as an Excel file or mine client-specific TMs using tools like MultiTerm Extract and export filters to build HTML or PDF glossaries for your client to uses as references on the corporate intranet or in Sales and Support. Sometimes an initial "teaser" of this sort can lead to larger paid projects with regular updates. The task of collecting terminology "on the fly" is fairly simple with many CAT tools that have integrated terminology modules.
2. Depending on the circumstances, a client who sends you hardcopy, scanned files or a PDF to translate might appreciate receiving good OCR text that can be edited and re-used. I usually charge for the extra effort of dealing with these formats as do many others, but how many of us pass on the source files we create?
3. TM updates. Give your clients the translation memories for the work you do for them in a format they can use. I know this is a source of controversy with many translators. However, given the ease with which text can be aligned to create these resources, it's really ridiculous to make a big deal of things like this. The stubborn attitude of some translators regarding this issue has won me some excellent, profitable direct clients who appreciated not being held hostage.
4. Project archive CDs. It's not uncommon for a client to call up weeks, months or years later and ask for a copy of a translation that got misplaced. Periodic delivery of CDs or DVDs with a historical project archive for the client can be a useful thing. Be careful to ensure the confidentiality of sensitive data, however. It might not be a good idea to put translated personnel documents on the same disk as product literature unless you are very sure that the recipient of the disk is authorized to see all the information.

Those are just a few ideas that relate specifically to our work as translators. Of course the usual ideas for communication and strengthening relations for business in general also apply - spontaneous notes of appreciation, seasonal cards and gifts, etc. The point is to understand your clientele and what will work best with your people. Know what is important to them and creative ideas will present themselves. Many years ago, a research director at a medical device manufacturer for which I worked as a consultant told me the story of how he once won a big account when working as a salesman in the early years of his career. He had visited the purchasing agent of this company many times offering a better product, better prices, better delivery times - all to no avail. This went on for quite a long time, and over the course of months or years they got to talking about common interests, which included fishing. His prospect was continually frustrated, because every time he went bass fishing with his brother-in-law, the other guy caught more and bigger fish. One day Mike showed up with some "special" plastic worms that he used to catch largemouth bass. He explained how to use them best and gave them to the purchasing agent. On his next visit, the guy was grinning from ear to ear, thrilled that he had finally out-fished his brother-in-law. He placed the first order that day and remained a loyal customer as long as Mike had that territory.

To Host or Not to Host

Somewhere in my peripatetic reading of the past day I found an interesting article on Better Business Blogging which discusses the advantages and disadvantages of hosting a blog on your own web site or on an external one. The issues are discussed very clearly in the article, and the clear conclusion is that if the blog is intended to promote your business interests, it makes sense to host it in a subdirectory of your own web site.

Other information on that blog pointed me to various tools such as Wordpress for installing and hosting a blog on my own site. After some initial hassles with database and user names for the MySQL connection (which were not properly documented or whose solution required ignoring the instructions), I was in fact able to get a prototype up and running.

Now an obvious question in my situation is why I would want to operate a second blog? At first I had no intention of doing so; I was merely interested in the technical challenge. My free time is very limited and the idea of maintaining two parallel resources of the same basic type is not appealing. There would have to be a very good reason for doing so.

With a little reflection, I realized that I do in fact have a good reason for a second, separate web log. Not the usual "personal" versus "business" separation (I've never been very good at separating those spheres in any sense). I have quite a few customers and colleagues who lack either confidence or competence in English (or both) who often ask if the information I publish on translation workflows, etc. is available in German. The answer is usually "no", because since I quit working in-house at German companies I chose to be lazy and write most instructions in English, using the excuse of the wider audience for that language. So when I get the technical details of that other blog sorted out to my satisfaction, it will be in German and focus on publishing in German much of the same information and tools I have created for the other world. Since business has always been good I've never gotten around to creating an web presence for the company in German (rather silly since we are located in Germany!), so this will be the first. Stay tuned for more information....

Nov 18, 2008

Saving a bundle on dictionaries

As anyone who has invested in new dictionaries for translation knows, the really good ones are seldom cheap. The leading references in fields like commercial or patent law, medicine, chemistry and physics often cost hundreds of dollars or euros. And despite the wealth of resources online, there are quite a few times when only a fool would deny the value of these "offline tools".

However, not only is it difficult for some translators to make the investment in building a substantial library - at least in the early stages of their careers - some valuable references are hard to find or can be quite expensive when acquired through specialist dealers in used books. When I looked for a certain volume on German-English watchmaking terminology a few years ago, most copies I found were well over USD 100; I got lucky that time and found a copy in excellent condition for about $25, but this will not always be the case.

The most valuable source of inexpensive or unusual dictionaries (both hardcopy and electronic) I have found so far is eBay. That may seem quite obvious, but I have been surprised to find that many colleagues have never looked there. (It can also be difficult to find interesting items by filtering out all the junk with the proper search terms and exclusions.)

The bargains can be superb. Just a few weeks after purchasing Cornelsen's logistics dictionary (Benz/Wessels) new for € 60, I got a new copy off eBay for € 10. Copies of the old standard "Wörterbuch der Industriellen Technik" (Ernst) that cost hundreds of DM can be picked up for less than I spend on lunch. One of the best dictionaries I have for industrial manufacturing and foundry technology cost me a whopping three euros. I could go on for pages listing the bargains I've found.

More important for me than mere price, however, is finding resources that have long disappeared from publication. Mathematics dictionaries that have not been improved on in 40 years, suddenly made available with the dissolution of a library or the disposal of a deceased translator's estate. Medical/technical dictionaries from the 1870's with terminology that is invaluable for translating documents from that period (which I have had to do for legal disputes). Even older dictionaries from the early 1800's that have great value for historical work. All of these available for what a current newspaper or magazine might cost me or just a little more.

It's important to check various eBay sites. For my language pair, I've found useful items on, and so far. Most of the good deals are found on the German site. One does occasionally encounter inconveniences with bids restricted to addresses in certain countries, but I change my address listing as necessary and if the seller won't be bothered with an international shipment, I have the books sent to friends or family who forward them.

German-English dictionary for environmental risk assessment and contaminated site investigation

While reading a discussion of the recent ATA conference, I saw a mention of a "new" environmental dictionary, Wörterbuch der Umweltrisikoprüfung und Altlastenerkundung (DE->EN, EN->DE) by George Lindemann. This was, of course, very interesting to me given that it's one of my favorite areas to translate and, despite the prevalence of Internet research in my work, I am a great believer in collecting as wide a range as possible of useful dictionaries in one's special subjects.

So I promptly made a "trip" to and found the desired reference work. The price was reasonable - thirty euros - so I promptly ordered a copy. When it arrived a few days later, I was irritated to discover (from information on a postcard inserted in the book) that a hardbound version is available for just a few euros more (€ 38.50). The only edition available from Amazon was a paperback. The hardcopy version can be ordered from the publisher directly (Projekte-Verlag Cornelius GmbH).

Time will tell how good the dictionary is when I get down to real work with it; I don't refer to dictionaries often when translating for this subject. When I looked through the entries, they appeared well-organized, with an indication of the relevant domains. However, there do appear to be some gaps with regard to chemical terminology at least - a common synonym for dichloromethane (methylene chloride) was missing, and I suspect that will be the case for other, similar terminology. Not a problem for me - I'm a chemist, and I internalized several nomenclature systems ages ago, but someone with a different background may require additional references if such terminology is not familiar. (I have an opinion on whether these people should be doing chemical/environmental translations at all, but I'll keep that to myself....)

On the whole it looks like the € 30 was well spent; I expect to get at least as much value, probably more, out of this than a noted patent dictionary that set me back € 100 last year but fails to live up to its reputation.

Nov 16, 2008

The "Target Price Defense Tool" (updated)

Some time ago, after reading the millionth online discussion of the evils of CAT discount schemes and how to counteract them, I decided to add a more quantitative tone to the discussion. I do not share the blanket objections that some have to discount schemes of any sort; if I have an easy text to do that consists of 50% repetition, I am open to discussing the rate for the repeated content. However, I do find some of the CAT schemes proposed by agencies to be beyond ridiculous, and anyone who is serious about paying nothing or a few percent for matches and repeats will be greeted with a hearty, spontaneous laugh for starters.

Clearly, in many cases there is a need to look closely at proposed CAT schemes and consider alternative schemes or word price increases to achieve fair overall compensation. With that in mind, I created an Excel spreadsheet I call the Target Price Defense Tool to help translators (or other service providers) evaluate alternatives. It is available here.

Update September 16, 2012: After realizing recently that the tool has been unavailable for a long time after a domain change, I reviewed it and decided to add it to the growing Sodrat Suite for Translation Productivity, part of an Open Source resistance movement to the abusive complexities of ill-conceived technology in the translation profession.

Internet Freelancing: Practical Guide for Translators

Oleg Rudavin's book has been advertised on ProZ for some time now. It's available in English and Russian. However, with the hefty price tag of USD 58.00 I wasn't particularly tempted to have a look at what I assumed would be yet another "getting started" guide for beginners. But when I gained access to Chapters 3 & 4 on Jost Zetzsche's Translators Training site I decided to have a look at the English text.

It is quickly apparent that the author is not a native speaker of English; though he communicates well on the whole, the chapters I read could have benefited from some editing. However, after some initial irritation over the flaws in the English, I got caught up in the interesting first-person narrative with which the author dispenses advice.

Chapter 3 focuses on beginners, the basics of getting established, common risks and useful tips for the early stages of a freelance translation business. While the presentation of information is very idiosyncratic and may be more relevant to the author's situation than that of someone starting out in a western country, there is a lot of useful advice, and the narrative is simply interesting. It interests me to see the diverse paths that my colleagues have taken to success, and I found Mr. Rudavin's tale of his start as an army translator and subsequent experiences quite fascinating. While there wasn't anything in this chapter that I would adopt directly for my established business, it did inspire a few ideas for how to market project experience more effectively when submitting quotations. While I find Alex Eames' material more entertaining, this book seems more up-to-date for the specific issues faced by freelancers today, including specific details on international money transfer issues and other topics that newcomers to the profession may find difficult.

Chapter 4 is for the "established translator", with numerous ideas for improving efficiency, raising rtaes, managing risks at this stage. There was nothing really new here - the topics discussed are probably familiar to some extent to any experienced translator, but once again, I found the shared personal experience of an experienced colleague to be interesting, and at many points it caused me to think more carefully about my own methods and how I might improve them. I found it interesting to see how much alike business in the Ukraine (where the author lives) and Germany (where I am) seems to be, but the fundamentals of success are probably the same everywhere.

So - based on the sample I've seen - is the book worth its price? The answer to that question is a qualified "yes". I can't compare it to many other, similar books on the subject, because I haven't read them all. For the stage I am at, with the intentions I have for the future of my business, I think there is no point in getting the whole text. Later chapters deal with successful outsourcing; I have no interest whatsoever in adopting such a business model on any significant scale, so that information would have only entertainment value for me. The sections discussing the maintenance and improvement of a mature business are good, but I have read them already, and I discuss these issues in public forums daily and benefit from the diverse experience of successful colleagues around the world. However, for someone starting out as a translator and looking for good advice and a realistic discussion of options from someone with good experience, this is in fact a useful roadmap. I can't say that it's better or worse than others I've seen - it's different. For what basically amounts to the cost of a decent restaurant meal, you can immerse yourself in an interesting story of professional development and cherry-pick the parts that may be useful to you (and there will be a lot). After reading the chapters for a while in fact, I had a mental image of sitting at a table with the author, sipping a good glass of wine and listening with interest to what he had to say. And should he have a reason to come to Berlin I will be pleased to do just that.

A toe in the water

Nearly three years after having been forced to set up a blog in order to leave a comment somewhere, I re-discovered it when I decided to take advantage of the medium as a tool for exchanging ideas. I wonder what else I may have forgotten out in cyberspace....

The title of the blog is perhaps a bit misleading; though there are many days when I feel worn down from keeping up with a business that so far refuses to stop growing and the bad writing that I encounter in many of my source texts drives me up a wall, I love translating and the many challenges it offers as well as the opportunity to apply a lifetime of experience in different fields to my activities as a translator. Whining about the "state of the market" and the "difficulty" of survival is a popular pastime in some online forums, but I see the profession in a rather different light and prefer to approach the difficulties encountered with the same spirit of inquiry that gave me such delight in an earlier career in science. There is something useful to be learned from even the most awful situations, and a difficult translation job usually leaves me with ideas for how to do something better in the future.

There are, fortunately, many others who have a similar approach, and I am grateful for all the useful advice I've gleaned from posts in the forums, newsletters, blogs, etc. I hope that in sticking my toe into the waters of blogging that I can contribute to and encourage further useful exchanges of ideas.