Aug 30, 2009


Last night I had an interesting experience which I hope to have more of. We were visiting friends for a dutch oven dinner with plentiful wine and vodka, and I was admiring my friend's collection of skins, pickled snakes and antlers as he showed me various interesting old books on hunting topics published in the German Democratic Republic. Such books weren't easy to come by in the n70's and 80's if you didn't have connections, and in his case the connection was an aunt who operated a bookstore and brought her young nephew books on nature topics that interested him. These obviously made an impression, because as a man in his 40's, he lives to camp and hike with his dog, a magnificent mastiff with a very peaceful nature. (The hunting license is still planned for the future - these things aren't cheap in Germany.)

One book in his collection interested me in particular: the 4th edition of Alojz Herczeg's Das Weidwerk in Bildern, which was translated into German from Slovakian. The book itself is quite a comprehensive treatise on central European hunting practices in the old East Block, with excellent illustrations, and the German edition is beautifully written. My friend explained that it was a translated work, and when he looked at the page with credits noted that the translator lived in our town. My spine tingled as I asked "Was it Oskar Kasperl?" Indeed it was. I had been telling him about Oskar only an hour before, an amazing man who translated the subjects of agricultural and forestry (and probably others) from a large number of Slavic languages. There are very few people whose competence and presence inspire awe in me, but Oskar is one of them. I first got to know him as the old man who stubbornly tended his yard, raking every leaf and keeping all in perfect order despite walking with two canes. His daughter, a degreed interpreter for German/English/Bengali was one of the first friends I made after moving to Hohen Neuendorf, and she used to tell me wonderful stories of her amazing father and his exploits as a translator and hunter. He was in his 80's but continued to work in the profession he loved. I had heard quite a lot about him before I realized that this was the fellow who kept his yard in better order than anyone else on the street. My yard is a mess and I have about 8 fewer working languages than he does, so I am very much in awe of him, and his main working areas and other interests are ones that I share. If I had to pick one translator whom I would consider an inspiration and a good role model (not that I'm really in need of one at my age), he would be at the top of my list.

But aside from Oskar's intimidating qualifications, the biggest delight for me was to discover that the wonderful book I was reading in the company of friends was in fact a masterpiece translated by someone I know and like who lived just around the corner from me. The world is indeed a small place, and serendipitous evenings like this delight me.

Aug 25, 2009

Clear thoughts on "low" rates from Mr. Watson

Bitching about low rates is a mission in life for some translators, particularly among those who earn them. Translation is an excellent profession which provides a critical service for international trade and many domestic needs, like naturalization, legal proceedings, patent research and myriad other areas (oh yes, and literature too), and in many of these area (except literature usually) there is a decent living to be made. An engineer, attorney or chemist with strong foreign language skills, the ability to write well and a bit of marketing savvy can usually enjoy an equivalent or better income as a translator with some added benefits of flexibility. Even those with more modest educational backgrounds can do very well if they have a solid command of the basic prerequisites for success as a freelance translator. But too many people (not just translators) expect to be taken care of and are unwilling to contribute to their own well-being or are ignorant of how to do so. I am always greatly amused by calls on public forums for rate regulation at an international level, for minimum rates and a variety of other "protections".

First of all, the "minimum" rates are usually a joke - too low to pay my basic overhead for a house payment, transportation expenses and food with no frills. Maybe they work in Peru, but not in Germany. Do I care about that, or about all the silly three cent per word projects offered by agencies in China, India, the UK and other backwaters? No. Like any sensible person in business, I am aware of my costs, the value offered and the market potential, and I set my rates accordingly. Serious clients who want good service may very well be cost-conscious, but above all they are value-conscious, and they all understand that professional work by a professional who isn't living under Mommy's roof or off of hubby's income requires a reasonable rate. In my own experience this whole discussion occurs so seldom that if I didn't read the ProZ forums and various other blogs, I would probably overlook the "problem".

Every week there are silly new online rants about the bottomfeeders and their ripoff rates. I might even have a few in my own blog archive, and once in a while I get annoyed with some twit agency trying to make me part of their cattle call and comment here or elsewhere. In one such rant thread, Italian to English translator Giles Watson injected a much-needed dose of insight and sanity, which I will take the liberty of quoting here:
There is simply no point in complaining about outsourcers who offer low rates. When the client hasn't got any specific translator/translator profile in mind, the rate for the job is hardly likely to be wonderful. As Dante said, only in Italian, "Let us not speak of them but look, and pass on".

Good rates are available, though, if the translator has sufficient business nous to negotiate them, when the outsourcer knows what kind of specialist translator is needed for the job in hand and wants to find out how much his/her services will cost.

These paragons often use the Proz directories to draw up short lists, and that's where you want to be (on their short list!). If the job goes well, you will probably have a long-term client who pays acceptable rates and has decent payment practices.

No one in their right minds is going to post high-paying jobs to the entire Proz membership in any of the popular language combinations. How long would it take just to read all the replies?

We all had to battle with the bottom feeders to start with. The key is to have a clear idea of where you want to get to, which will generally involve acquiring better than average language skills and sector-specific knowledge in areas of the translation market that are likely to be buoyant in the long term.
That is the most clear-headed statement on the subject that I have heard in a while. If I had an important marketing brochure I wanted translated for my product, I most certainly would not make a public post stating a high rate that I would be willing to pay. I would be sorting spam mail from desperate, unqualified persons for the next hundred years if I did that. Using the search filters on ProZ or on the directories for professional translators' associations like the German BDÜ or the ITI takes little time and produces good lists of qualified candidates who might not screw up. Serious professionals who ask - and receive - serious rates. As for the rest? Let us not speak of them but look, and pass on.

Aug 19, 2009

New MemoQ release (v3.6)!

Here's the latest news from the Kilgray team:

We are happy to announce the beta release of the brand-new MemoQ v3.6. New features include:

-- Our long-awaited DOCX filter.

-- A PDF filter built on the open-source Xpdf tool that allows you to extract plain text from PDF files for alignment and translation.

-- MemoQ can now be officially installed on 64-bit systems.

-- A feature to auto-insert the best hit when you enter the next segment after Ctrl+Enter. Look under Translation / Automatic Lookup and Insertion.

-- An option (by default, on) to show TB hits in their order of appearance in the source, not alphabetically. Double-click the orange icon above Translation results for settings.

-- The Concordance window can now be left open as you continue to translate.

-- You can now safely use local projects stored on a network drive (only one user at a time).

-- We reinstated our old friend, F4, for inserting the fragment assembled hit. The shortcut can be configured, of course.

-- An improved terminology check in the QA module that will yield fewer false positives for missing terms.

Besides these features, 3.6.2 includes a number of fixes that didn't make it into a 3.5 build anymore. You feedback, as always, is precious to us. Download and enjoy 3.6, and don't hesitate to bomb us with impressions either on the Yahoogroups MemoQ list or through our support address.

To download the beta, follow this link: