Mar 31, 2011

IFRS and German GAAP terminology for financial translators

This notice just arrived...

Financial Terminology for Translators:
Financial Reporting in Germany 2011
Thursday 19th & Friday 20th May 2011

Presented by Robin Bonthrone, a leading financial translator and financial translation trainer. The two-day course will cover the terminology and translation of German GAAP along with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) financial reports, examined and explained for practising German-to-English translators.

German GAAP (HGB) Reporting - 19th May 2011
Relevance of German GAAP for translators today:
• State of German GAAP today, including BilMoG and other recent legislation;
• Bilingual terminology resources for translators, including XBRL taxonomies;
• Principles of German GAAP;
• Single-entity primary financial statements;
• Accounting policies and notes disclosures, with specific reference to selected German Accounting Standards: GAS 15 (Management reporting incl. takeover law disclosures), GAS 17 (Remuneration reporting), GAS 18 (Deferred taxes), GAS 19 (Consolidation).

IFRS Reporting in Germany 2011 - 20 May 2011
Preparers, users and translators of financial statements in accordance with IFRSs:
• Sources of terminology for translators;
• IFRS reporting and translation principles;
• Elements of IFRS financial reports;
• Formats and minimum information;
• Primary financial statements, accounting policies and notes disclosures;
• Interim financial reporting under IAS 34 and GAS 16;
• Selected ongoing IASB projects relevant for translators, including potential new terminology issues.
The morning and early afternoon sessions will consist of presentations on the topics concerned and will be followed by textual analysis workshops / terminology clinics.

The Speaker
Robin Bonthrone is a leading financial translator and financial translation trainer. He was joint coordinator of the German version of IFRSs for the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation for several years and is a member of the XBRL working group responsible for developing bilingual XBRL taxonomies for German GAAP.

He also translates German Accounting Standards for the Accounting Standards Committee of Germany and lectures regularly on financial reporting topics in Europe and the United States.

Time & Date: 09.30 - 17.30; Thursday 19 & Friday 20 May 2011
Venue: City University London, A225/A226, College Building, Northampton Square, London, EC1V 0HB, UK

Cost: £260 (Must be purchased by 27th April).

Guest Speaker: Robin Bonthrone, Fry & Bonthrone Partnerschaft

Nearest Underground Stations: Angel (Northern Line), Barbican (Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan Lines)

For more information and registration details please contact Robert Lastman on (+44) 020 7040 8861 or email

Patently specialized

(Contribution by the mad patent translator, Steve Vitek)

I promised to write a guest blog for Kevin Lossner about translation of patents. What he had in mind was some useful advice for talented people who may be just starting out and who are wondering whether to specialize in patents or try a different field.

I thought it was a good idea, so here it is. I have been translating mostly patents for the last 24 years, so hopefully I have learned something useful about patent translation in all that time. I mostly translate Japanese patents as I am by training what they call in Europe a "Japanologist" (MS Word spell checker flagged the word), since I received my degree in Japanese studies from the Charles University in Prague. I mostly work directly for patent law firms who send me mostly Japanese patents and German patents, but also some in French and other languages. In addition to patents, I translate all kinds of documents as well, such as personal documents and legal briefs, documents for antitrust litigation, etc.

Some people may think that if they have a degree in liberal arts, they should not even attempt to translate patents. This is true to some extent - if you never enjoyed for instance your high school classes in physics or chemistry or other sciences, maybe you should stay away from patents. It's not that you cannot translate them because you don't like sciences, you probably still could do that, but would you really want to spend the rest of your life doing something that you don't enjoy?
The so-called "patent translation field" is not really a field because the subject is just too broad.
Patents are issued for anything and everything. Huge machines such as cranes or nuclear reactors, or sexy bra designs (which is really about mechanical engineering, geometry and some chemistry) and new age jewelry to be placed strategically on a short skirt - these are just some topics that I have been and you may be dealing with as a patent translator. Patent applications have been written about software, hardware, soup extracts, methods for growing mushrooms or cheese in your basement. I have not seen a patent for growing marihuana yet, but if they legalize it, the chances are that I will be translating it from some language if I live that long. You don't have to translate all patents in all fields, you can choose to stay away from some fields, such as medical devices or pharmaceuticals, or you can specialize mostly in patents dealing with medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

Although we generally cannot call the patent agent or inventor who wrote a patent application and ask them questions about the text, the advantage of patents is that we can find context easily for just about any patent, for example on the European Patent Office, or the Japan Patent Office or French Patent Office website and other websites. The American Translators Association published a few years ago the Second Edition of The Patent Translator's Handbook which should be still available from them for about 50 dollars. If it is sold out, you can read my chapter in it called "Internet Resource for the Translation of Patents Into English" for free on my blog. I also have other blogs dedicated to patent translation, such as a description of my experience with machine translation of patents from Japanese, or a test of the Google Translate function, which I found quite disappointing. Two very useful articles about translation of German patents were written for the Translation Journal some time ago by Kriemhild Zerling (

So what it is that you need to know as a patent translator? As a patent translator, you have to understand basic legal concepts and terms used in patents. You have to understand what a claim is, you have to know for example that one claim has to be described only in one sentence, no matter how long it is, and silly little things like that. You have to learn the meaning of magic terms and concepts like "prior art" or "inventive step", but contrary to popular belief, there is not really that much that you need to learn as far as the legal terminology is concerned. A good translator can learn these things on the job, so to speak. But you'd better learn them quickly or you will never have any clients.
You can also refer to machine translations into English available on the Japan Patent Office Website for unexamined Japanese patent applications since 1993, or to machine translations on the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which can be used with Google Translate for machine translations from and into more than 30 languages. But remember, machine translations are not really translations - a machine will find words in another language based on an algorithm which really represents only a probable match. The machine has no idea what these words mean because only humans have ideas.

There are tricks that patent translators sometime develop while trying to stay sane, which is not that easy if you translate mostly patents. Especially Japanese patents can still drive me crazy sometime, even after all those years and thousands of patents. One trick that I can recommend to budding Japanese patent translators is really just something that common sense should tell you: You don't have to start from the beginning if the beginning is the most difficult part of the document, especially since the paragraphs are numbered. Unlike European patents, Japanese patents start with the claims, and monster Japanese sentences of continuous text in long claims can be very disorienting at first because in the beginning you are still trying to establish the technical terms. Start from "Prior Art" and "Detailed Description" and translate the claims at the end. However, since claims are often woven into the text of the "Specifications" several times, starting just after the introduction, this solution sometime does not work very well.

Another trick that I use when I can't figure out a discombobulated Japanese or German sentence is remembering the English translation of title of the patent application, which is often a complete sentence, and trying to visualize how the description of that concept can be applied to long, rambling and at first incomprehensible sentences. I find this visualizing technique very helpful. I think that we translators often make mistakes when we forget what it is that we are translating because we are concentrated so much on the meaning of just a few words that don't seem to make sense. When that happens, we can't see the forest for the trees. It really helps to keep in mind the purpose of the entire exercise.

If you are considering translating patents as a career, you can start with little steps. Don't accept long and complicated patents at first. Start with short and reasonably simple patents at first in a field that is not completely unfamiliar to you, many if not most patent applications will fall into this category. As you gain more experience, you will be better able to handle more complicated subject matters and the strange wording typical of "patentese" in any language.

If you are afraid that patents will be soon translated by Google Translate or some other machine translation software, I would not worry about it. The results of the influence of machine translation may differ depending on the field, but I am certain that the main result of machine translation in the field of patent translation will be that as more patents are identified with machine translation, more and more of them will eventually have to be translated by humans when a real translation is needed.
Good Luck!

Mar 27, 2011

The extra mile

Although I seldom use the project he helped create any more, there is a man I think of often with great fondness. I never had the privilege to meet Emilio Benito, the founder of Atril, in person, but I will never forget his 4 am response to a desperate 3 am e-mail for a project I couldn't export and which was due at 8 am the next day. It turned out that the problem wasn't his company's software, really, but corruption in the file supplied by the customer. He fixed the file, re-did the work and sent me a file to deliver. Extra mile? Quite a few of them, actually. And he did similar things for a lot of people. When companies whose software I use do something outstanding and unexpected, Emilio comes unbidden to my mind, and I hope that when he made his untimely departure from the world in the early part of the last decade that he understood how much he had help me and so many others in our efforts to survive and thrive in a business that so many find difficult.

But there are miles, and there are miles. The ones that take me farthest and inspire me to pave a few paths for others where I can are those that I do not expect, and which have a certain confident goodness about them and simply make me want to share the bounty. It comes from customers, or colleagues, friends, family or total strangers, and I can't really say that any of these have a disproportionate share of this, and its opposite is well distributed as well.

An appreciation of life's serendipitous rewards can cause many a bitter draft to be forgotten quickly or endured with a shrug and a wry grimace. I have long since given up expecting the world to go the way I want or expect it to, except in trivial matters of translation contract negotiation, where I'm a hard-nosed SOB who always gets what he wants, but I have come to understand and enjoy a game in which the cards are always being shuffled, and one can have the pleasure of seeing how a given hand plays in its circumstances.

For me personally, this offers the freedom to do what I want when I want to do it and not give much of a damn what anyone thinks. So I'll go that "extra mile" on a road I choose, not because I really care about the advantages it may bring me, though I can often calculate these with some accuracy if I care to. Life and business do indeed operate according to some basic, recognizable principles in most cases, but these are statistical averages of a sort. Where the individual case will fall in a particular instance is seldom knowable with certainty. There is freedom in that if you can accept it.

So do that special terminology for your customer on a big project, though it was never ordered. Why not? If you're working smart, you're probably building it anyway, and the world won't spin off its axis if you share it. And just for fun, you can point out that this could be used in case they see the need to work with someone else when you aren't available or are beyond their short-sighted budget. That may seem a funny road on which to drive that extra mile, but in some 27 years in the business world I've noticed one thing that is very consistently true for me: the best associations are always among unbound equals, without pretense. In a world with its eyes open, my maid is the equal to any good CEO in her honest work. Even if she does hide parts of my coffee grinder where I can't find them.

In the last week as I was choking under a nutso workload of nearly 40,000 words (not my usual choice, but it was one of those Perfect Storm weeks), I was thinking a lot about how many things have gone right in the past rather awful year, and how many of these fortunate turns were unearned and were in fact extra miles taken by strangers who stopped to offer me a ride. And a number of times in the fields and forest and in my garden, I found myself singing a song about a kind of freedom that I once heard from its author some 35 years ago. And surprise, surprise. YouTube has one of Randy's many interpretations of it in absolutely horrible audio and video quality, but with some beautiful turns of voice. So taking my cue once again from my colleague and fellow blogger (another mad patent translator), Steve Vitek, I offer you this:

Mar 22, 2011

Sorting out errors with memoQ

Actually this technique applies to other tools as well, and I've used in in the past with Atril's Déjà Vu X. But combined with memoQ's other sophisticated filtering capabilities, it just seems to have a little extra punch with mQ.

What am I talking about? Many (nearly all??) of the TEnTs with column-based translation grids offer different ways to sort the data. The default order for the view is, of course, the natural order in which the segments occur in the parsed text (aside from a few oddities like header and footer info or footnotes getting stuffed at the beginning or end in some cases). Other sort orders, such as alphabetical ones, offer a fresh view of the data and can help you catch errors that might otherwise be overlooked in masses of data.

A current project I am praying to finish soon is a case in point. The text itself is mostly interesting, and the formatting in the PPTX files is clean, so I have no technical problems to burden me. However, the thousands upon thousands of lines are riddled with the pox of promiscuous, arcane acronyms. To add to the fun, it's a cooperative project with some great colleagues who use a not-so-great tool (Tradoze), and there is trash in the TMX files we exchange that just won't go away, even though they have long since adopted other target texts for the offending bits. (Yes, I know this is all a matter of tweaking the settings in the TWB TM, but tell that to the average SDL customer. It's easier to follow best practice with a tool that doesn't drive you to drink other than the occasional celebratory shot of Unicum when a job goes better than expected.)

Here's a typical view from my alphabetical "QA sort":

I've highlighted the drop-down sort command box with a red arrow. Here you can clearly see some of the errors that were buried in about 1000 segments of confirmed matches. Whoops! I missed those when scrolling through in natural order, because I was simply too fatigued by the length of the text. An alphabetical sort, perhaps combined with other filtering options, gives a necessary fresh perspective.

This is just one of zillions of little "tricks" available to users of translation environment tools; sort of the electronic equivalent of reading your work upside-down like some people do with hardcopy, but it's much less of a nuisance. Altogether I identified about 20 minor errors with those little acronyms, all caused by matching trash in shared TM data. Despite the fact I had already proofread in memoQ and in PowerPoint. So I am very, very grateful for technological options that help us go beyond the natural human limits we all share.

Celebrating diversity with memoQ

In discussions of machine translation, the concept of "controlled language" is mentioned often. I always get a laugh out of that. The reality of human language is that, even in the best cases, it's not nearly as under control as we might wish to believe. Take terminology, for example. Today's 3am-let's-have-another-triple-eggnog-latté challenge is a customer text on cable support systems that uses three different spellings of the German word for "cable support system", none of which of course were in the corporate terminology provided by the customer.

Being a memoQ user, I see this as an opportunity, not a problem :-)

Several functions for look-ups and editing in memoQ's integrated terminology module make it easy to:
         (1) find a term embedded in another term;
         (2) add the "new" term; and
         (3) map spelling variants in the source language correctly using target language lookups.

The third point is useful in helping clients identify areas in which their writers might need to exercise a little "control" or their authoring system's QA functions might need some tuning.

Finding terms embedded in other terms

Here the option to search for an entry as a substring in other terms enables me to maintain consistency in similar terms. The term "Tragsystem" is embedded in "Kabeltragsystem", which the customer has as "cable support system" in the corporate terminology. So I will use "support system" for the German "Tragsystem" as opposed to the less appropriate alternatives one might glean from the current Leo record ("load bearing system", "structural system"). Unfortunately I can't add a completely new term directly from this dialog in memoQ in the current version (4.5.68), though I can edit the match entries found.

Adding a new term entry

To add a new term entry, simply select the (source) term and use the corresponding keyboard shortcut or toolbar icon. If you have selected both source and target terms, both will appear in the entry dialog (shown above - I selected only the source term in this case). Enter the translation of the term and any meta data you want and click OK to confirm.

Here be source term spelling variants!

In the lookup example above, we saw that the entry for "cable support system" in the customer's term list was "Kabeltragsystem". However, to write is human, so of course just a few lines into the text the author writes "Kabeltrag-System". And for good measure a sentence later, it's "Kabelträgersystem". I expect tomorrow it will be "Kabel-Trägersystem" or even the completely impermissible "Kabel Trägersystem" or the all-too-inevitable "Trägersystem Kabel", not to mention it's close cousin "Tragsystem Kabel". Oh yes... and "Kabel-Tragsystem", "Kabelträger-System", "kabeltragendes System". Not being a native speaker of German, merely a willing victim thereof, I've probably missed a few impossibilities here. But the point is that good writing in a technical text requires a certain level of consistency, and those of us using pattern-matching term modules integrated in our translation environment tools need to capture the variants and map them to a desired term or two in the target language. A good tool will let us do this and record all the myriad source deviations for the client to consider - if the client wants to tighten up the in-house editorial work.

Mapping source term spelling variants

To record the diversity of source variants, I type the translation (in this case "cable support system"), then use the memoQ term lookup function and specify a target term lookup. In the dialog above I have entered two more variants encountered (using the "+" icon on the source term side) and marked the selected one as "forbidden" in anticipation of the termbase possibly being used for translation into German some day.

Sharing the wealth of information

When I'm done with the project (or before), I can filter the term data based on entry date and other criteria if desired, then export it to MultiTerm or CSV format. In the latter, multiple terms in the source or target language appear as additional columns populated on the same row. This makes it easy to identify synonyms for discussion purposes. Of course if these data are intended for use and important metadata like the "forbidden" status are desired, these can be included in the export.

Mar 19, 2011

Who's afraid of the big, bad MT post-editing job?

Still somewhat groggy without my third double espresso eggnog latté of the morning, I was woken up quickly by an interesting tweet from Andrew Bell, curator of the translator's social network The Watercooler. It pointed to a PDF file with eight slides summarizing the results of a global TAUS survey on MT post-editing by translation agencies.

The data are interesting and could be spun quite a number of ways. There were altogether 75 respondents out of God-and-TAUS-know-how-many-approached. I presume the latter figure was mentioned in the live presentation. About half of these actually provide such services to their clientele. Given all the talk about MT and "our" post-editing future, what fraction of business do you expect this activity to represent among the respondents? For 86% it was less than 10% of current revenue. I'm guessing much less. A mere 1.8% reported in the 26 to 50% range and none above that. Reality Check #1. The tsunami of MT hasn't hit the profession, nor do the waters appear to be retreating at the beaches. So don't head for the hills just yet. I assume that a certain company which MT'd and post-edited some fifty kazillion Wikipedia articles into Thai was among the respondents, and even that visionary firm didn't break 50% for MT-postedit revenues. So, people, there probably is other work out there in at least the near future.

Reality Check #2: The majority of respondents also reported little or no increase in such business in the past year. Most (75%) of the "post-editors" are in fact part of the regular stables of translators at these agencies, but I suspect these workhorses are those unable to digest better feed and make more than horseshit out of it. Or they are starving. Or a bit adventurously masochistic and can't find where they left the cuffs and leather whip.

If you want to surf the MT-postedit wavelet, do so by all means. It could be an interesting diversion, and as in with any path taken in life, I expect you'll meet some people, possibly even ones worth knowing. But if this isn't your sport, don't think you're doomed to starvation and oblivion.

I don't know how large the total market is for my German to English translation pair, much less for any other combination. An estimate of 100 million euros would be far too low based on a quick napkin calculation of how many translators it supports and what they probably earn on average. Some billions I expect. In any case, even in a relatively small "market" for a common language, a translator would need to capture only a miniscule fraction of the business to make a moderate to good living. I suspect that even our blogging overworked American translator serves somewhat less than 0.001% of the German to English market. The line between starvation and survival and between survival and prosperity is not drawn by the available volumes in the FIGES markets nor even really by the average rates charged in them. Nor by skill as a translator beyond a certain reasonable standard to be expected in a particular discipline.

If you want to earn "enough" as a freelance translator in major language pairs and avoid the ball-and-chain future of an MT posteditor, and you have sufficient linguistic and personal skills to avoid embarrassing yourself or anyone who recommends you, getting "there" is mostly a matter of organization, discipline, initiative and a good service attitude. My attitude is mostly bad, and I still do OK. And I strive to improve that attitude by shooting and skinning pigs instead of customers that may appear to share some of their characteristics. Find a way to get the message of fair service to those who need it and you'll have the freedom to worry about other things, like if the apple grafts in the garden will take. If you're clueless as to what to do, I can't help you. But I can offer you a link to 25 things translators should never do.

Mar 14, 2011

März-Übersetzertreffen Oberhavel schon am Mittwoch

Das Übersetzertreffen findet ausnahmsweise schon einen Tag früher statt, und zwar am:

                Mittwoch, 16. März 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

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

Bis übermorgen!

Mar 10, 2011

Cheap translation, like coffee

Coffee is a commodity. Except when it isn't. A recent set of articles in the New York Times explored the economics and problems of the international coffee trade. Like many agricultural commodities, coffee is subject to boom/bust cycles in which high demand leads to overproduction, which causes prices to drop to unsustainable levels, with production capacities eventually diminishing again through neglect. The overproduction, unsustainability and crash part may sound familiar to some in the translation industry, though the campesinos struggling in the fields of words seem to have little hope for boom years again.

But Übersetzung ist nicht gleich Übersetzung, and the same is true for coffee. There is a culture of specialty coffee, which emphasizes balance and quality and is fit for the purpose of drinking. One author making a case for drinking better coffee wrote:
"Here’s my advice: stop drinking cheap coffee. It’s getting worse, as those who deal in bargain-basement coffees blend in more and more of the 'bad stuff' to meet a price point. The “good stuff” will get better and better, as food lovers recognize the miracle that great coffee is, and value it as such. It’s a truism in food: eating less but better leads to maximum health, happiness and value."
This is rather good advice for translation consumers as well. If cost is really an issue, commission less translation work, but consider carefully the content to be translated and look for a real professional to do it to protect your image and the health of your business. The hash pipe dream peddled by the MT vendors, who tell you they can translate millions of articles with "acceptable" quality, requiring just a bit of post-edit tweaking by the campesinos who work for beans, is an amusing, but unrealistic hallucination that can take you on a very bad trip. But what of the masses of bilinguals ready to take on big volume projects assigned in the care of major, lion-hearted LSPs promising a single point of contact, top quality, fast service and low cost? Equally bogus. In some submarkets of translation there are surely some good translators willing to scratch in the dirt like chickens for a few grains to survive on, but any purchasing agent willing to risk is employer's health on this unsustainable situation had better have a Plan B for when it doesn't work out and he gets fired for incompetence. While price does not necessarily correlate with value, other issues such as timing, short lines of communication, availability and trust are usually - among intelligent beings - more important than price. Or would you rather send a highly confidential employment contract to an industry "leader" who sends out copies by unsecured e-mail to 400 translators around the world asking for their best price? You would? You're fired!

Like the producers of cheap coffee, major LSPs doing hundreds of thousands of words in a matter of days pour anything into the mix to meet a deadline and a price point. The only thing that usually gets left out is the quality needed to produce an usable result. To those who find this situation adequate, I would like to point out greater potential savings with much less hassle: Google Translate is free. Of course it's crap, but if you think what you'll get from a language service provider paying translators one to three cents a word is any better, it's time to stop hitting the pipe.

Of course it's difficult to generalize about the diverse world of text to be translated. A recent discussion on another blog about whether freelance translators earn "enough" discussed some of the differences between the axis of FIGES and those translating in more exotic language pairs. I live in the "GE" part of FIGES, so my perspectives on the world are inevitably influenced by this. However, certain basic principles do seem to apply across languages and borders even when the absolute numbers differ.

"Ah," you say, "But sometimes that cheap work really is good, even better!" True. One of my best "competitors", a better translator in my best specialties with more experience as a translator and a better work ethic, charged significantly less than I did in most cases for many years. She was the preferred choice for many projects and rightly so: I would even recommend that clients call her first and contact me if she had no capacity (often that was why they were calling in the first place). Well, eventually this person woke up to the reality of the market, and from our last chat a few weeks ago I gather that she often charges significantly more than I do and still has her capacity booked out. She just needed to learn to take the "risk" of asking for more and justifying it.

So I do not believe that it is a sustainable strategy to rely on cheap and good to stay that way. And those who are addicted to the low price of translation brew will inevitably end up sipping bitter dregs if they don't consider carefully what they really need from the experience of language transformation and focus on the real costs of getting it wrong.

Mar 4, 2011

A better fix....

Some time ago I wrote about my addiction to caffèlatte. This is still my mainstay to make it through long days, but how I make it has undergone a significant change. For the past 13 years or so I have been drinking French press coffee most of the time. Lately, however, I've been reading about the single-cup, slow drip methods that were developed by the Japanese and are now popular in the US and UK, and I tried to find a source of the equipment in Germany. No luck. However, I found something else that looked interesting: a special press for strong, well-balanced coffee without sediment. I've been getting a little tired of the dregs at the bottom of my French press, so I thought I would give the Aerobie Aeropress Coffee Maker a try. I ordered one from the German Amazon site (it's also available in the UK and US, probably elsewhere as well). Wow. This is the most interesting coffee I've had since a friend treated me to some from a cold process extractor years ago. It's simple, fast and very, very easy to clean. Beats the heck out of a French press for taste and ease of use and maintenance.

And since Christmas will be upon us once again in less than ten months, I've gone back to an old vice with this wonderful brew: egg nog latte. No commercial egg nog mix available here AFAIK, but several shots of Eierlikör (egg liquor) cut with an equal portion of milk, dosed liberally with ground nutmeg and heated blends wonderfully with the good coffee. Just the thing for a busy day of translation.

For those living in places where egg liquor is unavailable, here's a recipe from my late father-in-law, an old-time pharmacist from the days when they mixed lots of things interesting and alcoholic for the health and delight of their customers:

Herr Urban's Egg Liquor
Shake six egg yolks with 300 g sugar in a bottle (or use a blender). Add 350 ml brandy (the best quality you can afford), add vanilla sugar or tincture to taste as well as 50 ml of 90% grain alcohol. Prost!

Mar 3, 2011

Homogeneity: another "secret" competitive weapon with memoQ

Earlier today I received an e-mail with the following question:

At the moment we are wrestling with an analysis issue that should be solvable but we don't know how to. As I always see your posts about all kinds of TM issues, I was hoping you might be able to provide some advice.

The case is as follows:
From one of our clients we have received what is basically a list of tools in Excel for translation (NL-FR). My colleague made an initial quotation for the project based on the Trados analysis, which revealed 23% repetitions in the file. However, the client received a much lower quote from a different provider. The reason for this, according to him, is that there are a lot of high fuzzy matches in the file which the other provider has counted but Trados doesn't (for example, "... metaalzaagbeugel 12 inch zwaar model met D-greep" and "... metaalzaagbeugel 12 inch zwaar model met rechte greep".)

Do you know whether there is a way (or tool other than Trados) that does count these fuzziess when performing an analysis?
To me, this sounds an awful lot like my PM acquaintance has been blind-sided by Kilgray's homogeneity analysis, which has been a feature of memoQ for a very long time. It's a feature about which I personally have mixed feelings. Used in the wrong way by unscrupulous agencies or ignorant persons, it can be yet another club with which to clobber translators and their rates to the ground and bring about the Hobbesian state of being so many fear is in our future, if not our present. But I approach it as a valuable information tool for helping me estimate how much time a rush project might actually take. Or in the case of my correspondent's competitor, it can be used judiciously to calculate a competitive rate that might not land you in the poorhouse.

Classic Trados and most other CAT tools calculate fuzzy matches based on the content of a translation memory. If these sentences:
The cat is black and white.
The dog is black and white.
The rabbit is black and white.
do not have something similar in a TM used for analysis, they will all be counted as "No Match" segments. However, with a good tool like Atril's Déjà Vu X and it's functional "assembly" technology, similar sentences like these are handled almost like 100% matches from a TM. But DVX still won't tell you about the time you might save.

Kilgray's memoQ analyzes a text for internal redundancies and "fuzzy redundancies", the latter being referred to as having a degree of "homogeneity". But as anyone who works with CAT software knows, even high fuzzy matches can be utterly useless and cost more time than content with no statistical similarities. Translation is about meaning, not statistics, and the price assassins at Trados and other tool pimps of the past sold everyone a lousy bill of goods with nonsense marketing lies like "You'll never have to translate the same sentence again." Well, guess what? If you do successive versions of an information brochure or technical manual and don't start to update your language after a while, your text will soon sound like it was written for an age long past and might not communicate as clearly as it should. Those who can read German should have a look at the various editions of the classic cookbook Die Süddeutsche Küche by Katharina Prato, which was popular from the mid-19th century until the 1930s for truly dramatic examples of the changes in a language. (These are available online via Google Books and various libraries online. They are also a good source of offal recipes - people ate all manner of interesting things back then.) But this happens on a much shorter time scale as well: my eight-to-ten-year-old texts for the AOK social insurance brochure and various IT manuals sound rather awful and dated, though they were quite acceptable at the time they were written.

Used as a planning tool, however, the homogeneity function in memoQ can give you valuable information and help you compete more effectively in difficult times and markets.

Mar 2, 2011

Take it easy....

A recent article in the New York Times about the benefits of "giving yourself a break" reminded me all too vividly of many friends and colleagues who don't and how they suffer for it as well as make those near them suffer. This is all part of that "balance" thing, of course, but it seems not to be obviously so in certain cases. One friend, a brilliant and creative hobby chef, pathologically apologizes when trying a new recipe if he has deviated in the spicing by substituting something for a spice not in his cabinet. You would think the recipe was a papal bull and he risked excommunication or worse for heresy. And mea culpa is a lousy spice for a good meal.

When I read some of the agonized, portrait-of-the-suffering-artist bilge on some public translation portals about how, despite an infinitely recursive review process, a translation can never approach the desired (?) state of Platonic perfection, I think these colleagues might find participation in the Easter celebrations in the Philippines better for their mental health.

Dwelling on one's "guilt list" - all the things not accomplished in a day is a fairly reliable method of ensuring ever-diminishing productivity. Someone who is constantly under the gun at work, constantly criticized and undermined by colleagues and bosses (which the Germans refer to with the lovely pseudo-English word Mobbing), tends to suffer from poor health and inefficiency. Well, guess what? That applies to a mob of one: you against yourself.

I suspect that few, if any, of us are immune from the tendency to wage self-warfare. But I think the victors manage more often to accept the current state without recriminations as existing and recognize that it need not persist. Little time is wasted in self-flagellation for past failures; eyes are on the prize - higher rates, better qualification, a reorganized office, whatever.

I liked the unapologetic, self-accepting tone of a 95-year old man in a NYT report, who explained why he had indulged in calf's liver with mashed potatoes against doctor's orders: “You ever walked down the street and seen a pretty girl and thought, ‘Mm! That’s for me!’? Well, I looked at the menu and thought, ‘Mm! That’s for me!’ ” Had he thought about it as much as some of us do about our professional status, he probably would have suffered a stroke.

So while working to improve your quality, qualifications, rates, economic situation, debt-to-earnings ratio, title, influence, sex appeal &cetera, try to hit the drum with the beat and not yourself.

Anmeldung zum BDÜ-Gerichtsdolmetschertag nur noch bis 10. März möglich!

Sehr geehrte Kollegin, sehr geehrter Kollege,

bisher haben sich bereits rund 300 im juristischen Bereich tätige Übersetzer und Dolmetscher zum 5. Deutschen Gerichtsdolmetschertag angemeldet, den der BDÜ am 25./26. März 2011 in Hannover veranstaltet.

Sie sind auch auf juristischem Fachgebiet tätig, aber noch nicht unter den Teilnehmern?

Dann wird es jetzt höchste Zeit, denn die Anmeldefrist endet am 10. März 2011. Am Besten, Sie gehen gleich auf die Tagungswebsite und schauen sich das Programm an.

4 gute Gründe, warum Sie am Gerichtsdolmetschertag teilnehmen sollten:
  • Der Gerichtsdolmetschertag ist DER Treffpunkt für Dolmetscher und Übersetzer im juristischen Bereich. Hier knüpfen Sie Kontakte zu Kollegen und Juristen für Ihr eigenes berufliches Netzwerk. Eine solche  fachspezifische Gelegenheit bietet sich nicht alle Jahre!
  • Beim Gerichtsdolmetschertag erfahren Sie im Vortrags- und Diskussionsforum Neues über aktuelle Entwicklungen.
  • Das Weiterbildungsforum bietet Ihnen ein umfassendes Angebot an Workshops und Kurzseminaren. Wo sonst finden Sie ein solches Themenspektrum für Übersetzer und Dolmetscher im juristischen Bereich an einem Termin und unter einem Dach? (Details...)
  • Mit Ihrer Teilnahme tragen Sie dazu bei, dass der Berufsstand in der Öffentlichkeit sichtbar wird und die dort diskutierten Anliegen und Forderungen Aufmerksamkeit erhalten. Ihre Meinungsäußerung in den Diskussionen beim Gerichtsdolmetschertag zählt! Mit dem Ministerpräsidenten des Landes Niedersachsen als Schirmherrn und dem Niedersächsichen Justizminister Busemann als Eröffnungsredner ist den auf dem Gerichtsdolmetschertag behandelten Themen eine gewisse öffentliche Aufmerksamkeit sicher. Aber nur mit einer regen Beteiligung an den Diskussionen und einer hohen Teilnehmerzahl erhalten die dort beratenen Anliegen auch Gewicht gegenüber Politik und Verwaltung!

Unter dem Motto "Faire Verfahren brauchen qualifizierte Sprachmittler"
geht es auch um dringende Anliegen, z.B. um die Forderung nach ausschließlichem Einsatz von qualifizierten Dolmetschern und Übersetzern in Gerichts- und Ermittlungsverfahren, nach direkter Ladung von Dolmetschern durch die Gerichte, nach einer Reform der Vergütung nach JVEG.

BDÜ-Mitglieder*: € 285,--
Nichtmitglieder: € 350,--
Studierende:     € 180,--
* Der für BDÜ-Mitglieder ermäßigte Teilnehmerbeitrag gilt auch für Mitglieder anderer FIT-Verbände (z.B. ADÜ Nord, ASTTI, ATICOM, ITI, Universitas und VÜD), des DTT sowie der tekom. Alle Preise verstehen sich inkl. gesetzlicher MwSt. Die oben genannten Teilnehmerbeiträge enthalten die Teilnahme am Tagungsprogramm sowie Tagungsverpflegung gemäß Programmübersicht.

(Informationen aus einer Benachrichtigungsmail der BDÜ Weiterbildungs- und Fachverlagsgesellschaft)

Mar 1, 2011

The future, tense

This morning as I gulped my mocha I was greeted by a tweet announcing the demise of the New York Times column On Language, begun more than three decades ago by the late William Safire. The last article of the column ended on a positive note as author Ben Zimmer contemplated the lively linguistic future of his four-year-old son, who will grow up in an environment of beneficent grace with the wonders of Google, iPads and All The Wonderful Things To Come.

Elsewhere in the NYT the prospects of the future looked a bit less bright. Bob Herbert's meditation on the commentary of Justice Powell on the power of organization elaborated clearly one of the great difficulties facing those in the social trenches today. This is a dilemma not unfamiliar to the freelance language service provider, though individual experiences vary widely. There is widespread talk of "the erosion of rates", though where I have examined the statistical data available, this appears to be as much myth as reality if one tries not to think too much about inflation. At least the magnitude of the problem is usually a few orders smaller than the perception of it.

Responses to this have varied and include quite a few from translators who are perhaps to young to realize that L'Internationale was translated long ago and singing its various language instances got workers mostly nowhere. Petitions to a portal like ProZ, which despite its great popularity with Indian and Chinese LSPs is largely irrelevant to purchasing departments in the formerly civilized world are an amusing diversion, but largely a waste of time. While a translator in Stuttgart might get hot and bothered by what King Henry plans to do with Turncoat Translations, she ought to be giving greater thought to matters like the impact of recent changes in the law governing reporting of business activity within the EU, the so-called zusammenfassende Meldung, which she probably failed to comply with in 2010. Or perhaps with the requirements for qualification as a court-sworn translator and the lack of uniformity in these among the German federal states. Translators in every country probably face similar issues.

Translators who look toward the future with trepidation are right to do so, but not because of the blown-hard "threat" of machine translation and the presumed future status as post-editing galley slaves. The real threats have little to do with translation per se but rather with the stepwise dismantling of social safety nets and necessary controls for the protection of people and the environment. As voting citizens they can accomplish more in the long run than as whining "professionals".

Professionals? Ah, there's part of the problem as well. Translation is an unregulated profession, and rightly so. I strongly oppose the notion that the practice of the profession should be restricted to protect rates and the security of those now in possession of the "prize", simply because doing so is ludicrously impractical. Years ago when I sat across a table from a person authorized to search my home and generally make my life difficult while i attempted to sort out a problem with tax arrears. I was sternly informed that I could be forbidden to practice my profession. Ven an achent off ze German state tells you zat, you must be afraid. I laughed. I asked how he planned to tell my clients in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands and a number of other countries not to contact me by e-mail and make payments via any one of the many online international options or to a foreign bank account. He admitted sheepishly that this was not possible, and the conversation returned to reality and realistic options and the problem was soon resolved.

It's really not practical to tell an international corporation that it cannot get its translations from some stoned hippy in Goa if it really wants to, and with a bit of searching on the Internet, your neighbor can have that same hazy Proz-certified Pro translate the CV that he hopes will land him the Dream Job in New York. Except that if he's smart enough to get that job and keep it, he won't.

There are means of organization which can prove effective and paths of professional development which can protect one's rates and perhaps improve them, but very few people choose these options. Too lazy perhaps. Whining is easier, and its costs are not as apparent as the warm glow of self-righteous, if unproductive, indignation. We don't want no peanuts, after all, we want respect, fame and fortune! At a local and national level, many countries have professional organizations offering continuing education, networking opportunities and excellent referrals. My own experience with the German BDÜ in this regard is overwhelmingly positive. "Ah, but that's a closed shop, I don't qualify," you might say, and you might be wrong. Recent changes in the BDÜ's qualification policies open membership to experienced professionals who can document a certain amount of activity and provide a few recommendations, similar to the ITI in the UK. I believe that local and national professional organizations, properly supported and encouraged by their members, are probably the most effective ways of achieving the stated goals of movements like NP to achieve stable, sustainable rates and professional respect. Those active in such movements might do well to set aside the Molotov cocktails for a bit so their hands will be free to fill out an application to the ATA, NAATI, ITI, IoL, BDÜ, AdÜ, etc. and once in, make life Hell for the governing board until they shape up and defend the members interests in a socially appropriate and sensible way.

Organization at a lower level is also effective: formal or ad hoc teams can work together for more effective marketing and project handling. You are free to chose the route taken here, and if you can't think of any that might work, your mind may not be fit for creative activity. Or you may be a hermit, like me. Still, readily available collaboration technologies, project management tools and even online translation management technology provide a host of intriguing, possibly attractive possibilities.

At a personal level there is much that one can do with organization as a business person to present a better image and attract better clients, be these agencies or end customers. Lots of hints in this regard here and elsewhere; some of the books reviewed here are great places to start, but don't ignore other resources like your local chamber of commerce. I got a great outline for a business plan from one of these online years ago, and variations of that plan have served me well over the years.

I think two key words summarize the steps that can be taken to secure one's future: responsibility and action. When one is tense from the heavy-caliber, rapid-fire bad news of daily reports, the future can indeed seem forbidding. But when I read in those reports of a double amputee hurrying in his wheelchair to protest in Tahrir Square to secure his future and that of his country, confident of his power to make a difference, I think some of us in quieter, safer parts of the world can also move on and secure a future less tense.