Jul 20, 2013

Teach the translators well

My colleague Jayne Fox recently offered a list of various continuing education opportunities of interest under the title "Free webinars for translators and interpreters". It's worth a look.

I find her blog post title unfortunate but astute. Many colleagues caught in the Poverty Cult mentality won't look at anything unless it is "free". Free, software, free training, whatever. Very often a waste of time and money though. Translators and everyone else would do better to set their personal filters to seek the good first, and then apply cost criteria. If I'm flat broke, I'm not going to be paying my bills faster by wasting my time on crap. I need to focus on what will really build my skills and help my marketing. The fact that some of the things that will cost little or nothing is a matter of almost secondary importance no matter how empty the refrigerator and bank account might be.

In the same way, fat and happy translators billing €40 per word will not benefit from the fastest, most expensive computer hardware and software available. Anyone can benefit from good tools and some very good ones, such as OmegaT, can be had for no investment but your time. Whether OmegaT is better than SDL Trados Studio, Fluency or memoQ would depend on the task to be accomplished. That's one of the reasons why interoperability is such an important topic for me in translation technology: for thirteen years I have tried to use the best combination of tools to optimize the ergonomics of my work and get the best results.

Most of the web presentations Jayne listed are very good. She gave us an excellent overview which can help a great many people. One of my favorites in the list is the translators training site which Jost Zetzsche has been involved with for so many years: it has pay-for-few recordings that show specific, important and profitable tasks which should interest many translators, but it also offers free short video tutorials for every CAT tool I can think of (about 20 of them), comparing how each performs the same simple translation job, records terminology, etc. Often these little tutorials would be all someone needs to make a good start with their chosen CAT tool, and the videos are a good way to get a simple overview of the different "feel" of the various environments.

But we can do better.
How? I don't have all the answers. I have a few notions, and for some time now I have been researching past and current practice, pestering people with questions, wasting time and mining ideas. Along the way I've stumbled into a few interesting business opportunities as a provider of language services, I've learned a lot and had fun. Some have seen my experiment and been motivated to start their own. I hope that they and others will continue to question the models of online and offline instruction which currently dominate our practice and question whether there is something more to be had.

Let's take the webinar as an example. These are very popular, and rightly so. I have learned a lot from them and probably could have learned a lot more. But to date I have resisted all attempts to draw me into teaching one myself, despite the fact that I have been committed to teaching in various forms for over 30 years. This is because many webinars are a waste of time. Even the best webinars waste time I think. Maybe not. But I think it's fair to say that someone watching the best 30 to 60 minute webinar I could offer would have a lot of their time wasted, and they would have a harder time making use of the lessons later than if these were presented differently.

Many times I have wanted to go back and review some useful technical point in a Gábor Ugray webinar on memoQ, and I just can't find it in the hour presentation, the dog ate my notes, and by the time I do find it, said dog needs to go for a walk and I forget the whole matter.

There is no indexing for most webinars. If you must leave that long talk in one big chunk, why not put an index under it which notes important points and the time at which they are discussed. There is probably some clever way to make this a clickable hyperindex which immediately skips to that point, but I don't mind being low tech and dragging a slide bar to get to the part of the video that interests me.

One hour is too f-ing long most of the time. I swear if I ever do an hour-long webinar, I will edit down to the twenty minutes that really matter and then slice that up into the three to five individual topics of interest. And I'll add a little text and perhaps some graphics to a web page in which the individual clips are embedded if this can reinforce or supplement the message in some useful way.

If the visuals don't matter I might even just extract the audio from the video and offer an MP3 "podcast" you might listen to in the car on a long drive or on a jog through the neighborhood (though I refuse all liability if you get killed at an intersection while not paying attention to your route).

If I'm trying to teach you about software and how to use it for a task like handling particular file formats or types of information, I might think about providing a demonstration file with which you can practice. How many people do this now? Doh. It's all very well to talk about how much a particular translation environment tool can do, but if people can't apply that and gain confidence before they are asked to quote on a big job, they might well be too afraid of failure and leave their refrigerators and bank accounts understocked.

The same applies to skills that have less or nothing to do with translation and multilingual matters. Current teaching paradigms are underdeveloped, and improving them is not usually a matter of better editing, flashier effects and easy listening soundtracks. Real value can often be simpler, faster, cheaper and cruder than that. Integrated instruction is more a matter of imagination than technology and budget.

My current "research" is being performed in most cases with production tools which are free and usually Open Source and which, most of the time, are definitely inferior to the premium Adobe software I used for similar tasks in the 1990s. This is my concession to the Poverty Cult and my own sometimes involuntary priorities, and I fear that if I download the latest copy of Camtasia, Adobe Premiere, Adobe Captivate and other fine tools someone with something useful to teach might confuse the medium with the message and not make a valuable tutorial they could create quite adequately using free and easy tools. There is always time to upgrade after the point has been driven into the ground and the stake is there for all to see.


  1. Yes we can do better. You're right about software training - webinars leave a lot to be desired for teaching anything that needs hands-on involvement. And free content is not the ideal model. That's why I listed the best videos which really are worth a watch. I'm enjoying your recent videos on YouTube, too. :)

  2. What you've pointed out so well here, Kevin, also applies unfortunately to the education sector on a bigger scale (with the exception, of course, of some US pioneers where money is not an object - and I say that without envy; good for them!).

    Having worked in e-learning for five years before coming back to learn about CAT tools together with my MA students in 2012, I have tried (and failed) several times to get past the "if it's not free, it's not an option" line. To me it's mind-boggling how folks would pay for really silly things (overpriced coffees from overseas chains is just one such example), but when it comes to spending real money on something allowing them to interact better with their students (if they are teachers), or enhance their network and professional skills (if they are freelancers), they play the unaffordability card. If they don't respect (and let's say it: love) themselves enough to treat themselves to a subscription to a really useful website, some quality events, some awesome publications, how do they expect others to hold them in the esteem they want?

    When end clients pay LSPs, they also pay for the continuous training of their staff among many other things (and let's just focus on the really nice and ethical LSPs out there and give them a nice pat on the back). It's silly to avoid continuous professional development because of price issues.

    I find it ironic how some freelancers complain about clients making decisions based on price and always pushing for silly low rates, but they have exactly the same attitude when it comes to things they'd like to have, too. It's like the 'developed' world is slowly turning into a huge Primark (sorry, UK reference there to a chain of stores with ridiculously cheap clothes of - you've guessed it - rubbish quality).

    Until last year, I had personally spent about $800 on online training between 2009 and 2012. Sure, some of the resources there I may have put together myself from free bits here and there if I was ready to put up with a lack of coherence, inconsistent technical quality, inconsistent presentation styles, and the time it would have taken to find these resources. For others (especially in domains where I have no ready access to inspirational people, such as design, cartooning, computer-human interaction) it would have been quite impossible to find the same resources. That's resulted in quite a few useful freebies for my professional network.

    All in all, I am totally behind the free movement (and I have been sharing some stuff myself through my E-Learning Bakery), but I also think that the best professionals need to be acknowledged and supported (plus, from experience, this occasional financial support comes back to the community in the form of more free resources, seminars, useful initiatives, and support for sparky minds just starting out in the profession). By investing in respected colleagues we always end up investing in ourselves and I for one can only see benefits in that.


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