One of the things I enjoy most about professional translation is the range of activities and subject matters that one can encounter, even as a specialist in a few domains. I can't say the work is never boring, but when it does drift that way, very suddenly it isn't any more. Quite unpredictably.
Yesterday I typed translations. A bit more than expected after two sets of PowerPoint slides - a small one to translate from German and another to edit the rather acceptable English - turned out to have about 8,000 words of highly specialized slide notes about military command and control structures and the technology of fighting forest fires. (Note to self: no matter how busy you are, always import those presentations into memoQ with the options set to extract every kind of text as well as the bitmap graphics if you have to translate those too. Then do a word count! Appearances can be deceiving.)
Yesterday I dictated translations. The job started out as a bunch of text fragments from slides, where context über alles was the rule, lots of terminology required research, and voice recognition offered no particular advantages, then suddenly it became the translation of a rather long lecture using all that new terminology, and the deadline was tighter than thumbscrews operated by an angry ex-girlfriend. Dragon NaturallySpeaking to the rescue. Not only was this necessary to finish the text in a long workday rather than most of a week, but the more natural style of translation by dictation suited the purpose of the translated presentation particularly well. I could imagine myself in the room with equipment vendors, military commanders, firefighting specialists and freight forwarders, talking about the challenges faced and the technology required to avoid the tragedies of an out-of-control firestorm. And the words came out, transcribed from my voice directly into the target text fields of memoQ, exactly as they should be spoken to that audience. And at the end of that long day my hands still had feeling in them, which would not have been the case if I had typed even a third of the text.
Yesterday I made a specialized glossary to share with a presenter who will travel halfway around the world to lecture with the slides I translated for his talk. Long ago I discovered that the way I produce translations has the potential to provide additional benefits for those who will use my work. Sales representatives might need to write letters to their prospects, discussing their products in a language not mastered as a native, and the vocabulary from my work may help them to improve communication and avoid confusion that might result from using incorrect or simply different words to describe the same stuff. Or an attorney might need a quick overview of the language I used to translate the pleading she intends to file, to ensure that it is consistent with previous efforts and will not complicate discussions with her client. The terminology I research and record for each translation can be exported and reformatted quickly to produce glossaries or more complex dictionaries in a variety of formats suited for purpose. Little time and often a lot of benefits for my clients.
Yesterday I translated bitmap graphics and not only had to deal with the editing tools for that but also had to consider the best strategy for transforming the original German graphics into English ones. Would those charts be translated again into other languages? Would the graphics be re-used in other types of documents, so that I should consider ease of portability in my approach to the translation? And how the Hell do I actually use that new bitmap graphics transcription and substitution for Microsoft Office files which was added to memoQ some time ago and sort out the five charts to translate from the fifty to ignore? (Maybe I should blog the solutions some day.)
And yesterday I was asked to write summaries of large, badly scanned articles so that the equipment manufacturer would understand how its latest technology was discussed by German reviewers. As a kid I had a silly fantasy about getting paid to read, and this is just one of the many ways it unexpectedly came true. But before I get that far, these scanned files needed to be reworked so that they could be read and searched on the screen, so as I described in a guest post on another blog some years ago, I converted them to searchable PDF/A with ABBYY FineReader, which in this case also reduced their size by about 75%. The video below also shows how this works. Strangely, when I describe this procedure to other translators, many of them don't get it, and they go on about converting PDF files into editable MS Word files or plain text, or, God help them, something really stupid like importing PDF files directly into a CAT tool for translation, though none of this really relates to my purpose. Conversions often contain errors, and many texts are harder to interpret when the context of an accurate layout is lost. So "text-on-image" PDF files for translation reference to the original source files are often critical, and for files to summarize or consult sporadically for reference (with many pages to look at and essentially nothing to translate), a searchable PDF is the gold standard for efficient work.
In the course of that day I had to work with two computers linked by remote access using four networks at various time, working in German, English and Portuguese (the latter mostly involving questions to the housekeeper on how to do an online pizza delivery order so I could stay in the office and keep working). I used well over a dozen software applications for necessary tasks. These, and the environments in which they operate must be balanced carefully for efficient work. And even after some months in my new office, the balance isn't quite as good as I've had it before, and more attention to ergonomics is required.
Some colleagues are nostalgic for the "good old days" when they received a stack of paper to translate and sent off another stack of paper when the work was done, and they had a filing cabinet or a shelf of notebooks full of old work to use as reference material, and boxes of index cards stuffed full of scribbled notes on terminology next to seldom-dusty specialist dictionaries prepared by presumed experts, often full of marginalia commenting on errors or omissions and stuffed with papers bearing other scribbled notes. Not me. Since the day 30 years ago when I laboriously typed a text file full of file folder numbers and content descriptions for my research work and personal papers I have been a big believer in electronic retrieval of information wherever possible, and I miss retyping botched pages just as little as I miss the lines in the post office or the stress of dealing with delivery services.
I suspect that some feel a loss of control with the advent of new technologies in an old profession, and certainly the changes in the business environment for translation since the days of the typewriter often require a very different mentality to survive and thrive. What that mentality is, exactly, is a matter of healthy debate and often misunderstanding - again, because of the great diversity of the profession and the professions and unprofessionals in it.
The greatest challenges of new technologies that I find are the same as those faced in many other kinds of work and in modern life in general. Filtering the overabundance of input for the few things that are truly of use or interest and maintaining focus and calm amidst omnipresent distractions. Not relying too much on technologies that are far more fallible than most people, even experts, realize or acknowledge. And remembering that a fool with a tool, however many features and failsafes it may offer, remains a fool.
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