May 19, 2019

Statutory translation rates for Germany: JVEG update

With all the confusion about fees for translation in some circles, and the generally timid and misguided attitudes regarding rate discussions in organizations such as the American Translators Association (ATA), it is useful to know or be reminded that such matters are governed by statute in some countries, such as Germany. The German Gesetz über die Vergütung von Sachverständigen, Dolmetscherinnen, Dolmetschern, Übersetzerinnen und Übersetzern sowie die Entschädigung von ehrenamtlichen Richterinnen, ehrenamtlichen Richtern, Zeuginnen, Zeugen und Dritten (law regarding the payment of experts, interpreters and translators and the compensation of pro bono judges, witnesses and third parties), also known as JVEG, governs the rates to be paid for certain categories of professionals who provide services related to courts, public agencies and the like, and it serves as a benchmark of what extensive review by the German parliament has determined to be fair and sustainable compensation for said professionals. I received notice recently that this law and its rates are under review again and may be revised shortly to cope with abuses often involving police agencies or others colluding with low cost and low quality brokers to attain rates which are not appropriate for the services provided and which sometimes represent poverty wages for the individuals providing the actual service.

The current law has many sections, and the ones most relevant to translation fees are sections 11 and 9 JVEG, though other sections are important to determine costs for travel, materials, stamping, copies and other incidentals. The current rates are higher in some respects than those I translated and published 11 years ago, though the top rate has been cut nearly in half.

Section 11 JVEG reads as follows:
(1) The fee for a translation amounts to €1.55 for each 55 keystrokes or fraction thereof in the written text (base fee). For texts not provided in an electronically editable format, the fee increases to €1.75 for each 55 keystrokes or fraction thereof (increased fee). If the translation is complicated particularly due to special circumstances of the individual case, in particular due to the frequent use of specialist terms, difficulties in legibility, particular urgency or because it concerns a foreign language not common in Germany, the base fee is €1.85 and the increased fee is €2.05. The target language text is the standard for the number of keystrokes; if, however, Latin characters are used only in the source language, the number of keystrokes in the source language text is the standard. If counting the keystrokes involves excessive effort, their number is determined by taking into account the average number of keystrokes per line and counting the lines.
(2) For one or more translations which are part of the same order, the minimum fee is €15.
(3) Insofar as the service of the translator consists of reviewing documents or telecommunication recordings for specific content without the need of preparing a written translation for these, the fee received will be that of an interpreter.

JVEG 11(3) would cover the case of summary work, listening to recordings to identify matters relevant to a client and probably things like sight translation and discussion. But what is the interpreter's fee to be applied in this case? That fee is governed by section 9(3) JVEG, which reads:

(3) The interpreter’s fee is €70 for each hour, and, if called upon explicitly for simultaneous interpretation, it is €75 for each hour; the fee is determined only by the type of interpreting communicated in advance for the assignment. One working solely as an interpreter receives a cancellation fee to the extent that cancellation of the appointment at which the interpreter was requested was not on account of the interpreter personally, a loss of income occurred, and notice of the cancellation was given for the first time on the scheduled date or on one of the two days prior. The cancellation fee is granted up to an amount corresponding to the fee for two hours.

For a typical urgent case of translating a brief for litigation in patent nullity proceedings, where one encounters the specialist terminology of the patent subject matter as well as the specific legal terminology for such litigation, the proper fee would be €2.05 per standard line (usually in the target text, though source text may be counted as noted above), which is equivalent to about €0.27 per source word for my German to English work.

For translating general correspondence in the same case, with no urgency and no burdensome specialist terminology, the appropriate fee would be the base rate of €1.55 per line or usually about €0.20 per source word. The equivalence calculations provided by the Online Fee Wizard of Amtrad Services (screenshot, above) are based on the averages of some EU documents; it is often a good idea to measure the actual equivalents in the real texts involved using the Excel spreadsheet Amtrad Services provides or my own rate equivalency calculation tools.

If you are a translation client dealing with a brokering agency quoting something close to the JVEG rates, please note that these were determined to be the sustainable rates for individuals, and they do not include the usual fees and markup applied by service brokers. Very often this means that the translator providing the service is being compensated at abusively low rates and is probably not a professional working full time in translation and dependent on that income to pay bills and eat. If you are dealing with an individual quoting rates below the JVEG, unless that individual lives in some place like Ecuador, you might well question whether that person is able to give full attention to the assignment and/or will continue to around to provide services to you and others in the future.

Apr 26, 2019

The Kindness of Strangers and Friends

This day was one of tired celebration. I'm in Lisbon, exhausted and relieved at getting my Portuguese visa renewed after months of over-the-top stress about the difficulties of scheduling a renewal interview in a system badly cracked under strains from international politics of recent years. I used to walk in to an office of Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) and there would be almost nobody there, and business was settled quickly. Now, even when I tried to book an appointment (walking in is no longer allowed) six weeks in advance, I was given a date for a renewal interview that was three and a half months after my visa would expire. Only by great good luck did I get an earlier date when somebody canceled and my lady called the immigration offices at just the right moment.

I went out to a local restaurant near our Benfica apartment to celebrate alone; the dinner of monkfish and shrimp rice was perfect with a vinho verde tinto.

As I ate, I read various articles on my ever-present iPhone; one - "Helping Others Become Bilingual" in Psychology Today - spoke in particular to my present experience of life and things that have moved me so often in the past six years as I learned a new language and sometimes struggled more than a little to find my way in a new culture I may never understand entirely. The article is basically about kindness.

Kindness is what brought me to Portugal. It is, of course, not a patented property of the country and culture, though I have encountered more of it here than anywhere else, and I believe that there are some cultural factors which cultivate it more than in some other places. The kindness I have experienced in nearly every country, sometimes momentary, sometimes sustained over decades, is the mortar which holds together the foundation of most of what has been good in my life, and some significant part of that has been linguistic kindness in a large part. When I was an exchange student in the Saarland many years ago, I was welcomed into homes of people who spoke a dialect I found baffling, and they kindly tolerated my lack of understanding, never ostracized nor criticized me and patiently translated bits like "Hoscht gess?" into more familiar forms like "Hast du gegessen?". As a consequence, the many dialects of the Saarland and Rhine-Palatinate region of Germany will always have a special place in my heart.

Poland taught me that the language of kindness need not be verbal. I was buying bread one morning while attending a professional conference, and I had tied my young wire-haired vizsla Jambor to a metal chair outside the bakery. The air brakes of a bus frightened him, and he took off running across a busy street. I screamed No!!! and ran after him into the street, falling full length in front of a car which stopped just in time not to kill me. I ran after my dog and he raced down the sidewalk opposite; after several hundred meters some pedestrians managed to stop him before he ran out into a busy intersection, where he might very well have been killed. I held my young dog, shaking and crying, wondering how it was that we were still alive. The voices around me were comforting, but I understood nothing; I just shook until an old man quietly put his arm over my shoulder, and I could breathe again. I returned to the bakery with the bent and broken chair, expecting to be screamed at for the destruction, but the owner of the shop invited me and my dogs (Ajax, my Drahthaar, was also with me and also managed not to get killed as he followed me on the run) inside and gave me tea, telling me not to worry.

The Dutch are known for being brusque and rude, but in that crudest of cultures I have experienced kindnesses I can never describe without tears and memories of clients who have become friends who will never be forgotten wherever they go.

Such stories are everywhere, and I suspect nearly everyone, anywhere, has at least a few. Bilinguals surely have some, more like a lot, of kindnesses shown when they stumbled and fell over new or rusty tongues. Today again I had my share, in the SEF interview where I proudly mangled the Portuguese language with a patient immigration clerk, at dinner tonight as the waiter kindly confirmed my dessert order while teaching me the correct way to pronounce the fruit I wanted and many times in between.

My six years have, I think, given me some insight into what it might be like for some of the many refugees and immigrants in this world as they struggle to come to terms with new languages and cultures, often without the financial and other material resources I have and with backgrounds and skin colors that might inspire less sympathy than mine usually do. When I think life in my wonderful country of choice can be hard at times I feel shame when I remember how much harder some things are for so many others.

I spent time living in a very poor neighborhood of Évora, because I wanted to get away from all the educated Portuguese who would immediately switch to English with me. The Psychology Today article brought back many memories of that time and the extraordinary kindness of the people who, upon being told that I was not returning to the country of my birth, but instead intended to make theirs my home, welcomed me and patiently taught me new words and lavished me with kindnesses of every degree on my many walk with the dogs through their streets. The local grocery workers even took extra time to show me local foods and teach me to pronounce all the things I pointed to buy.

My goodnight graphic
I am not always kind in return, not even with those who are kindest to me, and that is simply wrong. My beautiful doutora spoke the most miserable English when we met, and I was grateful for her patient communication and complete acceptance of my complex and usually difficult self, but now that she has achieved an English fluency that would make her a good international lecturer I unkindly nitpick her word choices and burst with impatience and yet another fucked-up participle that anyone would understand anyway with no trouble. And I fail to give credit most of the time when I steal her original perversions of English and pass them off as my own linguistic creativity with the applause of my professional peers. Yes, I am a plagiarist of sorts, probably, and an ingrate in any case.

Of course, I have professional justifications for being a linguistic asshole; I feel - probably rightly so - that my strict separation of languages I use is necessary to keep my edge as a writer and translator and not fall into the incompetent muck that is the medium of the bulk market translation service bog. I cringe when I see the actual incompetence of some language professionals who are not quite Dunning-Kruger cases but are at least not in the fraction of the top percent that so many of my friends inhabit. But I'm getting that all wrong in most respects. As some others do too.

Michael Moore made the point well in his autobiography when he wrote of his time with writer Kurt Vonnegut in that great man's last year. Kurt said that his son Mark had figured out the meaning of life for him, with all its senselessness and pain. "We're here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." That's about right.

Apr 12, 2019

memoQ LiveDocs: What Good Is It, Anyway? (webinar, 23 April 2019)

I'll be presenting a free webinar on the uses, advantages, and quirks of memoQ's often underestimated and misunderstood LiveDocs module: everything you always needed to know about its features and corpora but never thought to ask.

When? On 23 April 2019 at 3:00 PM Lisbon time (4:00 PM Central European Time, 7:00 AM Pacific Standard Time); webinar attendance is free, but advance registration is required. The URL to register is:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation e-mail containing information about joining the presentation.

Particular questions regarding the subject matter or challenges you face with it are welcome in advance via e-mail, LinkedIn or other social media contact. I'll try to incorporate these in the presentation.

Accessing full bilingual document context in an alignment in LiveDocs from the memoQ Concordance

Mar 15, 2019

Interview with an Across user

After some recent controversies on social media concerning the experience of bearing... uh, working with Across and the sort of translators who wax enthusiastic about the platform, I thought it an appropriate time to take another look at this premium tool and what it offers to premium translators. So I asked around to see who had experience and was directed to Ima Newbie, CEO of Redlight Translations LEC.

TT: Thank you for joining me this afternoon, Ima. How are things going for you?

IN: Just great! Lotsa runnin' on the wheel, keepin' fit! My coach says I've got a winning attitude and if I drop my rates and maybe my pants some more, soon I'll be too busy to sit down!

TT: Let's talk about translation tools. You use Across, don't you?

IN: Oh yes I do, and it's wonderful! So much work out there, and rates so much better than I deserve! I am truly grateful for the opportunities it gives me.

TT: Really??? That's not what I hear from others.

IN: Oh, well, don't listen to those arrogant ivory tower assholes with their elitist attitudes about work and all their bragging. They just don't understand. It's about freedom. And work. And freedom to work. And work that makes you free!

TT: Yes, don't you love the smell of freedom in the morning? I know I do. So how did you get here?

IN: Same as it ever was, really. I sent out thousands of CVs, translated for free without borders, even did some great stuff for ProZ to help spread the word for Robert Mugabe at One World University in Mozambique, dropped my rates so far I was paying to translate, but nothing helped. All the agencies wanted was linguistic skills and subject matter experience. And then I found my InstaGuru and Enlightenment  and the key to unlock my success!

TT: How's that?

IN: Well I met this guy on LinkedIn who told me that CAT tools aren't for dogs and that each species must seek its ecological niche in servitude. That was really profound. He woke me up to smell the cherry blossoms, and I realized where to go!

TT: Where?

IN: To Hell, of course, but not by the highway. Everybody does that. It's the easy way. But you know what they say, "No pain, no gain!" And the pain of bearing Across really nails it for me and ensures that I'll be saved the trouble of competing on the basis of skills and knowledge I don't have.

TT: Sort of salvation through damnation, I suppose?

IN: Exactly! No more elitist bullshit from those who have it easy after decades of perfecting their knowledge and technique and learning to optimize productivity with a fine-tuned balance of appropriate technologies for the task. That's so Victorian. I'm a modern kinda guy, and I'm gonna party like it's 1934!

TT: Uh... I hate to tell you, but it's 2019.

IN: Same thing! Just ask the experts! Donald Trump! Viktor Orban! Jair Bolsonaro! Stalin! Uh, I mean Putin. All this cosmopolitan propaganda has clouded your mind. Real men get really productive and maximize their freedom through work entirely controlled by real or virtual barbed wire fences and helpful guidance from guard towers to watch over us and keep us safe from the corrupting influence of rational thought or software inspired by such thought. Working for my masters with Across, I no longer have to worry about managing all my reference resources and data. I don't have any of that  it's all on massa's server. This gives me the freedom to exercise and stay fit on the work wheel.

TT: What was that? You are mumbling. What's that stuffed in your cheeks? 

IN: Chicken feed. Want some?

TT: No thanks.

IN: How about some peanuts instead?

TT: Uh, no. Let's get back to the topic. Why Across? Why not memoQ? Or OmegaT? Or Wordfast, for example.

IN: Oh, anyone can use that stuff! It doesn't take any patience, and it leaves clients with too many choices.

TT: I don't understand the problem. What's bad about choices? 

IN: Well, you see, working with Across, the job is in the bag, so to speak. Nobody else wants it, and the companies that rely on Across servers for their translation management are grateful to find anyone who will put up with the abuse. So all that elitist nonsense like qualifications doesn't really matter. It's a win-win situation!

TT: I've got a feeling that someone is losing something....

IN: Yeah, all those ivory tower translators spoiled for work because they can take their pick and use tools that enable them to take on nearly any technical challenge in translation and collaborate easily with colleagues when they need to based on the principles of tool interoperability. Those losers always have to think of what to do next. Not me. Across has no interoperability. It's where translation data goes to die, like a virtual Auschwitz. And that's great. I don't have to think about all that complicated stuff, just do what I'm told and enjoy the freedom of my work free from planning and full of gain from pain.    

TT: OK, I've got just one more question....

IN: Sorry, I'm out of time. Daylight come and me wanna go home. 

Mar 4, 2019

What evil lurks in the results from your language service provider?

Let me start by disclosing that although I have a registered limited company through which I provide translation, training and technical consulting services for translation processes, I am essentially a sole trader who is not unreasonably, though not correctly, referred to as a freelancer much of the time. I have a long history of friendship and consulting support with the honorable owners of quite a few small and medium language service companies and of a few large ones. I vigorously dispute any foolish claims that there is no such need for such companies, and I see a natural alliance and many shared interests between the best of them and the best of independent professionals in the same sector.

But as Sturgeon's Law states so well, "ninety percent of everything is crap", and that would apply in equal measure to translation brokers and translators I suspect, though of course this is influenced by context. But what context can justify this translation of a data privacy statement from German to English? Only the section headers are shown here to protect against sensory overload and blown mental circuits:

The rest of the text is actually worse. This is the kind of thing some unscrupulous agencies take money for these days.

Why, pray tell, was the section numbering translated so variously into English? Well, if you know anything about the mix-and-match statistical crapshoot that is SMpT (statistical machine pseudotranslation) and its not-as-good-as-you-think wannabe alternatives, it's easy to guess the frequency of certain correlations in English with German numbers followed by a period.

And clearly, the agency could not even be bothered to make corrections, and the robotic webmaster put the text up, noticing nothing, where it remained for about a year to embarrass a rather good company which I hold in high esteem.

What's the moral of this story? Take your pick from the many reasonable options. "Reasonable" does not include doing business with the liars and thieves who will try to sell you on the "value proposition" of machine translation to cut costs.

A skilled translator knowledgeable in the subject matter and trained in dictation techniques paired with a good speech recognition solution or transcriptionist can beat any human post-edited machine translation process for both volume and quality. And a skilled summarizer reading source texts and dictating summaries in another language can blow them both away as a "value proposition".

One thing that is too often forgotten in the fool's gold rush to cheap language (dis)service solutions is - as noted by Bevan et alia - exposure to machine-translated output over any significant period of time has unfortunate effects one the language skills (reading, writing and comprehension) of the victims working with it. This has been confirmed time and again by translation company owners, slavelancers and other word workers. Serious occupational health measures are called for, but to date little or nothing has been done in this regard.

And when human intelligence is taken out of play or impaired by an automated linguistic lobotomy, the results inevitable gall in the lower quartile of the aforementioned 90%. Really crappy crap.

As another of my favorite fiction authors used to comment: TANSTAAFL. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. And trust is always good, but these days you need to verify that your service providers really give you what you have paid for and don't pass off crap like you see in the example above.

Feb 24, 2019

There ain't no such thing as original sin at SDL!

Exhibit #1 memoQ graphic
Exhibit #2 memoQ graphic

Sometime last year, memoQ Translation Technologies Ltd., the software artists formerly known as Kilgray, aka mQtech, released their "Trend Report 2019" including the graphics above and more. I have studiously avoided blogging about the trend report up to now, because enthusiasm comes hard for a document that was clearly prepared by an industry outsider (consultant) with little understanding of issues faced in the translation sector, so that some of the "questions" proposed and discussed are really quite irrelevant to the present and future state of translation.

But Kilgray... oops, mQtech is the de facto technology leader for advanced desktop and client/server translation environment management, usually introducing the truly innovative tools for improving translation processes and quality so that others like SDL can copy them at some later date. This, of course, doesn't account for everything, for example the underappreciated bilingual review tables of Déjà Vu, which probably resulted in one of the biggest boosts for memoQ when that feature was adopted in version 4.2 before it was copied by so many others later, including the flawed Fluency, SDL Trados et alia. The "monolingual review" feature of memoQ, which allows edited translations in certain formats or portions thereof (to avoid mangling formats of parts which have not changed) to be re-imported to facilitate TM updates, is one example of memoQ leading the way for SDL (who implemented that feature about two years later) and others, as is the long history of optimization for speech recognition with Dragon NaturallySpeaking (with editing controls unavailable when that tool is used with most other CAT tools), which lately has gone farther in the somewhat bleeding edge but interesting implementation of speech recognition in Hey memoQ.

There is a long history of SDL looking to its main competitor to find its way in the darkness of translation sector tools competition. But one rather obnoxious advert that keeps cropping up in social media feeds makes it clear that the leadership of mQtech extends beyond mere technology for SDL:

These days, translation memories are better forgotten!
It seems that in the horrors of preparation for Brexit, UK-based SDL is unable to find original service providers internally, domestically or internationally to produce the artwork needed to market their questionable technology and concepts. What we have above is the same thing in terms of style and construction as we see with mQtech, but in green.

This gives me no little worry, really, because the underlying symbolism is deeply disturbing. Range and Green... Brexit... I fear that the situation between the two leading tool providers for translation technology is degenerating into a situation like we find at the Irish border:

It's an ugly situation. With Cromwellian arrogance, SDL has appropriated the colors of the political underdog, ravaging not only the translating Irish countryside with its confusing pathwork of features, but exporting the conflict internationally as dark powers so often do. And mQtech, unfortunately, bears Unionist colors into the battle at the wordface, though the symbolic interpretation of that is anyone's guess. We can only pray that some compromise, some peace accord can be achieved before the looming Brexit deadline, when things at the border and at translation conferences around the world may escalate into the Unthinkable.

A wise man once said, "SDL should copy memoQ's features or its artwork, but not both", but I would argue that in the current political climate, doing the latter is a bad idea in any case!

Feb 4, 2019

Review: the Plantronics Voyager Legend monoaural headset for translation

Ergonomics are often a challenge with the microphones used for dictated translation work. I've used quite a few over the years, usually with USB connections to my computer, though I've also had a few Logitech wireless headphones with integrated mikes that performed well. However, all of them have had some disadvantages.

The country where I live (Portugal) has a rather warm climate for more than a few months of the year. Wearing headphones can get rather uncomfortable on a hot day, and even on a cold one, the pressure on my ears starts to drive me nuts after an hour or so.

Desktop microphones seem like a good solution, and I get good results with my Blue Yeti. But sometimes, when I turn my head to look at something, the pickup is not so good, and my dictation is transcribed incorrectly.

The Hey memoQ app released by memoQ Translation Technologies Ltd. underscored the ergonomic challenges of dictation for me; the app uses iOS devices to access their speech recognition features, and positioning a phone well in such a way that one can still make use of a keyboard is not easy. And trying to connect a microphone or headset by cable to the dodgy Lightning port on my iPhone 7 is usually not a good experience.

So I was intrigued by a recommendation of Plantronics headsets from Dragos Ciobanu of Leeds University (also the author of the E-learning Bakery blog). A specific model mentioned by someone who had attended a dictation workshop with him recently was the Plantronics Voyager Legend, though when I asked Dragos about his experience, he spoke mostly about the Plantronics Voyager 5200, which is a little more expensive. I decided to go "cheap" for my first experience with this sort of equipment and ordered the Voyager Legend from Amazon in Spain. I did so with some trepidation, because the reviews I read were not entirely positive.

The product arrived in simple packaging which led me to think that the Amazon review which suggested the "new" products sold might in fact be refurbished. But in the EU, all electronic gear comes with a two-year warranty, so I don't worry too much about that.

Complaints I read in the reviews about a short charger cable seem ridiculous; the cable I received was over half a meter long, and like anyone who has computers these days, I have more USB extension cords than I know what to do with should I require a longer cable for charging. The magnetic coupler for charging has a female mini-USB port, so it can be attached to another cable as well. Power connections include the most common EU two-pronged charger, the 3-pole UK charger and one for a car's cigarette lighter.

The package also included extra earpieces and covers of different sizes to customize the fit on one's ear.

I tested the microphone first with my laptop; the device was recognized easily, and the results with Dragon NaturallySpeaking were excellent. Getting the connection to my iPhone 7 proved more difficult, however. I read the Getting Started instructions carefully, tried updating the firmware (not necessary - everything was current) and tried various switching and reboot tricks, all to no avail.

Finally, I called the technical support line in the US in total frustration. I didn't expect an answer since it was still the wee hours of the morning in the US, but someone at a support call center did answer the phone. He instructed me to press and hold the "call" button on the device until its LED begins to flash blue and red.

I did that, and when the LED began flashing, "PLT_Legend" appeared in the list of available devices on my iPhone. Then I was ready to test the Voyager Legend for dictated translation with Hey memoQ.

Because I work with German and English, I rely on Dragon NaturallySpeaking for my dictation, and the iOS-based dictation of Hey memoQ will never compete with that. But I am very interested in testing and demonstrating the integrated memoQ app, because many other languages, such as Portuguese, are not available for speech recognition in Dragon NaturallySpeaking or any other readily accessible speech recognition solution of its class.

As I suspected, my dictation in Hey memoQ (and other iOS applications) was easier with the Voyager Legend. This is the first hardware configuration I have tested that really seems like it would offer acceptable ergonomics for Hey memoQ with my phone. And I can use it for Skype calls, listening to my audio books and other things, so I consider the Plantronics Voyager Legend to be money well spent. Now I'll see how it holds up for long sessions of dictated legal translation. The product literature and a little voice in my ear both claim that the device can operate for seven hours of speaking time on a battery charge, and the 90 minutes required for a full recharge will work well enough with the breaks I take in that time anyway.

Of course there are many Bluetooth microphone devices which can be used with speech recognition applications, but what distinguishes this one is its great comfort of wear and the secure fit on my ear. I look forward to a closer acquaintance.

Jan 22, 2019

The Ultimate Comparative Screwjob Calculator for translation rates

Some years ago I put out a number of little spreadsheet tools to help independent translators and some friends with small agencies to sort out the new concepts of "discount" created by the poisonous and unethical marketing tactics of Trados GmbH in the 1990s and adopted by many others since then. One of these was the Target Price Defense Tool (which I also released in German).

The basic idea behind that spreadsheet was the rate to charge on what looked to be a one-off job with a new client who came out of nowhere proposing some silly scale of rate reductions based on (often bogus and unusable) matches. So, for example, if your usual rate was USD 0.28 per word and that's what you wanted to make after all the "discounts" were applied, you could plug in the figures from the match analysis and determine that the rate to quote should be USD 0.35, for example.

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
Fast forward 11 years. Most of the sensible small agencies run by translators who understand the qualities needed for good text translation are gone, their owners retired, dead or hiding somewhere after their businesses were bought up and/or destroyed by unscrupulous and largely incompetent bulk market bog "leaders" with their Walmart-like tactics. Good at sales to C-level folk, with perhaps a few entertaining "inducements" on the side, but good at delivering the promised value? Not so much in cases I hear. And many of the good translators who haven't simply walked away from the bullshit have agreed to some sort of rate scale based on matching (despite the fact that there is no standard whatsoever on how different tools calculate these "matches" and now with various kinds of new and nonsensical "stealth" matches being sneaked in with little or no discussion).

So now, it's not so much whether a translator will deal with a given rate scale for a one-off job, but more often what the response should be to a new and usually more abusive rate scale proposed by some cost- and throat-cutting bogster who really cares enough to shave every cent that an independent translator can be intimidated to yield, thus destroying whatever remaining incentive there might be to go the extra mile in solving the inevitable unexpected problems one might find in many a text to translate.

And this, in fact, was the question I woke up to this morning. I told the friend who asked to go look for my ancient Target Price Defense Tool, but I was told that it wasn't helpful for the case at hand. (It actually was, but because of the different perspective that wasn't immediately obvious.)

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
So I built a new calculation tool quickly before breakfast which did the same calculations but in a little different layout with a somewhat different perspective: the Comparative Screwjob Calculator (screenshot above), because really, the point of these match scales is to screw somebody.

Shortly after that, I was asked to include the calculations of "internal matches" from SDL Trados (which are referred to as "homogeneity" in the memoQ world, stuff that is not in the translation memory but where portions of text in the document or collection of documents have some similarity based on their character strings - NOT their linguistic sense). And of course there are other creatively imagined matches in some calculation grids - for subsegments in larger sentences (expect to get screwed if an author writes "for example" a lot) or based on some sort of loser's machine pseudo-translation algorithms that some monolingual algorithm developer has decided without evidence might save the translator a little effort - cut that rate to the bone!). So I expanded the spreadsheet to allow for additional nonsense match rate types ("internal/other") and to compare a third grid which can be used, for example, to develop a counterproposal if you are currently billing based on an agreed rate scale and a new one is proposed (all the time keeping in view how much you are losing versus the full rate which might very well be getting charged to the end customer anyway).

Click on the graphic to view and download the Excel spreadsheet
The result was the Ultimate Comparative Screwjob Calculator (screenshot above). Now that's probably too optimistic a name for it, because surely those who think only of translators as providers of bulk material to be ground up for linguistic sausage have other ways to take their kilos of flesh for the delivery mix.

If this all sounds a bit ludicrous, that's because it is. I am a big fan of well-managed processes myself; I began my career as a research chemist with a knowledge of multivariate statistical optimization of industrial processes and used this knowledge to save - and make - countless millions for my employers or client companies and save hundreds of jobs for ordinary people. I get it that cost can be a variable in the equation, because starting some 34 years ago I began plugging it in to my equations along with resin mix components and whatnot.

But the objective I never lost sight of was to deliver real value. And that included minimizing defects (applying the Taguchi method or some other modeling technique or just bloody common sense). And ensuring that expectations are met, with all stakeholders (don't you hate that word? it reminds me of a Dracula movie in my dreams where I hold the bit of holly wood in my hand as we open the coffin of thebigword's CEO) protected. That is something too few slick salesfolk in the bulk market bog understand. They talk a lot of nonsense about quality (Vashinatto: "doesn't matter"; Bog Diddley: "no complaints from my clients who don't understand the target language", etc.). But they are unwilling to admit the unsustainable nature of their business models and the abusive toll it takes on so many linguistic service providers.

So use these spreadsheets I made - one and all - if you like. But think about the processes with which you are involved and the rates you need to provide the kind of service you can put your name to. The kind where you won't have to say desperately and mendaciously "It wasn't me!" because economic and time pressures meant that you were unable to deliver your best work. That goes as much for respectable translation companies (there are some left) as well as for independent service professionals who want to commit to helping all their clientele receive what they need and deserve for the long run.

Jan 14, 2019

Specialist terminology taxonomies from Cologne Technical University

Click and thou shalt go there!

Early in the last decade when I lived near Düsseldorf and began translating full time, the nearby technical university in Cologne had an excellent terminology studies program run by Prof. Klaus-Dirk Schmitz, who also had a long history in Saarbrücken back in my exchange student days there. I had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman at various professional events for Passolo (before it was swallowed by SDL) or other occasions, and I remain impressed by the professional qualities of some of the colleagues he helped to educate. At some point he or one of his students pointed me to an interesting online collection of specialist terminologies created by students at the university as part of their degree work. While student work must be viewed carefully, on the whole I found these collections to be of better quality than quite a few put together by "professionals", and their structured taxonomies were also interesting to people like me who enjoy such things. And occasionally the terminologies were rather helpful for certain technical topics I translate.

But over the years I simply forgot about them for the most part, and when they did come to mind I assumed that the old MultiTerm engine used to handle the data on the site would no longer work. That latter assumption may be partly correct; I found the collection again, noted that the most recent addition to the term library was a bit over a decade ago and that the search functions don't seem to work with Chrome, though I am able to browse the structured taxonomies without difficulty.

Looking through the list of term collections, I saw one that would be particularly useful for a current personal effort: beekeeping. One of my projects for the year ahead is to add some hives to the garden to see if I can improve some of the vegetable, fruit and nut yields. A local Portuguese beekeeper and I have been trading poultry, and he kindly provided me with a copy of his thesis on apiculture and offered assistance to get me started. So I am reading up on the subject in several languages, thinking to put together a good terminology to make cross-referencing the concepts between English, German and Portuguese a little easier.

One thing I never tried to do before was to extract data from the FH Köln (Cologne Technical University) site into any sort of terminology management tool. I don't think they were ever intended to be used that way, and at the time most of the collections were put together, translation environment tools were much less widely used by professionals and university study programs than they are today. But after a little thought and experimentation, mining the pages proved to be quite simple.

Here's how I did it:
  1. Opened a collection of interest and expanded the folder tree for a particular language completely, then selected and copied all the text in that frame:

  2. Pasted the copied content as plain text (no formatting) into Microsoft Word. The numerical codes were followed directly by the text entries.
  3. Removed parentheses by searching and replacing with nothing.
  4. Inserted a tab between the number codes using search and replace with wildcards (regex of a sort):

  5. Switched to the other language in the term collection and repeated steps 1 through 4.
  6. Transferred the contents to Excel (various ways to do this).
  7. Imported the Excel file with the specialist terms into a term base in my translation environment tool of choice.

Jan 13, 2019

A second look at Wordfast Pro

The generally good impression made by Wordfast Anywhere in my recent tests inspired me to take a new look at the premium environment for freelance translators: Wordfast Pro 5. A lot has changed with Wordfast Pro since its early days, and much of what I found troublesome with early versions has been corrected. A new look has also been on my agenda for a while since I realized that two new formats were introduced (TXLF, an XLIFF format, and GLP, a zipped project package format for Wordfast), which can be handled by my usual translation environment but (currently) with a few extra steps required compared to the old TXML format.

The installation took about a minute and started off with a good impression from the warning about cloud drive synchronization:

I've seen a number of people come to grief with other tools when their projects, translation memories or other resources are stored in Dropbox or similar configurations so they can be shared by installations on different computers, and I appreciate Wordfast's attempt to warn people off from this dodgy practice. If you want to share resources, play it safe and stick them in Wordfast Anywhere.

At first, the program is in demo mode, which limits translation memories to 500 translation units (TUs) and does not allow access to remote resources such as Wordfast Anywhere. Fortunately, there is a fully functional 30-day trial available, and it took all of about two minutes to fill out the simple request form, receive the mail with the trial license key and activate it in Wordfast Pro 5.

I was really enthusiastic about the clean, uncluttered feel of the interface. There's a lot more functionality in SDL Trados Studio or memoQ, but all the myriad features of those environments can be intimidating to some, and even for experienced users navigation can be confusing at times to locate some obscure setting or feature. Not in Wordfast Pro 5: the features mostly aren't there, and what is there can be found without much ado. Given the limited scope of mastery and inclination to learn on the part of many hamsters running on the freelance translation wheel, this can be a definite advantage.

On the Help ribbon I saw a Feedback icon. I don't know why, but this inspired a weird enthusiasm in me, so I clicked it, and when the dialog appeared, I wrote a quick note to the development team to say what a great impression the new user interface was making before I had even started to do anything useful with it. I noticed that the feedback dialog also had options to include files and projects in case of a problem, which I also thought was really cool. Something like that in other tools would be very helpful to their users and probably encourage more suggestions and interaction.

It was really easy to navigate through the ribbon menus and explore the configuration options. I was pleased to see that different sets of keyboard shortcuts were available to make the ergonomics easier for users of some other tools.

But SDLX? Huh? That's kind of Jurassic. No memoQ shortcuts, but no problem. I can customize, right? Yes... but I soon discovered that I apparently had no way to save my customized shortcuts as "memoQ style" or whatever else I might want to call them. And then I noticed that I probably can't save the configuration to move it onto a second computer where the terms of the license agreement allow private individuals to install another copy. And, hmmmm, no option to print a cheat sheet I can refer to as I learn the keyboard shortcuts. memoQ users are kind of spoiled on both counts, I guess.

One thing I was very eager to try was the connection to my translation memories and glossaries in my Wordfast Anywhere account. That proved to be quite straightforward: it worked exactly as the clear instructions of the Wordfast Pro Help described the process.

So I was ready to try out some translation, maybe a little dictation with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I imported a little text file to get started:

WTF??? Now I know what the problem is here, but importing the same file to Wordfast Anywhere gives this result:

And in memoQ:

The import with the simple text filter of Wordfast Pro 5 (version 5.7) does not map the characters correctly. I had to change the source text file from ANSI to UTF-8: not a big deal for me, but a lot of translators I know will be over their heads right there.

The choice of import filters available is fairly good as one might expect from most professional translation environments these days, but two important things were missing for me. There seems to be no option to cascade filters, useful for example if you have a Microsoft Excel file containing HTML text to translate, and there is also no facility for configuring custom regex-based text filters or tagging text content which needs protection (such as placeholder text). This won't be an issue for a lot of translators, but for those who deal with challenging, often unexpected formatting issues in customers' files it could be a real pain in the neck.

On to dictation... Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) seemed to perform well. I had to turn off the DNS dictation box by unmarking thew checkbox in its dialog. Text was then transcribed well into the target field, and my spoken keyboard shortcut to confirm a segment and go on to the next one worked perfectly. Then I misspoke and used a spoken editing command to correct my error. Nothing happened. I tried several different spoken selection and editing commands that I use every day in memoQ. Nothing worked. Shit. What we have here is a failure of compatibility. The full potential of Dragon NaturallySpeaking cannot be used in Wordfast Pro 5.

I explored the settings further... quality assurance. That looked pretty good; the options were easy to understand and I could set them as I wanted to check my work. But the QA settings I need vary in many projects, and sometimes I want to do a QA check on just one aspect like tags or maybe terminology. Wordfast Pro 5 offered no facility to save a QA configuration or profile and load it as one might do in SDL Trados Studio or memoQ. This too would be a deal-breaker for me, alas. I depend on a full hand of memoQ quality assurance profiles for selective checking of important quality parameters in my jobs. Toggling settings back and forth in Wordfast would drive me nuts. Still, this wouldn't disturb many CAT tool users who can barely be bothered to run a spelling check on their work, much less run a check or missing or mismatched tags.

In contrast to my conclusions years ago, I can now say that Wordfast Pro is "ready for prime time". It has a nice, clean, easy to navigate interface, and the Help descriptions are clear, if somewhat idiosyncratic in their spelling at times. The options are limited compared to other professional tools I use which have comparable costs of use, but that may be perceived as an advantage by many... until they need what's not there, which is probably inevitable if they work at translation in a full-time freelance capacity. Over the years I have heard many good things about Wordfast support, so I expect that users will at least find help and advice when they need it.

The integration with the online Wordfast Anywhere resources is also simple and good. That's a major point in favor of this tool and should be very helpful for collaboration.

Overall, I think that users who invest in a Wordfast Pro license will get their money's worth. A three-year license costs €400, with three-year renewals costing half the list price after that. If you aren't willing to pay after the three years, your license will stop working (unlike SDL Trados or memoQ, where the current license models allow you to keep working with the software long after your claim to support and upgrades has lapsed - basically "forever" if nothing strange happens with newer operating systems).

The possibilities for collaboration between Wordfast users and those who work with other environments are much better than they used to be, and in just a short time I was able to see how I can prepare projects for a colleague using Wordfast Pro 5. (SDL Trados packages can apparently be handled, though that's not the case for memoQ project packages prepared with the PM Edition - I would have to make MQXLIFF files and export TM and term base resources.) And I hope that this situation will only get better, with more environments offering various kinds of Wordfast resource integration and Wordfast acquiring new capacities to work with other formats and resources.

Jan 12, 2019

Another look at Wordfast Anywhere

The Wordfast suite of applications has a long history, and through much of it I've had my eye on the tools but up to now never really found them up to the demands of my work. Wordfast Classic (back when it was the only Wordfast app) was brought to my attention by an enthusiastic manager of a German bank's translation team more than 15 years ago; he found that the "blacklist" feature for terminology (since adopted by others - for example in memoQ's "forbidden" terms) was extremely helpful to his translators in avoiding terms which might provoke branding controversies or which were simply inappropriate in a particular specialist context.

When Wordfast Pro came along, I was disappointed in the interoperability of its early versions and it being late to the party for supporting XLIFF formats (as were some other popular tools). That issue is solved in the meantime, so I suspect I might not be quite so unhappy were I to revisit the application.

But really, Wordfast doesn't come onto my radar very often, and when it does, it's not so much the application suite itself as it is the Wordfast creator - Yves Champollion, who follows in a way the family tradition of the famous French Egyptologist, Jean-François Champollion, translator of the Rosetta Stone, and who has earned his own fair share of praise for his many years of support for individual translators and their professional organizations. It would not surprise me if much of the loyalty I find among users of Wordfast is inspired by the personal qualities of Yves as much as by any technical features of his tools.

The least among these tools was, in my consideration, the web-based Wordfast Anywhere (WFA). I looked at it briefly in the early days and was unimpressed: too limited, I thought. And the idea of translating in a browser seemed dubious to me, and it remains so in many scenarios that are relevant to my work. WFA was a bit ahead of its time, before the scamming Gold Rush that targeted corporate clients for web-based solutions designed to wrest data and control away from translators. WFA wasn't welcome in that party: its focus on empowering individual translators is anathema to most of the web CAT solutions ones sees today.

My interest in Wordfast generally was revived recently when I saw that memoQ has integration plug-ins for Wordfast term bases and translation memories on servers. This inspired the thought that perhaps Wordfast Anywhere might function as a collaboration server here, sort of like some had hoped for the Language Terminal resources, but one that actually works perhaps. Alas no, or not yet at least; the memoQ plug-in cannot "see" the WFA server and an individual account. Oh, but if it could....

Collaboration and interoperability between translation environments have been topics of great interest for me since I began to use specialist tools for organizing translation resources some 19 years ago. And on those occasions when I want to share resources with someone who does not have a professional suite of desktop translation resources, I'm always a little uncomfortable with my default recommendations, because they are just a little too nerdy to work well with everyone. So I wondered... how well might WFA work with resources I prepare in SDL Trados Studio or memoQ and pass on to a colleague unequipped with those tools or other desktop solutions. I thought I remembered limits that would restrict such an effort, but either my memory is wrong or these limits changed.

WFA can accept files to translate which are up to 20 MB in size. I receive files that are sometimes larger than this, but not routinely, so this is not much of a restriction. But then I thought the limit on translation memory size would be the stumbling block, and indeed, when I tried to upload a 390 MB TM with about 330,000 translation units, I got an error message telling me that 300 MB (or rather 300000000 with no indication of units!) was the limit. Looking in the online documentation I found that 100,000 TUs is the limit for an individual translation memory in WFA. But you can attach multiple TMs and term bases (which can be much larger as I saw from the 800,000+ entry IATE termbase supplied by the environment). And most TMs that I see for mid-size companies are well under that size limit.

So I spent some time kicking the virtual tires again. Uploaded some damned big EU directives in various formats, including bilingual alignments in an XLIFF. No problem. Loaded a big memoQ XLIFF file: the *.mqxliff extension wasn't recognized, but I fixed that the usual way by changing it to *.xlf and it worked well, roundtripping perfectly back to memoQ and confirming that interoperability would work well enough for collaboration.

Indeed, the range of original file formats handled by this free online translation environment is impressive.

As I browsed through the options and customizing features of the WFA environment, my respect for its capabilities increased further. The thought occurred to me at one point that this might even be suited as an environment for a small company with limited translation needs to manage its language resources and make them available for in-house or external translators. With the several exchange formats available, translators and reviewers could easily perform their work with other translation environment tools or even word processors, and the results could be merged with the master records in the WFA account. This is probably the least expensive, secure way for a company to take its first steps toward central management of its translations and terminology resources. No big server investments needed, and later all resources can be migrated easily to more sophisticated environments, such as a memoQ Server, if necessary.

Some years ago, I opposed the use of Wordfast Anywhere in a local university program, arguing instead that more established professional tools like SDL Trados Studio and/or memoQ should be used instead, especially as the cost of doing so is negligible in teaching curricula. I take that back now. And my impression is that WFA is better suited to a teaching program than other, perhaps slicker web-based tools, because of the underlying philosophy of its design, which leaves translators and their partners in control of the data, not some third-party provider inclined to carry out dubious data mining and use the results to sell more dodgy commercial solutions.

Wordfast users also know that their desktop software can access translation memories and term bases on a WFA account as remote resources. My last look at Wordfast Pro showed me that the tool had come a long, long way since I last dealt with it to clean up some messes a French translator inflicted on an agency client of mine. It's been on my list to look at further for some time; I know it will likely not meet my criteria for the broad range of translation, quality assurance and consulting tasks I do, but it does do a good job of covering the real, practical needs of many colleagues, and it is important to me to understand other translation environments to facilitate collaboration with people who use them.

And for these cases of working together with a mix of environments, it seems to me that Wordfast Anywhere can be a productive bridge to bring partners together. To create a free account and start testing Wordfast Anywhere, click here.

Jan 11, 2019

Do you know Anki?

It began with a short DM last night, which I misunderstood at first:

Oh? Gábor must have read my mind. Just recently someone introduced me to Fotografia de Aves em Portugal, a public Facebook group for bird photography in Portugal, and I was thinking about making some sort of flashcard set to learn the bird names in Portuguese and English and maybe to do the same for all the mushrooms that I encounter at the quinta and out in the fields hunting. In fact, when I looked up the description of the desktop computer program Anki and its iOS mobile app companion, I realized that this is really what I have hoped to find for quite a long time for various learning tasks.

The computer app developed by Damien Elmes and its online server and synchronization site AnkiWeb are free; the charge for the iOS mobile app helps to support the development of all platforms. There is also a free compatible Android app by a different author. I like the idea of being able to coordinate my "learning decks" between devices and access them from anywhere. And a quick look at the import features tells me that it's not hard to send the content of some of my personal study term bases in memoQ to this application.

I assume this is an app he came across in his quest to learn Chinese; in fact, he did say that it's a tool that helps give one a fighting chance to learn all the myriad characters needed for basic literacy. And further research on my part showed that this is a popular tool for review in medical school and many other areas.

I downloaded and installed the app; the initial view was a little puzzling:

But within a few minutes I got my bearings and downloaded a few of the many "shared decks" online to familiarize myself with how the app works:

Pretty simple, really. Thank you, Gábor!

Jan 10, 2019

Word of the day: verjuice!

It all started with an argument about Dijon mustard. I hate Portuguese mustards which, for the most part, seem rather nasty and chemical, or at least flavorless. My go-to commercial mustard since college has been Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, with its nice sharp kick that I always thought came from horseradish. So when the doutora got her latest order of spices that included two kinds of mustard seed and spoke of making our own mustard, I said please don't forget to add some horseradish.

She couldn't see why I would want to ruin good mustard that way and informed me that my favorite mustard in fact contained no horseradish at all. With triumphant glee, my gouty fingers danced over they keyboard, asking Google Why is Grey Poupon mustard spicy? It seems there are in fact versions of that mustard with horseradish, but I've probably never bought them. In fact, the kick in Dijon mustard seems to come from the revolutionary introduction of verjuice in mustard-making in 1752 by Jean Naigeon.

Verjuice? Is that some kind of a typo? When I conceded the culinary argument and said that she was right, verjuice is used, the doutora replied what's that? She knows more about mustard than I do and thought that it simply had vinegar, which in fact it usually does. Verjus in Portuguese, or sumo verde (green juice). Vertjus in Middle French. Husroum (حصرم) in Arabic. Verjus in German too apparently. This seems to be one of those key culinary secrets I've been missing out on all my life.

Since my first foray into practical translation at age 14, I have found culinary translation and the associated terminology fascinating, not least because they often give me interesting excuses for hours of experimentation in the kitchen with interesting and often tasty results. And verjuice seems to be one such promising excuse.

There is a rich tradition, apparently of cooking and formulating with the juice of unripe grapes, unripe oranges, crab apples and other juices which are collectively called verjuice, and Middle Eastern cuisine and Middle Ages European cuisine made much use of it. It has largely fallen into disuse in modern times, though the Australians have reversed that somewhat. So now I'll have to make some of this stuff and see where that leads me.

A comment in the German Wikipedia entry - Verjus ist deutlich milder als Essig - makes me think maybe I was right about that horseradish after all, but who cares when there are new frontiers to explore in culinary translation?

Jan 9, 2019

Translating in the trenches....

The other day I was chatting with a colleague about snarky communications with clients and vendors, and she reminded me of a delightful gem of a blog which, though it only had a run of five months, provided a lot of smiles and laughs to fellow translators, most especially those involved in some way with German translation. This was in the days before all the foolishness of "branding" and style over substance.

For a good time, check out

Jan 8, 2019

Translating "smarter"

In response to my recent piece on the use of Fluency to translate Microsoft Publisher files, I received the following comments from the former's technical support:
It appears that you flat out ignored (or disabled) the warning message that pops up every time you try to open a Publisher file (attached).
There is no problem with Fluency with regards to Publisher. The issue lies in the fact that the Publisher interop is unstable. This (and the fact that professionals don’t use Publisher) are the reasons that CAT tools don’t support Publisher.
Are you hoping to ridicule us to encourage us to fix Publisher support? We’d just as soon remove support for it altogether, but we do have a few users who are grateful for it and understand that they might have to restart their computer a few times or kill the Publisher process that is frozen in the background. Another option that works, sometimes, is to try and save multiple times, which you discovered, but incorrectly attributed to resizing the view of the text (which doesn’t affect the output).
So we let you know before you start that Publisher is unstable and you’ve just spent a bunch of time documenting how it is unstable. To what end?
As for our XLIFF files, yeah they aren’t great, but extremely rarely is someone exporting something from Fluency to another CAT tool.
Richard Tregaskis
Western Standard Support
Ph: 801-224-7404
I'm not sure about the part that "professionals don't use Publisher". Certainly graphics professionals don't; when I earned my bread that way I usually used software like PageMaker, Quark Xpress or FrameMaker, nowadays Adobe InDesign seems to be the tool of choice. But I wouldn't think of some engineer in a technical department who uses Microsoft Publisher to write a manual as being unprofessional. Just foolish maybe, but no more so than the ones who use CorelDraw or even MS PowerPoint (!!!) in the same crazy way. People make the choices they do in the circumstances they work in, and professionals try to meet them at least halfway where possible to accomplish the necessary objectives. Fluency does that in the case of Microsoft Publisher, but one would do a service to the customer to suggest that another publishing platform might suit their needs better in the same way that responsible translation consultants often suggest that PDF is perhaps not the ideal format to provide for translation, and that the original format (if it isn't a Microsoft Publisher file or paper) might work better for everyone.

What concerns me about the response of Fluency's technical support, however, is the apparent lack of concern for the compatibility of their XLIFF files. If these cannot be exchanged readily with other platforms, one must ask what actual purpose they serve. Indeed, what would that be? And, perhaps, whether Fluency is really to be taken seriously as a professional platform for translation work.

Some years ago in a period where it looked a bit dark for my platform of choice, I thought that Fluency showed promise as a working platform, and I made a serious effort to investigate its suitability for my routine work as a translator of legal and scientific material. I was charmed by the generally functional approach to transcription, but the translation side of things was less encouraging, riddled with bugs at nearly every stage. After a few days I ran screaming back to more stable, well supported work platforms. The handling of SDLPPX (SDL Trados Studio package files) in particular was the sort of disaster one doesn't easily forget; even with products whose developers care about functionality and compatibility there are issues time and again as the SDL Trados platform evolves. I can only imagine what would happen with Fluency Now if I tried out one of those test files that a friend at SDL likes to play tricks on me with.

XLIFF is serious business. These days it is often the basis not only of interoperable processes with CAT tools but for all manner of bilingual exchange processes. And thus, until the technical support and/or development department of a tool takes this format seriously and makes a reasonable effort to ensure at least basic interoperability, that tool cannot be taken seriously for professional work.

That should be a question mark, not a period :-) 

Jan 7, 2019

"Unprofessional translation" and CAT tools

Those who came to this post expecting more ammunition for the war against the deprofessionalization of translation by the exploitative practices of the bulk market bog inhabited by the worst of (dis)service companies like Lionbridge, TransPerfect, thebigword and others will be disappointed. Nor will they find anything useful to combat the many technophobic misunderstandings and actual abuses of professional tools by sometimes less than bilingual wannabes whom some hope to keep away from translation by building some sort of virtual wall.

Tools are as useful as what we do with them. Hammers are good to drive nails or posts, depending on their design, weight and other factors, or they can be used to commit grisly murder, as one reads occasionally in the papers. But they can also make nice doorstops or play a part in exercise and sports. Computer-aided translation (CAT) tools or (as they are better known) translation environment tools (TEnTs) are versatile and often useful to solve problems and processes for which they were not originally conceived. The E-Learning, Translation and Ideas Bakery website and blog (included for years now in the blog roll here on the left of the page) by a Romanian colleague who teaches at university in the UK shares a number of concepts that can be described thus, and the Unprofessional Translation blog (also in the list here) which I also follow shares many stories of situations where the usual working tools of my present profession can be applied well to situations beyond the usual commercial or literary borders that most of us set for our work.

I continue to be excited by the possibilities of using TEnTs as an aid in language learning. The fact that these are so seldom used in that way is, for me, evidence of great opportunities missed by teachers and students around the world and perhaps also by the providers of commercial tools, though for the broad market of teachers and learners everywhere I would encourage the use of several excellent free and open source tools like OmegaT and the Heartsome Suite, even the web-based tool of that axis of evil, the Google Translator Toolkit.

I have documented some of my own efforts to use my main professional tool, memoQ, to support my own progress of learning Portuguese since I moved to Portugal six years ago. This was essential for getting a grip on the terminology and expressions needed to pass my weapons license exam in Portuguese when I could barely speak well enough to order breakfast, and I continue to use it as a means to track vocabulary and expressions I encounter in the newspaper, magazines and public notices such as the warning about deadly Asian wasps here (in the graphic at the top of this post). many years ago when learning German, Russian and Sumerian I kept a thick deck of flashcards for reference and practice, and at various times I have used online sites like Duolingo, Livemocha or Memrise to get farther with Portuguese or Spanish vocabulary, but none of these have proven as effective for focused study of a written language than the tools I have on my desktop computer, which enable me to compile corpora and glossaries which are adapted best to my personal situation and needs for language acquisition in a new country and culture.

One welcome difference of using TEnTs for personal projects as opposed to professional work is that one can focus on the parts most needed and need not worry about completing an "assignment". Thus I will maintain corpora with only partial translations or perhaps only simple comments to explain grammatical aspects of particularly challenging sentences. And if there is some useful external quiz engine I want to use for virtual flashcards (or I want to make printed cardstock ones or a cheat sheet to help with discussions at the tax office or sporting goods store) that is easy enough to do with the many data exchange options in memoQ, SDL Trados Studio, OmegaT or whatever.

In the same way that understanding the use of word processing software does not make you a writer, students of language who use translation environment tools are unlikely to become viable translators en masse, even if they may have that as an objective for some reason. As a professional translator, I see the attempts of bulk market providers to engage even competent bilinguals as translators and note with depressing frequency that a fool with a tool remains a fool and that language mastery will go nowhere professionally without mastery of concepts and subject matter details as well. But most people can, I think, get on farther and faster with the many challenges posed by a new language in areas of interest and necessity with the "unprofessional" aid of professional translation tools.