Fidelity In Translation

Torture of Etienne Dolet

Reblogged from Dragon Translate blog, with permission from the author (incl. the images)

Faithfulness or fidelity has been a measure by which a translator’s work can be judged. However, fidelity has not remained constant throughout time and across space and at different stages of history the interpretation of fidelity has varied quite broadly. This essay aims to discuss this meandering in the term fidelity and will examine various theorists who can provide examples of fidelity in action.

Fidelity defines exactly how precisely a translated document conforms with its source. It can allude to how a document corresponds with its source in a variety of ways, from being ‘faithful to the message’, to being ‘faithful to the author’. Also one must factor in the register, the languages and grammar, the cultures and the form. Fidelity theory and its discussion has dominated the history of translation studies. In the early days, adherence to the source text in a verbatim way was seen as the best fidelity. However, as time has progressed, society has learned to define fidelity quite differently.

Origins of translators in history can be difficult to define. One of the key protagonists we have is Cicero, the early Roman orator. The Romans perceived themselves as a continuation of their Greek models. Translation was primarily a form of literary apprenticeship and literature was read in parallel Greek and Latin texts. Cicero outlines his approached to translation in his work De optimo genere oratorum (46 BCE), Cicero writes: ‘And I did not translate them as an interpreter, but as an orator, keeping the same ideas and forms, or as one might say, the ‘figures’ of thought, but in language which conforms to our usage. And in so doing, I did not hold it necessary to render word for word, but I preserved the general style and force of the language.’(Cicero 46 BCE). Thus Cicero was rebelling against the traditions of ‘word-for-word’ translation.

Another innovative translator from Cicero’s time was the poet, Horace (65 BC-8 BC), who again favored a ‘sense-for-sense’ view to translation. Horace was interested in promoting creative writing, and saw in his Ars Poetica how the free translation of Greek texts aided poetic composition:

‘It is difficult to treat a common matter in a way that is particular to you; and you would do better to turn a song of Troy into dramatic acts than to bring forth for the first time something unknown and unsung. Public material will be private property if you do not linger over the common and open way, and if you do not render word for word like a faithful translator [interpres] (Trans in Copeland 1991:29)

The ideas of Cicero and Horace have remained at the constant forefront of translator’s minds, even into the twentieth century:

‘During the 1920s, the philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff urged translators of classical literature to “spurn the letter and follow the spirit” so as “to let the ancient poet speak to us clearly and in a manner as immediately intelligible as he did in his own time”.(Venuti 2012:73)

The ideas of Cicero and indeed Horace, in using ‘sense-for-sense’ fidelity, were taken up by the patron saint of translator’s, St Jerome (347-420 CE). The Edict of Milan in 315 was where the Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian religion for the Roman Empire and St. Jerome was responsible for the first official translations of the Bible into Latin, although this translation was never officially recognized by the Catholic church until 1546. Jerome quoted Cicero in a prominent letter he wrote to his friend, senator Pammachius in 395 CE: ‘Now I not only admit but freely announce that in translating from the Greek – except of course in the case of the Holy Scripture, where even the syntax contains a mystery – I render not word-for-word, but sense-for-sense.’ (St Jerome 395 CE)

Fidelity is a subject for which some paid with their lives, in particular when the translator was dealing with religious matters. It is that serious an issue and here are examples of some of translation’s martyrs.

Etienne Dolet (1509-1546) was a controversial figure in translation that fell foul to his age’s definitions of fidelity in translation. Dolet was indeed burnt at the stake after being condemned by the Sorbonne for his translation work whereby he denied the existence of the afterlife. He had added the phrase ‘rien du tout’ in an explanation of the afterlife in his translation work on one of Plato’s dialogues. This denial of afterlife contravened Church doctrine and was seen as blasphemous and heretical and so Dolet became one of translation’s first martyrs.

William Tyndale (1494–1536) was another translator who paid the ultimate price of execution after failing to submit to his era’s definitions of Fidelity. Tyndale’s heresy was to translate the Bible into English into an age where the use of the vernacular was frowned upon. The Tyndale Bible, in a later age where the parameters of fidelity had changed and there had been a paradigm shift, became the basis of the most famous Bible translation, the King James version.

Perhaps to have paid the ultimate price was harsh but it these were extreme cases in an age where the work of translators was so critical. The European Renaissance was flowered by the work of translators and it was part of the period whereby the work of the church clashed with the needs of the growingly enlightened populations.

‘Language and translation became the sites of a huge power struggle.’ (Munday 2012:37)

Moving on from the early translators and the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until quite late that the official views on fidelity moved away from word-for-word translation.

‘So, the concept of fidelity (or at least the translator who was fidus interpres, i.e. the ‘faithful interpreter’) had initially been dismissed as literal, word-for-word translation by Horace. Indeed, it was not until the end of the seventeenth century that fidelity had come to be generally identified with faithfulness to the meaning rather than the words of the author.’ (Munday, 2012:40)

John Dryden (1631-1700), the Poet Laureate, developed translation theories rooted in the free translation that flourished in the 17thcentury. His ideas and triadic model of translation fuelled the thinking of many subsequent translators, deep into the future. He developed three ideas, that of MetaphraseParaphrase and Imitation as providing the core elements of a translator’s task.

Dryden defines his views on fidelity:

‘I thought fit to steer betwixt the two extremes of paraphrase and literal translation; to keep as near my author as I could, without losing all his graces, the most eminent of which are the beauty of his words.’ Dryden (1697/1992:174 in Munday 2012:42)

In the early nineteenth century, German philosopher and translator Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), brought together a change in the ideology of fidelity. His views on domesticating and foreignization of texts introduced the concept of reader and writer and how the translator has a role of moving either towards each other.

For Schleiermacher, “the genuine translator is a writer ‘who wants to bring those two completely separated persons, his author and his reader, truly together, and who would like to bring the latter to an understanding and enjoyment of the former as correct and complete as possible without inviting him to leave the sphere of his mother tongue.’ (Lefevere 1977:74 in Venuti 2008:84)

Schleiermacher identified two possibilities for a translator: either move the source author text towards the reader, or move the reader towards the text. These were the outlines of his foreignization and domesticating strategies. His aims were produced by a desire to embellish the rapidly industrializing German economy into line with other superpowers with an embellishment of their mother tongue, in line with Nationalization movements. He wanted the German language to be enriched with a new vigor of translated ideas and words, to strengthen the German spirit and to make Germany a strong nation. A domesticated translation will favor the target tongue and culture and a foreignized translation will enrich and embellish vocabulary as it introduces alien ideas into the target language. Schleiermacher favored foreignization for this reason as he wanted the German language to be stronger and more akin to the industrialized economy that was developing during the period in his homeland. Fidelity for Schleiermacher became geographical. It depended on place and we are removed from the ideas of word-for-word and sense-for-sense and look to fidelity being a matter of space or place.

Schleiermacher has gone on to influence many modern translators and his foreignization and domestication theories have provided the roots of modern luminary Lawrence Venuti, whose own work has its own ideas on fidelity. Venuti looks at the ‘Invisibilty of Translators’and believes that transparency for a translator when he rewrites a text is essential for fidelity:

‘A translated text, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, is judged acceptable by most publishers, reviewers and readers when it reads fluently, when the absence of any linguistic or stylistic peculiarities makes it seem transparent, giving the appearance that it reflects the foreign writer’s personality or intention or the essential meaning of the foreign text – the appearance in other words, that the translation is not in fact a translation, but the “original”.’ (Venuti 2008:1)

Thus, for Venuti, a translator must take the background and disappear. It is a concept which builds on moving the writer and reader together and apart and is an extension of more classical ideas of sense-for-sense and word-for-word theories. Not all modern day thinkers on translation share Venuti’s ideas on fidelity. Others can be more dark and critical of the whole translation experience.

After Babel is the seminal work from the 1970s by George Steiner. Steiner’s views on ‘Hermeneutic Motion’ are that translators face an impossible task. He values translators to a point but argues that translation is a harmful activity.

‘Fidelity is not literalism or any technical device for rendering ‘spirit’. The whole formulation, as we have found it over and over again in discussions of translation, is hopelessly vague. The translator, the exegetist, the reader is faithful to his text, makes his response responsible, only when he endeavors to restore the balance of forces, of integral presence, which his appropriate comprehension has disrupted. Fidelity is ethical, but also, in the full sense, economic.’ (Steiner 1998:318)

Thus for Steiner, he rejects ideas put forth by Cicero et al regarding sense-for-sense and also moves against Schleiermacher and Venuti. He recognizes fidelity as a concept but feels that the translator has a disruptive presence. It is in stark contrast to Venuti’s ideas on the translator being invisible.

It has been noted through the course of this essay how fidelity has changed over time and how the ideas of translators have not remained constant. Have these ideas always progressed? Can we ever move directly away from fidelity relating to ‘word-for-word’ renderings? A translator has a duty to remain faithful although innovation within any semantic field can be productive. It is the soul of a creative industry such as translation to think sometimes outside of the box, and such valuable paradigm shifts that progress education and the arts, that develop our whole culture, can only be possible when someone rises to stand out above the crowd, to put their neck on the line, and question the status quo. Not everyone succeeds when they do this, perhaps, but our histories are full of such philosophical giraffes and we remember the likes of Cicero, Horace, Schleiermacher, Dryden, Dolet, Tyndale, Venuti and Steiner, because they have progressed their fields by developing new ideas and pointing the work of translators in different, new directions. Yes, fidelity is an essential criterion for any translator, but it would be interesting to directly compare how much other terms in translation such as Loyalty, Equivalence and Function can also affect the work of translators. Perhaps that is a subject for future work.

Copeland, R. 1991 Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Hubbell, H. 1969 M., trans. “De Optimo Genere Oratorum.” Cicero: De Inventione, De Optimo Genere Oratorum, Topica. London: William Heinemann Ltd.
Lefevere, A. 1977 Translating Lierature: The German Tradition from Luther to Rosenzweig, Assen, Van Gorcum
Munday, Jeremy. 2012 Introducing Translation Studies. Oxon: Routledge.
Steiner, G 1998 After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation Oxford: OUP
Venuti, Lawrence. 2008 The Translator’s Invisibility Oxon:Routledge
Venuti, Lawrence 2012 The Translation Studies Reader Oxon:Routledge

Certification Exam Changes

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle, with permission

There are major changes ahead for ATA’s certification exam in 2017.

Eligibility Requirements: Education and experience requirements needed to take the exam will be discontinued in January 2017. Why? Because they failed to predict the chances of an individual passing the exam. And that was the whole point—to ensure that exam candidates were not taking the exam before they were ready.

Note: An exam candidate still needs to be an ATA member in order to take the exam.

Exam Passages: All three exam passages will be general text in 2017. Why? Because people misunderstood labeling texts as medical, technical, or scientific text and legal, commercial, or financial. The intent of the exam has always been to certify translation competence as a whole, not competence based on a specialty.

Practice Tests: Practice tests will become available for download in the near future. Why? Because it’s crucial for exam candidates to know what they are walking into—not what they think, but what they know. The practice test is the best way to do that. Making it easier to take the practice test may encourage more people to do it.

Candidate Preparation Workshops: The Certification Committee is working to increase the availability of these workshops, as both live sessions and webinars. Why? Because they are another way for candidates to understand the exam and take a good look at whether they are ready for it.

Computerized Exam Option: More testing sites will offer computerized exam sittings next year. Why? Because now that the problem with exam security has been resolved, it makes sense to give exam candidates more of the tools they use in their translation work.

For more information on ATA’s Certification Program, please click here.

Image source: Pixabay


Transitioning from Student to Freelance Translator

Reblogged from the SDL Trados blog, incl. the image, with permission from the author

In November this year at ATA’s 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco, Meghan McCallum and Sarah Puchner, both French to English translators, co-presented a session on “Transitioning from Student to Translator: Strategies for Success.” After the conference we reached out to Meghan to discuss this topic with her.

A student has just finished their translation degree. What is the first piece of advice you would give them?

I would tell them it’s never too early to start preparing for their freelance career! Even if you’re not planning on freelancing right away, there are many things you can work on in the meantime to prepare. For example, you can build a professional online presence through Twitter and LinkedIn, create a personal website, and attend educational and networking events such as webinars and conferences. You can also use this time to research potential clients and learn what kinds of requirements they have for freelancers in terms of software, education, experience, testing, etc.

What are the main challenges for a student transitioning into freelance translation?

A hot topic that Sarah and I addressed in our session was the vicious circle of “no work without experience and no experience without work.” I think a lot of new freelancers are concerned with experience requirements; if every agency you want to work with is requesting two years of prior experience, how are you supposed to get those years under your belt?

While there is no single “right answer” to this question, Sarah and I provided a few ideas to help these freelancers get over the hurdle. First, there are some agencies that do not require a certain number of years of experience. Interested translators are vetted based on their work on the agency’s translation tests, regardless of how many years they have under their belt. This is a great way for a new but good translator to get their foot in the door.

Another route is to consider the translator’s experience with translation tasks in graduate school, internships, and volunteer work. Even if these weren’t full-time freelancing gigs, many potential agency clients will consider this work as valid towards the experience requirement.

Should a student looking to become a freelancer join associations such as ATA and purchase membership?

I highly recommend joining the ATA and attending the ATA conference as a student—there’s a great discounted rate to encourage students to attend. Of course, hopefully you’ll renew your membership even after you’re no longer a student, too! The ATA conference is a valuable educational and networking opportunity, and it’s a lot of fun as well. Since the majority of our work is online, the ATA conference is also a rare occasion to meet colleagues (and potential clients!) in person.

As for a membership, I certainly recommend starting with a free account and setting up an online profile for potential clients to find you. From there, you can explore the features and decide if a paid membership would be right for you. In any case, I highly recommend taking advantage of any online profile you can have out there—the easier it is for potential clients to find you online, the better!

How important is creating your own website and the role of social media for a freelance newbie?

Again, I strongly believe that freelancers should take advantage of any free online platforms they can. In our ATA session, Sarah and I focused on Twitter in particular. Twitter is an easy way to have “water cooler” talk with colleagues, keep up with the latest industry news, and practice writing skills. After all, narrowing your messages down to 140 characters is a sort of writing exercise. Our bottom line was to keep tweets professional (use a separate account for personal use, if you like); keep in mind that potential clients and colleagues can see everything you put out there!

As for a website, some new freelancers might find the task a bit daunting, and in that case I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily required right away. I do think it is something you should have on your radar for the long term, though. It’s another great way for colleagues and potential clients to find you, and it really solidifies your professional online presence.

Before getting started on a website, decide whether or not you’re comfortable building it yourself. I built my own website during nights and weekends when I was still working at an agency, and when I launched my freelance business it was actually really exciting to have the website ready to go right away.

Networking is more important than ever for a translator. What advice would you give to a student who might find it daunting?

If you’re feeling particularly shy about putting yourself out there, I recommend starting small; see if there are any local translator meetup groups or events in your area. The ATA also has many local chapters covering various regions of the US, and these chapters host networking events and conferences as well. This is a great way to meet colleagues without feeling overwhelmed by a huge number of attendees or multi-day travel.

Of course, I can’t stress online networking enough! Meeting colleagues at a conference is actually a lot easier if you’ve had some online contact ahead of time. This is where Twitter can come in handy yet again. Sarah and I encourage following translators with the same language pair and/or similar fields of expertise. When you run into each other at the conference, you’ll be able to easily transition from an online conversation to a face-to-face one.

In your opinion, how important is it for a student moving into freelance translation to learn about computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools?

It really pays to put in the time to learn all necessary technology, from social media to e-mail to CAT tools. These days more and more students are learning and practicing CAT tools in translation programs, which I think is great. Technology should be included in all translation programs; it’s a great way to give the students a feel of what skills they need to succeed beyond translation and writing.

CAT tools aren’t cheap, but they are necessary. Before buying, translators should test out various tools to compare them. Most tools offer free trial periods or demo versions that allow translators to try before they buy. And translators can ask their potential agency clients which tools they use; most agencies do have a preferred tool and require their translators to work with it.

The Greatest Challenge Facing Translators

Reblogged from Academic Language Experts blog, with permission from the author

A friend, wishing to polish his translation skills, recently asked me the following question: “if you had to give one tip to a new translator, what would it be?” Without hesitation I answered “avoid literalisms.” As editor of Academic Language Experts this is the most frequent issue I encounter when reviewing translations: texts which, while comprehensible, are markedly literal.

Let me explain. When I say “literalisms” I do not mean a text that is translated word-for-word. I am actually referring to a more subtle problem: a translation which is technically “correct”—definitely not “Google translate”—but still closely emulates the form, order, and linguistic idiosyncrasies of its source.

There are of course cases when a literal translation may be preferable (legal and medical texts for example) and this is certainly an issue translators and clients should discuss explicitly before a project begins. But generally speaking, clients want their texts translated so their message or research can effectively reach audiences who are only familiar with the target language.  A text fails at this task when it reveals its foreign origins, gives the impression of an imperfect rendering, and challenges readers to clamber over awkward, disjointed formulations.

There is a reason this problem is so widespread. Avoiding literalisms is THE most difficult part of being a translator. It requires employing many different skills simultaneously: reading comprehension, writing proficiency, language knowledge and more. It requires a translator to extract the meaning from the source language, while at the same time escaping its stylistic-linguistic influence. It is the writer’s equivalent of trying to whistle a song while another one plays in the background. The ability to juggle these skills is truly a rare talent.

The first step to cultivating this talent is to develop an explicit awareness of one’s natural tendency to translate literally. Once a translator has identified these pitfalls, they can consciously adopt strategies to overcome them. With practice this can become second-nature, and markedly improve the quality and readability of one’s translations.

This subject requires a more thorough treatment, but for now I will provide a few examples of strategies I personally have adopted to improve my translations. While my examples will be from my area of expertise—Hebrew to English translation—the principles behind them are equally applicable to all language pairs.

1) Liberally switch up verbs, nouns, adjectives, and even different verb forms (passive and active and different tenses).

Whether a noun, verb, or adjective is most appropriate is often language-specific. For example the phrase: “She had fear of the upcoming battle” is technically correct but is probably not how a native speaker would write it. Consider, turning the noun into an adjective  such as: “she was afraid of the upcoming battle.”

To give some examples from Hebrew to English translation: consider translating zeh lo me’anyen oti not as “this does not interest me” (verb) but as “I do not find it interesting” (adjective). Similarly, consider translating higia lidei maskananot as “he reached a conclusion” but as “he concluded.”

The same goes for positive and negative formulations. If the source reads “not complicated” consider: “simple

Use this strategy to pick words and phrases which sound their best in the target language, while still preserving the meaning of the source text.

2) The unit of translation need not be the sentence.

Sometimes faithfully maintaining the sentence boundaries as dictated by the source will result in unmanageably long and convoluted formulations (a common issue when translating from terse Hebrew to wordy English). Translators should consider splitting up sentences, rearranging their order, or even sprinkling in some semi-colons, em-dashes, and parentheses. Your goal is to convey the text’s meaning; convoluted run-on sentences fail to do this.

3) Play around with syntax.

The order of words in a source text is not always a function of meaning. Often it reflects the idiosyncratic style of a certain language. Translators should liberally move clauses around, moving a verb phrase from the beginning of a sentence to its end or moving the subject of the sentence from the end to the beginning. An almost ubiquitous example in Hebrew to English translation is rendering the Hebrew particle shel as in hahatul shel yehudah. Literally this reads “the cat of Judah” but English, unlike Hebrew, allows a much more elegant formulation: “Judah’s cat.” It is far more important for words to be in an order that sounds natural and clear to the intended reader than to accurately emulate the syntax of the source.

4) Avoid copying idiomatic language.

While I think it goes without saying not to render literally incomprehensible idioms, even less egregious examples can also make a text sound awkward.  Here are two examples from Hebrew:

In Hebrew, the expression be’eynay is a perfectly acceptable way of saying “in my opinion.” But rendering this literally, “in my eyes,” sounds awkward and archaic.

Ner leragli. While “A candle to my feet” clearly sounds like a translation, even a more oblique translation such as “lighting my path” still may be better rendered as “my inspiration.”

5) Think beyond dictionary definitions and try to capture a word’s connotation and not just its meaning.

Dictionaries are very good at helping you understand a language. However, they are not always the perfect tools for translation. For example, the Hebrew pulmus and hitpalmes are translated as “polemic” and “polemicize” respectively. While these translations are accurate, in English they carry a scholastic, medieval connotation which may be inappropriate depending on the context. Think around the concept of pulmus and consider words such as “controversy,” “attack,” or “dispute.” Translators may even consider keeping their own private dictionaries of such oblique definitions to assist them in future translations.

6) Read it over and over again.

This is important for all writing but I believe it is particularly important for translation. It is often hard to appreciate how “foreign” one’s translation sounds while immersed in translating it. Therefore it is important to read a text more than once, even the next day if possible, in order to properly evaluate its problems, as an impartial observer removed from the act of translation.

Image source: Pixabay

Tablets for Interpreters: The Device You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Reblogged from The ATA Chronicle with permission by the authors (incl. the images)

Just as increases in laptop storage and processing capacity led to the replacement of desktop computers, advances in tablet technology make it possible for users to streamline even more.

The latest tablets offer a host of streamlined tools for interpreters, even in high-stakes settings like court and conference interpreting. How can interpreters take advantage of these tools for business tasks, assignment preparation, and consecutive and simultaneous settings?

Come along with us for a tour of some of the tools we recommend. After reading this you’ll have a better idea how to incorporate tablet technology into your workflow.

Glossary Management

A glossary is an important part of any interpreter’s toolbox. Building a list of useful and important terms during the preparation phase can really help you get up to speed on the topic at hand. And once you have a glossary for that topic or, say, a specific conference or client, it’s much easier to build it up over time. Obviously, electronic glossaries are much easier to maintain and expand than paper ones. However, this doesn’t preclude you from printing your electronic glossary for an assignment, if you so wish. (But you might as well just use your tablet.)

While we won’t go into the details of what you should put in a glossary, we can show the different approaches that exist in terms of glossary management software. The most basic approach would be creating a table within a Word document, but we don’t recommend this as it’s simply too rigid to work with over time. Similar criticism applies to spreadsheets (i.e., Excel files), which seem popular among interpreters. However, they are not very flexible, and there is the potential risk of getting your terms mixed up when something goes wrong during sorting. If you still prefer spreadsheets, some mobile apps1 you can use include Microsoft Excel (available on iOS and Android, free for basic use), Google Sheets (free on both platforms), or Apple Pages (iOS only, free with your device).

Alexander prefers dedicated apps that work more like databases than spreadsheets. They tend to be more robust and provide more options for working with data. One example is Interplex, which has a long tradition on Windows computers and is co-developed by Peter Sand, an interpreter and member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Interplex is also available on mobile devices (iPhone, iPad) and lets you synchronize data through Dropbox.

If you’re looking for a web-based solution, make sure to try Interpreters’ Help. In addition to robust glossary management features, such as reverting back to older versions when something goes wrong, this app is also quite social-savvy when it comes to collaborating with other users and sharing your work on the “Glossary Farm.” Interpreters’ Help has a companion app for iPad, called “Boothmate.” Android users should check out Memento Database, a very user-friendly way to manage not only glossary data, but also all kinds of other information (like client contact information or a to-do list).

On top of standard spreadsheet features like filtering, sorting, or rearranging terms, database-driven apps allow for faster searches and give you more control over importing existing glossaries and exporting your data—not to mention the additional possibilities to go beyond just words by adding images, video, or audio. It may sound strange at first, but think about it: for highly technical topics like medicine or engineering, visualizing terms can make a lot of sense. As does recording the pronunciation of a difficult term in a short audio clip, or making a video glossary for sign language. There are a lot of potential uses. If you want to give it a go, I recommend using an easy-to-use app called Airtable. It brands itself as a mix of a spreadsheet and a database, is available on the web and mobile devices, and 
can be used collaboratively. (See 
Figure 1.)

Figure 1: A screenshot of an Airtable glossary entry with an attached image

Figure 1: A screenshot of an Airtable glossary entry with an attached image

There is one more aspect where electronic beats paper hands-down. You may have already worked on a shared Google Doc with somebody else online, but did you know that Google also has an online spreadsheet tool (aptly named Sheets) that you can use to collaborate on glossaries with remote colleagues? (Leonie Wagener, a Germany-based conference interpreter, has published a tutorial on AIIC’s website about this.2) The benefits of this approach are obvious. You can split up the workload of bigger conferences (e.g., by speaker or by language), you get valuable input from others, and there’s a built-in chat to discuss issues with the team. Everybody contributes, and everybody ends up with a solid glossary.

Even if you work on your glossary solo, it’s a good idea to add terms during the assignment. After all, we often get the best terms from the people for whom we work, and we know the terms are relevant. This also means less work when you get back to the office, as there’s simply no need to go through all the scraps of paper with scribbles on them that you usually bring home.

Freelance Business Tasks

For freelancers, tablets also offer a modern way to take care of administrative functions, even while you are on the move. Prepare estimates, invoice jobs, do bookkeeping, and keep up on marketing tasks—non-billable work that traditionally had to wait until you got back to the office—are now easily taken care of during long lunches or on the ride home.

For example, interpreters can use their mobile phone or tablet to send job invoices before they leave the building while the job details are fresh in the mind of both the freelancer and the client. This encourages prompt payment and cuts down on email exchanges to correct or explain invoices. Applications such as Quickbooks and Expensify allow you to snap a photo of an expense receipt for automatic filing and categorization, thus avoiding lost receipts and menacing piles of receipts awaiting entry.

For your social media marketing, try using Feedly and Alltop to track new content on your favorite websites and blogs, and Buffer to quickly schedule social media posts that share your favorite articles or promote your own content. (See Figure 2.) Mailchimp, a service for email distribution lists, allows you to view and send your email campaigns and monitor their delivery statistics almost in real time.

Figure 2: Buffer offers social media scheduling across multiple platforms in just a few clicks.

Figure 2: Buffer offers social media scheduling across multiple platforms in just a few clicks.

And speaking of email, it can be overwhelming at times, so why not try a few email apps for tablets that bring new ideas to the game, such as snoozing incoming email, read receipts, or sending messages later. If you’re intrigued, take a look at Newton (Android, iOS) or Spark (iOS).

Digital Note-Taking

Alexander: In some ways, using a tablet and stylus (a digital pen that mobile devices recognize on their touchscreens) to take consecutive notes digitally instead of on paper is the holy grail of “tablet interpreting,” although it may not immediately seem superior to the old way of doing things. I think it’s simply a lot of fun to try out!

The perfect hardware combination for this, in my opinion, is an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. But unless you already own those two, don’t go out and buy them just to see if digital note-taking is for you. Instead, work with the tablet you already have. If you don’t own a stylus yet, borrow one or buy an inexpensive option. For example, Wacom’s Bamboo styluses are very affordable and widely available.

Incidentally, Wacom also provides a free note-taking app: Bamboo Paper. As almost all note-taking applications, it works with the familiar notion of notebooks organized on a shelf or in a library. When you open up Bamboo Paper, you’ll see one or more blue notebooks that you can rename to your liking. Tap on a notebook to open it. At the top of the screen, choose your favorite writing utensil (e.g., ball pen or felt pen), stroke width, and writing color. An eraser is also available. Now you’re good to go! I don’t recommend taking interpreting notes straight away. Instead, you might want to start slowly by doodling to get a feel for how the app works. Move on to jotting down a shopping list or short text, and when you feel more comfortable, try taking notes for a short test-style speech from Speechpool or the European Union Speech Repository. If you get hooked, then digital note-taking is probably for you. Great note-taking apps for iPad are Notability and Noteshelf. (See Figure 3.) They both integrate with lots of styluses, including the Apple Pencil, and they support cool stuff like audio recording.

Figure 3: A screenshot of handwritten notes in the Notability app

Figure 3: A screenshot of handwritten notes in the Notability app

Holly: I haven’t tested digital note-taking on recent Apple products, but I’ve had great results on Android tablets and my current sweetheart, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (laptop/tablet hybrid).

Samsung tablets use the Android mobile operating system and come with a free app called S-Note that meets all my note-taking needs. For example, it offers continuous page scrolling (no searching for a button to go to the next page) and automatic deactivation of hand recognition (ensuring your palm doesn’t mark or move the digital paper, allowing for a natural hand position for writing). Samsung discontinued the Note line of tablets that featured a pen-size stylus that nested neatly into the body of the device, but there are many compatible stylus options to suit any preference. Just look for the one that feels natural for you and play with the settings in your note-taking app to get the type of stroke you like.

Another option, if you want to do all your computing and note-taking on one lightweight device, is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or a similar laptop/tablet hybrid—many manufacturers are following Microsoft’s lead in this space now. (See Figure 4.) For notes, DrawBoard PDF, intended for viewing and annotating PDFs, has proven to be perfect for consecutive notes, which don’t need to be organized or stored later. Just create a new document (selecting your preferred “paper” color and texture) and start taking notes. When clients require destruction of notes, it’s as simple as deleting the file.

Figure 4: Consecutive notes on the Surface Pro 4 with the Surface Pen, compared to a steno pad and analog pen.

Figure 4: Consecutive notes on the Surface Pro 4 with the Surface Pen, compared to a steno pad and analog pen.

Much More than for Entertainment

Just as increases in laptop storage and processing capacity led to the replacement of desktop computers, advances in tablet technology make it possible for users to streamline even more, replacing their laptops with feather-light tablets. Professional devices are much more than an overpriced entertainment device. For example, Alexander uses his iPad Pro as his main computer for almost everything, from referencing documents in the interpreting booth, taking notes on consecutive assignments, and writing blog posts and editing podcasts. Holly brings her Surface Pro 4 to assignments as a tablet and mobile workstation—even running two full translation programs—and connects it to a dual-screen desk setup when at the office. Prices for basic devices start at just a few hundred dollars, so it’s a great time to try out tablet interpreting.

App Roundup

Apple iOS      Android OS      Windows
* Access using mobile browser

Glossary Management
Interplex: ••
Interpreters’ Help*/Boothmate: 
Airtable*: ••
Memento Database: 
Microsoft Excel*: •••
Google Sheets*: •••

Business Tasks
Quickbooks Online: •••
Expensify: •••
Feedly*: •••
Alltop*: •••
Buffer*: •••
Mailchimp*: •••

Bamboo Paper: •••
Drawboard PDF: 
S-Note (Samsung only): 

  1. Apps: Ubiquitous shortened form of applications, mobile device programs.
  2. Here’s the link to Leonie Wagener’s article:

Holly Behl is an ATA-certified Spanish>English translator and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter. She has been experimenting with interpreting applications for tablet technology since 2013, with reports available on her blog, The Paperless Interpreter ( Contact:

Alexander Drechsel is a staff interpreter at the European Commission’s Interpreting Service. His working languages are German (A), English (B), French, and Romanian (C). He is also a bit of a “tablet geek,” and and regularly shares his passion and knowledge with fellow interpreters during training sessions and online at Contact: