Book review: Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies

Reblogged from the ATA’s Spanish Language Division blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

In order to set the context of what translation is, I will quote the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) description of translation performance:

Translation is the process of transferring text from one language into another. It is a complex skill requiring several abilities.

The term “translation” is normally reserved for written renditions of written materials. Translation is thereby distinct from interpretation, which produces a spoken equivalent in another language. While translation and interpretation skills overlap to some degree, the following applies only to document-to-document renderings.

A successful translation is one that conveys the explicit and implicit meaning of the source language into the target language as fully and accurately as possible. From the standpoint of the user, the translation must also meet the prescribed specifications and deadlines.

Competence in two languages is necessary but not sufficient for any translation task. Though the translator must be able to (1) read and comprehend the source language and (2) write comprehensibly in the target language, the translator must also be able to (3) choose the equivalent expression in the target language that both fully conveys and best matches the meaning intended in the source language (referred to as congruity judgment).

A weakness in any of these three abilities will influence performance adversely and have a negative impact on the utility of the product. Therefore, all three abilities must be considered when assessing translation skills.

Various non‑linguistic factors have an impact on performance, such as the time allotted to deliver the product, and familiarity with both the subject matter and the socio‑cultural aspects of the source and target languages. Given previous knowledge of these factors or appropriate training, an individual with limited skills may in certain instances be able to produce renditions of various texts that might be useful for specific purposes. On the other hand, an otherwise skilled translator who lacks subject matter knowledge or who is unfamiliar with certain socio-cultural aspects will often provide an erroneous translation.

“ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance,” Preface, Interagency Language Roundtable, http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/AdoptedILRTranslationGuidelines.htm.

On page 2, Moros says “all theory affects practice, and all practices produce theory” and indicates that it is almost impossible for historians to work in an unbiased manner. I will call this implicit bias.

As translators, we are constantly developing theories whether we realize it or not. The decisions we make today are often the same as the ones we made yesterday and the ones we will make tomorrow. Whether or not we go to the trouble to write them down so we can share them with others in a theoretical framework is another matter, but as we discuss our edits we often find we did in fact have reasons for translating the way we did! That is called theory. I have seen this in listserv discussions many times… Translators are practitioners who in fact produce theory.

Implicit bias: When I studied to be a teacher in Argentina, the Social Studies professor required that we study history from two books with opposite perspectives to make sure we were exposed to two opposite biases! As translators, we are expected to shed our implicit bias when we approach a translation and read the material we translate with the implicit bias of the author. That takes special skill. Then we must consider the implicit biases of our readers and the words that will speak to them, so that we can communicate our message to them in the proper way. Can a machine do that?

In order to translate without implicit bias, we must become visible. We must be able to ask questions. We make choices and generate thoughts on how to handle problems. We cannot develop theories about how to translate a text or develop a style sheet for an organization without consulting with our clients. This is how humans are different from machines.

Today, according to Moros, translators are trained in a mechanistic way, reminiscent of Taylorism. Taylor coined the phrase “task management.” This is assembly-line work theory, which has been applied to factory work. Taylor proposed that workers get paid by the piece (does this remind you of being paid by the word?). The unions were able to convince Congress that this “efficiency” was not effective and should not apply in government-run factories (page 24).

What are some of the problems with this piece-rate system? According to Moros, the piece-rate system is hurting translation rates. In a large translation project, for example, a company would ask a translator to provide a discount, yet charge the end client the same rate for every word. However, the translator is the one paying for the translation tool!  Translation quality suffers and so does the pay. (page 26) In my opinion, this generally also assumes the work will be done faster. The ILR description of translation quoted above says, “Various non‑linguistic factors have an impact on performance, such as the time allotted to deliver the product.”

Another problem with the Taylorist perspective on translation is viewing translators as interchangeable. For example, at times translators are required to interact with a translation memory program that a large organization has created; such organization put a document together ignoring sections that may or may not match the document in question. This trains translators to simply not be concerned with the quality of their work, since it is not a priority for the people who they interact with directly. In any event, this model is simply not one that can be applied many times.

Moros proposes some alternatives to Taylorist translation training, starting on page 61. He recommends that translators become visible, understanding that they are creating truth and knowledge, and that they understand the concepts of meaning, transfer of meaning, text, author, authorship responsibility, ideology, and colonialism.

Moros reminds us that reading is contextual, and understanding varies depending on the context. Therefore, translators must take responsibility for their text as authors of the translated text. In this process of becoming authors of the translated text, every decision must be justified. In an ideal world, translators must be able to communicate with the requester of the translation and, whenever possible, with the author. It is essential to know the purpose of the translation and who the readers will be in order to translate the document properly.

However, as Moros reminds us, the Toledo Translation School, in its second period, did things right. King Alfonso X of Castile, called the Wise, directed that translation would be done in groups. This is reminiscent of the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM International) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) translation standards, which include the role of a bilingual editor (another equally qualified translator), not doing a back translation, but as part of the quality improvement process.

These are just some highlights of what Moros shares in Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies: Two exemplary cases that challenge thinking regarding translation history and teaching translation, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing (2011-05-17). The full book is worth the read! The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is 978-3-8443-9565-5. Happy reading!

Book review: The Business Guide for Translators

By David Friedman

Book review The Business Guide for TranslatorsIt is widely recognized that there are several skills you need to be successful in translation. The fundamental skills include excellent source language comprehension, superb target language writing skills, and subject matter expertise. However, business skills are also essential, especially in today’s translation market where the majority of translators are self-employed freelancers. While reading, writing, and translation skills can be honed in language and translation degree programs, I think newcomers to the industry would be wise to work on their business skills at an early stage as well.

The Business Guide for Translators by Marta Stelmaszak provides an excellent starting point for shaping your translation business. The book is divided into five parts, each covering different business topics tailored for translators.

Part 1 introduces several fundamental business concepts, explains them simply, and shows how they are related to the language industry. Part 2 provides a diverse and powerful set of tools to analyze your business and create effective business strategies. Part 3 focuses on business management, including market research, planning, and goal setting. Part 4 starts off with several videos with hands-on tips for effectively communicating and negotiating with clients, which is followed by some additional key points in the quoting process. The final part rounds off the book with links for further reading on business practices.

One of the recurring themes of the book that resonated with me was “uniqueness”. Marta refers to uniqueness in several crucial contexts, such as in your unique selling point (USP) as a way to differentiate yourself from competitors. Uniqueness is also emphasized in the context of core competence, where you focus on creating a unique offering in what you excel at and outsource or don’t engage in weaker areas, thus adding value for clients. Uniqueness of service is mentioned as a key factor of supplier bargaining power in the section on Porter’s five forces. I personally feel that the way Marta employs uniqueness plays an interesting role in showing how we can get away from commoditization in the languages industry. Her strategies for identifying promising customer segments and selecting appropriate specializations in high demand play a key role in helping you find a USP that is profitable and well-rooted.

Another approach that intrigued me was the blue ocean strategy. As opposed to a red ocean strategy where you limit your focus to competing intensely for existing demand under existing conditions, a blue ocean strategy entails creating new demand, finding new clients, and making the competition irrelevant. Blue oceans are characterized as tranquil, uncharted territory, while read oceans have turned red from the bloody fighting of cutthroat competition. Marta also talks about shaping industry trends instead of following them in this section. All of this reminds me of the concept of reframing requirements so as to focus on showing clients what they need instead of selling yourself or catering to existing perceived needs, a point I heard in a webinar by John Niland. I’m looking forward to more consciously applying a blue ocean strategy in my business and seeing where that may lead.

I felt that The Business Guide for Translators will prove useful to translators at various stages in their careers and I certainly was given a useful reminder of some things I have read or thought about previously as well as some new tools and ways of thinking about my business.

In hindsight, I certainly wish that someone challenged me to think harder about my business the way Marta does when I was a newcomer, and I think this book can be especially useful to help newcomers to the languages industry make savvy business decisions and avoid getting off to as a rocky a start as some of us have.

Book Review: Diversification in the Language Industry

By Catherine Christaki

Book Review: Diversification in the Language IndustryFrom time to time, in the translation industry (I’m guessing in many other industries as well), there are trending topics and buzzwords that become hot topics for a period of time. A few years ago, the buzzword that all linguists were talking about was diversification: what it is, do we need it, who it’s suitable for, and ways to do it. Nicole Y. Adams offered some structure and food for thought for those discussions with her book Diversification in the Language Industry (published in 2013, 350 pages).

The book is a collection of essays and interviews from seasoned language professionals offering their views on and experiences with diversifying their services. (Disclaimer: The author of this post wrote the Blogging and social networking article in the book.)

About Diversification
In Chapter 1, Nicole talks about a survey she conducted in July 2013 among 250 freelance translators regarding the services they offer and their views on diversification. She lists the following as the most common arguments that translators cite against diversification (more food for thought):

Diversification is only for bad translators. I’m successful and make a lot of money from translation alone, so I don’t need to diversify.
I’m not an outgoing person; I’m not comfortable selling or putting myself out there.
I have no time to diversify because I don’t want my core activity (translation) to suffer.
I trained to be a translator; why would I want to do anything else?
I’d rather improve my existing translation business and become a better translator.

Nicole includes an article by Anne-Marie Colliander Lind about three major trends in the language industry: volume increase (more content produced = more to translate), technology as a productivity enhancer, and disintermediation (less middlemen between the end client and the translator). She also offers the following recommendations for translators who want to diversify:

  • Add a new language pair.
  • Add another domain of specialization.
  • Become an expert in the fields you translate in.
  • Embrace technology. Learn how to use the available tools.
  • Collaborate; build a network of translating colleagues. They are not your competitors; they are potential co-workers.

In another article, Anne Diamantidis explains her position that diversification isn’t necessary, i.e. not all translators should or need to do it. She writes “If a translator feels they do not earn enough, they could consider increasing their rates and/or diversifying their existing offering, before immediately taking on a second job or writing books. Diversifying in our industry does not automatically mean having a parallel career or a new business branch. It can be as simple as adding a ‘plus’ to your offer.” And (I really enjoyed this comment and I completely agree): “…diversifying too much…can seriously damage your credibility: if you do too much and are too loud, people may think you clearly have too much time on your hands and that therefore you’re probably a terrible translator because your clients don’t give you any jobs.”

Types of Diversification
The book also offers definitions and explanations of four different types of diversification that have been identified in the language industry.

1. Linguistic diversification: Expanding your portfolio around your core service of translation
Chapter 3 starts with an article and an interview on one form of linguistic diversification: machine translation (which is interesting information if you, like me, have never worked on such projects). One author, Jeana M. Clark, believes that “Diversification at the expense of integrity or translation quality is not the kind of diversification we want to pursue.” Then, there are articles and interviews on voice-over, subtitling, transcription, terminology (including a list of available training options), transcreation, copywriting, cross-cultural consulting, linguistic validation (including a list of the typical steps involved in the validation process), online language teaching, and interpreting. This is a really great collection of articles if you want to learn more about a specific industry and maybe start offering those services.

2. Extra-linguistic diversification: Developing new business strategies or areas of entrepreneurship
Chapter 4 includes articles and interviews about extra-linguistic diversification, which includes services such as project management, blogging, social media, and online marketing. In one article, author Valerij Tomarenko writes about diversification through specialization, and in another, Inge Boonen talks about diversifying your client base.

3. Passive and external diversification: Specialized services beyond translation that freelance translators can offer to translation agencies and fellow translators
Chapters 5 and 6 are all about passive and external diversification (writing books and offering training services). Passive income can come from books, e-books or blogs, offering seminars/workshops and online training courses to fellow translation professionals, public speaking at conferences, consulting, website design, multilingual desktop publishing (DTP) and optical character recognition (OCR), and teaching. The book also includes an article on continuing professional development (CPD).

Author Meg Dziatkiewicz suggests the following ways a translator can diversify their services towards passive and external diversification:

  • Career coaching – Be a mentor, advisor and planner.
  • Marketing – Teach people how to market themselves and what tools to use.
  • IT – There are plenty of CAT tools that could be improved and applications, dictionaries, online databases and directories to be programmed.
  • Teaching – Give courses, workshops and seminars on every aspect of a translator’s life, based on your experience.
  • Art/design – Offer web design, promo materials, business cards, banners, posters.
  • Copywriting

4. Distinctive diversification: Creating a unique niche in the language industry with one-of-a-kind product or service
Chapter 7 is about distinctive diversification and includes articles and interviews on Mox’s blog and cartoons by Alejandro Moreno-Ramos, the money transferring service Translator Pay by Paul Sulzberger, the non-profit Translators without Borders by Lori Thicke, and branding services by Valeria Aliperta.

Summary
For me, the best feature of Diversification in the Language Industry is that you can you read it all at once as a book on diversification but you can also choose specific articles and chapters if you want to learn more about a specific field and/or skill set. The personal tone of most of the articles and interviews, including a brief background on the author, gives you great insight on how these authors started out and the different paths they followed in their successful careers.

The food for thought this book gave to translators and interpreters–and all those discussions I mentioned at the beginning of this post–have led to many language professionals authoring books and offering training courses and webinars, as well as copywriting and consulting services.

What about you? Have you read Nicole’s book? Did it inspire you to diversify and offer additional services apart from translation and interpreting?

Further reading
Diversification in the Language Industry by Nicole Y. Adams – a review
Books on My Shelves – Diversification in the Language Industry

Book Review: Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

by Jamie Hartz

Book Review - Found in TranslationIf your experience as a language professional has been anything like mine, when someone asks what you do for a living, you always have to qualify your response. “I’m a translator” isn’t going to cut it, but “I’m self-employed as a Spanish-to-English written translator” just might get the conversation going.

Next time someone asks what you do and gives you a blank stare upon hearing your response, hand them a copy of Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. The work is a compilation of stories and anecdotes which are drawn from many years of careful, thoroughgoing research conducted by the authors. The result is a book that reminds me why I’m proud to be part of this profession and has helped me articulate to my acquaintances what I do, and why it matters.

This book, which the authors have dedicated to translators, is the sort of work that will make you gasp, laugh out loud, and maybe even cry as you read fascinating stories about how language, translation, and interpreting affect every arena of life. It brings to light fascinating stories—some well-known and some untold—about “how the products you use, the freedoms you enjoy, and the pleasures in which you partake are made possible by translation,” all the while educating laypeople and monolinguals about our field and the industry.

I enjoyed this book not only because it was entertaining, but because it lent credibility to everything I do as a professional. By listing statistics about the language services industry, stating the growing need for professional translators and interpreters, and discussing the dedicated (and sometimes dangerous) work that language providers offer, the authors have done an amazing service to the translation community and the world at large.

Found in Translation catches readers’ attention from page one, as the first story in the book is an immobilizing tale about Nataly’s experience as an over-the-phone Spanish interpreter for a 9-1-1 call. From this story on, the book grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. Among the other anecdotes mentioned are:

  • The interpreter who played a role in Yao Ming’s integration into the NBA
  • A mistranslation that caused video game fanatics to spend months searching for a non-existent villain
  • An interpreter at the Nuremberg trials whose life was forever altered by the horrors of Nazi Germany
  • Stories of how translation has prevented or mitigated international health crises
  • Interpreters who serve as language intermediaries for the International Space Station
  • How Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament set a foundation for not only a language but an entire religion
  • Jost’s harrowing experience as an interpreter in China for some German tourists who decided to take more of an adventurous vacation than he had bargained for

Savvy Newcomers, you know as well as I do that our jobs aren’t always easy—either to perform or to explain. I recommend this book as an eye-opener for people who don’t understand what you do, and as an inspiration for you to keep on doing your job to the best of your ability. Enjoy!