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

Advice for Beginners: Specialization

By Judy Jenner
Post reblogged from Translation Times blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

Many beginning interpreters oftentimes ask us about specialization and whether it’s essential that they specialize. We get many of these questions from Judy’s students at the Spanish/English translation certificate program at University of San Diego-Extension and from Dagy’s mentees. We thought it might be helpful to give a short summary on translation specialization.

One project does not equal specialization. This is a classic mistake that we also made early in our careers. Just because you have done a project (or two or three) in a specific area doesn’t mean that’s a specialization. You should really have in-depth knowledge.

Choose wisely. A specialization is an area that you know very, very well and that you can confidently say you are an expert in. Remember that if you choose a specific area, say chemistry or finance, it’s best to have significant experience, including perhaps a graduate degree and work experience outside the T&I field, in that specific area. You will be competing with colleagues who have both experience and credentials, so it’s important that you are prepared. For instance, we have a dear friend and colleague who has a doctorate in chemistry. Naturally, Karen Tkaczyk’s area of specialization is chemistry.

Non-specializations. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything. It looks quite unprofessional to say that you specialize in everything, so we suggest staying away from that approach. Also be sure to put some thought into areas that you don’t want to work in at all because you are not qualified, interested, or both. For instance, we once got a call from a client who really wanted to hire us to translate a physics text. We don’t know anything about physics, even though we took eight years of it, and even though we were flattered, we politely declined and recommended a colleague. That project would have been a disaster. We also wisely stay away from in-depth medical translations.

It’s OK not to have one. It’s not a bad thing to not have a specialization or significant experience in any area at the beginning of your career. Everyone starts out without experience (we did, too), and we wouldn’t recommend lying about any experience you have. However, think about experience outside the T&I field: perhaps you were a Little League coach and thus know a lot about baseball or volunteered at your local Habitat for Humanity and thus know a bit about non-profits. The experience doesn’t have to be in both languages, but any background and educational credentials will come in handy. For instance, Judy’s graduate degree is in business management, so business translations were a natural fit for her. We had also done previous copywriting work (before we started our business, that is), so we felt that the advertising field might be a good specialization (and we were right).

Add one! It might also very well happen that you will add specializations throughout your career, which is a good thing. We recommend choosing closely related fields so you don’t have to invest too much time and resources.

Getting faster. As a general rule, the more specialized you are, the faster you will be able to translate because you will be very familiar with the terminology. For instance, we have colleagues who only translate clinical trials, real estate purchase contracts or patents. They have usually amassed large glossaries and translation memories and spent little time researching and lots of time translation, thus positively affecting their bottom line.

We think this is a good start, but would love to hear from both colleagues and newcomers. Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Rosario Charo Welle

There is much to be learned from our colleagues, but it can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with the “pros.” For that reason, we at Savvy have done the work for you and are excited to announce our new interview series, “Linguist in the Spotlight,” where we pick the brains of experienced translators and interpreters and bring their stories right to your screen. We hope their stories and sound advice will inspire you and perhaps even encourage you to ditch the fear of introducing yourself at an upcoming event.

We kick off the series with an interview with Rosario Charo Welle, ATA Spanish Division Administrator and English-Spanish translator with more than 20 years of experience translating in the fields of education, marketing, public media and communications, and health care. Charo shares the story of how she pursued a career in translation despite (and in some cases, thanks to) some of life’s greatest obstacles; her favorite tool for reviewing her own work (you might be surprised!); her favorite project to date; and one thing she wishes she had known 25 years ago.

A serendipitous start: From a personal loss and an intercontinental move to future gains

What got me started in Translation and Interpreting (T&I) was my exposure to foreign languages and becoming bilingual while living in my native Dominican Republic. While I was in high school, I studied English as a second language at UNAPEC Academy of English. I remember how the passion for languages sparked as I found myself excelling at my English lessons. After high school, I pursued a degree in Modern Languages at the Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago. Two years later, a sudden personal loss forced me to put my career on hold. Meanwhile, I worked for an NGO where my duties included translating environmental documents. It was then that I fell in love with the intellectual challenge of taking a Spanish text and going through the process of conveying its meaning in English.

Hence, in 1993, I started my first translation business in partnership with my sister, who was also bilingual. However, we dissolved the business that same year, this time due to happier circumstances that brought me to the United States. In 2000, after a seven-year hiatus, I resumed my translation calling and accepted a job as the in-house translator for my local school district. There, I worked as a translator, community interpreter, and cultural liaison. I served as an interpreter trainer for the district’s Special Education department, and set the district’s standards and guidelines for translation, which included creating formal glossaries. I learned the ropes of translating and interpreting in the areas of education, communications, and marketing. Eight years later, I felt ready to become a freelancer again, and began translating for direct clients and collaborating with colleagues. From 2008 to 2012, I was a part of the language access department of Children’s Medical Center Dallas. I worked for them on an hourly basis and gained valuable experience through the translation, editing, and proofreading of health-care documents used primarily for patient education.

On her favorite project, and the underestimated challenges of translating for education

One advantage of specialization is that it gives translators and interpreters the freedom to choose projects they find meaningful. I am fortunate to work in fields oriented toward nurturing, empowering, informing, educating, and caring for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Therefore, I have participated in many meaningful projects. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Sesame Workshop’s Little Children Big Challenges Community Guide. It gives me great satisfaction and a sense of pride to have contributed as a Spanish proofreader to the production of a resource that has reached and impacted a large segment of the communities in the United States.

Translators and interpreters working in education and community relations understand that, while texts in these fields may seem simple to an outsider, many are complex and challenging. That is, rendering the intended meaning within the appropriate context for the receiving audience is an involved process that entails a thorough understanding of and insight into the subtle differences between the source and target languages and cultures. This particular experience was rewarding in several aspects, including the opportunity to work on a diverse team of recognized professionals for a widely renowned nonprofit organization.

What keeps her invested, a common misconception, and the successful translator’s nature

My favorite aspect of translation is the intellectual and creative challenge of transforming the source text into meaning for the audience that will receive my translation. This leads me to touch on the common misconception that if one is bilingual or a polyglot, then one can automatically become a translator. This is far from the truth, since, in addition to the ability to speak more than one language proficiently, there are other attributes that, I dare say, should be second nature when performing our jobs. These include curiosity, perspective, creativity, critical thinking, research skills, and a passion for learning and for other cultures, to name a few. The combination of these elements facilitates the translated message in such a way that the author and the reader become inevitably engaged in the dialogue. Consequently, in my process, I involve analysis, research, critical thinking, creativity, and ethics to convey meaning accurately and without bias.

One of her favorite tools for reviewing translations

Translators and interpreters of the 21st century enjoy many advantages, thanks to the Digital Age. We can utilize software and applications that make us more productive and marketable. There are some that have become almost indispensable for my day-to-day work and help me deliver quality and accuracy. One of my favorites is the ReadAloud text-to-speech tool, which allows me to implement excellent quality control when editing and proofreading. Particularly when it comes to large volume of words, this app (which is compatible with Windows 10) relieves the tediousness of reading nonstop. For instance, it reads my English content to me aloud while I carefully and simultaneously read the Spanish translation in search of omissions, typos, redundancies, and conceptual and syntactical inconsistencies. I especially like that it reads the content directly from my clipboard without the need to paste it into the application. This app is functional and essential.

Advice for new translators, and her plans for the future

What I wish I had known when I started out (besides having the same level of proficiency in my two working languages), is that it was fundamental to invest time and effort from the very beginning in formal training. Whether it is majoring in T&I, completing a certificate of studies in T&I, or becoming certified, anyone who wants to start in the industry should consider seeking venues to acquire professional training. After I was already working as a translator in the United States, I realized the need to formalize my skills if I wanted to brand myself as a professional. I found the American Translators Association and its Spanish Language Division, whose many mentors led me to local T&I trainings and the translation program at New York University. Investing my time in formal training has made a big difference in my career. And, as a lifelong learner, I am already planning to pursue a graduate program that will further enhance my translation skills.

Image credit: Pixabay

Rosario Charo Welle is a freelance Spanish-English translator and editor, serving direct clients and partnering with colleagues. For the past 17 years, her working expertise has been concentrated in the fields of education (Pre-K-12), public media and communications, marketing, and health care.

A member of ATA since 2001, she is the current Administrator of its Spanish Language Division (SPD) and leader of its Leadership Council and committees. Charo graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Communications from the University of Denver and holds a Certificate in Translation Studies from New York University. Email: charowelle@veraswords.com.

Why Pairing up Is a Good Idea for Freelance Translators! Part 2

 

In part 1 of this post, I explained three major benefits of working together with other translators. Quick recap: you need two people to produce the quality customers require, you’ll have more capacity and you’ll be able to offer more services. That is only half the story though: there are three other major benefits:

Two Professionals Are Much More Adept at Navigating Rough Seas

Being in business is a bit like taking a boat trip. Sometimes, the sea is silky smooth, but more often than not there are choppy waters, which require that you adapt your schedule and improvise a bit. This can be daunting when you’re all alone. But when you have a reliable partner at your side, insurmountable obstacles can become mere hurdles instead.

An example: I do most of the sales and marketing stuff for my business. I contact potential clients, negotiate prices and try to find new business opportunities. Since finding new clients isn’t exactly the easiest thing on the planet, I sometimes lose motivation and feel like accepting the status quo. I’m happy with our current business anyway, so why would I go through all that bother if it only sometimes yields results and often causes frustration?

Whenever I feel drained like that, my business partner Lineke always manages to convince me not to give up on it. She has the positivity that I lack and it helps tremendously. She’d probably feel as droopy as I do if she had to invest so much time and effort into something so fickle, but that’s the thing: she does not have to! So, she has energy aplenty to keep me going.

This might be one of the biggest benefits of collaborating with fellow translators. We’re all different people and sometimes, when you have run out of ideas and positivity, there’s always someone else who’s able to invigorate you with new perspectives.

It Simply Makes Much More Sense to Not Do Business as a Lone Wolf

Take a look at the average translation client. If a company needs translations, it’s probably because it has managed to grow to a considerable size—one that merits communication in two or more languages. Translation clients can be even be as huge as governments! It’s not very appealing for big guys like that to do business with self-employed translators, because big fish have business needs that the small fry cannot satiate on their own. The Dutch government probably wouldn’t want to outsource its copy to a company that can take on 5,000 words a week.

Now, as a freelance translator you’re probably not dead-set on landing governments as clients, but there’s still a lesson to be learned. If you want to be a fully-fledged business partner for even medium-sized clients, you need to be able to keep up with their pace. One of our direct clients is a marketing agency that has over 100,000 likes on Facebook, while we don’t even have a Facebook page! Still, they love working with us, but they’d probably never do business with only one of us, because the turnaround times would be way too long. From a translation business perspective, being just a bit bigger than the smallest possible set-up is a very good thing. You’re agile and capable, without incurring overhead and other factors that increase costs. You’ll be able to enter markets that are normally cordoned off by bigger companies for you.

You Can Adapt the Size of Your Collaboration to Whatever You Need

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of collaboration, as it has yielded great results for my business. However, as interested as you might have become in working together with other translators, there’s a good chance you’re thinking: who and how many people should I work with? The answer is as simple as it is true: the scope of your collaboration and selection of business partners is entirely up to you, especially now that the whole world is connected digitally.

Let’s say you want to offer SEO to your clients, but you lack the technical know-how to find the right keywords. Partner up with an expert who knows all about SEO wizardry. If you have a client who wants to enter new markets, you might even offer them multi-language SEO. Who knows, you might end up doing SEO for them in 11 languages—or more! You’ll be a much more flexible business partner this way.

If multilingual SEO is more than you want to bargain for, you can simply keep things nice and small. Collaboration works at any size—it’s not like a small team of translators is any less viable than someone who gathers a whole slew of experts around them to win huge clients. The only difference is scale, which is just a variable, not a limit.

So Get Out There and Mingle

And there you have it. Six benefits of freelance collaboration that will allow you to do better business. Modern technology makes it so easy to find other people to work with that it’d be a shame to beaver away on your own, especially since collaboration is one of the cheapest (if not completely free) tools you have at your disposal. I’m all up for it, so I can only say: get out there and mingle!

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

A native speaker of Dutch, Branco van der Werf runs his two-man translation company with his partner, Lineke van Straalen. His language pairs are English-Dutch and German-Dutch. He graduated from the School for Translation and Interpreting in the Netherlands in 2014 and has since specialized in marketing translation, transcreation and copywriting. His creative translations regularly appear in TV commercials, brand assets and digital spaces. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Questions to Ask Before You Accept a Translation Project

It is impossible to anticipate every issue or question that may arise during the course of a translation project, but one thing you can do to be prepared before you get started is ask a lot of questions. Below are a number of questions you should keep in mind each time you receive a new project request (especially from a new client), so that you can be sure to avoid any surprises or problems down the road.

You can use this as a sort of checklist each time you receive a new request; be sure to glance through each topic and consider the answers to all the questions we’ve listed before you even quote the job. You don’t necessarily need to ask the client all of these questions for each project you quote—just remember that addressing these topics as early as possible will help clear up any misunderstandings, make you appear professional, and ensure that your client will be as satisfied as possible in the end.

The Task at Hand

Before you accept—or even quote—a project, think generally about what you are being asked to do.

Does the client need translation only or translation and editing?

If a second editor is needed, make sure you have someone lined up and that their services will fit into your budget.

Can you open all the files you received?

Make sure you can open and view all files received from the client, especially if sent through a secure link online or if there are audio/video files involved. Some clients may remove files after you confirm receipt, or there could be a zip file that you are unable to open. It is crucial to identify these problems as early as possible before you get started, so you don’t misquote or misjudge the amount of work you have to do.

Is the document fully legible?

If not, how will you handle illegible text?

Do you need a better copy if the source file is scanned?

The client may have access to the hard copy of the document in order to provide a better scanned electronic copy.

Do you need to work in a specific software tool?

Do you own that software tool, or will the client provide you the means to use it?

Is there any handwritten text?

If so, how will you handle handwritten text?

Is the project confirmed or potential?

Does the client expect to receive a confirmation soon, or is this a project that multiple vendors may be bidding on?

The Bigger Picture

In addition to the questions above, before quoting or accepting a project it is a good idea to think about the bigger picture. The document(s) you are being asked to translate may be part of a bigger project scope that you are not seeing, and the decisions you make on this project could have ramifications later on.

What is the purpose of the translation?

This will help to inform your translation decisions.

Who is your target audience?

This will help determine the register you use in your translation.

Have you done projects of this nature for this client before?

You may not realize that this project is similar to one you did previously, from which you can extract terminology or background information for the current project.

Who will own the translation rights after the project is completed?

For example, you may want to know if you can use this translation as a sample of your work to include in your professional portfolio. You may also want to know if you can be credited for the translation.

Is this part of a recurring assignment or ongoing project?

You may wish to develop a thorough glossary and TM early on, and take careful notes on your translation decisions, if this project is expected to continue for a long period of time.

Pricing and Deadline

Now you have gotten to the point where you are ready to negotiate a price and a deadline. Here are a few more considerations to keep in mind. You should also check out the items under “Resources” and “Delivery” for a few more questions that may impact the price you quote.

How much actual work time will this take you?

Estimate how many words you can translate per hour and divide the number of words in the text by this number.

What lead time do you need to finish the project?

Even if you only need 8-10 hours to complete the project, you may want to build in extra time in case you experience any technology issues, to accommodate other projects that may come up, or to fit in other commitments you may have going on. It may be better to tell the client a time range in days (e.g. “3-4 business days upon approval”) rather than a specific date so that you have some leeway in case the project is not accepted right away.

Will you offer a discount based on repetitions and/or TM matches?

For example, if you already translated 50% of this document for the same client and you only need to translate the remaining half, you may want to give them a discount of some kind on the first 50% of the text.

If the translation is urgent, will you charge extra?

Some translators charge an extra percentage of the invoice for projects due within a tight time frame (e.g. 24 hours or x number of words per business day), or projects that require weekend/holiday work.

What are the terms of payment?

Many translation projects are paid 15, 30, 60, or 90 days upon receipt of invoice, but for a larger project you may want to ask for a deposit up front.

Do you trust this client to pay on time?

You can check on the client’s reliability by looking them up on Payment Practices or ProZ Blue Board, or by checking with trusted colleagues as to their authenticity and payment habits.

What method of payment will be used?

The client may have a preferred method of payment and you will need to make sure you can receive funds that way—for example, PayPal, check, and wire transfer are three common methods of payment in the U.S.

Who will pay any payment fees?

Wire transfers and PayPal often have associated fees, and you will want to agree with the client in advance on who will absorb these fees. Alternatively, you can build these fees into your rate.

Source Text

Take a closer look at the source text to learn more about what you will be translating.

What is the subject matter?

Many translators specialize in specific subject areas based on their experience and background, but most importantly you must be familiar enough with the source text domain to produce a quality translation.

Is the entire document in the correct source language?

You may receive a long text that appears to be entirely in your source language, but partway through, you find a portion of text in another language. How will you handle this in the target text?

What country/variant/locale is the source file from?

Make sure you are familiar with the country and language variant your source text originated from.

Should you correct errors in the source text, if applicable?

Sometimes you may find errors (spelling, grammar, etc.) in the source text; it is a good idea to ask the client how to handle these when you find an error.

Resources

Before you start the project, keep in mind the following questions about research and resources, and be sure to ask the client if you have any doubts or concerns.

Is there a glossary or TM you should work from?

Make sure you are not doing more work than you have to, especially if the client has an established glossary they want you to work from.

Do you understand the text and terminology, and will you be able to research it sufficiently to produce a quality translation?

Have you reviewed the document thoroughly enough to determine that you are able to translate it?

Is the document confidential?

You may wish to share small portions of the text with colleagues as you research, in order to ask for their input; but first, you need to make sure it is okay to share.

Deliverable

Before you’ve even accepted the project, think about the end deliverable. You will need to be sure that you have checked with the client to align your expectations on the following topics.

What variant of your language should the target text be in?

Before you get started, be sure to check with the client as to what target language variation should be used, and that you are well-versed in this variant’s conventions so you can produce a top-notch target file.

What degree of formatting will be expected of you?

You may come upon images, charts, and graphs in the source file. Check with the client to find out if they want you to translate these, and determine whether you will charge extra for additional formatting.

What is the file format of the deliverable(s)?

Be sure to know what type of file you are expected to submit. Generally, clients will want a *.doc file if the source was a *.doc file; however, sometimes you will be expected to convert the source file into another format or provide a TMX or XLIFF file in addition to a translation exported from a CAT tool.

Will a translator’s statement be needed?

Especially for official documents (birth certificates and so on), clients may ask you to provide a signed “certificate” stating that the translation is accurate to the best of your knowledge. Consider whether this is needed, whether it will have to be notarized, and whether you will charge extra for these services.

What other questions do you ask yourself (and your client!) before starting a translation project? Have you found that keeping a list like this on hand helps you identify any potential issues early on and enable a smoother process going forward?

Stay tuned for another post on this topic: Questions to Ask Before You Accept an Interpreting Assignment.

Header image: Pixabay