Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ProZ Conference Vienna - Part II

This is the first of 3 posts on the presentations I attended at the ProZ Regional Conference in Vienna at the end of November. These presentations can be grouped roughly as follows:

  1. the business side of freelance translating
  2. marketing your services/getting (more) business
  3. language and translation itself

Group 1 included the following presentations:

  1. "ProZ oder Amateure? Der Übersetzer als Unternehmer -- Erfahrungen aus dem Büroalltag" by Dr. Michael Bolten of Newspeak-Sprachlösungen
  2. "Project administration -- the financial side of a translator's job" by Angela Starkmann
  3. "The 21st century translator" by Dipl.-Ing. Jerzy Czopik of TransDocu

Note: All presentations I attended were given in German, although the slide presentations were sometimes in English.

Michael Bolten's presentation was an interesting exchange between the translators/interpreters in the audience and translation agencies as personified by Mr. Bolten. I learned a number of things about German/Austrian industry practices from this discussion:

Standard payment terms appear to be 30 days from invoice. This stands in marked contrast with the common U.S. practice of "pay-when-paid", where agencies delay payment to their translators until they receive their money from the end client. This often leads to a delay of two or more months until the translator is paid.

Pricing is by target language word/line count. Here, generally source language word counts are used to determine the price of a given translation. For translators from German, with its concatenated extra-long nouns, this practice means a lower income for the same amount of work.

While LinkedIn includes many members based in Europe, the professional networking site of choice in Europe appears to be Xing. One of my New Year's resolutions, therefore, is to join that network, as well.

Angela Starkman presented her own survey on the business practices/background of freelance translators. Much of her presentation was unfortunatley not applicable here in the U.S., where things like multi-currency invoicing software (or even non-U.S.-dollar denominated checking accounts) don't exist. A number of practices she suggested I had already implemented in my home office before this presentation. I did, however, learn about two tools I intend to try out in 2010:

Anycount apparently is a shareware tool that lets you quickly analyze documents in terms of text length. This allows translators to prepare estimates for clients without having to convert each file into MS Word format to see word/character counts.

A dashboard on the computer's desktop that includes the day's appointments, to dos, etc. This is an interesting idea, although I am not sure how to implement it on my Windows XP-based desktop. (Given the bugs in Vista, I paid extra last Spring to buy a desktop computer still running XP).

Jerzy Czopik spoke about the definition of quality. Quality is meeting a customer's expectations, Mr. Czopik said, not what the translator perceives as quality. I have seen this first-hand when on one occasion an end client -- through the agency -- demanded that every single "the" and "a" in a text for their website be translated, even though definite articles are used much more frequently in German than in English. I had delivered a translation that read like a text originally written in English, but on the customer's request, added in all the extra articles, making for a rather clunky English version.

This presentation also emphasized the need for translators to use computer tools, including CAT tools. In this and other conferences I attended, the most commonly used CAT tool appears to be SDL Trados. I purchased Wordfast a while back and have held off on switching to Trados, both because of its price and the time (and money) required to learn it. Another of my New Year's resolutions is to download a trial version of Trados Studio and try out both Trados and the Wordfast Professional. Look for a future post on that experience.

My next couple of posts will be devoted to the presentations in Groups 2 and 3 above. Meanwhile, have a happy holiday and all the best for the new year!


Monday, November 30, 2009

Vienna ProZ Conference

The ProZ conference just ended last night with a dinner near one of Vienna's (semi-)traditional Christmas markets. I met quite a few interesting colleagues, including one who had come all the way from Chile.

What struck me here, compared to U.S. conferences, is how many of the attendees weren't just bilingual, but spoke multiple foreign languages fluently -- and in some cases translated from/to quite a number of languages. As is common with international conferences, the lingua franca was English, although, this being a regional conference, many -- if not most -- attendees also spoke German. I found myself constantly asking people I met which language they spoke/preferred.

Maybe a variation of the Quebecois greeting should be developed for such conferences. In Montreal, when I bought groceries the cashier would greet me with "Bonjour, Hello". I was then expected to reply either "Bonjour" or "Hello" to indicate my preference for French or English. The remainder of the transaction was then conducted in that language. I could see participants in international gatherings greeting each other with "Hi, Guten Tag, Bonjour", for example, to indicate the languages in which the conversation could be carried out. For some people -- particularly in our profession -- that might become a rather lengthy greeting, though.

Most sessions were in the end conducted in German, even though some of the session titles were in English, and some speakers had expected to give their presentations in English. So the PowerPoint slides projected behind the speaker might be in English, but the speaker's commentary on them would be in German. I generally try to take notes in the language in which the talk is given (or the book is written), but I found myself using English, English abbreviations, German and German shorthand all in my notes for the same presentation. Not a problem, unless someone else wants to see these notes, or I need to remember the language in which the talk was originally given, but potentially confusing.

Being back in Vienna makes me a little homesick for this city, although I don't think I could move back here permanently. I am too much of a New Yorker by now to live with the slower pace, smaller city and relative homogeneity of the population here. Participants at this conference were talking about having attended, or planning to attend, conferences in various other European cities. There is definitely an advantage to living in the center of Europe. Maybe some day I'll come back for a little while ...

I got to go to visit my parents -- another advantage of being in Vienna: they are just a subway ride away, instead of an ocean away.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Off to Vienna! + Backup Security

Hi all,

I am getting ready to leave for Vienna, Austria, to attend the ProZ Regional Conference there this weekend. Next week I am meeting a few business contacts and will also visit my family. I'll return to the U.S. December 8.

The conference sounds interesting -- not surprisingly, I seem to be the only U.S.-based translator who signed up for it. Frankly, I probably wouldn't have signed up, either, if I didn't have family in Vienna. A number of people from various European countries (not just German-speaking) are attending, though, so that should be fun. Plus conference attendees were apparently invited to a fancy "Heurigen", a Viennese-style wine bar cum restaurant, by the mayor of Vienna.

I spent part of today backing up information & transferring files to my laptop, so I'll not only have everything I could possibly need with me, but the information will also be stored on CDs and on an external hard drive. I am rather over-conscious when it comes to backing up digital information -- particularly business- or client-related items. Every night, each project I am working on is copied to a CD for that client (which is stored in the client's folder, along with print-outs of work orders & e-mails with instructions from that client). When a project is completed, it is again backed up to CD. Once a week, both my desktop and laptop automatically back up to an external hard drive attached to my home network. Similarly, accounting information (kept in QuickBooks Pro) is backed up regularly on CDs (one for the business, one for home/family accounts), and contact information and e-mails (kept in Outlook with Business Contact Manager) are included in the weekly backup to an external hard drive.

I am considering adding a layer of online backup every other week or so, in case something *really* bad happens to my house. The question is, how secure is such a backup (especially when it comes to client and/or financial information)? Anything on the internet can be hacked, including "secure" online storage. Houses can be broken into, as well, but at least I'd notice if someone broke into my home office and made off with my files (not sure why anyone would do so or what they would do with the files, but ...). If someone hacked my online backup space, I wouldn't necessarily know that the data had been compromised. On the other hand, online storage seems the only viable option for securing data if my home office is physically destroyed or severely damaged (e.g., a fire -- it's on the third floor, so flooding is unlikely to be a problem).

Do you have any experience using online backup solutions? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

Until next time,


PS (April 2010): I have since set up online backup. Read about my entire backup/disaster preparedness system.

Monday, November 16, 2009

ATA Conference + Translation Industry Study

As a child I had always admired the hotel concierges in old movies who dispensed advice and critical information along with mail and phone messages. At the recent American Translators Association conference here in New York I got to be something of a concierge. I, along with a number of other members, volunteered at the hospitality desk set up by ATA's New York chapter, the New York Circle of Translators. We could even use a "real" receptionist's area, complete with chest-high countertop and little cubicles behind the countertop. We volunteers not only helped out-of-towners find their way around New York City, but in the process we met conference attendees from a number of different places. This being a conference of language professionals, the information could even be offered in a number of different languages (although the printed materials - some of which came from the New York City tourist office - were only in English).

The most valuable part of the conference for me were the contacts I made with both other translators and purchasers of translation services, such as translation agencies and organizations with translation departments. I am heading for Vienna in the end of the month and will meet with some of these contacts there. ProZ, one of the larger translation websites, is holding a regional conference in Vienna, which I will be attending before visiting family and meeting with some business contacts in early December.

The ATA conference also included a number of interesting presentations. One of these was a study from Common Sense Advisory suggesting that the translation industry in the U.S. is poised for significant growth, particularly in the national security, international affairs, public work and public safety sectors. That's great news for translators working in Middle Eastern, Eastern European or Southeast Asian languages who are willing to work for the U.S. government. Not so great news, though, for those of us who work with Western European languages and won't work for the U.S. military or "homeland security". According to this study, the next-biggest industry in terms of translation and localization potential is IT. That would be great for me, since I specialize in IT documents, but the language most needed in that sector is Chinese. Since I don't speak Chinese, that doesn't really help so much ...

How have you translators of Western European languages who do not work for the U.S. government fared in terms of assignments received during the last 6-9 months? Has the volume decreased, increased or stayed the same? Have any of your regular clients cut back or stopped assigning translations altogether?

Either post a comment here or write to me at

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Qualifications Does a Translator Need?

Some believe that translators' qualifications are demonstrated by a degree in translation, "preferably at the master's level". However, depending on the language combination in question, such a degree may not be readily obtainable in the U.S., especially for immigrants who arrive here as adults. For example, none of the many universities in New York City offer an M.A. in German-English translation. New York University offers a certificate in translation for this language combination, which, however, is not even equivalent to a B.A., let alone a more advanced degree. And German is one of the more common languages in American academia.

Translation is a practical skill, not just an academic discipline. While the academic study of translation can be useful, it is not a prerequisite for successfully practicing the profession. As a matter of fact, a number of professionals in the field, including trainer Jon Ritzdorf, state that in the U.S. proven subject matter expertise is more important than a translation degree. A bi-lingual computer programmer, for example, will be more familiar with computer terminology and concepts in both languages than someone with a translation degree in these languages, but a background in sociology.

To ensure an effective translation of your source documents,choose translators with experience in your field (e.g., computer software), no matter whether they have an M.A. in translation or not.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Translation Management Software Does

Translation management software (TM) use during the initial translation not only helps translators (including myself) work more efficiently, but also ensures a more consistent translation. However, the potential of TM software can only be fully leveraged if the original (source) text's terminology and structure are consistent, as well.

Translation management software matches text fragments (sentences, strings or entire paragraphs) with previously translated text. Unlike the search functionality in standard word processing programs, however, TM software allows for small variations in the text (different word endings, one or two different words in a sentence, etc.) Consider this example:

Sentence 1: "The dog in the house is brown and small."
Sentence 2a: "The cat in the house is brown and small."
Sentence 2b: "There is a small, brown cat in the house."

TM software will record sentence 1. If it later encounters sentence 2a, it will present sentence 1 as a "fuzzy" (inexact) match. The translator then only has to change "dog" to "cat" and can skip the rest of the sentence. But if sentence 2b is used instead , the software will not know that the two sentences are similar and will therefore not present the first sentence as a possible option. The translator must now translate the entire sentence over again.

This is particularly important if various documents relating to the same product are translated at different points in time. If sentence 1 occurs in document 1, and sentence 2a or 2b occurs in document 2, the translator may not remember sentence 1 when he or she translates sentence 2 weeks after working on document 1. While TM software permits the creation of custom glossaries, these will usually only contain key terms, not variations on minor word choices. While the translator may not remember sentence 1, the software will if sentence 2a is used, no matter how long ago document 1 was translated. The translator can then ensure a consistent translation for sentence 2.

Such use of TM software only works, however, if the translation memory from document 1 is used when document 2 is translated. If the same person translates both documents, he or she will likely re-use the translation memory. If a different person handles document 2, he or she may not have access to the translation memory used for document 1 -- indeed he or she may not even know it exists. This requires the same translator to be available for both documents. The best way to ensure that is to let your translator know that document 2 will exist and when to expect the source text. The translator then can schedule his or her other projects accordingly and ensure they are available to work on document 2.

To ensure an effective, consistent translation of your source documents, therefore, ensure consistency in both translators and source text.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Longer schedule

Because of a large volume of work and apparent lack of readership for this blog, I'll be publishing on a more extended schedule for the time being.

Until later,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Free Glossary for the Hospitality Industry?

Being Austrian myself I found this sign from an Austrian ski hotel reported in Richard Lederer's "Anguished English" particularly amusing: "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension."

A cultural note: In Austria, certain hours of the night -- usually from about 10pm to 6am or so -- are designated "quiet hours" ("hours of repose") during which one is not supposed to make noise, including running vacuum cleaners and similar activities. This seems a rather foreign concept in my Brooklyn neighborhood, where private garbage services routinely pick up large metal containers for debris around 1 am, people shout boisterously on the street when returning from Saturday night activities at 2 am, and drivers frequently honk their horns repeatedly at midnight when they pick up their dates to go to a club.

Back to our example: how did a simple sentence such as "Don't walk in the corridors in hiking boots during quiet hours" become so convoluted? Someone probably took a dictionary to the German original and decided that verbs such as "walk" were simply too pedestrian (pun intended) for a hotel sign. We can further assume, I think, that the person doing so was not a professional translator and probably had never actually spent time in an English-speaking country.

Clearly, a small ski hotel in the Austrian alps won't hire a professional translator to produce a couple of signs which were likely created on the spot as guests' conduct seemed to warrant them. After all, the sign is understandable and not offensive, so its purpose is served. On the other hand, there are probably a very limited number of such signs needed in the hospitality industry.

So, rather than having each hotel, restaurant and similar establishment do their own -- frequently non-professional -- translation, it might be helpful to post a list of such notices in various languages on a website. Managers of small establishments in the hospitality industry could then get professional translations for their signs, making communication between guests and establishments easier.

Since most of these establishments wouldn't bother hiring a translator for such signs anyway, we translators wouldn't lose any business either. Googling for such a site resulted mostly in translation service providers' sites, as well as a Hotel Industry Blog at a site called bookassist, which is a website on technology & online marketing for hotels. It seems to me that such a site is a little to technological for small hotels and restaurants to frequent.

If any of you are either in the hospitality industry or familiar with it, I'd be happy to compile such a list on my own website,, at least in German and English.

Until next week,


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Parick's Day!

I already celebrated St. Patrick's Day a few weeks back, when friends hosted an Irish brunch before the St. Patrick's Day parade in Queens. Since New York hosts several such parades, they are held on different weekends, starting in early March.

A few years back I read a newspaper article about how Dublin was becoming the Silicon Valley of the translation industry. It does seem to make sense that a country with a relatively high level of education and English as the majority language would turn to translation as an industry that needs no natural resources and has relatively low start-up costs. On the other hand, one would expect that role to be filled by a country where most of the population already grows up bilingual - Belgium, say, or Switzerland.

To be sure, Canada appears to have a thriving translation industry - although much of it seems to be between English and French. And Swiss companies seem to outsource much of their German-English translation to other European translation agencies. I have had a fairly steady stream of Swiss German documents to be translated into English -- all from agencies outside Switzerland. Since Swiss business German is different from standard German, I assume there isn't such a large translation industry within the country -- or maybe there aren't enough native (or near-native) English speakers in Switzerland.

This leads me to a request for help: do any of you know of a good Swiss German business dictionary (preferably Swiss German - English, but Swiss German to standard German would work too)? I tracked one down, but it apparently is out of print. Thanks in advance for your help.

Until next week,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Society for Technical Communication's Annual Conference

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is the best-known professional association for technical writers, translators and teachers of these professions. I have been a member of STC since I moved from using computer documentation (as an IT manager for a non-profit organization) to writing that documentation (for a software developer) many years ago.

STC's 2009 Annual Conference will be held in Atlanta in early May. Not only will this be my first such conference, but I will be presenting on international technical translation. The way this "progression" works, apparently, is that I sit at a table with eight or so other conference attendees and give a 10-minute presentation, followed by about 20 minutes of discussion among everyone at the table. This setup is then repeated with a new group of attendees. By now, I have written and re-written my presentation a number of times and read a half dozen books on being a presenter, but I'm still not sure how exactly this will work.

The title of my presentation is "Preparing Text for Translation: One Translator's Perspective". I'll talk about writing issues and additional information which help to improve the quality and efficiency of a translation.

For example, I just translated a document where various sections appear to have been written by different departments within the company, each using its own terminology. In the beginning, I didn't know whether a slightly different term was actually trying to refer to something different or whether it was simply a different way of saying the same thing. Developing a consistent company terminology -- and providing the translator with a list of such terms -- would have made my job a lot easier. It would probably also have made both the original document and the translation more consistent. In the end, when in doubt I had to assume that two different terms actually did mean two different things, even if they could (and probably sometimes did) mean the same thing.

It would be helpful if everyone whose writing may at some point be expressed in another language were aware of some of these issues. To that end, I will try to devote some of my future posts to writing text for translation. Meanwhile, however, I'll go back to looking over that presentation (and possibly rewriting it) yet another time ...

Until next week,


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

H.W. Fowler and Global English

As I am writing this, I am looking out over the remnants of yesterday's snowstorm in New York, which even closed the public schools. The park near me handed out free loaner sleds and hot chocolate to children taking advantage of this unexpected free time. I wish they did that when I was a kid!

Anyway, about language:

Henry Watson Fowler was born today in 1858. Best known as the author of Fowler's Modern English Usage, his first publication was actually a translation -- The Works of Lucian of Samosata translated from Greek into English. (The translation is available at the Project Gutenberg website). His next publication, together with his brother Francis, was The King's English in 1906 (available at Google Books, but he is most famous for Modern English Usage, published in 1926 and dedicated to Francis, who died before the work was completed.

Many of Fowler's rules for good writing established in The King's English echo modern-day advice for writers of global English, such as:
· Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
· Prefer the concrete word (or rather expression) to the abstract.
· Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
· Prefer the short word to the long.

I am struck by how often the writers of user manuals and similar documents do not follow these rules. They not only use highly specialized, abstract words, but also join sentences into paragraph-long complex structures. Many of these manuals are:
a. read by non-native English speakers (both immigrants to the U.S. and customers purchasing these products outside the U.S.), and/or
b. translated into languages whose own grammatical structures may complicate such sentences even further.

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that many adults find it difficult to give clear and concise directions. While admittedly most people will not write user manuals, being able to provide clear instructions seems a useful life skill. Consider the friend who is trying to tell you how to get to her party, or the roommate trying to explain how to operate his video camera. How many detours did you take on the way to the party? Did you ever get that video camera to work?

Try this assignment from an innovative high school English teacher: "Your house guest is an for an alien from Mars. You are writing instructions for him on how to fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The alien has never seen such a sandwich, or its ingredients, and knows nothing of common culinary techniques. Be specific, but concise." Have a few people write these instructions, then follow each others instructions literally. The results can be quite hilarious!

Until next week,

Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Mardi Gras!

Today is Mardi Gras, or "Faschingsdienstag" as it's called in Austria -- the last day before the start of Lent, the Catholic season of fasting and repentance. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a world-famous, mostly outdoor, celebration. Faschingsdienstag in Austria marks the end of the ball season, the most famous of which -- the Vienna Opera Ball -- was already held last week. Tonight, I'll be getting together with some friends in Brooklyn to listen to Cajun music and maybe have a Po'Boy (a New Orleans-style sandwich) and a Sazerac (a New Orleans cocktail).

I am a freelance German-English translator interested in linguistics, as well as translation. My interest in linguistics dates back to my student days getting a degree in media studies. I began translating informally even before I arrived in the U.S. more than 20 years ago. After working in information technology and writing computer documentation, I started to translate for a living in 2000, and have been doing that ever since.

This blog will cover language -- particularly English as a global phenomenon, as well as translation as both a profession and an academic discipline. While writing about what admittedly can sometimes be dry subjects, humor won't be given short shrift, however. Translation, in particular, lends itself to some funny stories.

Consider this title for a French banking company's 2007 annual report to its shareholders: "Credit Agricole Group Under Scrutiny". While this may sound appropriate in the wake of the financial industry's collapse, it was not the intended meaning. The French original means "focus", so the title should have been "Focus on Credit Agricole Group". (This example came from Chris Durban in the ATA Chronicle of August 2008; the full article is, however, only available to members of the American Translators Association.)

Happy Mardi Gras!

Until next week,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Under Construction

This is a new blog on language and translation from a German-English translator living in the U.S. Posting will start next Tuesday, February 24. I will post a new entry weekly, usually on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. In the meantime, you can visit my website at
Thanks for coming, and please check back next Tuesday!