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, http://www.reliable-translations.com/, 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,