Thursday, September 30, 2010

International Translation Day: Everyone Deserves Good Translations!

September 30 is the International Translation Day. The day is organized, in part, by the French-based International Federation of Translators (Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs), which also determines a theme for each year. This year's theme is "Translation Quality for a Variety of Voices".

In a world where various immigrant groups are increasingly maligned, it seems particularly pertinent to remind us of the world's diversity and its need for quality translations. The more people move to different parts of the globe -- be it in search of economic opportunity, to escape repression, or for more personal reasons -- the more important translation and interpretation become. To be sure, many of these immigrants will learn the host country's language well, but not everyone has the educational background, facility with languages or age to do so.

Independent of their facility with a given language, everyone is entitled to understand pertinent information in the country in which they live. That's where we translators and interpreters come in: to provide quality translations for everyone, regardless of where they come from or how they came to live in an unfamiliar linguistic environment.

Happy International Translation Day to everyone!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Handled the Tornado and Other Service Problems

On Monday mid-morning my internet service suddenly stopped working, apparently due to a neighborhood-wide problem, according to my cable company. Service was not restored until the evening. I have written before about how I back up my clients' data and work in progress, as well as how I prepare for disaster. This is how those backup plans worked out during the tornado last week and the service problems on Monday:

I continued to receive e-mail on my Blackberry and could also respond to inquiries using that device. In addition, I could open Word documents and PDFs to assess a potential project before replying. Internet browsing is possible, but cumbersome and most sites don't display properly, if at all. I am considering upgrading to a smartphone with a touch screen. My husband and son each have an LG Ally and their phones let them browse the internet much more efficiently. If I do upgrade, should I get an LG Ally, a Motorola Droid or a Blackberry Touch? Does anyone have advice on that?

The bar a few blocks from my house advertises free WiFi, but I couldn't get it to work on my netbook. The middle-aged bartender confided that he had just bought his first computer a couple of years ago and "wasn't a computer guy", so he couldn't help me. Fortunately, there are several cafes with free WiFi (that works) a few subway stops from my house, so I went there instead.

During the tornado last Thursday, lights in my office flickered and I briefly lost power. My uninterruptible power supply did keep my computer and network operating, so I could save my work to a USB drive and shut everything down in an orderly fashion. I then plugged the USB drive into my laptop and continued working on that, just in case there were more power problems. As it turned out, there weren't, so an hour later I just turned everything back on and copied my work back to my desktop.

What kind of emergency plans do you have?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What About Politically Objectionable Projects?

I recently received an offer for a translation job from an existing client where the subject matter was simply "Politics". I don't normally need to see sample text for jobs from existing clients, since I already have a sense for what types of texts these agencies accept. I also have a standard price per word set up with such clients. Thus subject matter, size and deadline are generally sufficient for me to decide whether I can take the project. With my usual bread-and-butter technical texts, knowing whether the text is about IT or mechanical engineering is usually enough detail. However, politics is different, I think. While I do believe that everyone should be able to express any political opinion he/she desires, I will not aid political doctrines I find reprehensible by translating them.

Last month, the Tanslators Worldwide group on LinkedIn conducted an interesting poll on the topic ("Do you refuse translations on ethical, moral, political, or religious grounds?", accessible only to members). Comments ranged from "No, I never refuse," through "This hasn't come up for me," to "Yes, I have done so on several occasions". At some translator events, I have spoken to colleagues who say they don't understand why I won't work for the U.S. defense industry or U.S. spy agencies. These are organizations I oppose during my free time, so why would I work for them in my professional life?

Conversely, I will aid causes I strongly support by volunteering for them, occasionally even providing a translation pro bono. It seems to me that if we take a stance against certain organizations or doctrines by refusing to work for them, we should also take a stance for other organizations or causes by volunteering for them, either as translators or by performing other work. While that behavior should not be limited to our profession, it does have its limits: even the most reprehensible defendant is entitled to a lawyer, and everyone is entitled to medical help, no matter the patient's political views. However, in these cases we are talking about upholding individual persons' rights, not helping to disseminate a particular point of view. To paraphrase Voltaire, "If I disapprove of what you say, I'll defend your right to say it, but I won't help you do so."

As to the "politics" assignment: I asked for more information on the specific topic and end client, but was told the project had already been assigned to someone else.

How do you handle offers for projects from/about groups/causes you oppose?

Friday, September 10, 2010

How to Proceed With New Clients

An e-mail I received recently made me think that it would be good to post a standardized procedure for handling requests from potential new clients. Some of my colleagues, such as Corinne McKay in her blog post "Responding to a request for quote", have written about their own procedures. To contribute to that debate, here is my approach:

  1. I receive a general e-mail inquiry.

  2. I check the background of the e-mail's sender (see my earlier blog post on Checking Out Potential Clients).

  3. If the results of that search indicate a professional company without complaints about non-payment, I reply to the inquiry requesting the following information (unless already supplied in the initial inquiry):

    1. Exact word count of source text
    2. Field of specialization/type of text
    3. Format of source text (Word doc, PDF, Excel spreadsheet, ...)
    4. Deadline requested
    5. Text sample

    If the results of my search do not indicate a professional company, or I see repeated complaints about non-payment, I decline the project.

  4. The client supplies the information requested.

  5. I evaluate the text sample, source format, total length and deadline requested in light of other pending projects. If I can handle this project, I confirm the word count and deadline and state my standard per word rate, as well as the total price and payment terms:

    1. A deposit of 50% of the total price prior to starting work on the project.
    2. If the project is expected to take less than 2 weeks, I'll invoice the remainder of the total price at project completion and expect payment within 15 days of invoice date.
    3. If the project is expected to take 2-6 weeks, 25% of the remaining total price is due after 2 weeks, with the final 25% again invoiced on project completion and due within 15 days of invoice date.
    4. For long-term projects (more than 6 weeks), I propose a schedule of partial deliveries, with due dates for partial payments.

  6. The client agrees to my price and terms, confirms the order and sends the entire source text.

  7. I send an invoice for the deposit, including information on where/how to pay it. Depending on the timeframe involved and the client's location, this may be my PayPal account or a bank account.

  8. The client pays the deposit and notifies me by e-mail or Skype, or I receive an e-mail from PayPal.

  9. I confirm receipt of the deposit and start work on the translation, backing my work up as I go along (see my earlier post on Backup Procedures & Disaster Preparedness).

  10. At the latest the night before the deadline I e-mail the completed translation to the client, asking for confirmation that the file was received.

  11. The client confirms receipt of the translation.

  12. During my next invoicing cycle (usually once a week), I generate an invoice for the remaining price of the project.

  13. I receive payment of that remaining amount and mark this project closed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Does Your Language Determine Your Sense of Orientation?

Last weekend's New York Times magazine included an interesting article positing that our "mother tongue" may well shape our experience of the world -- not in terms of what we cannot perceive, but in terms of what we must perceive. In "You Are What You Speak: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?", Guy Deutscher uses the example of "geographic" languages, such as the Australian aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr, and their influence on speaker's sense of orientation. Geographic languages described any location in terms of cardinal directions (e.g., "The ant is north of your foot."), while "egocentric" languages, such as most Western languages, generally describe location based on the speaker's or subject's position (e.g., "The ant is in front of your foot.")

Research performed with native speakers of such geographic languages shows them to have a superior sense of direction compared with the average speaker of an egocentric language. What this does not account for, however, is where native speakers of the respective types of languages grew up.

Take my husband, an English native speaker from a small town in Iowa. Even after living in New York City for 20 years, he generally gives directions in terms of cardinal directions (e.g., walk north on 7th Avenue, then turn East at 23rd Street) and can tell you which way a particular direction is, even in the midst of the city. Confronted with such directions, my New York City-born English speaking children say, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Am I supposed to turn left or right?" It seems to me that my husband's rural childhood is responsible for his sense of directions, not his native language.

Since known geographic languages are all indigenous, it stands to reason that native speakers of such languages would have grown up in rural settings. Many native speakers of Western languages, however, grew up in urban areas. So how much of someone's sense of orientation is related to the language they grew up speaking and how much is a result of the environment in which they grew up?