Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Schwyzerdütsch" in IT

Somehow I wound up with several IT-related translations from Swiss German this week. While written Swiss business German is much closer to standard German than one would expect when hearing the spoken language, it does have its peculiarities. Oddly, a number of Swiss words and phrases -- at least in the IT world -- seem much closer to their English equivalent than to the corresponding word or phrase used in Germany.

On the other hand, I sometimes have to resort to googling Swiss websites (via to find out what a particular term means. So far I have always been able to find at least a website that uses the term in enough context and/or explains it so I can figure out what is meant, even if most of these websites do not appear to be bilingual. Come to think of it, many of the Swiss German websites I have encountered in this way not only didn't have an English version, but also didn't appear to have been translated into French or Italian, the other official Swiss languages. That seems a little odd, especially after browsing a number of Canadian website that all opened with a page to choose the English or French versions -- although admittedly these were websites in Quebec.

In any case, a couple of years back I had a spate of Swiss texts to translate and finally bought myself a Swiss German-English dictionary (the well-known German dictionary publisher Langenscheidt produces such a dictionary). While this helps with general business texts, it's a relatively small general-purpose dictionary that lacks many IT-specific terms. Does anyone know about a Swiss German-English IT dictionary?

Then again, I remember calling IT support in Switzerland when I was the network supervisor for a department in a Swiss bank in New York. Most of the people I spoke with weren't Swiss and spoke German (or French or Italian) as a second (or third) language. Since many of them were Indian (not an outsourced help desk, but Indians living in Zurich), we communicated much more easily in English than in German. So I wonder whether some of the more English-sounding IT terms I am encountering are indeed Swiss German or were coined by IT personnel who is more at home in English than in Swiss German.

It might be interesting to speak to people at IT-related companies in Switzerland about this, but I doubt I will have a chance to visit there any tiime soon...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Taking Stock

Several of you commented on my Jan. 5 post about New Year's resolutions, so I thought I'd summarize how it's been going so far:

  1. Marketing
    I have submitted one article, committed to two more, and proposed two to three other articles for various newsletters and blogs. Posting to this blog is also on track, although I need to develop a list of topics to cover. I attended, or have signed up for, networking meetings through March. While I've been trying to keep to my schedule for posts to this blog, I need to develop a list of topics I can use when inspiration doesn't strike. My Achilles heel here are the "cold call" e-mails. I've only done 4 and have some trouble identifying enough contacts to whom to send such e-mails.

  2. Client Tracking
    The schedule I had set for myself is proving to be rather disruptive to my work flow. While I've tried to keep up with it so far, I'll switch to a fixed day of the week when I do that week's data entry and follow-up mailings.

  3. Knowledge
    I attended the Introduction to Trados webinar and am working through the handout to prepare for the certification exam, which I am planning on taking in March. In addition, I've attended a couple of informative lectures, but no hands-on training. I've also run out of Spanish books to read and need to get to the library for more such reading material.

  4. Marketability
    Besides working on learning Trados, I haven't done anything in this department yet. I am planning on taking the the certification exam at the American Translators Association's Oct. conference in Boston, but I need to start preparing for that exam.

  5. Productivity
    I started training Dragon Naturally Speaking, but need to spend more time on that before I can really use the program. I've tried to teach myself ACT! as I go along, but I'm having trouble getting customized automation for reminders & such to work. Will need to look for a book on that software ...

Thanks for all your comments and encouragement. I won't bore you with frequent updates on the status of things, but I am planning to post a 6-month evaluation of my plans and their implementation by this July.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Canada is Bilingual -- Why Not the U.S., Too?

I just returned from a mini-vacation in Montreal and Quebec City, Canada. While I kept struggling to get directions or negotiate payments in French, Montrealers in particular seemed to effortlessly move in and out of English and French, depending on the situation and persons involved. That was even true for some American friends who had moved to Montreal a few years ago and were working in a French-speaking environment. Even in Quebec City, where French is much more prevalent than in Montreal, our elderly host at the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed easily switched to English when he saw me struggling to understand him.

Given that everyone in Quebec learns both languages starting in elementary school and not infrequently encounters situations where he/she needs to use his/her non-dominant language that is not surprising. Since fluency in multiple languages is becoming increasingly important in a ever more globalized world, one wonders why it is so rare outside special circumstances such as officially bi-lingual countries. It seems to me that a similar strategy of early immersion in a second language could be replicated relatively easily at least in large U.S. cities, most of which have a rather significant Spanish-speaking population.

If children here in New York, for example, were to learn Spanish intensively starting in, say, third grade, and then were encouraged to use that knowledge in day-to-day interactions with the city's Spanish-speaking population, we could raise a bilingual generation. That would, of course, also require expanding access to Latino cultural contributions to the mainstream, selling Spanish-speaking newspapers everywhere and increasing Spanish-language programming on TV and radio.

My only problem with that scenario is that if I went to Quebec then, my Spanish would intrude into my French even more than it does now.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where Will Technological Change Lead Us?

I recently attended Neil Perlin's presentation "Developing For the Unknown ..." at a a meeting by the Society for Technical Communications' New York chapter. While his talk centered on programming strategies for technical writers who prepare browser-based help systems, his basic point applies to translation as well: we don't know what technological changes will happen in our profession over the next few years, so we need to prepare for "the unknown".

While translating text does not depend as much on technology as coding online systems, changes in software and information sources do require us to change the way we work. When I started out more than 10 years ago, computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools were not all that common for freelance translators. Online terminology databases were also fairly limited. So back then most of my work involved using paper dictionaries and typing the translation into a word processing document, all the while keeping track of terminology choices on paper or in a separate spreadsheet. After I finished the translation, I had to go back and format the text to match the original.

Now I work with two computer screens: one contains the source and target text side-by-side in a CAT tool (Wordfast or Trados), the other screen holds a browser with each tab opening to a different online dictionary or terminology list. To keep track of terminology, I add terms to an online glossary integrated in the CAT tool. All this makes translating faster and ensures more uniform terminology, but it also means I can't really work reasonably efficiently on my laptop. So despite the technological advances, I'm now more tethered to my desk than I was before.

On the other hand, having most of the resources online does enable me to work from somewhere else without having to lug multiple heavy dictionaries, as well as printouts of source text, around. (I do still own -- and use -- a number of paper-based dictionaries, but far less than I used to).

But technological change not only influences our work habits, it may change the profession itself. Machine translation is getting better and becoming more widely used. Post-editing of machine translations appears more frequently on job boards for translators. So the big unknown in our profession is: where will that trend end in 2, or 5, or 10 years? Will we all be reduced to editing machine-generated translations or, worse yet, become redundant as machine translation is pronounced "good enough", at least for technical texts?