Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Send End Clients a Checklist/Questionnaire Asking About Project Information

Gina Wadley from the Society for Technical Communication mentioned in an online meeting yesterday that she sends a guide to language service providers (LSPs) who translate her company's documentation and other materials. In addition to basic information, such as a list of the files included that need to be translated, that guide also provides information about the documents' intended audience, what should not be translated (e.g., programming strings), and similar instructions. In addition, she provides the LSP with a glossary as an Excel spreadsheet.

During our conversation, Gina suggested I create a checklist/questionnaire for clients that asks for some of the information she provides to her LSPs, such as audience, intended use of the document, available glossaries, etc. This is an excellent idea I will try to work on after the holidays. If all of us request such specific information from our (end) clients, companies who contract for translation services will get used to providing this information up front.

So far, I think I would like to include questions asking for the following information:

  • What is the intended audience (programmers, end users, general public, ...)?
  • What is the intended use (online help, printed documentation, ...)?
  • Is there a Q&A process after the translation has been received? If so, what is that process and who is involved?
  • What is the final deadline for the translated product (compared to the deadline for the translation)?
  • Are there internal glossaries, company-specific abbreviations, existing product descriptions, websites, etc. in English? If so, please provide that supporting information.

What else do you think should be included in such a questionnaire/checklist?

I will be spending next week with my family and won't post. I will be back on January 4. Happy Holidays!/p>

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Are Translation Apps at All Useful?

Machine translation has certainly come a long way since its infancy just a few years ago. So is it good enough to provide the basic idea of a message you have received in a language you don't speak? Not quite, it seems.

Several of my family members collaborated on my combined birthday/Christmas gift: an iPad. Having tried for some time now to come up with a justification for buying a tablet computer -- and failed to do so -- I was overjoyed. Browsing through its app store, I came upon a free translation utility, "Free Translator". Once I downloaded it, a small note in the corner said "powered by Google translate". While Google generally can't provide a polished translation, it is often good enough to get the gist of a text.

So I decided to test it with the German sentence from one of my clients giving me the go-ahead for a project and confirming its due date. The German sentence read "Der Auftrag ist erteilt, Lieferung Mitte nächster Woche OK!" The app returned "The order is issued, starting mid-next week OK!"

This does sound like an understandable English sentence, doesn't it? Well, yes, except for the fact that "Lieferung" means "delivery" (i.e., due date), not "starting". Were I to rely on the translated version of this order confirmation, I wouldn't be able to deliver on time (the project involves 6 PDFs of 2 pages each).

The purpose of small, free apps such as this one is precisely for a reader to understand the basic idea in an e-mail that was written in a language he or she doesn't speak. Good English grammar, let alone polished style, is not necessary in that context, but accuracy is. Even if terms are only "sort of" right (e.g., "udder" instead of "breast" in a sentence about a woman's cancer diagnosis), humans can often discern the actual meaning. However, if the translation is simply wrong (as in "starting" instead of "delivering"), there is no way for a person to know that he or she has have been given the wrong information.

If one cannot rely on such apps to provide even the basics of a message, there seems little point in using them. To answer the question in the title, then: apparently not.

Caveat: I did use Google Translate last year to render "Merry Christmas" into Tagalog for my son-in-law's card. He tells me that while the phrase wasn't idiomatic, it was understandable. So sometimes it does work. But how do I know when it does?/p>

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How I Plan to Target Swiss Direct Clients

Yet another Swiss text to translate. I've never been to Switzerland (unless you count quickly passing through on the way to somewhere else in Europe), but as I wrote previously I'm becoming quite familiar with Swiss business German. With the Euro in crisis, maybe Switzerland is the place to find direct clients. So how would I go about this?

That's actually a good question, since directories of foreign companies are hard to find at my local business library here in Brooklyn, NY. The library does have a German company directory, but not a Swiss or Austrian one. So I tried to come up with a game plan for finding and then targeting potential Swiss clients:

  1. Create a tri-fold brochure specifically geared towards Switzerland (based on my generic brochure) and have a small number printed by a low-cost online printer.
  2. Use the Swiss version of Google ( to search for Swiss IT, transportation/logistics and other technology companies.
  3. For each company found, check whether or not its website has an English version and note contact information for the person who is most likely to handle translations.
  4. Search for these contact people, as well as their companies, on the LinkedIn and Xing professional networks, note additional details on their background and see whether I can invite them into my network.
  5. Consider getting a paid subscription to either or both networks, so I can contact people "out of my network", then contact those I cannot invite into my network otherwise.
  6. Follow up with an e-mail several weeks later detailing my experience in translating Swiss texts, as well as with relevant subject matter (IT, etc...). Offer a free short test translation. Mention LinkedIn/Xing connection and announce brochure mailing.
  7. For any replies saying that they don't handle translations, ask who does and e-mail that person. Also find them on one or both professional networks and connect there.
  8. Three weeks later, mail the brochure created in Step 1, with a cover letter detailing previous contacts.
  9. A month later send follow-up e-mail inquiring whether they received the brochure and would like a free test translation.

I'm not sure what I will do after that last step, but this should keep me busy for a while with marketing.