Category Archives: Rush translations

The inverse way of disrupting translation practice

I recall a sunny colleague calling me a Luddite on the Proz.com platform some years ago. The reason, vaguely recollected now, was that I chose to criticize a technology. It might have been translators using iPads, I don’t know. I confess to feeling jaded after reading numerous headlines about this or that technology increasing a translator’s productivity or how we should embrace AI, MT or some other technoacronym to bring home the bacon.

I also remember a translation agency owner (the agency, Antler Translation Services; Peter Wheeler the speaker) speaking at a New York Circle of Translators meeting in 1991. He spoke about translators pecking at a typewriter and fearing the desktop computer. That statement made a profound impression on me because a) I was a recent graduate with a translation diploma and b) I didn’t yet have a computer. I was enthusiastic, feeling paradoxically both new and at home among these translators who were challenging each other to move forward. Adopt the PC! seemed to be Mr. Wheeler’s proposed mantra.

We’ve come a long way in these intervening decades. That gentle push to embrace more efficient technologies has long been replaced by a less considerate and forceful thrust to board the fast-moving treadmill of technomarvels: CAT tools, TEnT tools, terminology extraction utilities, notebooks, laptops, mobile phones, file converters, project management and invoicing applications, webinars. They all march to the thrilling and shrilling marketing tune of each brand. And speaking of brand, we are told to imagine and develop our “personal brand” and speed network, smile and email our way into the hearts of new clients.

Your mind is not a cog. Don’t act like one.

But serious minds demand facts to support this whirlwind of tech-enabled innovation, creativity and get-the-rates-you-deserve chorus. No matter, the oft-cited Bureau of Labor figures extolling the double-digit year-on-year growth figures for the translation and interpreting profession will see us through.

Happy to quote these numbers, translation associations boost their MLM-grade conference offerings with promises of “networking that works” and other slick slogans. After all, hundreds and even thousands of members can’t all be wrong, now, can they? Is this the age of technomagic to transport us to a new era for translators? Can we really improve our lot as professional translators and the product of our labors with the flick of a technological wand? Call me a Luddite but I propose an antidigital approach to translation as a profession because I don’t care so much about my projected image as much as what I write in the form of translations.

I work with a team of translators. We use SDL Trados 2015. Our workstations hold 65 GB of RAM. All of our tools and applications reside in an internal cloud. That’s right—our desktop computers don’t have a hard drive to speak of. We enjoy a highly collaborative relationship with a team of workflow managers who take care of the mechanics of importing and exporting files, handling vendors and making sure our translation memories, termbases and other resources are on the right portals, waiting for us.

There are some unsettling trends that I thought were just my imagination, when I was working as an independent translator: not knowing how to use dictionaries, overdependence on Google hits to determine language usage, assessing translation quality by terminology choices, questionable research methods to determine sense and meaning in an original text or paragraph, overuse of bilingual dictionaries. I recognized some of these trends in the workplace, and they’re worrisome to me. These habits work to the detriment of two translation-related activities: reading and writing.

Reading is cheap and exposes us to a variety of genres and media, from advertisements to novels to specialized magazines and journals. Writing is likewise cheap and it can be done with almost anything over almost anything. I prefer the old writing instruments: pen or pencil, and a blank or lined sheet of paper. Before the reader tells me that reading or writing have little to do with advances in translation, productive tools and networking at conferences to get more clients, or raise rates to the level we all think we deserve, ask yourself: when was the last time you read something out loud? When was the last time you wrote a paragraph, a whole sheet describing, narrating or explaining anything?

Alone with your pen and paper, faced with the hum of your thoughts, try to make up a story, or describe an imaginary village or animal. Try rescuing a beloved teenage memory: your first day of driving a car, riding a bicycle, or seeing a sad face while riding the bus or subway. Consider what a dear friend told you about her day and try to put that in writing, just for yourself. Your mind, your hand, your eyes, your remembrances need no batteries. You don’t need to plug anything. Your high-definition screen in the mind helps you connect the dots.

Years ago I embarked on a sort of lone crusade to work more slowly, to give my eyes a little more time to read the originals I was given to translate, to read over the freshly mindbaked sentences I wrote on my CAT tool, to reconsider merging “segments” so that the language would flow more idiomatically and more naturally in written form. That endeavor, which I playfully called Keep calm and translate slowly, cost me dearly: rush-driven clients stopped calling me, tight deadlines deserted me, but I kept enjoying working with a select few clients who trusted me and with whom I developed lasting business relationships. But market forces being what they are don’t favor such unusual approaches and I was forced to go to the corporate world, where I am surrounded by technology. At least I am given enough time to work at my own pace as long as I am efficient.

Although our translation memories, built by other translators with different reading and writing habits, govern the way I review translations, whenever I am given a translation, I flex my mind muscles and put my own habits to work. I am free to apply my own research, reading and writing methods, techniques—not technologies— that bring me closer to the reader. I still harbor the hope that there is at least one reader who cares about language, about how things are written, who expects to savor a sentence, parse a paragraph, sense the syntax cadence that is carefully assembled for her use and decision-making. Because, no matter what technology you choose to translate with, the warm, distilled sense of human communication, whether oral or written, will always endure and transcend your technotoys.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Business of writing, Customer relationship, Lectura - Reading, Networking, Project Management, Quality in translation, Rates, Rates and fees for services, Redacción - Writing, Rush translations, TEnT tools, Terminology, The world of translation, Trados, Writing skills

The myth of the rush translation

Faced with a rush translation? Just say no.

To the neophyte translator, who is still struggling to find regular clients, the words urgent and rush sound like an invitation to test her skills, her ability to meet deadlines and, most importantly, land a new client. These words are part of the stable repertoire of a customer’s manipulative language. At times, these rush translation requests come with an overt quasi promise of more work. And the inexperienced translator falls for it. I know because I did it on several occasions during the first few years of my career.

I am not disqualifying every single claim to a rush or urgent translation, because I have also faced bona fide rush requests from well-established clients. The difference is that there is no manipulative language, no empty promises of more projects coming up. As an in-house translator, I had to drop everything in order to address the occasional urgent request for a translation.

Napoleón Bonaparte quote - vísteme despacio que tengo prisa

In addition, reliable customers who request bona fide rush translations offer to pay extra for your trouble and don’t usually haggle: they’re in a time crunch and they come to you because you are reliable too. They’re willing to pay top dollar for your services. Other than that, rush requests belie a pervasive lack of organization that comes from project mismanagement and unrealistic expectations set by sales, marketing and/or product managers at the end-customer side. Translation companies big and small, desperate to please and earn money, accept these rush projects without question, thus becoming part of the contagious lack of organization I referred to earlier.

But said translation companies protest: “The customer is always right.” This is one of those proverbs that are rather a self-fulfilling prophecy than a rational statement of fact. No, not all customers are always right. In fact, some customers are usually disorganized, unfocused, distracted, etc. Behind every corporation or small business, there’s a very fallible human being who can’t be always right even if his (or her) life depended on it.

Translators could use some of the scientific method approach: look for the root cause, investigate, experiment, fail and fail again, examine all plausible causes for a particular result, eliminate the improbable and arrive at the truth. So what if a client says I have a rush translation due tomorrow, 3000 words from a contract or a list of parts for a blowout preventer? Whether you are a single contractor, a 10-staff translation agency or LionBridge, you have a choice. Learn to say no.

In our minds, we all sometimes entertain an ideal dialogue with a client, trying to elucidate the causes for a rush, delay, lack of proper deliverables, attempting to resolve conflicts and miscommunication. We all sometimes wish that our client were more understanding, had more time to talk on the phone, actually gave us the materials we requested to do our job instead of wasting our time. But these are ideal scenarios that play out only in our heads. We have no power or authority to go into a customer’s organization, talk to the befuddled managers on how to insert the translation process into their processes and workflows instead of leaving translation as an afterthought. We cannot change their behavior. But we do have the power to say no. Let me play a scenario for you.

If translation companies, from government contractors to the lowliest of the lowly and lonely single translator starting out as such had the courage, the presence of mind, the firmness of will, the determination to say No, I can’t do your rush translation, then clients may start to reassess their workflows. We can be more detailed in our answer: No, I can’t do your rush translation under the circumstances you describe. If we acted this way, maybe, just maybe clients will reflect and play a fairer game, because good writing, good translating cannot be rushed.

There are other sad considerations behind a rush translation, aside from a chaotic workflow on the client’s side. Does the client really care for the end user who will use the translation? If not, why pay for it? I recently faced the following situation: a lighting manufacturer wanted some bilingual instructions to be translated and laid out as soon as possible, almost urgently, because their Chinese partner was sending new fixtures sooner than expected and shipment to customers had to be accelerated. Even with suitable translations, a proper document layout cannot be just rushed, slapping images on pages as some artists does with scraps to make a photo collage. What was so urgent about inserting the rushed translation into the fixtures’ packaging? What if the instructions, properly translated and typeset, were given adequate time and then end users were directed to download those instructions from the manufacturer’s website instead? There wouldn’t be any need to rush a translation. If we compared the rush time to a regular lead time for translation delivery, we would be talking about a few days. What will a few days’ delay make against a company’s quarterly sales?

Software developers and makers rush products all the time in a highly competitive marketplace, trying to outdo each other with new features and reach the market before the other. But, why sell buggy and mistranslated (mislocalized) software in the first place, knowing that correcting those bugs and mistranslations cost added time and money to the company and to the customer? My 7 years in the software business have shown precisely that time and time again. Where’s the rational workflow, the proper product and project management in that?

The point here is that mismanagement and chaotic workflows don’t just affect translations and translators but products, services, time-to-market schemes and, ultimately, profits. Easy does it, the saying goes. Speed is not a virtue but an obstacle, like any other. Anything worth keeping, buying, investing in, admiring and valuing is truly worth waiting for. Don’t rush it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Customer workflow, Negotiations, Rush translations