Category Archives: Translation

Refers to translation in general

See spots run

All languages are equal, but some languages are more equal than others.

Paraphrasing the (in)famous quote from H.G. Well’s Animal Farm, «All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” I find myself thinking of a soup of random but oddly connected ideas: pigs, languages, words, and spots. Why spots? British painter Damien Hirst’s endless artwork collection of spots, carefully arranged color dots named after pharmaceuticals.

In my list of random ideas, there’s an undercurrent: commodification. According to Merriam-Webster’s, it means turning something that is not supposed to be a tradable object into a commodity. Look around in your house or office. Are there any objects that are uniquely wrought and made? Maybe that purple sweater knitted by grandma? Or perhaps that loaf of homemade bread you made two days ago? Did you make the bread from scratch? Of course. Where did you bake it? In an oven, a bread maker?

My mother used to bake homemade round breads and pastries for sale, fresh out of a brick-and-mortar hemispheric oven. My father built it for her in our backyard when I was a preteen. That oven was very useful to my mother for several months. I only cared for the pastries. Even though my father was no skilled bricklayer, his oven was similar to thousands of other mud ovens. Whatever we do with our hands remains unique, not line-assembled like a plastic toy or an SUV. Working things with our hands has many benefits but, how many people bake their own bread these days?

A mud oven

Take another commodity: books. A Gutenberg-printed bible in 1455 cost “the equivalent of three years’ pay for the average clerk” (from http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/press.html). Nowadays, you can get a nicely bound bible for 5 bucks or less. Thanks to industrialization, many handcrafted items became commodities and arrived in our homes. In mine, for example, most items are commodities: books, computers, kitchenware, clothes, pieces of furniture, CDs, DVDs, consumer electronics, foodstuff, rugs, office supplies, lighting fixtures, even the paint on my walls. But it’s not just objects that have been commoditized. Services such as electricity, water, cable Internet and phone service are all commodities.

The benefits of commoditization are evident: affordability, predictability of cost, ease of manufacturing, standardization of manufacturing processes, performance and delivery, ease of use, easy transfer of goods and services across borders, just to name the most important. For us, consumers, affordability and ease of use stand out.

Globalization made commoditization a truly international phenomenon. Almost overnight, there were no borders, tariffs were lowered, products, services and jobs began their fluid transfer among nations and territories. In America, we live an economic paradox: we have an unprecedented access to affordable goods from all corners of the planet, and we want products with better quality at lower prices. The downside is that we lose jobs to other nations in the process —not just China. If the goods we so prize were made in America, we would be paying several times over for them…and we wouldn’t be a happy lot, would we?

Works of art used to be unique. Paintings, sculptures and installations worth tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, cover the walls and floors of many a museum in urban centers across the globe. Why are they so costly? Because they are unique. But then, we have another paradox: the commodified painting that is also expensive, intended for the wallets of the one-percenters.

Damien Hirst’s simultaneous exhibits in all 11 of Larry Gagosian’s galleries around the world consist of more than 300 spot paintings. These art objects come in different sizes and color palettes but share two themes: perfectly round color spots and grid distribution. Not all of these paintings were made by Mr. Hirst, however, but by his assistants. I saw some examples in the January 23, 2012 issue of The New York Observer this week. Granted, the paintings are mesmerizing in all their blahish glory. The most anyone paid for a Hirst spot painting, named 3 -(5-chloro-2-hydroxphenylazo)- 4, 5-dihydroxy-2, 7-naphthalenedisulfonic acid, was £1.8m (from http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Seeing-spots/24530). You can see a reproduction here and judge for yourself if this painting is worth more than 2 million dollars.

Damien Hirst's Valium (online reproduction)

But Damien Hirst is a well known painter, a brand in itself. His paintings draw higher-than-premium prices because of who he is and what he’s done, even though his spot paintings make you yell “My daughter could have painted thaaat!” Some art pieces are more equal than others, and so are other products or services.

Consider your product or service, how much it cost you to produce and deliver to market, and how much you price it. Even if it is a commodity, if your product or service is rare or unique enough, and useful enough, it will command a premium sticker price. Imagine your product to be a premium water bottle. Supermarkets stock those for $1.5o -$3.50 apiece. After a bottle is drunk and tossed into the garbage, what is its price? A few cents for recyclable content.

Consider now your product or service and the messages surrounding them that help to sell them or use them, such as ad copy, marketing collaterals, documentation, handbooks and instructions. How much value do they add to your product or service? Are they recyclable or transferable? In case you sell overseas, do the translations of said accompanying messages add value to your product or service?

Your product may look like millions of other products. Your service may sound like thousands of similar offerings. At a distance, all of them look the same, just like Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. Will Heinrich, The New York Observer’s resident art columnist, has this to say:

“…the medical-white canvases are decorated with perfectly round, appealingly candy-color spots…The colors, although sticking to a narrow, consistent palette, do not strictly repeat in any one painting, and they’re so precisely applied that the spots look like stickers…Even the white backgrounds stop perfectly short at the edges.”

Hirst’s formula to make his spot paintings unique was the unrepeatability of the color dots, which brings uniqueness to his commoditized art. Likewise, the texts that promote and sell your products and instruct on their use may as well share this distinctive trait of unrepeatability: your company style and tone permeates the texts to create the look and feel your customers have come to expect from your offerings. So should your translated materials. Your message —in English or in foreign languages— does not have to be a commodity just because it is printed on commoditized paper, html or pdf.

A skilled word artisan can make this possible by spotting the inherent and vibrant patterns in your writing, and then casting fresh servings of texts in foreign-language flavors that are pleasing to the eye of the discerning consumer. Whether it is an MSDS, a help file, a tool’s instruction manual or a brochure for your new service, don’t relegate them to your customer’s blind spot. Make them visible. Make them valuable.

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Filed under Advertising, Business of writing, Commodification, Style, Translation as art, Translation as value added, Value added

The proof is in the paper

Quick, answer this question: How many sheets of paper does your office print in a day? In a month? In an entire year?

If you answered “I have no idea,” congratulations! That’s the correct answer. As part of a translation workflow, proofreading the translation is one step to make sure there are no typos, misplaced or missing punctuation and no problems with the publication’s layout. Because proofing a publish-ready document is a quality check, its cost is part of doing business, especially if you intend the document to be read. Otherwise, why bother writing it in the first place?

Proofing a galley with a red pen

Twenty years ago, when I started my career as a translator, I was taught the value of proofreading. A manager at a Manhattan-based print shop gave me my first proofing assignment of galleys with a follow-up question, “Do you know proofing marks?” Before heading for the print shop that day, I took a crash course in proofing marks, which are printed on two pages in most English-language dictionaries. The purpose of marking a galley is to indicate the page editor what changes are requisite, such as misspellings, stacked hyphens, transpositions, letters that should be capitalized, etc. My exposure to proofreading galleys in those days was twofold: attention to detail when preparing the final pages and respect for the beauty of the printed page.

Translators and translation agencies knew proofreading as one of a two-step process to ensure the quality of a translation, editing being the second step. These two stages —proofreading and editing— are different because they fulfill different goals. Proofreading handles the mechanics and visual aspects of letters, words and phrases, columns, tables, graphics and the like. Editing concerns itself with the inner workings of language, mainly stylistic features. A proofreader may spot a misplaced or missing phrase, but he is not supposed to translate it, that’s the editor’s job. Because of the downward pressure on costs, the tasks of proofreading and editing have been fused together. Some translation vendors have done away with proofreading altogether, charging the editor —and even the same translator— with the responsibility of proofing and editing for an even lower price.

Concerns for the environment have also helped to port the paper-based proofreading process on the computer monitor, not the ideal medium to spot for minute errors. A recent Proz discussion on the subject (see it here) revealed that the majority of translators prefer to proof their work directly on-screen. Many of them do it for environmental reasons and refuse to print anything on paper. My answer lies below:

Sometimes paper beats screen

20 Feb

In the rock-paper-scissors game of proofing for things, paper usually beats screen. Why? It’s not our primitive need to touch. It’s not our desire to hold on to the old ways. It’s just simple optics.

The human eye grows fatigued after hours of looking at a screen, which sits at a fixed distance. So, fixed focus for the eye. Our eyes need to refocus and change focus ever so often to fight fatigue. Ask any eye doctor, he’ll tell you to look away from the screen. With a fixed focus, we fail to notice some things, especially smallish items like commas, letters or other glyphs. I find proofing on-screen is great if I only need to do some macro-level proofing (ie, desktop publishing jobs). I only have to check the shape and layout of things.

On the other hand, if the document is small (2-5 pages), nothing beats printing it and checking it under good light, even reading it out loud —like some of you suggested. I don’t buy the green argument for every piece of screen real estate. Some things are meant to be printed and checked. I learned to proof galleys at a printer’s shop in Manhattan, NY in 1992. I learned to use proofing marks, I learned to spot things, like stacked hyphens and words that aren’t supposed to be hyphenated, plus misplaced periods and missing paragraphs. Trust me, nothing beats the manual labor we can put in.

I think it is essential that we involve manual skills to verify the good quality of a written piece. Using a pen to mark errors, follow lines, jotting notes and other things help our mind become more aware of the medium the written piece will be on. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I prefer to read a manual, a magazine or a book in printed form. I can relate better to its physicality, its three-dimensional place in my world and its reality. Looking at documents only expressed in bytes is a bit limiting, in my view, and our eyes are overstretched in their function not just to view, but to measure, remember, bookmark, segmentize and categorize at increasingly faster speeds. We are punishing our brains to become simple receptacles of information, and leave their marvelous abilities underused.

Perhaps you’ll say that proofreading a long document on the screen is more efficient, especially with track changes in a collaborative environment. But an efficient process has to have some ground rules or else it runs amok. If you have a team of translators working on the same document, maybe you save time because everyone is working on a virtual document with little need for emailing a new copy of it with changes. And these collaborative environments are encouraged by the customer to be as horizontal in authority as possible. So, who has the last word? Who vets the editors? What is stopping an editor from sowing the page with red track changes? In my experience, the temptation to overcorrect and overproof is too great to resist, having handled pages and pages of electronic documents bleeding with track changes. Have you factored in the time it takes to review each proofmark in those track changes? A proof in print, on the other hand, helps to discipline the editor’s mind and only focus on the essential changes that are required. You still need to set some proofing and editing rules, however, so that everyone operates with the same definitions of what an error is.

All in all, proofing on paper counterbalances the mental stress of translating in a computer medium. Using my fingers and hands to manually proofread a written piece reminds me that I can bring craftsmanship to the process and take pride in it. Using proofreading marks is a useful tradition that underscores the art of publishing.

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Filed under Editing, Galley proofing, Printing, Proofreading, Proofreading marks, Style, Writing skills

Talking to machines

Ever took a robocall? Pretty annoying, huh? A prerecorded message sounds on the other end of the line after a machine calls your phone number at dinnertime. The next morning, you need to call the DMV because you changed addresses. It is seldom a live human voice who answers the phone. We are all painfully familiar with the stock phrase offering us a language option: “Press 1 for English, press 2 for Spanish…»

AT&T and other companies save a lot of money by using IVRs (interactive voice response systems). A computer, not a human operator, interacts with a caller and responds/routes calls according to the nature of the query. Call centers fully operated by humans are costly to run. One way to reduce this cost is to outsource the customer service (or technical support) to a cheaper call center overseas. You or someone you know have already experienced this in the form of a support call for a company like Dell Computers taken overseas by a India-based call center. The guturally-accented English is noticeable. I have personally met some people at call centers in Córdoba, Argentina. Among their customers are cellphone companies. These employees have studied British English in college, which shows as a slight accent. This can be very annoying to a customer who is already irate about poor service.

In the genial movie Wargames, the term machine is mentioned by various characters in different situations, but the viewer gets the impression that there’s a question mark attached to the seemingly evident advantages given by our wondrous technologies. In the movie, a fully-automated computer system called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) is in charge of controlling the launching of nuclear missiles, eliminating the need of human intervention. At one point, the WOPR detects (erroneously) that a Russian nuclear missile attack is under way. General Beringer, in charge of NORAD, asks Dr. McKittrick what the WOPR recommends, and the response is “Full-scale retaliatory strike.” Bemused and sarcastic, Gen. Beringer responds “I need some machine to tell me that?”

The WOPR system at NORAD in the movie Wargames

This could point to one of the morals of the story: Do we need a machine to tell us the obvious? Take some feature of your word processor, for example: if the spellchecker says it’s okay, it must be okay, right? And some automated features can become a hindrance to productivity and performance. I had a taste of this last week when I was readying a file to be exported back to Word format for a rush job. Because of some incomplete or corrupt codes, which I couldn’t immediately fix, the program repeatedly and consistently failed to export the file. It took me a few minutes of fiddling with the options until I fixed the problem, running against the clock.

Had I translated the document in plain wordprocessing fashion, with no CAT tool at hand, I would have not faced a corrupt code problem to begin with. But we translators also love technology, and the occasional hiccup is the price we pay for a more streamlined (irony intended) performance.

A few months ago, I ran into a more intractable problem. I was setting a Burmese translation in an InDesign CS3 document. Not knowing Burmese —a beautiful script, with elegant strokes and fanciful characters—, I first struggled with the correct font to display the characters correctly and then with the ligatures so that the words connected properly. Had I worked with a handwritten copy, I would have just erased the offending stroke, line or letter and rewrite. But a complex software like InDesign automates things like ligatures, kerning and other font features. It took me hours to get things right. Despite my technical knowledge, I still had to send a PDF copy in Burmese for approval by a human Burmese translator to make sure the script looked right, prior to final delivery.

You trust your dryer to do a proper job with your clothes but, would you trust a robot to paint your house? Surely you do online banking and do your taxes with the help of software, but, would you depend on artificial intelligence or ask a machine for financial advice? If you are single and looking, would you ask your friends to match you up with someone or would you trust online software in a dating site to match you up with someone? Would you carry on a love conversation with an Internet bot? Would you trust your company’s marketing tagline to a piece of software? Will you let software write up a sports column?

Actually, the latter scenario is already possible, thanks to Narrative Science‘s software. Last month, I spoke with Larry Adams, one of Narrative Science’s representatives, about the main features of their program, which mines data to author a piece of writing that is basically undistinguishable from what a human writer would create.

What if you need an email written in Mongolian translated into English in a rush? Enter Google Translate or any other number of software solutions, powered by machine translation. What drives the translation of large volumes of content, or bulk translation, is speed, not quality. Large companies that can afford the expense of custom-built machine translation software solutions already create multilingual versions of their technical documentation. Companies with a smaller wallet have to content themselves with us, human translators. For the sake of argument, I’ll oversimplify the issue a little bit. There are large translation companies that operate in bulk and outsource language services to the cheapest providers, from India to Argentina. Other companies try to stay competitive by emphasizing quality, then hire a more costly professional workforce in developed countries. The downward push on translation costs continue. After all, translation is usually viewed as a necessary cost of doing business, like buying office supplies or ordering printer ink cartridges.

While American business owners recognize the need and advantage of addressing the translation of documentation for their products or services, it is difficult for them to see the direct connection between higher sales and better-written translations. Hence, the advantages of quality translation are intangible ones, noble concepts in an abstract world. Companies with overseas offices trust their salespeople in the different geographies to check the accuracy of the translated documents. In-country reviews are an established quality control but translation managers often face an uphill battle to perform these reviews according to quality translation standards because the reviews’ completion depends on the time and availability of the reviewers —the people who are in charge of selling and marketing the products. Their main job is to market and sell, not to sit down and review translations, a task that is not a natural part of their role.

In the meantime, companies are offered a variety of technologies to automate most of the translation process: translation memories, terminology databases, automated quality controls, confirmed translations with lock-out of changes (so that future translators or editors cannot modify them once approved), and, of course, machine translation. As machine translation reaches new, more solid performance markers, a question insinuates itself: Will it be possible to completely automate the creative process of translation by sheer data mining and parsing of linguistic patterns in the corpus?

There is an intriguing article on self-driving cars in the latest issue of WIRED magazine. In the near future, it would be possible to let the driving to an advanced vehicle. Software solutions devised by companies like Narrative Science may make the high cost of writing standard sports news and financial articles a thing of the past, once the engine is properly customized. There seems to be a technological answer to our most pressing problems. Will translators be relegated to the mere role of editors, no more creators of original translations?

Machines and software, regardless of their level of automation, still operate in a GIGO fashion (garbage in, garbage out). The machine is no better than the operator that programmed it. Intuition, creativity, the right turn of phrase, the cumulative good judgment that comes from years of writing experience cannot be automated. Your business uses complex software and complex machines to churn out products and project sales. But, who do you turn to for sales, marketing or financial advice vital to your business? A machine? A software bot?

Towards the end of the movie Wargames, General Beringer faces a crisis. The highly sophisticated WOPR system warns of an impending Russian attack in the form of 2100 missiles, which may or may not be a simulation. The general is torn between ordering an attack for real and assuming that it’s a computer game gone awry, while the U.S. president is waiting for a decision on the phone. The creator of WOPR, Stephen Falken, reasons with him in this moment of terror:

-General, you are listening to a machine. Do the world a favor and don’t act like one.

Wise words to live by.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Deja Vu X, Machine translation, QA standards, Trados

A picture is worth…how many words again?

You are familiar with the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,” even though the original phrase indicates ten thousand words. Fred R. Barnard made that claim in 1921 and added according to the Chinese proverb 一畫勝千言.” As with most advertising claims these days, this one is of dubious reputation, but the point remains that an image can convey a lot of information in a compact and attractive form.

The point stands, however, that a picture, an image, a well-fashioned graphic can be worth a long explanation. With the current popularity of webinars, most corporations and businesses resort to a lengthy PowerPoint presentation to introduce their products or services. This presentation ordinarily includes tables, graphics with text and charts besides text. When a translation is requested, the focus rests solely on the text component, thus ignoring the graphic content and its power. Why?

Maybe the reason for this disconnect can be found in the mental image that the customer has of the whole presentation: while text, written in English, has to be translated to be understood, graphic elements, on the other hand, are presumed to have a universal meaning. Even if the customer is aware that some graphics are just text elements shaped in a fancy graphic way, he wants to showcase the apparent power of the table, report, figure, etc. Well-designed graphics and reports take hours to create. So, what if a screen capture of a report is in English? The non-English reader will surely understand its power, goes the assumption.

There are very practical reasons for leaving such graphic elements untranslated, among them the time and expense to recreate them in one or more foreign languages. But there should be a clear explanation in text about the untranslated/untranslatable graphic element, leaving nothing to chance interpretation.

Another area of entrenched confusion is the design of interfaces. The interface designer assumes that the localization or translation of the elements —such as tool bars, menu items and layout— will undoubtedly mimic the English design. Not always. A comparative cross-cultural study of users’ perceptions of a webpage, completed in July 2008, points to differences in reading style: the American style is more analytical (they categorize elements) whereas the Chinese and Korean styles are more holistic (they view things as a whole). I suggest reading the study for a more precise description of these conclusions as it is not possible for me to do it here for reasons of space.

The first step towards the translation of images for a non-English–reading audience is to accept the fact that they view the same thing differently from you. They form a mental image of your image that departs from what is normally accepted in America. Since you nor I are mind readers, I offer this practical approach:

  1. Use graphics that complement your text.
  2. Resist the temptation to use graphics for show.
  3. Do not use graphics that are text heavy, such as tables or reports —rather, use a portion of a report to illustrate a feature or function as described in the text.
  4. If you have your webpage translated, adapt it according to the design preferences of the foreign language.

It is worth noting that good graphic design calls for a balance between visual content and written content. The presence of a visual element should be justified to avoid overloading the page with distractions. A holistic approach to document, website or presentation design helps us to write only what’s necessary and use visuals only when they support your written content. As Napoleon has reportedly said, Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours, or “A good sketch is better than a long speech.”

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Filed under Advertising, Interface design, Translation of visuals

Read all about it: Upcoming publication of my thesis

Finally, after long months of crafting my Master’s thesis with which I obtained my M.A. in Audiovisual Translation from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona in 2009, I am pleased to announce that Editorial Académica Española will soon publish it under the title Redacción técnica comparativa: Análisis comparativo de los estilos de redacción en textos técnicos en español en los últimos 40 años (Comparative Technical Writing: A comparative analysis of writing styles in Spanish technical texts in the last 40 years). This 96-page publication will be available in Spanish.

A sample cover is shown below:

Redacción técnica comparativa, by Mario Chávez

I chose this topic because I have observed that technical manuals —especially computer manuals— written in Spanish have undergone significant changes in style for the last four decades. In the 60s and 70s, engineers with a solid knowledge of Spanish and good writing skills wrote computer manuals and were responsible for preserving the authoritative, master-to-student style that is traditional in Spanish handbooks. This style started to change in the late 80s and early 90s with arrival of computerized typesetting and the globalization of manual authoring.

The formal, authoritative style in official Spanish technical publications is part of the personality of a well-written technical manual, akin to the corporate dark suit and necktie Latin American businesspeople are known for. Even in today’s American acculturation of global commerce with its casual wardrobe and in-your-face colloquial speaking mannerisms, this traditional model of authoring Spanish manuals is being preserved and cultivated as a sign of premium quality.

I will be happy to share some excerpts translated in English with my readers who so request it.

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Filed under Master's thesis, My publications, Spanish technical writing, Style, Writing skills

We’re in the fourth inning

Let me start today’s post by honoring a revolutionary world inventor, Steve Jobs, on his passing, just a day after the new iPhone 4S was announced by Tim Cook this week. Some bloggers and news outlets were underwhelmed by this new iteration of the famous gizmo. There is one experimental feature, however, that deserves special mention.

Siri is a new feature in the iPhone 4S. According to media reports, it allows the user to speak to the phone not just statements like “Call Stan to go watch Thor” but queries such as “Any Jiffy Lubes in Orlando?” as well. While Siri is in beta mode (in English only, I suppose), I can imagine the use of its artificial intelligence (A.I.) engine to infer meaning from statements in other languages.

According to Fox News Latino, Spanish will be a challenge for voice recognition in Siri. So, we are forced to sit on our hands and wait. If A.I. through Siri could interpret Spanish phrases and commands in a fairly accurate fashion, it won’t be machine translation per se, but a new kind of computerized, on-the-fly foreign language interpretation.

In yesterday’s issue of USA Today’s Money section, Mike Thompson, mobile business head at Nuance Communications, says “We’re in the fourth inning –the rate of change and innovation is faster than ever before in speech. The accuracy and performance [are] getting better. (In the) next five innings, we’ll see greater and greater natural language.” I was happy to find a technical text with a sports metaphor. This can be an excellent exercise in writing to test your Spanish writers and translators.

Spanish translators knowledgeable in baseball understand the meaning of inning, one of nine divisions of play. It’s called entrada or manga in Spanish. Most translation services providers like to talk about high quality, faithful translations. Almost no one says a word about translation strategies or techniques, which are learned through a rigorous study of translation theories applied to practice.

If we use the equivalence strategy, we could search for a sports equivalence in Spanish –soccer or baseball, perhaps? But what about the meaning underneath the sports figure of speech? What does the author say with in the fourth inning? What does he say with in the next five innings? It doesn’t take us long to realize that the fourth inning is very close to half of the baseball game at 9 innings, as if he were saying we’re almost halfway.

How would your Spanish writer or translator express this?

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Spanish language, Style

The elusive promise of productivity / La promesa escurridiza de la productividad

It happened again. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. (EST), my mind abuzz with ideas. So I got up and jotted them down because they seemed critical (read awesome) for an upcoming presentation at the ATA Conference in Boston. But the ideas kept coming.

I could stay in bed no longer; I decided to go for a short, brisk run (more like a trot, actually). It was 6:30 a.m. when I got out of my building’s door and out into the cool morning (57 ºF). I must have trotted for about 6 blocks when I started thinking on how important it is to move (my chiropractor keeps telling me that). We seldom make room for physical movement in our sedentary lives. As I was pondering this, cars zipped along to their routine destinations.

It dawned on me then: we use the wheel, the car, to move efficiently and quickly from point A to B, but the movement is unhealthy for our bodies. Why are we in a rush to move in that fashion? To get there earlier so that we have more time to…do what? To do nothing? I am as guilty as anyone else in this car culture in America.

But, what does this have anything to do with translation? Good answers come to those who wait: bear with me.

When I started my career in translation, my tool was the typewriter. The clickety-clack of keys was so comforting, it was music to my ears. I was probably doing 50-60 words per minute, but I spent more time reading, writing drafts, rewriting sentences and clauses, words and punctuation. Even in the heyday of CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools such as Trados Workbench and Transit in the mid 90s, I was still using what has become the equivalent of a typewriter: ah, the muffled clicking of a computer’s keyboard…still at 50-70 words per minute. I would spend a sometimes inordinate amount of time consulting dictionaries, magazines, and related books and websites to find the right expression…or a hint thereof at least.

I succumbed to the lure of the so-called productivity tools (CAT tools included) in late 1998 as a job requirement. I haven’t looked back since. The only typewriter I own is a portable Underwood model, about 80 years old, that I bought in 2007. It looks quaint in my curio cabinet, a reminder of more productive days of yesteryear. Sure, tools such as Trados and Deja Vu help me translate “faster.” But that’s an illusion. Nobody can write faster than they think, and not all of us think at the same rate.

Companies that sell CAT tools, SDLX in particular, promise us higher percentage rates of productivity as translators. But, is that necessarily a good thing, or even a healthy thing? What CAT tools really do is automate certain mechanical (and visible) tasks in translation, such as repeating already-translated texts and reusing partially or fully translated sentences and words. Nothing more. These tools do not make us better translators; it could be as well that they make us worse writers. Like the wheels of a car taking us fast and efficiently from point A to B, CAT tools take us from one language to another at increased speeds…leaving the road littered with misused words, typos, clunky expressions, awkward syntax, horrifying grammar. And those are not always accidents.

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Filed under Deja Vu X, Grammar, Productivity, TEnT tools, Tools, Trados, Translation as writing, Translation errors, Writing skills