Tag Archives: writing

A day in the life of a 21st century translator

I’m not your vanilla-type translator. I’m not a conventional writer. Keen-eyed readers of my blog might have noticed that I never capitalize Every Single Word in my blog headings. I march to the beat of my own drum. However, I didn’t start like that at all. I thought I would be translating articles, business documents or similar media day in and day out for a corporation or organization after I earned my diploma.

Twenty five years ago, with a bachelor’s degree in English and Translation Studies in hand, I did not have one or two specializations in mind. Although I had studied the basics of Law for four semesters as part of the translation studies’ curriculum, I only knew I didn’t want to be a sworn translator nor a bilingual officer of the court (called perito bilingüe in Argentina at the time) nor did I want to specialize in legal translation (as in law-related translations).

The two main forces that shaped my professional decisions over those 25 years were not creativity, inspiration, following a particular leader or influencer or discovering the holy grail of selling professional services. No, sir. The two factors that drove me to where I am today as a diplomate translator were a) market demands on my services and b) my own intellectual interests.

There you have it then: I’m not a translator who just writes translations day in and day out. Today, Thursday, May 5th, 2016, is representative of what I do:

  • Write and deliver a rush 400-word corporate translation by 11:30 a.m.
  • Finish a medical transcription in Spanish and then translate it into English for delivery by noon
  • Insert newly translated paragraph in two InDesign documents, prepare deliverables (PDF files for printing) and deliver them before 7:30 p.m.
  • Review the typesetting of a corporate slogan I had translated into Spanish weeks ago and send the annotated PDF file back to the customer, with pertinents recommendations to their desktop publisher for improving copy of the same corporate slogan in RTL (right-to-left) languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.

Translation courses and BA/MA programs for the 21st century emphasize the use of software tools to manage projects, terminology lists and translation memories. These courses also include practical instructions on project management (a related career choice for translators), software localization (another related career) and business aspects of the profession, such as marketing tips. All these components are important and have a place in a translator’s career, but they should not be taught nor emphasized at the expense of a thorough, critical and lively discussion of the craft of translation. After all, a translator is a craftsman. It’s the writing, not the tools, that make a translator, whether in this century or in the millenia to come.

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Filed under Baccalaureate degree, Diplomate translator, Professional development, Project Management, Public relations in translation, Spanish DTP, TEnT tools, The craft of translation, Writing skills, Writing skills

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

Translators are writers

It’s that simple. Writing is an essential part of the translation process. By the way, how many steps does the translation process involve? Academics from the translationsphere have come up with different workflows, but I would like to offer my own in plain English:

  1. Reflexive reading of the original
  2. Writing of the first draft
  3. Polishing the first draft into a final copy (composition)
  4. Spell-checking
  5. Reflexive reading of the translation

Now, these are visible steps. There are many more steps going on inside the mind for each of the above. I’ll focus on writing.

I have been reading Daniel Cassany’s book titled La cocina de la escritura, an excellent treatise on the art and discipline of writing.  In chapter 3, Accionar máquinas, Cassany explores strategies to overcome writer’s block. It occurred to me that we hit a block because we assume that we have to write something finished. A writer doesn’t produce a publish-ready copy; he goes through drafts.

A translation is never finished. Writing is even more complicated all of a sudden. Then again, for the sake of deadlines, a more or less finished draft of the translation is delivered.

To avoid digressing and losing my readers here, let me ask you: What do you think happens when you write? Say, an email, a note to your spouse, a holiday card to a relative. If your first thought is ‘to communicate something’, you got it half right. It’s a half answer because communication is the means to an end. If you want me to deliver a package to a client containing television parts and you send me an email telling me so, the purpose of the email is not to communicate, but to direct me to do something. Not to order, command or mandate. To direct, to guide me, if you will, to do or achieve something. That email has a functional purpose. This applies to other forms of functional texts, such as procedures, handbooks, quick start guides, installation guides, building plans, etc.

Let’s slow down when it comes to writing and translating. When we write, we are not just assembling words together, stitching them up to ‘communicate’. We are not slaves of the words, quite the contrary. We command the words, we can slow them down to think about them. No wonder many translators forget about their role as writers.

What I would like to leave you with is this: writing involves condensing ideas, sometimes, very complex ideas, into words that should make sense to the reader. Translation is not that different.

 

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Filed under Spanish technical writing, Translation, Translation as writing, Word formation