Revision Refresh Workshop – Last Chance to Register

There are just a few spots left in my editing workshop at ATA58. If you have never had formal training in copyediting or proofreading, consider signing up now for the 3-hour session on October 25th. 

You’ll get hands-on training for every stage of revision and walk away with several customized tools for your language pair(s) and subject matter specialties. We’ll discuss how to manage individual projects, long-term client styles, and team translations. There is a pre-workshop assignment you can do now, or turn it in after the live class for personalized feedback.

In this tech-focused world, quality revision makes your work stand above the machine output. Click here to register for AST-14 today: 


Make proofreading less painful—literally

On the heels of my recent presentation at ATA55, I want to share some of my favorite tips for proofreading. I’ve already discussed the technical side of things here and here. Today, let’s get physical!

seated posture

Your body is an important tool for translation work. Sitting at a desk for long hours can be incredibly demanding of your muscles, joints, and skeleton. Taking a few minutes to learn about how to care for yourself while doing the work you love can help you keep doing it longer. Here are a few ideas:

  • Warm up your eyes before getting started. With your eyes closed, look up-down-left-right, and all around in both directions. Open your eyes and look at something far away. Repeat during breaks from your work every so often to protect your eyesight and avoid headaches.
  • Seriously, look away. Far, far away. The wall in front of my desk it totally blank on purpose. I also have a window to look out of. Use your long-distance vision to let the short-distance vision rest every so often.
  • Work with print materials on an inclined surface. This helps you maintain good seated posture and avoid contorting your neck in funny ways.
  • Practice good posture! Shoulders back and low, feet on the floor, pelvis tucked in a neutral position. If you need to work on this, try these yoga videos.
  • Use technology to your advantage: dictation and/or CAT tools for drafting, text-to-speech during some kinds of editing. Make templates for heavily formatted documents you get often (birth certificates, marriage licenses, academic records…). Your wrists and fingers will thank you.

What do you do to avoid the aches and pains of translation? Share your ideas in the comments!


Revise, or re-translate?

One issue I notice translators love to complain about is being asked to revise someone else’s translation. I absolutely get the annoyance when it is clearly a request to improve a cheaper translator’s work after your quote was rejected as being “too late” five minutes after the initial email. Been there, felt the burn. I’m with you on calling that out as poor etiquette.

But, sometimes, I find translators using this as a blanket excuse to turn away editing requests from professionals who want to write in a non-native language. And that’s something I just don’t understand.

Revising a non-native speaker’s English (or French, or other written language) creates a win-win situation for you and for your client. The original author gets practice writing in a language they might need to use for other professional purposes. And it offers you, the translator, an ideal exercise for improving your revision process and watchlist.

Think about it: a non-native writer’s written language is a direct translation of a French, German, Kiswahili, namethelanguage thought. So, it offers an opportunity to observe real-time examples of subtle, concept-level translation mistakes that can easily slip into your own work unnoticed.

This idea is similar to how we [translators] use parallel texts to identify appropriate vocabulary/register/etc. Revising a non-native writer’s work allows you to be more neutral in how you approach the text, more analytical, and more open to asking, “Why did that happen?” Instead of poking holes in your own hard work, you can approach the revision process as a learning tool.

In French-to-English translation, for instance, I find myself making oddly negative sentences where a positive statement is needed—because that’s how the French write. In Hungarian-to-English translation, I’m always watching out for how I’ve used commas and transition words. There’s no shame in making these mistakes in your first draft, as long as you are aware of your typical “mistranslations” of grammar and punctuation and correct them in your editing passes.

Other common translation errors to watch for when revising, depending on your language pairs:

  • When to use definite versus indefinite articles
  • Errors in subject-verb agreement
  • Plurals—or unusual absences of them
  • Incorrect verb in metaphorical/abstract sentence (lexical misconception)

What grammar and lexical oddities crop up in your language pairs? How do you accommodate them your translation/revision process?

On the English language

english alphabet old font

This month, I’m going to loosely focus on the English language and how to improve your skill in wielding it. These are some posts I’ve already published on writing and revising English:

Are there any questions you would like answered related to this topic? Ask away!

A review of the ABBYY Pro upgrade for Mac

ABBYY FineReader recently introduced an upgrade for Mac users. We now have a Pro version of the OCR software. Hooray!

ABBYY FineReader Pro for MacThis upgrade is a fantastic improvement to optical character recognition for Mac users. The Pro version reads files much better than the Express version did—and I liked the Express version. I recently did a rush job on some heavily formatted personal documents using Express. I ran the same four documents through Pro and was blown away by the results.

My favorite improvement by far has to be the option to convert to not only .DOC format, but also ODT, RTF, HTML, CSV, and a few other choices. Because I can now convert directly to ODT files, I save a major step in my standard workflow for heavily formatted documents. Instead of running them through ABBYY, opening them in NeoOffice, saving as an ODT, and then putting them into OmegaT, I can go directly from ABBYY to my CAT tool. Major win!

Another plus in the Pro version of this OCR tool is that you have four options for how you save your files: you can save your scanned output as a single file, a set of files (one for each page in the original), one file per source file, or a set of files separated at each blank page that appears in your source. This is great, because often my clients send me personal documents, like driver’s licenses, that have a front and a back, which they scan and save as individual files. I like to scan them as one large file to save time during the OCR stage—but then I would have to separate them out again when I’m done. With this improvement to ABBYY, I can benefit from the time-saving workflow I’m used to, but also save time during the finalization of a project by not having to manually separate files for my client. Hallelujah!

As far as actually reading the text goes, I noticed a major improvement in how the Pro version of ABBYY reads tables. Express read the table fine, but decided to lump some rows together according to a set of rules I could not figure out. It wasn’t difficult to separate the smooshed-together rows, but it was annoying. Pro read all of the rows separately, and displayed them that way. No muss, no fuss.

ABBYY FineReader Pro icon

One of the upgrades that didn’t work quite as well for me was the option to leave out images when saving the scanned file. I would love to use this for documents like transcripts and diplomas, since clients don’t like to see stamps and seals reproduced literally for the translation. Even though I selected this option, images still showed up in my scanned file. Unlike the image output using the express version, however, I was very quickly and easily able to delete the images from my converted document. So, still a step up.

Now, obviously, with increased functionality, this software upgrade is not nearly as intuitive to use as the simpler express version. You have to read your options a little more carefully and maybe even use the help/search feature to get started with the more advanced upgrades.

You might also have to take a little more time massaging your output before you can save a usable file. On my first pass of these test documents using the auto-recognition setting, I ended up with three blank pages and one page with text output inferior to what the express version produced. After less than one minute taking advantage of the Pro image editing features, however, I was able to create a document whose quality surpassed the results from the express software.

The Pro version doesn’t improve every detail. In my transcript table, the Pro version and the express version both messed up a column of data that was blank except for a heading. Both versions of the software lumped the relatively blank column in with the next column. It was a pretty simple fix, but one I wish I still didn’t have to make.

[I know some of you have dismissed ABBYY in the past for those “dreaded” boxes that show up in its output. I’m sorry to say they’re still here—though they are more accurately placed. If you really need to get rid of them from your final file, I recommend cutting the text out, pasting it somewhere else for a second, and selecting the box as an object. It should be easy to delete that box and then rearrange the text in its proper place.]

I’m very happy to see such a professional piece of software for Mac users. It’s a tool I already use regularly to speed up the formatting time for documents, and now I expect that formatting time to drop even more. If you don’t already incorporate an OCR tool in at least some of your translation projects, I strongly encourage you to try ABBYY. It really is a huge time-saver.

Scary technology: what lawyers and translators have in common

I recently sat in on a conference call offered occasionally by the Antitrust Section of the American Bar Association to discuss developments in e-discovery. The general reaction I heard from lawyers about e-discovery—meaning, the use of technology to sift through mountains of documents for the few that may be relevant to a particular case—can be summed up in one word: suspicion. Sound familiar?

fear of technology

Lawyers use predictive coding to extract needles from their haystack of possibly useful texts just as translators use machine learning to extract terminology from their source texts or a corpus. Both professions can benefit from this technology, but many companies and individuals are incredibly mistrustful of the tools.

During this particular call, representatives from law firms, courts, and federal agencies discussed the guidelines they would like to see in place to make clients and judges more comfortable with e-discovery output. Most of the suggestions could very easily apply to the use of machine translation and CAT tools:

  • Show your work. Be transparent about your process. For both lawyers and translators, this means defining different quality control stages and documenting the output at each stage. It also means understanding very clearly the limitations of your tools and ways you can work around these limitations. For instance, everyone knows that spell checker tools can’t distinguish between errors like “they’re” versus “their,” so professional writers use human proofreaders at a final stage to correct what the software cannot.
  • Make multiple passes through your texts to better control how your work gets refined. For lawyers, this means using several, gradually narrower search queries to pinpoint key documents, rather than using one “high-powered” string of specific search terms on the very first go. For translators, this means doing your background and terminology research, then using your CAT tool, then using a concordance tool, then perhaps a special spell checker, and so on. Bottom line: when working with huge volumes of information, even when using technology-based solutions, it’s more effective to take small bites multiple times than trying to swallow the whole project at once.
  • Spend a significant amount of time training your tools with a significant number of texts in order to teach it to produce results backed by statistically significant confidence levels.
  • Have a human expert review and approve the results of the machine work before using them in a professional context. This was the most-repeated suggestion throughout the call. People are far more likely to trust a machine that is taking over a formerly human task if a seasoned professional can confirm that the machine is, in fact, performing well. Even if you only confirm a [statistically significant] sampling of the machine output as high quality, you will exponentially increase your client’s comfort with the non-human processing of language.

Where else have you heard concerns from the translation industry cross over into other fields? How have you addressed concerns about technology use in your field? What do you do to make sure your time savers work properly?

How to ask for client feedback

Do you ever feel like your translations get sucked into some black hole after you turn them in? Do you ever wonder how effective your writing really was? Are you looking for a way to forge a stronger relationship with your project manager or direct client?

suggestion box

Ask for feedback! That advice might seem to fall under the “easier said than done” category, but you can do it. It just takes a tiny bit of gentle nudging. This is what works for me:

  • Ask questions that focus on the buyer‘s experience with the project, rather than your own—questions like, “Were you satisfied with the quality of the work you received?” or  “Are there any specific ways could I help you better next time?” Make it clear that receiving feedback is not only important to you, it can help your client as well.
  • Ask multiple times. I include a short request at the bottom of every delivery email and on my invoices, too, welcoming “any comments or compliments.” I offer three ways to respond (email, via ProZ, or on LinkedIn). Anyone who hasn’t given feedback before, or who ordered an unusually large project, gets a short, friendly follow-up email within 2 weeks.
  • Provide some context with questions. I ask a maximum of 3 specific questions to help my clients organize their thoughts and let them know what aspects of working together I’m most interested in improving/changing. For example, I don’t often ask about pricing, because I’m not interested in renegotiating rates. However, I do wonder how I can better match my writing style to their preferred styles.
  • Be patient. Sometimes clients can’t comment right away, because they haven’t had time to review the work, or haven’t received comments from the end-client yet. Other times, they want to wait and see if you are consistent across projects before they say anything.
  • Make it a prerequisite for any unpaid work you do. I’m happy to provide short test translations to agencies—as long as they let me see the reviewer’s comments. I love to work with nonprofits on pro bono projects—if they are willing to give me feedback and a letter of recommendation. One caveat here: providing free translations doesn’t mean you are due compliments if your work is sub-par. Always do your best work!

How do you solicit feedback from clients? What works best for you?

Quack This Way

It took me all of one evening to read Quack This Way from cover to cover. I had to stop myself from diving back in for a second round right away, so I could digest the ideas a bit first. It was a tough internal struggle.

Quack This WayIf you haven’t heard of this book yet, it’s because it was only recently published. Bryan A. Garner, the legal writing guru, waited 5 years after the death of his friend David Foster Wallace to publish the transcript of their last meeting, intended for use in a webinar. The two men took over an hour to discuss language, usage, and writing in depth. For a legal translator, this book is gold.

Wallace argues that, no matter who you are writing for, no matter what their skill in writing, no matter the profession, you can bet that if you write well, your ideas will be taken seriously:

The average person you’re writing for is an acute, sensitive, attentive, sophisticated reader who will appreciate adroitness, precision, economy, and clarity (45).

Profession-specific usage books can help you dress up your writing so it blends in better, but paying attention to the meat—logical argumentation, reasonable word choice, and succinctness—matters more.

Throughout the interview, Garner and Wallace also touch on psycholinguistics (why certain professions write a certain way), officialese, and the phenomenon that was George W. Bush as orator. There’s something for everyone, in a very accessible format.

If you’re looking for a quick but informative read on the art of writing, buy a copy of Quack This Way. You won’t regret it. (I’m also going to raffle off a copy next week, because that’s how much I think you should have it. Come back then to enter the giveaway.)

Have you read this book yet? What did you think? What other books on writing can you recommend?

It’s OK to take your time

I recently heard author/translator Chris Durban comment that so many suggestions for improving your writing boil down to this: take your time. Let’s take that advice one step further: taking your time is important in every aspect of your business.

Climb the mountain.

I am a firm believer in taking baby steps, using training wheels, and generally growing slowly, because you get more time to think about long-term, key questions like Who is my gotta-work-with-them set of clients? and Is this the best way to get my message across to those people?

Earlier on in the business development process, those important questions look more like Am I actually a strong writer? or Do I know enough about X to say I specialize in it? These are not trivial, secondary concerns for you as a freelancer (or 9-to-5 applicant!). They are the meat of your craft. Working towards an affirmative response to either is not an overnight process, but it helps you produce something that lasts.

Take your time while you do background research. Take your time while you proofread. And, above all, take your time while you grow your business. Your clients will thank you for your quality output, your family will thank you for your lowered stress levels, and you will be able to appreciate the satisfaction of having created not just one fantastic translation, but a consistently wonderful product and a truly personalized company. And that is a beautiful thing.

If you don't climb the mountain, you can't see the view.

Good tips for a great editing process

A solid review process means the difference between an adequate translation and something your clients can get excited about. When I first started this blog (almost a full year ago!), I proposed that copyediting is a critical skill for every translator to hone. I stand by that statement still.

That said, there are other critical steps that come before and after the copyediting stage. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so I’ve pulled together some articles from around the web that can help you understand and implement the various steps of reviewing your writing. Veteran translators can still benefit from scanning these pieces—a little refresher never hurts, right?

What are your go-to resources when you want to freshen up your editor eyes? What’s your top tip for reviewing your work?