Get ready for #ATA58!

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Are you planning on heading to Washington, DC this October for the 58th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association? I sure am — I used to live in the neighborhood where the conference is being held. DC is a great place for language lovers and folks who love to explore different cultures. Here are my recommendations for the conference. Feel free to add yours in the comments below!

At #ATA58

  • Sign up for my pre-conference Advanced Skills and Training workshop on revision (AST-14). We’ll be reviewing the basics of tidying up the written word and spending plenty of time on translation-specific problems like working with non-native texts and dictated translations, and jumping between specialty fields. Details are available here.
  • The French Language Division is putting on a number of fun events, including a happy hour mixer and the annual dinner. (Sign up soon for the dinner; it regularly sells out.)
  • In addition to all the great presentations, I highly recommend attending at least one special event—the job fair and brainstorm networking have been very helpful to me at prior conferences. It’s a chance to meet potential clients and colleagues you might not see otherwise.

Around DC (and walking distance to the conference hotel)

  • Kramer Books is a great place to browse for new reads (and get a potent cup of Irish coffee to go with your purchase).
  • The Phillips Collection has one of my favorite curated art collections in the world—the last time I went, they were still arranging the rooms by subject, rather than artist or time period. It’s a whole new way to see artwork!
  • St. Arnold’s Mussel Bar tucked away on Jefferson Street offers scrumptious moules-frites and a wide selection of Belgian beer.

I hope to see you in DC. Please share your favorite city sites in the comments below—even with the politicking, it’s a wonderful place to visit!

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We are all translators.

For a little over a year now, I’ve technically been a part-time translator—by day, I work in my industry of specialization as a legal assistant. I draft, revise, and proofread legal writing five days a week, consult with court clerks, and prepare documents for filing. Two or three nights a week (on average—we all know how variable freelance schedules can be!), I continue to translate for agency and private clients and teach my source language to a couple students.

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When my career as a translator was brand new, there was a pervasive idea among language professionals that you were only a “real” translator or interpreter if it was the sole way you earned your living. At least, that was the message I gleaned from all the industry publications and professionals blogs I read. Perhaps things have changed, and just in case it wasn’t obvious: however frequently you practice your craft, as long as you conduct yourself with professionalism and obtain the requisite training to do your work well, you are a professional.

There is room enough in this industry for all of us. Translation and interpreting are increasingly growing in demand. Tech companies continue to attempt to reduce translation to machine output, and the results continue to highlight the need for human conduits between languages A and B.

As a full-time translator, I appreciated the time I had to really delve deep into vocabulary research and work on glossary projects. As a moonlighter, I love how my legal translations have improved from the interactions I have with attorneys’ work products. “Moonlighting” has allowed me to streamline my translation work so that I get to spend a greater percentage of my time on what I love: words.

I know many of my colleagues in the industry would never give up the freedom to be had in independent contracting—and why should you? But I have found my greatest artistic freedom within the so-called limits of a 9-to-5. My freelance clients continue to be happy with my work. And I don’t feel any less a translator than I ever did.

This story is in no way a defense: I hope only to inspire other translators to be true to themselves. If you love being your own boss and exploring your interests on your own terms, keep doing it. If you love the structure, stability, or socialization of an office job, get one. And if you love being a professional translator, be one, under whatever conditions you thrive upon. Your language skills are valuable, and however much you want to share them with the world in an educated, professional manner, the contribution is needed and appreciated.

We are all translators, no matter how often we can do the work.

Happy International Translation Day!

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I am busy getting everything packed into a truck for my move tomorrow, but I couldn’t let the day go by without saying Happy Translation Day!

If you are a translator, interpreter, or linguist, congratulations on being part of such a varied and important field. Your career helps other professionals around the world communicate with their colleagues across the language barrier, sharing ideas and promoting better understanding of “the Other.”

If you are one of those professionals who relies on translators to talk for you, so you can focus on the details of your chosen career, thank you for allowing us to put our talents to use for you. What’s one man’s chore is another one’s fun!

To read more about the history and present manifestation of International Translation Day, please visit Emeline Jamoul’s blog, created with today in mind. Read what others think of translation, and add your own thoughts, too!

Hungarian poetry: Endre Ady

AdyEndreEndre Ady is one of Hungary’s best lyric poets. He was born in modern-day Romania in 1877, trained as a lawyer, and became a journalist. Through his poetry, Ady moved Hungarian literature beyond Sándor Petőfi’s celebrated contributions. Cynical, critical, and sometimes almost narcissistic, his poems protest the often-violent changes that were taking place in Austro-Hungary during his lifetime. They explore the nature of the Hungarian people, mysticism and religion, and love. Later in life, he developed a strong sense of pacifism quite unique among his contemporaries. Ady died in Budapest in 1919.

The following poem comes from Ady Endre: Válogatott Versek (Osiris Diákkönyvtár, 2006). Translation is my own.

Tavasz-világ

Tavasz-világ, havas világ, fehér világ
Világítsd meg, tavaszítsd meg
Ezt a szörnyü Tragédiát
S takard el már a vért virággal.

(1917. március)

Spring-light

Spring-light, snowy light, white light
Bring light, bring spring
To this horrible Tragedy
And mask the blood with flowers.

(March 1917)

Supply and demand, revisited

I don’t give fuzzy match discounts, and I don’t often accept projects that have a software requirement. I do work with new clients to determine a reasonable price for each job. I do offer my services in return for small stipends only (usually for university researchers whose work I find interesting). I do use technology when it can benefit the project. Which isn’t often.

Why do I “limit” my business in this way? Consider some data from Nataly Kelly’s presentation at the 2012 NCATA Regional Conference, based upon the Common Sense Advisory’s Language Services Market: 2012 report.

  • Demand for translation services has grown at an incredible rate in the past few years. Translation is a $33billion industry. There is money out there for language services.
  • Even with the use of sophisticated CAT tools and TM, translator output is stagnating around 2,600 words per day. There are endless combinations of words, and 60% of the words and phrases in most translation projects are “brand new,” meaning they won’t be found in existing TM. Using computer-based tools won’t actually increase my output by much.
  • End-users of translations (my clients’ clients) are more likely to buy a product, service, or idea if it is advertised in their native language, but less likely to buy if their native-language copy is poorly written. I work with legal documents and academic texts, which compound this need for good writing. Even the simplest phrases need to be carefully considered in context for me to be satisfied that I am giving the most accurate translation possible. Quality is more important for everyone’s bottom line.

In brief, demand is increasing but supply is limited. I choose not to artificially increase what I can supply, because it would be at the expense of my output quality. Sometimes, I artificially lower my costs to accommodate a project that seems beneficial to the world. (For instance, transcriptions of focus groups that helped determine how to resolve a health crisis in Cameroon.) My main motivator in choosing this profession was to help people, after all!

This is what I do (and don’t do) to help meet the world’s growing need for translation. What do you do? How do you respond to a client who needs X but can only pay Y?

Generalize. It’s a good thing.

I mentioned briefly last week that beginning translators should forget about specializing. Sure, lots of business and entrepreneur gurus advocate “focus” for increasing sales. Become an expert and the clients will be all over you, they say. But this is terrible advice for beginning translators. Why? Because your focus should be translating. Full stop.

Language is a fluid, flexible, collaborative medium. Vocabulary sets do not exist independent of other specialty areas. Just think how pervasive sports metaphors are in the English vernacular: a repeat offender “strikes out,” a successful salesperson “hits one out of the ballpark,” and a persistent college applicant “goes for the gold.” If you specialize too early, you limit your chances of recognizing references to culture and language outside your specific field(s) of expertise.

Without a general knowledge of other fields’ phraseology, you also limit the jobs to which you can apply. Many top language service employers require testing before your name goes into their databases. I don’t mean just any old agency; I’m talking big-fish organizations like the United Nations, World Bank, and the National Cryptologic School, for example. And they don’t just test the obviously relevant areas of expertise. Usually you’ll have three passages to translate:

  • one general text related to the business,
  • one finance/legal/economic text, and
  • one science/technical text.

They want to trip you up. They want you to make mistakes. They need a reason to cross your name off their lists, because you are not the only translator aching to go on their freelance roster. Well, that and they want to be sure you can handle anything they throw your way. Science terms end up in patents, and construction vocabulary goes into builders’ contracts. You need to know how to recognize them, research them, and use them well.

So take a few years to focus on the basics. Learn which false cognates and faux amis trip you up regularly. Master the art of terminology research. Find out what method works best for you to keep track of rare or slippery words and phrases. Create your best quality-assurance process so your target texts are always cleaner than the source. And most importantly, translate. Translate everything. Try out as many different texts as you can. Your future translating self will thank you.

Are you a generalist or a specialist? Why do you prefer one or the other?

Spotlight on: Antoine Galland

There will never be a clean answer to the debate over fidelity and transparency in translation. On the one hand, the translated text must convey the meaning of the words from the source. Translators are supposed to write exactly what the source author wrote, no more and no less. However, being too literal in a translation can render the target text utterly unreadable. What is elegantly stated in French may seem flowery to the point of nonsense in English. Neither of these extremes does the original author any justice.

Literary translators, especially, grapple with this duality on a regular basis. Fiction is generally crafted with careful attention to diction, cadence, and other more subtle characteristics of the written language. Often these details are used to influence emotions in the reader—a quality which is perhaps more important than the exact words themselves. Romance, fear, pride, and other feelings are invoked by vastly differing events, depending on the reader’s cultural upbringing.

A translator may stray from a literally faithful translation in order to maintain a faithfulness to other aspects of the text. Stray far enough, and what you have is really an adaptation—not a translation. These renderings can be important to a literary work. Using adaptations rather than faithful translation of old Islamic tales were key in introducing the culture to the mainstream Western world.

Antoine Galland was born in Rollot, France in 1646. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew at a young age, which earned him an attachment to the embassy at Istanbul (then Constantinople) by 1670. While stationed in the Middle East, Galland traveled often and collected inscriptions, ancient coins, and a detailed knowledge of all things Islam. He was one of the French court’s most studious orientalists.

Galland is most famous for his translation of stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The stories, based on an old Syrian manuscript, were published in twelve volumes from 1704 through 1717 (the last was published posthumously). “Translation” is probably not the best word for his treatment of the texts—in order to reach a broader audience, Galland cut out many of the erotic scenes and all of the poetry in his French adaptation. Two of the stories, Aladdin and Ali Baba, are also known as the “orphan” stories; there is some debate as to whether Galland himself made them up! Nonetheless, these tales quickly became popular in Europe, and Galland’s translations (rather than the original source) were used as the basis for the contemporary English, German, Italian, Russian, and Dutch versions.

What do you think of Galland’s translation decisions? Would you have done the same?

How to start translating (for the very beginner)

Translation as a profession sneaks up on a lot of translators. It starts out that you learn/know a second language, live in a foreign country for a while, or have a general interest in international events or culture. You work hard at some job or coursework, but something is missing. There’s a certain part of your brain that you just know you should be using, but aren’t. And little by little, you figure it out: communication. Across borders. Across cultures. Across languages. Aha!

But how do you go from professional fill-in-the-blank to professional translator? Easy! You just have to start translating. I know, I know—easier said than done. But here, I’ll share my simple work process to help guide your first forays. One step at a time, and you’ll soon be a translating pro!

  • Pick a text, any text. A paragraph or two in your source language is plenty.
  • Read the text once, then read it again. Just try to get a feel for the overall message. Jot a quick summary if it helps.
  • Mark every break in each sentence to help you visualize what adjectives refer to what nouns, what phrases modify what predicate, etc. For instance,// in this sentence// I marked// every important break// for you// with double slashes. This is more helpful than you might expect! (I still do this when I come across particularly complex or long-winded sections of projects.)
  • Underline any word or phrase whose meaning is unclear, causes you confusion, or makes the surrounding sentences difficult or impossible to understand. You can do this during one of your initial read-throughs, if you like.
  • Use your dictionaries (yes, plural) and other resources to hunt down the meaning of everything you underlined. Be sure to verify your conclusions; always get a second opinion from a different resource.
  • Write your first draft. It will be much easier now that you have the most confusing parts worked out, though you might come across a surprise or two yet. Don’t forget to edit!

Following this workflow should help you start to think like a translator. I’m not saying this is how every pro works—I can only vouch for my own habits (and even those vary by mood and text type). But focusing on these smaller tasks will reveal subtleties in the language and clarify areas that a basic reader might gloss over. I hope it helps!

How do you approach a new translation? Have any advice for other beginners?

Hungarian poetry: Petőfi Sándor

 

Petőfi Sándor, Hungary’s national poet, composed verses on a variety of popular subjects early in his career. Most have a sing-song, folk rhythm and feel. Gallant and elegant phrases stand alongside more familiar terms. To know his poetry is to understand a little better the motivations of a Hungarian.

Below is my translation of one of my favorite Petőfi poems, “Esik, esik, esik,” written in 1844 in Debrecen. It’s certainly not one of his most famous pieces, but it offers a succinct summary of his style in a few clever, youthful stanzas. I did my best to maintain the lyrical qualities of the original. Try reading it aloud—Hungarian is a language which fully activates the mouth, tongue, and throat to produce the proper sounds. Do you catch what I did with the first line to evoke that feeling?

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Raining

Drip, drip, drips:
A sweet rain of kisses
Falls down
To my lips.

Along with the drizzle,
Lightning hits;
Your eyes, my dear,
Strike my wits.

Behind us, behind us,
Thunder rumbling;
Farewell, my dear,
‘Tis your father coming.

 

School yourself

Did your language skills and business habits survive the summer? Between vacations, pool days, barbecues, and mind-dulling heat, it’s possible they need some refreshing. How do you get back in the grind? One trick I use is guided reading. You probably did a good bit of it back in school, when you first learned your working language(s). You do it when you have a “real” project, so why not do it when you read at other times?

Most translators I know read foreign-language newspapers regularly. Maybe they are better motivated than I, but often newspapers are either a) dull, or b) way too negative. Reading a large volume of the same-old sad, angry, war-mongering stories is just not how I want to spend my time! In order to reap the rewards without ruining my day, I assign myself homework: keep a list of new vocabulary. Slang, industry terms, and idiomatic flourishes abound in these articles. You’ll learn something new every time!

If you’re really motivated (or love technology), the best way to record these terms is in a termbase. Which is really just a fancy word for spreadsheet. My termbase has columns for the source language, target language, gender (for French), subject matter, notes on usage, and a link to the source article. For really difficult-to-translate terms, I’ll also link to the dictionary or bilingual document I used in my research. This practice makes the words very easy to sort later on for use as subject-matter glossaries. You can check the original sentence to compare context to your project. And, the spreadsheet is easily imported into a number of CAT tools!

How do you keep up with changes to your working languages? What motivates you to keep going? Share away!