Only Human Translators

Counting the hours

Counting the hours

I’m sure I’m not alone among translators in hating invoicing. And what I hate even more than invoicing is that day after I send all my bills out, because it’s then that the queries start. “The total’s not right in this one.” “The date’s wrong here.” “You’ve sent me an invoice with the wrong name on it.” Sometimes I’ve had all three of those in one day. And, after a particularly bad couple of months when I had to spend hours correcting all the mistakes I’d made, I decided that enough was enough and the ramshackle “system” based on Microsoft Excel I’d been using since forever would just have to go. What I needed was a proper system that would reduce my “input” – and the opportunity for making mistakes – to a minimum. I asked for recommendations from other translators and found that those who used such systems were mostly divided between enthusiasts for the online system LSP Expert and those who preferred the software solution Translation Office 3000. As both offered free trial periods I decided to look at the two of them and, during a quiet period in September, I tried them out. I soon discovered that, for me, there was no contest: everything I tried to do with Translation Office 3000 seemed to be difficult and complicated. There was help, but I didn’t want to be looking things up every five minutes. LSP Expert, on the other hand, seemed extremely easy and straightforward to use. My questions about that weren’t about how to do basic things, they were more about the capabilities and possibilities of...
Not being an arse

Not being an arse

A few weeks ago, there was a post in a translators’ Facebook group that appalled me. A woman translator described how she was telephoned by a supposed colleague with what was apparently a job offer only for the conversation to deteriorate into him making unsolicited lewd suggestions about her, leaving her shocked and angry. The subsequent conversation in the group revealed that she was by no means the only woman to have found herself in a similar situation, or to suffer some kind of unwanted sexual approach in a professional context. I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. The revelations of the “Me Too” movement over the past few years have made it clear what woman have had to put up with from men for far too long in their professional and personal lives. I remember then women friends and colleagues telling me none of what they were hearing came as any surprise to them. Some had been stalked, others threatened, others had close friends who had been raped. Someone close to me has been hounded out of a (non-translation) job by sexual harassment. But even so, I had imagined that women freelance translators, safe in their own homes, were unlikely to be affected by these threats. Some might say this is not my business. But I believe it’s important for everyone, particularly men, to come out and say that this kind of behaviour is utterly unacceptable. It sickens and repels me that women I respect and admire should have to suffer feelings of fear and helplessness on a regular basis just because some man has a problem dealing...
Translating pictures

Translating pictures

Many types of translation can be automated nowadays, with varying degrees of success. But there are still areas where the machines will always have their work cut out to compete with human beings. I was reminded of this in a job I was doing last week that also made me think about discussions I’ve had over the last few months with my RevClub colleagues Tim Gutteridge and Victoria Patience about the process of translation and how we actually go about our work. We had been talking about finding a way to get inside a translator’s head and look at the process we go through when we work. I’ve written before in general terms about the process I go through when I translate. But in this post I wanted to give an idea of exactly how I went about translating particular short extracts from this job, not so that people would pat me on the back and say how well I’d done – in fact, I’m sure there will be people reading this who can come up with better solutions than I have – but rather to give an idea of a translator’s thought processes and the way we go about solving problems. My task was to translate a book of photographs – beautiful photographs of a stunning, natural area of Catalonia by a superb photographer. Of course, such photos speak for themselves, but they also have captions and,  in this case, they’re rather poetic ones. Apart from a couple of short introductions they were “all” I had to translate. I also had the advantage of having them in both...
Getting into print

Getting into print

One of the few positive things that’s happened to me in this truly appalling year of 2020 is that I’ve become a published author for the first time. So apologies to those of you who don’t like to hear the sound of someone blowing their own trumpet, but this is the story of my book. When I was a boy, there was a foreigner living in our village. He drank in the local pub but, unlike nearly all the other older men who played bowls with my father, he didn’t speak with a Suffolk accent. They told me Gaby, which was what everyone called him, spoke like that because he was Spanish. They also said he was a musician – a cello player. Sometimes we even got to see him play on the television. I’d love to say that old Gaby (he would have been in his sixties at the time) and young me became friends, he told me his life story and then instilled in me a long-lasting love of classical music, but it didn’t happen like that. I spoke to him a few times, he bought me the occasional drink in the pub, then I left the village and didn’t really think about him for many years. But a quarter of a century later, and a few years after moving to live in Barcelona, I went to a party at a friend’s flat in the nearby town of Sabadell. There, I got into a conversation with a young woman who asked me the question so many people ask an immigrant from the UK. “Whereabouts in England are...
Perception is the key

Perception is the key

There is nothing like the COVID-19 crisis to teach us how important perception is. Of any group of people in the same place, at the same time, governed by the same rules, you will find some who are ultra cautious, going out as little as possible, always wearing a face mask and taking no risks and others stretching the rules to the limits and beyond, ignoring social distancing and making sure they’re the first on the beach or in the bars. The real risk is the same, but these people perceive it very differently. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when my attention was drawn to a European Union web page entitled “eTranslation for SMEs”. What it is, effectively, is EU-sponsored computerised translation aimed at small businesses – or “a state-of-the-art online machine translation service”, as it describes itself – between the 27 official EU languages. “The eTranslation service is free of charge and will help you save time and money to translate your documents and text between any two official EU languages, and more!” trumpets the blurb. On top of this, and unlike rival services, “eTranslation guarantees the confidentiality and security of all your translated data”. There is even €4 million available for businesses to integrate the service into their processes. In a Facebook discussion on the subject, some colleagues made the quite reasonable points that machine translation is nothing new and that the service appears to be no better than those already available. Others found (I did not) a caveat on the website stating that for critical documents human translators would always be necessary....
Real connections

Real connections

All over the world, like other conferences and congresses, translation events have fallen victim to the coronavirus. The question I want to answer in this post is what they are going to look like in the future. And can online events ever provide a real replacement? In the lockdown period, we’ve all, including – or perhaps even especially – our school-age children, become accustomed to the Zoom video conference. It’s a wonderful thing for seeing each other’s faces, chatting, playing games and even having a drink with friends, together but socially distanced. Does it, though, really work as an educational tool? I’ve had several different experiences with it over the past few weeks that make me wonder, at least about whether it can be used for everything. First of all, I took part in a MET workshop which was moved online after the face-to-face version in Barcelona had to be cancelled. Three hours in front of a screen is a long time and I have to say that at times I felt my attention wandering. I also felt for the presenter, who had had to adapt his face-to-face workshop into an online version in quite a short time. The amount of information he was trying to give might have been possible with us all in the same room, but online it seemed way too much. He also tried some hands-on activities, using a Zoom feature which allows a group to be randomly broken up into twos or threes but once again it was not entirely successful. The problem is that being in a group of three on a video...
Life after lockdown

Life after lockdown

In my last post I talked about coping with the coronavirus lockdown we’ve almost all been living with in one form or another for several weeks. This time, although the confinement seems to be continually extended, I want to look forward. What’s our professional world going to look like when all this is over? How can we face up to the future? I mentioned last time that I had been quite busy in the first two weeks of lockdown, and I’ve continued to have a good amount of work since. I’m under no illusions, though. I am very fortunate and this state is unlikely to continue. A colleague, Andreea Sepi, who lives in Germany, wrote to me after my last post confirming that I am a lucky exception. “My income has plummeted, since I was also teaching, and that’s all closed now, as lots of older language students are not fond of Skype,” she said. Most of us have seen online references to colleagues applying for the various government assistance programmes that are available in different countries, although often the conditions attached make this money difficult for self-employed people like us to claim. There is certainly no doubt that the pandemic is going to cause, and is already causing, the biggest recession any of us has ever seen. We just don’t know how many of our clients are going to survive the pandemic, or what kind of a world we will emerge into. Will people still travel and go on holiday? Will we do the same things we always used to or will our priorities change? In terms of...
The spring that never was

The spring that never was

Three weeks ago we were just beginning to get an idea that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary spring. Since then, the world has fallen in very quickly and, as I write this, it’s not at all clear how or when we’re going to come out of the coronavirus crisis. I want to look forward to what happens next, but I’m going to save that for another post. For now I would just like to document how this has been affecting my life and work and maybe draw one or two conclusions. Before the lockdown The crisis caught me just as business was picking up after one of slowest months I have ever had. After that disastrous February, March was looking good and I’d picked up one or two big projects. About the time it became clear that we were all going to end up confined to our homes, I was offered another piece of work it looked as if it would be difficult to fit in and I decided to work over the weekend to make sure I could take it on. It was already obvious that the shut-down was going to lead to a recession and I thought it was wise to take all the work I could, while it was available. That week was probably the strangest of my life. Things that, on the Monday seemed perfectly normal, like having coffee with a friend or going to the swimming pool, by the Friday seemed unthinkably dangerous. I spent the weekend between work and taking the chance to go for a couple of walks by the...
A language love affair

A language love affair

Last week, I was invited to a language awards ceremony by a good client of mine. As I’d never met any of the many people I deal with at the organisation, I thought it might be a good idea to go along and get to know them a little. So it was that I found myself at the presentation of the 7th Martí Gasull i Roig award, organised by my client, Plataforma per la Llengua, an organisation promoting the use of the Catalan language. In most countries, a language award would be a literary matter, given to a writer, or perhaps a publisher. Here, the finalists were a group of Wikipedia enthusiasts, some computer game fans and a bookshop. Because the Martí Gasull i Roig award is about services to Catalan, not use of it. In fact, it is given for defence of the language, or a notable contribution to improving its situation. For speakers of one of the world’s dominant languages, like English, this is hard to grasp. Why would a language need defending? What would be the point? But our language hasn’t been banned within living memory. And people are not, even now, commonly discriminated against or humiliated for using it. If you think I’m exaggerating, you should read some of the reports I’m asked to translate. Perhaps in order to understand you need to be in the situation I was in when I first arrived in Catalonia. I had met Marta, who is now my wife, some months earlier and I had almost immediately decided to learn her language – the one she spoke most often...
Tuning the machine

Tuning the machine

In my last post, as well as looking back at 2019, I described the changes I want to make this year in the way I work. This has led me to thinking about freelancing, and about what we can and can’t change in our businesses. I see freelancing as a series of inputs and outputs. At its simplest, we put in time and we want to take out money, but, of course, it’s all rather more complicated than that. We also invest money, paying for training courses and computer hardware and software, for example, with the idea of being able to take out more money at the end of the day. Most of us also want a little more than just money out of our work, and, to some degree, we’re looking for job satisfaction as well. Nor can we convert time directly into money. We also need have to have clients giving us work, and the need to find work means that we can’t spend all our work time earning, because we also have to sell ourselves. As well as marketing activities, we might also choose to go on training courses and do other kinds of CPD not only to improve our skills but also to look more attractive to clients. The reason rates are such a hot topic with translators is that they provide the mechanism to alter the amount of money we can make with our time. They might almost be a magical solution to all our problems except for the associated risk. If we raise them too high, we will lose work until or unless...