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Translation before the Internet era
Thread poster: eirinn

eirinn  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:14
English to French
+ ...
Jun 18, 2004

Following the posting of this topic on the French forum, I thought I might internationalize the thread and post it here as well.

Having started translating "only" 2,5 years ago, I can't help wondering how the every-day life of a translator looked like "before", i.e. before the internet, before email, before resources like Proz, you know, before it got "easier".

We had some interesting inputs on the French thread. What about other countries?


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:44
English to Tamil
+ ...
Life before Internet Jun 18, 2004

With the moderator's kind permission, I posted the following in English in the French thread. Lien was kind enough to translate it into beautiful French. The French thread is vide http://www.proz.com/topic/22010

I remember very well the life before Internet. Since March 1975 when I started and till Feb 2002 when I purchased a computer, I have been translating manually. I will write the translation by hand and get it typed by a job-typist. We were expected to deliver the translations in duplicate, typed in double space. Each page was expected to carry 30 lines at 10 words per line. These were the specifications prescribed by INSDOC, a government agency in India.

As I gained confidence and my clients became numerous, I started delivering just the handwritten manuscript and charged by the words in the translated text. Needless to say, I did not have anything to do with a computer, much less the Internet. Counting was done manually. Thus, when in the year 1998 I borrowed a book on translation from the local British Council library, I was amazed to read that having a computer is the first requirement for a translator! In those days, the agencies which gave me work would accept the handwritten manuscript and type the same on the computer. I was asked to proofread the typed copies and that was that.

But things were slowly changing and the clients wanted me to deliver soft copies. But I persuaded them to accept my services as described above. As by this time I had become a full time freelancer, I offered to come to the client's premises for the day and do the translation. I used to point out that since typing is done directly on his computer, the confidentiality of the documents will be maintained. Clients liked this argument. On a typical day at the client's premises, a typist will be assigned to me one hour after I start writing the translation by hand and she will go on typing the sheets on the computer. At the end of the day, the typed copies will be proofread and the corrections carried out. The combination of a fast translator and a fast typist was really explosive. Gradually I used to do the editing in the computer. My typist taught me the art of mastering the keys of the computer.

But things could not continue in this manner and in Feb 2002 I purchased my computer. The first translation was to be done in Excel and with the help of the typist I managed to type the translation by myself. What a relief! Since then I have not looked back. With the advent of the computer in my life, Internet cannot lag behind. In fact it has been a big technology leap for me. At present I do work without any paper being involved. I download the file to be translated, take its save-as copy, tile both the files horizontally and edit the top layer file by reading the bottom layer file. At the end of the day I get two documents that are identical in all respects except the language! During the translation I keep a few online dictionaries open for consultation. One google page too is kept opened.

Looking back, I wonder. What made me tick? Things have happened to me and fortunately all of them were favorable or I was able to turn them to my advantage. Even now I can do the translation in handwritten manuscripts. In fact I still do it now and then. There is this client who is having bunches and bunches of engineering drawings. I go to his place and start doing the translations by hand on the blueprint itself. One draughtsman is assigned to me who incorporates them with his CAD software. I charge by the hour and believe me it is a very good rate. Main thing is, both the client and I are happy with this arrangement. Here too I tell the client to place me near a computer with an internet connection, which I consult for difficult terms. I carry my dictionaries with me of course.

Regards,
N.Raghavan


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Luca Tutino  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 00:14
Member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
No paper? Jun 18, 2004

Thank you Narasimhan: your story is interesting and instructive!

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:
At present I do work without any paper being involved.


Yes... but don't you find that, for most documents, proofreading/editing on a printout is much more effective?

Luca


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Nicole Maina  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 00:14
Member (2005)
German to Italian
+ ...
proofreading always on paper Jun 18, 2004

Yes... but don't you find that, for most documents, proofreading/editing on a printout is much more effective?

Luca[/quote]

absolutely yes, even if not always possible. i.e. software instructions, websites or some trados-files where most of the text has been translated by someone else.

I am also a young translator and always wondering how one managed to do it without word, without "find", without google... unbelievable.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:44
English to Tamil
+ ...
Not necessarily so Jun 18, 2004

When I am proofreading, I actually check against the original document in the lower window. It is a sort of rechecking the translation. Further, whenever I read a para, my attention is always drawn to the mistakes. Plus there is spell-check. I don't think I have suffered any disadvantage due to the absence of the hard copy for proof-reading.

In fact, in the first flush of enthusiasm, I purchased a printer as well along with the computer but then to my dismay I found that I was getting along without taking any print outs. At last I got rid of the printer. And no regrets.

Personally I find that I am saving a lot in terms of money and time. Just consider. When I was doing the translation without computer, the client took out the print out of the job and handed over to me for translation. As when I gave him the handwritten sheets, he was giving the same to his typist for typing in the computer. Another print out was taken, this time of the translation, and handed over to me for proof-reading. Then the corrections were incorporated and a third printout was taken for final checking. In this manner for every page there were three printouts. How much would they cost in terms of time and money? In my method, this entire process is shortened without any compromise to the quality. So, what is there to complain?

And by the way how many printouts do you take my dear Luca? 3 or more? Just try my method and you will be amazed. It is not difficult. When an old fossil like myself could get computer-savvy at the age of 56, anything is possible. In these days of competition, money saved is money earned.

Regards,
N.Raghavan

Luca Tutino wrote:
Thank you Narasimhan: your story is interesting and instructive!
Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:
At present I do work without any paper being involved.

Yes... but don't you find that, for most documents, proofreading/editing on a printout is much more effective?
Luca


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nothing
Local time: 23:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
My first big job Jun 18, 2004

Yes... but don't you find that, for most documents, proofreading/editing on a printout is much more effective?

Luca[/quote]

Yes, a lot more effective. I never handed in a manuscript like Narasimhan, but I used to write down my translation on notebooks and then use an electrical typewritter. After all these years using computers, I still like to see things on paper and sometimes I think ideas flow more easily when I use a pen than a computer.
But the Internet would have made things simpler when I took my first big job. It was a history book on a particular period in Europe. Because the book talked about Europe in general and did not mention any local examples, the publisher wanted to add an annex about the cultural manifestacions of the period in the area. I was asked to write the annex and agreed.
After long hours of research in libraries, archives and museums, I found out that, although most of the general facts stated in the book were correct, the interpretations and theories used had been refuted by new studies and discoveries in the field. After I told the publishers, they decided not to publish the book.

If the Internet had existed then, imagine how much trouble it would have saved! All those research papers and books would have been available at home and I would have known right from the start.


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:14
German to English
+ ...
Translation before the Internet era Jun 18, 2004

eirinn wrote:

I can't help wondering how the every-day life of a translator looked like "before", i.e. before the internet, before email...


It didn't happen all of a sudden. Modems had already been quite common among freelance translators for several years before e-mail, i.e. before the Internet. Before modems, faxes were very widely used.

The kind of communications technology in use fifteen years ago wasn't necessarily much different to that in use now in terms of the technical principles. But it was a) an order of magnitude more expensive, so setting up a translation office was at one and the same time a financial hurdle and proof that you were "serious"; and b) it involved a lot more technical know-how.

Speaking for myself, the big change is instant access to the world's largest (though not necessarily best) library. When I started out, I used to save up my terminology queries to the end, then hop on my bike and scoot over to the British Council library, or sometimes to the university's medical faculty library. Those were the days! Now, I can barely remember what it was like to use Windows.

Marc


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
A great learning experience Jun 18, 2004

Life before the Net, and even before computers, was a great learning experience. I started out in 1971 with dozens of pencils, a pencil sharpener and stacks of legal pads, working on the kitchen table. I only had a handful of dictionaries, and was constantly haunting libraries and bookstores. I had to keep it all in my head and develop and use my own resources. I got tremendous callouses on my fingers. I had practically no contact with colleagues.

There were deadlines, but they were flexible. After all, if no one else could give instant response from halfway across the world, there was no pressure on me to do so. If I needed time to do more research on a subject, then I had it. Of course, there also were deadlines to meet and marathon sessions that lasted all night. But I basically had a very good potential market mostly to myself.

I had always used a typewriter but never learned to type correctly; it was better to hand-write it and have a typist type it. Since I did all my work for one agency, it was typed and proofread there, and I can recall sitting there with one person reading the original and the other correcting the translation.

When "memory typewriters" came out, I was amazed; no more whitewash, no retyping an entire page because a word was left out, even though they only held 50 pages. That was huge! When "word processors" came out in the late '80s I got one, it was cumbersome and slow, not compatible with anything, printed one sheet every five minutes and to me it was phenomenal!

As the years went by I was able to acquire, at considerable cost, a collection of dictionaries that weighs several tons. I often wondered which I would have to choose and which to eliminate if I were to move to another location, and how to pick up work in another location.

Now I know. I leave the dictionaries where they are, collecting dust. I've got Google. I've got instant contact with colleagues all over the world. The work comes in over the wire. Even if I'm on the other side of the world, I can sit down at a rented computer and provide service to a client.

Of course there is also plenty of competition out there that can do the same thing, but coming up the hard way taught me a lot of things. It was a great learning experience, and today it is a dream come true!


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:14
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
The Good Old Days (?) Jun 18, 2004

I started freelance translating in 1965, didn’t get a computer till 1991 and had no Internet access till 1997, so most of my experience is pre-Internet.
I was in a better situation than most freelance translators, because I was freelancing in my spare time while working at BBC Monitoring (I worked there from 1963 to 1990), so I had access to all the Russian monitoring team’s dictionaries and other aids, as well as the BBC Monitoring Library, with more dictionaries and encyclopaedias (Britannica, Bolshaya Sovetskaya, Brockhaus and so on), books of quotations, maps etc. etc. However, I still felt it necessary to build up a collection of paper dictionaries. I now have something over 70 Russian-English dictionaries plus a dozen or so others.
Another advantage of working at BBC Monitoring was that I was among fellow Russian-English linguists who could be consulted about difficult words and expressions.
Without word processing, at least until the advent of electronic typewriters with limited word processing facilities in the eighties, the only way to make corrections was to use Tippex fluid or correction papers. Since the client wanted a clean hard copy, any page heavily corrected in this way had to be retyped, or sometimes you could get away with making a copy of the corrected page, on which the corrections would be less apparent.
For me, this meant going to a print shop to get copies made, since there were no compact copiers like those of today, only office-size ones, very expensive and space-consuming. I had no fax until 1991, so all work, invoices etc. were sent by mail, so the whole business took much longer than it does now.
For those not so lucky as myself, there was very little contact with other translators, a little through organisations such as the Institute of Linguists or ATA, but in no way comparable to the sort of virtual community which has been created at ProZ (thanks, Henry!). They could only go to public libraries to access any reference material other than their own books, and must have felt very lonely, I should think.
Hope I don’t sound like some crusty old codger saying “Ah, these young people today, they don’t know how lucky they are!” – but maybe some of them don’t, at that.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
Lucky, Jack? Jun 18, 2004

“Ah, these young people today, they don’t know how lucky they are!” – but maybe some of them don’t, at that.

We're the lucky ones, Jack. We learned to develop our own resources and use them, because we had to. I hope the young people can also realize that such effort is still vital to their success.


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Valentina Pecchiar  Identity Verified
Italy
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
Per aspera ad astra Jun 18, 2004

Henry Hinds wrote:
We're the lucky ones, Jack. We learned to develop our own resources and use them, because we had to. I hope the young people can also realize that such effort is still vital to their success.


I think you're so very right, Henry!

I've started this career after computers and word processor were established tools in my life (I had already put Word 4 aside for the innovative Word 5.1!) and the Internet was starting to spread. So I've had it pretty nice and easy.

I can't say I regret having missed the roaring years described in previous posts, but sure enough even a "spoiled brat" like myself can tell when an e-colleague's fingers still bear ink stains and his/her hands smell like printed paper!

Having been through some hard field traning does leave a mark on a translator's style and linguistic awareness. It's up to us, "younger generations", to learn a lesson from this. After all, it's not so hard to unplug the modem and go for bit of browsing in the local library, instead of relying on Googlepedia all the times.

As the Romans used to say, one has to make it through a rough path to reach the stars.

[Edited at 2004-06-18 19:02]


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 00:14
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Pre-computer/internet Jun 18, 2004

An interesting topic.

I started translating unprofessionally in 1977 and, as Henry and Jack have pointed out, the entire process was different.

In the case of agencies (I had no direct clients at that time), turnaround was approx. 4 days for even the shortest text, unless it was so short you would do it there and then.
4 days:

• 1 day to physically go and collect the translation,
• 2 days "grace" period to actually translate,
• and on the 4th day (sounds almost Biblical) you would turn up again at the agency with the translated text.

Paper becomes extremely important at this point for several reasons.

It’s expensive.
I was and am a lousy typist.
Mistakes were, of course, laboriously inked out and overwritten.
You became an expert at giving the typewriter carriage just the slight turn necessary to type formulae, super/subscript, underline, etc.... for example, a plus sign was obtained by typing an exclamation mark and overwriting a dash (bit easier now, methinks)

This usually meant that my dog would have refused to eat the nasty piece of paper I would attempt to foil off on my poor, unsuspecting clients.
Solution: instead of handing in a text with so many obvious tangible corrections (strange bumps on the back of the paper) I started to make photocopies of them and hand in the SMOOTH photocopied sheets (as a sign of my professionalism, and at my own expensive expense) sic.

Clients (via the agency) then started to object saying I was keeping the "originals" of the translation.
Strange. Now they're eternally grateful for your keeping copies of their texts when they “can’t find it coz Mariano’s on holiday”

Last point on the tangible aspect of things.
If in doubt, choose the longest word.

e.g. If you’re not quite sure if the right term in the context is "automatic teller machine" or "cash point", use the longer of the two because otherwise you'll have to repeat the entire page.

-----0-----

And now for "Knowledge management"
• This largely consisted of a little old lady downstairs who had a haberdasher's. (a knitting-patterns-database, "pearl one, knit seven, etc...”), explained in great earnest and at even greater length in Spanish by the old dear. (Translating for women’s magazines, also articles on hobbies, back pains, bargains, cosmetics, etc…)
• A carpenter on the same street (= data-mining for materials and construction terms)
• The local newsstand. Yesterday's Google but a lot more expensive.
• 1 Eng-Spa-Eng dictionary.
• Imagination


Cheers,
Andy


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:14
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Good point, Henry. Jun 18, 2004

There have been articles in the press recently (and I think something in a ProZ forum too) about research showing that people who work hard at languages are less likely to suffer from senile forgetfulness as they get older. Maybe if I'd been working the modern way all my life, I'd be even more forgetful than I am now!

By the way, the better known form of that Latin saying is "Per ardua ad astra" - through hardship to the stars. This is the official motto of the Royal Air Force, in which I served for 14 years. Some people thought it should have been "Per ardua ad infinitum" or "per ardua ad nauseam"!

[Edited at 2004-06-18 20:15]


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Andreas Yan  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:14
English to Chinese
+ ...
Right,Henry! Jun 19, 2004

Henry Hinds wrote:

“Ah, these young people today, they don’t know how lucky they are!??but maybe some of them don’t, at that.

We're the lucky ones, Jack. We learned to develop our own resources and use them, because we had to. I hope the young people can also realize that such effort is still vital to their success.


Hi, Henrry:
I guessed I was not the only one who felt the same ways.You probably know the situation in China is quite different from the world outside there.
I used to be an employee in a state-owned company in China(in other words,the lucky one in China before) and being a profesional technical translator for many years,before the so called Internet era.I just have a few little ideas about the world outside China till the Internet down to the earth in China recent years.Like Narasimhan and Jack,most of my job were down on my hands or on the drawings as you know I was an engineer.
However,this would be such a good topic that reminded us the past when we were in the profesional fields and I totally understood your feelings.

I do thank you Jack,as you knew that I used to be a person who never interested in languages after I got the chance to listen to BBC program.After then I become understood that languages are such an important window to the people like me.The BBC realy brought a lot to me.

Hope to hear more old stories from you all!


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Sheilann  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:14
Spanish to English
Pre Inernet era Jun 19, 2004

Fond memories; but it wasn't all romance. How many more of you typed by candlelight during a power cut? Placed a pile of folded towels under the typewriter to try and avoid disturbing downstairs neighbours on an "all-nighter"? Wasted a morning taking a 1,000 word translation on floppy to an agency that refused to have a modem? Fought with taxidrivers to have a dictaphone returned or a disket delivered when a messenger wasn't available?
We've come a long way and the future can only get better.


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