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Off topic: Research: Examples of client/public ignorance
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:40
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apr 5, 2005

I am writing a dissertation on Combating the Translator's invisibility: raising profiles, fighting ignorance and ensuring appropriate recognition for the work that we do.

I am still in the research phase, and would very much appreciate as much input as possible from others. I will probably be posting other questions in the forums, but for now, I would be grateful for your comments on:

Concrete examples (if anyone can provide hard copy docs, great!) of client/public ignorance towards the work of the translator.

examples: requesting impossible deadlines; arguing over rates; not having the faintest idea about what we actually do etc.

I'm sure everyone has experience of this type of thing, unfortunately. so the more outlandish, the better for my research!

Many many thanks in advance.

Wendy


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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:40
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
Here's one for you... Apr 5, 2005

I have no proof that this actually occurred, although there is at least one witness who can corroborate the story.

In the late 90s I was in Russia interpreting for a technical delegation from a certain US government agency involved in negotiating some contracts with their Russian counterparts. The two interpreters (one from the US side, one from the Russian side) were also responsible for producing Russian and English texts of the protocols that were usually signed at the end of these week-long technical meetings. These were legal documents and had to be translated with perfect fidelity to the original.

So, the US side had produced a base version of the protocol of about six single-spaced pages, and my Russian colleague and I set to translating it into Russian. He was doing the translation; I was the second pair of eyes. We had been working about an hour when the deputy head of the US delegation burst in and impatiently demanded to know why the translation wasn't ready yet. Here is a nearly verbatim record of the ensuing conversation:

Translator: Well, we're working on it and it will be at least a couple of hours before it's ready.

Client: Do you mean you're doing it by hand?

T: Well, yes, I suppose you can put it that way.

C: Why don't you use the computer to translate it?

T: The computer is unable to translate this. We have no software for that, and even if we did it wouldn't be appropriate for this particular text.

C: (with an exasperated expression, as if talking to incompetent idiots) You don't need software; just switch to the Russian keyboard and type in the text on that keyboard. It'll come out in Russian.

T: You think so?

C: Of course, that's what Russian keyboards are for, aren't they?
---------

I wish to emphasize that the individual in question was literally a rocket scientist, and had been interacting with Russians for several years when this conversation took place. He was reluctant to accept my explanation that translation in this particular setting is still done "by hand" without the benefit of one of those marvelous, imaginary "translatin' keyboards."

Kevin Kelly


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:40
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
thanks Apr 5, 2005

that's a fantastic example! I laughed out loud. Thank you!

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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:40
German to English
+ ...
Research: Examples of client/public ignorance Apr 5, 2005

Kevin,

Did your rocket scientist really believe that if you type English on a Russian keyboard, Russian comes out?

Or was this perhaps a misunderstanding: he thought that the translation was being written out in longhand (= "by hand"), and not with the aid of a PC (= "by software") which was capable of supporting Cyrillic (="in Russian")?

It is still a misconception that translation is more or less synonymous with typing ("just type this out in Russian, please"), but it would be more understandable, and also more plausible.

Marc


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 05:40
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
Yep, some people think all they need to do is 'type this in XX' Apr 5, 2005

as though there is no thought or research involved, no proofreading, editing, etc. Like job posters who need 10,000 words for tomorrow.

How many people have said: Oh, you're a translator? I should try that, I took French to grade 4.

and my favourite, courtesy of my brother-in-law: I could do that, if I spoke the language dead serious too

Nancy


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:40
Another quck, short example... Apr 5, 2005

On several ocassions I have been asked to translate a document from English into "Mexican"; a couple fo times I have even managed to raise some eyebrows when I explain that Spanish is spoken in Mexico.

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Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 11:40
Swedish to English
+ ...
Unrealistic expectations Apr 5, 2005

I was recently phoned by a woman who began the conversation by asking what qualification she would get at the end of one of my English courses. After I explained that I mainly have corporate clients and am not able to provide courses that lead to any recognised certifications, she wanted to know if I could teach her how to translate. I naturally said no, but asked what languages she was thinking of and could I be of any help pointing her in the right direction.

She was a native Swedish speaker and wanted to translate Swedish to English and vice versa. It turned out that she had high school English and was expecting me to be able to provide her with a language course that would improve her English enough that she could make a living translating (oh, for such magical teaching skills). I politely, though through gritted teeth, explained about the advisability of only translating into your mother tongue, and that she should consider getting a degree in English and... well, most of you can imagine what else...

Unfortunately I don't think she is the only person to assume that translation is so easy (particularly in a country where most people have a good grasp of the basics of one or more foreign languages). There is someone in my language pair advertising his skills for translating from his mother tongue into another language, solely based on the fact that he thinks his capability is okay and that he and his wife speak the target language at home so the kids don't understand.

Really, it's a depressing subject, so thanks for the US rocket scientist story. I laughed out loud!


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:40
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
high school english Apr 5, 2005

Clare Barnes wrote:

It turned out that she had high school English...


Could you please clarify for me what level of education this is? (what age/stage of the education process?) Thanks


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:40
English to Spanish
+ ...
Another story Apr 5, 2005

First of all, thanks for the laugh, Kevin. Here's another hair raising story.

A few months ago, I got a phone call from someone interested in hiring an interpreter for a two day conference. "Miss X", was from a government agency, and there would be high profile people attending from different countries. She asked what my rates were.

I proceeded to explain, that a minimum of two interpreters would be necessary. She had to check with her superiors, she could not understand why "we would need to alternate, or take breaks". I tried to tell her that this was standard practice, I even encouraged her to call other agencies. I don't know if she did or not, but sure enough, she called back, and decided to hire us.

I told her that we would need information about the speakers, copies of the agenda, and if possible, copies of the text they would read. The day of the conference arrived, and no information had been provided. To my amazement, I read with horror that they would be holding "break-out sessions", small groups of people in different rooms, in FOUR different rooms! At that point, I grabbed Miss X, and asked her how did she want to handle this little problem (when I really felt like telling her "this is the reason why I needed this information AHEAD of time"). Lucky for us, there were groups where an interpreter wasn't needed, and we didn't come to blows. Sure, Miss X felt bad, she also looked incompetent when her superiors asked her why there were only two interpreters. And she wanted to hire just one!

I had brought a second wireless transmitter as a back up, had I not done this, we wouldn't have had enough equipment.

I suppose that all's well that ends well, but we sweated bullets. My colleague and I had no breaks, because for a great deal of the time, we were interpreting in separate rooms. Miss X explained that she didn't know the schedule beforehand. This is a classic example of how these type of things are mishandled, and it could have ended in disaster and an embarrassment for the conference host.


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xxxIreneN
United States
Local time: 04:40
English to Russian
+ ...
Kevin, I'm with you:-) Apr 5, 2005

As you know, most of them are getting better - now and then they would offer a whole 24 hours for a 25-pager:-) with 200 acronyms, 40% of which were just invented. Subject - trajectory management, for example.

Oh, here is something new from the same end:

- We have an urgent tranlation.
- How big is the job?
- About 1,5 inches (thickness of the stack of paper in the hard copy, that is:-)

My experience from the early 90s -

A young and then not all that established agency received a request for editing some English to Russian translation. Major oil and gas company, lots of pages. Fine, send it to us, screamed the agency with joy and received... about 80 pages of what was written in English, highlighted using "select all" and turned into a final product with one click of a mouse by choosing Cyrillic font. You pick how you want to name the "source document"...

Cheers,
Irina


[Edited at 2005-04-05 18:00]


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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 12:40
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
I'm with everyone ;-) Apr 5, 2005

IreneN wrote:
A young and then not so established agency received a request for editing some English to Russian translation. Major oil and gas company, lots of pages. Fine, send it to us, screamed the agency with joy and received... about 80 pages of what was written in English, highlighted using "select all" and turned into a final product with one click of a mouse by choosing Cyrillic font. You pick how you want to name the "source document"...


For me, a typical case is when people don't realize that translators have their own specializations. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine comes to me with his legal contract or business papers or something like this, and when I say that I'm not qualified to translate texts like those, he/she says: "But aren't you a translator!" Usually I reply: "Yes, I am, but do you go to a gynecologist when you have a headache?"


A dialog of two women which I heard recently. I suppose they were discussing some legal papers on a legacy of a departed person from the USA. One woman says: "Well, so we've got these papers by postmail, and we gave it to a translator who RETYPED them into Russian".

This was the moment of my sudden enlightenment! For the majority of people what we do is very close to retyping texts in another language. Pretty close to the translatin' keyboard Kevin told us about.


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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:40
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
Back to the rocket scientist... Apr 5, 2005

Marc,

He saw us working on the computer when he asked the question. Yes, he actually believed that translation these days consists of simply typing the text in whatever the target language may be. He was quite impressed when it finally got through to him that the process requires mental effort. This level of understanding of how language works is, unfortunately, not at all a rarity.

On a different occasion, another of his brethren approached me at the end of a long, grueling day of technical interpreting and told me that a small group of Russian and American scientists were going to a local bar and could I come along to help people communicate. When I told him I was thoroughly exhausted from the day's work, he said: "Oh no, this isn't work, it's just some friends getting together socially. And anyway I don't know why you should be so tired, all you do is talk, and you don't even have to think about what to say."

He didn't get his unpaid interpreter that evening.

Kevin


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Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 11:40
Swedish to English
+ ...
clarification Apr 5, 2005

Wendy Leech wrote:

Clare Barnes wrote:

It turned out that she had high school English...


Could you please clarify for me what level of education this is? (what age/stage of the education process?) Thanks



Hi Wendy!

I mean high school in the UK sense - up to the age of 16. (Which in itself is a low level of English for a Swede, as everyone is now required to study English up to the age of 18/19 if they continue studying after compulsory school, which most people do). This woman was middle aged, so it's probably over 20 years since she last studied English.


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Aleksandr Okunev
Local time: 13:40
English to Russian
Here's one more Apr 5, 2005

There was that old man at the power station we were all building in Pakistan, he came into the country from Russia to work as operational staff, but he was too old and our boss transferred him to a storehouse which by the time had become quite messy, and the company needed to hand over tons of spares, accessories and their lists.

The man was perfectly fit for the job. He made endless lists of spares, boxes, crates and showed up in our room every day, to submit another portion for translation. Sometimes he needed to hand over some spares quite urgently, because they were badly needed at the station to fix something at a power unit or elsewhere, and we would put off everything and get down to yet another list of gaskets or resistors.

He was a very nice bloke, we were quite happy about it, and always found the time for his lists, even if we had to put off everything else, but the man was getting increasingly uneasy. He started to apologize every time he brought something in, he was caught reading an English self-study book, he thought he was causing too much trouble to us, and his mood was changing from bad to worse. We made speeches telling him how nice it was for us to be able to help him with his work and do it top priority, but he would not believe us.

Then, one day, he came in, his face shining with joy. He said that he had thought up a very good solution to the entire issue and said he would handle everything himself from then on. He produced a sheet of paper from his pocket, and we saw Russian alphabet handwritten on it. The man said, "You guys just translate the alphabet for me into English, I know I won't be able to speak fluently after that, but I'll not bother you with my translations anymore!"

Of course, we didn't laugh - the guy was too old and too serious about it. When the door closed behind him, there was a long silence and then Alex, our Chief, said, "I didn't realize I was so stupid having studied English at school and at Uni for ten long years..."

"Multan-2" TPS, Muzaffargarh, Punjab, Pakistan, 1984

Stay well

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here's the hottest one, just landed in my mailbox:
-----
New job posting on ProZ.com:

------------
English to Spanish

English to Russian

English to Vietnamese

Title: ***** Translators Needed ******
Posted by (company):
------------

Do we have plumbers and hairdressers here as well? 8)


[Edited at 2005-04-05 19:41]


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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 12:40
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
No one needs an interpreter when in a bar ;-) Apr 5, 2005

Kevin Kelly wrote:
He didn't get his unpaid interpreter that evening.


Perfectly OK for him, he saved his money. Russians do not need any interpreter after the first glass in a bar. I witnessed it myself. About a ten years ago I was even able to understand Arabic perfectly after my third (or fourth?.. or fifth?..) one! Not mentioning English -- it sounded as my native that evening.


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