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How did the translation business work before there was fax?
Thread poster: Tim Drayton

Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 08:16
Turkish to English
+ ...
Dec 17, 2005

Modern communications, in particular the advent of e-mail, have undoubtedly revolutionised the business of translation.
Out of idle curiosity, I wonder how translators and agencies used to work say 30 or 50 years ago. Before faxes were widely in use, how did freelancers receive assignments? Were things sent by mail, or did they call into the office to pick them up? This would have made the kind of deadlines considered normal today virtually impossible to meet. Or was most work done in-house then, simply because it was too difficult to deliver texts to other locations?
I also wonder what happened before photocopying was widely used. This would have necessitated working with the original document with all the risks and inconveniences this would entail.
I wonder if anybody has any knowledge or personal experience of how translation used to work in those days. I would be very interested in hearing from you.


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RHELLER
United States
Local time: 00:16
French to English
+ ...
24 years ago Dec 17, 2005

Dear Tim,

I can only go back 24 years when I began translating in Paris...Pre-Internet Age (is that like the Pre-Paleolithic Age?). Snail mail was mainly used; messengers (on mopeds) were used for rush jobs. I actually remember picking one up physically at an office on the Champs Elysées. No fax machines at home, but offices had them. Spouses, relatives, and friends were the key.

The worst part was having to re-type some pages - no backspace key!

The physical proximity of translators was important then and rates were about 3 times higher than they are now (if my memory serves me well).

This is like explaining to my kids what it was like to have a transistor radio when they first came out (before audio tapes, video tapes, cds, dvds).

HTH

[Edited at 2005-12-17 15:28]


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 07:16
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
27 years ago Dec 17, 2005

Hi Tim,

Before the arrival of the fax machine (and I was one of the last to get one), you would receive a phone call from the agency saying that work had arrived and, naturally, you’d have to go to their offices in person to pick up the job, though messengers were used now and again.

The usual delivery time in most cases was four days, even for the shortest of texts. One day was for collecting the job, two days in which to do it (depending on the length of the text this could obviously be much longer) and another day for delivery.

Only on certain occasions and for very urgent jobs would I go to the agency, be handed a typewriter, carbon, original and several sheets of paper and translate it there and then. (After trying to guess which dictionary I ought to take with me).

One of the first “tricks” you had to pick up when using a typewriter was that, if you had doubts about which of two words was the correct one, you would always opt for the longer of the two.
This was because if you had to change the word later on, if you’d chosen the shorter of the two, you couldn’t then blank it out and insert the longer word. If you’d opted for the longer one, it was still possible to change to the shorter.

There are a thousand other things which have changed, especially post-Internet, but I think that’s probably the stuff of another thread.

Cheers,
Andy


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:16
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
40 years ago Dec 17, 2005

I have been translating since 1953 but only started freelancing in 1965. My experience is similar to Rita's, but faxes were not at all common. I didn't have one of my own till 1991, but before that BBC Monitoring, where I worked, once or twice let faxes be sent to me via them. Retyping could sometimes be avoided by the use of a fluid like Tippex, but that could still look a mess. A page messed up in this way could be improved by taking it to a print shop to get it copied. Tippex papers left a cleaner result than the fluid.
Practically everything was done by post. I can only remember one occasion when work was delivered to me and I had to take it back to an office.
But even then, you had people breathing down your neck, saying they wanted it back by yesterday if not sooner!


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 07:16
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Photocopies Dec 17, 2005

"A page messed up in this way could be improved by taking it to a print shop to get it copied. Tippex papers left a cleaner result than the fluid."

Hi Jack,

I would regularly have my work photocopied because after mangling the paper, re-typing words (especially those which made it necessary to give the carriage a half-turn to write a symbol, such as "+", a combination of an exclamation mark and a hyphen) UNTIL I started to be accused of "stealing".

"We want the original, not a photocopy".

Pointless to tell them that If I'd wanted a copy of their letter ordering larger gaskets for the heat-exchanger I could simply use a carbon copy.

So in the end I gave up.

Andy


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 00:16
German to English
Foreign language secretaries? Dec 17, 2005

Back in the 60's and earlier, of course, most companies (small and large) hired foreign language secretaries to take care of their foreign business correspondence and probably other types of text as well. In Germany, the Auslandskorrespondentin was often a high school graduate with a certificate from the Berlitz school of languages. She was thus not really a trained translator and the results were often mediocre at best.

I suppose a lot of business correspondence is still handled this way, but I wonder if the Internet age has had any impact on this practice.


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xxxNicolette Ri
Local time: 07:16
French to Dutch
+ ...
20 years ago Dec 17, 2005

Rita Heller wrote:

I can only go back 24 years when I began translating in Paris...Pre-Internet Age (is that like the Pre-Paleolithic Age?). Snail mail was mainly used; messengers (on mopeds) were used for rush jobs. I actually remember picking one up physically at an office on the Champs Elysées. No fax machines at home, but offices had them. Spouses, relatives, and friends were the key.

I worked in a translation agency near the Champs Elysees. The translators (or spouses, relatives!) came physically pick up and bring back their translations (it was too costly to send them a messenger, messengers were only for delivering work to clients!). Other translations were sent by mail and we had Chronopost (so we had to run to the nearest post office before 18 pm) and DSL for sending work abroad, mainly in Great Britain.

The worst part was having to re-type some pages - no backspace key!

I remember my boss sending back a translator, just before I left, in 1984 or in 1985. The translation was done on an IBM-PC and printed on a matrix (needle) printer, this was "unacceptable low quality". The translator had to re-type the whole thing on a "correct typewriter" (we had no IBM PC in our offices, only highly incompatible wordprocessors - there were even wordprocessors without screens!!).

The physical proximity of translators was important then and rates were about 3 times higher than they are now (if my memory serves me well).

Prices of 1985 (agency to client, converted into €/word):
English - French and French - English:
- commercial 0,073 - 0,076
- technical 0,079 - 0,091
- scientific 0,095 - 0,113
(French wordcount - repetitive texts that had to be retyped counted half). The translators invoiced about 2/3 of that price.


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Dinny  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 08:16
Italian to Danish
+ ...
So many trips... Dec 17, 2005

Like Andy, I remember having to go to the agency to pick up the document - and then again returning with the translation. Obviously, I worked for the agencies in my own city, I didn't even bother to contact agencies elsewhere!

The worst part of it was having to go to the agency when payment was due just to be told that the person dealing with accounting was out of office. Coming back a few days later you might hear the same thing. Italy in the late 80'es, not so long ago after all. Now at least I can spare the trip and just receive the "delay tactics" by email!

Dinny


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claudia bagnardi  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:16
English to Spanish
+ ...
I go back 28 years Dec 17, 2005

I went from one office to another then home to work, then again to office A, then to B, and so on. It was something, let's say, athletic.

Has anybody by chance mentioned the carbon paper issue?
I was always requested two or three copies of the translation, so I had to put two or three carbon papers. And wowww! When you made a mistake you had to go to the copies and ERASE them.

It is true that translations were paid much better then.

Besides, your client would't send you an e-mail saying "Sorry, we're changing paragraph 4, 7 45, and 68": you had the paper, you rendered the translation in paper, with no "last minute amendments". The bright side

I liked those times. I could buy a lot of things with the proceeds of my work.

Yet,you, my colleagueZ were not there. So I'm much happier now.

Claudia


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:16
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
23 years ago Dec 17, 2005

My very first translation job I did I was still at university. It was a rush job and I had to go to the customer and dictate my translation then and there to a secretary.

A couple of years later I graduated and started freelancing. My mother had given to me as a graduation present a fancy Olivetti electronic typewriter: It could write an entire line, go back in it to correct it if necessary, and only when the "Return" key was pressed it would print. That saved quite a lot of retyping.

The next year I had already enough work that I had to buy a dedicated word processor: the Operating System was CP/M, and the machine cost as much as a small car... and in a couple of years I had to change it for a PC, since my largest customers had switched from dedicated word processors to generic PCs.

I bought my first fax machine the first or second year of my carreer: couldn't have done without, at least for work done for customers out of my home town.

I also was on the Internet even before the WWW got started: I distinctly remember someone on FLEFO wondering wether as translators we would have any interest trying out this new-fangled thing.


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:16
Member
English to Turkish
20 years ago and onwards Dec 17, 2005

I was working exclusively inhouse in Istanbul until about 15-16 years ago. Back then, non-inhouse translator was not something much desired, I guess. But I remember that the agency I was working for had employed a boy to have the texts taken to and from a translator based at her home - she was an old lady though, otherwise they wouldn't do it.

Then, still before the age of internet, I remember taking assignments by the phone. To be more precise, they would give me a call, describe the job, negotiate, etc., and then I would travel there to get the text. I never had a fax machine, as Rita says above, offices had fax machines. But I remember having faxed the translation from the post office a couple of times - 1- or 2- page ones, of course. Then, I would sometimes send it by delivery services, but when I had a baby and my expenses increased, I couldn't much use those services any longer. I remember traveling to the client's place to deliver the job as a huge pack myself: a baby carrier in the front, and with the baby in it, and a backpack on my back, in it the translation itself, together with baby's things! Those were the days, eh?

[Edited at 2005-12-17 19:02]


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Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:16
English to Spanish
+ ...
somewhere in the mid-80's Dec 17, 2005

I was working as an in-house copy editor in a NYC agency. The translation I was reviewing dealt with old-fashioned bedding components, and no contemporary dictionary was of any use. Needless to say, this was the pre-Google era, and I was given permission to phone my grandmother Lola overseas to query her on the correct terminology...she knew it, too

20 years ago translation rates started at $0.12/word in NYC agencies. Then came the internet...

Lovely stroll down memory lane

Susana Galilea
Accent On Spanish
Translation and Cross-Cultural Services
www.accentonspanish.com


[Edited at 2005-12-18 04:08]


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
1600 years ago.. Dec 17, 2005



working conditions: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08341a.htm

Some years ago I was working in an office and the copier failed.

Then my boss said: "Go on working, our business was running well even when there were no copy machines at all!"

And a colleague answered: "That's true, but at that time we had 20 monks sitting there.."

[Edited at 2005-12-17 23:37]


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Yongmei Liu  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:16
English to Chinese
+ ...
Lucky for me, electronic mail was already available when I started 7 or 8 years ago Dec 18, 2005

But it's interesting to learn about the recent history of our profession.

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xxxBrandis
Local time: 07:16
English to German
+ ...
I go back till 1984 Dec 18, 2005

Even till 1984 we used to be a small Gemeinschaftsbbüro in Berlin Kreuzberg, this went on till 1989 and the first fax-modems came using analogue tel lines so we took a second line only for faxing purposes. Andmost of us ( similar small offices ) used to exchange customer addresses and meet every 2 weeks in some pub and brag about them. The price fight used to be over telephone at top pitch. So we used to prefer mostly backyards premises for office establishment if not backyard and top floors. We missed the first launch of fax-modems on the market and suddenly we all had to learn what Modems are and how them function. It was all unbearably expensive and the installation used to be very confusing, atleast those who boasted to be professionals used to charge about DM50,- an hour and we used to invite them for breakfast, lunch, often dinner, to save expenditure and understand how these were installed. Noisy gadgets. I was in the 3rd Semesters Dipl Mathe. Brandis

[Edited at 2005-12-18 05:34]


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