New Translation Paradigm?
Thread poster: The Misha
The Misha
Local time: 19:42
Russian to English
+ ...
Jun 20, 2008

I just love those silly-sounding formal management terms, so please bear with me. To the point now.

In my first life as a translator (some 15+ years ago, in another time, in another world), business practices were pretty straightforward. They universally hired professional linguists (for peanuts, too) whose math skills mostly stopped at 2+2=4 to translate machine tool bearings specifications. Hence the oeuvres like "the conductor ran screaming through the rail car" or "this box is made of someshit (that's the name for boxwood for you, in Russian). Those who REALLY knew their subject area well AND knew a source language tool, were in high demand and made a decent living - Big Brother or not.

Now, two+ years into my second coming as a translator (I caught the wave and spent over 10 years managing an unrelated business) I finally realized that the rules have REALLY changed. These days google and wide availability of countless free online resources will in most cases let you exhaustively verify not only the proper term but also, what is infinitely more important, its proper usage, thus allowing for fairly decent translation quality even in a subject area you don't know much about. I am not saying that specialization and knowledge of a subject area are not important anymore (they still are. I never did technical before and still wouldn't do it) but rather, that what is more important these days is a really good command of your target language, 24/7 internet access and some solid online research skills. If you are an expert in finance (like I put myself out to be), the combination of the above will let you do an above average job in any business related area, and on most legal topics too. If you are any kind of engineer by training, you are probably sufficiently qualified for any kind of technical and most of science texts. In light of the above, here are two important consequences to consider:

1. Frequent requirements by agencies, such as "5+ years of experience translating fish cannery employee manuals" or "no less than 3 years of experience in competitive nose-picking" are ludicrous and uncalled for. People who wrote those missed the boat full of superbly qualifies candidates.

2. A substantial (if not predominant) number of Kudoz askers are, well, freeloaders who did not bother doing their homework. Personally, I have answered hundreds of those questions and recently stopped bothering with any of them that I do not find challenging enough or justified (I would not even bother elaborating on the fact that the askers often forget to say please or thank you as well. Though it pisses me off in the extreme, it's a different topic altogether).

What do you think? Any opinions welcome.

Cheers!

Michael Kapitonoff aka The Misha


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Alex Farrell  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 08:42
Japanese to English
The Internet rocks Jun 20, 2008

One thing I like about translating a text on a topic I'm not familiar with is that after I'm done, I've learned something new from my research. I try to stick with non-technical work, though I have done a few patent-related jobs and what I produced seemed to make sense, though it took way too long with all the research I had to do. No more of that for me.

- Alex


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autor  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 00:42
Member
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Work experieince, lingistic skills and the Internet Jun 20, 2008

Michael' comments struck a chord with me. When I first moved away from the UK and began learning a couple of foreign languages, I never imagined that I would be able to earn a living from the level of linguistic skills I might acquire. The fact that I can earn a living from translation has surprisingly to me, been as much to do with my previous work experience (essentially broad-based management/engineering) - and that fabulous tool called the Internet - as it has with any linguistic skills. In fact experience, backed by the Internet and a few good dictionaries, makes it relatively painless to cross languages whilst staying within subject. It doesn't make you a linguist, nor enable you to converse in the language, but it does enable you to translate ST documents into your native language.

So if I was an Agency, and it was a specialist technical subject, I would look for experience in the field if I could get it. Even on simple things - such as translations of minutes of meetings, it is often very clear that the translator has never attended a business meeting in his or her life. The thing that many agencies do (especially US-based) that annoys me, is to ask for references ie not work experience references, but translation references. It's not easy to find an agency willing to provide a reference to a competitor, and even if you do, there is a limit to how many times they are willing to cooperate. What's wrong with a short test-piece?

Keith


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:42
English to Dutch
+ ...
True, but risky Jun 20, 2008

The Misha wrote:

These days google and wide availability of countless free online resources will in most cases let you exhaustively verify not only the proper term but also, what is infinitely more important, its proper usage, thus allowing for fairly decent translation quality even in a subject area you don't know much about. I am not saying that specialization and knowledge of a subject area are not important anymore (they still are. I never did technical before and still wouldn't do it) but rather, that what is more important these days is a really good command of your target language, 24/7 internet access and some solid online research skills.


Hi Michael,

I agree with most of what you said. I'd like to point out, though, that there are definite risks associated with this new paradigm.

They are
a) that Google gives a whole lot of information - but you need to know what to use. Too many people just count Google-hits, without recognising that the results may not be related to the specific field they're looking for. So, basic knowledge of subject fields is still very much required.

b) that people copy from bad/erroneous sources. There are at least a dozen words/expressions that are commonly translated into my language (Dutch) in a way that shouts 'bad translation! Literally from English!' right in your face, but they are continously translated like this. Why? Because people found examples on the Internet. It's been done before, so they do it again.

Self-criticism, a critical approach of resources and a talent for languages are more important than ever, if you ask me. If you have these, I totally agree with Alex: the Internet rocks. Long live Google, viva Wikipedia!

Margreet


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Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 16:42
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It's not always black and white Jun 20, 2008

I agree that specialization will always be key for translators to provide good services to their clients. You need to know what you're talking about before attempting to convey your client's message in your A language. However, not everything is black and white, and I could say I've been working at a wonderful "gray zone" with my best clients. In my previous lives, I was a Computer Sciences major, an ESL teacher, and a Social Communications major. This background wouldn't qualify me to work with chemical companies, but two of my best clients actually fit this profile.

I mostly work with their press releases, newsletters, and magazines--which is a perfect-match considering my background in Journalism. But their material is of a more "hybrid" kind. Of course, when I'm translating their articles about promotions, new hires, or community projects, it's piece of cake. But sometimes their articles talk about new products and services that require some research on my part to make sure that their message is conveyed correctly to their audience. I don't think I have to point out how a badly translated/written press release or advertisement can really break a company...

I was an average Chemistry student. The logical part of my brain really doesn't work, so I just made minimum efforts not to flunk Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics in high school. I don't feel tempted to go get some education in the area to better assist my clients, but I have to say I've learned quite a lot from their material. Somehow, classes weren't as effective as their articles are in explaining (at least to me!) what Chemistry is really about.

I would say that, yes, the internet is my best friend when I need to learn about the specifics if I'm translating a procedure that resulted in a new product/service that we'll get to use in our daily lives, but the internet cannot be the only resource I'll ever count on. I also have a great relationship with these clients and open communication is key to offering the best translation service you possibly can. Both parties are pretty happy with the partnership and I think I'm offering them a service that is just as good as what a translator with a Chemistry major could offer.

I'm sure specialized colleagues wouldn't need to ask as many questions to be more familiar with the product/service (or maybe they would, if such product/service is an innovation!), but the client would probably have to hire a solid editor to make the final material journalism-like to really speak to the target audience and fit their purpose. See, not everything is black and white sometimes...

In a nutshell, translators have to be true to themselves and honest with their clients, above all. If you're not able to work with a certain material, leave it alone. The problem is that we've been seeing many translators who believe they can do it all, including not only fields that they're absolutely not familiar with, but also target languages in which they're not fluent enough to be good professional translators.


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:42
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I had to laugh Jun 20, 2008

The Misha wrote:

They universally hired professional linguists (for peanuts, too) whose math skills mostly stopped at 2+2=4 to translate machine tool bearings specifications.


about 70% of my proz.com friends flashed through my head. And:

"5+ years of experience translating fish cannery employee manuals"


I've seen those too, and wondered what kind of translator they'd get. But:

some solid online research skills.


until you pointed this out, I never realized how much I owed all those teachers (including Momma) who went over my term papers and other research efforts with a magnifying glass...

[Edited at 2008-06-20 21:52]


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The Misha
Local time: 19:42
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to all of you who replied Jun 22, 2008

Margreet, you confirmed my own thoughts best. If you can separate the wheat form the chaff, you should be fine. Wouldn't this apply to the entire Wiki-world anyway? Thanks again.

Michael


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