A few thoughts, tips and tidbits on translation

A far cry from my previous post on board games, this entry revolves around several bits and pieces that I have been mulling over in my translation work during recent months. I don’t claim to be offering any concrete answers and comments and feedback would be much appreciated to hear your take on the areas discussed. Ultimately, however, I hope you will find the points interesting and practical.

Is your CAT tool really adding to your work?

First up is something that has come under close scrutiny in my working practice of late. While I readily accept that CAT tools offer so much to the professional translator, in certain contexts this is a particularly pertinent question to ask yourself.

When dealing with fairly short texts that require a substantial amount of restructuring and adaptation to be rendered fit for publication, I realised that my standard working method involving a CAT tool simply wasn’t efficient. With a mode of working based around translating sentence by sentence, I would subsequently have to completely re-work the entire draft – a process I could’ve incorporated into my initial translation process. Factor in the tight deadlines and I simply couldn’t continue using such an inefficient process.

In this case, working directly from Word has proven to be a much better alternative and it is certainly a question worth considering on future projects.

CAT Tool

How can you maximise critical reading?

By critical reading I essentially mean the process of proofreading your own work here and this was something that I really wanted to get to the heart of recently as I looked to further improve my working efficiency.

While most experienced translators will tell you to take a break from your work before going over it with ‘fresh eyes’ or, better still, sleep on it before re-reading your text in the morning, what about projects with a deadline such that a method like this is simply impossible?

One method I find to be quite useful in this situation is to walk away and have a snack before going over a text again while another that I’ve seen mentioned a few times recently is to print off the text and read a physical copy.

These two methods are far from ideal, however – the former is best avoided long-term for health reasons and the latter suffers due to cost/practicality – and therefore my suggested route is to read the text in a digital form that cannot be edited. Personally, I have found that this makes a huge difference as previewing a seemingly final Word document or watching a Powerpoint presentation in full-screen mode where no changes can be made forces you into giving the text a fresh look. Give it a try.

Practice makes perfect

I’ve said it before but it is definitely a point worth repeating: one of the most important attributes in a translator is not what they know, but how quickly they are able to fill the gaps in what they don’t know.

Using the vast array of resources out there, it is amazing how quickly you can become well-versed in a prevously unknown area and, while the widespread advice that you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew in terms of tackling alien projects is very valid, I say that you shouldn’t be afraid expand your horizons – know your limits but remain ambitious and embrace new projects.

Know how to use theory sparingly

While I am a huge translation theory geek, I’m still among the first to admit that it has very obvious limitations. No matter how well you know your stuff and how much sense the ideas may seem to make, you always have to bear in mind that the key factor in producing a translation is for it to be fit-for-purpose and resemble an original target language document whether you like it or not

While Venuti’s ‘foreignising’ strategy may have an undoubted allure, the realities of professional translation dictate that textual experimentation is simply impossible while stylistic choices are based on parallel texts and style guides rather than your sense of duty to a text/culture – preserving foreignness is not the way to impress a client.

Good translation paradoxically damages the profession

As a kind of continuation of the previous thought, this point explores the idea that translation as a profession is still woefully misunderstood. The aim of theories such as those mentioned above is to address that very trend of invisibility in translation that sees texts produced to appear as if they have not been translated.

The point which then stems from this is that good translation actually reinforces this illusion of invisibility and ensures that the translation process continues to go undetected. On the flip-side, this in turn leads to the fact that the only time that translation is noticed is when it is done badly, meaning that the general picture of translation outside of its own community is shaped by things going wrong… A kind of no-win situation for the profession and a pattern that is hard to break.

It’s great to work doing something you love

But enough of that doom and gloom! The heading here says it all and it is something that is always worth remembering. I love being in a situation where I look forward to receiving new projects, interacting with new clients and tackling texts that stretch my abilities. I don’t know about you but the translator’s life’s for me!

CAT tool evaluation: WFA and Trados – David and Goliath?

Current professional standards dictate that computer-aided translation (CAT) tools play a significant role in the work of any translator looking to market themselves profitably in this technological age. Or, as Frank Austermühl puts it in Electronic tools for translators: ‘translation, as a by-product of the information age and globalisation, has become a computer-based activity’.

Familiarity with certain software packages is very often a prerequisite when being considered for a translation project and a mastery of these tools is preferred by many potential clients. This takes a significant investment of time (and sometimes money) on the part of the translator and it is important to consider the impact of certain tools on your working routine before making an investment.

Despite the increased demand for technology within many areas of the field, the prevailing attitude towards CAT tools – and machine translation (MT) in particular – is one of scepticism; the void between translation theory and practice mentioned in my previous post on translation theory somewhat mirrors the link between translation practice and MT as working translators often disassociate themselves from advances in technology, incorrectly fearing that their livelihood risks obsoletion due to advancements in MT. Austermühl allays this fear by making the point that ‘since MT systems neglect the communicative, cultural and encyclopedic dimensions of translation, it is questionable whether they really provide ‘translation’ at all’ and, in fact, it is precisely the input of working translators that is needed for CAT tools to be able to augment their usefulness to the working translator, as attested by Shreve’s belief that ‘CAT systems should be designed on the basis of empirical studies of the translators task’.

Over the course of the last few months I have worked with Wordfast Anywhere (WFA), a free, browser-based translation memory (TM) package which was chosen over other available alternatives (including SDL Trados Studio 2009 which was also used extensively so that informed comparisons could be drawn) for reasons explained below. Generally speaking, the major advantage of working with a CAT tool is the increase in productivity and morale achieved by reducing time spent completing repetitive tasks or other activities unrelated to translation such as formatting, while simultaneously helping to increase intra-textual uniformity by using the capabilities of the TM to ensure that terms are translated in a consistent manner. Indeed, studies have suggested that translation tasks can take up to 40% less time when using a CAT tool.

However, the fact that mistranslations can easily be reproduced is one notable drawback and the time taken to familiarise oneself with the software enough to be able to quickly carry out ‘simple’ tasks dictates that initial working speed is extremely low, although the benefits are quick to follow. In one translation project in particular, the production of tables was a particularly satisfying result of the use of the CAT tool, as no formatting time was required to produce exact replicas of complex tables.

WFA in particular provides several substantial advantages over other available tools, the most obvious – and perhaps most important of which – being that it is totally free while still performing to a perhaps unexpectedly high standard. Second to this is the fact that, due to it’s browser-based nature and dedicated server which can store up to ten files per user at any given time, translation projects can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection, offering a convenience and portability which cannot be matched by tools requiring installation. Other features such as an integrated optical character recogniser and a relatively straightforward layout, which allows projects to be set up quickly and easily, all serve to develop a well-rounded and extremely practical package.

Several limitations in relation to other available products became very apparent to me when using Trados, however, as features such as an integrated multi-lingual spellchecker, increased file compatibility and the ease with which multiple files, projects and deadlines can be managed provide very tangible aids to the translator’s work and make the entire package more self-contained.

Ultimately, however, despite the undoubted additional power that Trados wields, issues of convenience (and of course cost, with a single-user Trados studio licence costing from roughly £600-2000) make WFA a preferable choice for all but the more well-established or well-paid freelance translators.

Finally, some limitations that were common to all CAT tools used included problems with connectivity and crashes: WFA would occasionally fail to connect to the server or declare the TM server unavailable and log the user out, leaving the translator to panic about the status of their work, while Trados often became unresponsive, a particularly undesirable problem when negotiating tight deadlines. Furthermore, the inability to edit images was occasionally an issue and, while easily remedied in certain instances with the aid of a basic image editing package, this shows a clear deficiency of current translation technology.

Hopefully I’ll be able to dedicate some time to OmegaT in the coming months and share my thoughts on that as I have read some very promising reviews, but if anybody has experience using it – or any other tools for that matter – please get in touch here or via twitter to give me your views! Hasta pronto.