ADÜ Nord, Assoziierte Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland

I was extremely pleased to find out that my impressions of the IAPTI Second International Conference virtually coincide with those of Kevin Lossner (“Surprises from the IAPTI 2014 conference in Athens”). The same goes for my understanding of IAPTI, its role and place among professional organizations and, generally, in the language services industry nowadays. In contrast to my friend Kevin, I wouldn't call it a surprise. Today, IAPTI is probably the only global and most vocal representative of hopes and concerns shared by translators and interpreters worldwide – that has been my conviction ever since I became an IAPTI member and long before the Athens conference.

The element of surprise that I had in mind when titling this blog post refers to another organization. “In the past when some friends asked my advice about joining professional organizations, I consistently advised them to focus on the large, established groups such as the ATA, ITI, IoL, SFT, BDÜ, AdÜ Nord, etc.“, wrote Kevin. Whereas my knowledge of the first four in this list is only from hearsay, my experience with the other two is first-hand. In fact, I have been member of BDÜ and ADÜ Nord in Germany for many years. The organization that gave me a surprise, just a few days ago, is ADÜ Nord.

Here are some basic facts for reference, before I start my account.

ADÜ Nord was set up as a spin-off from BDÜ, Germany’s largest association of language professionals, some twenty-plus years ago. The spin-off was caused by internal strife with BDÜ, a David’s fight against Goliath, and resulted in then Goliath’s, that is BDÜ’s, complete withdrawal from Hamburg, the rebellious city-state. The relationship between both associations has been loaded with tension ever since. In particular, BDÜ’s recent plans to re-establish its regional subsidiary in Hamburg were sharply criticized by ADÜ’s board and even branded as “expansionist ambitions” of André Lindemann, BDÜ’s president. At the moment, ADÜ Nord is clearly positioned as a regional association of translators and interpreters in Hamburg and North Germany and has a membership of about 350. The current chairperson, Georgia Mais, was elected at the 2013 general assembly where 41 members (round 10%) were present for the vote. The annual membership fee is €190.

I have been an ADÜ Nord member for more than 10 years, but the story I am writing about started last summer, when I went to a meet-up of fellow translators in downtown Hamburg. There and then, I had a lengthy talk with Georgia Mais, ADÜ’s chairperson.

My growing concern about ADÜ Nord was the organization’s inability to make its presence felt, even on its home ground. If you google up Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Norddeutschland, what the association's name in German actually stands for, the websites that show up in the first search results will be those of Across (!), BDÜ, etc. Respectable municipal and University websites like “” or “” will be followed by rather dodgy, but obviously SEO-savvy translation agencies. It is highly unlikely, though, that you find ADÜ Nord, the association of translators and interpreters based in North Germany, on top of the list of Google searches.

If you look up translators and interpreters, members of ADÜ, it's unlikely the association's website will shop up on the 1st page of search results

Although ADÜ has an online directory of translators and interpreters on its website (only in German), you won’t easily come across it when looking for a professional translator or interpreter, even if limiting your search to Hamburg. As an individual professional, you have far better chances to be found by prospects if you are listed in an online directory of BDÜ, but ADÜ… To tell the truth, with quite a decent double digit number of new enquiries monthly, I have yet to meet a direct client who ever heard of ADÜ.

Unfortunately, the issue of visibility – resulting in the marketing opportunities lost – never seemed to be a concern for ADÜ. I remember contacting the association’s board about the database project that we were so thrilled about in late 2012 (“Something A-Changin’?”). At that time, there was no response. All my ruminations about ADÜ’s zero visibility were met with sheer incomprehension of why it matters to be found in Google searches!

Another concern that I tried to address when talking with Georgia Mais a year ago was lack of communication channels for ADÜ members. In fact, ADÜ’s zero visibility to external parties went hand in hand with its inability to communicate within the organization and provide an open communication platform or have a presence in social media. Again, the subject of internal communication is usually brushed off with arguments that indicate a failure to understand the significance or, at worst, sheer ignorance of what today’s networks mean, both for the organization and its individual members. In their email dated October 3, the association’s board plainly states: “We cannot understand that ADÜ lacks communication channels”. Well, “you cannot not communicate”, as Paul Watzlawik once said. But it looks like ADÜ’s leading members with their bold “yes, we can” have set out to refute this statement.

Since our first meeting in summer 2013, I had several telephone conversations with Georgia Mais. I had to explain the difference between an online discussion forum and a Yahoo mail list. I felt compelled to press the case of Facebook users who, contrary to Georgia’s belief, were not necessarily a bunch of teenagers gossiping or being nasty about each other. I felt like I had to dispel fears (that I never suspected to exist) and point out benefits (that would seem too obvious for most fellow translators and interpreters who I am personally familiar with). I even sent Ms Mais an email with a link to my blog post with a record of the discussion of CAT tools that took place in one of the popular Facebook groups.

Again, there was no response. In fact, the conversations that I had with Georgia Mais (and several other ADÜ members) made me increasingly feel like an O’Henry-esque character promoting the railroad as a revolutionary means of transportation. “Well, you can board a train in Chicago in the evening and arrive in Cincinnati at 5 a.m. next morning, what d'you say to that?”, argues the preacher of the steam-powered age. The reply leaves no room for further argumentation: “But what the hell are you supposed to do in Cincinnati at 5 a.m.?!” It would have been funny if it were not so sad. I am no preacher nor a motivational speaker. I simply have no answers to such questions. The conversation ends.

An overnight trip might be not a good simile when talking about an organization with a history of twenty-plus years. Nevertheless, ADÜ’s history is also a journey of some kind. Whereas the point of departure still remains a memorable event, the further route becomes fuzzier and slower, the destination unclear. The days when the journey started are bygone, but the move into a new age is never made. More and more travellers get off the train.

There is something charming about the stubborn refusal to move with the times, but this charm is better suited to fiction, not the reality of a globalized industry and the challenges that a professional association has to tackle today. Yet, being stuck in the glorious past of a David’s fight against a Goliath and confining itself to the narrow, provincial and rather irrelevant, scope of a “regional identity” seem to be the two only noticeable core assets of ADÜ. You cannot add zero visibility and the lack of a discussion culture (or opportunities for an open discussion) to the list of benefits to the association’s members nowadays, can you?

Having failed to make my points clear in our first conversation more than a year ago, I promised Georgia Mais – if I make up my mind to resign from ADÜ – to write an article about my experience and reasons for Infoblatt, ADÜ’s bimonthly magazine. And so I did. That is to say, I both resigned and wrote my article explaining the reasons for my resignation. On September 1, I submitted my article to the editorial board of Infoblatt, which, as it turned out, is now headed also by Georgia Mais as editor-in-chief.

Infoblatt, Fachzeitschrift des ADÜ e.V., Verband der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher in Hamburg und Norddeutschland

Well, any editor is free to accept or decline a publication offer. ADÜ’s board didn’t care to inform me of their decision to publish (or not) my article, titled “Why I Resign – Open Letter to ADÜ Nord”, in Infoblatt. Instead, they used it as a PDF attachment to their mass email with the invitation to a “strategy workshop” and the board’s official reply to my “open letter”.

I am not going to fret over the fact that this mass emailing of my article was done without my consent, though this may be quite shocking for any author and journalist, especially in Germany, a country with an obsession about proper handling, use and dissemination of digital data and intellectual property. I probably spend 90 percent of my working time as a German to Russian translator, but when I write a magazine article, I do feel as an author and journalist. Considering the thinning out of meaningful content in Infoblatt, anyone who volunteers deserves to be treated as such, in the very least.

Imagine someone submitting an article for publication in a magazine that the magazine’s editor decides to email to everyone on her email list.
Imagine a magazine editor who refuses to see the difference between a publication in her magazine and mass emailing of the submitted content.

My apologies for my lack of imagination. In my case, that turned out to be a surprise!

But enough of that…

I am seriously convinced that the future our profession lies in effective communication. As translators and interpreters, we don’t merely replace words and idioms of one language with those of another. We help our clients communicate with their audience, get the message across and achieve the desired results. An organization that fails to embrace the value of communication or the organization’s board who openly admit to have “no time” for that (as they did in their reply to my article) cannot lay claim to represent their members, professionals in language communication.

Luckily, ADÜ seems to be an exception among professional organizations that I have first-hand experience with. I started this post with a reference to IAPTI, but BDÜ in Germany, too, made decent headway toward more openness and professionalization. Like Kevin, if asked about professional associations, I would recommend “to focus on the large, established groups”. I just think Kevin’s list needs a bit of an adjustment. And I think this list would become shorter over time.

IAPTI Athens - 000 - TitelbildIt didn’t cross my mind that there is something I would like to change about the agenda of the second conference of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) that took place in Athens, Greece, on September 20 and 21, 2014. The program was as balanced and well-rounded as the Doric columns in the conference logo. Presentations on important aspects of the translation and interpretation business were held parallel in two conference rooms, crowned by general sessions with keynote speakers (e.g.. Kevin Lossner’s “Confessions of an American MpT User” and Aurora Humarán’s “Cons and Cons of Post-Editing for Third Parties, Pros and Pros of Post-Editing for Our Own Business”), insightful and inspiring reports (including a major survey on translation into a non-native language by Attila Piróth and Maria Karra) or topics of general interest like an entertaining final act with Nikos Sarantakos, a seasoned translator for the European Parliament in Luxembourg (“Loanwords, Idioms, False Friends and Other Curiosities in a Translator’s Life”).

It was a great conference attended by great colleagues many of whom I had known previously only through emails or Facebook groups. There will probably be more detailed (and far more comprehensive) reports on the topics and issues discussed at the conference. So it didn’t cross my mind that there was something to be improved about or rather added to the conference program until I found myself listening to Maya Fourioti speaking about “The Secret Code and Meaning of the Greek Alphabet”. A casual question from Aurora Humarán, IAPTI President and mastermind, concerning the Greek letter in the word “taxi” made me realize, all of a sudden, “Hey, we are actually in Athens, Greece”. The demonstration in Syntagma Square only five minutes from the conference venue could mean using a taxi instead of public transportation (yes, the Metro station was closed), but what was the demonstration about? Didn’t the recent discovery of a sensational tomb rescue Greece from all economic worries? What is the name of this popular coffee drink that everybody seems to sip at? And does the Greek for “taxi” have something to do with the Greek for “taxes”, which might be similar to a linguistic revelation that I made in Italy two years ago?

In short, I suddenly felt that some background information about the here and now could be welcomed. “Translation is not about words but about what words are about”, as Kevin Hendzel put it. Greek might be the richest language to describe the cosmos according to Maya Fourioti, but what about more simple, casual things?

Since the tour of Athens was set for the day after the conference and I already had other plans for that day (read on…), I thought I just had to guess “the secret code and meaning” and rely on personal interpreting. After all, translating is interpreting, so, for the lack of better knowledge, why not try and translate the visual into the verbal myself?

In retrospect, a more timely opportunity to compensate for the lack of trivial information was perhaps the only thing that I would like to change about the conference agenda, but in the meantime I managed to somehow bridge the information gap. I cannot guarantee any accuracy of the results. The future of our profession lies “beyond accuracy”, here I totally agree with Rose Newell (and her presentation “Writers Worth Paying For” in the Business/Marketing panel).

So much for the disclaimer, now on to the facts!

  1  My arrival in Greece started with a few serious disappointments. There was no VIP pickup service on arrival.

001 - Black Limo Pickup Service with IAPTI Logo

At the port of Piraeus, we were offered only very basic means of transportation.

IAPTI Athens - 002 - Donkeys

Against all expectations, the donkeys were completely unbranded, so that not every donkey driver was in the know about the IAPTI conference that was to take place (“Conference? What conference?”, as quoted by Marta Stelmaszak immediately upon arrival).

But the worst thing was that IAPTI had to change the conference venue. Greek construction workers, true to their unfortunate reputation, simply failed to rebuild the Acropolis by the 20th of September. Instead of overhead projectors and LED displays, overhead cranes and scaffolding still dominated the site on the conference eve. We had to move.

IAPTI Athens - 003 - Acropolis

  2  One of the poshest hotels and the former residence of Aristotle Onassis were proposed to serve as an alternative conference venue. The hotel management were smart to incorporate the hotel’s USP into its name – Electra Palace Hotel. Since most of Greece’s electric power resources are used to operate the lighting equipment at the Acropolis building site at night, not every hotel in Athens can boast of electricity in its rooms. Luckily, the power outages during presentations in the Electra Palace Hotel conference halls were few, and even if they were, I finally learned how to use my iPhone as a torch (that came in very handy when dealing with the Greek menu during the night dinner, the menu was fully enjoyed).

  3  Greeks are an Olympic nation. Once, I had a translation job for a German lawyer firm specialized in sports betting. The lawyers were approached by a new betting company from Russia to help them set up offices in Cyprus and Greece. As far as I remember it was vital for the Russian client to have “Olympic” in their company name. I didn’t realize at that time it was more a local target group than a figure of speech. A typical Athenian day starts with a visit to a sports betting office and ends when the lights of the “Play Zone” go out. (Unluckily, there was no “Play Zone” at the Electra Palace Hotel.)

IAPTI Athens - 004 - Play-Zone

  4  The next big thing among the Olympians are bicycles. The IAPTI conference was by far the most important, but not the only show in town. The bike festival at Technopolis/Gazi not very far from the conference venue was huge.

IAPTI Athens - 007 - Bicycle Festival - Technopolis - Fuji

This year, over 34,000 visitors were reported to be fascinated by a novelty called “bike helmet” (more than 250 helmet brands were featured at the exhibition). Rumor has it that the tremendous success of helmets for bike riders may even force the Greek government to lift the ban on helmets for women riding on the back seat of scooters and motorcycles in the Peloponnese part of Greece.

  5  The Greek translation market is huge. Virtually everything ever published abroad is already translated into Greek. But not the other way around. I didn’t find a single book in any language other than Greek at the Book Festival in Zapeion (also within a five minutes walk from the Electra Palace Hotel) that ended on September 21st simultaneously with the IAPTI conference.

IAPTI Athens - 005 - Book Festival

  6  The only exception for translations from Greek into other languages is the poetry of the great Konstantinos P. Kavafis (1863-1933). On the second day of the conference, Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez (“Increasing Quality in Retranslations? Cavafy’s Swift Conquest of Spanish”) compared 8 various existing Spanish versions of one famous poem and arrived at a conclusion that no one translation was perfect. Provoked by the remark that it took a translator of Greek classics, Robert Fitzgerald, 11 years to accomplish his work, Mr Kirti Vashee immediately announced in his blog (“eMpTy pages”) that his company, Asia Online, already achieved, through use of a special Kavafis-trained MpT engine in combination with automatic pre-, post- and meta-editing, more efficient results. Once again, as numerous times in the past, Mr Kirti Vashee was proven wrong. The Acropolis Museum's collection of stone carvings with Greek letters convincingly shows that post-editing was never an option, not now and not in the past. Many botched post-editing jobs done by Alexandrian scribes could be remedied only by a new translation from scratch.

  7  Asia Online’s machine translations of Kavafis will be touched upon in an IAPTI webinar to be held soon. This time, Aurora Humarán and Valeria Aliperta will join forces to give an informal presentation under the working title “Pros and Pros of Post-Editing Kavafis for Your Brand, Cons and Cons of Post-Editing Kavafis for Nescafé”. Registration will be open soon!

  8  For translators in a very competitive environment like translating into Greek (see above), there is no better place for studying marketing than the Central Market in Athens. Whereas the famous Fischmarkt in Hamburg, Germany, stages workshops only on Sundays, between 5 and 9 a.m., the Athens fish market provides courses in a variety of disciplines, including diversification and anti-commoditization techniques, each day with a focus on direct clients.

IAPTI Athens - 006 - Fish market

  The Day After  

As soon as the conference was over, Athens returned to its serene and peaceful self. There was no better time to start a healthy lifestyle change!


On the last conference day Sara Colombo came to Athens from Tokyo London to persuade the audience of the “Business Benefits of Living a Healthy Lifestyle”. After hearing about various relaxation techniques, I was now confronted with a dilemma (δίλημμα): what should I do? Go fishing or go to Mt. Fuji Olympus. I chose the latter.

The way up Mt. Olympus was a very steep way. It was also scorching hot. But advanced origami techniques and a Greek paper make a great combo!

IAPTI Athens - 008 - Valerij Tomarenko

The view from the top makes up for everything. From here, Greece looks as if the conference never took place, although to state this would be the most blatant inaccuracy in this reportage.

IAPTI Athens - 009 - Greece

In order not to multiply inaccuracies, I will refrain from claiming that this was the mountain where they usually light the Olympic torch to transfer it to another city to host the next event, in our case the IAPTI 2015.

All kidding aside, it was a great conference, and as a conclusion I would like to say a big thank you, ευχαριστώ, to all those who made it such a tremendous success. I am looking forward to meeting you at the next IAPTI conference. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

IAPTI Athens - 010 - Colleagues - Heidi

Silvestrov - ECM

Apart from my Ukrainian-sounding name, I don’t have any affiliation with this country. Although I have been to nearly every post-Soviet republic, my only – very short – stay in Ukraine lies many years in the past. I spent two days in Kiev to visit Valentin Silvestrov, one of today’s greatest maverick composers, and this explains the iconic ECM cover picture above (Valentin Silvestrov’s Silent Songs, ECM New Series 1898/99). The reason I mention Ukraine of all things has to do with the fact that AIT, Advanced International Translations, is a software development company based in the Ukraine. So needless to say, my non-affiliation statement for the country goes for the company as well. Also needless to say, I think both Ukraine and this particular Ukrainian company deserve our support, perhaps now more than ever. AIT builds quality software that delivers value. Since years, Translation Office 3000 has been a popular solution for managing language service projects. However, despite a very good support of AIT’s team, this highly versatile and customizable tool is seldom utilized to the full of its potential. Many convenient functions remain largely unknown and unused. The idea of this blog post is to show a few things that help make the software more usable and useful (the following tips refer to Version 11, Advanced Edition).

1. How to make up for the lack of network capabilities

Translation Office 3000 is intended for individual translators and is designed as a single-user desktop system. However, it still can be used in a team.

With Translation Office 3000, all your data are stored in a Firebird SQL file called TO3000.fdb. The path to your database is shown at the bottom, in the right corner of the Translation Office 3000 window. You can move the file to any other location on your PC, but the software won't be able to access the file once it is placed in a network folder or on a virtual drive. That pretty much describes what the lack of network capabilities means.

To make up for the restrictions and make your database accessible from various machines, AIT suggests using “some folder synchronization software like Dropbox”. Alternatively, if you have concerns about cloud storage, you can sync and always keep updated your database in a local network.

To do so, I recommend that you set up a dedicated folder on your local drive where you want to store the database. After you repeat the procedure on every machine in your network, you will have a series of TO3000.fdb files. Now you only have to sync them. A good idea is to create a central node, e.g. on a NAS device.

First of all, make a backup copy of your database and copy the TO3000.fdb (the path will be shown in the bottom of the Translation Office 3000 window), say, to your desktop. Set up your dedicated folder, e.g. on your C: drive, and copy the TO3000.fdb in this folder. Now go to Settings -> Database -> Set Database Folder:

Tutorial for Translation office 3000 - Translation project management software - Screenshot

In the window Destination path to TO3000 database, identify your dedicated folder, press Set database folder and Close to return to the normal view:

Translation Project Management Software - Screenshot No. 2

After you set up your dedicated folders on every computer in the network (and copied the TO3000.fdb to a dedicated folder on a NAS drive, if using it), you can define the synchronization rules in your synchronization software.

You can use any software like SyncToy (Microsoft's supremely understated, free utility), Allway Sync or GoodSync (my tool of preference). Basically, you simply align your dedicated folders in the left and right windows, the rest is self-explanatory.

However, I would warn against using any auto functions like “Newer files win” in GoodSync. Translation Office 3000 assigns a timestamp to the TO3000.fdb file each time you close the program. As soon as you merely open and close your Translation Office on one of your computers, you “update” your local TO3000.fdb file at the risk of overwriting the node database that might be more up-to-date. To prevent any accidents, remember to manually synchronize your aligned folders before you open Translation Office and after you close it, that’s the deal.

2. How to customize your invoice templates

Unlike many other invoicing tools out there, Translation Office 3000 enables to customize your invoice templates in endless ways. In fact, a plethora of possibilities and options might seem overwhelming. Although AIT provides a comprehensive, detailed guide on how to create your templates (click on RTFTemplatesGuide.pdf to download the PDF), I heard many fellow translators complaining about their difficulties to cope with all those variables listed in the manual (and ending using the default templates instead).

That is why my advice is to start from the opposite end. Instead of trying to adapt one of both default templates, open an empty Word document (you can use PC or Mac, it doesn't matter) and create a dummy invoice. You can start from scratch, take one of your past invoices or reproduce any available invoice form to your liking. Or download some generic invoice form and save it in RTF format.

Now identify the obvious placeholders that you are going to replace with TO3000 variables. For example, if you want the address part of your invoice to look like this:

Custom templates in Translation Office 3000

you can use the following variables in your RTF template:

Project Management Software for Translation Agencies - Translation Office 3000

The central part of my English invoice template –

Translation Project Management Software

never fails to generate nice, round numbers –

Translation Office 3000 - Invoice example

If you wonder about this weird variable:

Invoice Templates for Translators

It is a simple trick to put any number in the field Notes (Edit Invoice, tab Notes) to be used as the current invoice number:

Translation Project management Software - Screenshot

The possibilities are endless. But finally, after you have designed your RTF template, go to Settings -> Personal settings -> Templates -> CLIENTS -> Invoices to check the list of your templates and the path to the templates folder:

Translation Office 3000 - Custom Templates Window

Copy your newly designed template to the folder displayed at the bottom. Now, when producing invoices you can choose Your newly designed template.rtf from the dropdown menu:

Translation Office 3000 - Custom Templates

3. How to include your suppliers, subcontractors and colleagues in your database

If you outsource or run a translation agency, you should probably consider purchasing another AIT’s product, Projetex. However, you can still include your suppliers, subcontractors and colleagues in your TO3000 database. In fact, the Advanced Edition of Translation Office 3000 has the potential to serve as a fully fledged ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.

The most logical place for your subcontractors would be Business Expenses:

Translation Office 3000 - Suppliers and Subcontractors

But before opening your Business Expenses, first go to Settings -> Advanced -> Custom Fields -> Business Expenses. Press the green plus button left from Group of fields to create a new group. For simplicity’s sake you can call it Vendors or Subcontractors. Now in the new group (it will be highlighted blue), press the green plus button (&New Field) on the right to create a New Custom Field. In the pop-up window you can start creating new custom fields:

Custom fields for including your suppliers in Translation Office database

One big advantage is to use Multiple Text Lines as a field type and assign 15 as the maximum line number in the field Lines count. As a result, you will have a fairly large field to enter free text information regarding your subcontractor (notes, remarks, copies of emails, etc.).

For my purposes, I compiled a series of custom fields that are self-explanatory even in German:

Translators database for Translation Office 3000

You can find additional information on Custom Fields in the Help file of Translation Office 3000, but I don’t think you will really need it. It is a no brainer as far as I am concerned. There is only one tricky thing you should bear in mind when entering information on your subcontractors. After you opened Business Expenses and pressed New, make sure you (1) enter some number other than 0,00 before you (2) click on the Custom Fields tab:

Translation Office 3000 - Creating Custom Fields

Otherwise you will receive the following error message after you have filled all your fields (and you will probably want this message to be more specific about where on earth – among all your fields – you should enter your value?!):

Translation Office - Custom Fields - Enter Message

Well, you are set to go. In this way you can enhance the functionality of Translator Office 3000 with the addition of a very flexible “vendors” database which I find quite sufficient for individual translators who outsource part of their jobs as well as for larger translator teams or small to medium boutique translation companies. The next step from here would be to configure the calculation of contribution margins, set up an automatic notification system etc. In this case though, you are probably ready to look for a more powerful ERP system. Or upgrade to Projetex (I am not familiar with this software).

The three small how-tos illustrate the multitude of ways Translation Office 3000 can be used to improve your translation business. TO3000 has numerous other features that could come in handy for GTD (Getting Things Done) and keeping your work organized. I would appreciate any further tips and comments on this practical tool. Thanks for reading!


technical translation - tecom

A giant toy airship with the logo of one of the exhibitors was floating across the Rhein-Main-Hallen in Wiesbaden where the tekom fair – the largest global event for technical communication – took place. Sometimes it looked like it was arbitrarily moving by itself, but sometimes you could see the man underneath who steered and guided the Zeppelin with a small remote control unit.

This “wagging the dog” provided the perfect backdrop for a series of questions that I was going to ask Don DePalma, the founder of Common Sense Advisory (CSA), “the preeminent market research firm in the language services sector”, according to the exhibition directory.

Can stock market analysts move stock prices? Do securities prices go up and down because rating agencies create a certain market sentiment? Can market observers maintain objectivity if the market responds to their observations and depends on their judgment?

Some months ago I asked Nataly Kelly, the co-author of “Found In Translation”, about a CSA statement on translation rates. It turned out that she was no longer with CSA, but luckily, Don DePalma kindly suggested to answer my questions and also meet for a discussion. I was very grateful for the opportunity to talk with the mastermind behind many survey and research reports, often quoted verbatim by large translation companies and no less often perceived as controversy by translation professionals all over the world.

It was a very interesting and very long conversation. It is certainly worth reproducing more faithfully and fully that I will do at some point later and elsewhere, probably for the BDÜ’s magazine. In the meantime, I can offer only an abridged version that would fit in a (still very long) blog post. (My blog is called Anmerkungen des Übersetzers, German for Translator’s Notes, so I also allowed myself a few comments, highlighted yellow.)

This conversation took place at the tecom/tcworld fair and conference on technical communication in Wiesbaden, Germany, on November 8th.

Mira Vozreniya, a funny Russian-sounding character in your popular book “Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing" made me think about your language background. Did you learn Russian or work as a translator?

Don: As a child of the Cold War, living within miles of a nuclear station, the West Point military academy and many Fortune 500 companies’ headquarters…

…the military-industrial complex…

Don: Right, I still remember the air raid drills. Once I asked myself why we were doing all this. It’s because of the Russians – the answer stuck in my mind. Later in college I chose Russian, the language of those people who wanted to destroy us, and also had an opportunity to go to the Soviet Union. My bachelor’s degree was in American and Russian literature, my master’s in Russian literature and language. I did a doctorate in Slavic linguistics. I did comparative analysis, generative grammar, computational linguistics, historical phonology… My dissertation was on the ablaut in Czech which is called přehláska. There were no jobs in Slavic linguistics at the time, so the option was technical documentation, and from there on technical marketing. I became an analyst, but still carrying my language gene. I was hired by Forrester [a technology and market research firm] because of my technology background, and because I knew more than most Americans about things outside the US at that time. In 1999, I originally started Common Sense as an e-commerce consultancy, but it was difficult to grow, we were bootstrapping. I went to work for Idiom [Idiom Technologies Inc., bought by SDL in 2008], and later on I left Idiom because of my book contract with Wiley [the publisher of “Business Without Borders” in 2004]. When I finished the book, I said why won’t we do consulting…

As a translator and interpreter, I worked for consultancies a lot. One of the German business trainers who I worked for is fond of telling his students about the American optimism and positive look at things. Americans, he used to say, always find a way to talk themselves out of a crisis. They keep telling you that things are going to get better until things start to look better and, finally, turn good. Your consultancy, CSA, is known to spread the word about the decline, telling how things are going down, at least in terms of translation rates. Why this un-American stance?

Don: Well, that is the data. We don’t make this stuff up. We collect the data, we normalize it, we clean it up, we sit down with the statisticians, we develop models, and if the data says this we cannot say that. We have to say what the data says. Otherwise, it would be irresponsible.

A colleague translator from Canada complained that the public Translation Bureau, the largest purchaser of translation in Canada, based business decisions on CSA and was driving prices down. Many fellow translators I know have the impression that Common Sense Advisory effectively caters to its target group, that is large translation companies, and helps them drive purchase prices down. As a business consultant, you should keep in mind the interests of your target group, shouldn’t you?

Don: We don’t cater to any group. The data comes in, we analyze it, we calculate it, we say importantly what it means. How a company, buyer or supplier, uses the data, it’s up to them. If somebody says I am going to use it to drive the market down, there is nothing we can do about that. But there is one thing that I am going to tell you.

One of our clients, a large translation buyer, was sitting down to do a tender. It turned out that several LSPs were Common Sense Advisory readers as well. They said it was the best negotiations they had ever had, because both sides had access to the same pool of data. This is a very important part of the practice. It is something that I have been saying for years. What we do is we try to help companies deal with information asymmetry. Any time there is a discussion among two individuals or groups, typically one side knows more about the issue at hand than the other.

Somebody like Donald Barabé, the former managing director of the Canadian Translation Bureau (CTB), now retired, sits down with all of the data that he has, and uses that to make his decisions. SAP does the same thing. They make their decisions based not only on our data, but they look at the economic data from the markets they are in, they look at the company’s earnings.

Here is what we know about ourselves and about the market. The best buyers are also ones that have specialized procurement teams, best in terms of getting the best deal for the buyer. These companies hire individuals who understand how to buy. Unfortunately, what happens in some of these cases, they don’t understand the translation business. They know how to buy rolled steel to make Škodas. They say I know how to buy landscaping or building services, air conditioning, electricity or whatever. Now I am going to apply the same buying. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing.

Ignacio Lopez, the purchasing manager at General Motors…

…who later went to Volkswagen…

Don: … and got arrested for stealing… In the States, he went to the GM suppliers and said, “Every year I want you to take 3 percent, 5 percent, out the cost of the part that we’re buying from you.” It works if you build efficiencies into the manufacturing, so that the cost of the part doesn’t go up. But with humans, you get to the point of diminishing returns. The big challenge across the market is, given the drop in translation rates, that it makes the practice of translation much less desirable than it used to be. With all this downward price pressure…

Well,allow me to disagree. Talking about tenders reminds me of this famous saying by the American astronaut, John Glenn: “As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind – every part of this capsule was supplied by the lowest bidder.” Also, the data that we see in your reports are of such a macro character, it is like trying to determine the average temperature and blood pressure across the hospital. Does price really matter? Do you take into consideration that the markets are different – a bulk translation market is not that similar to the high-end translation market. Rose Newell, a colleague of mine, just wrote that “competing on price when you sell a service that requires intellect shows that you lack the intellect required to sell or indeed provide that service well.” My impression is that CSA data might apply to big players or purchase managers at large corporations. On the other hand, they are of not much relevance for top-notch freelance translators or boutique translation companies.

Don: I agree. It is much more nuanced. But we don’t only measure the average temperature, we do look at the morbidity rate as well, to continue the metaphor. We see companies that died because of the average temperature in the hospital.

But generally, you agree that there are several markets, you wrote that the whole industry is highly segmented…

Don: Highly fragmented, right…

The figures of professional associations like BDÜ in Germany show upward trends. I know many translators whose rates are going only higher…

Don: … in high quality, precision, professional translations. Those are the kind of translators who will succeed in the future. There will always be opportunities for better translators. Higher visibility services, like transcreation, very specialized marketing kinds of things. Customers ask for different levels of quality. One company that I talked to uses an airline metaphor: they’ve got Coach, Business and First. The larger companies realize that, depending on the application, they don’t need the same level of quality. For FAQ or some knowledge base, they may say that can be a little rough, but the availability is important. If it is marketing material, it has to be absolutely perfect.

Translation rates and quality


Once again, the airplane metaphor came in handy. I didn’t change my mind about various grades of translation ("Add garbage to diversify!") since I wrote that post, but other companies have other motivation.

Don: Then we also have the changing nature of translation. We found a high percentage of respondents who didn’t include all the features like T – E – P (translating – editing – proofreading) in their rates. Some companies provide translations with very little editing, that explains low prices.

So basically you agree that there is a divide…

Don: Oh, absolutely.

… and it would make sense to have a more differentiated look at the market, also subject-wise? Do you poll literary translators or include journalism translation in your surveys?

Don: We tried to do a breakdown, but it didn’t work. The longer the survey, the more dropouts we have. To get the level of detail that you are asking for would be to double the length of surveys. One of the next things I am going to include in our next surveys is the reseller factor [the percentage of services that LSPs provide to other LSPs].

Another question that I had when getting prepared for this interview: Do you think the principle of economy of scale can be applied to the translation business?

Don [laughs]: Well, this is a great question. For an individual translator there are certain economies from gaining large jobs. You get the capital to buy the tools, services, a bottle of wine to feel good, at the end of the day. For an LSP, it is important to understand that they are an aggregator of supply and demand. There are thousands of translators like you who can provide services to potential clients around the world, but – they don’t have the access to those clients around the world. It is not a problem for you personally, but a lot of translators are not that visible as you are. Agencies make them more visible not directly, but provide them an outlet to the world.

So an individual translator outsources such functions like marketing and sales to an agency.

Don: Precisely.

Do you, an expert in globalization, see disintermediation as a trend? After all, globalization also helps to eliminate intermediaries.

Don: Some companies are going directly to smaller suppliers. SAP is looking for smaller, single language vendors. There are companies like Computer Associates (CA) that go directly to freelancers, there are various other companies. But can you buy directly from the supplier eliminating all the risks and costs that may make you go to an LSP in the first place? If they go to you for a precision Russian translation, best in the field, and you decide to go on holiday, so you’re gone for two weeks? They have to ensure availability, the 24/7 coverage. Another issue might be security, that is everyone is working within the same framework. True, it is safer to work with a single supplier, but when everything is in the Cloud, and the translator doesn’t have any content on his or her machine… These are concerns that come up: availability and variable cost, it is probably the biggest issue. If multiple freelancers require management by the buyer of translation, for each individual that they engage with there is some percentage overhead. Somebody has to oversee this work. It is a calculus. That said, there is a change going on: professional services that were going to India or China ten years ago are coming back. It was found to be inefficient to send them to another time zone and also inefficient to send them outside the company if the company was losing intellectual value.

These are apparent advantages for a client to deal with a bigger translation company instead of with a freelancer directly: availability and volume. Turnaround time is getting ever more important, more than price. The biggest mistake that freelance translators make is to turn down jobs (being unavailable) and, generally, fail to increase their visibility for a potential, preferably direct, client (otherwise they have to deal with intermediaries).

Did you discover new trends at this exhibition? Are there any new fields that you are going to research?

Don: Our goal with Common Sense Advisory is to provide an independent, objective view of the market. We care about all the participants, but we don’t cater to any particular group. We sell our research to buyers, we sell to LSPs. It is not just quantitative data, it is also qualitative data, benchmarking and best practices. Project management, production models, marketing methods by service providers. On the buyer side, I just finished a report on machine translation. Another research will be focusing on software localisation in an Agile environment. The Cloud is critical, from the technology viewpoint.

Companies are getting away from plain old translation. They want to increase their value to the enterprise they serve. They don’t provide just translation. You do a better job than any of the vendors on the floor for Russian to German or German to Russian translations. You can provide better services. They realize there are hundreds of thousands of freelancers and 28,000 other language services providers. They cannot compete on translation alone, they need to show more value, to become strategic. A couple of weeks ago, Lionbridge announced a global email campaign management system. If you want to send out a thousand of emails to people in 40 countries in the right language, that is a service that previously might have been provided by an email house. But now Lionbridge says this is something that we can also do for our clients. If translation can be provided by so many companies, let us see what we can do on top and, if the client decides to cut cost, they cannot cut us, since we are critical. Be strategic – that is what everyone would like to be.

As a photography enthusiast, I was lucky to be a participant in a three-day workshop held by one of today’s most talented photographers, a month ago. He mentioned, en passant, that there is so much talk about the photography business, technology, software and devices, etc., but very little about photography itself. My observation is that there is so much talk about the language industry or translation technology, but very little about translation skills and quality translation. Don’t you think all this technology is a little bit overrated?

Don: That’s an excellent observation. At the end of the day, when you stop, v kontse kontsov, the whole thing is about what you are doing, that is communicating things to the reader. There are various levels of communication. There is clearly an artistic form. I hope that people like you who have a passion for languages and translation will never lose it, because it is important. But there is too much stuff to translate, that is the bottom line. So much stuff is created every day and never ever leaves the language in which it was created. Some day, machine translation might reach the point that somebody might be able to improve the output. Other companies don’t need machine translation at all, because they have something like over 90% leverage on their translation memory. They are building products that are similar, from version to version.

Also, there is an enormous number of languages into which no content is translated, because companies don’t have the budget. There is no money for it.

Another issue is that today’s university students don’t want to go into languages. I don’t know what it is like in Germany, but in the United States and in the UK, they are shutting down language programs. One thing is a perception that it is not important. The other thing is less interest on part of students. The big question is where is the next generation of translators who can do high-quality work going to come from? Instead of making cuts in university departments equally, across the entire university, like the sequester in the US, they cut modern languages. Kent State University that offers PhD in translation studies and other universities are constantly under pressure.

Did they look into CSA research to underpin their decisions?

Don: They looked into our research. But they say they don’t see the enrollments or they don’t see the upside to the investment as compared to sciences. In an export economy like Germany that would be really dramatic if the companies wouldn’t be able to get their materials translated…

To be true, I don’t think that an exhibition like tcworld could be very inspiring for those who want to study languages and become a translator. Big LSPs are striving for independence from individual language professionals. A perfect translator is an easily replaceable, eventually expendable “translation vendor”. As big Zepellins try to hover ever higher over the anonymous “crowd” ("There's big money in crowdsourced translation", wrote Nataly Kelly, when she still worked for CSA), the skies for quality translators are getting cloudier. The market is split between high and low. It is not much different in other sectors. But translators need to get more aware of the divide. They also need to raise the awareness among their clients.

Common Sense Advisory - Don DePalma

I am very thankful to Don DePalma for being extremely open and comfortable with my questions. It was fun to have such a conversation. At the end I asked how it feels like for an American company to have a three-letter acronym in its name (you don’t have to be an expert in historical phonology to get the idea) and be engaged in data collection. Don told me about an email he received from somebody who thought CSA might sound like a cover for another three-letter organization.

I think Common Sense Advisory does an important work. It is international, and that is what various national professional organizations still lack, although I seriously think that IAPTI could make up for it. Independent translators and interpreters need to have independent research, and CSA has definitely something to learn from. I, for one, have learned a lot from our conversation, so thank you very much once again, Don, for the opportunity to talk about today’s language industry, its highs and lows.


Opactwo Benedyktynów w Tyńcu          
“It is nice to put a face to a name.” Those who attend today's professional conferences might find this saying useful, when aligning names of their friends on Facebook or LinkedIn with real persons in real life. One of the first persons I met in the courtyard of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, where the international Cracow Translation Days conference took place (September 6-8, 2013), happened to be Siegfried Armbruster, who I have virtually, that is online, known for ages.

It is equally nice to be able to put a name to a face. In case with Steven Sklar it was not a problem, but a nice surprise. I first met Steven, a French to English financial translator, at the TM Europe conference in Warsaw last year. We agreed that Cracow would be the ideal venue for a next TM Europe conference to be held in Poland and that we certainly would like to visit this city, if the occasion arises. So nice that the wish came true, even if TM Europe 2013, unexpectedly, didn’t pan out.

Steven Sklar

Last year in Warsaw, I realized that translators need to become more visible. Anonymity kills. Putting a name to your translation (please click here if you never read this interview) is the message that Chris Durban, the famous author of “The Prosperous Translator”, never fails to spread.

Chris enjoys a star status not only as one of the top-notch translators but also as a strong opinion leader and a highly respected business consultant in our global community. Needless to say, every event where Chris Durban is present, is destined to become special indeed.

This time Chris started her keynote address with the opposite of “the Prosperous”, that is “the Frugal”. The word “frugal” used as an antonym to “prosperous” may come as a surprise, but the reasoning behind it, as regards certain (quite a few, I am afraid) language professionals, is convincing. Why do so many "frugally" undercharging translators fail to recognize the true value of their work? My own guess is, if there is some rationale behind this self-sabotage, that they think of their work always as of something secondary to the source. The original already produced by the client, a translator can only try to copy and reproduce what is already there.

However, translators' inferiority has certainly to do more with psychology rather than rational thought. Listening to Chris Durban’s description of “literate, but not numerate“ translators, I was asking myself what came first: the specific, negative mindset which “helps“ to choose the career of a (certain type of) translator or the experience of working as a translator that forwards the development of certain traits.

However, Chris doesn’t stop at observing behaviours ("The Seven Deadly Sins") and merely stating facts. She is best known for her practical advice. The next day, Chris Durban presented a great workshop (“Working the Room”) with plenty of tips and tricks for finding and working with premium clients.

Chris Durban

As we all know, those Luddites who still have doubts about the universal applicability of machine translation will have to take a vow of silence as of tomorrow or a few minutes later. The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec agreed to consider what other limited means of communication could be granted to the poor souls. I am not in a position to disclose any details of late night clandestine meetings that took place behind this door and confine myself to stating that the discussion was held in a friendly, constructive atmosphere:

Translation Conference in Poland

Unaware of the ongoing talks, a few participants still preferred to think outloud and even openly speak about MT rather than to preventively engage themselves in monastic works. Others took the middle road. Jerzy Czopik, in particular, demonstrated through hard physical work how the age-old, underground machine translation technology can still be used in the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Granted, the fine English distinction between "translation" and "transmission" might get lost in translation, if an inadequately trained machine would try to process the German "Übersetzung", but Jerzy, a native of Kraków and a professional motive power engineer, must know better, right?

Wieliczka Salt Mine

All jokes aside, language technology and machine translation certainly had a prominent place on the conference agenda. Siegfried “Siggi” Armbruster, whose GxP medical translation company is now busily organising the coming TriKonf conference in Freiburg, told about how he “aligned the Internet” to build up huge TMs and AutoSuggest dictionaries in order to improve productivity. His claim that “machine translation belongs in the hands of professional translators” certainly runs contrary to the general expectations. It is a noble call, though. Those who look to benefit from MT systems are MT system vendors themselves, in the first place. But, as another speaker at the conference, John Moran, mentioned, ask yourself why MT vendors never provide demo versions of their wonder working tools.

NEW-John-Moran-German-to-English-TranslationJohn Moran, who I have a tremendous respect for, presented some facts and figures about machine translation and post-editing. Most research of this kind focuses on speed and productivity, taking quality out of the equation. However, one result is worth quoting: “One could intuitively expect that fast translators make fewer changes than slow translators. In our test, however, the post-editor who made the highest number of changes was also the fastest. The graphs indicate no clear correlation between edit distance and throughput” (Productivity Test of Statistical Machine Translation Post-Editing in a Typical Localisation Content, by Mirko Plitt and François Masselot, 2010).

The reason I called this reportnon-inclusive” is not only my skipping other interesting sessions and inspiring, talented speakers – there were so many of them, and the genre of a rather impressionist blog post like this is not the most appropriate medium for a more comprehensive report. The other reason I decided to use "non-inclusive" in the title of this blog post was the Sunday morning session. Sabine Dievenkorn from Chile spoke about “non-excluding” translation and the “Inclusive Bible”.

My decision to attend a talk called “Translating a Religion” was very spontaneous, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting subjects of the Cracow Conference. I never realized the role that translators play in shaping our perception of history, religion and humankind. Since no human translator can work unideologically, machine translation could provide, theoretically, a more objective means for the interpretation of the Bible’s Urtext. However, remembering John Moran’s definition of MT output being only a visualization of matches from a corpora compiled by human translators, I don’t think it would be a good idea.

Sabine Dievenkorn Chile

The Translation Days Cracow 2013 was a very exclusive event at a spectacular and secluded venue, excellently organised by Lisa Rüth, Jerzy Czopik:

Jerzy Czopik and Lisa Rüth

Christof Kocher and Ralf Lemster (Ralf Lemster Financial Translations GmbH):

Ralf Lemster and Christof Kocher

THANK YOU all very much for this memorable, truly unique event!

It's a pity I didn't have much time to enjoy Cracow. I realized what I missed when I was leafing the inflight magazine on board the plane back to Germany. I flew RyanAir, the company that used Blue Ocean strategies (mostly reduce/eliminate) to create another Red Ocean market (attendees of Marta Stelmaszak’s workshop “Blue Ocean Strategy – Can Translators Make Competition Irrelevant?” will hopefully know what I mean). I never realized RyanAir had an inflight magazine. It’s rather good. Mine had a very informative and entertaining article about Cracow.

Recapitulating the Cracow conference on board the plane, I was wondering if RyanAir would ever use MT for this stuff (you would think this low-fare company is candidate no. 1 to do so and they certainly know how to cut cost of all things). I don’t think it would happen though, neither for journalism, nor advertising. There is still pretty much content written by humans for humans, where MT simply fails and post-editing is rather a hindrance, not a help. Cracow definitely was not the site of one of the the Last Suppers for these Human Translators, but this astounding image by Stefan Gentz (very smart, Stefan!) gives me a chance to get back to my initial saying about aligning names and faces:

Stefan Gentz - Translators' Last Supper in Cracow

The Last Supper of the Translation Days Cracow 2013, courtesy of Stefan Gentz.


Jessica Schultz

Jessica Schulz, Spanish to German translator, recommendable for simultaneous interpretation of Cracow guided tours and for translation of highly specialised, technical and scientific content in the field of transport and logistics (using the latest language technology, e.g. special CAT tools for mobile phones)

Jon Olds

Financial translation, especially in the language combination English and French, seems to be in good hands: Chris Durban, Steven Sklar, and now Jon Olds.


Katarzyna Slobodzian-Taylor aka Kasia aka MasterMindTranslations, English to Polish (via Indonesian), from Glouster, Gloustershire, GB

Anne Diamantidis

The lovely Anne Diamantidis is so busy these days with the TriKonf conference in Freiburg. And I grew so accustomed to the fact that she is French, not Greek, that I felt more and more the urge to call her Marianne.



View from the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, where the Translation Days Cracow 2013 conference took place.

Language Translation Software - CAT tools

The stuff below, I am sure, has all the ingredients for a cool and bizarre performance, an avant-garde sort of thing. The curtain falls, and a sombre, masked, Greek-type chorus appears. You feel some eerie gravity on stage, the chorus' collective voice is silence. Until a spotlight falls and a solitary question sounds. The chorus comes to life. One by one, voices are rising.

For an outsider, mysterious creatures that anonymous personages call "cats" make no sense. But even in their absence, they are omnipresent. Can we do without them? A whiff of conflict is noticeable in the air.

Whether an existentialist drama or rather a Monty Python farce thereof, it doesn’t matter. The script for the play is a verbatim reproduction of a discussion in a popular Facebook group for translators ("Watercooler: for translators…"). I didn’t turn "CAT-tools", as they are generally referred to, into mysterious "cats", and took liberty only to anonymize/acronymize the names of the group members. I left myself visible though and also highlighted a few points in the others' comments. (Translator's note for an outsider: "CAT tools" stand for Computer Aided Translation tools, a competitive term is TEnT – Translation Environment Tools, i.e. software.)

So why put it here? At first, I wanted to save a few comments to Evernote for my own reference. However educational and entertaining such discussions in Facebook groups are, they have a very short lifetime and disappear in the abysses of Facebook's history very soon. Deathless (ahem) drama, poetry and prose aside, this stuff doesn’t lack argumentative ingredients that are well worth remembering or, at least, being made undead.

There are many more translators who are concerned with the subject of language technology or who simply think about using (or not using) CAT tools than professional translators who use Facebook. Perhaps this script/discussion can serve as a refreshing CAT detox for all of us. The ingredients are there, by all means.

DK: I would like to know if there are still translators working without CAT-tools…

KS: I'm a Japanese-English translator who tried using CAT tools and found them to be more trouble than they're worth. Most of the things I translate have very little repetition.

DK: Same with me, K., that´s why I asked. Thanks a lot for your reaction!!!

IT: Same here. I just use them when I am required to.

SK: I know a few of them!

FF: I work with academic texts and aside from a few key words, there is practically no repetition whatsoever. I've tried CAT tools but I find them to have very little value for my area. I think they're wonderful but ultimately it's about what works for you

IHM: Definitely, I only use it when I see beforehand that the text has repetitions and that I could gain time using it. Most of the time I find it more time-consuming because I always rework on my text in Word.

JS: I know many translators which never ever use a CAT-tool – because it is simply of no use to them (marketing, litterary etc. – that is to say, all those cases where they are juggling with inspiration and language

ES: I think there are some types of translation that are still best done without, but that most translators who work on manuals, legal contracts, and such do use them. If the texts are creative, literature, etc, it is more common to not use them. Although I must say that if I translated a book I would want to know which adjective I used last time and it is easier to search in the memory….. But this is probably because I have been using CAT tools for 16 years or so….

JF: I know plenty of translators who don't use CAT tools, mainly because they aren't interested in the idea and prefer to work in Word.

ES: CAT tools gave us many options for years, but the current 'packages' are also making it less interesting for smart translators to use the tools….
Not being able to change the source text is one of the worst ideas ever implemented in CAT tools.

SK: That's true, especially since I often find typos in the source text!

CM: Sometimes they're handy even in well-written texts to help you ensure consistency over many pages. But then the job becomes more like editing than translating. A lot of my colleagues use their Trados more for checking than actual translation though, of course, that and as a quickfire dic.

TF: E., although I'm the last person to be an expert in CAT tools, I easily managed to change some terribly written source text in Hebrew in memoQ. So if I can change the source text, anyone can

ER: Interesting E., that's a kind of cross-pollination of use of CAT in various texts that can only come about from years of experience with them. I only use CAT once every two years or so on large texts with repetition and also to keep terminology consistent within a text or for a client, etc. Otherwise all non-CAT work. (Dutch-English)

ES: TF, it depends on the CAT tool and the translator. I can too….. but it has become a very complex matter n the NEW CAT tools, as the agencies try to make sure you do not translate the wrong file or make any other mistake. It is now fool-proof which in my opinion makes it only useful to fools!

TF: In memoQ, E. (just edited my original post)

DK: Thanks a lot for your answers!!

EW: Me! But I translate novels…

ES: TF, MemoQ is not walking the fool-proof package route….. Kilgray is smart….

PW: Use them for jobs where there are lots of repetitions or the content is very technical, also when requested by customers. But for a lot of marketing/PR/magazine texts etc. there is no point and dividing the text into segments actually hampers the creative process. So worth using for certain kinds of jobs but not for everything.

Me: I increasingly find CAT tools to be of little use when translating PowerPoint or InDesign documents. Typically, PowerPoint presentations consist of keywords and cues. The usual lack of context is aggravated by the "wrong" segmentation, if you just open such a document with a CAT tool. In fact, you need both to pre-process and post-process presentations when using CAT tools and can save much effort and time (and often achieve better quality results), if translating the original document directly.

WWW: Yep. Me!

MM: I'm one of them too, so far.

JF: V., my experience is the opposite – I find Trados Studio extremely helpful for translating PPT files, and find it much easier in Studio than in PPT. For example, I've never found a quick way to select all the text boxes in the PPT document and change the language to the source language. And I find it much easier to just type in Studio rather than placing the cursor in each PPT text box to overtype. Have you seen Kevin's recent video on translating PPT in Studio and memoQ?

YZ: I only use it when required.

ES: Even when working on 'creative' texts I find my CAT tools useful (mainly memoQ). The material is segmented in easy chops and processing them becomes more streamlined. No window hassle with source and target. But maybe that's just my need for structure . I also agree that consistent use of terminology and exploring your terminology archives from 15 years (not inventing the wheel again) is much easier with the terminology tools at hand (at screen!) when translating in a CAT tool.

JD: Me

GBM: I now have Wordfast and will use on projects where it is useful (and for agencies wanting CAT-tool output), but I refused to use them until this year after trying several and uniformly detesting the experience. I honestly think they harm quality. YMMV.

ES: GBM, If you translate 100 thousand words and then do an addendum of only one thousand using the CAT tool you are happy they exist!
Of course if they do not mess up the DTP you could use Tracked changes/Revision control to find the differences, but this does not work for tables and such!

GBM: E., definitely—there are absolutely times when a CAT tool is a plus.

MDM: I use Trados

CD: I don't use them! I did at first, but when I bought a new computer a couple of years ago I realised I couldn't remember the last time I'd used the CAT tool I had, so I didn't install one on my new computer. I haven't used any CAT tools since.

MDM: Many agencies work with cat tools. Here if you don't use them, you don't work.

WWW: Where's here, M.?

TF: [E., Why do you always use a person's full name when answering their posts? It seems so artificial and unnaturall to me, living in a country where even 3-year-olds address elderly people by their first names Aren't we all on a first name basis here too? ]

MDM: Italy but I often work with extra EU countries…

ES: T., if I use the link FB provides the full name in FB is included. When I just use the name, i.e. without the link I just use the first name!
I hate being addressed formally, so it would not be my first choice either!

ES: AND there are few Ts in our groups, but more than one Es, who are very very active!

WWW: I quite like to be addressed as 'Mister WWW'.

MDM: E., you could just do that, like me!

TF: Thanks for the laugh, W.

ES: Mea culpa, I am lazy, I use what FB dishes out

IHM: At the 2009 BDÜ-Konferenz, there was a panel discussion with three or four top notch translators (Chris Durban and three guys whose names I have forgotten) about translation quality and they asked for a show of hands who did or did not use CAT tools. The majority in this room did not.

ES: Interesting, I.!

IHM: Interesting point that emerged from that talk: one of the panel members was the head of IKEA's translation department. He explained that they had been investigating into the notable shift in translation quality. The texts for the catalogues had been slightly "off" and not only for one language but all. And the result of their investigation was that their translators had all acquired a CAT tool and were translating in a more segmented and less creative way. Stuff to think about, innit?

WWW: Now that is reassuring

ER: Yup

PG: All this is music to my ears – I find TM useless for most texts, and I hate the way agencies are trying to force it on us. There was an ITI survey about a year ago that found 40% of people didn't use it.

ES: I would expect less than 4% of people not to use CAT tools, but maybe you are right that 40% of professional translators do not

MDM: I always use them, not on my own initiative…

DC: Do any literary translators use them?

LRK:Have not yet found a way to make sense of CAT use in my work. I do encounter repetition, but the language I translate from routinely includes hugely diverse collections of meanings (even antonyms) for a single word, such that the assumption of automated plug-in for almost any term is not supportable. Passages also rarely repeat in the discursive materials I translate. I want to learn more about CAT, but I feel sure that my translations would suffer if I got too enamored of it. That said, hand-crafting very deliberate and sometimes necessarily intuitive translations is hugely time-consuming, and not yet a viable way to support myself. Given market trends, I'm not sure that financial viability will ever be possible in my language pair, but CAT will not be the way to break out of that limitation.

NF: For me, the main point of CAT tools does not lie in repetitions, but as was already said, in being able to search through TMs or corpora. Terminology management is also wonderful and allows consistency. I use MemoQ for all my projects, whereas I encounter repetitions in less than 10-15% of my work.

AK: I use CAT tools almost from the first day of work and while I do work with manuals and user guides, so there are repetitions, the feature I value most is how a CAT arranges my work in one, clear and convenient window divided to boxes, each with a certain information provided. I use CATs even in less repetitive texts, because they're just more convenient than text processors, which would require me to jump between windows and two walls of text (source and translation). There's no way I could skip or omit anything in the source text thanks to how a CAT helps me arrange the source text to translate.

TG: That's one feature of memoQ, A., that I love (from the little I've used it). I can't skip words or sentences, something I've normally a strong tendency to do.

PG: AK and TK: that seems like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. If you're worried about leaving out text, why not just write the translation underneath each paragraph?

JDD: Because then I would have to delete everything, PG, after I am done. And I could not for the life of me always remember how (or that) I have already translated a sentence one way or another (and done the research). In the tool, I can click on "Clean" and voila! I am still hanging on to an older version of WB (not Studio!) because I like working in Word or TagEditor. I despise the table format. Nothing less intuitive than that. My next investment will be MemoQ but I could not imagine working without a CAT tool. Yes, there is a tendency to "segment" but I can expand segments and shrink them as I would do without an underlying tool. No compromise there.

TF: It's not the same, P. [Caveat: Not that I'm a great fan of CAT tools. Just mentioning a saving grace ]

KS: I decided not to use CAT tools when I saw that there were clients demanding their use for utterly inappropriate jobs (translation of open-ended consumer questionnaires, for example) and discounts for matches.

JDD: You do not have to grant discounts for matches. I am sorry but I purchased the tool (and it was not cheap!) and I have to purchase the updates and pay for training. That is enough moolah out of my pocket. I cannot grant discounts for the use of a tool that I purchased. Makes no sense to me. Now, if the client/agency provides the TM and I can skip 100% matches (at their risk), I won't bill for them. For a context check, I will charge my editing fee. Works not for everybody but it is a way to separate the wheat from the chaff… (agency-wise). And, yes, they will tell you that ALL translators give discounts. But that's not the case…and we (who do not grant discounts for fuzzy matches) survive, too…. quite well, I might add.

AK: I do not grant any discounts either. My CAT tool is for my benefit, not any agency's. After all, *I* paid for it.

Me: Finally, I feel like I am not alone Really enjoying the discussion. Feel like copying/archiving/preserving all the comments (arguments for future use) or perhaps making them public and easier to find, accessible not for the members of this group only. Anonimising the comments and posting a compilation on a blog? What do you think?

KS: As other people have said, the odd segmentation is often a problem, especially in Japanese>English translation, because the word order is so different. In addition, in a program like Wordfast Pro, with its placeables, sometimes I don't know where to put them because they're next to an element that has no direct English translation.

FK: Guilty as charged.

ES: Valerij, seeing your blogs are usually interesting and well-written you have my blessing!

Me: Thank you, E! I am really playing with the idea to put it all together, strike out the names (or leave only initials) and post on a page where it can always be found and commented if need be. The power of centralization instead of centralization of power. I have no idea about the percentage of those who use CATs and those who don't, but I think it's worthwhile to offset the idea that you're not a translator if you don't use CATs. And – so many valuable arguments pro & contra, would be a pity if all this disappears in the depths of Facebook history.

IHM: Well, there is a whole bunch of us still alive and kicking from the time Crados didn't even exist. They sure as hell changed the course of history but not in a way they can be proud of. Nor should we be proud for swallowing the deal hook, line and sinker. It would be interesting to include in the thread the number of people who actually got a CAT tool and keep it in a drawer, so to speak, because at some point they were tired of thinking and talking in segments and using ideas a machine suggested instead of their brain. I actually have two and I hardly use one of them. And I will be obliged to get a third, because that's the way it is now. I don't have to like it.

AK: My CAT doesn't suggest any ideas I hadn't put into it first and I use my brain, thank you very much. (CATs are not a machine translation!) I'm not a worse translator just because I use a tool I consider convenient. There surely are translators who started working before computers were in common use. I wonder what they think of all those who use computers today – too lazy to use ol' good pen and paper? Not everything has to be for everyone and or fit everyone's style of work or habits, but I don't see a reason to offend those who chose a different style of work.

PS: People who don't use CAT tools are those who still can't appreciate smartphones over b/w Nokia phones from 10 yrs ago. And you can edit the source also in WF Pro.

Me: Actually, this sounds wise:

Seth Godin - Now It's Ruined

IHM: A., I don't know for how long you've been doing this, but believe me that the suggestions from a tool are coming from a machine, even if you put them there in the first place and the way the machine suggests possible translations to you is totally dependent on the respective CAT tool, the context, the job details that you configured and the time of day. And yes, it's not machine translation

AK: And I have brain to accept the suggestion or to reject it and translate the text in the new context accordingly, or improve my translation (as with time and experience happens; I already dumped my database twice as outdated and/or useless). Using a CAT doesn't mean I blindly accept any suggestion. My language pair, English to Polish, often means that English identical sentences are not 100% matches in Polish due to complicated Polish grammar. I just don't appreciate the claim I don't think when working. But if there is something that makes my work smoother (and as I wrote a bit earlier, it's not even the repetitions or the terms database), I don't see a reason not to use it. If someone doesn't want to use it, I don't tell them they're worse translators and I'd rather they didn't attack my choice of working style or my intelligence.

Me: AK, I really don't think anyone said translators who use CATs are worse translators (it's rather the opposite BTW, least professional at least, that is what the CAT-less hear). I don't think anyone attacked here someone. No offense meant!

AK: Maybe no offence was meant, but I took the comment about not using brain quite personally. It was hardly a compliment.

No, I just wanted to know if I'm one of the lot of the few translators who still NOT usins a CAT-tool

IHK: In every discussion someone will invariably feel offended. That' bound to happen in a multicultural and multilingual context. I still think that a brain works differently when it has to come up with a solution from scratch or get one presented on a silver salver. Not saying that there aren't colleagues here who think twice before accepting that solution. We all should. But there are people who don't.

JD: There is some evidence that the same person will translate differently with and without a CAT tool and even some discussion as to whether what was supposed to help our profession has actually had a negative effect. No, I don't think it is a question of people being techno-phobic or not (as per the Nokia comment). It's a question of working habits, text types and what we value.

Me: Great words, J.!

ES: P., I have embraced computers, CAT tools and more for longer than most. I was a COBOL programmer at 16 (with punched cards) and LOVE computers. I am also a person who only uses the phone to be called in case of an emergency. I have a very old mobile, and replace it with a new model basic phone when required through its demise. On the other hand I translated the newest options for mobiles for years. I just do not see the point of being able to be at someone's beck and call when out of the house and/or office. My mobile/cell phone is with me to warn me of a major emergency, all else can wait.

My children have smart phones and use them I do not need it. BUT I do need fast computers and fast tools.

Even if in most cases your assessment is true, there are exceptions!

PS: I really had the feeling that someone claimed as "brainless" the use of CAT tools the sort of tools for trained monkey (Computer+Ape Translating) VS. fine, intellectual and sophisticated linguists who are real artists, while the others are mere labourers. CATs help me not to skip segments, to maintain consistency and to translate faster. I can really use my own memory as a complement to the automation provided by CATs. I can't really see how a technical translator could live without CATs.

GG: IHM, talking about IKEA… I know that they use a CSM system for some of their online stuff… that's segmented and there are strict limitations for text and you can't use a CAT…

HF: I use CAT tools for my technical stuff, but quite often, with marketing, press and other media texts it doesn't work out, as consistency is counterproductive and a stilistic nightmare in these texts quite frequently.

GG: Also, most (good) agencies are aware that using a CAT for some texts is not ideal (see the IKEA story), nevertheless, their clients insist on them because they save money (read pay less for repetitions). So, they are prepared to put up with lower quality in order to save money…

JD: Some light reading:

Translation technology

GG: Well, as usual, the problem is not the technology itself, but how, when and why you use it…

Me: In other words, G., the problem is – always was – humans (just translating your words)

GG: Sometimes it's the technology too…

IHM: Maybe someone will compile on a blog the countless shouts for help in FB and other groups, related to CAT tools not working properly. That seems to be the downside of increased productivity.

ES: In the old days we ran out of paper…..

IHM: Oh, as to that, I usually run out of ink when I need to print something urgently, which is rare. And I know where to find paper, wheras it seems to be complicated to get support for some CAT tools ('nuff said)

ES: If and when I have a problem with a specific CAT I just check the Internet. Other people have invariably had the same issues and I find what I need. I must say it happens once in a blue moon. I have more often than not resolved other translator's issues with their CATs. I am a CAT lover and know how to stroke them so they will not scratch me!

JD: Someone needs to invent translation software with DOG as the acronym. Goodness knows, our industry is short of things to debate.

Me: JD, I already have something with DOG for the opening (no acronym, but both funny and memorable I hope

ES: Translators never work like a DOG, and are never DOG tired as they only work with or without a CAT tool


lingo24 - Coach - New Translation Platform

The Telegraph article from this week featured Christian Arno, the founder of the online translation company Lingo24, and his new crowdsourcing translation platform Coach.

For translators, the most interesting part of the article is perhaps this one:

“[Coach] allows Lingo24 to break down translation jobs into smaller component parts, allowing the high-level, high-cost work to be sectioned off, leaving the bulk of the routine work for less skilled (and so less expensive) translators.”

For those who are well aware of the Big Divide in the translation market (for simplicity’s sake, I’d prefer to use bulk vs. premium in the terminology of Chris Durban, once again), the new platform might seem an attempt to bridge the gap between quality and cost.

Christian Arno claims this is going to be a “win-win” model. However, I fail to see anyone benefiting from Coach, apart from Mr. Arno himself. Neither translators, nor clients, nor even his private equity investors. Splitting a job among several translators is a recipe for disaster par excellence.

The article implies that the new tool might be welcomed by language students (and probably “social translators” of all kinds) ready to earn some quick cash. I, for one, have doubts that any serious professionals would fall for something claimed to become “Ebay for translators”.

But maybe I am wrong…

Freelance Translators - Tranlsation Business - blog post by Valerij Tomarenko

“A night call”
(Hamburg-Harburg, a view of the window of the Sammlung Falckenberg art gallery)

If you think it is about not using a spell checker or translating (or not translating) only into their native language, my conclusion may disappoint you. The post is not about mistakes that translators are prone to make in their translations, rather about their business approach.

Translator forums and blogs are full of moaning and groaning. The workload is ever increasing, deadlines are getting shorter and shorter. It is all pressure, stress, and night work. At the same time, as an outsourcer, I know how it feels at the other end of line when a good and busy translator that you work together with is unavailable or you have to find a new subcontractor for a large, multilingual project.

Are good translators too busy for their own good? Are they “focusing zen-like on the present“ (Chris Durban in her, as always, inspiring comment)? Translators are literate, but not numerate, as Chris says. Perhaps they just don’t have time to do the math, take a break and think what they could possibly improve in their business and make their life (and also life of their clients) more enjoyable.

Well, if you have time for some tips and reflections (as well as very nice, as always, music videos chosen by the Patent Translator), you are most cordially welcome. Here goes. My post on freelance translators’ “biggest mistake” was published on Steve Vitek’s Patent Translator blog. Thank you very much, Steve, for editing, proofreading, publishing, comments and support. And for your videos!


Translator German-Italian at Proz Conference in Porto 2013

The Time magazine I was reading on the plane to Porto contained an article about the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba.

In recent years, each time I was doing a research on some obscure machinery and equipment when translating for trade fairs and exhibition catalogues, I invariably came across product listings on Most of them were of no more use than any other unspecified, unexplained offers of industrial products, but Alibaba was omnipresent. It took me quite a while to learn that Alibaba, a source of information for my translation-related research, was actually one of the biggest business-to-business Internet-based marketplaces, a portal to connect Chinese (and now global) manufacturers and suppliers with international buyers.

In my understanding, ProZ is Alibaba’s pendant in the translation business. If you are looking for a translator with a certain language and specialty combination, chances are you will land at ProZ. If you are searching for obscure terms to be translated in your target language, you may find some suggestions and perhaps even a terminological discussion on a translators’ forum at ProZ.

Alibaba started as a private business. Now that this online marketplace and shopping search engine is bigger than Ebay and Amazon combined, Jack Ma makes headlines as a crusader for the environment and community.

ProZ started with a view of becoming an international organization and community of translators and interpreters, but essentially it is a marketplace for translation services, operated as a private business.

However, the community aspect still plays a major role for language professionals registered at ProZ. When asked about the motivation of participants in the 2013 ProZ International Conference held on June 8-9 in Porto, Portugal, a fellow translator said “I think most people come for socializing, ours is a lonely business”.

Apart from the opportunity to socialize with peers (and getting to know so many talented and impressive people), the Porto conference offered an interesting range of speakers and topics.

Without going into details on all the insightful and inspirational events (you can find a lot of information and feedback at the “Porto Conference Post Event Recap”), I’d rather highlight both opening sessions.

ProZ Conference in Porto 2013

The first one, called “Minding your own (translation) business” by Nigel Saych was rather programmatic and conceptual. Nigel’s personal evolution, from a freelance translator to a multi-language translation company, is a nice case study of the choices we must make (as long as we are still able to choose, and “don’t let big agencies bully you”). In fact, Nigels’s “third way” reverberates strongly with my own idea (and practice) of collaboration. From my music days I remember Arnold Schoenberg’s saying about “the middle way as the only road that doesn’t lead to Rome”, but I have even more doubts about the extremes. Like Nigel, I believe that collaboration opens up a new “middle” way when faced with choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

It is too early to speak of a trend but the number of precedents is growing. I wonder if Nigel Saych, based in Holland, knows our Stridonium, “the island’s third way”, and I am definitely glad to learn, thanks to the ProZ conference, other examples of collaboration, that of Nigel Saych’s company, but also of the Portuguese KennisTranslations (special thanks to Luisa Yokochi) or Word Awareness (special thanks to Attila Piróth, head of IAPTI’s France chapter).

Marketing for Translators

The opening session on the second day, called “Exploring the freelance advantage: how to stay competitive in the new professional landscape” by Marta Stelmaszak, was spectacular. As a fan of the Red vs. Blue Ocean (with a record of several dozens of interpreting jobs at marketing seminars on this very subject), I am always happy for the Blue Ocean word to be spread.

Marta makes a strong case for identifying (and visualizing) one’s own strengths and USP. She makes the audience draw concentric circles (“why – how – what”), strategy canvasses and, finally, the Ideal Customer Avatar. I can imagine that if you are diversified it would be a problem to have one avatar, but Marta’s own personal John the Lawyer remains memorable, even if slightly generic, at all times. (My personal avatar of a British lawyer for human rights, with a reputation to defend and an inherent commitment to the idea of fairplay looks certainly more like Colin Firth in “Bridget Jones”, but I get sidetracked.)

If I may use the “why – how – what” allusion once again, I would say that Marta’s tremendous appeal (I nearly wrote Marta’s magic) is based perhaps not so much on WHAT she tells, but HOW. Marta is not afraid of exposing her own vulnerabilities and is truly great in translating all the usual marketing concepts into a very personal, emotional and touching experience. More importantly, she aims to inspire and motivate (what she reaches) and certainly deserves every success that is coming her way.

Translation conference in Porto, ProZ

One of the final sessions was by Valeria Aliperta, who presented her personal brand, Rainy London Translations. Considering the weather on the conference weekend, the brand name could have been easily adapted to Porto. Considering Porto’s Roman history, “Gladiator Translations”, suggested by Valeria’s father for her brand name, would make sense too.

But Rainy Porto made a point. In fact, the organizers of the ProZ conference failed miserably to make Porto look much different from London in this particularly respect. But this was perhaps their only failure.

Everything was perfectly organized. Much food (and wine) for thought, a great venue (and much better weather on the following week, as a matter of fact). Thanks for everyone for making this event so special!

Nigel Saych - English translator in Holland

Nigel SAYCH: “Like George W. Bush said, the problem with the French is they don’t have a word for entrepreneur”.


Anne DIAMANTIDIS: She is French, not Greek, perfect in German, English, medical translation and SEO (if the French have a word for it).


Alejandro MORENO-RAMOS: If you don’t know his full name, you certainly know MOX (and his pictures).

WantWords - Polish to English

Marta STELMASZAK: “If you know WHY you are, it makes you feel sure of yourself”.

English-Russian translator

Konstantin KISIN: “My minimum is 5,000 words a day, within 5 hours, not consecutive hours“.

Rainy London - Marketing translation

Valeria ALIPERTA: Design Rules the World?

Technical translation for Portuguese

João Roque DIAS: “Translating technical manuals is about telling people how to press a button”.

Translation - English and Spanish to Portuguese

Above: Michele SANTIAGO, translator English / Spanish to Brazilian Portuguese

Title picture: Nadine DRESING, interpreter and translator for German, Spanish, English and Italian.


J.S. Bach - The Old Wig

Professional linguists are strict about differentiating between translators and interpreters. The first deal with written, the other with spoken language.

It doesn’t sound so funny in comparison to the old joke about a jeweler and a jailer (“the first sells watches, the other watches cells”), but I’d say that the interpreter translates (orally) and a translator interprets (written text).

For the sake of argumentation, I am not going to be very discriminate about these terms. Interpretation has many meanings. I am not going to write about philosophers who interpret the world. As somebody with a musical background I am thinking of interpretation in yet another sense.

Long ago when there used to be CD stores, my father-in-law went to buy “Goldberg Variations” in Osnabrück. “By who?”, asked the salesman. “Why, certainly by J.S. Bach”, answered my father-in-law, only to learn that the salesman meant not the composer, but the pianist, that is to say an interpreter of “Goldberg Variations” by the Old Wig.

I was always wondering what makes all those interpretations so different. Pianists interpret the same music sheet, playing it note by note. Conductors use the same music score, allowing only slight variations in tempo and dynamics. But the result always varies. The salesman’s question was perfectly justified. Performing artists meticulously reproduce each written note of the original content, but it is the differences in their interpretation, however intangible they may be, that make people choose “Goldberg Variations” as performed by Glenn Gould, Murray Perahia or Martin Stadtfeld. In fact, it is the interpretation of the same familiar notes which somehow makes them different, interesting and new.

What does it have to do with translation, that is interpretation of written text? I don’t claim it to be an art (even if it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between art and skills, both in music and translation). However, differences that matter and are taken for granted in music, are looked upon askew when dealing with translation.

According to Philipp Koehn, Professor at University of Edinburgh, “translation is unpredictable. If you give a text in a foreign language to a group of translators, you can be sure that each will come up with a different translation.”

For some, this variance seems to be a predicament.

The above quotation is taken from an issue of Language and Translation, focusing on “Machine Translation” (MT). Here, the inevitable differences in translation are interpreted as a flaw. The urtext music sheet calls for various interpretations, but in translation, only one correct interpretation in each given language seems to be desirable.

The “problem” stems from the human nature, so if humans are not capable to solve it, the assumption is that technology can. MT will provide one “correct” translation and disperse all doubts about the right choice. For adepts of MT, diversity and quality are mutually exclusive. MT will set up a paragon of objective quality – translation as one true thing.

However, in practical life MT stands for the opposite of one true thing. The simplest way to produce translation errors (and have something very entertaining) is to use machine translation.

Apparently, MT adepts hope that this real problem of MT could be eventually solved by various approaches.

The long term solution is to keep on trying to make MT produce less errors. The short term solution is to make humans correct MT errors by way of post-editing.

In both cases, one reasonable approach seems to be setting up strict limits where MT, with or without human interference, i.e. interpretation, may be used.

In a recent presentation (SDL Machine Translation for Post Editing: Let’s Talk Strategy), Andy Reid, a product marketing manager at SDL, tries to narrow down the area where application of MT could help cope with large amounts of content, albeit at the cost of poor quality:

SDL - Machine Translation and Post-Editing

The picture is rather messy. I don’t know how you are going to differentiate between “websites” (human translation) and “blogs” (machine translation) or “wikis” (machine translation) and “help” (human translation).

To simplify and deconfuse, I suggest a clear-cut, four segment matrix in the tradition of the Boston Consulting Group:

Machine translation, but only for machine generated content

To answer the question “Where does Machine Translation fit in localization?” I dare say it’s best used to translate machine generated content. It is the lower left, bluish greyish corner on the picture above.

Machine translation goes in line with machine generated content in terms of communication purpose, language quality, target group orientation, copyright and other aspects that need to be considered when debating the applicability of MT. “Give Caesar what is due Caesar”: this is the one logical thing that still holds true, whenever MT is being held for a promise of one true translation.

However, the SDL presentation contains another interesting slide:

Is "mechanisation" of translation really inevitable

Word by word, note by note, everything in its place: mechanisation – industries – grow – inevitable…

This statement is typical of an attempt to present translation as an “industry”, not a “profession”. It takes for granted the idea that translation can be “industrialized” and hence has to be “mechanised” just as well.

Each translation is different and unique, every translator “will come up with a different translation”, but at the same time, translation as such is always a copy, replica or reproduction of something else. “Goldberg Variations” performed by Glenn Gould (or somebody else) are Glenn Gould’s reproduction of the original as composed by Bach. Translation, that is interpretation of written texts, follows the original. It inevitably assumes the production of written content, as a rule, by somebody else.

Do we all agree that production of written texts has become an industry? Do we take it for granted that mechanisation of writing “is almost inevitable as industries grow”?

There used to be times when writing as well as science, ethics, culture and art, actually everything else besides working in a factory or on a field, were declared to be in need of industrialisation. For somebody like me, with a Russian and German background, the word “mechanisation” rings bells. It has its firm place in a series of associations like collectivisation, industrialisation, mechanisation… German Agitprop, Russian Proletkult, Mayakovsky and Bertolt Brecht, cultural Bolshevism of all sorts… Thank God we are through with electrification, at least.

Kasimir Malevich - Head of a Peasant

Approximately at the same time, in the beginning of the 20th century, there appeared the so called Mechanical Pianos, also known as reproducing pianos, player pianos or autopianos.

These were self-playing, automated music instruments, with keys activated not by a human hand, but by the so called “piano roll”. Player pianos were used mostly as recording devices that provided the most accurate and consistent “live” interpretation of a musical piece by an absent human pianist at that time.

The mechanical piano was a cutting edge technology, far more superior than the low-tech phonograph or gramophone. It didn’t pretend to be one true thing, but it certainly was something special and unique. Nevertheless, it didn’t last long.

The crash and the Great Depression “wiped out production” (Wikipedia). However, mechanisation of music interpretation didn’t stop with the virtual death of mechanical pianos in 1929. Nowadays, MIDI files and music notation software like Sibelius or PriMus allow to completely mechanise the performance of music. With notation software you can play back your music automatically, without human assistance.

Characteristically, the area of application is rather limited. The software is great for composers to get a realistic idea how the composition would sound when performed on music instruments, it is the composer’s equivalent of a WYSIWIG editor for a graphic artist.

But however consistent, accurate and natural sounding the machine interpretation of a music piece might be, I have never encountered a recording with “Sibelius” as the performing artist.

I don’t know whose interpretation of “Goldberg Variations” my father-in-law chose among those recommended by the salesman in Osnabrück. It was certainly not a recording of the mechanical piano or some notation software, because there were none available. Never recommended and probably never asked for.

Cassandra jean - Tarot cards - the Hanging Man

Adepts of Machine Translation have been trying to present MT as the cutting-edge technology in the translation “industry”, as the future of translation par excellence. Arguments to the contrary are usually ignored or dismissed as prejudiced opinions of the soon to be extinct species of slowcoach, technology-averse translators. If you as a professional translator keep rejecting MT, you are either stupid, or simply scared to lose your last miserable, pathetic quality translation jobs, that is what the arguments of all those MT gurus boil down to. If they had read Tom Wolfe’s latest novel (“Back to Blood”, 2012), they could quote a character from his book: “You cannot be cutting edge, if your generation is dead or dying”.

The sad thing is it is only a matter of time until you belong either to one generation or the other. Humans are cursed to hang in between.

It is impossible to predict the future of technology. Despite massive efforts to promote Machine Translation as something cutting edge, the reputation of MT is so low that at the time the term itself is being replaced by newer, nicer euphemisms.

Translators who use machine or automatic, as it is increasingly more often called, translation (e.g. through SDL or MemoQ plugins) try to hide this fact. Clients are getting nervous if something reeks of MT or other “tools”, as automatic translation tools are getting ever more available.

Because no matter how you call it – automatic, semi-automatic, PEMT or even HAT (human-assisted translation) – the old problem remains. It is the problem of a mechanical piano, which nobody wants to listen to.

In the words of Philipp Koehn, Professor at University of Edinburgh, human translation is unpredictable. The future is unpredictable too. But a look into history may be helpful. Because history repeats itself. It simply has to. Nobody listens.

“The Hanging Man” and “Page of Blades” (used for the Machine Translation matrix) are two Shadowhunter Tarot cards by the freelance illustrator and graphic artist Cassandra Jean from Florida.

The picture by Kasimir Malevich is called “Head of a Peasant” (1929, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg). Malevich’s paintings are also mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s new novel “Back to Blood”(2012) which takes place in Florida. A pure coincidence, I guess.

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