Translators do more than "just" translate

At the AUSIT Biennial Conference in November 2010, Tineke Van Beukering shared her thoughts and practical experience of post-editing machine translation output. It was a great session so I was delighted to attend another more indepth talk by Tineke on the same topic a few weeks ago.

Among other things, she covered:

  • the role of the MT post-editor.
  • the advantages of using MT + a skilled post-editor (i.e. it’s not just about the money).
  • the differences between MT post-editing and checking.
  • a typical MT workflow, including other emerging sources of work, e.g. MT optimisation.
  • how to make a lucrative income stream out of MT post-editing.
  • how and why she got into this line of work.
  • what she finds most satisfying about it.

Machine translation: not a question of good” or bad”

Something that particularly interested me was Tineke’s discussion of her initial resistance to working with MT output, and how she came to terms with that.

She said it posed an ethical dilemma for her when she was first offered this work, because she didn’t want to contribute to practices which she believed might lead to the end of her profession. These initial concerns reflected many of the usual fears we  hear bandied about when the topic of MT makes an appearance, and I was impressed with the way in which Tineke went about  testing her fears, before coming to her current and ultimately more informed conclusions.

What constitutes a “real” translator?

I also got the impression that Tineke felt she had to strongly defend her decision to work with MT output to her peers. I sensed that she may have been at the receiving end of explicit or implicit criticism for her choice in the past. (To be fair, I didn’t get a chance to talk to Tineke about this so I could be way off base.)

It caught my attention because I’ve seen this kind of snobbery rear its ugly head in the profession before.  And it’s a shame that some translators feel they can look down on peers who apply translation skills in a way that may not fit the traditional “word-in, word-out” model of translation.

To stay relevant, translators need to be able to apply translation-related skills to a range of communicative tasks. I see it as an extension of the poverty-trap mentality which Jill Sommers refers to here, when those who dare to earn a living and adapt to a changing profession are somehow deemed less of a “proper” translator for doing so.

Translation professionals vs. people who translate

I didn’t entirely agree with all the points Tineke made though. For example, she drew some comparisons between the use of translation technology today and the automation of tasks during the industrial revolution, which saw so many workers lose their jobs.

For me, this doesn’t sit well for a couple of reasons, primarily because it compares translators to workers who were often unskilled and who did low-level, repetitive manual labour. While many such workers were indeed replaced by technology during the industrial revolution, some jobs were retained, and many new ones were created for supervisors, managers, skilled technicians, and so on. In my view, professional translators are more akin to these managerial, skilled and/or specialised roles.

Tineke spoke too about the financial benefits of working in this emerging field. This reminded me of an ITI salary survey from 10 years’ ago (the most recent one, as far as I’m aware). Those who reported generating the highest income were referred to as “language professionals”, while all other categories of earners were “translators”. At the time I hypothesised that maybe this was because these professionals applied more to their work than their (not inconsiderable) translation skills, and viewed themselves more broadly than through the prism of translation only.

Crystal-ball gazing has never been my thing. But I’m now more convinced than ever that this is how the careers of professional translators will look in the future. There will always be work for those with highly developed translation skills, but very few of us will work with words in a way we recognise today. This is not something to be sad about, any more than we should feel sad that accountants now use Excel instead of abacuses. Because as our roles become increasingly sophisticated and complex, we evolve, and professionalise, and gain greater recognition.

Above all, we need to be careful with our judgements and our snobberies (and I include myself in that). We need to encourage more translators like Tineke to stand up and share what they’re experiencing at the wordface, without making them feel like their commitment to the profession will be called into question in the process. Because we can’t prepare for the future if we’re not even aware of what’s happening around us in the present.

Website Building 101

e-commerce sketching

It’s fair to say that the online world has changed a lot since I built my first website. The demise of GeoCities is only one such change (and oh my, what a sorry change that was).

My first website was on the unmissable touristic delights of Ireland’s Shannon Region. As my geographical horizons expanded, so too did my website, and this was gradually replaced with hard-won advice from the study-abroad trenches in France, Germany and Spain: this bar in Jena hires casual student workers, that dorm building is to be avoided at the Université de Franche-Comté, and here’s another way around this pesky bureaucratic requirement at the Universidad de Granada. Continue reading “Website Building 101”

When being organised is overrated

My Reference Files

Knowing how to construct a good search query is a key skill these days, and not just when it comes to Google.

A powerful search engine almost negates the need for a classification system in your email inbox or even on your hard drive. Because if you can find and open the precise file you’re looking for in a couple of quick keystrokes, why worry about a carefully nested file structure? I spent years thinking about how best to organise my files and folders until Quicksilver came along. (And there are plenty of other powerful utility applications out there too.)

I was reminded of this a few months ago when I came across a post by Merlin Mann, in which he suggested that people stop obsessing about organising their email and focus instead on whether to trash it or archive it. Simple as that, one of two options: trash or archive. ProfHacker similarly summed it up with the catchphrase “Don’t file. Search.

This approach certainly appeals to the side of me that’s always suspected tidying up was a waste of time. Peel back the layers of social convention, concerns about first impressions and most powerfully of all, what my mother would say, and you’ll find I secretly believe that the floor really is the best place for everything. At least then I always know exactly where to look when I lose something.

Anyone have any other utility software they can recommend?

Photo credit: My Reference Files, Tim Morgan’s photostream on Flickr

Hello CIOL-ers

Hello to translators or interpreters dropping by after yesterday’s Chartered Institute of Linguists webinar on Building Websites for Translators. You might find the following posts particularly interesting:

WordPress is far from perfect (she says, weary after a week of WP woes) and there’s a lot about it that drives me crazy, so as with anything, do your research and be prepared to invest a lot of time into the process if you decide to go down that route. Some good alternatives include Drupal and Joomla, especially if your long-term plan includes community building on a grander scale, so be sure to check them out too. Happy building!

Staying safe online: personal safety (Part 2 of 2)

Gearing Up
Photo credit: Gearing Up, NathanNostalgia’s photostream on Flickr

Safety seems to be a big concern for many translators considering building a profile online. Safety in two very different ways: in the sense that your computer and data remains protected, and also in the sense of keeping safe from stalkers and weirdos. There’s no denying that risk is inherent in everything we do – from going into business or delivering a job before we’ve gotten paid, to dialling up online and crossing the road. So how can we manage the risks of online participation in a way that enables us to most benefit from all the internet has to offer?

It seems a lot of people I talk to about this forget that it is their offline behaviours that have the most impact online, rather than the simple fact of just being online. Hopefully these tips will help inform translators on what they can do to feel safe and still participate online.

This is the second of two posts on online safety. Click here for the first one.

Continue reading “Staying safe online: personal safety (Part 2 of 2)”

Building a Strong Online Presence

Hello to translators and interpreters surfing by following my recent Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) webinar. I intend to blog about this in more detail later this week, but until then, here are some resources you might find useful:

Thanks again to everyone for tuning in and for their questions. I plan to pull together a summary of some to the key issues raised as part of my write-up, but in the meantime, feel free to post your questions  in the comment section below. I’m not promising I know the answer but I’ll certainly be able to point you in the right direction.

* 14 October: correction – it’s a half-hour presentation, not a one-hour one… Thanks Kimmo.

Sharing social media secrets*

Knowledge Sharing Is...
I like projects so I’m going to start a new one. I think it will be fun, and I’m hoping it will catch on.

Starting tomorrow, I’m planning to post a series of screencasts to demonstrate how I use various web 2.0 and social media tools. They’ll be no more than 5 minutes each, aimed at fellow language professionals, and pretty rough and ready in format (suffice it to say you won’t find it hard to believe I’m a translator, instead of a movie producer). My aim is simply to share things that I find interesting, or that have worked for me as I’ve built up my freelance practice over the past 5 years or more. Continue reading “Sharing social media secrets*”