Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

November 6th, 2013 | Categories: business

I’m not sure how much general awareness there is of this crew, but somehow or other, I have ended up following @UKTIFrance on Twitter, being the French arm of UK Trade and Industry (UKTI). There are any number of UKTIxxxx accounts for various countries and regions. And, by happy coincidence, UKTI appear to be about to kick off an export week (see with events and whatnot around the UK.

UKTI isn’t just for those of us whose lives have been blessed with the opportunity to reside in this earthly corner of paradise, these happy islands so benevolently safeguarded by a public-spirited bunch of awfully decent chaps from one school. No, they deal with both the export and the import side (so potentially of interest to anyone translating into or out of English, in case anyone needs the point hammering home!).

Anyway, yesterday (5 November), they ran a webinar on blowing up your local elected house of representatives The French Economy: What UK companies need to know, run by the British Embassy Paris. An hour long, and probably the most professionally produced and organised webinar I have ever seen, entirely free of technical hitches. Briefly, they looked at:
1. The economy, with an overview of the French economy (GDP figures, trade deficit, and so on and so forth) of the kind you could glean from the business pages or The Economist, say; then a swift summary of economic policy of late.
2. French Financial Services: Paris as a financial centre, the services on offer (everything!), blah blah. The “lending climate” (low demand; majority of requests agreed to by banks, if you’re interested, and just to prove I was paying attention).
3. France and the eurozone crisis. As with the policy overview section, there were some politically-tinged remarks about what France “could and should” have done in terms of using the crisis as cover for deeper reforms which I felt betrayed a lack of the neutrality I was expecting, but otherwise a useful review/reminder of how things are.

Then we had “questions from the floor”, as it were. The general thrust of a typical answer was “make sure you understand the regulatory environment”. In this case, France has no shortage of Codes governing all aspects of life, and they’re constantly being updated and revised so it seemed fair comment.

So, are similar things likely to be worth listening to for other countries? On the basis of yesterday’s webinar, I would venture to suggest that if you’re already translating business-related material and keep half an eye on the news in general, you’re unlikely to learn much that is new. It never hurts to be reminded, though.

At no point did anyone mention the French language or translation. Hmmmm. OK, so it was ostensibly about “the French Economy” but the underlying interest is surely in doing business with French people, who are famous for speaking French? Does that reflect the legendary British attitude to foreign languages? Is it considered too obvious to mention? Was the webinar so high-level it didn’t warrant a mention (see also, e.g. French VAT registration once turnover reaches a certain level)? Is five the right number of questions with which to end a blog post?

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October 8th, 2013 | Categories: business, translation issues

IAPTI Conference 5 October 2013

And so it was that I was out of the house before I am usually even awake on a Saturday to hit the Hilton hotel for IAPTI’s first conference. Given the calibre of those involved, it will be no surprise to hear the whole thing was impressively well organised with nary a hitch in the smooth running.

The first person to speak was Mona Baker on “Ethics in the translation/interpreting curriculum and profession”.

Her theory is that ethics have traditionally been largely ignored on the grounds that (freelance) translators are mere mercenaries. As she said this, it struck me that another reason might be that we are seen merely as mouthpieces for things that other people have said or written.

She said that she sees the working profession itself as being ahead of academia in translation (unlike in other disciplines), because of the way that we have to deal with issues such as disability (sign language, audio descriptions), globalisation and “rampant capitalism”, increased professionalization and accountability, conflict and our role in the aftermath.

Hence translators are starting to refuse work on ethical or moral grounds. Mona quoted a survey where only 26% of respondents said they would take any work whatsoever with no qualms. Compare this with a 28 March 2013 survey on proz where over 50% said they had never declined work for ethical reasons, and then 30 March 2012 where 74% said they would avoid certain subjects: one can only assume the discrepancy is, all other things being equal, the difference between theory (the 2012 question) and practice (the 2013 question).

After a whizz through the sort of topics people reject (although with just the scantest mention that one’s stance might vary pending on who the work was for and why, which is a matter I have seen discussed in some depth on forums), she then came to the question of “what is ethics”?

Mona proposed that ethics equals balancing the rights of self and others, self and others being inseparable, where the rights of others may refer to different others, and going some way beyond serving either the author or the reader as the discipline of Translations Studies would suggest. No man, I might have said in her place, is an island.

Mona believes we now need “conceptual tools for critical reasoning and reflection”. Conceptual tools include the difference between the teleological (the best results for the largest number of people or the utilitarian view, e.g. torture can be justified where it saves lives) and the deontological (some things are just wrong per se, e.g. human dignity trumps everything else). I’m not entirely sure that the precise category of ethical consideration is of interest to the client whose work you are declining on ethical grounds, but I’m always up for a spot of philosophising, and even typing this paragraph has taken an hour while I ponder this and that…

Mona says that translators and interpreters cannot always just walk away, so they need strategies. For example she has heard interpreters switch from the direct first person to saying “the speaker seems to be saying that…”. It is possible that interpreters are more in need of strategies than translators, since interpreters cannot (usually) know exactly what is going to be said in advance, whereas translators should at least skim through a document before agreeing to translate it.

Taken as a whole, a most stimulating talk.

The second session was an overview of the background to Professional Interpreters for Justice and the whole farrago with the Ministry of Justice and Applied Language Solutions/Capita. I entirely support their position, naturally, and frankly any further comment here is superfluous.

After the coffee break, we had the first parallel sessions. Next up for me, then, was João Roque Dias, his new tie, and the golden triangle of Translator, Client and Money. A presentation, as he put it, for people in translation to make a living.

He stressed that translation is a service not a commodity. By his definition, which seems entirely reasonable to me, commodities can be stored. There is no such thing as an off-the-shelf translation, just as there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf haircut. (Not that I know a great deal about haircuts). If you sell your services as a commodity, then you’ll be treated as a commodity supplier.

João says that in the real world of direct clients, pricing by word is treated with suspicion. They pay for other services by the hour or day or week. They talk about time, they estimate the time, they invoice by time. They are no stranger to the lump sum. Service providers sell their time. All client questions relate to time, and all measurables relate to time.

João says he sees the question “How much should I charge for my translation?” all the time, and this is the wrong question. The right question is how much does it cost to provide this service to this client. There then followed an overview of the translation value chain which I won’t describe in full here, so you have a reason for seeing this talk if you get the chance, which I fully recommend.

João then ran through the calculation to arrive at an appropriate hourly rate. Again I won’t repeat it all here, but suffice it to say it can be summed up as adding your business expenses (don’t forget any!) to your desired personal income (whatever level that may be), and dividing the total by your billable hours (not forgetting there are only 24 hours in a day and 365 days in the year and you won’t be working all of them).

If I had a criticism of this approach it would be that it is entirely cost based (no mention of value-based pricing, which I concede is a tricky issue) and that “desired personal income” can be very variable, and indeed people may (misguidedly) decide to reduce it to be “competitive”.

(As an aside for UK readers about the “lump sum” comment – UK invoices have to include a “unit price” component. However, that unit does not have to be words! At the same time, I’m reluctant to splatter an hourly rate over quotes and invoices that might be handled by relatively low-paid people. Perhaps a “per document” approach could be a solution…)

João is a very engaging speaker and raised some interesting points.

The last morning session was Rose Newell on debunking and exposing translation agencies.

I’ll be brief on this one, not because it doesn’t warrant an in-depth look, but because Rose herself plans to post it on her own blog soon. Plus I imagine most readers are familiar with the pros and cons of working with agencies, and have either experienced or read about the dirty tricks to which some will stoop to avoid or reduce payments or to get something for nothing. When you see them all written down in one place, ’tis a veritable compendium of knavery.

One interesting aspect of agency behaviour Rose raised was that of agencies paying different rates depending on the translator’s location. A point also touched upon by Au in her opening address introducing IAPTI. On the face of it, this does indeed seem to be a practice that should be frowned upon. In contrast, a translator who has followed João’s recommendation to determine their desired rate might well charge less than say, me, while having the self same business expenses (by which I mean paying for the same hardware, software and everything else) and a comparable lifestyle (disposable income and living conditions, etc.) and working the same hours, merely by virtue of living somewhere else. This is indeed the conundrum of globalisation.

The first session after (a tasty) lunch was entitled “Translation rates: breaking their discussion taboo”. I confess this session did not quite live up to my expectations. My expectation was that the main taboo here seems to be that people don’t say what they earn or what rates they charge, in terms of hard figures. This taboo remained unbroken. (It’s a taboo I entirely understand, and I’m fairly discreet about these things myself, which I guess explains my breathless anticipation!) There was a brief review of price-fixing legislation, but then the only hard figures discussed were those which (it seemed to me) are already fairly freely available: the rates paid by various government agencies in various countries where those rates are set in stone, the rates paid by the EU and so on. Lest there be any misunderstanding, the session itself was still interesting, as was the information that was given, but I’m not sure it’s quite what I was expecting, which is no doubt down to my leaping to conclusions (as ever). Let’s move on…. :)

Next I toddled off to one of the smaller rooms for Marta Morros on Red Vértice. This is not an organisation or separate legal entity but a “platform for collaboration” between 17 other groups, including APTIC (Catalan Professional T & I Association) to which Marta belongs. They have led successful campaigns against SEIL SA and Lionbridge in terms of “paying to work” (being against it, natch, like yours t.) and are currently lobbying behind the scenes over court interpreting in Spain, which seems to be suffering from a similar situation to that in the UK with work outsourced to a private-sector provider using unqualified interpreters. Probably not too much I could take back and apply to my everyday working life, but it’s always instructive to hear about conditions elsewhere.

After that was Attila Piróth on “Teaming up”. He started with a description of the translation of a physics textbook, which involved very close cooperation with the author. He currently has an ongoing working partnership with another translator, which he used as the basis to illustrate several key points. This session came at a very relevant time for me, having recently completed my first translation (certainly in recent years) working as a pair.

Attila emphasises that the partnership should be of equals, as this helps with capacity management – if a similar fees are charged there is no incentive for a client to prefer to allocate work to one partner or the other. Partnerships more generally can help reduce delays in communication with clients/project managers (more availability), reduce the number of questions put to clients/PMs (two heads being better than one), and reduce the time PMs spend on conflict management as partners (assuming some split between translation and review) will resolve them between themselves.

In terms of the benefit for the individual partner, assuming the other partner is equally good, explaining one’s own preferences can be very beneficial. There is less isolation, less stress, and less fear of making a mistake. An opinion shared with a partner carries more weight with other people. And a partner can be a backup in your absence.

If you think this all sounds rather a wizard wheeze, Attila recommends making use of your existing “relational capital” – that’ll be the people you already know. If you feel you could comfortably recommend them, they will probably make a decent partner. Remember you’re free to pick, or not, who you want. And remember to make sure you are findable by anybody else considering the same thing. All in all, a useful session packed with common sense that certainly gave me some things to think about and consider for the future.

Likewise the penultimate presentation by Ralf Lemster on specialisation and market positioning. His opening remark was that too often we don’t dare to ask a decent price. How do we see ourselves? (As the equals of our clients?) How do clients see us? (As a hired help?)

He views the middle ground as the problem – too many people have too many specialisations. As the owner of a specialist agency, Ralf understands why people do this – fear of removing themselves from too many markets – but he says that the consequence is that it can affect how seriously you are taken (if you must have more than one specialisation, consider having more than one website, for instance).

Project a professional image, appropriate to the target market, and be visible to the people you want to do business with, and then you can negotiate on a level playing field. Don’t undersell yourself. Ralf’s rule is “only by taking yourself seriously will you be taken seriously by others”. Know your value to your client’s business (I think this might be easier said than done – I know I have little idea of the financial value of much of what I do).

And on the subject of value, Ralf’s perception is that prices quoted per word are under more pressure than rates quoted per hour (he didn’t say so, but I wonder if part of that isn’t an agency vs direct client effect of some kind – and indeed a neat link to João’s session).

Wise words interspersed with relevant anecdotes backing up what is fundamentally a straightforward message – don’t be fooled by the relative brevity of this section; Ralf is worth listening to if you get the opportunity.

And so to the last session of the day, all back together in the main hall, for Marta Stelmaszak on “passion and running a business” (I paraphrase). I assume that some, at least, of this session, was a taster of what one could expect from her business course, so I won’t let too many cats out the of bag. It started and finished on the topic of passion, rather neatly.

We started with a scamper through “8 to be great”, Richard St John’s eight traits of successful people. One being passion, needless to say.
Then we had a diversion into the Blue Ocean – uncontested market space where competition is irrelevant, ‘cos there ain’t none – followed by a couple of other business school-y notions, including exercises for us to try (yikes!). The “principles of selling” slide was noteworthy because it mentioned passion (again) as one of the four key factors, along with confidence, which linked neatly back to Ralf’s session.

We then had a blast of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video: we know what we do, we know how we do it, but do we know WHY we do it? Earlier in the week, there was a #whyxl8 hashtag on twitter, which in retrospect was meant to be connected to this aspect. Not having taken it seriously, I tweeted a reply linking via YouTube to the chorus of “We Care A Lot” by Faith No More, which runs “It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it.”

Upon reflection, it may be a question worthy of more serious consideration. I think the answer is supposed to be “passion”, but at this point, I am either overestimating the strength of feeling meant by “passion” or I’m just going to have to accept I am not, and can’t ever see myself becoming, “passionate” about the kind of work I do.

Anyway, my introspective minor downers aside, Marta too is well worth your time if you’re ever fortunate enough to be passing a room she’s talking in.

And that was that. I hadn’t booked a place at the networking dinner, ‘cos I’m rubbish at networking and dinner was available an hour away, so off I crept into the gathering night.

July 19th, 2013 | Categories: business

Towards the end of last year, I blogged about whether all the material we, as translators, are bound, explicitly or implicitly, to keep confidential really warranted the “confidential” tag. My context (!) was cloud services and GT, and whether using them was a breach, and whether, as things stand, if such use does constitute a breach, it would be possible to persuade end clients to review their position on what is and is not truly confidential.

That remains my stance; the client decides what is confidential, not us, yet it might be useful if the purveyors of the tools that seemingly encourage us to potentially breach confidentiality at every turn could devote some energy towards persuading clients a) that their tools do not breach confidentiality agreements and/or b) to revise their confidentiality thresholds. Perhaps b) might happen anyway as the world in general moves into the clouds, as it were. And so there was some prodding of the notion of what might and might not constitute a breach of a kind to cause client consternation.

This week has seen an interesting case of an alleged breach of confidentiality that has quite possibly not only not harmed the party in question, but has, at least by some measures (financially, for one), actually benefited her. J K Rowling has been revealed as the author behind a pseudonym, and sales have soared. She, meanwhile, appears most dischuffed, and is consulting our learned friends.

I daresay the web is awash with comment. I think that the post and comments in Jack of Kent’s blog (David Allen Green) are very interesting from our point of view. This chap knows his stuff, and so do his commenters.

In the introduction, he confirms the hypothesis from my earlier post, which (unless I’m just seeing what I want to see, in which case, please put me right) can be summarised as that in general, for breach to be actionable, the claimant needs to have suffered loss or damage, or the wrongdoer needs to have gained.

Apparently contradicting that, barrister Steve Hackett says, both in a comment on Jack of Kent’s blog and in his own blog post, that “it is fairly clear that the court has the power to compensate a claimant who has suffered no financial loss and considers it appropriate to do so” [i.e. be compensated]. In JKR’s case, this could be for loss of anonymity; others posit invasion of privacy. In the case of a translator breaching a client’s confidentiality, I’m sure other examples could be found (e.g. revealing future commercial plans).

Meanwhile, Carl Gardner, who runs the Head of Legal blog, opens his remarks with a seemingly disclosure-friendly “I agree breach of confidence/misuse of private information isn’t “actionable per se” – there needs to be some detriment to the claimant.” He then spoils it all by saying “I’m not sure detriment has to be anything like a monetary loss, though.” So, see above!

Now, while these knowledgeable folks are tossing ideas around about a private individual not a company, who has seemingly gained from the disclosure not lost, it seems well within the realms of the possible to my very inexpert eye that a breach of confidentiality might not have to result in either a pecuniary loss for the claimant or a gain for the wrongdoer to get the legal ball rolling. Spinning the event into a loss for JKR or third parties is far from beyond the lawyers commenting, and is a lesson to us all in how a determined party could make trouble for a translator for the merest transgression.

Hence, it really does look as though any change to confidentiality that would enable us to ethically and openly use cloud tools, MT and so forth with relative impunity really will have to come from clients reducing the scope of confidentiality itself. Otherwise, in England and Wales at least, you run the risk of being hauled before the beak, as no-one has actually said in real life since before I was born.

March 19th, 2013 | Categories: business

I switched from self-employment to limited company this financial year (see this previous post).

In so doing, I changed banks for business banking, switching from the world’s local money launderers to the home of the Libor liars (I’ve got a Co-op Bank application form, honest, I just need the time to switch). However, what I did not do was close my self-employed account with the money launderers. Just in case, basically (e.g. I knew that funds transfers from France worked; there could have been unforeseen hiccups with the new account).

But I did keep the same VAT number.

After the VAT returns in Q1 and Q2, HMRC owed me a few quid. I searched both times for the place on their website to add a direct debit instruction for my Ltd Co. account with the Libor liars, to no avail. So HMRC sent me cheques to C Bavington Ltd, and I paid them in.

For Q3, however, I owed HMRC £270. Looked around the website again for DD instructions, no joy, so I kicked off an electronic payment from the Ltd Co bank account, a week before the payment deadline. Job done, I thought.

But no.

A few days later, HMRC dipped into my old self-employed account and helped themselves to 270 quid. This put the world’s local money launderers into a minor tizz, since I was now overdrawn on an account I hadn’t used for months. Interest was charged.

Anyway, by shuffling money around like, er, some kind of money launderer, everything is now back in order (and the old self-employed account now closed).

I should be fair. It took me 2 minutes on the phone to HMRC to explain and for them to offer to send a cheque, which they then did. HSBC waived their standard £25 overdraft charge (but not the interest) and indeed texted me to get me to call them, hence drawing my attention to the problem.

I do understand how it happened (I think). I suspect it is because I did not cancel the direct debit instruction from my self-employed bank account, and there is a legacy connection between that account and the Ltd Co’s VAT number.

But I don’t really understand why:

a) HMRC don’t check the VAT account balance (which would have showed I owed them nothing) before triggering the direct debit;

b) HMRC can take money from one entity (me, as a self-employed person) owed by another (the Ltd Co.) given the difference in the account names just because the VAT number is the same. I should clarify this is not a VAT number that is “shared” in some way. It has been transferred from one entity to another;

c) HSBC decided to allow an unused account with no overdraft facility to go overdrawn.

I would have thought at least one of those factors would have stopped this happening.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, if you do decide to switch from self-employment to limited company and you’re VAT registered, make sure everything is done neatly and don’t rely on either your bank’s or HMRC’s systems to block obvious mistakes. And especially cancel those direct debits!

February 25th, 2013 | Categories: agencies, business

I was recently led to reflect on my first steps in finding clients. In the case in point, I was led by the nose by an apparently notorious WUM/troll, but genuine cases arise often enough for me to wish I already had my own “story”, as it were, written down.

And so now I have.

Our young catalyst was, in essence, wondering how on earth anyone could make $50k translating when $0.05/word was pretty much the high end of what he was seeing on job portals. A complaint one sees often enough. This fellow was compounding the problem by going on generic freelance sites of the elance type, about which it seems all trades complain – I’ve certainly seen tirades against the ultra-low rates offered for copywriters and web designers as well as translators.

FWIW, although a fairly arbitrary figure, it strikes me that $50k (£33k or €38k as I type) is not an unreasonable aspiration for a well-educated professional working full time. Possibly a bit low, even.

I think anyone aware of the rates one is likely to get on elance, etc. knows they are not compatible with $50k/year. I don’t know any full-time translators who use such sites. I would therefore suggest that for anyone targeting earnings of $50k, elance is not the place to be looking for projects.

Proz may or may not be a little better. I have heard that one or decent clients do appear there from time to time. But by virtue of the simple effect of supply and demand (mainly, although other factors come into play too), then ceteris paribus, the earnings on offer are likely to be low-ish. If hypothetically one were to insist on sticking with such a jobs portal-based approach, then I would think proz (& possibly Translators Café, although I know very little about that one) is probably a better place to focus on than the general freelancer sites (elance and suchlike).

Do people earn $50k just from work they get on proz? I would think it is just about feasible. I do see jobs offering over 0.05/wd (not that I look very often) so assuming you were always busy with work from proz and depending on how much over 0.05/word you managed to get, it could theoretically work, I suppose. (5 cents a word means a million words a year to get $50k; Working 360 days a year, you’d need to plough through 2780 words, every day.)

So clearly those of us earning over $50k probably aren’t doing it that way. Like, I assume, many others, I have some agency clients and some direct clients.

Before freelancing, I was an analyst-programmer. This brings me to another aspect of getting started – real life experience. I worked in a mixed Eng-Fr or French-speaking-only IT environment one way or another for 4 years. There is no substitute for hearing your source language used in the
workplace (given a large volume of translation is work-related to some degree). My former employer still gives me direct work. I have other direct clients from personal contacts, and from personal recommendations and referrals. And indeed from employed contacts who change jobs. And from my website. (That’s enough “Ands” – Ed.) My direct clients typically get charged around €0.12 per word (consistent with the mid-range of the 2011 ITI/IoL joint rates survey) and I suspect in some cases I could probably charge more.

I use agency projects to fill in the gaps. I found some of these agencies eight or nine years ago by emailing agencies, individually. When I say “individually” I mean I first scoured through online yellow pages and possibly proz and similar sites, filling in a spreadsheet with those I might potentially want to approach. Interestingly (or not!), given I registered with URSSAF in Feb 2003 (broadly equivalent to registering as self-employed, in France, for the purposes of thise discussion at least) but didn’t send any of these emails until 2004, I must have spent almost a year living exclusively on the earnings from two direct clients – funny how memories of these things fade until we start searching for the facts for some reason).

Anyway, that made a list of 250 agencies I investigated, one by one. Of those, I emailed (in the form of custom emails, including the company name, what fields they said they worked in that I felt able to handle, sometimes to a named person if I found one) 125 agencies, attaching my CV.

I did this in fits and starts over a two-year period. Of those 125 agencies, I have had work from 6 of them (two are still clients, two I have dropped for rates reasons, two are “dormant”). The 125 I didn’t contact usually, on investigation, had criteria I couldn’t meet at the time, e.g. X years’ experience, residency in a target language country, etc. I use agency work to fill in the gaps between direct client work. The agencies I work for typically now pay €0.08-0.09 (again, in the mid-range of the 2011 survey). A tolerable rate, given I tend to cherry-pick the easy stuff to some extent.

That’s how I got started. It is also, I have come to realise this weekend, how I have coasted along for the last few years. It could be time for that to change…

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January 21st, 2013 | Categories: translation issues

On Friday 18th Jan, I attended a most informative talk at Europe House, Smith Square, Olde London Towne on the subject of terminology and IATE, given by the knowledgeable and engaging Timothy Cooper, a senior terminologist at the EU.

The theory

He kicked off with an overview of the message he attempts to drum into all those on the 9-month (!) probation at the EU Translation Service (8 months of translation then a month working on terminology), to wit terminology is not about terms, it’s about concepts. Apparently, this is quite incendiary stuff as far as academics are concerned, although Tim didn’t say what the opposing view was. Apparently too, some probationers also have difficulty grasping it. Given that the echoes of lectures given by academics are probably still ringing in their ears (behind which traces of wetness no doubt remain) perhaps this should be no surprise (it seems the route in EU translation is quite often straight from study into the EU).

I doubt any readers of this would need Cooper’s key message to be exactly hammered home with a mallet, the underlying idea being (and I quote, more or less) that the concept is the mental abstraction of an object (tangible or intangible) which has a definition to distinguish it from other concepts. The terms emerge once you’ve got a clear picture of what you’re talking about. I’m sure we all regularly come up against terms where we need to get a clear definition of one or several possible translation options before we can be sure the source term (for which we have also determined a definition) and our selected target term really are one and the same concept. That’s the basic idea, illustrated by a simple example as Tim worked on the translation of the term “coeur” and got the results “heart” and “core” for anatomy and nuclear power contexts respectively, via concepts and definitions.

So, to IATE itself. First point to note is that it stands for Inter-Active Terminology for Europe. The second point to note is that for those of us outside the glorious institutions of Europe, a more accurate abbreviation would be TE. It is not interactive for us. It’s interactive for them; the version we see is updated monthly-ish and is purely read-only.

It covers all EU institutions – commission, parliament, council and so on – in all fields of activity, but is restricted to LSP (language for special purposes).

The general idea is that structurally, it kinda sorta reflects the principle outlined above. There is a notional hierarchy topped by “language independent information”, such as the domain (of which more in a sec), then below that information in various languages, such as the definition, references and notes, then at the third level sit the various terms in those languages. Some languages are better represented than others – typically the longer a country where the language is spoken has been an EU member, the more terms there will be. (Internally, the system holds terms in 100 or so languages, but only official EU languages are displayed to the masses.)

It should be noted that while Tim Cooper advocates the “substitution” approach to definitions (whereby the definition is a phrase that could simply replace the term in any context and it would make grammatical and logical sense), not all of his colleagues in other countries (countries now populate the database more or less independently) share his clarity of vision. Do a search on “financial service” (note that IATE doesn’t like plurals) and compare the English definition with the Lithuanian one.

The “domain” field was mentioned mainly to warn us not to pay it any heed. It is ostensibly based on the Eurovoc domain system. Frankly, I was reminded of one those ancient Greek fellows (or possibly a Victorian clergyman) who attempted to categorise all of human knowledge. It’s bound to be fairly arbitrary, and as Tim Cooper freely admitted (having described Eurovoc’s domains as “nonsensical”), in IATE’s case, there are too many errors even in clear-cut cases (he cited land transport terms being categorised under air transport or vice versa). He recommends not using it for searches unless your first search gets an overwhelming number of hits.

The practice

Which brings us neatly to searches. (As an aside, note there is an option to save your search preferences.) The first and key piece of advice is not to search for a specific pair; use the “Any” checkbox to the right of the list of target languages. Note the preferred spelling is UK English spelling (e.g. -ise not –ize), but alternative spellings and indeed plain ol’ mistakes might still get hits if the terminologist has added such entries to a device known as a lookup form (do a search on “accomodation” with one ‘m’ to see this in action – hits with the correct spelling are found, as is at least one rather embarrassing entry spelt incorrectly).

The list of hits is in list form, with a “full entry” link to click to show all the details. The list shows a reliability rating measured in stars. Ignore it. Again, different countries have different approaches. You need to follow up references given in the full entry screen to be sure how reliable an entry really is. Sometimes, the list may show terms that are marked as “Obsolete” or “Deprecated” – those are best avoided (unless, perhaps, you’re translating something from when those terms were current).

The joy of the “full entry” screen is the references and links elsewhere. This is especially useful if a link points to EurLex, these being links that you might see given in any language but not necessarily all of them (even if it would be relevant), because once you’re in EurLex, you can switch to any other EU language. Hence the advice not to search just for your language pair – you are potentially losing valuable links to other multilingual information. And that, in Tim Cooper’s view, is the value of IATE. In itself, the content leaves something to be desired (I paraphrase), but it can lead you in the right direction (much like Wikipedia, a comparison he made himself).

On the “full entry” screen, you might see cross references to other IATE terms (IATE:nnnnn). These should be hyperlinks. They are internally. They might be for us, for one day….

The original data was imported from various sources and because of problems with mapping equivalent fields, there was some inconsistency which remains in the older entries (hence dodgy definitions, unreliable reliability ratings, etc.). These days, data is added manually (if I understood correctly) by the different translation services in different countries, and while there is more consistency in approach, it is not completely consistent (how they decide on the reliability rating, how much effort they put into lookup forms, the definition of a “definition”, etc.). But as a guide, the more recent an entry is, the more reliable it should be.

Summary search tips:
– Don’t use plurals
– Ignore domains
– Search on all languages, not a pair
– The “reliability” star rating is not to be relied upon.

As you can perhaps tell, I found the whole thing very interesting and useful. Before attending, I would have described myself as a former user of IATE. I suspect that is about to change.

NB: In case anyone is wondering whether I’m taking an awful liberty posting a large amount (if summarised) of the actual content of Tim Cooper’s talk online, it was free of charge (discounting the absolute battering my Oyster card took – that daily cap TfL claim to apply? Be suspicious…). The event was open to anyone, and I’m sure their aim is just to spread the word. So I’m just, y’know, spreading the word!

November 16th, 2012 | Categories: agencies, business

Following on from my post two days ago (in which I wondered whether the scope of confidentiality could usefully be reduced in a translation context), the question is, given a great deal of the information translators receive is deemed confidential, does using Google Translate (GT) equate to disclosure of confidential info?

On disclosure, in an earlier discussion, I adapted an old Buddhist question – if I read out my “confidential” source text in the forest, but no-one hears it, is that disclosure….?

Black’s Law Dictionary was quoted back at me. “Disclose. To bring into view by uncovering: to expose, to make known; to lay bare; to reveal to knowledge; to free from secrecy or ignorance, or make known.”

Interesting stuff. I would say some of those descriptions imply, arguably even require, the involvement of another party – “bring into view” requires someone to perceive it; to “make known” requires another person to know the information subsequently. Some of the definitions don’t require another party, e.g. to expose or lay bare, but it could easily be argued that those that do not require another party’s involvement or presence might apply equally well to merely opening a document on a computer. And the Lord knows this line of work is sometimes painful enough as it is, without double clicking being deemed disclosure. Such a broad definition clearly cannot apply to translators – as long as no-one else can see the screen where the document is displayed. Like confidentiality, “disclosure” probably needs to have a more restricted meaning for translators.

Not only that, but it seems highly likely to me that, for the disclosure of confidential information to cause the detriment that I contend is a defining feature of the truly confidential, a human has to be the recipient, in order to a) understand the text and b) act on it such that detriment is caused. (I accept that other kinds of disclosure may not require a human presence, e.g. “disclosing” data to an automated stock trading system.)

On to the matter at hand. While Google clearly has legal personality (probably several, judging from its “don’t be evil” motto combined with its assiduous policy of tax avoidance), is a text passed through GT “disclosed” in any meaningful sense if a natural person is not aware of it?

Your decision on that can only depend on what you know, or think you know, about GT’s internal workings. From forum postings, some people evidently believe that Google don’t keep the source, it is merely transient or ephemeral within the GT machine, and therefore it cannot meaningfully be disclosed. Some think Google keep it or might keep it, and therefore it is at least potentially open to disclosure.

What the GT terms of service currently say is:

“When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

That does not sound massively confidential to me.

Hence, as far as I am concerned, using GT constitutes disclosure, or perhaps more accurately, using GT runs an unacceptable and uncontrolled risk of disclosure. I doubt many humans actually see the content shoved through GT. But they most definitely could. And who knows what the future holds?

My guess is that those using GT:
– only use it for information that they are told is not confidential or is in the public domain
– only use it for information they think is not confidential or is going to be in the public domain soon
– do not view using GT as disclosure
– believe the risk of being discovered to have breached an NDA is small.
– a combination of the above.

But how can we reconcile today’s reality, in which some clients think everything needs to be handled confidentially whether or not disclosure would actually be to their detriment, there is uncertainty over what constitutes disclosure in a translation context, and software providers from all sides are exhorting us to release everything we have into the cloud?

Comments Off on Rage Against The Machine
November 14th, 2012 | Categories: agencies, business, social media

Another flurry of comment of late on the evils of MT, especially Google Translate (GT). Plus there were, I think, a couple of conferences on the subject of MT this autumn, judging from my Twitter feed.

I found myself in something of a peculiar position in this regard. I don’t actually use MT myself out of concern for the general perception of the confidentiality issues it brings (it is, after all, easier to go with the flow and not enter into protracted discussions with clients) but I initially felt that I understood or at least empathised with those who do use it (on the understanding I’m talking here about its ability to save typing effort or generate ideas, not produce deliverable output).

But as ever, I started to wonder, this time on the nature of confidentiality…

I should say from the kick-off that I find some translators have a tendency to yell “confidentiality” to support their position on anything they don’t like or don’t want to do, and this reflex response raises my hackles. The sort of person who will redact the life out of a phrase they post on a terminology list, and then when asked for a bit of context or background (e.g. what sort of organisation has produced the document), will reply “sorry, confidential”, while seemingly merrily unaware that copying a handful of words from the phrase into a search engine will, surprisingly often, lead directly to the text being translated. Fie, a pox on your spurious confidentiality claims, say I.


Most translators have probably signed confidentiality agreements/NDAs and I have also translated a fair number (which hardly makes me unusual – not for that reason, anyway). They are all similar but never quite the same. The average message, if such a concept exists, appears to be “a thing is confidential, and therefore not to be disclosed, if we say it is, and we say everything we pass on to you is confidential”. There may or may not be a rider to the effect that you will be spared the lash if information is in the public domain already, or enters it without your being at fault, or if you disclose information to people who it turns out already knew it before you went around leaking information like a cracked colander.

Translation NDAs rarely, in my experience, go much further. I think I’ve seen just one that exhorted me to think carefully about what I post when asking for terminology help in public (something I stopped doing in any meaningful sense long ago anyway).

But what, then, is the point of confidentiality? There is undoubtedly stuff you would at some level prefer people not to know, unless they need to know. Is all of that stuff really “confidential” in the sense that it warrants sanctions to dissuade against disclosure?

Purely out of a sense of decorum, I’m not going to tell you colour of my pants. Purely out of some sense of it being none of your business (my belief that you have no need to know), I’m not going to tell you what I earned last year. And yet if I were 30 years younger, I could potentially adopt a dress code displaying my pants to all and sundry, and you’d know whether you wanted to or not. If I lived in Norway, my earnings would be on a website. Maybe those examples overlap a little with personal privacy, but I daresay I could find large numbers of suit-wearing, middle-aged Englishmen willing to describe their tax returns, if not their pants, in the same terms as the documents in the pulsating offices in which they toil, i.e. as “confidential”… but are they?

I suggest they are not. I’ve searched for an hour or two, and failed to find any legal definition of what any jurisdiction deems it reasonable to categorise as confidential, or in contrast what it deems unreasonable (for example in a case where, against a charge of disclosing confidential info, the defence was that the information, like the colour of my pants, not actually confidential at all.). The stance everywhere seems to be that if a party says it’s confidential, then it is. So I’ve had to think of my own definition of what I think the real scope of NDAs should perhaps be, in a translation context.

I say in a translation context, because it seems to me several factors are acting (and have been for some time) to drive us out of our isolation, with a corresponding impact on any all-encompassing notion of confidentiality. These include the development of cloud computing, SaaS, and online tools (e.g. Wordfast Anywhere), the current fad for “collaborative workspaces” and similar, the cumulative effect of the promotion of MT (“it’s good, really, you should try it, everyone else is, you’ll get left behind…”), especially online versions (e.g. Google Translate, naturally), and indeed the rise of general and open social networks as places where it is possible discuss terminology and seek help (in contrast to the previous situation where such things were restricted to translator websites, which, while there was still the risk of disclosing confidential info, you were at least disclosing it to people less likely to drop you right in it, on the do-as-you-would-be-done-by principle).

I have read comments suggesting that using any of these services may well be in breach of confidentiality, and one certainly does wonder (notwithstanding my earlier remarks about the propensity to yell “confidentiality” to object to anything and everything).

And that in turn leads me to wonder the following: if we cannot be guaranteed as to the confidentiality of such services (even for those services that claim confidentiality, such as Wordfast Anywhere, the truth is the situation is out of our control), would it be useful to redefine what “confidential” covers?

Two options seem to present themselves:

1. The aim of NDAs for translators ought to be only the prevention of the disclosure of information where such disclosure is or potentially could be demonstrably to the detriment in some way to the interests (financial, reputational, or any other) of the party which “owns” the information (itself a notion that is something of a legal minefield – I suggest for our purposes, it means the end client), this to include where the information is of demonstrable benefit to the interests of the receiving party or any potential receiving party which the information owner did not intend them to have at that point in time.

And leaping briefly back out of a translation context, the truth is, I can’t think of a way your knowing the colour of my pants or my earnings last year is of benefit to you, or works to my detriment. Other than, in a rather circular manner, harm to my reputation as a fellow to be trusted with confidential information, should I in contrast appear to be a man willing to blurt his income to the world and his wife or civil partner. Except, I would contend, I can think of no possible benefit to you or harm to me from your knowing either of those things. Therefore they are not confidential and therefore my reputation is intact. QED. Or so it would be hoped, anyway…. Hence there clearly is information that while not confidential (by my definition) nor yet in the public domain, could at least be revealed on a fairly broad “need to know” basis, rather than classified under a blanket confidentiality label as now.

In exchange for this restricted scope of the information content that is deemed confidential, the NDA should in addition potentially include the fact a particular document is being translated at all (case by case, where this fact meets the above definition), and/or the identities of the parties involved in the translation process (note that, unlike some, I do not have a list of satisfied clients on my website).

So, as an example of what I have in mind, taking a hypothetical consumer product sheet of some kind:

a) “the packaging is red” – not confidential; publicly available information.

b) “the packaging is red because it’s the Chairman’s wife’s favourite colour” – not, I contend, actually confidential. I may not need to know, admittedly. But I fail to see any harm in anyone knowing.

c) “the packaging is red because we tested lots of colours and this worked best for this product” – yup, no argument with the confidentiality of that, obviously

d) “the packaging is red [+ the fact this is being translated into Chinese] – confidential as an indication of future market intentions, f’rinstance.

And so, when projects are handed to us, we are told, for each one, whether it is to be treated as “confidential” or not under the above definition or one similar to it (I would naturally expect a good deal of our work would in fact then not be confidential at all).

2. Translator NDAs could acknowledge that such tools exist, that our working environments are changing, and make appropriate provision for them. Explicitly permit or prohibit all of them, or some of them – the difficulty is, of course, the constantly shifting landscape. And the fact that too many agencies are just looking to shift the work while exposing their own arses to the minimum risk.

That is perhaps a basic flaw in both suggestions, in that they require those occupying the space between translators and their end clients to actually give some thought to their processes and procedures.

I am not suggesting a free-for-all. I am certainly not suggesting that any translator (and definitely not me!) unilaterally decides to reinterpret any confidentiality agreements, in line with the above notions or any notions of their own devising. Any re-drawing of the boundaries (new NDAs) has to come from the information owners or agents acting on their behalf. It might be useful if those engaged in the sale and marketing of products and services that appear to require us to contravene confidentiality agreements gave the matter some proper thought. They could perhaps influence the decision makers, like they do when they’ve got units to shift. Who knows, it might increase sales, and all that.

Meanwhile, if the information owners and middlemen say everything is confidential, then it is. While that remains the situation, I’ll sign the NDAs and I’ll adhere to the NDAs, and in so doing, I’ll restrict the potential options open to me to provide a better service to clients. And I won’t be spending any money on any cloud-collaborative-anywhere-machine-as-a-service gubbins. So be it.

And since this is already much longer than I originally anticipated, I’ll save the bit about GT for another time.

September 19th, 2012 | Categories: business

Wonder if any of you literally tens of readers had thought “Ah, another blog that has petered out…”?

Truth is, I only have one pair of hands, and apart from the very occasional flurry on Twitter, my spare typing (and thinking) time since June has been taken up with an epic thread on proz (should native_language claims be verified).
I should probably have stuck to my original stance that a discussion was futile as nothing would change, and walked away. But in the event, the discussion actually proved intellectually stimulating in parts (discounting the wummery, trolling, tangents and nonsensical assertions – so, about two thirds of the thread if not more, for which reasons I cannot recommend anyone to plunge into the thread unless they have oodles of spare time and genetically modified tolerance, since I’m sure no ordinary mortal could read the whole thing from scratch without wanting to wrench their eyeballs from their very sockets in frustration at the Olympic-standard asshattery on display in some quarters).

To summarise: proz has a field labelled “native language” (NL from now on). This field is displayed in the profiles of individuals, some of who evidently are not proficient at writing in the language they claim to be native in. Furthermore, this field can be used as a filter by those seeking translation services.

The issues this raises are:
a) it casts doubt on the accuracy of the everyone’s “native language” field, it diminishes the value of the site as a shop-window and thus chisels away at the reputation of anyone on the site (until & unless individuals are given the chance to prove otherwise), and
b) it means people are being considered for jobs for which they do not, in fact, possess one of the required skills, i.e. the ability to write proficiently in the target language.
I don’t use the site to get work; I have used it once or twice to outsource work. My main concern is a), but I accept the undesirability of b).

The assumed reasons or causes for this inaccurate reporting of NL are:
i) mistake about what NL means,
ii) knowing what NL means, but mistakenly considering oneself to be NL standard,
iii) old fashioned lying, to get considered for work.

What I found interesting about the discussion was the element that fixated on “native language” as an objective attribute, as if it were merely hair colour or address. Except of course, it’s not quite that simple; there are many definitions of NL, most posted in the thread (at least, I hope that’s most of them, I don’t think the world needs many more), and proz’s guidance on the matter is very Alice Through the Looking-Glass (“a word… means just what I choose it to mean”). Definitions for the site to use, involving the age a language was acquired, schooling, countries and length of residence, whether the language is actively used now, etc. have been proposed in the thread, with the aim of adding objectivity.

This is laudable; ideally information should be accurate, even if it’s just accuracy for accuracy’s sake. As an aside, even supporters of the idea seem to accept it will be hard to get user acceptance for proz actually verifying this stuff as per the thread title – they just want to ask the questions and leave people to answer as they see fit; it basically just reduces cause i) and does nothing about ii) or iii).

My own stance at this point was straightforward, unsophisticated and arguably something of a circular conclusion. It is dodgy or inadequate writing skills that (almost always) provide the initial evidence that someone who claims an NL is not, in fact, an N of that L. So, taking the thread title at face value, if you want to verify NL, verify the written output. QED. I said as much several dozen times.

This conclusion then led me to ponder that this NL data item is not purely informative, it also serves a purpose, as it also does when we are asked to provide it on, for example, agency registration forms. NL is used to include and exclude translators from consideration for jobs/projects. As is address (less often, for sure). But never hair colour (AFAIK). So NL is not just information for information’s sake. I would contend that NL is used as a target language filter/selection criterion, for instance, because it increases the chances (without guaranteeing it) that the person will be able to write to an acceptable standard in the target language.

In short, it has a function, and within the proz context, quite an important one (given the impact on livelihoods). No matter what label it is given, it is the function that causes people to lie about it (as they do, apparently (I have no direct experience), about hair colour on dating websites) and so it is the ability to meet or perform that function that is important.

So, if you want to “verify” anything, while simultaneously removing causes i), ii) and iii) and resolving issues a) and b), verifying compliance with the function of the field – that of proficiency marker – is surely the way to go? Y’know, like agencies sometimes do when they ask us to do tests? (Since evidently proficient use of claimed NL is one testing criterion, along with the actual translation.)

In the context of the actual discussion in question, I suspect reaching such a conclusion, while intellectually satisfying, is fruitless, as the only changes the site is likely to make are those improving the width of Humpty Dumpty’s Henry’s wallet. In that respect, any improvement along such lines is essentially an intangible feel-good factor from resolving issue a), and if it is tangible, it may even be negative, since the number of people who care enough to actually leave the site if nothing changes is surely fewer than those who pay for membership safe in the knowledge they can claim a competitive advantage they don’t have and Henry will do SFA all about it and who would leave if anything did change. To say nothing of the cost of any verification scheme.

All of which led me to realise (or reaffirmed):

1. It would appear that I probably do not, in theory, have any objection to ‘non-native translation’ (if you see what I mean). Meeting the client’s needs and possession of the right skills to do so are the only factors that count. Where you were born should, in itself, be inconsequential.

2. Function trumps labels.  I think particularly of one of my own working ‘rules’ – always translate section/chapter headings last. Their function is often more important than the actual words themselves when it comes to translating them effectively. As with the NL label in proz, it doesn’t matter what it says, it matters what it does. Extrapolated to (or from, depending where you start) translation, it is broadly equivalent to the underlying idea behind “translate the meaning, not the words”.

3. It is in all our interests to get comprehensive independent credentials as evidence of our abilities rather than rely on commercial websites focused only on quantity not quality and therefore pandering to the lowest common denominator.

4. Threads about proz itself are always, always, going to generate the most traffic, no matter what forum they appear on. (To tell the truth, I knew that before.)

5. I should get out more.

Cripes, if I’d known this was how the post would pan out, I could have given it one of those proper bloody irritating blog post titles like a social media guru would, like “5 Things I Learned This Summer”.

So, anyway, that was my summer – how was yours?

June 12th, 2012 | Categories: currency conversion, translation issues

Now, I know everyone is entitled to decide what they will and won’t do, professionally as elsewhere, but I was, I admit, somewhat taken aback by some of the comments on a recent poll on a well-known website on the subject of converting currency amounts.

Yep, never let it be said I don’t fearlessly tackle the big issues of the day head on.

The question was phrased in the second person (“do you…?”) and initially the answers were in the “no, I don’t, actually” vein, usually backed up with a brief reason, which was usually fairly sound.

But as it went on, the discussion took an increasingly dogmatic and negative tone, as if the very idea were some kind of heresy.

Now, I’m not well-versed in translation theory, but over the course of my Dip Trans studies back in the previous century, I did pick up the notion that, should there be no specific client instructions to the contrary or an obvious objective in mind that makes it counter-productive to do so, the translated text should aim to give the target language reader the same information (not more and not less) and provoke the same reaction (within reason) as the source text.
(In actual fact, that means that for me personally, that is my guideline 19 times out of 20.)

Hence, in essence, I would (and did, and still do) argue that if the intended reader is likely to have an understanding of (the value of) the figures involved without conversion, don’t bother to convert. If they won’t or might not, then you could ADD (but not usually replace) a rounded conversion in brackets, which for an ephemeral document probably won’t need any further comment, but might require “as at” + the date, or something similar, for a document that might be read many years hence when exchange rates might well have shifted considerably.

In terms of euros and US dollars, it is probably not needed that often – I certainly don’t bother to convert euros into any other currency for any of my current client work, which is mainly business related; I expect the target readers to have a notion of what €10,000 equates to for them if they are outside the eurozone. This evidently applies to many other people too.

But I was surprised that so many contributors to the discussion seemed unable to conceive of any situation where anyone might ever want to even contemplate considering the possibility of currency conversion.

For instance if I was translating a previously domestic-use only document for, say, a UK reader, from say, Columbia or the Ivory Coast (or anywhere that uses a “minor” currency), then I suspect I would consider an added conversion (either checking with client first or notifying afterwards – it’s easily removed if not needed). The Columbians and Ivorians no doubt know how much 10,000 Columbian pesos or CFA francs are worth – how many of us can say the same? If I read that something costs 10,000 quid, I know what that means. I have no idea for most of the world’s currencies whether 10,000 of them would get me a Big Mac (or some other intestine-menacing local equivalent), a dining room table or a family saloon. So why not facilitate understanding, which is, after all, the name of the game?

But while there are clearly situations when any interference at all would be a mistake (contract terms, perhaps), there are others when not doing so would be equally wrong. It seems some members of our soi-disant profession would not think of changing prices into local currency for a local version of an e-commerce website or sales brochure, for instance, since they apparently refuse to countenance entertaining the idea under any circumstances whatsoever.

Each to their own, I suppose, but I find absolute rejection of the idea somewhat curious.