On Friday, February 28, 2014, after Russia had begun deploying its troops in Crimea, Ukraine, US President Barack Obama made an address, expressing deep concerns about Russia’s military involvement in the region. One sentence he used was, “There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.” This caused an extremely negative reaction from the Russian parliament, because translated into Russian, Obama’s words appeared very aggressive. Obviously, this is primarily a matter of political reading of the policies of the other party: the Russian side heard what they wanted to hear. However, one might also look at this misinterpretation from a purely linguistic perspective.
“There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
The way I see it, this sentence was not meant to be too offensive. Firstly, stating that Russia will have to face costs is stating the obvious: of course, there will be all kinds of costs should a war begin. Secondly, the formulation is very generic. It does not mean that US is going to make Russia pay for this intervention, nor does it specify what kind of costs or how much those costs will be. It sounds more like a non-aggressive warning, a very diplomatic one, especially given that US was not considering any sanctions against Russia at that moment.
“Russia will pay dearly for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
But this is how this phrase was translated into Russian and presented by many Russian media (“дорого заплатит” in Russian). Although the meaning is the same, the difference in the tone is critical. Whereas Obama’s words sound to me like a non-aggressive warning, this translation is an outright threat. It sounds as if Obama is promising to punish Russia and that the measures taken against Russia will be very harsh.
Consequences of inaccurate translation
No wonder that this phrase was taken very seriously in Russia. Infuriated by seeing it mentioned in many media, the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian parliament) announced that this was an insult to Russian people. Their first response to this offense was a suggestion to oust the US ambassador from Russia. Another consequence is indirectly fueling a war. Even if Putin did not intend to wage war, this kind of offensive rhetoric coming from the superpower that the Kremlin has never been fond of could add to Putin’s resolve.
There is no doubt that Obama’s words were misinterpreted by the Russian media intentionally in order to use them as anti-US and pro-war propaganda. The Russian parliament heard what they wanted to hear (after all they had voted unanimously to authorize deployment of troops in Crimea), but this is an interesting example of misinterpretation anyway. It turned a diplomatic phrase into a threat, potentially with dire consequences. A good example of how difficult the art of translation is and how important it is to be careful about it.
This is a cheap Russian to English translation from a bank’s website. It does not make sense to save on translations unless you are fine with things like “estimated cards.”
Receiving quotes for translation from several providers can be confusing, because the prices will be very different. Although different factors make up translation price, there is a single most important factor: quality. This post explains how quality is reflected in translation price, using a car analogy.
Translations are like cars when it comes to price.
The issue of a high range of prices is not unique to the translation industry. I like to compare it to the automotive industry, where divergence of prices is outrageous, too, with a new car priced from $10,000 to $100,000 and more. It is quality that accounts for such varied prices in both cases. If you want nothing more than a means to get from one place to another, you buy the cheapest car available. Similarly, if you want to have a document translated that no one will read, it is okay to get the cheapest translation. If you want a premium quality experience with a car, you pay a lot, and the same is true for translation.
Quality means safety.
First and foremost, buying quality at high prices means safety. A premium car has better steel and is manufactured by people with an excellent work ethic who will not cut corners. It has advanced safety systems and more airbags. Your chances of surviving a crash in an expensive car are much higher. The weight of the car alone will make it more likely that you will walk away in case of an accident. Translations are just the same. Bad translation can mean legal costs, if users run into trouble with your products or services. When you realize that you shipped your product with a flawed translation, you will have to “issue a recall” and face unexpected costs. A high-quality, reliable translation—one that is free from errors—will save you from such liabilities.
Quality means reliability and convenience.
A cheap car can make driving hard work. It does not have many of the useful features that advanced cars have and breaks down more often. It is commonly a frequent source of frustration, since you have to do a lot yourself. By contrast, a premium car has features that make driving more fun. It is also more reliable and does not require much effort from you. Even if something goes wrong, you take it to the dealer, who repairs it under warranty, giving you top customer service. The same is true for translation. If you save on translations, you often end up with a flawed translation that you cannot use, because this is not the image that you want your business to project. You have to fix problems such as formatting yourself. If you have questions or additional requests, you get poor customer service. By contrast, buying at higher prices means that the translation will be final. You will not need to fix it. If you contact your vendor with questions, they will treat you like a king.
Quality means better results.
You bought a car because you needed to drive to work each day. You thought a cheap car would be fine for that purpose. But then one day, it gets stuck in a pothole due to insufficient ground clearance. The next day it does not start because its cheap battery died. This car does not get you to work, it does not deliver on your expectations. In the same vein, cheap, low-quality translations do not serve your purpose. Users struggle to make sense of them. Instead of attracting new business, they turn away clients. The money you saved is negligible compared to your lost profits. By contrast, expensive translations mean that you get what you expect, because they are easy to understand. sometimes even better that the original. They give you peace of mind, because you have the confidence that they will bring you the expected results.
You are in the driver’s seat.
The good thing about divergence of prices for both cars and translations is that you have a wide variety to choose from, based on your needs and budget. If you need a car to drive around a small town, a small car will be enough. If you drive on the highway a lot or even off-road, you need a bigger and more powerful car. With translation, you have the same freedom to choose. If you want a translation for legal reasons only, you can afford low quality. But if you have a marketing text to translate, one that your success hinges upon, you can select top translators.
Of course there are other price factors involved in both cars and translations, but quality is the one that contributes most to the price. A major difference is that a premium car can be viewed as a luxury, but a premium translation is primarily an investment. The better choice you make and the better quality you get, the higher your return. For this reason, even though there are exceptions, in general, you are much better off buying more expensive translations.
Buying translation often involves making a decision about what is more important to you: speed or quality. Read this article to learn about the advantages and drawbacks of both approaches.
Since you get your translation faster, you can start using it sooner, and it can bring you the results you want more quickly.
Going for speed makes sense if you delayed initiating the translation project until the point where only a rush translation can meet your deadline.
Quality invariably takes a hit—from inaccuracies that make it difficult to understand, to mistranslations may even subject you to ridicule. Remember that there is no shortcut to high translation quality. Quality translation takes time and dedicated people who are hard to find (again a matter of time).
Speed means stress for everyone involved in the project. An urgent project can make every stakeholder unhappy, leaving them with the feeling that it should and could have been done much better.
An extremely urgent project may call for a surcharge, as the translation team may need to put other projects on the back burner and work overtime.
You get a translation that is much more likely to bring you the desired results.
The project follows an orderly procedure, ensuring stress-free work for every stakeholder.
High-quality translation takes more time, which means having to wait patiently.
With more challenging texts, high quality is also more expensive.
Why choose quality over deadline?
Although I admit that some projects are truly urgent, I believe that in most cases, it is better to sacrifice speed for quality. Here are a few reasons in addition to the advantages listed above:
Is not it fascinating that all you need to do for a higher quality of translation is to wait a little bit more? Whereas with other products and services, you usually pay more for higher quality, with translation, you just wait for higher quality.
Urgency is often exaggerated. Clients ask their vendors to complete translations in just a few days, but then keep those translations untouched in e-mails for weeks or even months. Now that you know how translation quality hinges on the time available to do it, do not fall into this trap. Instead, set deadlines based on real needs.
It is too easy and tempting to ask for and get a quick turnaround. Since competition is high among translation agencies and translators, there is always someone available to do the job within your deadline, even though it is obvious to a reasonable person that a “rush” deadline makes it impossible to do as good a job. You will get the translation back quickly, but you may find that it is too literal or riddled with errors to the point of being completely useless. Is quick turnaround really worth it?
I have barely scratched the surface of this issue. Your comments and additional ideas are more than welcome.
This next article in the series focuses mainly on stylistic issues. Note that my suggestions are not final truths and are context-sensitive, as is often the case with stylistic errors.
Subtle difference between “программа” and “программное обеспечение”
The first English-to-Russian dictionary definition for the word “software” is “программное обеспечение.” This Russian term means software as a broad category, a class. However, this translation does not sound right when the English “software” refers to a specific program. A much better option is “программа.”
Original: Open the Microsoft Word software.
Incorrect: Откройте программное обеспечение Microsoft Word.
Correct: Откройте программу Microsoft Word.
Obviously, the error is purely stylistic. It makes more sense to use a specific term when referring to a specific program instead of a more abstract one.
Original: Scans data from a barcode into the software.
Incorrect: Служит для сканирования данных со штрихкода, передавая их в программное обеспечение.
Correct: Служит для сканирования данных со штрихкода, передавая их в программу.
Avoiding ambiguity with “При…”
Using structures such as “При…” requires caution, because they can easily confuse readers:
Original: Zooming in automatically adjusts the X and Y axis to fit the available data.
Incorrect: При увеличении масштаба оси X и Y автоматически адаптируются с учетом имеющихся данных.
When you read this sentence for the first time, it is initially difficult to understand the role of “При увеличении масштаба.” You do not know whether it means “увеличивается масштаб осей” or “масштаб увеличивается, а оси…” It is only when you reach the end of the sentence that you understand the meaning. I recommend avoiding this “temporary” ambiguity by doing exactly what English authors do in such cases—adding a comma. Russian does not allow placing a comma after such phrases directly, though, which means we need to convert them into adverbial clauses:
Correct: Когда масштаб увеличивается, оси X и Y автоматически адаптируются с учетом имеющихся данных.
Warrant to be free from defects
This phrase is often translated literally, and the Russian counterpart does not sound right either in terms of accuracy or style:
Original: This product is warranted to be free from defects in material and workmanship.
Incorrect: Настоящее изделие гарантированно не содержит дефектов материалов и изготовления.
The Russian sounds as if the manufacturer is promising that the product will have no defects. This does not make sense, obviously, because no one in their right mind will promise that. All a manufacturer can do is give a warranty in case of defects.
Correct: Производитель дает гарантию на дефекты материалов и изготовления.
Correct: Гарантия распространяется на дефекты материалов и изготовления.
This post continues our interview with Didier Briel, one of the main contributors to the free translation program OmegaT and a successful translator, too.
I have heard people say OmegaT is geared toward “geeks.” Is OmegaT really more difficult to master than other CAT tools?
On the contrary, I think OmegaT is one of the simplest tools. It takes no more than five minutes to get the general idea and start working productively. What I think can give this impression is not the complexity of OmegaT, but the complexity of today’s computers, which a lot of people do not master. I see that clearly when doing in-person training: people struggle to do something as simple as copying a file into the source folder of a project. Since OmegaT use relies largely on operating system features (such as copying and moving files around), it may appear complex to some. In reality, OmegaT is a simple application.
Your personal discipline and consistency are key to success of OmegaT as an ongoing project. How does one develop such qualities?
I wish my personal discipline were that good. However, I think my 15 years of experience in packaged professional software play a key role here. In packaged software, you do not develop disposable things; you will have to live with your choices, sometimes for many years, so you’d better make good choices. As a former database designer, I am also very sensitive to compatibility with previous versions. When we break it (rarely), we very carefully weigh the benefits.
What are your main wishes for the OmegaT project? Is it more funding from users, a larger team of contributing developers, or something else?
We’re not a web browser or an ERP, so we’re not likely to attract hundreds of contributors. (If we did, we would need one or two people full time to handle their contributions.) More funding is always appreciated, but having more users, if possible involved users, is more important. The rest comes along with that, including making OmegaT even more professional. I’m not speaking only of the program, but of the whole ecosystem. Do not misunderstand me: behaving professionally and targeting professionals doesn’t have to kill the free spirit that I love in OmegaT. On the contrary, the more resources we have, the more we can foster free initiatives.
What is your greatest source of motivation to continue your pro-bono work? Grateful users, donations, number of downloads, seeing OmegaT evolve?
The biggest drive is selfishness: having a tool as great as possible (that would put it under the “seeing OmegaT evolve” category). The rest is of course deeply appreciated. There’s one thing you didn’t mention, and that’s recognition for OmegaT in the CAT tool software industry.
What is your general perspective on commercial software vs. free and open-source software? As an open-source tool developer, many would expect you to be an ardent supporter of free software, e.g., working only under Linux, using LibreOffice faithfully, and so on. Is that true?
I generally like and approve free software usage. I will probably disappoint some, but I work mainly under Windows (I do have a few Linux environments under VirtualBox), and I use MS Office more often than LibreOffice. I use Windows partly because I started in localization, where you have to have a real Windows environment to test the applications you localize. As for MS Office, I tend to deliver translations in the format I received, and with LibreOffice I cannot ensure that there won’t be formatting differences.
After CAT tools were invented many years ago, there has been little change in how translators work. Is there room for another ground-breaking technology that will bring major change, as CAT tools did once?
I don’t think there will be one.
There was one (an old one), and it’s machine translation. In itself, producing sentences that you edit the best you can, it may not have much use if you are trying to do quality translation, but it can be very useful at the sub-segment level, for instance to create automated glossaries. That’s where some commercial CAT tools are more advanced than OmegaT.
But that’s not really ground-breaking: in the end, you have to fully understand the source text, transform it mentally using your knowledge of the source and the target languages and cultures, and write it as something that a native writer could have written to express the same thing as the source text. It’s hard to see how you could do effective translation much differently. When you think about it, CAT tools were not really ground-breaking technology either.
Some people are all for dictation technologies, but I’m a writer and a fast typer.
A common complaint about other CAT tools, such as Trados, is that they are unstable and prone to bugs. With much fewer resources available, how is it possible for OmegaT to be so stable and bug-free?
There are plenty of reasons.
The first is that OmegaT is developed and tested by the people using it. That means that, a few minutes after something is developed “officially” (i.e., is committed to the Subversion repository), one translator may already be using it in production. If it breaks something or if it doesn’t work, we usually know it very soon.
A second reason is that what we want is software that works—not something that works if the wind is blowing from the south, etc., but something that always works. It takes conscious decisions to make software like that. A lot of companies do not have that mindset. They want to do fancy things, there’s market pressure (we don’t have any), there are assumptions about the kind of operating system and software environment the translator is using, etc. OmegaT works on nearly all operating systems (there’s a world beyond Windows, Linux, and Mac!), and we are lucky enough to have users translating to and from most languages, including “minor” ones such as Uighur. Our user base is very diverse, because OmegaT, as free software, appeals to very different translators. For these reasons, we make few assumptions, and try to have “tolerant” code.
Being open-source helps, too. In proprietary software, you can get along with ugly code as long as your boss doesn’t see it. It’s not possible with OmegaT, because everything is visible, so any silly code will eventually be found and corrected.
What are the main roadblocks to wider adoption of OmegaT?
From a functional point of view, we are removing one by one the objections of those who say that OmegaT cannot be used professionally. I have heard them all: no sentence segmentation, no spell checking, no multiple translations, requirement to create a script to launch OmegaT, etc. These complaints are simply untrue.
Wrong assumptions about professional behavior: for a lot of translators, being a professional implies investing in the tools of the trade, the more expensive the better. A free (beer) tool cannot be taken seriously by them. Things are changing slowly, thanks to Firefox, but thanks also to specific actions aimed at professional translators (presentations in translator associations, webinars, in-person training) and agencies and companies (professional support, sponsored development).
Agencies imposing their tools: With a lot of agencies, you don’t really have a choice of the tools you use. OmegaT provides some compatibility with proprietary tools, but there’s a limit to what you can do.
Lack of confidence from translators in managing their own machine: In a way, it’s easier to learn a dozen wizards and procedures by heart than to understand how to copy a file on your computer from one point to another.
When you give seminars about OmegaT, what are the main age groups of your listeners? Are there any people other than translators among them?
Most of the seminars I have given were to translators. I think the age range reflected the profession: young college graduates to 40-something experienced professionals to old-timers. I haven’t noticed any specific pattern, which means OmegaT seems to appeal to all ages. I do not notice more interest from younger people. The only exception is the seminar I did at Dublin universities, where they were all PhD students with the related age range.
When I’ve done presentations to non-translators, most didn’t really get that interested, once they understood that OmegaT would not translate for them.
What was the best experience associated with the OmegaT project for you?
It’s hard to pick only one thing. Continuing with the “double hat” (translator and programmer), I’ll mention two.
As a translator, in the first big project I handled with OmegaT (about 100,000 words), I discovered one day that I had translated 14,000 words without effort. Of course, that was thanks to repetitions. But, for someone who was previously skeptical about CAT tools (I have a very good memory, I can copy/paste if needed, etc.), this was an eye opener (especially as it was a format you cannot manage in a word processor). I found again what attracted me to computers initially: they would work for you.
As OmegaT’s development manager, the best experience was going to Dublin, both to do a seminar for the universities and to meet welocalize.
This is the end of the interview.
Didier’s pro-bono work and admirable personal qualities, such as discipline and consistency, make him a role model for translators and software developers alike. His hard work and smart decisions made OmegaT the great translation memory program it is today. Thank you very much for your continued contribution to the translation community and sharing your insights today, Didier!
I was lucky to catch English to French translator, consultant, and OmegaT development manager Didier Briel between jobs for a brief interview. With a very interesting TM concept that sets it apart from competitive tools, regular releases of new versions, and commitment to listening to its users, OmegaT has been gaining momentum in recent years, and Didier has been instrumental to this progress. For example, it was under his leadership that welocalize, a major translation agency, made OmegaT its CAT tool of choice. Didier is also the driving force behind the great source of knowledge and support around OmegaT—the Yahoo user group. But while Didier devotes a lot of his time and energy to the project, little information is available about him as a person. This is why it has been my goal for quite some time to interview the individual I and many other people admire, and I am excited to bring this interview to you today.
How did you become a translator?
While my first career was in computing, I have always been interested in translation. I remember doing a “technical” translation in the eighties, because, in a computer shop owned by a friend, a customer complained there was no French instruction for the game he was buying. Later on, I did volunteer localization and translation for freeware (there wasn’t really open-source software at that time) programs on the Atari platform. In 2004, when the startup I was working with collapsed, and I was wondering what I would do next, a client found me on an Atari translator site, and asked me whether I would be interested in a localization job. I have been working as a translator ever since.
How does your translation work influence your perspective on OmegaT?
Being a translator (and the kind of translations I do) has a deep influence on my vision of OmegaT. I tend to see it more from the perspective of a user than that of a programmer.
How did you learn programming languages?
Initially, I was self-taught, mainly in BASIC and Z80 assembly. I took a vocational course on programming (mainly in COBOL) and computer-aided production management, which led to a job as a programmer for a planning and scheduling software startup. There I used Clipper (a compiled dBase clone), Turbo Pascal, and Delphi (Object Pascal). Later my career evolved to roles in which I wasn’t actually programing. When I started contributing to OmegaT, all I knew about Java was from a one-week introductory course, so I learned by doing it, and I’m still far from an expert.
If someone tells you there is no point in using CAT tools, what are some of the things you will say to “convert” them?
I won’t; they might be perfectly happy without one. That’s one of the great things with free software, you don’t have to sell anything.
That said, if asked what benefits I get from using CAT tools, I might mention “memory.” Being able to tell how you translated a sentence or even a phrase five years ago is invaluable. Then there’s consistency, through glossaries, the search function, and auto-propagation. Of course, if your text has repetitions, being able to translate thousands of words automatically is great. Going from segment to segment also helps in my translation process. Initially, sentence segmentation bothered me for “creative” texts and I would use paragraph segmentation, but I got used to it. If you want to get a “broader view,” you can always do so at the final revision stage.
Is it easier to develop OmegaT today than when you just started as a development manager?
On the whole, it’s certainly easier today. I have a bit more experience, and most of all we have wonderfully knowledgeable contributors, including Alex, our lead developer. The program itself is more technically complex than it was, but this is largely compensated by a small but very friendly community of developers.
What is the main driving force behind your involvement with OmegaT? Is it passion for translation or passion for software development?
Initially, it was certainly a passion for translation efficiency. It’s both, actually. Working on OmegaT is similar to specialized technical translation: you cannot be good at it if you’re not both a subject matter expert and a decent programmer. As far as software development is concerned, I rarely have to do the “funny things,” i.e., involving oneself deeply in the code and the algorithms, until you find a brilliant solution. It’s more like when I was a product architect or a marketing and strategy director: you do whatever is needed to get the job done, and the reward is the final product.
How do you strike a balance between your translation business and OmegaT-related work?
With difficulty sometimes. OmegaT used to be a hobby, on which I would work a few hours in the evening and on week-ends, with the odd free days (which we all experience as translators) to dedicate to it. At the end of last year, I started considering making my work on OmegaT part of my main job. That means I now have to find a fine balance between the two activities, but I no longer have to feel guilty when working on OmegaT.
Obviously, you would like to see OmegaT become one of the leading CAT tools. But what are your objective predictions about OmegaT’s future?
It’s very hard to tell. Functionally, OmegaT has made enormous progress in recent years, but it’s still hardly a real competitor to Trados Studio. I’m not speaking of ease of use, etc., simply of market share. That said, according to Kevin Lossner’s latest survey, we’re above Wordfast Pro, and close to Déjà Vu. I think the CAT tool market share will continue to be very fragmented, and that OmegaT will continue to rise slowly in that hierarchy. To what level is difficult to say.
If you use machine translation, how much does it increase your productivity as a translator?
I did try machine translation briefly. It increased my productivity (not drastically, but perhaps between 10 and 20%), but at the expense of my style. I didn’t recognize my “voice” in the result. After post-editing, it was decent French, but clearly not from me. What I sell to my client is my work, including my style, and I couldn’t sell that if I used MT.
In addition, machine translation can be very dangerous, because it often gives “perfect sentences,” except it omits a negation, so in the end it says the reverse of the source text. This is hard to spot, so part of what you gained is lost in double-checking for this kind of error.
It would be nice to live off OmegaT-related work so that it is not only a passion, but also a source of regular income. How close are you to that do you think?
Still far away, but, if 2014 continues on the same track as 2013, it is not impossible to imagine one day. Let’s say I went from pocket money to an actual part of my revenue.
This is the end of the first part of the interview.
Stay tuned for the second half of the interview with Didier, where he talks about OmegaT’s future, other CAT tools, and common complaints about OmegaT.
Technical problems in our line of work are frustrating, but it does not have to be this way. Last week, we had two similar situations with freelance partners, where the individual ran into problems with our files, but chose to spend time figuring out solutions instead of informing us:
The first translator received a translation project to work on in OmegaT, but then realized he would rather do it in SDL Trados Studio—the program he was more comfortable with. Despite the instruction to translate in OmegaT, he picked up the source file from the OmegaT project and translated it with Studio. Then he delivered the file without saying a word. Of course, the resulting file was not compatible with our OmegaT project, and we ended up spending a few hours determining what had caused the problem and finding a fix.
The second translator received an XLIFF file to translate. She opened it on her work computer successfully, but when she tried to open the same file on her home computer— where she was planning to do the actual translation—it would not open. At this point, she could have let us know about the issue, but she chose to look for a solution on her own. As a result, she spent an entire evening reinstalling her programs and looking for a solution on the Internet, but to no avail. Because of the lost time, she ended up refusing to do the project the next morning, despite her previous commitment.
Both of these situations were frustrating for every stakeholder! So why let them happen to begin with? Here are a few tips to help you avoid this kind of frustration:
Do not be afraid to inconvenience the agency by sending your problem to them. First, it is the agency’s job to help you work effectively, which includes fixing technical issues with their files. Second, if you create technical problems or delays by keeping silent, you will cause much more inconvenience.
Do not reinvent the wheel. Instead of finding the solution on your own, ask people who have more experience with what you are trying to accomplish and probably already know the solution. Especially when the agency created the problematic project in the first place.
Do not be shy. What do you have to lose if you ask a question? The worst thing that can happen is that the agency will be unable to help, in which case you will be no worse off than before.
Resist your natural propensity to fix the problem right away, to the detriment of your plans. If you spend several hours fixing a problem instead of translating, you are being ineffective. Not only you are losing time and money, but you might be also late with the delivery.
Do not wait until it is too late to check whether everything you received from your client opens correctly and makes sense to you. If you wait too long, it will be more difficult to ask for help, because you will be embarrassed by your procrastination.
Do not keep quiet in the hope that the agency will not notice you did something other than agreed. It is best to be transparent and honest.
As a freelance translator, whenever you run into technical problems with the files received from a translation agency, it is best to work with the agency to resolve the problem. Fixing it on your own is ineffective and may exacerbate the problem.
Do you want to save on your translation? Read this article to learn about discounts applicable to translation services, and save the next time you buy translation.
Like most other products and services, translation is eligible for volume discounts. I have heard people say this should not be true, but I disagree, for two reasons. First, project management and administrative costs are much lower with larger jobs. When you have ten jobs for a total of $3,000, you do project management and administrative tasks ten times; but when you have one job for $3,000, you only do those tasks once. The time savings can be returned to a client in a form of discount, so that it is a win-win situation. Second, there are economies of scale in production. After translating 30% or 50% of a project, the remaining part is so much easier, because most terms are already translated and the so-called internal fuzzy matches (matches to the text within this project) show up.
Therefore, pack as many texts into a “project” as possible, and you will likely receive a discount. Instead of sending jobs piecemeal, wait until they accumulate—especially if they are similar—and send them for a quote, expecting a discount.
Note that a project is eligible for a volume discount only if you send it all at once. If you have a large project and you break it down into batches, you might not get a discount, because your translation vendor may consider these batches as separate projects, since the “economies of scale” will be significantly reduced. And you may also find out that your vendor might not necessarily be available for each batch, because reserving capacity for a large project is one thing, but finding available people for smaller batches coming irregularly is quite another.
New client discount
I love new client discounts, because they are a totally win-win situation. Clients feel safe, being able to “test-drive” a translation service without betting the house. And for vendors, this is a great opportunity to acquire a new client who will provide a steady stream of work. For this reason, we provide generous discounts of this type. Some people are not willing to provide a discount in the form of a short translation test—I just don’t understand why not.
Due to the nature of our work, we sometimes find ourselves in a “feast or famine” situation. This makes it very beneficial for us to be able to balance workload by stretching deadlines where possible. In other words, instead of doing a project quickly in one month, we prefer to do it in two months and are happy to offer a 10% discount for that. Clients are usually quite happy about these discounts, provided the deadline extension works for them. After all, translation urgency if often exaggerated.
We also provide discounts to other translation agencies. In this type of partnership, the other agency does the marketing and communication with clients. Working with agencies can be easier than working with direct clients, as long as they make it easy for their vendors to work with them. These reasons make it attractive to work for agencies financially and make it possible to provide discounts in return.
The caveat is that agencies may impose additional requirements—often purely formal and unnecessary. This may offset the advantages of serving them, reducing the potential for discounts.
Segmentation means breaking translatable text into the smallest translation-friendly logical pieces. Because computer-aided translation (CAT) tools segment texts using very basic rules by default (such as breaking a paragraph into two or more sentences with a period between them), the result is often suboptimal. But it should not be this way.
Poor segmentation makes it difficult to do a good job.
First and foremost, suboptimal segmentation makes it difficult for a translation team to do a good job. While it is not as critical as, say, reference materials, bad segmentation still causes additional work and frustration, with a negative impact on the end result.
Suppose I have a sentence:
Whatever you do, don’t think of the color blue.
And it is erroneously presented to a translator segmented like this:
Whatever you do,
don’t think of the color
Instead of thinking about the best translation, the translator concentrates on how to work around this erroneous segmentation. If the project is riddled with such broken sentences, the translator loses concentration, leading to errors. Revising these bits and pieces is difficult, too, since an editor has to focus on finding what goes where, as much as on checking the translation itself.
Good segmentation: easier for translators
Optimized segmentation makes it easier for every stakeholder to work. While, for example, packing several sentences into one segment is not bad per se, breaking them into separate sentences often leads to better results. First, completing single sentences is psychologically easier. Second, shorter segments produce repetitions and better TM matches.
Less risk of omitting things
Removing all “untranslatables” from the beginning and the end of segments is also important. Things like list numbers and bullets, tags, footnote asterisks, etc. are irrelevant for translation and only waste translators’ time. Moreover, it is easy to delete such untranslatables accidentally. Extracting them out of the segments that are visible on the translator’s editing screen produces cleaner segments, which are easier to work on.
Better leveraging in future jobs
Suboptimal segmentation dramatically decreases the probability of TM matches in future jobs. Compare these two sentences:
First project: 1) Whatever you do, don’t think of the color blue.*
Second project: Whatever you do, don’t think of the color blue.
Although the actual text is identical, this sentence will not be a 100% match in the second project because of the untranslatable garbage in the first one.
First project: Whatever you do,
don’t think of the color
Second project: Whatever you do, don’t think of the color blue.
Whereas in the first example, we get at least a fuzzy match, we get no match at all in the second one. Our translator may even fail to find this translation in the TM and end up retranslating it from scratch, which means wasteful work.
Optimizing segmentation is a time-consuming and knowledge-intensive process. Creating a project in SDL Trados Studio and sending it to a translator is one thing, which almost anyone can do. But doing this in a way that is optimal is quite another thing. Some do not like the delay it causes in a project; others do not have the expertise to do it.
Optimizing segmentation deserves more attention than it gets currently, because it has many advantages, including making translators’ work easier and resulting in better TM leveraging. Even though it does take time and expertise, it leads to sizeable benefits for all stakeholders.
Let’s talk about the future of translation. Not to make predictions, but to look objectively at some of the aspects where machine translation can have an upper hand. The famous chess game between the supercomputer Deep Blue and the then-reigning world champion Garry Kasparov provides an interesting perspective from which to do this. Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 2007, thus becoming the first machine to win a chess game against the reigning world champion. Can machine translation use strengths similar to those of Deep Blue to beat human competition?
Speed of thought
Just as Deep Blue could analyze 200 million positions per second, machines can retrieve translations from memory way more efficiently than human translators. Where the latter can spend countless minutes coming up with the right translation, a machine can find a translation in a matter of seconds. That does not mean, of course, that this translation will be correct or optimal. It will be as good as the database (often translation memories produced by humans) the machine has derived it from. But the sheer speed of retrieving translations puts machines light years ahead of human translators.
No human error
Deep Blue won the deciding last game after Kasparov had made a mistake in the opening. Translators are just as prone to human error as Kasparov was in that game. A translator who is tired may read “contact” where the original actually says “contract” or “from” instead of “form” (true story). A translator who is in a hurry may decide to forgo proper research and trust her intuition—and end up making a mistake. Or a translator may choose to guess the meaning of tags in her CAT tool segment instead of looking into the reference file—and arrange those tags incorrectly as a result. Obviously, machines are not prone to human error, giving them a huge advantage over humans.
Inefficiency is human
Whereas Deep Blue was 100% focused on the game, Kasparov likely lost at least some time unproductively due to understandable anxiety. In the same vein, machines are not prone to the inefficiencies and procrastination of a typical translator. Let’s face it: distractions and not knowing how to do things optimally often erode efficiency. When a translator spends countless seconds opening dialogs through menus instead of using keyboard shortcuts, he is wasting time. A distraction may steal your attention for several minutes or even hours. Whereas each loss of time appears small, over time, they build up to depressing numbers. This means less quality assurance and less research in the course of translation, all with a negative impact on quality.
When I come across a translation problem, I sometimes catch myself thinking that a machine would not have made the same mistake. Clearly, machine translation has serious advantages. It is our goal as translation professionals to stop perceiving MT as a competitor, at least for the time being, and incorporate it in the translation process to capitalize on its strengths. Read more about this in the article “Machine Translation Can Be a Good Servant”.