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Myths about a translator’s job or an “insight” into our profession for the client

german_translatorEveryone who works in a translation agency is very familiar with the situation that involves a client calling and asking to translate from, or to, a language that unfortunately isn’t included in that company’s services. His puzzled response to what is quite a logical refusal is: “Why aren’t you working with that language? Don’t you translate with the help of online services? » The most interesting thing is – that isn’t the most common misconception amongst people that have little do with translation.

Myth 1. A lot of people think, for example, that a good translator is someone who merely knows the language really well. However, the job also requires a particular linguistic background, knowledge of linguistic realities, at least a little translation experience. Technical translation skills are vital. And they’d be nowhere without a sliver of writing talent!

Myth 2. You can lower the cost of translator’s services if you first “run” the text through an online translation service and then offer the result to a professional for “finishing up”. Unfortunately, machine translation is far from perfect and if you, as a client, are concerned about the quality of the final product, this option isn’t for you.

Myth 3. A translator has to be able to do a translation of a text of any size within a short timeframe. Those who think that way are completely unfamiliar with the working process attached to the text. One needs to read many articles, flip through a bunch of reference books in order to receive an adequate translation. And a translator is a person too, they need time off. The accepted norm of processed pages (1,800 characters with spaces) is 6-8 per day. A larger volume implies larger efforts and consequently, higher costs.

Myth 4. A good translator doesn’t’t need a dictionary. This is not true. A translator is, of course, a professional and as a professional, he should have a large vocabulary, but he can’t remember all the cases existing in a foreign, as well as his native, languages. Especially since their number is increasing day by day.

Myth 5. There is no difference between written and oral translation. If you can do one, you can do the other. Written and oral translation are often two different styles of thinking. Like, for example, there are singers and then there are composers. Each does what he can. Unless he’s a superman…

We’ve included just a few myths circulating around the profession and the work of a “linguistic middle man”. We hope that this article would bring us closer to achieving a complete understanding between a client and a translator.

How to spot an incompetent translator

translatorsThose specialists that work with translators on a daily basis in the course of their job know how to quickly tell a professional from a fraud and not waste time on reading the CV and the test for the translator. This is why quite often, people refuse to work with translators…because he or she doesn’t have the necessary skills or experience or is just unable to describe them properly in their CV. Pity, really, because there are so many resources out there now for writing a good, well-written resume. Here are the 3 basic things translators should avoid if they don’t want to scare the clients away:

  1. Late reply. Time is a crucial factor, because many clients need a translation as soon as possible. Sometimes, a client can’t even wait a few hours, let alone days. That is why a late reply is an obvious sign of unprofessionalism. If a translator makes such an impression right away and can’t respond to a client’s expectations, this says that he is going to act the same way further down the line. Responsibility is the key quality of a professional. If a person states in his or her CV that he or she is a translator that works full-time, a client has a reasonable idea that this person is behind a computer during the day and can (perhaps not right away) respond to a potential client’s request. If a translator needs a whole day to reply, he is unlikely to be interested in clients. The only impression left is irresponsibility. It’s better to find a responsible specialist than to hope to change an irresponsible one.
  1. Odd questions that are a testament to the lack of competency. If somebody is acting strange and is afraid to admit it, that someone is likely to be incompetent. For example, when requesting a glossary, a translator requests it to be in the translation memory format, although the glossary can be separate and if desired, the translator can translate it himself in the TMX format by using Xbench, for instance. And another. How do I translate a sentence with tags? One translator offered to split a sentence into parts (where the tags were) and translate each part separately. I applaud them.
  1. Requests and fuss. This is perhaps the most important factor. If, after receiving an order, the first thing translator says is that how he doesn’t trust that you’d pay for his work, can you really trust his help in a difficult situation? Would anybody want to work with such a person?

Such a reaction usually makes a client lose interest in the translator. All that is, of course, subjective, but it doesn’t hurt to follow your gut when choosing a specialist. Translators, both beginners and experienced, are ought to remember that, because most of them only have one chance in retaining a client.

Translation technologies aren’t frozen in time

Translation technologiesTrying to find the right words in a foreign language? We’ve got the answer. A little disclaimer: no matter how good listed technologies are, they haven’t learned to replace a specialist yet:

  1. Google is generous

Everybody knows and uses Google Translate, but the company is aiming even higher. In May, it purchases Quest Visual – a company that sells Word Lens smart app. You just set your phone camera on the text and receive instant translation. The technology is going to be integrated into Google Translate.

  1. There are other apps

Word Lens isn’t the only visual translation technology available. Waygo is also a popular iPhone and Android app, capable of recognizing and translating Chinese and Japanese menus and signs, again with the help of the camera. Company’s representatives state that soon everybody is going to travel the world without any problems related to the language barrier.

  1. Translation before your very eyes

Visual translation has slowly moved on to accessories, e.g. Google Glass. You’re holding your head straight, looking at a sign, and then say a “translate” voice command. You should also take a note of UniSpeech for Google Glass which offers a similar service.

  1. But that’s not all

Microsoft, for example, is boasting about the Skype Translator app which provides translation as people are talking to each other in different languages. It can be installed on Windows 8 devices.

  1. eBay wants in too

The online shopping giant is also interested in “machine translation”- in this case for automatic translation of descriptions in listings. eBay is also planning to create a technology for messaging between sellers and potential buyers who speak different languages.

  1. Even Twitter wants to translate for you

Here we have Bing Translate for translation various tweets from different languages. Users can see translations of tweets from Spanish into English, for example.

  1. You’ve got mail… and it can be translated

WeChat is one of the first programs that included translation services: the Chinese version is used by over 400 million people, and it’s also looking westwards. If you click on a message and hold for a bit, it automatically translates.

  1. Sign language doesn’t stand aside

Signs, just like words, can be translated. Microsoft is working with Kinect – a sign language translator – by using the Xbox camera and movement-detecting technology for translating sign information into oral speech.

  1. Your online meeting has become even more interesting

Real-time translation of business meetings isn’t far off. HP is working with SpeechTrans technology towards translating conference calls during the process of the conversations. The developers are stating that the technology is able to translate conversation of various length with the 44-language base.

  1. Not just words

Visual recognition is also expanding: this is an ability of a device to recognize an object at which the camera is pointed. For example, Amazon Fire Phone smartphone which is about to be released, is fitted with Firefly technology which can, amongst other things, scan phone numbers that can be added to contact lists, wine labels in order to learn which dishes they go with, and even additional information about works of art.

How to conquer your fear and learn to speak a foreign language?

language learningThe biggest obstacle to learning a foreign language is the fear of speaking it. We can all listen, understand, read. But when it comes to speaking, we feel as though we’re mute. We’re afraid that our speech would sound stupid, that people wouldn’t understand us, that we’d say one thing when we mean to say another. We’re just afraid of looking foolish.

A little shyness is completely normal. But some people suffer from paralyzing fear when they have to speak a foreign language in someone’s presence. Such a fear can put them off from learning a foreign language. If you can relate to such a feeling, I suggest that you don’t despair and take steps towards free conversation.

Repeat after me

The first step is to get used to saying the words out loud. Find yourself an opportunity to repeat words and phrases after a native speaker. This can include audio classes, for instance. Ideally, a person would pronounce a word slowly, syllable by syllable, and then with their normal speed, and you’d repeat both times. Can’t find a class? Not to worry. Sing along to a favorite song, the lyrics of which you know really well.

Talk to yourself

By saying the words out loud when you’re on your own, you get used to the sound of your speech in a foreign language. Also, repeating words and phrases out loud helps you remember them better. Start by repeating simple phrases like “Hello, good afternoon, excuse me”. This way, foreign speech coming from your lips would no longer seem strange to you.

Find like-minded people

When you’re united by a common fear, it’s much easier to conquer it, and the fear of speaking in the presence of other people. Perhaps you’d feel more comfortable in a 10-people class, where you realize that you aren’t the only one making mistakes. (Also, large groups are usually cheaper).

If you don’t love the idea of talking in the presence of so many people, you can attend classes with 2-3 other students. This way, you won’t feel a lot of pressure and nobody would make you talk for a whole lesson.

Assess yourself

If you’ve used other materials in addition to print ones while learning, you probably sound much better than you think. Yes, you might have a noticeable accent and grammar errors but when you’re talking, people concentrate on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it.

The best way to boost your confidence is to talk to a native speaker. This can be a little frightening but as soon as you realize that you can talk to a native speaker, your confidence will significantly grow. If you’ve managed to establish contact with a native speaker but you aren’t ready for a proper conversation, begin with the phrases you’ve been learning. Ask your partner if you’re pronouncing the words correctly. He’ll most likely give you a hint. Usually people understand and are happy to help, to explain the meaning of unfamiliar words. This doesn’t mean you’re considered an idiot, everybody knows you’re learning. There’s no need to be ashamed of that. Another trick (and don’t run away screaming now!) is to record yourself. We never hear our voice the way others do. By listening to your recorded voice, you would know for sure how you sound to others. And if your voice doesn’t sound like distorted screams from hell, you’re doing great.

Bonus tip: watch movies!

Watch movies and listen to the words that you can understand. With each time, the number of these words would increase. This takes you out of the academic world and takes you in the everyday speech, you recognize the words native speakers use every day. When you’re just starting to learn a language, all these words sound like a game to you. However, when you hear how these words are used by people (in this case actors), you realize that they work in real life.

Take cultural differences into account

If you feel a chill attitude from native speakers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a dreadful accent or make mistakes while you talk. In some cultures, people are very protective of their language which is reflected in their attitude towards foreigners who also try to speak it. So if you feel that you haven’t impressed your partner, ask your fellow language learners. Perhaps you aren’t the only one who’s been treated coldly. Keep trying and keep in mind that those who are making fun of you or being rude to you probably don’t speak any other languages except their own or are hypocrites who don’t have any language skills that you do. Always remember that you’re making an effort to speak a second language and communicate – this makes you better, not worse in any way.

Translation memory

translation-memoryWhen you’re using automated translation software, various databases are being used in which previously translated text fragments are stored. Such databases are called translation memory (TM). TMs allow a translator to reuse previously completed translations. In other words, TM stores sentences and their fragments (segments) and corresponding translations.


Translation memories function on the software level. When a TM is used, the source document is divided into segments. The term “segment” is used because parts of texts, e.g. headings, don’t always make complete sentences. A segment is the smallest unit of the text which can be reused when working with TM. Smaller units of text, such as words, aren’t used because they can exist in various contexts and therefore, translated differently – a word-for-word translation doesn’t usually provide worthy results.

Repetitions, complete and incomplete matches

Each translated text’s segment is compared to segments stored in TM. A complete match (100%) is a complete match of a TM segment to the segment to be translated. This means that this segment has previously been met, translated and added to the TM. If there are segments in the TM that resemble translated segments but don’t match them completely, this is a case of an incomplete match. In each case like that, an overlap percentage is determined – 0%-99%. When it’s a 99% match, the difference between segments is a letter or a punctuation sign, and a few words when it’s a 75% match. Usually, matches below 70% are of little use in translation.

Identical segments that appear in the text a few times but aren’t part of TM are called repetitions. Many modern automated translation programs search for possible repetitions prior to the start of translation. The advantage of repetitions is that after the first one is translated, the rest automatically become complete matches. As the translator works, all newly translated sentences are added into TM and can therefore become complete or incomplete matches.

File analysis

Before the translator begins working on the text, the automated translation program analyses the file for TM. The statistics include total number of words, repetitions, complete and incomplete matches contained in the file. Usually such statistics look like this:

  • Repetitions
  • Complete matches (100%)
  • 95-99% matches
  • 85-94% matches
  • 75-84^ matches
  • Unique words (74% or below)


TMs allow to speed up the translation process and achieve a unification of terminology in cases of teamwork. A TM on a certain subject also helps with large projects with a high percentage of repeated terms and grammar constructions. However, this requires a TM prepared in advance – creating a new TM would take up a certain amount of time of work with texts on the subject in question.