Quick Translation Tip

Today's quick translation tip is simple and easy in theory, but not always that easy to do in practice.

After you have finished the second draft of your translation, try the following. Read each and every sentence in isolation without consulting the source document and ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does this sentence sound idiomatic in the target language? 
  • Would I have written this if it weren't a translation?
  •  If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.

After all, the goal of translation is to produce natural-sounding texts in the target language that don't sound like translations. We know that it's a lofty goal, but it is possible to get there, especially if you use this approach and have ample time to think about it. That's just another reason we don't enjoy rush projects. It's always better to have more time to ponder each sentence, and we definitely think there's a direct correlation between the time allowed and the quality of the translations. What do you think, dear fellow linguists? We would love to hear your thoughts.

Language Lovers Blog: Voting Phase

Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2016
Once again we are absolutely delighted to have been nominated in the Top Language Lovers 2016 competition! This humble blog has received several awards in the Languages Professionals category in 2011, 2013 and 2014, and it's an honor to be nominated alongside so many fantastic blogs written by our friends and colleagues.

All of them are equally worthy of your vote, but we would be thrilled if you considered voting for ours! As you know, blogging is a labor of love and it's our goal to share what we know with linguists around the world on this form. Judging from the traffic we get, it's a useful forum and we very much plan to continue doing it. We are going strong after 7+ years and more than 500 posts!

You can vote here as of right now. Many thanks for reading and for considering voting for us. And we feel like we are running for office here...but we promise we won't quit our day jobs.

Final note: Judy's Twitter account was also nominated in the well, Twitter category. What an honor! You can vote for her (@language_news; Judy Jenner) here

Anatomy of a Deposition: Workshop at NAJIT

Today's quick blog post is to let you know about one of Judy's upcoming workshops for the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), which will hold its annual conference in San Antonio May 13-15. Judy is delighted to present a three-hour pre-conference seminar on Friday, May 13, 2015. It's on a subject that many interpreters want to know more about, but one that's rarely included in conference sessions: depositions in civil matters. As a matter of fact, Judy has been preparing this three-hour workshop for several weeks, and has come to the conclusion that there's very limited information for interpreters who want to prepare for interpreting assignments at civil depositions. In fact, a quick Google search for "depositions + interpreters" yields very limited results, including a link to this humble blog. So we decided that it was time to share what Judy knows about depositions in terms of procedure, structure, interpreters' roles, ethics, terminology, etc. The result is this three-hour workshop, which Judy will be giving in San Antonio for the very first time. 

Here's an abstract of the workshop: 
As some court systems have reduced the rates for judiciary interpreters, many court interpreters actively look for assignments outside the court system. There are plenty of opportunities available, and depositions, which are typically held at law offices, are one of these proceedings that oftentimes require interpreters. Little has been written about the role of interpreters in depositions, and this workshop will provide an overview of the structure of depositions, the parties, the objectives, the terminology, etc. Attendees will receive plenty of real-life advice on how to manage the flow of information, how to deal with difficult situations, and exactly what to expect during the course of the deposition. Specific terminology related to depositions will also be covered. In addition, there will be an interactive session on ethics during depositions and a review of pesky situations and how to deal with them. This workshop will be held in English and is thus suitable for interpreters of all languages, but some Spanish-language examples will be provided. The presenter is a federally certified court interpreter who has interpreted at more than 300 depositions. She is not a lawyer, but is married to one.
You can register for the workshop here. See you in San Antonio? 

Wanted: Presidential Interpreter (German/English)

Judy the White House tourist.
Have you ever wondered what it's like to interpret for the President of the United States, currently Barack Obama? So have we, but we have never gotten anywhere near the White House (other than as tourists). For the record, Dagy has interpreted for two presidents (Austria and Chile), but that's not quite the same as interpreting for POTUS and traveling on Air Force One. Actually, we have no idea if the interpreter would travel on that plane or on another plane, but our imagination is running wild here. A few days ago, we saw a job posting on one of the listservs that we belong to, and it's a job that would put the lucky interpreter at the very top of the international hierarchy of interpreters: full-time German<->English interpreter for POTUS.

There's a pretty detailed description of the job qualifications and requirements here. Please note that the job is open to United States citizens only. Not surprisingly, the candidate must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Security clearance. As you may imagine, we are not involved in this job search at all nor do we have any additional information, but we wanted to share this information with our lovely fellow interpreters. Best of luck and keep us posted if any of you get this highly prestigious job

The Dog Park Client

Lexi the matchmaker (sort of).
Do you ever wonder where in the universe you can meet clients? We can't say it enough: you can actually meet clients essentially anywhere. Allow us to elaborate with one of the oddest places we've met a client. Yes, it's clear from the title of this post. We did indeed acquire a client at the dog park.

Last year, Judy's husband Keith was at the dog park with our rambunctious rescue German shepherd, Lexi. Keith is an attorney, as is one of his dog park acquaintances--let's call him Bob. Bob takes his much better behaved dog to the park on the weekend, so that's when Keith and Bob see each other. Everyone's quite friendly and they chat and spend the early mornings together. One day Bob, who works for a large law firm, came to the park complaining that he had communication problems, in both written and spoken form, which his overseas client. Keith perked right up and told Bob that our business, Twin Translations, could probably help him solve this very quickly and easily. So Keith gave Bob Judy's card, we met, talked on the phone a few times, and Bob's law firm has been a client of ours for the better part of a year.

Now, two weeks ago, Lexi saw Bob at the dog park and was quite excited, ran up to him, and nipped him a tiny bit. Unfortunately for us, this really happened. Needless to say, we were mortified. Luckily for us, Bob was not mad and he's still our client. Lexi, on the other hand, is going back to doggie training.

We hope you enjoyed this anecdote, dear readers. What about you? What's the strangest place you've met a client?

Spring Classes at UCSD (Translation, Interpretation, Marketing)

Happy Friday, dear friends and colleagues! Today's quick post is to let you know about three of Judy's upcoming classes at the University of California San Diego. 

This spring, UC San Diego-Extension's Certificate for Spanish/English Translation and Interpretation program (all online) offers a variety of classes that might be of interest for both beginning and more advanced interpreters and translators.

Introduction to Translation (no prerequisites, starts March 29) is a five-week course that teaches newcomers to the profession the basics of translation, and introduces them to a strategic way to approach translations. This course is ideal for those who want to find out if this profession is for them. Judy will share the realities of our profession without sugar-coating the challenges translators face. Students will submit two graded translations and many exercises.

Introduction to Interpretation (no prerequisites, starts May 3) is a five-week course delivered via Blackboard (an online learning platform). Every week, students will access customized, pre-recorded PPT presentations with audio, which last approximately 2-3 hours per week. Students complete assignments every week, including weekly quizzes, and learn about all basic aspects of interpreting. The PPT presentations include dozens of exercises with original content. Students are only graded on one actual interpreting assignment (the final exam), as this class is meant for beginners.

Strategic Branding & Marketing for Interpreters and Translators (language neutral, no prerequisites, starts March 29) is a ten-week course where Judy teaches everything she knows about marketing your services as a translator and/or interpreter. The course follows the same format as the other classes and includes easy-to-use information on marketing to agencies and direct clients, social media, networking, outreach, public relations, etc.

To view all classes in the certificate program, please have a look at this link.

Mistake of the Week

The solution is on the left side.
True to our tradition to occasionally poking fun at ourselves with the goal of having others learn from our mistakes, here's Judy's mistake of the week during a legal interpreting assignment.

All Judy knew was that she was to interpret at a deposition. She had the case name, the time, the plaintiff's name and the deponent's name. It's very common to get incomplete information about the cases for which you are to interpret; even if you ask. It's just something court interpreters work to live with, but we all know that it's always ideal to have as much context and background information as possible. Having had it would have solved the following situation that we are now delighted to present. In fact, it could have been prevented with a single photograph that everyone but Judy had previously seen.

The attorney is deposing a maintenance worker. That is all Judy knows about the deponent at this point.

Defense attorney: So why did you trim this tree?
Judy (interpreting): ¿Por qué recortó usted este árbol?
Deponent: Bueno, porque las ramas estaban llegando hasta la carpeta (note: last word was hard to understand).
Judy (interpreting): Well, because the branches were reaching all the way to the carpet.

Puzzled looks all around, including from Judy.

Here's an explanation: the Spanish word for carpet is not carpeta. It's incorrectly used by Spanish speakers in the U.S. all the time. The correct word for carpet in Spanish is alfombra. Carpeta is also a Spanish-language word, but it means folder, as in a manila folder that you would have on your desk. We've gotten very used to Spanglish terms, and when we hear carpeta we immediately interpret "carpet." Now, Judy was very aware that it didn't really make sense in this context to talk about carpet since the issue in question as a tree, which would most likely be outside. That said, she didn't have any other context and interpreted what she heard. Here's what followed.

Plainttiff's attorney: At this point I'd like to stipulate that my client said "cart path." Would our interpreter agree?
Judy: It is the interpreter's opinion that the deponent could have used the English-language term "cart path," but pronounced it in such a way to render it almost unintelligible.
Defense attorney: For the record, I did not hear anything resembling an English word in the deponent's answer.
Judy: Would counsel like the interpreter to clarify that the deponent meant to say "cart path"?
Both attorneys: Yes, please go ahead.

A few minutes after this incident, the defense attorney introduced an exhibit: a photograph that clearly showed an image of a golf course, a tree, a cart path, and a maintenance cart belonging to the worker. An image speaks a thousand words, and context sure is king. After the session ended, all parties agreed that this was a new one. But yes, if you pronounce "cart path" a certain way, it could sound like carpeta. Mystery solved.

We don't really know how Judy would have been able to do any better with this one under the circumstances, but it's still a mistake that's worth pointing out. Actually, mispronounced English-language words by Spanish speakers and Spanglish are very interesting topics that we don't discuss much in our industry, and we plan on writing more about them in the future.

What do you think, dear colleagues? How would you have reacted? Having asked for repetition would have resulted in the deponent repeating the word with, most likely, the same pronunciation, so the options here were limited. 

Making Yourself Popular With Attorneys

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As a federally certified court interpreter for Spanish, Judy works with attorneys on an everyday basis. Most are quite grateful to have the services of an interpreter, as it enables communication with their clients and/or the other party. There are a few things that attorneys have told us that they appreciate throughout the years when it comes to interpreting rendition, and there's one thing that stands out. 

It's something all court interpreters know, and it's part of our code of ethics: it's about interpreting fully and faithfully. This means that you have to be very, very precise. And that's the feedback Judy has gotten the most: that the clients and everyone involved appreciate her precision. In practice, this means interpreting "um" when the non-English speaker says "um" and not omitting anything, not finishing sentences for the non-English speaker, etc. You just have to resist the urge to complete sentences or answer verbally when the deponent (or defendant, of client, or witness) did not. This can be difficult, especially in the beginning, and one can be tempted to make things easier by just "helping out a bit," but as court interpreters we are not allowed to do so. 

Consider this example:

Attorney: Ms. Quiroz, so you were at home the morning of February 21?
Interpreter (Judy): Señora Quiroz, ¿así que usted estaba en casa la mañana del 21 de febrero?
Deponent (Ms. Quiroz): A-ha.
Interpreter (Judy): A-ha.
Attorney: Did you mean "yes"? 
Interpreter (Judy): ¿Quiso usted decir "sí"?
Deponent (Ms. Quiroz): No entiendo.
Interpreter (Judy): I do not understand.
Attorney: Sorry, let me make this clear. Please provide audible answers. So that means answering "yes" or "no" so we can take your answer down for the record.
Interpreter (Judy): Perdón, permítame clarificar esto. Le ruego dar respuestas verbales. Esto significa que debe decir "sí" o "no" para hacer constar su respuesta en el acta. 
Deponent (Ms. Quiroz): Ah, ya entendí. Sí, estuve en casa.
Judy: Ah, I understand now. Yes, I was at home.
Attorney: Thank you.

Of course, this would have all been a bit less painful if Judy had interpreted "yes" instead of "a-ha" the very first time the deponent spoke, but it wouldn't have been correct. This is the one thing that attorneys comment on the most: that accuracy is key for them. As one of our favorite attorneys said last week: "I may not speak Spanish, but I am smart enough to pick up on a lot of things." In summary: be precise, don't omit or add, and you will make yourself popular with attorneys and other clients. We'd love to hear your comments, dear readers!

I Speak Spanish!

We speak Spanish, too. Photo taken in Mexico City.
Happy Friday! For today's post, we figured we'd send you off into the weekend with some humor. Fellow Spanish court interpreters can surely relate to today's (humorous) post. This is a situation that Judy, in her role as a certified court interpreter, encounters relatively frequently.

This is the situation: You walk into a deposition or into a courtroom, and next thing you know, the plaintiff and/or defense counsel walk(s) up to you to let you know that they also speak Spanish. Now, one might think that they are only making friendly conversation, but as those of us who deal with attorneys know, in litigation, attorneys don't say much without trying to make a specific point. When saying, "I speak Spanish!" what is really being said is this: "I will be checking up on you. You better watch out, interpreter." Now what? 

The problem which such a statement from an attorney is that there are really no possible reaction, except for maybe one, that do not make you sound at least somewhat defensive. That's a problem, because even though the attorney is clearly a bit aggressive here, as service providers, we usually want to keep our composure and maintain a friendly tone. That said, it's marginally possible that the attorney just wants to make conversation about his/her Spanish skills, in which case it's a great idea to start a high-register Spanish conversation about the expropriation of Mexican petroleum to show them the limit of their Spanish (kidding). Seriously, now: How do you react? Here are things Judy has wanted to say, but has never, ever actually said:

"Thank you for sharing. I am really worried about my performance now."
"Well, I really have been put on notice. Duly noted, counsel."
"Maybe you should just do the interpreting then and I can go have an espresso."

Of course, please do take this with a grain of salt (we told you this would be a humorous post). We'd never seriously think about saying anything like that, but it's fun to at least let these thoughts appear in your head. 

Usually, it's just best to say: "That's fantastic! It's a great language, isn't it?" and leave it at that (or something similar). We are very aware that many professionals, especially here in the American Southwest, do speak Spanish (some better than others). While humility and the desire to keep on learning are important for interpreters, so is confidence in one's skills and certifications. One doesn't become a certified court interpreter by osmosis or chance, just as no one becomes an attorney by taking a few criminal justice classes and watching a lot of Judge Judy. 

So, dear fellow court interpreters: Be proud of your skills, and let's welcome all the Spanish speakers into our proceedings. Now, we've heard from other court interpreters that sometimes there are entirely incorrect objections to certified court interpreters' renditions, and that's another topic--one that has actually not happened to us. What are your thoughts, dear colleagues? How would you react or how have you reacted when confronted with "I speak Spanish"? 

Can Translators Learn to Love MT?

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First things first: we are not experts on machine translation (MT) by any stretch of the imagination, but we certainly know that it's an incredibly polarizing topic in our industry. It is, perhaps, the most polarizing issue we've encountered in the last 10 years--in addition to how much we should charge for our services, of course. Now, our lovely colleague Jost Zetzsche is, without a doubt, the expert in the subject, and he told us about Lilt. Jost wrote about Lilt very eloquently here. Since the recommendation came from someone we trust, we went and checked it out. For the record: MT is integrated into many of the translation tools we use (Smartling, Wordfast, etc.), and while most of the MT-generated suggestions for translations are still quite giggle-inducing, MT has been getting better. As we've mentioned: we don't know that much about MT, but we have, chosen to view it as a tool to help translators become more efficient rather than a tool that will replace us. Others view this very differently. Allow us to elaborate on Lilt. And you probably know this, but let us emphasize that we have no financial or business connection to Lilt. We just think it’s a cool tool.
Courtesy of Lilt. Great summary indeed.

We took Lilt for a spin, and here are our findings: the program is very promising. Basically, it's a super-easy browser-based interface, there's nothing to download (just sign-in with a Google account or e-mail address). It's technically a statistical machine translation tool (SMT).  It was developed by the smart folks at Stanford Natural Language Processing Group, and it learns as you translate. We tried it for English->Spanish, and while it created some hilarious results, some were also very good. Lilt is currently available for EN<->ES, EN->FR and EN->DE). It's very nice to know that this system was created by a bunch of brilliant programmers at top-notch universities who are a lot smarter than we are. The whole idea is to make translators' work better and smarter through the use of technology. We know this is a big shift, but think about it: we work smarter and better because of computers in general, right? (Trite, but true.) They've allowed the industry to flourish, in part because we can research better and don't have to type up our work on a typewriter anymore (not that we are old enough to remember this). Perhaps this is the second revolution for translators--courtesy of computers, software, and computational linguists. Speaking of computational linguists, we had the chance to interview Spence Green, one of the founders of Lilt. He holds a PhD in computer science from Stanford (yes, smart guy; and nice, too). So here's a lot of information, straight from him, because he can say it so much better than we can. We sure do think we are ready for the next era of translators learning to embrace MT. What do you think?
Courtesy of Spence Green

Translation Times: What would you say to translators who are afraid of MT? And where does Lilt come in?

Spence Green: Machine translation is a tool. Specifically, it is generalized translation memory. Whereas a TM can only produce an output for an input that matches X% of some previous input, a sufficiently large MT system---where all of the major commercial systems today are sufficiently large---can produce an output for any input. The intellectual heritage of TM traces to Martin Kay's 1980 position paper on man/machine approaches to translation. Of course, Martin was and is an MT researcher. So translators should see MT as an evolution of a tool that they already use and ostensibly derive value from.

Lilt is an interactive MT system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_machine_translation). Interactive MT is an old idea that dates to at least the 1960s, but it has never been widely available for translators. Lilt is based on a research system we built at Stanford called Predictive Translation Memory (PTM). PTM began as a human-computer interaction project to understand translator behavior in the presence of machine suggestions, be they from TM or MT. It evolved into an interactive MT system. About 100 professional translators from Proz and elsewhere participated in the three research studies during 2012-2014.

In my view, the issues that seem to upset translators---the MT post-editing experience, rate discounts, often unrealized promises of productivity improvements by vendors---have more to do with the peculiarities of the industry than with the technology itself. 

TT: Why did you create Lilt?

SG: After undergrad I moved to Abu Dhabi. This was in 2005, and I was 24 and restless. I wanted to learn a non-European language, and it seemed to me that the Arab world would be very important during my lifetime.

Two significant things happened during that time. First, after about a year, I found that most of my friends were Arabs who didn't speak English well. Through their eyes I saw a different world. You often get paid less. There aren't as many books available. Wikipedia and Google search stink. Information access began to matter to me.

Second, Google Translate was released. I thought that this technology could solve the information access problem at a scale that human services never could. I wanted to learn how it worked. But I soon realized that my undergraduate training was insufficient. So I applied to Stanford and started graduate school in 2008.

In 2010 Ed Bice of meedan.org gave a talk at Johns Hopkins, where I was spending the summer doing research. He runs a small translation non-profit in San Francisco that uses MT from IBM. I started to visit his office regularly. I began to understand the differences between the assimilation and dissemination use cases of MT. Google Translate solves the former, but the latter---which is translation with a quality threshold---seemed like an underexplored area consistent with my desire to improve information access.

Courtesy of Lilt
I spent the summer of 2011 at Google working on Translate. I learned how to build huge translation systems. And I learned how many people send translation feedback to Google, and what can be done with that feedback. There was real work to do that was both intellectually compelling and high-impact.

At Google I worked with John DeNero, who worked for Franz Och. John and Franz both left Google in 2014. I graduated at the end of 2014. John is a co-founder of Lilt, and Franz is chief advisor.

TT: Wow, that’s quite a pedigree. Now, what’s your current revenue model?

SG: Lilt is in a free trial period. We will add a professional version in 2016. We charge for our translation API, for which we currently have one launch customer.

TT: Sorry for this question, but: what’s the catch? If Lilt is free now, how will you make money? 

SG: Yes, the professional version will be released later this year. But there will always be a free version or a free trial.

TT: Can you tell us when exactly other languages will be added?

SG: Fr-En and De-En will be added next week. En-Pt will follow in February. The Danes and the Dutch seem to be pretty enthusiastic, so we'll probably add those language pairs in February.

TT: Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and your core team? Who are you? What’s your favorite author? Your favorite musician? 

SG: I'm a Southerner, but I've moved around a lot since high school, so my accent doesn't betray my nationality anymore. I grew up in Atlanta, went to U.Va, and then to grad school at Stanford. I speak Arabic; I run; and, I am a scuba diver. My favorite book is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. If I were stuck on an island forever, I suppose that I wouldn't tire of listening to The Joshua Tree by U2.

John DeNero, my co-founder, completed graduate school at Berkeley, then spent four years at Google on Translate. Now he is a CS professor at Berkeley. He teaches the largest class at the university. He's a busy guy.

Joern Wuebker and Sasa Hasan, the other two founding members of our company, completed graduate school at RWTH Aachen under Hermann Ney. They're great. Hermann produced Franz Och, who then worked with Philipp Koehn, then a grad student at USC. Franz and Philipp went on to produce Google Translate and Moses, respectively.   My brother Richmond is in charge of marketing. It's great fun to work with a sibling, as you must know! Chris Manning and Jeff Heer, my two academic advisors, are also on our advisory board.

TT: Did you raise any venture capital or how is your company financed?

SG:Yes, we raised a VC round. We are backed by XSeed Capital.

TT: We know you don’t have a crystal ball, but do you think translators will ever be replaced by MT? Is Ray Kurzweil right? What’s your hunch?

SG: This is a philosophical question that Nietzsche, Quinn, Jakobsen, and others have considered. I tend to think that their treatments were more sophisticated than those that you read in the media. I wrote about this in the introduction to my dissertation (sect.1.2; http://www.spencegreen.com/pubs/dissertation.pdf).

Short summary: yes, for text that can be memorized or otherwise easily routinized (imagine a large TM of all of the translations ever produced in the world...). Not anytime soon for any sort of translation that requires world knowledge. That problem is AI-complete and would signal the advent of artificial intelligence. 
TT: What’s the most underrated website on the internet, in your opinion? 

SG: Wikipedia. It is one of our greatest intellectual achievements as a species. 

Many thanks to Spence for answering all of our questions. We've barely scratched the surface with Lilt, but will continue playing around with it. It seems like a great tool that can potentially really make every translator's life easier, and as scary as MT can be, we encourage colleagues to keep an open mind and view the tool as a benefit. And no, we are not about to work as post-MT editors anytime soon (we actually don't know anyone who does). What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you have any questions for Spence? We bet we can twist his arm to answer them here. 

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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