Aeroplanes, cheeses, olive oil and wine are all likely targets of possible US tariff increases. That is bad news for Portugal.
The threat of increasing customs duties made last night by the United States to the European Union could affect Portuguese wine export performance. In 2018, the United States was its second most important market, representing over 10% of wine exported.
In a retaliatory move, the United States is threatening to increase import tariffs, following the World Trade Organisation (WTO) arbitration ruling against the European Union’s public aid given to Airbus that it claims was in breach of international trade rules. The US intends to increase customs duties on a range of products imported by the USA from the EU, to a total value of USD 11 billion. Goods affected relate to the aerospace industry, such as aircraft, helicopters and components, but also includes food products such as wine, olive oil and cheese.
Higher customs duties on Portuguese wines could have a significant impact on the sector. According to the National Statistics Institute (INE) Portuguese wine exports to the US in 2018 amounted to EUR 80.8 million, some 10.1% of the total. This figure made the US the second most important market after France for Portuguese wine exporters
The USA has been an important growth market in recent years for the Portuguese wine sector, with significant earnings recorded.
All Portuguese exports to the USA in 2018 totalled close to EUR 2.9 billion, or 5% of the value of all products exported from the EU, of which Portuguese wine constituted a mere 2.8%. Other products that feature more significantly, such as refined fuels, wood, cement and textiles have not been targeted for a US customs duty increase, for the time being, at least.
On the list released by the White House, there are also other goods, which if subjected to an increase in import tariffs, could affect specific Portuguese industries. Aircraft exports to the United States earned Portugal EUR 749 million in 2018, slightly less than wine, but a substantial chunk nevertheless, representing 24.1% of total foreign sales of this type of product during the past year.
As for olive oil, Portuguese sales to the USA last year amounted to EUR 6.7 million, or 1.2% of all exports of the product, while cheese earned EUR 2.7 million, some 7.1% of Portugal’s total cheese exports.
I originally posted this article on 21 February 2011 under the very long title of Educating the Client, or Zen and the Art of Sanity Maintenance the ProZ.com platform. As part of the clean-out of my physical and digital space, I have finally closed my ProZ account, something I have been meaning to do for several years. Translators, particularly those new to the profession, might find the checklist below useful. It is strange to think that this was my first “translation blog”, written two years before I ever went to a translation conference. This blog is part of the #flashbackfriday series of older blogs I republish here from time to time, although very rarely on a Friday.
Educating the Client, or Zen and the Art of Sanity Maintenance
Most experienced freelance translators have an armful of responses to make when clients ask questions. There is a chance that the exchange between a new client and a translator might go something like this:
New Client: What, X cents for every word? Even the “ands” and “buts”? Translator: Especially the “ands” and “buts”. (Translator smiles here, whilst thinking of the possibilities of removing all “ands” and “buts” after translation, then discounting the appropriate number of words from the final charge.)
New Client: This is a pretty straightforward text; it should be easy for someone like you. Translator: There is no such thing as an easy translation.
New Client: Do you have a good dictionary? Translator: I have many excellent resources, including dictionaries and my own experience. But you should know that translation begins where the dictionary ends.
New Client: Can you have this [unrealistic number of pages] ready by 09:00 tomorrow? Translator: Does your organisation employ anyone who can even type that many pages by 09:00 tomorrow, let alone translate them? (Notice how Zen is no longer working in the sanity maintenance department.)
New Client: Well, when can you have it ready? Translator: I can complete it by close of business tomorrow, but I shall have to charge my urgent rate on this job.
New Client: Why? You were going to do it by the end of tomorrow anyway? Translator: Well, because achieving the deadline of, say, 17:00 tomorrow, will mean working outside of my usual business hours.
What has the translator, taught the new client so far? To summarise, the client now knows that the weirdo in his office:
finds “ands” and “buts” difficult to translate;
types really slowly;
wants to rip him off with urgent rates because she does not like doing overtime; and
thinks she is special because she knows more than what is in the dictionary.
He is privately shaking his head because he cannot understand why his best golfing friend recommended her.
This is the gist of a real-life discussion I had face to face with a client in the early-Nineties, when a lot of work was still received in hard copy. Surprisingly, I got the job and the client was pleased with the result duly delivered on time, even though he had to pay a premium for it.
I would guess I got the job, because after this ridiculous exchange, I quickly sprung into action by showing enthusiasm, asking what he hoped to achieve with the translation, who the document was intended for, and why it was important to his business. On the basis of his answers to those questions, I asked one or two pertinent questions of my own. This was the “education” session – his and mine.
I left his office with my prize – a thick wad of papers, and left the client with the impression that his golfing buddy was right, after all. On the way down in the lift, I think to myself, “Ach wie gut, daβ niemand weiβ, daβ ich Rumpelstiltzkin heiβ”- the turning straw into gold part, anyway. This does not translate very well into English, even though it is quite straight forward. Roughly: I am so glad that no one knows my [real] name is Rumpelstiltzkin.
Not all clients are like that. I certainly would not recommend the above as a normal introduction of oneself as a professional with a service to offer. It is, however, indisputable that clients do need educating. And they need educating right from the very first contact.
Before we educate the client, we have to define this entity so central to the translator’s livelihood.
In the driest sense of the word, the client is the one for whom the translator works, and the one who pays the translator.
Common types of client are:
Direct clients, divided into a number of categories:
One-off, short-term clients Out of the blue, this client has something to translate, which may or may not result in future work;
One-off long-term client This client may require the translation of a book, or novel, or defined project which has little likelihood of engendering further work.
Regular clients There is always the possibility, even if not initially apparent, that one-off clients may become your regular clients. This underscores the need for a solid client education programme. Both client and translator have to establish and maintain a good understanding of each other, for their mutual benefit.
Translation agencies have direct clients as described above, and are normally owned and managed by someone who is a translator, or by a team of translators. Successful agencies have a flair for marketing, delegation and coordination. Translation agencies run two education programmes: they educate the client, and where necessary, educate the outsourced translator.
Quite rightly, many translators view agencies they work for as “clients”, since the end client, properly speaking, is a client of the agency. The outsourced translator is honour-bound to keep the agency’s client at arm’s length. In many instances, this means that the translator has to keep two clients in mind. Working through an agency demands more communication, not less, on the part of the translator – and this sometimes involves the translator imparting a little education in the direction of the agency!
Translation agencies and individual translators, then, both compete for the direct client.
How agencies educate
How agencies educate the client is interesting, and there is ample evidence of this on the Internet. When I look at a translation agency website, I often look at the website from the customer’s point of view first, to see whether I agree with the general ethos of the agency. In other words, if I agree with the way in which the agency educates its potential clients, then it is likely that I would like that agency as my client. If there is little similarity in our way of thinking, then all I am is a customer doing a bit of window shopping.
Translation agencies put their client education in their shop window. Some agencies may even have spent a considerable sum of money, now in the pocket of the marketing consultants and web designers, to ensure that potential clients become actual clients. Many have well-designed websites, with user-friendly interfaces, and a reassuring “we will take care of all your translation needs” message. I sometimes get the impression that translation cannot be that exacting a task after all. The customer is king. From a translator’s point of view, the agency provides the service, the translator provides the translation. From the end client’s point of view (and the agency’s, to a large extent) the agency provides the translation, and the translator is invisible (i.e. not the chief educator of anybody).
I came across a fantastic sounding translation agency on the web the other night. I received an acknowledgement right away of my desire to register. It was very encouraging, until I realised I was the central character in a sci-fi movie who was receiving monolingual automatic messages from a defunct and uninhabited transcombobulator* in cyberspace. The lights were on, but the crew and all its translators had either disintegrated or dematerialised.
* My made-up word for the entity responsible when things go linguistically awry. Etymologically derived from a combination of the words "translate" and "discombobulate".
The reason I mention this is because I am sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer force of professionalism which seems to radiate from the computer screen when visiting such sites. In this case, it turned out to be mere smoke and mirrors. I came out of the experience positively: At least, I realised once again that I am a real live human being with a definite set of skills. These skills have been developed with the combined aid of innate passion for the act or process of translation; training; and constant, diligent expansion and refinement of my general and specific knowledge, all frequently tempered with the ever humbling factor of experience. I am sure I am solid and real – and have no intention of dematerialising any time soon! I am certain that this is true of most other translators too.
When translators say in discussion, “We need to educate clients”, we all agree. Yet what does this mean? Primarily it means that without the client knowing the value of the skill we possess, the client cannot possibly be willing to pay a professional fee for the translator’s service. Ergo, the client needs educating. Where does the client education process begin? Perhaps education is the wrong expression, which not only undermines the very entity from which we derive a living, but also implies a certain amount of arrogance on the part of the translator. Perhaps orientation is a more appropriate term?
So, where does client orientation begin?
Your client’s orientation begins with you. (Notice how Zen has returned to the sanity maintenance department)
Whilst individual freelance translators could do well to pay attention to the kind of information that agencies publish on their websites, energy would be better spent upon careful examination of precisely what skills, knowledge, and experience you as the individual translator bring to the client-translator negotiating table.
Translators form a diverse group. We defy uniform definition as a group. How we can be defined individually has already been laid out in template form by our illustrious predecessors and fellow translators. We have all prepared profile pages, and some have websites. We have drafted and crafted our curricula vitae – normally when we would much rather be translating, or walking the dog, or washing the dishes. Anything, but focus on ourselves!
Orientating yourself first
Nevertheless, it is a good exercise – even for successful, experienced translators – to take a few minutes to do just that. Focus on ourselves. Clear the deck. Start afresh. Without referring to anything else at all (no Internet, no previous documents), write a few notes down. Tools for this job: 1 x A4 sheet of paper, a pen, and utter honesty.
The idea is to get to the core of what you are. Orientate yourself. It sounds silly, but it works. This is your private orientation. It is not for disclosure to anybody else.
Your list can include, but is not limited to:
Your favourite language pair;
Your favourite subject fields;
Your best job – and why.
Your worst job – and why.
What makes you special? If you want to include statements such as “I am bloody good at advertising slogans”, do so.
Note down your good qualities which you bring to a job (concentration, interest, experience, perfection)
Note down your bad qualities (impatience, poor posture, lack of planning – you know what they are!)
Define your parameters by what you are not, if you have to (e.g. not a legal or pharmaceutical translator, not a machine, not capable of more than 2,000 words per day).
Who are the other freelance translators you admire, and why?
what makes a good client in your opinion?
The names of the good clients you have had (or have) and why?
Were your best clients the ones who gave you the best jobs?
Now that you have re-orientated yourself, everything is clear, right? Keep the list. Put it where you can see it. Revise it. Rewrite it. Give it a title, if you like. Something that reminds you about which department Zen should be working in, perhaps?
With your redefined core orientation of self, you now have the bare bones of what is important for you to convey to your clients, whether on their initial encounter with you, or during the course of your relationship.
How much of the above can you fit into, say, a five minute phone call with a client, or an e-mail message ten lines long? Remember that clients are often busy, and have their own professions and businesses to take care of. They need your respect, just as you need theirs. Now that you have discovered exactly who you are representing (yourself!), you are well placed to direct the orientation of your client using as much diplomacy and sensitivity as you wish.
Once you are crystal clear, you need to ensure that your client orientation pack stands up to scrutiny. If you say you offer a professional service then you must always offer a professional service even if your dog has just died and you have a bad headache. Your sanity maintenance checklist could be useful in such situations.
More client orientation
I do believe that practising a system of referral is one way of demonstrating your professionalism – and a way of re-orientating clients. If I go to a general practitioner, and during the course of our consultation I tell him that I have toothache, it would be wrong for the good doctor to reach for a pair of pliers. I am sure I would rather appreciate a referral to a competent dentist! Similarly, if someone insists that I should translate from a language of which I have no knowledge, or equally absurdly, translate a document in a field where I am at a complete loss, my best option is to spread the love – and take ten minutes out of my busy schedule to assist what could have been a client (if I knew the language and the subject field!) to find someone suitable to the task. This helps give someone else’s new client a good impression. We want everyone to know that “translators are good people”. If all it means is pointing “someone else’s new client” in the right direction, then I have lost nothing. I also know that a fellow translator somewhere on the planet is now giving the re-directed client a whole new education.
Ao clicar na imagem seguinte, pode descarregar a minha apresentação de vinte minutos, com anotações, feita aos estudantes do primeiro ciclo de Línguas e Comunicação e de Línguas, Literaturas e Culturas na Universidade do Algarve numa sessão que teve lugar no dia 7 de novembro de 2018.
A palestra visou fazer uma síntese da carreira de tradutor para quem estivesse a pensar seguir esta via ou para quem fosse já recém-iniciado na área da tradução.
Health warning:If I had written this post sooner, it would have been much shorter. Roughly 4,700 words follow.
We linguists of the twenty-first century converged on the city of Girona that had some sort of heyday in the fourteenth, and saw nothing unusual in taking photographs with our smartphones of city walls, churches and convents and intricate wrought-iron work of centuries past.
Conferencing on the state of the art and science of editing & translation against a spectacular backdrop of history intertwined with cultural interest is something of a METM tradition, and METM18 was no exception. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern sculpture exhibition in the quadrangle of the former convent, now known as Centre Cultural Le Mercè, as well as various interesting pieces populating other spaces.
An equally pleasant surprise was the bowl of fruit greeting my hungry eyes on the way to my first workshop on Thursday, 4 October 2018. I do hope it was not someone’s preparation for a still life composition; it’s not every day that you get a free banana, you know.
One could say that I crossed the better part of the Iberian Peninsula via a series of non-synchronised modes of transport from a sleepy little village near Faro, Portugal to attend METM18 in Girona, Catalonia, a place, which as the title of this post suggests, won me over completely. More than 170 attendees travelled from further afield, and willingly, moreover, to immerse themselves in the intense learning from and exchange with their peers and, of course, the social catch-up with many who have become friends over the years.
The three-track programme means that each participant has a slightly different experience of METM.
At MET Meetings, I make a concerted effort to plug gaps in my knowledge, and use the weeks and months afterwards to draw parallels and weave what I learn into the already fragmented and somewhat eclectic body of knowledge that life has presented to me thus far.
With the getting of knowledge in mind, I kicked off my METM18 with what seemed like forbidden fruit in the form of a well chewed banana, a slug of cold water, and a front row seat in Alan Lounds’s workshop on the subject of Research Article Abstracts and Introductions: A genre-based approach to editing and translating. I felt like—and probably was—the least experienced participant in the workshop, which meant that I learnt a lot both from the presentation and the exercises we did in groups, as well as the discussion among more learned participants after each exercise.
You might well wonder why research article abstracts and introductions would be of any interest to me at all. It so happens that I have been translating rather a lot of material for a legal academic this year (and I have had my fair share of editing non-native Masters theses written in English in the past), but there is only so far I can go relying on innate pernicketiness backed up by hours of unguided study on my own. Such focus on territory relatively uncharted by me led to my having several light bulb moments, and by the end of Alan’s workshop, to continue the electrical metaphor, I was beaming with such radiant intensity that I could have sworn my complexion changed briefly to the bright yellow of that long since discarded banana skin. Be that as it may, I was certainly on the right wavelength to squash myself into the lively translation slam which followed.
My knowledge of Spanish is sketchy at best, and propped up chiefly by my knowledge of Portuguese, with a few rusty Latin nails for good measure. Fertile ground for very interesting discussion came from the Spanish to English translations prepared by slammers Maéva Cifuentes and Tim Gutteridge of a short text chosen by moderator Kymm Coveney, with the slam itself coordinated ably by Aisha Prigann. But, wait, I am getting ahead of myself. I settled into my seat with all the excitement I invariably feel when I receive a new text to translate. This year, I am pleased to say, there were more than enough copies of the text for everyone, so before the proceedings got under way, I was able to read the Spanish undisturbed and think about possible translations of my own into English before performing two quick comparative analyses from the typewritten offerings of the respective slammers. I guess that is what everyone else in the above photo was doing too.
I have attended the translation slams at all three METMs I have been to (15, 16 and 18), and would not miss this Off-METM activity for anything except, perhaps, a translation slam in a language pair with which I am more familiar. The Spanish text came alive for me when Carlos Mayor read it aloud, for it gave me a better sense of extra-linguistic elements which needed to be conveyed in the target English. The beauty of translation slams lies in the marked differences between the translations each slammer has prepared – and then, through audience participation, the potential third, or even fourth possible rendition of the prose in question. I love this aspect of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting stuck in; I love it even more when esteemed colleagues do the same in a positive spirit of focused collaboration that produces concrete results.
METM differs from other translator conferences in that we are not there merely to be educated and entertained: we are there to participate. As one of the lazier worker bees to date on The Hive, a MET archive of tools and resources (see RHS sidebar on the MET homepage), I left the translation slam inspired, and buzzed off to a nearby restaurant to The Hive’s Off-METM dinner, which doubled up as a meeting by way of final preparation in advance of The Hive’s panel presentation two days later. We had an hilarious time, and the fact that we got to the end of the agenda is due solely to Queen Bee Emma Goldsmith’s sheer determination. Emma also managed to photograph us in one of our more serious moments.
I had not registered for any workshops on the Friday morning, since the only one I was interested in was fully booked almost immediately registration for the conference opened. That was Translation Revision and Beyond, a workshop facilitated jointly by Simon Berrill, Victoria Patience and Tim Gutteridge. Nevertheless, I am gratified to see that the translator-revisor collaboration idea is spreading, and has become part of mainstream discussion among translations professionals. This type of workshop has the potential to grow in usefulness and impact, especially when narrowed down to specific language pairs, both within MET and beyond. My informal sources of information have given me the impression that there is nowhere near enough translation and/or revision practical components in translation degrees currently offered my most universities. This, together with the fact that a high proportion of MET members had a different career before becoming translators or editors, makes the concept of interactive learning while working together all the more attractive.
It is pertinent here to remind readers that all abstracts submitted for presentations at any METM are subjected to two blind peer reviews before being considered for acceptance. These are not revisions, but reviews on content and suitability. I will confess here that the abstract for my own presentation was given a rigorous going over by one very kind and knowledgeable soul. It was only thanks to her help and vigorous questioning that I was able to whip my blurb into shape so that it passed muster. Such a process is both humbling and educative. And that is how is should be. All content on the MET website, and content for individual METMs undergoes a similarly rigorous process: it benefits from the sharp eyes and professional experience of many before being published. I feel precocious and cheeky—as well as honoured—to call such MET members my peers but will do so, since, in principle, we all strive to attain and maintain standards of editorial excellence in the texts we produce. And that, too, is how it should be.
Another best practice that I heartily support is the “sign your work” movement, first thrust on to the translation landscape a good fifteen years ago by Chris Durban, and this imperative has been almost a mantra of hers ever since. As I mentioned obliquely earlier, we are all at different stages of development, so it is worth reminding people regularly why putting your name on work you have done is a good idea. I touched on this in my presentation, but I might well have been preaching to the converted if the “Show and share” table is anything to go by. All participants had the opportunity to display samples of their work on the table. Their portfolios were available for anyone and everyone to scrutinise. My intention was to spend much longer perusing the material on display, but each time I started looking at something interesting, I would see someone else I needed to greet, and we would end up chatting instead. I am sure that those who participated in this initiative, originally proposed by Valerie Matarese, would agree that the chief benefit for them came from the act of preparing material to put on show. This was certainly the case for me, since I needed the permission of several clients in order to get my portfolio together. I came to MET buoyed by their good wishes.
The METM Choir practice at Friday lunchtime meant that I could not participate in any Off-METM lunches on specific topics, but after giving our vocal chords some exercise, I shared a pleasant tapas lunch with four other choristers, and reacquainted myself with the pleasures of vermut. Translators are never short of conversation topics, in my experience.
The complexities involved in obtaining acknowledgement for your work, and how language service professionals are perceived, particularly in the academic sphere, was the subject of panel discussion moderated by Valeria Matarese, with panelists Wendy Baldwin, Mar Fernández Núñez, Jackie Senior, and Kate Sotejeff-Wilson. It confirmed my experience in non-academic spheres: each situation, and each client, is different, and while a certain amount of flexibility is desirable, acknowledgement is always something which should be part of the discussion before taking on an assignment. I twinged privately, since it made me realise that I had not had this discussion with the legal academic I mentioned above, so it was enlightening to learn of the various strategies that panelists had employed.
I was somewhat disappointed with John Linnegar’s presentation on modal verbs, possibly because I had so enjoyed his presentation at METM16 on what constitutes a “light edit”. And perhaps because early mastery of modal verbs is essential for any German-English translator, I felt that I had been transported back to some dingy “O”-Level classroom on a hot summer’s day. It was, however, worth hearing John confirm my own observations of the recent shift in usage from “shall” to “will”, and from “should” to “must”, where the latter in each case now signifies what the former always has. Reference to the abstract at the time of writing this blog reveals that John did intend this session to be particularly instructive to those for whom English is a second language. This presentation might have been better as a mini-workshop, in that case.
I spent the coffee break after that in a “meeting” discussing a potential collaboration with another MET member. Arranging such things before METM is useful, and in-person meetings always have that little something extra that is lacking in other means of communication. That “something extra” more than makes up for all the tasty-looking snacks I missed out on because of the meeting, but it might also have been penance for having pinched that banana the day before. While on the subject of consumption, I applaud the strategically placed water coolers in the quadrangle. Definitely an excellent addition to METM!
Rose Newell’s emphasis on communication with one’s clients to ensure their content transcends cultural difference when either writing, editing or translating copy made a whole lot of sense to me. Being the person to bridge that gap as part of the service you provide is an aspect to which many translators fail to devote sufficient attention. All translators, especially those living in the country of their source language, should highlight these matters with clients when appropriate – and yes, this can and does apply to so-called technical texts too.
Daniel Hahn, as one of two METM keynote speakers, wowed the audience by his sheer breadth of achievement and his thoughtful and wide-ranging address. What I was unprepared for, but loved all the same, was his generous, gentle and elegant sense of humour. His speech, entitled In Praise of Editors (the translator’s view), had me riveted. It was hopeless taking notes, so I simply enjoyed listening attentively.
He left pretty smartly for the next engagement in his busy schedule, so I was unable to tell him that his founding of a translation prize that also gives recognition to the book’s editor had already had an impact on my professional life. So, I shall tell the story here.
In January 2018, a translator whose work I have often revised over the last seven years got in touch with me asking whether I would like to be her revisor for the Portuguese to English translation of a novel by Cristina Carvalho. Naturally, I said I would, since I do like the collaborative experience with this translator. Discussion immediately turned to the issue of price, since the author herself was initially going to pay for the translation and its pre-publisher revision (by me). Via the translator, I suggested that the author contact Daniel Hahn (with a link to the article announcing the founding of his prize) to discover whether there were any other funding possibilities. In the event, I do not think the author contacted Daniel Hahn, but it did motivate the author to seek funding elsewhere, in this case from the Instituto de Camões. The surprising upshot was that the Institute agreed to pay 60% of the costs of translation and revision, with the remaining 40% (paid as an advance to the translator and myself) being paid by the author, at a rate that was acceptable all round. One further benefit was that the Canadian publisher has now made an important business connection with the Instituto de Camões, and this augurs well for the future. I am therefore grateful to Daniel Hahn for more than his excellent speech.
After the welcome reception at the impressively decorated Saló de Descans at the Teatro Municipal, a group of us who, for the most part, had only known each other online, went off to find a bite to eat, and spent more time than was sensible having a jolly entertaining conversation. For those of you who are interested, I still have not got the knack of sleight-of-hand with wine corks. At this point, I could launch into a monologue in praise of taxis after midnight, but shall refrain.
Suddenly, it was Saturday, and in consecutive presentations, two of my favourite speakers, Valerie Matarese and Joy Burrough-Boenisch, examined slightly different aspects of acknowledgement and contributions to research articles. Two somewhat surprising facts to emerge from Valerie’s presentation were that crediting authors’ editors is a very recent development, and that the struggle to standardise giving credit, thereby ensuring greater transparency, is by no means over. Some of the results from Joy’s survey (to discover the answer to the question, “Do freelance editors for non-native-English academic and scientific researchers seek acknowledgement?”) were startling: Only 14.5% of respondents always seek acknowledgment. 76% of respondents in the Social Sciences never seek acknowledgement, and 45% in Science are similarly averse to proactive behaviour. Overall, when those in the Humanities are included, the figure evens out to a depressing 58% of respondents who never bother to ensure that they are duly acknowledged.
It would not be entirely unreasonable in my view to speculate that a broader survey of a much greater sample than freelance editors who are MET, SENSE or NeAT members working for non-native-English academic and scientific researchers would garner similar results. The clear message to be derived from the two presentations above, and others on offer at METM18, is that language professionals (in all sorts of areas of specialisation) need to step up to the plate and at least try to hit the oncoming ball before calling it quits because in their eyes the innings is already lost. In other words, each language professional needs to become part of the solution, and not simply sit back and watch the problem grow in size and complexity. A basic METM message, I suppose: Do your bit!
I went to David Cullen’s A translator’s decalogue out of curiosity. There is an overabundance of advice for (young) translators splashed all over the internet about what they need to bear in mind when practising their craft. I had no argument with any of the points on his list, and was enormously amused, once contributions were invited from the audience, to see that this list cannot possibly be confined to a mere ten, or even twenty, basic points. I did like the piece of advice regarding the need for translators (who work for agencies, in particular) to realise that solving translation difficulties is not “someone else’s problem” and to “take ownership of their work”, and not simply give up and lump the Project Manager, or someone else, with the unsolved problem. I cannot remember, but I might have applauded when David made that remark.
The idea of transparency and clarification of the rules of authorship in what could sometimes be described as a hostile, competitive environment in the academic “publish or perish” arena was expertly and comprehensively dealt with to a packed auditorium by keynote speaker Iria del Río in her call for an ethical publishing culture. At least that is what I thought, as a relative stranger to academic circles. Even so, it is good for someone like me to be aware of the dynamics involved as a translator or editor when occasionally nibbling at the periphery of this mountain of paper that I loosely refer to as academic research.
Based on the idea that hunger serves to sharpen the mind, and shorten the meeting, the programme coordinators had a stroke of genius in scheduling the MET General Assembly after a keynote address and in the middle of the day, immediately before lunch. It was sad to see Chair Anne Murray step down after thirteen years of service, and Alan Lounds leave Council. What is encouraging, however, is that the new Council comprises eight MET stalwarts, including new MET Chair, Kim Eddy. Collectively, they give members the assurance that MET affairs continue to be in good hands. Anne’s last official duty, as I recall, was to make sure we all followed her on a winding route to the top of a hill where lunch was served in the cloisters of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Girona, and a jolly good job she did of that, too!
Our clients in the world at large also need to know that they are in good hands, and this was the core message contained in Karen Neilson’s presentation, To oak or not to oak… profiling the wine translator. It was refreshing indeed to hear her stating that there is a whole lot more to being an effective translator in the wine sector than merely getting the terminology right. Key points included selling yourself to the client on your knowledge of all aspects of wine making, from the vineyard to the final product and the markets for which the wine is destined. Clients need to feel confident that you, as the translator, know the ins and outs of their business. Clearly at home in this terroir, Karen covered a lot of ground in this twenty-minute presentation: she pulled out a bunch of production and export statistics; touched on the influence of climate and soil and how they relate to wine tasting; recounted how she has watched expert oenologists at work in the vineyard selecting before harvest which grapes would go to oak and which not; retold with some humour and suspense of the hunt she pursued, when discussing rootstock, for the English term “crown”, referring to the basal region of the trunk slightly below and above the soil level, and she emphasised the need for knowing a good deal about gastronomy, as well as cultural differences between two languages and how these impact on consumer attitudes towards wine and determining appropriate approaches to marketing. She mentioned the necessity of communicating with clients when a straight translation of their Spanish text would result in negative connotations in English as being one of the many reasons for the sensitive adaptation of a text. It was a treat to listen to Karen advocating quality translation in the real “world of wine”.
No one is quite sure how it happened, but somehow the wine translators at METM18 managed to get together for another brief moment around midnight at the closing dinner long enough to have their photograph taken against what is known for its blankness in current parlance as a “selfie wall”.
After my presentation on Marking your digital territory and the rapidly vanishing rules on acknowledging one’s source in the crazy copy-and-paste culture of the Internet Age, I missed out on yet another coffee break – but did help myself to a pear (legitimate fruit – as was all the fruit so considerately on offer in the Centre during the conference, so I discovered later), on which I managed to break a filling in a back tooth, before a brief interview with MET member Lisa Agostini and her radio producer partner, Julian Mayer, of Yada Yada. The two volunteered to produce a podcast of a few of the presentations at METM18, and more observant participants would have noticed them in action, albeit mostly in the background.
That treacherous but juicy pear provided me with sufficient sustenance to hurl myself back into the old convent building to listen to Nigel Harwood speak on Using metaphors to explore the role of the proofreader of L2 student writing in the UK context. The sample of proofreaders at a UK university who were interviewed was small, and his focus entirely academic. As stated in his presentation abstract, “Fourteen proofreaders in a UK university were interviewed about their practices, speaking to a prompt card offering definitions of the proofreader’s role as a cleaner or tidier, a helper or mentor, a leveller, a mediator, and/or a teacher. Some informants were institutional insiders (e.g., lecturers, PhD students); others were freelancers with no connections to the university.” The body of his presentation, and research results, did indeed show that very few guidelines for such proofreading exist, and the playing field is by no means level. Not being a native of this particular planet, I was taken aback that someone in the audience expressed “shock that some L2 students had paid for proofreading services”. For those of us in the commercial world, it makes perfect sense that someone should pay for the benefit of our native linguistic expertise. I understand that one has to consider the entity known as “academic integrity”, but if L2 masters and doctoral theses are revised—or even translated—as a paid service, and, from without the walls of the ivory tower at least, this is common knowledge and seemingly accepted practice, then why can the same not apply to L2 master’s essays?
As a freelancer who makes a living from not only my translation abilities, but also my skills as a revisor, editor, or proofreader – and primarily in non-academic contexts, I hasten to add, I baulk at the idea that I should be expected to waive my fee simply because the client is a student. Indeed, whenever I hear in conversation that someone is embarking upon a master’s degree, I advise them to get a part-time job at the same time and start saving money to pay for a native English editor for their master’s thesis. I realise that there might be a lot of worms in this particular can, and that many students probably do not finish writing their thesis in sufficiently good time for their supervisors to give them proper advice (this is the impression I have received from several such texts, and my impression alone), but I do have to question whether universities in general are doing their students justice if radical editing (including the pointing out of factual error, mathematical errors when calculating percentages, graphs that are not consistent with the interpretations given, omissions in bibliographies, etc.) by a freelance language professional is so obviously required three or four days, say, before the thesis submission deadline. I am also very much aware of the fine dividing line that exists between producing comprehensible English and improving the quality of the thesis, thereby potentially influencing the grade such a thesis might obtain, and I am careful not to cross what I imagine that dividing line to be. I voiced none of this during Nigel’s presentation; I was tired, and anything I might have said at the time in response to the shock expressed that some L2 students pay for the proofreading of their essays could well have come across as fractious at best. If anyone can point me to substantial literature on the matter, I would be very grateful!
Speaking of resources, my final session – not before a quick refill of my water bottle at one of those wonderful water coolers, was one in my role as laziest worker bee to date: a review of The Hive – one year on. The session took the form of a panel presentation, with Emma Goldsmith, Wendy Baldwin, Alan Lounds, Kymm Coveney and Ailish Maher each taking a few minutes to review what The Hive is about, what is in it, and what is Beside The Hive. Heather Hamilton (my lovely presentation moderator) and I were the only other members of The Hive Team at METM18, and neglected to bring pompoms all the way to Girona for the purposes of cheerleading. Suffice to say, the session had the desired effect: more MET members have entered the Hive as worker bees, and we now number twelve in total. The Hive is a resource base and platform for MET members only. I would urge you head on over to the relevant page on the MET website and read all about it, browse around, and remember to contribute as appropriate. Like any good METM, The Hive has something useful, and something of interest for everyone.
There were several presentations at METM18 that I was sorry to have missed for one reason or another, but that is how it always is. All that remained at this point was to enjoy a jolly good final dinner, and the final bit of fun: singing in the impromptu METM Choir – not bad, after only two hours’ worth of riotous practice!
My week’s holiday after the conference, followed by almost two weeks of solid work, is the reason it has taken me so long to publish this post. I don’t know yet whether I will come to Split, Croatia next year; if I do, I plan to enjoy it every bit as much as I did this year. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a success and a true pleasure!
Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag. I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material. This blog on revision originally appeared on Nikki Graham’s blog on 30 August 2016. Fresh discussions recently in social media forums on how to find a suitable revision partner prompted me to haul this blog out of the archives.
This post cannot possibly say everything about revision and does not need to. Nikki Graham has already grouped together a number of revision-related blogs worth reading here for your convenience.
This means I am free to skip all the usual definitions and give you instead a hotch-potch of impressions and experiences which might give you some food for thought about how you approach revising your own work, how to refine your response to revisions by others of your work, and how you, perhaps, perform revisions on the work of others. I have written from the perspective of a revisor; a revisor whose own translation and revision work has come under harsh scrutiny where some revisions made and conclusions drawn have been justified, and others not. I continue to hope that insights thus gained serve to make me a better translator and a better revisor.
judging quality remains subjective in nature despite numerous attempts by humankind to enclose this dynamic, amorphous beast in a big crate
Far from being rules to follow, the considerations below are intended to prompt you to pay attention to areas where you realise you could enhance your own revision methods in order to improve and sustain the quality of the (target) texts you have a hand in.
The quality spectrum
In his TED talk on cognitive surplus, Clay Shirky made a secondary remark which caught my attention and had me pondering – certainly not for the first time – on the range of quality in our performance, hence our work, on a daily basis. He said:
There is a spectrum between mediocre work and good work, and as anybody who’s worked as an artist or a creator knows, it’s a spectrum you’re constantly struggling to get on top of. The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.
Apart from competence – which I shall leave you to define – most translators would agree that it takes a good deal of hard work to produce indisputably good quality all the time. A host of internal and external factors conspire against our achieving this tall order. And that is before anyone else has even seen the text we have produced!
By and large, I am not given to using superlatives. When I refer to “a good translation”, I most often mean “an extremely good translation”, but am hesitant to say so because there could very easily be, and very often is, a better translation which simply has not surfaced yet. I am not alone in this view.
This brings me to an important point: judging quality remains subjective in nature despite numerous attempts by humankind to enclose this dynamic, amorphous beast in a big crate (labelled QC, QA, LQI or EN15038, EN17100, or whatever), with a packing list as long as your arm and lots of little checkboxes which are systematically ticked.
A far more erudite professional than I by the name of Gérard de Angéli wrote a detailed article in the Translation Journal in 2008 which poses the question, “Do We Really Need Translation Standards After All?” After a rigorous comparison of standards for translation services in Europe and the USA, he makes the observation that focusing too much on the quality control process and not enough on the text (the translation) itself may not be entirely desirable or, indeed, result in the quality so very much desired in the first place.
In a similar vein (or perhaps tangentially), despite our attempts and those of others to maintain a reasonable degree of objectivity when we approach the practicalities of revision, there are many instances where we fail to, or choose not to, adopt such a clinical methodology.
There are situations where the Quality Crate loses relevance because the far more nebulous, intuitive but useful adjuncts of experience and savoir-faire take precedence.
Subjectivity, I would argue, has its place in the revision spectrum, in that one has to employ judgement and discernment to keep that creature we call Quality alive. As an echo of that famous line in the film Calendar Girls, I think we need a bigger Crate.
All of these factors make the subject of revision a very tricky one, chiefly because the other factor which splays itself out on a spectrum is that of expectations. A girl at school once walked into the classroom and asked her fellows, “Does anyone have Great Expectations for me?” She did not get the response she expected.
To illustrate a point about expectations – and, at the same time, the inappropriate, tight-arsed use of the subjunctive – I shall tell you a joke in what purports to be a Yorkshire accent*:
A Yorkshire farmer owned a sow*. His neighbour had a boar. Every once in a while he took the sow in his ‘barra’ (barrow) to be covered.
Every time after natural insemination had occurred, the next door farmer would say,
*If she be took, tomorra mornin’ she’ll be eating grass. If she baint eating grass, she’ll not be took. Bring her back and they can ‘ave another go.”
The farmer took his sow back home.
The next morning at breakfast the farmer told his wife to look out the window, and asked her, “Be she eating grass or baint she eating grass?”
“She baint eating grass,” replied the farmer’s wife.
So the farmer bunged the sow back in the barrow and carted her off to his neighbour’s boar again. They had at it a good long while to make sure she were took.
The following morning the farmer had the same conversation with his wife, and made a third trip to the next door farm, now getting quite impatient at having to push the sow in the barrow all the way up the road.
On the third morning, again at breakfast, he asked his wife to look out the window.
“I can’t bear it,” he said, “Tell me quickly. Be she eating grass or baint she?”
His wife turned to him with a look of utter surprise on her face.
“Weel,” she said, “she baint eating grass —she be in the barra!”
*For ease of understanding, not all features of the stereotypical Yorkshire dialect have been graphically reproduced.
Strictly speaking, the use of ‘be’ in the above story is not in the subjunctive, with the arguable exception of ‘if she be took’. Be that as it may, please bear the above joke in mind while you cast your eye over the following random bit of text I came across while researching something a couple of weeks ago, and which I have redacted to minimise interest in its source:
The […] methods […] have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this bea few units for pilot [projects] or more significant numbers [for large] commercial [operations].
I don’t know which is funnier or sadder – the joke about the randy sow or the sentence above. You be the judge.
For revisors like me, before you can say ‘she be in the barra!’, the highlighted words jump out at us even if we have American sensibilities when it comes to the subjunctive.
Straight away, our eyes dart back to the source text to see what prompted such pedantry on the part of the translator, although we already have a fair idea: it is not only the start of the subordinate clause which has got our goat (pardon all the animals in this here blog), but all the other literal expressions preceding it. They have all the lightness of a ruddy great sow as she lands with a thump in the barrow.
One can argue that
The methods have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot projects or more significant numbers for large commercial operations.
is a perfectly good sentence.
The translator who wrote that can readily defend this sentence by saying that it can be understood, and most importantly, she (an arbitrary assignment of gender) has employed the subjunctive mood exactly as it should be in the best of all possible worlds, apologies to Voltaire and Leibniz and all that. Fair enough. Let’s accept, for the moment, that it is a passable sentence. Except that you might already have forgotten about the swathes of guff I removed for the purposes of providing an example. This abridged sentence has 33 words. The original target text was 46 words long.
Clearly, the translator and revisor are not quite on the same page. The translator’s text should be eating grass; instead, it has taken up residence in the barrow. The revisor, somehow, has to persuade the text to return to nibbling the green stuff.
It seems that the translator and the revisor do not have the same expectations of what a sentence in English should look like, and more than likely have understood the expectations of the client differently.
A revisor, however, is not a casual reader. A revisor makes it possible for other readers to be casual readers.
And that is part of the point, and part of the problem. This sentence is part of a rather long (translated) article which is already in circulation on the Internet: this is the final product. The point is — and this is conjecture on my part — that this article has not been revised. Checked and proofread, yes. Checked and proofread by a person other than the translator? Possibly. If the translation went through an agency, have all the Quality Crate boxes been ticked? I bet they have! Revised? Not really.
Casual monolingual readers of the target text place comprehension, appropriate word choice and something called ‘readability’ high on their list of things that determine the success or otherwise of a text. A revisor, however, is not a casual reader. A revisor makes it possible for other readers to be casual readers.
Revisors correct translation, terminological and typographical errors, insert omissions, punctuate, make essential stylistic changes, and so on, and ask that very important question, “Yes, but does it mean anything?” From feedback I have received on my own work over the years, I suspect that most revisors do something else, as I do, before they reach that stage in the revision process: they look at the bones — the structure — of things.
What I see is not consciously step-wise so much as occurring almost simultaneously. I am happy to reveal my thoughts purely because they will probably strike a chord with many of you. Here is that sentence again:
The methods have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot projects or more significant numbers for large commercial operations.
And here is my stream-of-consciousness response to those 33 words with my special revisor spectacles on:
… subject of the main clause immediately grabs onto a passive verb, blah, blah, followed by a conjunction… plus a demonstrative pronoun in the singular instead of the plural (‘this’ instead of ‘these’, referring to ‘methods’ and ‘they’)… and cherry on the cake, a verb in the anal retentive subjunctive!… ‘few’ versus ‘more significant numbers’… source text has subjunctive… yes, word for word, how quaint!… why ‘conceive’?… why is everything so, you know, productive?
Then, without changing a thing, I continue reading, because the same thought (about compatibility) may be expressed differently elsewhere in the text, and may trigger a more constructive revision than the one I am currently capable of making.
It is also possible, when dealing with other types of translations, that I would continue reading the source text on its own, to get additional impressions of my own from it, without interference from the target. There are lots of approaches. That is one I use when I need to.
Why, why, why?
Let us pause here to speculate why the translator (to whom I have arbitrarily assigned the female gender) chose to write this sentence this way.
She always writes this way, and is convinced that this is the best she can do, since it is near-perfect anyway.
She is afraid to depart from the source text and venture into the real world of the target language.
She is working for peanuts and therefore is pressed for time because so many thousands of words need to be churned out every day.
The peanut factor means she gave up long ago on revising her own work thoroughly and might not have read this sentence more than once before hitting the Send button.
She is lazy. The work is for an agency; the revisor can fix it, if so inclined.
Something is wrong with this picture. If you are primarily revising texts like this, the chances are that you are very unhappy. How about suggesting to the agency that you translate the texts instead? There are many translators who refuse revision work because they end up asking themselves “Why, why, why?” far too often.
A while back, I was sharing my own frustrations as a revisor within that intimate space known as a chat box, and a colleague known for her competence and precision in translation had this to say:
Translator training these days seems devoted primarily to learning to use software. Translators are unable to translate without the benefit of any tools, meaning they are unable to see a text as an integrated whole, not a grid in which they only see disembodied segments. They are unable to intuit a rendering based on the context and not resort to dictionaries to piece their translations together word by word. They don’t bother to edit their translations in the final formatted form (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and leave their mess for someone else to clean up.
My response at the time was to say that not only do I find a lack of placing the text in context worrisome, especially in work revised for agencies which insist on the use of a specific CAT tool, I also find the broken feedback loop problematic. All the Quality Crate processes in the world serve no useful purpose unless the translator has the freedom to offer some feedback on the meticulously provided feedback created as part of the agency revision process – because sometimes the translator is right, and the revisor needs to know this.
I take feedback on my work very seriously indeed. Having said that, I do not think I devote enough time to examining revision changes. In the context of work I have done for one agency in particular, where institutional uniformity of style is often at loggerheads with ‘the better translation’, it has taken over four years for me to gain perspective on all the red ink returned.
If I do not earnestly examine the feedback I get, then I cannot improve.
I do not like some of the things one particular revisor at this institution does to ‘my’ texts, although I can see the reasoning. In the early days, I used to reply occasionally, especially if, during the process of revision, an error which was not present in my original translation had been introduced. I stopped doing that about a year later when I discovered that my translator feedback on this feedback was not being forwarded by the agency to the institutional revisor. It should be noted here that the agency has never used the profusion of red ink to penalise me financially.
It is with discipline and a certain weariness that I open the bilingual feedback files from this agency, but I do it because I am aware that in order to become a better translator, I have to modify the way I think; I have to make adjustments in my thought process on the treacherous path between source text and target. If I do not earnestly examine the feedback I get, then I cannot improve.
Sometimes the agency includes in its covering e-mail a brief comment made by the revisor, which might include such dry comments as ‘Note plural noun in Segment 123’. At the beginning of this month, however I achieved a three-word breakthrough: “Allgemein gute Übersetzung.” (Generally, a good translation). Finally, a positive comment from the revisor I do not like, but whose revisions of my work I have studied for over four years. Upon opening the file to see what fabulous things I had done, I had a good old belly laugh: the text was covered in just as much red ink as it always is!
Whereas realisations on feedback from agencies can take years, collaborative feedback in translator pairs where each revises the work of the other is instantaneous – and if both parties play the game, offers the possibility of a continuous feedback loop, which no agency in my experience has ever been able to provide.
there are translators who crave feedback on their work and are either not getting any or not getting enough of it
I know that a big biography I revised last summer benefited enormously from the mere fact that the translator and I already had around 200,000 translated and revised words under our belt before we started. How do I know? Because last night I re-read two or three chapters in particular that I recall as having required extensive revision. How beautiful it was to note that I could not see where my revisions were (even though I have a memory of what they were). The collaboration between us achieved a good result: a stylistically consistent text with one voice. This kind of result can, of course be achieved on much shorter texts too.
At the other end of yet another spectrum, there are translators who crave feedback on their work and are either not getting any or not getting enough of it. Even in this age of social media, many, many translators are finding it hard to identify colleagues with the same language pair, the same or similar specialist fields, and a similar degree of competence. These are basic prerequisites for a translator pair, to which a whole lot of other criteria have to be added, such as similar work ethics and a similar sense of humour. If you have not yet found someone to match up with, keep looking, keep asking.
Pairing up with colleagues for mutual revision is, as someone recently said to me, ‘a hit and miss affair’. Even if we want it to work, sometimes it does not, or it does not work in the way that we may originally have envisaged. This does not mean that we should stop trying to find someone with whom such an arrangement would work to better advantage. There are lessons to be learnt from every experience.
by far the greater risk lies in not having someone revise your work
With any new association, there is a risk for both parties. That’s one more risk to add to the bucket-load we already have to consider as translators. From my relatively short experience in working in various collaborative pairs (to cater to my strange group of subject fields and different language pairs) over the last few years, I am firmly of the opinion that by far the greater risk lies in not having someone revise your work. I am all for a honing of my craft in a mutually supportive environment under the hyper-watchful gaze of a colleague who, in turn, is only too glad that I have ‘a good eye’. (Yes, we still joke about the way she said that.)
All the best translators I know all work with revisors. All the best translators I know would not think of working without one. All the best translators produce work of consistent good quality because they have an extra pair of eyes on the text at hand, and exchange insights and criticism in ways which most often lead to learning on both sides, and most certainly lead to better quality texts. I am talking about the kind of quality texts which have little use for the metrics applied in translation standards, because the standard of the texts produced in collaborative revision far exceeds the benchmarks set in such standards.
Here’s the thing: Not only do all the best translators have years of experience translating; they also have years of experience in honing their craft. Don’t you think it is time you did something to get to that level too?
Aside from the Vine Atlas of Spain and Portugal, it seems that I have amassed a small pile of books which I have revised. The works reflect my wide interests. You will see that each one is different from the next.
In an effort to document my signed translation and editing work done for clients and published either in print or online, I have detailed it under the Portfolio tab on my personal blog, a feature which this blog currently does not have. Clicking on the image below will take you there.
I first translated this quotation from Miguel Torga (1907-1955, an important twentieth-century Portuguese writer and poet) about three and a half years ago. I mistranslated the last sentence. Here is the re-hash. Aside from the corrected last sentence, I made a couple of other stylistic changes.
Traduzir é, primordialmente, um acto de amor. Só quem for tocado na mente e no coração pela singularidade radical de uma voz sente a necessidade e o gosto de a alargar aos ouvidos do mundo. E o pobre poeta de qualquer S. Martinho de Anta, que sonha com o seu canto a ecoar para além das fronteiras que o limitam, é nessas almas sintonizadas e mediúnicas que confia. São elas as difusoras mágicas das suas palavras, que procuram entender em todos os recônditos sentidos e preservar vivas e equivalentes na transplantação verbal.
Nunca será por demais exaltado o serviço que prestam à humanidade esses obreiros de uma outra comunicação dos santos, terrena, encarnada, naturalmente oposta à sobrenatural do “Credo”. Se nos faltassem, ficariam sem respostas inimagináveis interrogações, apelos e desafios.
Miguel Torga em Diário XVI, Dezembro 1993
To be a translator, fundamentally and first and foremost, is an act of love. Only those whose minds and hearts have been blessed by that radical singularity of voice feel the need and the desire to open up the ears of the world. The poor poet, from an insignificant parish like my native São Martinho de Anta, dreams of how his song will echo far beyond the frontiers which hold it back. And so, it is to these attuned souls, who intercede on his behalf, that he entrusts his spirit. They are the magic diffusers of his words who seek to understand them in all their hidden meanings and preserve them transformed, alive and whole in the transplanted word.
Never can the service to humanity performed by these workers be exalted enough; these intercessors who immerse themselves in that other earthly communion of saints, the one naturally incarnate as opposed to the supernatural incarnation of the Creed. If we did not have them, unimaginable challenges, questions, and invocations would be bereft of response.
Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag. I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material. This blog on revision and the “comma removal process” was originally posted on my previous website in September 2015.
I have written this post in an attempt to convey just one nebulous aspect of the translation process simply because I happened to come across a sentence which serves to illustrate something which is quite hard to explain without examples. The sentence is taken from a biographical article on José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize In Literature in 1988. The full article can be found here. The English text is a translated one. I have been unable to find the original Portuguese.
From a reading of the English target text, I cannot detect any obvious errors in the translation from the Portuguese cited above, and only one place where I could immediately see the source text shining though. The sentence discussed below is a good example of how faithfully transferringsentence length and punctuationfrom the Portuguese into English can make the English rendition clumsy.
I was so excited when I first discovered this particular subtle shift required during the Portuguese to English translation process because it demands a much more elegant performance of acrobatics than, say, German to English translation where seeking out the constituent parts of verbs and relative clauses take precedence. My discovery occurred about 2.5 years after I started learning Portuguese, in case you are interested.
I don’t know if you can spot what I mean by “too many commas” in the following sentence taken from the article. To me, it has several possibilities for the re-ordering or re-grouping of the information to make it more readable for the English reader; more intelligible to the English ear:
I will re-do the first half of this sentence to illustrate how to eliminate two commas and make it more “English” (with only one word change – “during” instead of “in”): Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided….
Do you see? It’s the transforming of the four-part or three-part structure into a two-part one.Now that the first section has no “little humps in the road”, we can continue:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman.
There is nothing wrong with “for which job were required…” It is just that the English reader needs some time to process all the information in the sentence so far. A breather; a full stop. You can see that this is necessary merely by looking at all the complications in the final stretch of the sentence: inverted commas, brackets with continuation marks… the second half of a comparison, and a list!
So, here is that original sentence (also a paragraph), slightly rewritten:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
What we now have is two sentences instead of one. The only changes made have been at the level of punctuation and word order.
But we are not finished, because there is still something sticking out like a sore thumb which we could not possibly have dealt with until we had got the main structure right. So, let’s do that now:
Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known surroundings other than those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Just so that you do not have to scroll up again, here is the original sentence for comparison with the thoroughly revised one:
Original: Maybe because he had served in World War I, in France as an artillery soldier, and had known other surroundings from those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman, for which job were required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Revised: Maybe because he had served as an artillery soldier in France during World War I and had known surroundings other than those of the village, my father decided in 1924 to leave farm work and move with his family to Lisbon, where he started as a policeman. The job required no more “literary qualifications” (a common expression then…) than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Now, read both versions of this sentence aloud. Follow the punctuation (i.e. pause appropriately when you encounter commas and full stops). Which text is easier to read? Which text is less confusing? From which text is it easier to extract information? I think the revised text is the better one, don’t you?
The original sentence was 65 words long. Do you think the changes I have made are worth more than €1.95 (or the most often offered rate of €0.03/word)? What about what the overall effect would be if you had a short story – or even this entire article, say? Or a novel? I think these changes are most definitely worth more than the rate most often paid, and make a strong argument in favour of applying an hourly rate to such work.
And if I had the original source text to hand, don’t you think I would check straight away to see what alternative translation could be found for ‘”literary qualifications”‘ in an attempt to eliminate those horrible inverted commas?
We know that José Saramogo has a particular writing style, very similar, unsurprisingly, to the style and feel of the paragraph I have revised here. But if you look carefully at the second half of the article, he himself departs from this style, so that the article loses its overall coherence. You also have to remember that the sentence structure employed by Saramago in the Portuguese is fairly normal for a Portuguese text, so in this case, it behoves the writers of the English version (the translator and the revisor) to produce a sentence which is fairly usual within the norms applied to English texts. I was not really criticising a Nobel Laureate; I was merely pointing out that his trademark storytelling style was not employed throughout the article. Admittedly the text as a whole does not lend itself easily to a nice, rounded feel given the list of all the works published.
My question, therefore, is this: Surely, tightening up the prose in the initial paragraphs to match the latter ones will render the whole article more palatable, and give a better overall impression? If the reader wants to read Saramogo purely for his written style, there are plenty of works to choose from, both in the original Portuguese and in translation.
Two other considerations:
I wonder whether a non-native speaker of English can see the difference between the original sentence and my revised one?
If I had translated this text from the original Portuguese (which I have not seen), I wonder how close to my revision above it would have been?
Perhaps I should mention for those who do not habitually work with texts that all the changes described in detail above normally happen at speed. There are times, however, where changing just one word in a text might take half an hour, a good deal of research, consultations (while maintaining confidentiality) with colleagues or, indeed, an entire night’s sleep before the correct replacement word or phrase is found. This is true for all sorts of texts, and not just literary ones.
These are some of the things that run through my mind when I translate and revise, and have done so for years. It is called constantly honing one’s craft – an obligation which translators have to themselves and to their readers.
Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag from now on. The first flashback post, Passionate about getting things right, appeared here last week. I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material.
The following was originally published on 10 May 2012 as a guest blog on Catherine Jan’s Catherine Translates and entitled, “Translating a 125,000-word book: connections and corrections”. There is no available link, since her website has been disabled for some time.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a LinkedIn message today from Catherine enclosing a Word document containing the original blog post. For about the last five years, Catherine has been employed full-time as a copywriter and plans starting blogging again on digital strategy and communications. My original guest blog will reappear on her site once her new blog is up and running, but will also remain here illustrated with badly taken photographs of a set of prints I purchased when I did whispered gisting for the keynote speaker at a Sustainable Viticulture Symposium held at the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon in January 2015 during all proceedings except his keynote address.
Here is the guest blog, together with a blurb constructed a full year before I went to my first-ever translators’ conference, believe it or not. Dead links have been updated, and one new link to a presentation on collaboration essentials added, so that you can see it was the experience described below which gave rise in the first place to the ideas in the presentation. It should be noted that these 125,000 words were translated without the use of any CAT tool.
Translating a 125,000-word book: connections and corrections
As one of many scatterlings of southern Africa, Allison Wright, a German/French/Portuguese into English translator, finally put down roots a few years ago in the Algarve, Portugal, from where she relishes every single day working now as a full-time freelance translator. Translation of this work of non-fiction was somewhat of a departure from her more usual engagement in financial, corporate, marketing and non-governmental texts since 1987.
This guest post is about my German to English translation of a book entitled Rebsortenatlas Spanien und Portugal – Geschichte – Terroir – Ampelographieby Hans Jörg Böhm. I am going to discuss aspects of collaboration on a large non-fiction translation project and the idea that a combination of careful research, passionate interest and insistence upon perfection can result in a successful outcome.
Work began on 2 March 2011, and I signed off on the final proofs on 28 July 2011, about five weeks after submitting the “final” translation to the English revisor.
So, how, you may ask, does one get to translate such things in the first place? Am I a specialist on the subject of indigenous grapevine varieties on the Iberian Peninsula? No. Am I well-connected in the publishing world? No. Am I well-known in wine circles? No, once again. Is this even the book (or the language) I proposed to translate when I submitted my formal proposal to the author at the end of January 2011? Why, of course not! How, then?
Pardon the pun: I heard it on the grapevine.
I live in a village in the Algarve in Portugal. A series of haphazard connections and information that the author wanted an English translation prompted me to submit a proposal to him to translate his previous book, O Grande Livro das Castas (The Big Book of Grapevine Varieties) from Portuguese. This book (approximately 100,000 words) was, if you like, the precursor to what I ended up translating. It was a question of asking and receiving – albeit something entirely different to what I had envisaged.
My motivation to translate the precursor to the Vine Atlas was two-fold. I know enough Portuguese to say that there are many bad translations from Portuguese into English being published daily in the local press and in countless brochures for the benefit of tourists. The bulk of this work is being done by people for whom English is not their mother tongue, and whose chief vocation in life is certainly not that of translator.
The thought of one of these “translators” getting their hands on O Grande Livro das Castas was like receiving a double dose of aspirin without the benefit of an accompanying glass of water! This general impression was rammed home by the fact that the published translation into English of the Abstract was unfortunate on so many levels that it presented me with a prime opportunity to show the author what a good translation should look like.
The second motivating factor stemmed from the gradual realisation that much of what is glorious and great and incredibly interesting in Portugal remains “hidden” from the English-speaking world. For want of translators, the English-speaking world does not benefit nearly enough from the cultural, historical and scientific wealth Portugal has to offer. In short, I believed the content of the book I wanted to translate needed a wider international audience.
Meeting the author
The author contacted me by telephone in response to my carefully drafted written proposal. Thus began our collaboration.
I first met the author in Lisbon 17 days after I had begun the translation in order to negotiate my contract (in Portuguese) with the publisher. The author collected me from the train station, and by the time we had reached the publishers, we had exchanged basic personal information and opinions on a wide range of subjects.
Working with the author, query by query
One month after the start of the translation, the author visited me at my home. We sat in my study for two hours while I went through all the queries I had with regard to the completed Part I of the book. He rather disparagingly called me a perfectionist. I took it as a compliment, of course. He left me with Parts II and III. I did not see the author again until mid-June, during which time he and I spent almost five days at his wine estate going through Parts I, II and III with a fine tooth comb.
Going through the German revisions with the author
His German editor had made extensive revisions to the German, and it was important to ensure that the two texts corresponded. I had the singular pleasure of reading out aloud pages 88 to 162 of my translation, while the author followed the German text. Clearly his bilingualism was an advantage here. Queries and anomalies I had discovered in Part IV were also covered. As a test of my stamina at this late stage, I also received about another 2,000 words to translate by way of extra tables and text boxes (Surprise!) and the jacket cover (which was in Portuguese; I never saw the German!), and we had endless fun ensuring the figures and tables were correctly numbered and labelled.
Socialising with other collaborators
The author hosted a lunch at the end of this five-day marathon, attended by one of the collaborating authors who contributed much of Part I of the book, and the two layout and design men and their wives. This socialising stood us all in good stead when it came to signing off on the final proofs.
Making a plan
The translator has a job. It is, simply, to translate the book for a fee by a certain date – to satisfaction. In this case, to the author’s satisfaction. How you do it, and what you suffer in order to accomplish it, is of no consequence or interest to anyone. You do, however, need a plan.
The first prerequisite is to be able to quantify what you have to do. I have been translating since 1987, so I have plenty of practice in estimating how many words are on a page. The trick is to learn what 100 words looks like, no matter what font is used. Then it is easy to gauge what 1,000 words looks like. It turns out that my estimate of O Grande Livro das Castas was accurate. What I did not anticipate is that the German successor book was going to be longer. And most of that extra length was contained in the last part of the book – the ampelography. This brings me to the fortuitousness of my next piece of advice.
Base output on 75% of your daily capacity
Before starting the project, plan your own delivery programme based on 75%, at most, of your average daily capacity. And I mean average. For instance, if I translate 1,000 words for nine days in a row, and 100 words on the tenth day, my daily average is not 1,000 words, it is 910 words. Do not be ambitious. Be honest. You will need this 25% contingency. It is easily soaked up by time spent on research, and the necessity for housework, foraging for food, and very occasional relaxation.
Keep track of daily progress
On a large project it is important to have a clear idea of your own progress – every single day. Determine in advance the number of hours you can sensibly work per day. Then you will know how much you can reasonably expect to translate per day, and per week. It is very motivating for me to mark the place in the text I need to get to by the end of the day, or the week. If bright pink highlighting works for you, use it. It is essential to pace yourself in this way to prevent feelings of disorientation and frustration. This is the “eating an elephant one bite at a time” approach.
You will also discover how many days in a row you can work full-time without a day off. My range is between 18 and 23 days, but it is probably best to make sure you have an entire day off once a fortnight at least. Burn-out is not an option.
Timesheets and scorecards
I kept a timesheet for the first month of the project. After that, it was not necessary; there was not much variation in the number of hours I worked, or the number of words I translated every day. I did keep a “scorecard” though and privately celebrated every time another 5% of the job had been completed.
As a translator of a big book, you are one tiny little cog in a giant machine. You have your part to play, and you do it. For most of the time, however, you are working alone. What you need to do is set up your own private collaborators, who have nothing to do with the contract itself.
Your collaborators are the people around you. Your partner, friends and family need a broad outline of your plan and regular updates on how things are going. I showed my landlord (not that he is a literary man) my complimentary copy of O Grand Livro das Castas to give him an idea of what I was doing and to advise him that money would be coming to him at strange times of the month. Collaborators are support people who help you achieve your objective.
I immediately employed a proofreader. Not a professional proofreader, but someone with a wide general knowledge whose honesty I could rely on. This person was briefed to find obvious typos, but more importantly, to mark passages of my translated texts that still sounded “too German”.
Every Friday, I would print out the week’s work and take the pages to her. In return, I would receive the revised pages of the previous week. Sometimes the thought of this brief “reality check” and chat over coffee was the only thing that kept me going.
Minor collaborators include your routine activities. If you always do something at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, continue to do it, especially if it gives you a chance to get away from the desk. Life does go on after completion of a large project; there is no reason to stop everything during the project. You do, however, have to achieve your daily targets, even if this means having a longer day to fit in your Wednesday afternoon commitment.
One other important consideration is collaboration with your existing clients. At the start of the project I only had a few clients I could call regular. Once I was certain that the project was mine, I let them all know. When the project was definitely over, I informed them. Some of those clients continue to give me regular work; others do not. If you think you can take on a project of this magnitude and continue with your regular clients, do bear in mind that a large project has a way of consuming your every waking moment (and half your dream life). This, I believe is a necessary part of the process we call achieving excellence. Sustained focused effort judiciously and intelligently applied produces excellence. Believe me, any distractions you allow will reflect in your work, and detract from achieving your objective.
Crazily, though, I did take on a new Pt-En client in early May, and spent a day and a half doing the job. Different subject, different language pair. A change is as good as a holiday, I thought, and indeed it did prove to be a sanity-preserver.
On a project on a specific subject, you have to determine your main sources of research. I already knew from my “sample” translation of the Abstract that there were more than ample resources online. If I could not have found what I needed online, my first port of call would have been the author (who has an extensive private library). In fact, one term had me doing my nut in. I asked the author, and he had the term straight away – with conviction. Job done.
Online research, however, is not always free. Were I to negotiate the contract now, I may well have insisted on about €300 to be used specifically for subscriptions to trade journals for more rapid access to the answers I needed.
Immersion and active learning
Collaboration with one’s author is a fine thing indeed, but it is no substitute for work on one’s own – the kind of work which pushes the boundaries of your knowledge zone, your comfort zone, and even your method.
Immersion in the subject matter while conducting your research is a process of active learning. Even if we learn something in a foreign language, some part of our brain helps us understand it in terms of our mother tongue (hence the need for sleep!). The discernment one acquires as a result of active learning as well as the filtering process our brains do during sleep contribute to the quality and precision of the translated text. The effort can be enormous; the results are worth the effort.
One can never lose sight of the simple objective in this case: to produce a volume in English. The work has to pass the following standard: Would another professional translator in the same language pair, or a discerning reader familiar with this subject be able to tell that this is a translation? If the answer is an unequivocal “no” then – and only then – has the translation been successful.
Dealing with the quality of the source text
The other equally harsh question one must constantly ask: Would another specialist in this field accept this text as valid? Would he or she pick holes in it? Now, as a translator, one cannot be criticised for the quality of the content of the source text, but if the content is erroneous in any way, this has to be raised as an issue.
This is where research and collaboration meet. Simply put, if what you are translating does not make sense, you have to find someone (the author, or someone in his collaborative constellation) who can rewrite the passage so that it does. I can hear some people saying, “I am just the translator – that is not my responsibility”. Yes, it is. Your name is on the title page. Whatever is wrong with the translation – even if it is finely translated nonsense – will be your fault, and yours alone. Channels of command have to be observed in these cases, because this is what engenders the greatest amount of co-operation with you, the translator. This kind of collaboration requires tact, firmness, good timing, and a solid basis of fact (research backup). This could be one of the things that chews into your 25% contingency on time.
Bringing all past experiences to your translation
Collaboration does not only occur with people. In the translation process, it occurs with aspects of yourself.
You bring your whole life’s experience to each and every new experience you have, whether or not you are conscious of it. Similarly, with every new text you translate, you bring to that translation the experience of every single translation you have previously performed in your life. You also bring every other (non-translation) experience you have had.
On the surface, I was contracted as a German to English translator. The text itself has a sprinkling of French and Latin, and has Spanish and Portuguese placenames and names of historical figures, and others throughout. If there was an accent missing on a Portuguese place name, I put it back in. Typographical errors in all of the above languages were corrected and verified. Part of the job of a German to English translator? I do not know the answer to that question. Perfectionism? You bet!
Undated self-portrait. Alfredo Roque Gameiro (1864-1935), watercolour on paper, José Mahloa Museum.
Understanding how the author thinks
Next, a rather nebulous factor: The native German author has lived in Portugal for the last 40 years, and his German has suffered somewhat as a result. He speaks Portuguese and English. The key to occasional strange word use was to say the word out loud as if it were Portuguese. Bingo! He had simply germanicised a Portuguese word. If I did not have the habit of reading aloud problem sentences, and if I had no knowledge of Portuguese, I would not have thought of that.
This phenomenon was not confined to the lexical level either. Sometimes, the ordering of thoughts in sentences followed a Portuguese pattern more than a German one, as did those lexical items which join thoughts from one sentence to another. This required an intuitive approach. I never raised this issue with the author, and I will not criticise him for it, because we all have our own linguistic idiosyncrasies which contribute to the dynamic nature of language itself. Being able to meet the author, converse with him on matters not necessarily related to the book and listen to how he spoke in English and Portuguese gave me an inkling as to “how he thinks” and was a valuable tool in deciphering a number of passages in this work.
Doing research in different languages
Now to the language of research. Let us remember that the broad subject was grapevines, not wine, yet the two are closely linked. Collaborating authors on this work were Spanish and Portuguese. Historically, it is not only these two nationalities which have contributed to the literature, but also the Italians, Germans and French in no particular order, and well as many others. This means that frequently I had a choice of language in which I could read background information. A typical route may have been to go from German to French and thence to the English term I required. Sometimes the only background information available to me was in Portuguese or Spanish. As I have already mentioned, Spanish is not one of my languages, but as many who know Portuguese will tell you, one can have a rudimentary understanding of Spanish if one knows Portuguese. There were various brief incursions into Latin poetry too, and these sorely tested my memory of fragments learned over 30 years ago. The latter also made me realise that only the dullest excerpts are chosen for the school syllabus.
Had I not been able to understand these languages, I would have been forced to engage in more collaboration with someone who could tell me in a language I understand what the information said. This would have been potentially tiresome and costly in terms of time, and may not have yielded the best answers.
Le mot juste
As translators, we conduct research for two basic reasons: to ensure we have a proper understanding of the text to be translated; and to ensure that we use the correct terminology in the target text.
The Yes! feeling of piecing the puzzle together is a very private one, and short-lived. Private, because, once again, no-one wants to know how long it took you to find le mot juste; short-lived because of the next terminological query further down the page. This is the painstaking part of translation where the only collaboration is between the text, you, and the text you are crafting into a translation. Woe betide anyone who disturbs you in these, the purest of moments!
My most valuable partner
My most valuable and cherished experience in the entire process was the true collaboration I experienced with the English revisor who was originally employed by the now bankrupt publisher, but whom the author himself paid to proofread the final translation.
As translator, I had the final say on the copy; something which I insisted on during contract negotiation. This meant that the revisor proofread the entire text, made occasional queries as to content, and returned the documents to me to accept or reject changes prior to my sending the final to the design and layout team at the publishers. She was efficient, professional, meticulous, and had a good sense of humour.
We met first on the telephone, had countless e-mail exchanges, and met in person at the launch. As a Portuguese and Spanish to English translator, she brought a wealth of cultural and linguistic knowledge to her work. Her relative distance from the text provided the impetus needed for it to become truly polished. This is something I freely acknowledge I could not have done on my own. In the spirit of collaboration, we both duly expressed to the author the excellence of our co-operation and the high mutual esteem which had developed as a result.
The final proofs
The next collaboration was perhaps the most difficult for me; signing off on the final proofs. The language shared by me, two layout and design men and the author was Portuguese. Any changes, therefore, had to be documented in Portuguese. This meant a fairly sharp learning curve for me. It is one thing to translate from Portuguese into English; it was quite another for me to express myself clearly in Portuguese when the state of the final proofs depended on it!
This was a type of mental gymnastics I had not performed before. I am glad of the experience and know that the two I collaborated with found it rewarding too. I am sure I made several linguistic gaffes; we all needed a bit of laughter by deadline stage and I did not mind being the one providing the humour. The fact that we had met in person at the author’s home in mid-June reveals that the author certainly knows a thing or two himself about successful collaboration.
Launching the German- and Portuguese-language versions
The launch of the published hardcover German and Portuguese versions took place at the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon on 15 September 2011.
In search of a publisher for the English-language version
I have a soft cover copy of the English volume. Some discerning (English) readers have read it and given positive personal reviews.
I have continued my collaboration with the author and one or two others in the search for a publisher. Now, all the book needs is for the head of a major publishing firm to holiday in the Algarve this summer.
The trilingual BETA version of the Vine to Wine Circle portal was launched on 3 January 2013. It contains the Vine Atlas of Spain and Portugal, and its German and Portuguese counterparts, substantial content from O Grande Livro das Castas (in all three languages), and an extra section on the wine regions of Portugal drafted especially for this portal. Work on the portal involved translating a further 80,000 words, more or less.
My collaboration with the author and co-ordinator of this work continues to this day. Late in 2017 the quadrilingual Illustrated Wine Glossary picture above (primary language: Portuguese) was published. I revised the English terms (and made a good many corrections elsewhere, but not before I travelled up to Montemor-O-Novo to the author’s wine estate and thence with the author to Tomar where we spent the day working closely with the same man co-responsible for the layout work in all books mentioned in this blog (except the one for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, of course) and the Vine to Wine Circle.
I also got to do really interesting things, such as a guided tour of the winery just for me given by the marketing manager (reward: seeing the interior of an empty 2,000 litre fermentation tank), working for a couple of hours feeding bottles into the bottling plant at the author’s wine estate (reward: a bottle of wine), examine the stationary mechanical wine harvesters to my heart’s content (reward: curiosity satisfied), and, best of all, agreeing the plan of action with the author for his next book over a couple of bottles of some of the best French white wine in the world; the author’s attempt in vain to convince me that that exceptional white wines do exist. Give me an Alentejo red any day. I am particular about which varieties I drink, but that is another story.