Displaying items by tag: blog2021

convert pdf

The TechSIG meeting of 3 June 2021 was very well attended, with 38 participants.  The topic for this meeting was ‘Converting PDFs and OCR’.  The presenters were Jenny Zonneveld and Hans van Bemmelen.

Jenny started off with well-known advice that deserves to be repeated: tell the client that you charge extra for converting the file from PDF, because if you do, sometimes the client will discover that they have it available in an editable format after all!

Jenny then proceeded to explain various ways to use Microsoft Word itself to perform PDF conversion.  In the latest versions of Word, one can load PDF files directly, either by using File > Open, or by dragging and dropping the PDF file into Word (if there is an existing file open, drag and drop the PDF file to the ribbon).  Word then converts the PDF file into a Word document.

Acrobat Standard DC, which is the cheapest PDF reader in the Adobe suite, can also export PDF files to Word.  Go to Tools > Export PDF.  The quality of Acrobat's conversion is often better than that of Word.

Finally, Jenny showed a few ways of converting the PDF file in Abbyy FineReader, an OCR program.  FineReader can convert images and PDF files to a number of other formats, but it is not a PDF editor.  Hans then gave an extensive explanation of how to deal with a rather complex sample PDF file in FineReader.  Hans and Jenny demonstrated several tips and tricks in particular for dealing with tables in FineReader.

Jenny explained how to troubleshoot problems with scanned newspaper clippings.  Samuel Murray gave the tip that one can improve the accuracy of OCR conversion by extracting the pages from the PDF file and converting them to images (eg, JPG), and then improving the quality of those images in a free program like XnView, before loading the images into FineReader.  In XnView, go to Image > Map or go to Image > Adjust.  There are various free websites for extracting pages from PDFs to images.  Martina Abagnale recommended PDFSam (the premium version can convert PDFs to images).

It was also mentioned that some CAT tools do very good PDF-to-Word conversion.  Trados in particular creates Word files that are very ‘translator-friendly’ in the sense that it does not insert line breaks in places where translators would not want them.

Hans explained that if a client sends a Word file that was converted from PDF very poorly, it may be better to re-convert that file to PDF and back to Word again.  In Word, File > Export > Export as PDF.  Then use FineReader to convert it back to Word.

One hour was far too short to cover all of this very relevant topic, and we will certainly have another TechSIG meeting about it in future.

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art gallery

It was the second Wednesday of the odd month – time for the Utrecht Translation SIG meeting. A small group of regular Translation SIG-goers met on Zoom. One of our members had given us a text to look at, so after hearing each other’s news we opened the text: an introduction to an art catalogue.

Even if you’re not into art and exhibitions or if this isn’t your daily bread, translating out of your comfort zone can still make for an interesting discussion. We spent a large part of the first hour talking about the context, the author and the potential audience.

This text was in a genre of its own; something quite different from the marketing or research documents many of us frequently work on. And perhaps because it was outside our comfort zone, we found there were many things we’d like to have asked the author. We also felt in need of background information about the organization publishing the art catalogue. A quick look at the website didn’t really answer many of these queries, so it was good to have some insider knowledge.

You might think that a text about art would include tangible topics like form and colour – this prose was quite the opposite. We also learned that where first we thought ‘manifestaties’ might be a false friend, it was in fact not. We could translate ‘meerdere manifestaties en projecten’ as ‘multiple manifestations and projects’ because ‘manifestation’ is also used in English in the contemporary art sector, similar to the way that ‘happenings’ earned a particular use in the art world of the 1960s.

As we progressed to the next sentence, we thought the text was unnecessarily vague. Even the simple phrase ‘…een huis in de stad… ’ didn’t mention which city. Was it Amsterdam or Timbuktu? Apparently, that’s not relevant. What we did consider relevant was whether the piece was addressing fellow artists and those who had exhibited in ‘the house in the city’ or the public who had viewed and admired their works. But, as we learned, in this genre, the art text is intended not to simply explain (or sell), but to be an experience in itself that has affinity with the work it describes.

Amongst the other topics discussed during the meeting, we touched on a problem one of us had encountered recently. A Dutch website being translated contained a menu item entitled ‘Breekijzers’ for which a concise figurative translation was required. It wasn’t until our colleague stepped back, analysed the context and shared the problem on the SENSE forum that a solution emerged. Another SENSE member responded on a Saturday afternoon saying “I think that the word you are looking for is staring you in the face: imperatives.” And so the collective brain of SENSE members contributed to helping the client communicate their purpose. 

We moved on to reflect upon another piece of work in progress and another art form: a music festival. Our translator considered the opening sentence to not be quite as unifying as the author intended:

Original: Of ze nu katholiek, joods of orthodox is, religieuze muziek verbindt altijd.

We had to bear in mind that the Dutch and English translations would be appearing side by side. That made one alternative – to leave out the religions and simply say something like ’Sacred music of any kind always connects people’ – potentially look a little blank next to the Dutch. And ‘orthodox’ itself is not one faith, so that needed clarification. Our colleague reported that the source text was adapted after consultation with the author:

Revised: Of ze nu katholiek, joods, Russisch-orthodox of wat dan ook is, religieuze muziek verbindt altijd.

These examples illustrate how translators contribute to the effectiveness of their client’s communication by leaving comments and asking questions – even to the extent that one client ended up changing their original text.

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correcting red pen on printout

I’m regularly asked to revise other people’s translations and I work with a revision partner for much of my own translation work. It isn’t always comfortable seeing what a colleague suggests changing. After all, I’ve done my best to convey the meaning and message in my translation. Everyone has their own unique way of expressing themselves, and the same goes for translators. However, I might have misunderstood something in the source text or not spotted a typing mistake, so it’s good to have a colleague cast their eye on my work too. I’m always eager to learn and I attend a good number of workshops and webinars each year to further develop my skills as a translator, copywriter and editor. So when the opportunity arose in 2020 to attend a SENSE workshop entitled Best practice for revising translations given by the translation revision guru Brian Mossop (the author of Revising and Editing for Translators, 4th edition), I didn’t have to think twice.

What did I learn?

During the workshop we discussed revising our own translations as well as translations written by colleagues. We revise our writing, and that includes translation, because everyone makes mistakes. When revising, we read the text as if we are the end reader. If we notice something doesn’t read smoothly, that’s what we should correct. It’s a fact that different people notice different problems. What sounds okay to me might jar in someone else’s ears.

Productivity tools for revising

As a techy sort of person if there’s a tool that will help me and speed up my work, I’ll use it. I have two main tools I use for checking my work, PerfectIt to check consistency and enforce style rules, and TextAloud, a text to speech engine so I can hear what I’ve written. These tools help me eliminate things a spelling checker won’t find. For example, in haste I might type form when I meant to type from!

Revising my own work

When I revise my own translations, I check I’ve understood the source text properly and rendered it correctly in good English, in a style to suit the client’s intended audience. Naturally, I check all the numbers, I find and fix my own typos, improve the flow and ensure the spelling and grammar is all correct. If I change my mind and think of a better expression for something, I’m free to change my own writing.

Revising another translator’s work

When I’m revising someone else’s translation work, I think carefully before using my red pen. Just as for my own work, I check the meaning of the source text is properly conveyed in good English and in a style to suit the client’s intended audience. I put myself in the position of the end reader. I will not be looking to make unnecessary changes, but I will make a change if I spot something that’s clearly a mistake or I can improve the rhythm and flow of the text, and so help convey the message even better.

My five revision guidelines

I’ve summarised my key learnings from the workshop in the following five revision guidelines I’ve written for myself.

  1. I justify the changes I make.
    If I can’t justify a change to the translation I’m revising, then it probably isn’t really necessary. It’s not good enough to rewrite a sentence just because I think it sounds better that way. Categories of changes that are justified include: the meaning is ambiguous, the sentence structure is confusing, there’s a grammar or terminology issue, the writing is too informal or has the wrong tone.
  2. I don’t impose my writing style on the translation.
    Some translators translate more literally and some more freely and there’s an acceptable range. I must also consider whether the degree of translation freedom taken is appropriate for the type of document and the target audience. I want to avoid imposing my style on someone else’s work.
  3. I avoid retranslating.
    I think it’s better to make a small change to the translation rather than rewrite the whole sentence. I take pride in my work and want to see as much of it as possible back after revision, so I try to do that for my colleagues too.
  4. I go along with the translator’s choices if making changes requires significant effort.
    A translator may have chosen to write in the passive voice where I would normally write in the active voice.
    Passive: New production methods were introduced by the company last month.
    Active: Last month the company introduced new production methods.
    It would take considerable effort to make these kind of changes throughout a document. I think a better solution is to make a note and allow the translator to make the appropriate changes themselves.
  5. I don’t impose my personal preferences.
    Many words and phrases have synonyms, for example ‘bear in mind’, ‘keep in mind’ ‘take into account’, ‘take into consideration’, ‘remember’. Which is the best to use? That’s a decision I leave to the translator.

These points are top of mind when I’m revising a translation. We’re human and we can all make mistakes, which is why revising makes sense.

 

This blog post was originally published on the Translatext blog.

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LinkedIn logo on a glass panel against a scyscraper background

When I first used LinkedIn, way back in the primitive 2000s, it was basically an online CV. You just uploaded your education, skills and work experience, and miraculously employers, clients and colleagues would, at least in theory, get in touch. It was business networking without the lukewarm coffee and awkward silences. But now LinkedIn has evolved (or possibly devolved, depending on your views about social media) into a ‘professional Facebook’, where your personal brand must regularly accrue likes and comments to ensure it stays afloat in crowded, fast-flowing news feeds.

Marketing ourselves successfully is a challenge at the best of times. If only someone could give us some tips on how to attract attention and keep it. Luckily, LinkedIn expert Jan Willem Alphenaar came to the Starters SIG session on 29 April to do just that. 

He told us that more than 80% of the working population in the Netherlands uses LinkedIn, the highest proportion in Europe. But using it effectively is key, and JW explained some of the secrets behind its mysterious – and ever-changing – algorithm. For example, ‘Liking’ someone’s post will boost that post but will have no impact on your own visibility. If you comment, a small percentage of your contacts will see it – in fact, more than if you share the post. But the best results come from posting native content, or at least apparently native content (Jan Willem showed us a handy workaround if we want to share interesting external links with our network). 

Have you checked your social selling index lately? This illuminating concept – new to most attendees – is a score based on how well your LinkedIn profile fulfils the criteria that the platform regards as important. Jan Willem’s SSI was, naturally, in the top 1% of both his industry and his network. The rest of us have some way to go to reach that level of visibility.

To help us out with that, Jan Willem addressed different ways of making our personal profiles work harder, via key words, prominent contact information and recommendations. By coincidence, I’d also recently attended a free LinkedIn ‘Glow Up’ via Creative Mornings, presented by the effervescent Portia Obeng. Her virtual workshop focused specifically on remodelling the prime real estate of your profile to ensure it catches the attention of both clients and Google. Her excellent advice included low-cost ways to secure the perfect profile shot, and using your ‘headline’ to explain how you can help people (your value proposition). ‘Do not sell yourself short,’ she urged us modest freelancers, telling us to use our ‘About’ section to state what we do, how we do it and why we’re so good at it. ‘What motivates you to keep doing this work?’

Despite their very different styles and approaches, both Jan Willem and Portia have the same message: effective use of LinkedIn, as with any form of marketing, will help you reach the people who want to do business with you, and encourage them to engage with you. Stay active, optimize your profile and always include a call to action. Who knows what stimulating, well-paid projects – and stimulating, well-connected contacts – may result? 

Thanks to the Starters SIG conveners Anne Oosthuizen, Danielle Carter and Martina Abagnale for organizing such a useful session. Now all I need to do is put it into practice…

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introverts 1

Are you an introverted entrepreneur? In other words, are you a freelancer who enjoys your own company and staying in your comfort zone? But have you ever wondered whether this might be holding you back? Do you assume that extroverts are more successful, for example because they’re better at networking and bringing in work? Let’s dispel some of those myths and hear from a fellow introvert who has gone through such struggles herself: Mariella Franker is a former science communicator who has recently started offering productivity coaching for introverts. Read on to discover the hidden benefits of being an introvert.

Many of the language professionals in SENSE – including translators, editors, language trainers and copywriters – would probably identify as introverts, especially the freelancers. What frustrations might they have that you also used to have as an introvert?

Oh, I had so many frustrations, haha. I used to wake up in the morning and hope, just hope, that I was going to get my most important to-do's done that day. I'd start work optimistically but, before I knew it, it was 5 pm and I didn't know where the time had gone. In a way, it felt like I had no control over how productive I was. I would get distracted, eg, by emails, smaller projects, or unexpected calls from clients or colleagues. My work-life balance wasn’t even an issue, because it wasn’t there. I worked almost constantly, always felt busy, tired, and anxious about my performance or that I was missing opportunities. Then, other health issues came up: I nearly burned out, I got pre-diabetes and pregnancy diabetes because I wasn’t eating well, and my body didn’t get enough rest to heal. Usually, I’d slip into a coma on the coach on Friday evenings and sleep the whole weekend, only to start working again on Sunday evening to make sure I could ‘keep up’ the next week. In the meantime, the things I really wanted to do for myself got pushed further and further to the back. I really wanted to write, and I actually have a folder full of blog posts that I never published. I was either too tired to finish them or my perfectionism would get in the way. Other people seemed to get results so easily, so this only added to the frustration and a feeling of failure.

introverts 2 

 
You’ve not been a coach for very long, Mariella. What prompted you to change the focus of your work from writing to coaching?

Yes Sally, that’s true, I changed my focus to coaching in mid-2020. The funny thing is, though, that it feels like I’ve secretly been training for this my whole life. I’ve always been interested in productivity, so I read a lot of research and I tested out a lot of things in my daily life. I started with time management because I thought that if I could manage my time as efficiently as possible, that would be the answer to achieve all my goals and dreams. After nearly burning out several years ago, I realized that I’d forgotten that energy management is essential to maintain productivity, especially because I’m introverted.

What prompted me to make this my business was the birth of my son on one hand, and getting coaching myself on the other. After my son was born, time took on a whole other meaning. Travelling an hour for my part-time job three days a week and taking freelance writing assignments the rest of the time was tiring, and I could barely spend any time with my family. My life was no longer aligned with my long-term goals and I needed to get really clear on how I wanted to live my life. When I went to a coach and discovered coaching in this way kind of by accident, things suddenly fell into place. Even though I’ve only just started, helping other people to achieve their goals and dreams through coaching is already the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever gotten to do.

 
What are the most important lessons that you have learned from your own experiences with a coach?

I’m learning so much from my coach and mentor, Marloes Bouwmeester. She has over ten years of coaching experience and she was the first coach in the Netherlands to make programmes for introverts. I went to her because I became frustrated when I got yet another performance review saying that I should be more assertive, even though the team was very happy with my performance. The most important thing that I learnt from her is that there is nothing wrong with me and that being an introvert is not a limitation. Without realizing it, I was just trying to fit an extroverted mould and I was working in ways that didn’t match my natural way of working. She taught me how to create space for myself in my work and in unexpected situations in an introvert-friendly way. It was a revelation! When I told her about my business idea around productivity, she suggested that we work together, and I feel really honoured that I get to train with her.

 
What can your coaching programme offer introverts?

My programmes are designed to play into the way our brains naturally work. I focus on natural productivity, introverted superpowers and easy ways to form habits. Introverts process stimuli differently from extroverts and we have different energy needs. When we play into this, we feel more confident and at ease with who we are, the inner critic is less dominant, and we achieve our goals faster and with fewer struggles. Small and simple changes can have a huge effect here. In a busy life and with so much going on in the world today, it can feel like a real task to proactively set goals. I look for simple solutions and how to make things easy to do, because it’s not the big gestures but consistency that helps us achieve goals.

The online course that I’m developing now offers a practical guide on how to do this, but it’s meant to be tailored to you depending on your personal goals and what helps you to work in productive flow. Think of it as a roadmap that helps you to design a toolkit with the right tools for you to be naturally productive in your life.

introverts 5
 
If someone reading this wants to know more about it, where can they find more information?

The best way to see if this is for you is by joining my explorative taster sessions. I’m giving away three short sessions where we’ll explore how to create space for your personal dreams and goals by using your strengths as an introvert. Each day at 10:00 CET, there will be a 15-minute lesson via Zoom with a short exercise at the end. The exercises explore how to be productive in a way that feels natural to you. It’s an invitation to start carving out that space for yourself. Recordings of the sessions will also be available so if you can’t join on Zoom, you’ll still get the information afterwards. If you feel pulled in a million directions, don't know what to prioritize, or struggle to balance your ambitions with your energy needs as an introvert, then these explorative taster sessions are for you. You can sign up for free here: https://www.subscribepage.com/atasteofbacktobasics

introverts 6

(Images via Unsplash: Ameer Basheer, Luis Villasmil, Naassom Azevedo, Caroline Veronez, S Migaj // Free taster sessions with Mariella Franker, PhD: photo by Ken Ramroochsingh.)

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terminology solution

On 30 April, SenseMed held their first online meeting to discuss the problems editors face with ever-changing scientific terminology. This was SenseMed’s second meeting so far, the first one being held in-person before the pandemic forced everything online. One advantage of online meetings is that people can join in from anywhere and the meeting was well attended by editors and translators in England, Germany and Spain as well as the Netherlands, setting the stage for some fruitful discussion!

After giving everyone a chance to introduce themselves, SenseMed convenor Curtis Barrett kicked the meeting off by explaining the topic under discussion: when we, as scientific editors, come across terminology that we are not sure about, what should we do? Should we just make sure the language is correct and move on – or is it our responsibility to intervene? Curtis described one example of odd terminology he came across in a research paper and how he solved the problem after a long discussion with his fellow SENSE members Kate McIntyre and Jackie Senior. In this case, the client was pleased with Curtis’ intervention. But Curtis also shared examples of times when he was sure the client had used the wrong terminology, only to discover that this was a new term and his client was completely correct.

Kate emphasized this problem of ever-changing terminology using ‘-omes’ as an example. We are all familiar with the genome, the proteome and even the transcriptome, but things are really getting out of hand. These days, there’s an ‘-ome’ for everything and, worse still, individual ‘-omes’ often have multiple meanings. So what is an editor to do? Kate suggested a useful strategy: check the phrase in Google, if it still seems unclear check PubMed or ask a colleague, and if you are still none the wiser, query the author.

This is an excellent strategy (and it is pretty much what I do myself), but there are problems. We may meet some resistance if our bill suddenly doubles because we spent half a day on the phone to a colleague trying to decipher what ‘microbiome’ means in a paper we are editing. And what if our client has specified that they only want us to check the language? Surely we should respect that and provide the service we have been asked to give?

Yes and no. The brief we get from our client should, of course, be respected and adhered to as far as possible (if we want to keep our clients anyway!). However, I think it is also important not to forget who we are really working for: the reader. We can only do the best job for our clients if we think about their reader when editing their work. If we stumble on a word or phrase in a scientific article, there is every chance that the reader may do so too, even if that word is established in the field. Adding a comment in the margin to point out that a short explanation would help the reader does not take long and could make all the difference.

This SenseMed meeting was lively and gave us plenty of food for thought. Curtis tells me that he already has ideas for the next meeting, so watch this space!

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monolingual jerk

Alison Edwards-Lange aka The Rogue Linguist, is a free-range researcher, translator, editor, writer and lover of tennis, infra-structure and collared shirts done all the way up.

In his book The relocation of English the linguist Mario Saraceni describes getting a bite to eat one night in Luang Prabang, a small town in Laos. The food stall was popular with foreigners and ‘[i]t was normal that there would be about twenty or thirty people of different nationalities eating and talking together. English was used as a lingua franca and conversations were smooth.’ Until a young Brit asked the owner for something. At this ‘[t]he owner looked at his customer with a puzzled expression and asked him if he could speak English’. As Saraceni – himself originally from Italy – continues, 

The Englishman, a little annoyed, repeated his request, adding a few decibels to his utterance for the sake of clarity, but still failing to make himself understood by the owner. At that point I decided to intervene and I volunteered to ‘translate’ what the young man was trying to say, and the owner finally understood. My ‘translation’ was not into Lao, but into English. 

What was it that the Englishman had such trouble getting across? As it turns out, he wanted nothing more complicated than ‘plain water’. The problem was that he 

was using his own local variety of English, popularly known as ‘Estuary English’, and did not seem to be aware that the glottal stop he was producing in his pronunciation of ‘water’ as /wɔʔə/ made the word totally incomprehensible to the owner of the food stall, thus causing the only instance of communication breakdown of that evening. In a world where English ‘native’ speakers haven’t quite cottoned on to the fact that they are now vastly outnumbered by ‘non-native’ speakers (I use the scare quotes deliberately, but that’s another post in itself), it is native speakers who are often the cause of communication breakdowns.

Having never gone through the painstaking process of learning a foreign language, many native speakers lack awareness of the basic accommodation skills that oil the wheels of international communication. And so they simply plough on with the English they grew up with in the Scottish Highlands or out the back of woop-woop in Australia. 

So without further ado, here are 10 ways to know if you’re being a monolingual Anglosplaining jerk.

1. You refuse to watch The Bridge because it has subtitles. No, scratch that – it’s news to you that there is anything other than a Gillian Anderson version.
2. You don’t bother to learn basic greetings and pleasantries when travelling, even to places where Hello is … Hallo.
3. When your neighbour Ulrich tells you he’s been sinking about buying some new lederhosen, you have no clue, not the faintest idea, cannot possibly imagine what he might be trying to say.
4. You think of non-native English speakers as having ‘an accent’. Guess what? You have one too! It’s no more possible to have ‘no’ accent than it is to have ‘no’ eye colour, unless of course you’re an anime character.
5. You’re genuinely surprised that not all non-native speakers aspire to sound like you. For many, losing their accent would mean losing a part of their identity. Also, they piss themselves laughing when you say ‘crumpet’.
6. You’re nothing short of scandalised when an idle dinner party conversation reveals that your friend Natalya from Vladivostok – someone you went to grad school with, someone you thought you knew – hasn’t read Finnegan’s Wake. When’s the last time you picked up Крейцерова соната?
7. Having never learnt another language yourself, you have no clue how to accommodate to people who speak it as their umpteenth language. So you alternate between not adjusting your speech at all (‘Bit of a sticky wicket for your lot, eh, these new immigration controls?’) and mistaking being foreign for being severely brain dead (this is formally known as the Steve McLaren).
8. You went on holiday to Myanmar – which was big enough of you already, thank you very much – and when the tea lady in Bagan failed to understand your request for organic marigold loose-leaf tea with soy you sighed and muttered under your breath ‘And of course they don’t even speak English, well isn’t that just perfect.’
9. You find it perfectly plausible that because the Chinese have no past tense, they’re still mad at Japan because it feels like the war is still happening now. So, okay, this one was (unverifiably) attributed to the economist Keith Chen, who is actually bilingual. Still. Also, google him – if you’ve ever wondered what a scrap between an economist and all the linguists would look like, you’re in for a treat.
10. You take the liberty of ‘correcting’ the English of your friend/colleague/classmate Deepa from Delhi. You even imagine she appreciates it. Then she points out that English is her first language too. You Anglosplaining jerk.

This piece was originally published in eSense 45 (2017). A version of this post, including the memes appropriated here, appeared previously on The Rogue Linguist blog.

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Caesar Salad 2

On 15 March, about a dozen SENSE members came together online to enjoy a lively chat in good company. We had planned the informal get-together to last for one hour but it turned out, once more, that time does indeed fly when you are having fun. The event ran on longer than the convener had bargained for and we will definitely plan a longer event next time.

The main reason for this lively evening was down to one of our newest SENSE members, who had a few interesting questions about getting started as a freelancer. This sparked a civilised discussion on setting up shop, post-editing (which will be covered in another post) and the oldest trick in the teacher’s book.

In today’s labour market, everybody seems to be focused on having the right qualifications. Thankfully, the language industry has a more pragmatic outlook on certificates. Holding a Master’s degree in translation and a PhD in engineering is very helpful if you want to become a technical translator. However, most translators will agree that you learn most about translating when translating. Demonstrating you can provide high-quality translation, or meticulous editing, is more important than impressive degrees. As one SENSE member pointed out, many members started before there were any specialised translation degrees to attain. Another member confirmed she made a living from the ‘mere’ fact that she knows English and can edit English text.

That said, it can still be daunting to venture into the world of translation and editing. As this event proved, translators and editors are very supportive of one another. Most see each other as colleagues and peers rather than competitors, and are happy to help or answer your questions. Newcomers to the profession are encouraged to find a more experienced translator or editor to check their work regularly. If you are new to the field, you can also sign up for SENSE’s Mentoring Programme to benefit from the help and support of a seasoned colleague.

We also discussed that conferences can be a useful way to learn, and that they provide a good opportunity for expanding your network. The BP conference, named after its place of origin Budapest, is an online conference that comes recommended by several members. The conference focuses on business practices for linguists and is very affordable.

During our discussion, we received a great tip that every language teacher should know. Oftentimes, speaking softly will force your students to be quiet and listen, otherwise there is no way of knowing what you’re actually saying. It’s a trick of the trade to grab their attention. Conversely, raising your voice to rowdy students will only make the cacophony worse!

Finally, as is tradition, we appointed a Southern SIG Member of the Month, that is to say, the attendee who is located farthest down south. Our first Southern SIG Member of the Month, Karen Leube, was succeeded by Kees Kranendonk, who joined us all the way from southern Spain. Congratulations, Kees!

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alex knight white robot unsplash

Few subjects are as controversial among translators* as machine translation post-editing (also known as MTPE or simply post-editing). Many translators say they wouldn’t touch machine translation with a bargepole, while others argue it is the future of translation and resistance is futile. In this blog post, I do not intend to advocate any particular position. I do recognise, however, that machine translation is here to stay and that the technology will only become more sophisticated and more widely used. I think that language professionals should be able to make an informed decision about post-editing, and I hope this blog post will help you make that call.

To this end, this article examines some of the drawbacks and advantages of post-editing from a freelance translator’s perspective. Furthermore, it provides a few practical tips on how to approach offers of post-editing work for those considering giving it a go. What post-editing means or how machine translation works is outside the scope of this blog post.

Drawbacks

One of the most striking issues with post-editing is the lack of work satisfaction. I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys post-editing or takes pride in working with this technology. Post-editing machine translation is often compared to fixing a very poor translation. Machines make entirely different kinds of mistakes and do so more repeatedly than any human translator ever would. For this reason, post-editing involves correcting the word order or inexplicably inconsistent terminology, among other unexciting things, and it quickly becomes tedious.

In addition, the purpose of machine translation is to make translation cheaper and quicker. As often cited, you can only pick two out of three in terms of cheap, quick and good. The result of your post-editing, therefore, is expected to be ‘fit for purpose’. A post-editor rarely has the time, nor are they paid, to go beyond fixing grammatical issues and the worst terminology problems. Improving the readability of the text, adapting the message to the readership or just making the translation prettier is more often than not out of the question. Yet these are precisely the areas in which a human translator can excel and get work satisfaction.

Strangely, the fact that it is unpleasant work does not mean post-editors are paid more. Quite the contrary, rates are often slashed, with the argument that the text is already ‘pre-translated’ and will take less effort to complete. This, in turn, means less time is available for the translation in order to earn the same amount. The focus shifts from translation quality to time spent, which again is very unsatisfactory.

It should also be noted that although there are similarities, post-editing requires a different skill set to translating or editing a translation because of the nature of machine translation. Post-editing doesn’t necessarily make you a better or more experienced translator. Translation is a craft best mastered through translating and both new and seasoned translators should be aware of the risk of overly relying on a machine. Machine translations can and will produce unusable output and you need to remain capable of translating yourself.

Advantages

The above drawbacks do not make post-editing very alluring and the advantages for the translator are often overlooked. Of course, the pay for post-editing is often much lower compared to human translation. But if you find yourself experiencing lulls in your work schedule, it can be interesting as a new line of additional revenue. To put it bluntly, poorly paid, uninteresting work is sometimes better than no work at all.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before, the quality of machine translation output is expected to improve over time, which should mean you will need less and less time to make the result acceptable. This higher productivity will result in a better pay per hour, which is fair, considering the results of your efforts will most likely have been used to train the machine and help it to learn from its mistakes. Indirectly, you will have contributed to that productivity increase.

Although striving for less than perfect quality can be very frustrating, you can use the lower expectations to your advantage. Since this doesn’t need to be your finest work, you can put less time and effort into it, saving you time and energy to spend on other, more challenging tasks. I am a morning person myself and I prefer to work on revisions and actual translation in the morning and postpone post-editing to the late afternoon when my concentration starts to drop. Needless to say, you should always meet the agreed quality standards, but post-editing doesn’t require the most productive moments of your day.

Lower quality standards can also mean more room for error. If you have no particular specialisation yet, post-editing can be a relatively safe way to dip your toe into the water. You can try out something new as a post-editing job, whereas you would feel daunted taking it on as a translation job. It may not help you become a better translator per se, but doing your terminology research to check whether the machine translation output actually makes sense can be a valuable learning experience.

Practical advice

Suppose you have considered the pros and cons of post-editing and decide to try it out. The first thing you should do is set clear ground rules with your client. If the client is asking you to accept a lower rate for post-editing, it is only fair to point out they cannot expect your usual quality.

Furthermore, machine translation handles some types of content better than others and it is important to remember the technology’s limitations. Post-editing simple, repetitive technical texts, like microwave manuals or help instructions, may well be twice as fast as human translation. Post-editing highly visible marketing copy, containing puns and cultural references, is probably a recipe for disaster. Discuss your concerns upfront and agree to be paid your usual rate if the machine translation output is indeed disappointing and you have to start from scratch.

Make sure you have a healthy mix of post-editing, translation, editing and maybe other work. As you almost certainly won't enjoy post-editing, you should make sure you keep working on interesting projects as well. In addition, keep in mind that you are not translating the text and you are aiming for a lower quality bar than usual. Nobody will complain about quality being too high, but your efforts won’t be reflected in your invoice.

If you don’t know what to expect from a human translation project, you would usually ask to see the source text. Similarly, it is perfectly normal to ask for a sample of the machine translation to assess if the output is any good and whether the suggested rate is appropriate for the effort needed. Finally, asking for feedback on your post-editing is just as professional as asking for feedback on your translation work.

Closing remarks

I would like to point out that I strongly believe the technology will not put translators out of work. As has been said by others before, machine translation is only a threat if you translate like a machine. Human translators will remain the best option for attractive marketing copy or highly specialised translation.

Moreover, it is important to note that machine translation will only render useful results after being fed millions and millions of words’ worth of high-quality human translation about that particular subject. In other words, machine translation needs human translation. If a client launches a brand-new, revolutionary product, machine translation will be of hardly any use because of the lack of previous human translations. Although the AI experts feel confident that machine translation will reach near-human quality in the years ahead, they do recognise the final 5% required to reach actual human translation quality will be extremely difficult to achieve. I dare to wonder whether human translators will ever be taken out of the equation completely.

In this article, I have taken a very pragmatic view of post-editing, but I am by no means a ruthless businessperson looking for a quick buck. On the contrary, I am a professional translator who takes pride in his work. I prefer translating to post-editing any day of the week. That said, I do think freelance translators should consider machine translation post-editing as a business opportunity rather than a threat to the profession. However, if you feel you would be deeply unhappy post-editing and have enough work coming in, or if it just doesn’t work for your specialism, the disadvantages will probably outweigh the advantages. If you could use a little extra work, it may be worth considering it in earnest. Finally, remember that you are a freelancer and the choice is entirely yours.

*When I use the word ‘translator’ I mean both translators and editors, considering the merits of post-editing for their work.

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Sally Hill in front of the Merus offices

Although many SENSE members are freelancers, this is not always the case. SENSE member and former freelancer Sally Hill has just started a new in-house job at an international biotech company. Claire Bacon caught up with her in the week she made the switch.

You are starting your new job as a scientific writer on 1 April. How long have you been working as a medical and scientific writer and when did you realize you wanted to make this your full-time job?

When I set up my business 13 years ago, it was initially as a freelance Dutch-English translator in the life sciences. I soon felt confident enough to offer editing as well, and through SENSE I got involved in teaching scientific writing. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I first started getting writing assignments too – from the same company I’m now moving to. The scientific reports I write for them are quite technical and nerdy, and right up my street. This encouraged me to look for similar clients, and I discovered the world of medical writing and the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA). Through this professional network, I realized that medical writing might be better suited to my science background.

But it was only recently that I thought of taking up this client’s offer of a part-time contract –previously, it would have been near impossible to schedule my teaching activities around fixed days at an office. Various things came together over the past few months: teaching for two of my university clients came to an end; all my other teaching went online because of the pandemic and the increased screen time was giving me back and neck issues; plus, my husband was thinking of going freelance himself. For financial security, we decided one of us should be on a fixed contract, and I was ready for a change!

I imagine the skills for medical and scientific writing overlap a little with those for medical editing. What makes you more suited to writing rather than editing? 

When I write for scientists, they really appreciate my critical questions and attention to detail – in other words, the aspects that made me rather a slow editor improve the quality and consistency of their documentation. When editing, I probably take too much time looking up references and researching the topic of a research paper I’m editing – often purely out of interest in the science, which I think I’ve probably always missed. But of course, my experience as an editor makes me a much better writer. And now I have a junior writer to help train up, for which my teaching experience will also come in handy. Win-win!

Did you do any special training when you transitioned to medical writing, or did you learn on the job?

It was mainly on-the-job training. In general, scientists become familiar with scientific writing during their master and doctoral studies, so it’s not something you need training in if that’s your background. And that’s where the scientists at the company ‘learned’ to write – not that their English is perfect, but for internal documentation that’s often less important. Of course, after I started offering scientific and medical writing as part of my business, I made sure to brush up my writing skills where possible by attending relevant webinars and workshops. I attended EMWA’s virtual conference last year and hope to go to the next one in May.

What advice would you give anybody who wants to move into medical writing? Does it help to work as an editor first?

Being a science editor certainly gives you a head start. But many medical writers are not native English speakers, and many have no formal language skills or training. Apart from the scientific writing that I do, medical writing can also include things like translation, statistics, regulatory writing, project management, marketing and copywriting. You don’t necessarily need specific training, but from what I can tell it can be hard to get a job without a bit of experience. Many people work in a related field before applying for a medical writing job.

EMWA offers lots of training workshops at their twice-yearly conferences and their website has a wealth of information and resources, including a useful Career Guide to Medical Writing. You can also join the Netherlands Science and Medical Writers Network that I helped set up with other freelancers. We have private groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where aspiring and experienced medical writers – both freelance and in-house – can ask questions, share resources and post jobs.

You are going to be working for Merus in Utrecht. What attracted you to this company?

Before making this decision, I did think carefully about whether we were a good match. Before the first lockdown, when I was still freelancing for them, I was going into the Merus offices once a week. Attending meetings and eating lunch in the staff canteen improved communication in general and helped my ‘colleagues’ know who I was. This also gave me a pretty good feel for the company and the people who work there. My gut feeling says they care about their employees; they pay them well and morale is good. I also really like the international feel of the place – they also have offices in the US and the staff are from all over.

What will you miss most (and the least!) about being freelance?

I think I’ll probably miss the camaraderie of my freelance colleagues. As a freelancer, networking has become second nature and I can get a real kick out of making connections with others, even if I don’t necessarily know whether it’ll bring in new work. Of course, I can still stay connected with others and continue to expand my network, but it won’t be part of my working day anymore.

What I won’t miss is the admin! I tend to put off my quarterly tax returns, and the paperwork can really pile up towards the deadline. And, of course, I won’t miss the uncertainty of being my own boss, and the pandemic has brought this home to many of us. While I was fortunate to see no drop in income over the past year, the idea that I no longer have to keep an eye out for new clients in case current ones let me down is very reassuring.

Everyone will want to know whether becoming a full-time medical writer means you are leaving SENSE! Do you plan to stay involved with the Society? And do you think scientific and medical writers can benefit from SENSE membership? 

It really hadn’t occurred to me to leave SENSE! Of course, I’m no longer a freelancer and I’m no longer translating/editing/teaching. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need the expertise of SENSE colleagues or that I am no longer willing to share my own. I’ll have Fridays off and so will still have a few hours a week left for my various bits of voluntary work (including SENSE) and for my one-to-one coaching clients.

In terms of what the Society can offer to scientific and medical writers, I recommended SENSE to an aspiring medical writer only last week. This non-native English speaker with a science PhD wanted help in developing writing skills before applying for writing jobs. I recommended that they join SENSE and team up with a mentor to get feedback on their writing. I know of no other organization in the Netherlands that offers a similar mentoring programme. In that respect, SENSE really is an ideal association for professionals in the Netherlands looking for support in developing their English language skills.

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