Translation Pricing: Speaking of fairness!

I have read dozens of articles about translation rates and pricing, in general, and it’s easy to find a plethora of articles on the subject. It might be redundant for some but I’ll share it, anyway. My focus in this article is on highlighting the learning process rather than money per se.

Like any novice translator, I worked for peanuts at first, accepted lower rates and unfair payment terms. I didn’t have a negotiating power. As time went by, I analyzed my work and (thanks to insights from colleagues), I began to see the value of my work. It wasn’t something I’ve done overnight.

In 2013, I was tasked with translating an eight-page real estate document; it took me over six days to complete. If you tell a colleague, one page could take one day of your time, they would tell you you’d never make it in the translation industry. The complexity of the document was extremely high I almost regretted accepting the assignment. It was a massive challenge, and I took it up anyway. The terminology and the vocabulary in that document were hard to find online, let alone their equivalents in Arabic. The language is archaic and quite specific to Scotland. So, I played the detective role to find every single term in that document. I was easily looking up more than thirty terms in one page. I felt a lot of bitterness about going all that length for one term and be paid peanuts. My ire faded shortly when I gleaned the lessons from the experience. It’s not about word count per se. If I didn’t take the task seriously and conducted proper research, I’d have put anything-goes equivalents or put some nonsense and called it a day but I’d have missed the chance to recognize the value of that document if I did so. Despite the lower rate, I was taken seriously thereafter and I was recommended for tough assignments with better rates.

If I were presented with the same document today, I will average how many pages I translate a day and that will be the cost of one page. Otherwise, I’ll just turn it down because spending one day on page is UNGODLY.

Morale of the story: Pull out all the stops to nail it down first regardless of how much you’re being paid. That’s how you recognize your work’s value.

In the Moroccan market, specialized translators are scarce. Perhaps in French/English combination, there could be some translators who invested in one or two specialties. However, since translation into Arabic doesn’t have much market share, translating technical documents into Arabic is a challenge of magnitude. First, there is the scarcity of updated terminology databases; often equivalents are inexistent and coining equivalents becomes a necessity. I worked on complex project for which paper and online dictionaries were of no help. To provide a small example, once I was translating a technical specifications document, many of the concepts are non-existent in Arabic. It was a headache to read the concept, check drawings and see what things look like. Luckily, my research project in translation school focused on this issue. So, the process encompasses reading the definition, understanding the concept then breaking down its distinctive features and determining which one is the most useful to create a transparent equivalent in conformity with ISO terminology standards. Normally, that’s not my job to coin terms; that’s a terminologist’s but do we have the time to wait until a dictionary is updated to fix the problem? So, here, we are talking about problem solving, and this takes time, and time means money. There are ongoing efforts to update dictionaries in Arabic but with the fast pace with which terms emerge in some industries. When I consider these factors, I bake them right into my project pricing.

Return on Investment on my Skills

From 2013 to 2014, my ultimate objective was to hone my skills -from brushing on my English and French to studying translation manuals. I invested in expensive specialized books. I spent hours and hours between vocabulary and terminology extraction, specialized and non-specialized readings, and learning how to use CAT tools.

To be deeply involved in the learning process, taking assignments seriously, and investing in tools and time to get it right every time … all these things have a COST. So, I understood that my pricing should include return on investment for every expensive book for which I sacrificed time to study in order to deliver that top-notch quality. For once, I felt I have gained a slight “edge” over the competition. When I think that by attending professional events to further my training, I wonder: “shouldn’t that be included in the price, too?” My translation mode cannot be turned off; you know that easy word for which the inattentive translator provides an automatic equivalent every time? Well, it strains every nerve in my system before I get it right. When I consider this modus operandi, it means I can’t match the speed of the average translator who undercuts my rates and thinks Linguee is a reliable source to fix serious translation problems. My rates may be higher than an average translator but I spend more time on the assignment than he or she does. And I have the nerve to tell my client it’s totally worth, and I also have the nerve to say “I’m sorry but I’m not the right person for this assignment.” Professional honesty matters!

We don’t become translators by magic. It takes true grit and determination to sit down for hours to get it right and a lot of patience to study in parallel with finishing assignments. So, for me, pricing is about fairness -not undercutting average rates or overcharging clients. Regardless of what I said above, I still have that incurable linguistic insecurity of whether I got it right or not. And that is why they are revised by a seasoned translator. And that adds to the cost.

When I think of it, much of the premium price goes to CPD and tools of trade. And that’s only fair that my rates will go higher and higher!

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Translators upgrading to Ultra-HD display laptops: High-DPI and Legacy Software Issues

It’s 2017 and you’re probably thinking about upgrading your old laptop and perhaps lusting after a machine with a Quad-HD or 4K display. Resist that temptation until you have read this post and familiarized yourself with some concepts. If you run older software, you better read this until the end!

If you know about High-DPI, jump right to the scaling part!

What is a High-DPI display?

What is DPI? The term stands for “Dot per inch”; high-DPI means that every inch of the screen has a lot of pixels, and we hear a display with “high pixel density”. The pixel actually stands for “picture element” and that pixel contains layers of Red, Green and Blue, and the mix of the values of these colors is the color reproduced on the screen.

Resolution: the number of pixels on your laptop’s display.
• 4K: 3840 pixels × 2160p (8.3 megapixels or million pixels)
• Quad HD: 2560 x 1440p lines (3.69 Megapixels)
• Full HD (aka 1080p): 1920 x 1080 lines (2.1 megapixels.)
• HD Display (aka 720p): 1366×768

(I allow myself to digress a bit: See why they tell you megapixels don’t count when you go past 8MP for a camera? Because your eyes won’t notice the difference 😉 )
On a 15-inch laptop, Full HD is the sweet spot. Everything looks perfect with 100% Windows scaling (more on that in moment). In a Full HD panel, the “inch” contains enough pixels that your eyes cannot discern the pixel from a normal viewing distance. For your TV, you can’t tell either because you are too far away from it, but come closer and you’ll start seeing the pixels.

PPI

(Source: http://www.fmedda.com/sites/default/files/pic/ppi.png)
Let’s call the pixel the square. Older monitors show a sort of square-ish text, that’s because the pixel count is visible to the human eyes, and that’s why the text looks “pixelated”.
Full HD for a 15-inch laptop has been the perfect size that the human eye cannot discern the actual pixel. Quad HD and 4K are sort of overkill; yet, they have some advantages, including:

  • Text looks crisp because every inch in a 4K display (15.6-inch screen) contains 282.4 ppi (pixels per inch). That’s a LOT of pixels in a small area.
  • They offer you a roomier work space; in other words, you can fit two windows side by side or fit more icons in your desktop or have a larger text area or display many of your browser bookmarks.
    (Example: it displays more text, more visible open tabs: Scaling at 200%).

Moreintoscreen_.PNG

175-scaling.250-scaling

 

What is Windows Scaling?

Don’t be daunted by the technical term; it’s just the ability to make everything (text and icons) look bigger or smaller in Windows.
The first image depicts what everything looks like with the actual resolution with no scaling (100% scaling) so nothing is enlarged.
Problem: Text and icons look very small from a normal distance, and you’ll have to squint and hunch over to read what’s there. And that’s where scaling comes in handy; it makes everything larger thus readable.

 

4K___

Fix: At 250% scaling (it increases the size of everything by 2.5 times).

4K_scaled by 2 and half times

 

You scale the display by 250% and think the problem is gone. Not quite!

Let me share with you my story

Last summer, I bought a Dell XPS 15 (9550 model) with 4K display to replace my two-year-old Asus VivoBook with 720p display. And the jump felt like moving from a hot hatch to a Porsche 911 😃. When setting it up for the first time, I basked in the delightfully bright screen with its vividly accurate colors (100% of Adobe RGB color space), so text and images looked lifelike. However, the honeymoon was over the moment I began installing legacy software.

More context

The surge of better-than-HD displays took place with the launch of Apple’s MacBook Pro Retina display; before that point in time, you couldn’t find WQHD displays or 4K for Windows laptops. Therefore, applications were not optimized for that high-DPI display; this means that older software cannot make icons and text bigger correctly.
Let’s have a look at one of the affected programs:

Cambridge Dictionary case:

Compare the text size in the following images, and you’ll notice text is blown out of proportion except in case 3.

cambridge_Cambridge_scalingCambridge_system_scaling_

Look how small the buttons of minimize/maximize/close are. However, the problem is not that severe in this case. (All at 250% scaling in Windows)!

SDL Trados 2015 Case

Texts and icons are cramped. Quite unusable, in fact. The problem was alleviated to some extent in Trados 2017 but the issue persists!

 

SDL Trados_crappy_stuff

SDL_trados_.jpg

(Courtesy of: @AngelaBenoit)

MemoQ Case

High-res_MemoQ.PNG

So, you ask, how the heck am I supposed to fix this?

 

SOLUTIONS:

Solution 1

The first solution is the waiting game: wait for software developers to update their programs to make their software High-DPI-aware and then again who can wait? …. And what about software nobody supports anymore? Well, here comes solution 2.

Solution 2:

Fiddling with High-DPI Settings by right-clicking the application icon on your desktop and going to compatibility tab:

Types of scaling

  • Override High DPI scaling behavior performed by: -Application-System– System (Enhanced) (this one was added in Windows 10 Creators Update)

In every app, in the compatibility tab, you find a slew of workarounds for this issue:
– Overriding high DPI scaling:

Scenario one 1: Default app High-DPI Settings
Using the application’s default high-DPI settings, some parts couldn’t get bigger because they were not designed as such in the first place. Look at the A a and the top buttons.

Scenario 2: System scaling
The second alternative doesn’t change much.

Scenario 3: Enabling System Scaling
This solves the problem but partially. Everything is made bigger but the downside is that the text and images look blurry.
The blurriness of the text is set to alleviate the pixilation of the application. One could say, it’s the lesser of the two evils.
Microsoft’s latest Windows 10 Creators Update has improved DPI-scaling but not it didn’t solve the problem entirely; now the ball is in software developers’ court!

For the Cambridge Dictionary, the Creators Update solved the problem with the new option of “System Enhanced” settings. However, it doesn’t help with many apps.

High DPI

Final word

Getting a Quad-HD or 4K laptop is a dream. If you have too many legacy software (which are no longer supported), it’s better to stick to laptops with good 1080p panels. There are reasons why it’s best to opt for a Full HD display: 1) no need for scaling 2) better battery life (because Quad HD or 4K as there are too many pixels to power. 3) cost: they are rather cheaper. However, if you go for an Ultra-HD display, make sure you have an external monitor to mitigate the issues that arise from poor scaling on legacy software.

Keep yourself from losing your memory to the Internet

a translator thinking outside the box

Unplug. Slow down. Search your brain.

2. Traduzco, luego olvido_photoIntroduction

The development of the Internet may have been the most significant technological innovation since the invention of the printing press. It has simplified and speeded up the search for information in ways that were unimaginable until a few decades ago. However, its harmful effects on the attention, concentration and memory capacity of those who make an intensive use of Internet search tools are starting to become evident. In this respect, we, translators, are not the exception— Both for those who were born in the digital era and for the ones, like me, who have followed information technology advancements in awe, the use of the Internet in our profession is a bare necessity, and we can no longer picture ourselves doing without it. What is more, we cannot imagine ourselves doing without the Internet in our personal lives either. But we will need to find ways to…

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Translators and Perfectionism

We live in a world of rapid pace; sometimes it’s too overwhelming to keep up the pace. In a short amount of time, we have to deliver. We find ourselves squeezing words out of a single cup of coffee like a downsized turbocharged engine. And the output has to be flawless!

We, translators, realize that we don’t have the right to screw up; it exerts immense pressure on us to deliver. It’s not a choice. Regardless of the circumstances, we simply don’t have the right to settle for compromises. Our profession is based on trust; a flaw in the output could lead to trouble for the client and losing credibility in some scenarios.

Most of the translators believe they are not good enough for a reason that is not obvious to the crowd. Being good enough depends very much on to whom you compare yourself.

I believe that in every translator’s mind, there is an ideal, a standard –a gold standard to live up to.

I once had a dream to become a writer; I didn’t continue, unfortunately. And my gold standard was the Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov. Until this very moment, I still regard him as the best writer of all time. He is the benchmark for his precision and clarity. Because I sucked at writing good dialogues and penning good descriptions, I gave up.

Back in 2010, I used to be active in DeviantArt community; I talked with aspiring writers and poets. It was an amazing and enlightening experience. I remember an Australian girl called Erika; her description skills are magnificent; I told her how jealous I was of her mastery of description. She told me that it took her rigorous work of more than four years, creative writing-focused classes just to master description. This very example speaks volumes!

Philip Dufour, a stellar Swiss watchmaker, is the gold standard in the world of watchmaking. He is a man who takes a lot of pride in his work. He designs, makes, polishes and assembles his watch from the ground up singlehandedly. His pursuit was to make watches that last for a lifetime for their owners; for this reason, he knows he should make parts in a certain fashion to ensure their durability. His clients understood his philosophy and some waited for over six years to get their hands on one. He likes to do things by hand; he also knows how to use technology but is aware where the human touch is unrivalled. And that is a life lesson for all translators who want to achieve supremacy. It starts with humility and unwavering motivation to reach new heights every time.

Looking up to translators with decades of experience is a good thing; regardless of the technological advances, certain rules don’t change. The foundations of our profession remain intact over the years. Being a traditionalist doesn’t mean rejecting new paradigms, especially technological ones.

Look at it from this angle; translators in the previous century had time, plenty of time, but there was the issue of scarcity of dictionaries and logistics. Working with a slow pace has its benefits.  Today, we have the internet; we can look up everything fast, and it’s great, but it comes with a high price: tight deadlines. They want it fast, -I encountered many who wanted it yesterday (if you know what I mean). The assumption has become that technology can reduce turnaround but that is not entirely true.

Novice translators know for sure they have a long way to improving their skills; they know that, fresh out of the box, there are glossaries to be built, background readings to be done. I skip the business learning curve since many colleagues spoke about it before.

Translators face challenges with every assignment they receive; they know there are some hard choices to make: confusing sentence structure that could lead to mistranslations. Moreover, take, for instance, a novice who has little knowledge about the subject field and he/she could mess the whole translation if he/she failed to recognize some terms or abbreviations in the text. The end reader is mostly blind to what is said in the original and he/she completely trusts the translator to show them the way. To the average observer, he/she will only judge the quality of a translation by the translator’s target language mastery. People often fail to recognize that there are several layers of quality in translation. Sometimes, considering time constraints, some comprises have to be made … precision is not one of them!

Speaking of my own experience, some translators I met like the idea of being fast to the detriment of precision. Let me explain, there were times when the source text contained dozens of abbreviations and the translator wanted to blaze through them without taking the time to investigate. I won’t go on about the times some translators even leave out difficult parts to render. You can imagine the amount of time needed to decipher them. Sometimes I wonder how many terribly-gone translations are circulating out there. If you are a specialized translator, I bet you have funny stories to share!

When a translator is regarded as a “perfectionist”, I bet that he/she nails every detail to remain faithful to the source text and even improve on it if it were poorly written. The main pursuit is simply precision. The responsibility is huge. An ethical one, actually. Perfectionism is actually doing the job properly. It has nothing to do with perfection; in Arabic, we have the word “itqan”(doing something very well), and I believe that’s what perfectionism stands for. And yes, over and over, we hear the sentence “don’t be such a perfectionist” …. If they only knew what happens in the background, nobody would ever say it again!

 

 

Typos from a photographic perspective!

I just read an interesting article about why we can’t spot our own typos What’s up with that: Why it’s so hard to catch your own typos . The article is to the point; yet, I’d like to tackle the issue from a photographic perspective. Good photographers have an ability to see not just look, that’s why they know what to include in the frame: they know how to compose. There is an immense difference between looking and seeing. If we check the dictionary, we find the following definitions:  

look / lʊk / verb [ I ] (SEE)

A1 to direct your eyes in order to see:

 

see / siː / verb ( present participle seeing , past tense saw , past participle seen ) (USE EYES)

A1 [ I or T ] to be conscious of what is around you by using your eyes:

 

To be conscious requires focus!

When we direct our eyes to see, we have a field of view:

  • Right now, you are probably sitting before your desk or laying on a sofa, a wall or generally a background is facing you. 
  • You focus on your laptop, the background is blurred (we call it a shallow depth of field; in other words, the subject is sharp and the rest is out of focus), you are conscious of the blurry background because your memory reconstructs it; the difference between cameras and your eyes is that the latter are attached to a highly sophisticated computer (your brain); our vision is affected by mental images from our recollections. 
  • You focus on your laptop then your brain shifts focus to the screen; the screen bezel helps mark the focus territory to separate it from the surroundings. Now, it blurs the task bar if you are using Windows; your brain focuses on the paragraph then on the current line then on words that you are reading right NOW (See how “now” stood out?)
  • Move away from your laptop then do it again: focus on background and shift focus gradually to this article!

It must have happened to you that you looked for your keys someday and they were sitting on your desk the whole day yet you couldn’t spot them then someone came and told you “Here they are, just in front of you”. Well, our brain reconstructs images from the past (most of the time, it does a good job); what it does is update the mental image if something new is added following a stimulus from a new element or a drastic change in the setting. If we focus on every single detail around us, we might go crazy. Sometimes even within chaos, you can manage to focus because your brain does a good job at blurring unnecessary details; others might have a very hard time focusing when there is too much clutter around them.

Here is a trick a teacher taught us at university: read from bottom to top (this is on paper actually) to check if words are spelled correctly. When you try to check for typos right after you wrote the article, it’s quasi-impossible to spot them. Your memory is still fresh; you might even blur the text and your mind will auto-complete the text.

Now, how to solve this issue? The trick I use consists of the following:

  1. Write the article and forget about it for a day (if it is not urgent) or take an hour off and do something else but don’t look at your computer. Even better, change the setting or read your article on a different medium!
  2. Change the font type and size (from serif to sans serif); this way you trick my mind to believe that it is a new text, so you force yourself to read it well.
  3. You can also put the article in a draft window on WordPress and pretend you want to edit it.

By the way, I have just tried it on myself once more (And still not sure I did a good job!)

Let me know in your comments!

 

 

 

Typos from a photographic perspective!

I just read an interesting article about why we can’t spot our own typos What’s up with that: Why it’s so hard to catch your own typos . The article is to the point; yet, I’d like to tackle the issue from a photographic perspective. Good photographers have an ability to see not just look, that’s why they know what to include in the frame: they know how to compose. There is an immense difference between looking and seeing. If we check the dictionary, we find the following definitions:  

look / lʊk / verb [ I ] (SEE)

A1 to direct your eyes in order to see:

 

see / siː / verb ( present participle seeing , past tense saw , past participle seen ) (USE EYES)

A1 [ I or T ] to be conscious of what is around you by using your eyes:

 

To be conscious requires focus!

When we direct our eyes to see, we have a field of view:

  • Right now, you are probably sitting before your desk or laying on a sofa, a wall or generally a background is facing you. 
  • You focus on your laptop, the background is blurred (we call it a shallow depth of field; in other words, the subject is sharp and the rest is out of focus), you are conscious of the blurry background because your memory reconstructs it; the difference between cameras and your eyes is that the latter are attached to a highly sophisticated computer (your brain); our vision is affected by mental images from our recollections. 
  • You focus on your laptop then your brain shifts focus to the screen; the screen bezel helps mark the focus territory to separate it from the surroundings. Now, it blurs the task bar if you are using Windows; your brain focuses on the paragraph then on the current line then on words that you are reading right NOW (See how “now” stood out?)
  • Move away from your laptop then do it again: focus on background and shift focus gradually to this article!

It must have happened to you that you looked for your keys someday and they were sitting on your desk the whole day yet you couldn’t spot them then someone came and told you “Here they are, just in front of you”. Well, our brain reconstructs images from the past (most of the time, it does a good job); what it does is update the mental image if something new is added following a stimulus from a new element or a drastic change in the setting. If we focus on every single detail around us, we might go crazy. Sometimes even within chaos, you can manage to focus because your brain does a good job at blurring unnecessary details; others might have a very hard time focusing when there is too much clutter around them.

Here is a trick a teacher taught us at university: read from bottom to top (this is on paper actually) to check if words are spelled correctly. When you try to check for typos right after you wrote the article, it’s quasi-impossible to spot them. Your memory is still fresh; you might even blur the text and your mind will auto-complete the text.

Now, how to solve this issue? The trick I use consists of the following:

  1. Write the article and forget about it for a day (if it is not urgent) or take an hour off and do something else but don’t look at your computer. Even better, change the setting or read your article on a different medium!
  2. Change the font type and size (from serif to sans serif); this way you trick my mind to believe that it is a new text, so you force yourself to read it well.
  3. You can also put the article in a draft window on WordPress and pretend you want to edit it.

By the way, I have just tried it on myself once more (And still not sure I did a good job!)

Let me know in your comments!

 

 

 

Does translation theory really matter?

Translation: Does translation theory really matter?

“Critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. Otherwise theory becomes simply “blah, blah, blah,” and practice, pure activism.” ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

One of the things most translation students hate is “translation theory”. It’s the nonsense part, the useless and futile hours wasted in vain according to them. They believe that it’s not as important as the real act: “translate”. At translation school, we started with practice for a full semester, and no theory course was imparted. In the second semester, we had translation theory courses, but the main focus was mainly on discussing issues relating to cultural and equivalence issues. It was very interesting, from an intellectual perspective at least. However, what I noticed in translation classes, students had a tendency to put theory and practice into different categories: translation is an act/ theory is just for intellectual discussions. I had a tendency to regard it in such way. Perhaps certain teachers used to reinforce that view in us, and even their correction was on the basis of that very distinction between theory and practice. I used to ask questions about the relevance of the translation, the purpose, and mainly ask “does it make sense for native speakers?”

My view has changed dramatically thanks to an academic visit of the translator, Basil Hatim in May 2011. I believe it gave me the courage of defending my choices in translation and to “play chess” with the writer in any translation. At that moment, I started figuring out that translation theory does not mean “futile discussions”. It is the platform on which good practice is based.

Theory is the key to making informed and educated choices that we can defend. Indeed, practice is the core, but we find ourselves before some tough choices as translators sometimes, and without a good understanding of theory, we might not make the right decisions. Some might have a gut instinct to make the right ones but that is just intuition, it should be based on something intelligible.

As a translator, I found that my interest in theory was right; it has use. When I say that I base my practice on theory, it does not mean that I would spend three hours over-analyzing every word and would keep burning my nerves over “literal vs. free” translation or ‘domesticate’ or to ‘foreignize‘. When I read the text to translate it, I read it analytically to know the strategy to be followed, some texts are straightforward, and some others require more diligence.

I found that translation theory mostly is based on case studies.

But would translation theory make sense for beginners?

Most of the time, beginner translators are prone to prefer practice more than theory, and starting the curricula with theory might be boring for them especially if taught separately from practice. The first building block for translators, in my opinion, is to start by mastering their working languages. Here I must point out that their language mastery should take into account: rich vocabulary, excellent grammar, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and linguistics. Understanding the use of these pillars will help them be more analytical. A student who is still struggling with weak language skills will make no use of translation theory because he/she still struggling with the basic tools of trade.

Translation practice should go hand in hand with theory, and by theory I mean the case studies that have been conducted by translators. It is not pure “verbalism” as many students tend to regard it. I think that talking a lot about a certain issue without exposing the student to the actual issue by giving him/her the text and see how he/she is going to solve the problem will not interest students, which will certainly bore them. The problem precedes the solution, not the other way around. Ready-made solutions are forgettable, in my opinion. There are things that can be better learned by experiencing them rather than giving them for “free” or as a rule. Hence, to entice students to see the merit of translation theory is to give them the opportunity to work on a text that has been the center of an issue to take a more analytical and critical approach to translation.

Translator students who have not done a lot of translation practice are not likely to see the point of theory. They should do a lot of practice to explore problems then ask questions. The answers exist most of the time in the literature of translation theory.

Let’s take my example, when I was studying translation, I was most of the time constrained by the certain strategy a teacher likes to get a good grade. It was not very motivating. I translated with awareness, and I always asked myself “what’s the point from this translation, what’s the possible use of it?”, and I try to make choices that can be deemed “wrong” by some teachers. When I went to the translation business, I was assigned documents that were very challenging. I had to make some serious modifications to the text to sound natural and appealing for the target reader. My way of dealing with certain texts especially in advertising was one of the reasons I clashed with my former boss. He would, by all means, stick to the original. I used to ask “does the marketing guy care for the exactness of the translation or make the product more appealing to the customer?”.  In other texts, I would not follow such method, as we know certain texts need to be rendered more faithfully because precision is what we seek. Here comes my understanding of theory, if there is an issue at hand, I ask a question: what am I dealing with here? am I allowed to make certain modifications?

Bottom line, it is by exploring and translating texts with “awareness” and “vigilance” that will enable translators see the point of what theory was about. Indeed, translators nowadays suffer a lot from fierce competition and low rates, but establishing oneself as a good translator is a selling point. The moment you master theory with good practice, you set yourself apart from just-another-translator category. You show the client that you know what you are doing and even if they go to some other translator, they will realize that you are the one for the job. Sharpening translation skills should not be overlooked because rates are low or because there are many translators out there. There are companies willing to pay higher rates, just show them that you do your job like no other.

I would like to invite beginner translators to check out Marta’s website http://t.co/o5maSbOsi0 for translators lessons. Translators must take a business approach to this field.

Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account

Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account

 By Mona Baker

Reviewed by El-Mehdi Adlany

Translation and conflict: a narrative account, by Mona Baker. New York: Routledge, 2006.

ISBN:0-415-38396-X. Price £23.74

  • Introduction

Translation and Conflict” is an interesting book that explores different aspects of narrative theory and depicts its implication in the work of translators and interpreters. It mainly draws on Somers and Gibson model of narrative theory as well as on Bruner’s. The main thread of the book is the political import of this theory; however, Baker managed to present a comprehensive analysis that not only manifests the political import of the theory but also other fields such as science and literature, which makes the book a compelling and comprehensive account of narrative theory. Baker shows the ‘sensitive’ role of translators in either resisting or circulating narratives. Exhibiting a plethora of factual instances, Baker shows to what extent translators may contribute in creating conflicts in the political arena. The book shows that most of the narratives circulated by media (internet, radio, TV … etc.) lack objectivity and are often driven by political intents.

The book comprises of seven chapters, the first five of which are devoted to defining and exploring the features of narrativity while the last two one relate narrativity with translation clearly.

  • Chapter II: Introducing narrative theory

In this chapter, Baker first discusses the status and effects of narrativity by, drawing on Social and communication theory and definitions elaborated by Labov, Hyden White and Somer, making a distinction between the literary and linguistic approaches to narrative the approach adopted in her book, narrativity in Baker’s concern primarily the status of narrative as an ‘optional’ mode of communication or a ‘meta-code’. Baker explains that narrative is independent of genre; it includes even scientific reports and theories. Narrative exists even in the ‘apparently’ objective sciences. She provides an interesting example of statistical census data provided by Palestine and Israel, in which each party tried to legitimize their version of ‘reality’. Scientific narratives, Baker explains, serves for the purposes of legitimizing and justifying actions and positions, providing an excellent example of a scientific report, published in “The Observer” magazine, that attempts to justify that Judaism can only be inherited. She cleverly inserted a quote that says ‘science is just politics in a lab coat’. Through pertinent and cleverly chosen examples, Baker points out a key point in this chapter, the normalizing effect of narratives. It, Baker explains, ‘normalizes the account it projects’ and that narratives become normalized over time. This is a depicted in an example, among many others, of the scientist George Cuvier, who tries to explain the superiority of the white race in ironically scientific way. She provides other examples such as the association of barbarous narratives with security, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism. Narratives become the fabric of everyday life when they are normalized. Baker exhibits clearly the implications of this effect in translation by stating that translation has a key role in spreading and normalizing narratives. Translators then are burdened by an ethical responsibility: to circulate or to resist narratives, that’s the question. Baker further discusses that the choice of what to categorize and how to categorize it depends primarily on ‘our narrative location’. Baker raises an interesting point, the relationship between narrative and reality, by stating that ‘knowledge is never point-of-viewless’ and that ‘all vision is perspectival’; there different versions of truth. Baker defines narratives as the stories we tell about our lives, outlining that the central concern of these stories is ‘how narrative operates as an instrument of mind in the construction of reality’. Baker also discusses the political import of narratives,: individuals and communities rely on past narratives to ‘highlight’ present situation or sometimes to justify certain actions and positions. She pinpointed a clear example of the Jews who perpetually recount the story of holocaust to gain sympathy and support.  

  • Chapter III: A typology of narrative

In this chapter, drawing on the model of Somers and Gibson Baker discusses the four types of narrative: ontological narratives, public narratives, conceptual (disciplinary) narratives and meta-narratives. She defines ontological narratives as ‘personal stories that we tell ourselves about our place in the world and our own personal history’; they define who we are. Baker explains that ontological narratives depend primarily on the collective narratives which shape the personal stories of individuals. Baker also pinpoints that for shared narratives to gain currency, ‘polyvocality of numerous personal stories is required’. To relate ontological narrative to translation, Baker shows that translating these [narratives] is challenging and might have some psychological toll on interpreters, providing the example of an interpreter who was traumatized because of ‘child abuse’ while doing her job. In contrast to ontological narratives, public narratives are those ‘stories’ that are elaborated and circulated by larger institutions such as governments and religious institutions. Baker provides some good examples to make this clearer, one of which is the competing narratives about the war on Iraq and the narrative stories about ‘American social mobility’. These can change within years; to elucidate this, Baker mentioned the example of Nilson Mandella, who was considered as terrorist in the 1960’s then a hero in the 1990’s. Conceptual narratives are defined as the ‘product of inquiry’ or the ‘representations elaborated by researchers’, and every disciplines has its own set of conceptual narratives. Baker made this clearer by pointing out abundance of examples, among of which Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mill’s history of British India in which he constructs a negative image of Indians. In translation of such narratives, translators can choose between promoting or contesting them. Meta narratives are narratives in which we are embedded as contemporary actors in history: progress, decadence, enlightenment, etc.  

  • Chapter IV: Understanding how narratives work I

In this chapter, Baker explains how narratives function in constructing the world for us. There are four features discussed in the fourth chapter and are, respectively, temporality, relationality, causal emplotment and selective appropriation.

The first feature, temporality, has to do with order of events; Baker explains that ‘narrative is always placed in some sequence, and that order in which they are placed carries meaning. Baker provided a clear example that better explains this feature: two diary entries about a doctor who warned people about contamination, those consist of the same information but only the order of events changed; two broadly different interpretations were produced: an irresponsible doctor who spread panic or a responsible one who saved lives. Thus, chronological order is a function of narrative. Another excellent example was given, “Big Bad World” cartoon, which shows that ‘spatial order tells a story’: FREEDOM JUSTICE HOPE TERRORIM; it means since the first three are violated, terrorism takes place; reversing it to FREEDOM JUSTICE HOPE TERRORIM  leads us to conclude that in order to regain the first three is via fighting terrorism. Baker cleverly presents abundance of examples which depict that feature, whose definition might seem unfathomable at the beginning. Baker explains that ‘narratives always project a chronological end, a purpose, a forecast, an aspiration’.

The next discussed aspect is relationality. Baker indicates that rationality ‘means that as human beings we cannot make sense of events without constituting them as a narrative’. This feature makes the importation of elements of a narrative to another very problematic. Baker exemplifies this through the example of the Aristotelian and Newtonian theories which try to explain the same phenomena but are in some ways incompatible. Baker presented an interesting and detailed example, the use of “shaheed” (martyr), which was translated as “victims”. Relationality has an import in translation in the sense that translators should not opt for semantic translation which might trigger negative connotations or reactions.

Causal emplotment, as Baker explains, is what ‘gives significance to independent instances and overrides their chronological order’. Baker further clarifies this feature by indicating that it allows us to weight and explain events. Interestingly, Baker depicts this in two clear examples: 1. Palestinian suicide bombing Vs Palestinian terror attacks 2. Victims of 9/11 vs Tens of thousands of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. Baker asserts that it has a direct implication in translation in the sense that translators are in position that allows them to readjust the weight of elements in a narrative and produce a new narrative with another causal emplotment.

Selective appropriation is another key feature of narrativity. Drawing on Somers and Gibson, Baker indicates that in an experience a number of elements and events are evaluated, some are privileged and others excluded. This explains why there are different versions of truth. This makes sense since each party in a conflict derives a truth from a different angle then the picture may never be complete, which results often in competing narratives.

  • Chapter V: Understanding how narratives work: Features of Narrativity II

In this Chapter, Baker continues to examine other features of narrativity: particularity, genericness, normativeness/conivity and breach and narrative accrual; this time she draws heavily on Bruner’s.  

Baker argues that particularity means that there is a ‘masterplot’ common among a variety of narratives even if they differed in some details. Baker further indicates that there are ‘skeletal storylines’ (p.78) that make it easier to fill the blank in any incomplete narrative, folktales and love stories, for instance. Baker highlights a very interesting point, the resonance of recurrent storylines, that when the narratives or stories recounted, they are very likely to be credible. Baker exemplifies by the success of Republican Party because they hit on the sensitive cord of Americans: ‘redemptive self’ (p.82).  Another interesting point is the subverting familiar storylines which Baker discusses through an amusing and revealing example of the movie, Shrek and Shrek 2, in which a moral message was conveyed; this subversion is also used to pass moral messages in different contexts.

The next feature is genericness. As Baker explains, always drawing on Bruner’s, “genres are recognizable kinds of narrative” (p.85) such as comedy, tragedy, legal contracts, academic articles … etc. This genericness provides the individual of a model to follow and sets out a number of expectations. Baker discusses genre specific signaling devices or ‘contextualization cues’ (p.86), which can be lexical, syntactic or structural. Baker further discusses parodying and subverting genres, in which genres conventions may be used to undermine or subvert a dominant narrative or produce a typical one. What Baker means by the policing of genres is that there are some genres which are those genres which are “highly controlled” (p.95) such as translation. Baker explains the generic shifts in translation concern those source texts that were translated as are without paying attention to generic conventions such as the difference between endings of love stories in American literature and Japanese culture. Once again, Baker mention other features among of which, normativeness which means that a breach of conventions makes a narrative worth telling. Baker demonstrates through the example of  Palestinian who expresses his shock about his destroyed home, the translation of what he said was changed in order to produce the same effect of his words by evoking the image of Vietnam war to depict the “gravity” of the experience ( p.99). Narrative accrual, in Baker’s words, “outcome of repeated exposure to a set of related narratives, ultimately leading to the shaping of a culture, tradition or history” (p.101).

  • Chapter VI: Framing narratives in translation.

In this Chapter, Baker considers framing one of the ways by which translators “accentuate, undermine or modify aspects of the narrative encoded in the source text. Drawing on Goffman, Baker defines framing as “an active strategy that implies agency and by means of which we consciously participate in the construction of reality” (p. 105). This framing serves for the purpose of spreading different versions of reality of the same set of events, to exemplify this, Baker presented the example of acts of violence which are viewed as “war”, civil war”, “terrorist acts” … etc. Baker explains the notion of frame space by drawing on Goffman, “a contribution is deemed acceptable when it stays within the frame space allocated to the speaker or writer and unacceptable when out falls outside that space” (p.110) This has direct implication in translation and interpreting in the sense that translators have to act within the allowed frame space. However, Baker argues that translators may undermine this through temporal and spatial framing; in other words, as Baker précises, translators may project the narrative of the source text onto another totally different temporal and spatial context, and through this the narrative viewpoint is either accentuated or suppressed. Another aspect of framing is selective appropriation; Baker uses once more the example of MEMRI translations that rely heavily on this notion in promoting narratives. Baker demonstrates that this notion is based on omission and addition.  Selective appropriation in literature is manifested through censorship in which usually translators omit any sexual element that might offend the target culture. In media, selective appropriation is used to manipulate truths; Baker provides the example of an interview of Bin Laden, in which the message was altered claiming he has mass destruction weapons while he does not. Another remarkable way of framing is labeling. Baker argues that labeling is manifested in the use of euphemism in order to point to an element of a narrative in a way that softens it and makes it less provocative or offending, which heavily used in the political arena. Another key feature is the repositioning of participants. Baker argues that this can be performed in translation through ‘linguistic management’ (p.132). Baker provides other subtler ways such as repositioning in paratextual commentary (introduction, glossaries, footnotes …) in which translators position themselves or other participants, as well as repositioning within the text or utterance.

  • Chapter VII: Assessing narratives

In this chapter, the book gains ample momentum since it comes to an important issue: assessment of narratives. Drawing on Fisher’s paradigm, Baker argues that our decisions are dependent on narratives and good reasons (p. 142) rather than rationality. Baker explains the features we should look for to assess the quality of a narrative so we act upon it. Two key features of this assessment are coherence which, Baker explains, “concerns the internal consistency and integrity of a narrative” (p.143); in other words, it’s the way the elements or participants are woven into the fabric of narrative. Baker distinguishes between three yardsticks: a. structural (argumentative coherence) which simply means that the narrative should be consistent and do not contradict with itself b. material coherence which revolves around relating a narrative to other narratives on the same issue in order to find out what facts were excluded or simply overlooked. This very well asserts the earlier points made by Baker about the existence of different realities c. characterological coherence is about the credibility of characters involved in a narrative whether actors, narrators … and their actions which should not be contradicting with their values in order to consider such narrative a reliable one. Baker discusses another yardstick of assessment, fidelity which is assessed by the logic of good reasons (comprising of 5 components, see page 152) and logic of good reasons (fact, relevance, consequence, consistency and values). The last point Baker discusses, drawing on principles to asses narratives providing two key examples of MLA journal and Translators without Borders. Baker concludes her book by acknowledging the limitation of Fisher’s model.

  • Verdict

The book’s content is very well structured with a clear overview of its chapters. Even though I was exposed to some concepts for the first time and seemed to me a little bit challenging to digest, I found that the abundance of examples embedded with each definition clarify the concepts; the examples were very interesting and amusing (such as example of Rumsfeld as a poet), historical facts, illustrated examples (that of freedom/hope/security/terrorism). It was an exploration of different aspects of history since Baker’s examples were taken from ancient history as well as from our present day, which gives the impression of how ‘comprehensive’ the analysis is. It is quite unique the way in which sophistication and simplicity are woven into the fabric of this book, layout and content.

I found this book an excellent account on working our way to understanding the twisted paths of realties and assessing what media feeds us on a daily basis and such call to use our critical thinking. It’s not only relevant for translators but also for people who want to have a clear idea about the complexity of realties. One general remark about this book is that it has abundance of facts; the author managed successfully to lay down all facts in a more neutral way, examples were very detailed and clarified. Interestingly, there was little to no room for gratuitous claims because it was well documented, which qualifies this book as scientific par excellence. This book is very enlightening in the sense that it directs one’s attention to the manipulation of reality that goes unnoticed most of the time, especially that notion of order of events, subtle way of producing different realities. The groundbreaking analysis provided by Baker is an eye-opener. While writing this review, a lot of things I could not help but mention them because of their import; for this reason, I highly recommend reading this book because it surely is able to change one’s perception to how we perceive reality. In sum, this is a must-read book even by general public.

 

 

 

Translators and Credibility

After I read this article http://wordassets.blogspot.gr/2013/05/credibility-as-crucial-asset-for.html , I decided to share my humble experience with you. Credibility from the perspective of a novice translator.

When I first started out in translation business, I was desperate to prove myself as a good translator to those who questioned my skills. In my quest for a job, I did my best to satisfy the needs of my clients, especially in Arabic<>English translations (my hobby-horse). After that, I worked for a renowned translator who spent his entire life translating business and legal documents. On the first day of the job, he told me this “before you start, remember that if you have to seek something at this stage it must be to establish your credibility; losing money is never an issue but losing credibility is”.

Last week, I visited a translator who subcontracted to me from time to time to get more work. I found a renowned translator with him, and we had an interesting discussion. It was about credibility and competence. They told me that the market today is saturated with incompetent translators; the issue is not in finding clients but the shortage of competence. They told me some stories about catastrophic translations done even by “so-called professional translators”, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, stories about mistranslations that make one cringe.

They mentioned to me a story about a translator who took an assignment from a company and produced a translation that he described as “crap”, which led to a bad ending for a translator: he lost his credibility- and the word was spread about that story because it affected the interests of the client. The guest translator asked me a question that got me thinking: “would you take it slow and learn the right way to establish yourself as a reference for potential clients or burn steps and crush your future reputation?

I realized that I should invest more time developing my language skills and master the art of idiomatic translation to differentiate myself from others. The translator himself assured me that if I get this part right, there comes a day when I wouldn’t have time to scratch my head because of the flood of assignments I will receive. He mentioned that before he became one of the best translators in Casablanca, he spent a whole year with dictionaries and doing a lot of practice even for lower rates: it was worth it. The result is he is the reference for potential clients; he charges the rates that meet his excellent skills.

Capitalizing on language skills matters more than marketing when we start out; it should be the central focus of beginners. I happened once to translate a contract; I didn’t have a clue how to get it done right, but when I received the correction from my mentor, I felt ashamed. I can tell you that I mistranslated a handful of sentences, and I felt very frustrated because I hate mediocrity. That held me back from endeavoring to provide services at this stage unless it falls within my field of expertise. Please note, I thought I did the terminology research right, background reading right, but I fell in the trap of “Anglicism”.

May I share with you a sad story in my country, Morocco does business in French, and most of the work received from companies involves two languages: French and English. I spent two years translating mainly Arabic and English, but I had to adapt rather than complain; it was not my field of expertise. Solution, one has to fix the issue not complain about it. I have issues with French, let’s take care of it.

As a novice translator, I aspire to being a translator with solid credibility, but it won’t happen overnight –I’m willing to remain on the track of learning until I feel confident enough to deliver the quality that will bring me potential clients.

Once you make sure you are apt to translate without mistakes, check out the business lessons for translators suggested by the lovely translator, Marta.

To close this post, I tell you this, if I learned anything at this stage after about a year, it is to set a roadmap about my learning process. Not having access to potential clients should not be an “invitation” to stagnation. Remember, you learn, you improve your skills, trust me, someday it will certainly pay off. Be avid learners, please. If you find yourself with less work, there is some work you need to take care of: you are good, but try to be better. Here are a few things that I do currently:

  • Background reading: 1. To understand the subject field 2. Extract terms and expressions 3. Strengthen your language skills by paying attention to collocations.
  • Noting down your development in a Word file, a way among others to self-assessment.

Good luck!

 

P.S: corrected a handful of mistakes; proofread, triple-check!