Saturday, December 24, 2011

ATA Annual Conference Sci-Tech Division, Panel Discussion on Technical Translation and Localization

By Susanna Weerth

Catherine Christaki, Tess Whitty, and Steven Marzuola (left to right) outlined the paths they each took to get into translation, and then sparked a discussion about important issues in technical translation during a Q&A session.

Steven Marzuola provided insights about how he got involved in translating for the oil and gas industry. At age 9, when he and his family lived in Venezuela, his father began taking him to visit oil rigs. Steven later worked in oil industry for about 10 years, before moving back to the US in the 1991. He began working for agencies that needed Spanish – English translations in the oil and gas industry which he was able to provide due to his background in the field which provided familiarity with the techniques, equipment and terminology. Steven enjoys reading, writing about his projects, translating, and presenting about his experiences.

Tess Whitty has a background in IT, telecommunications, and marketing, and a love for languages. After receiving her degrees in international marketing and business communications, she started working as a product marketing manager for a telecommunications company in Sweden. It was not until moving to the US that she started working as a translator and established her translation business translating from English to Swedish, specializing in software localization, IT, telecommunications and business communications. She is the language chair for the new English into Swedish certification for ATA, and helped develop this certification program.

Catherine Christaki translates from English into Greek in IT, telecommunications, medical and technical areas. In cooperation with her husband, a translator with expertise in the gambling field, she also translates and edits in this field. When she started as a translator, she had no knowledge in a specific field, and she worked full-time before choosing her fields.
Varied topics were covered during the Q&A time. Here are some of the insights, grouped by subject matter.

Some types of texts in medical translation require knowledge of only basic terminology, such as patient questionnaires, and can be attempted by any good technical translator. By contrast, others, like dentistry, require extensive field-specific knowledge, so attempted translation should not be treated lightly.

Tess stated that software localization is mainly done by localization companies, using translation agencies or freelance translators for the translation part. Direct clients are rare for this subject. Catherine said that Greek is almost never a part of the first round of localization when software is developed, and strings have already been translated into other languages, like French or German. Therefore, most of the problems that might occur, like formatting issues due to expansion of the translated text, have been addressed before the source text reaches the Greek translator. Also, since a lot of translators and/or translation agencies usually take part in the localization of a software project in a specific language combination, the individual IT translator almost never gets the chance to see his/her work published. Tess stated that she never gets the finished product, but can be involved in changes during software fixes and updates. Based on her experience, it would be ideal to make the translator part of the software development team instead of sending the translation to an agency or specialized translator after development. Developing the terminology simultaneously would make it easier to discuss terms e.g. those that need to fit into the same space when translated. An onsite translator could learn the terminology, explain difficulties of term translations, and ask questions.

The main language of communication in the oil industry is English. In many countries employees work in English, but not everywhere. The example in question was Spanish in Venezuela. The nature of translation for oil and gas depends on the software, the languages, and the project. For example, if only one company or language is involved, it makes terminology easier, even though each has their own specific terms.

After some discussion, all the attendees introduced themselves. The variety of subject-matter expertise present was inspiring! It included IT, engineering, mechanical engineering, renewable and building energy, gaming, materials science, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, nanotechnology, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and patent translation in these areas. Some also work in less technical subjects like marketing and law, and some attendees provide interpreting services as well as translation and localization services. Target languages represented were Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Polish and Spanish. A project manager from a translation company who values subject-matter expertise also attended this session. As we closed the meeting, she was surrounded by those present who were interested working for her company. This session was a haven for technical writing geeks enjoying the company of like-minded people.

Susanna Weerth works as an English – German freelance translator and interpreter. She specializes in life sciences (medical, biological and pharmaceutical), patent, and general legal translation and medical interpretation. She holds a professional certification as medical assistant and worked several years as medical technician in a physician's office and a clinical laboratory at the Veterinary University Clinics of Munich. She received a "Diplom" (MS equivalent) in Biology and a "Doktor" (PhD equivalent) in Biology/Neuroimmunology from the University of Munich and the Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology, Germany. She worked in a clinical laboratory in Oncology in Germany. And after relocating to the US, she worked for several years in neuroscience research in laboratories at different universities and the National Institute of Health. She transitioned into translation by completing the "Certificate in German to English Translation" at the New York University in 2010 and started interpreting the same year with courses at Georgetown and Cross Cultural Communication. She has also taken biomedical writing and editing courses. She is currently involved at the board of the National Capitol Area Translators Association (NCATA) and the Nominating Committee of the Science & Technology Division and NCATA.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Technical Translating With Style - by Danielle Maxson

Here is another review of Kevin Costellos very popular presentation at the annual ATA conference. We thought it would be interesting to get two peoples point of view of the same presentation. This review is written by Danielle Maxson.

Some people believe that technical writing is dry, verbose, self-aggrandizing, and just plain boring. These poor people have never met Kevin Costello. At the recent ATA conference in Boston, I attended a session by this translation instructor from James Madison University. His presentation, “Mind All the Gaps in Spanish-English Technical Translation” showed attendees that technical translation does not have to be dry, nor does talking about it.

                      Kevin drew on his former work translating and editing scientific and technical papers at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, to present his view of technical translation. In their work, technical translators attempt to bridge two “gaps” between the source and target texts, a linguistic gap and a cultural gap. Kevin believes we should be aware of a third gap between languages, a difference of writing style. Stylistic transposition, his term for application of stylistic editing to a translation, will help us to bridge this often-overlooked third gap.

                      Kevin first differentiated stylistic editing, which makes a text more readable, from copy editing, which brings the text into line with pre-defined rules of grammar and punctuation. He also introduced his audience to the Gunning Fog Index, a quantitative measurement of the clarity of a given text, and presented several sentences which fell outside the ideal “fog range” of 10 to 13. He then listed seven guidelines that are particularly appropriate for stylistic editing in Spanish-English translation:

  1. Write shorter sentences. (Spanish sentences can go on for miles. English sentences should not.)
  2. Prefer the active voice. (Passive constructions are generally favored in Spanish technical writing. English can -- and often should -- be more direct.)
  3. Use a personal style. (In English, "we looked up and saw" makes more sense than "upon looking up, it was seen that. . .")
  4. Use verbs. (The structure of Spanish allows for the use of many more nouns than we are accustomed to using in English. Changing the nouns to verbs usually improves comprehensibility.)
  5. Use consistent vocabulary. (Repetition is generally frowned upon in Spanish, so writers tend to use plenty of synonyms. In English, it is often better to pick one word and stick with it.)
  6. Use parallel structure. (The Spanish text may say "Group 1 averaged 12 accidents, and the second group had a mean of 8." An English text, however, would use the same structure for both phrases: "Group 1 averaged 12 accidents, and Group 2 averaged 8.")
  7. Remove redundancies. (Translating every word of a sentence in Spanish often leads to needless repetition. These repetitions can be omitted without damage to the meaning of the text.)

Applying these guidelines will make the English translation stronger, shorter, more concise, more comprehensible and more pleasant to read. Kevin provided a wealth of examples from his own work, including one memorable sentence that weighed in at a whopping 179 words. In each case, he applied one or more of the above rules to bring the example into line with an English-language writing style that obviously improved the text. He even improved one abstract's Gunning Fog Index from 18.58 to 13.2.

                      The audience responded well to the presentation, although some took issue with the guidelines, particularly the second. One shrewd attendee also asked, “This is all based on charging for source word count, right?” Kevin smiled and acknowledged that stylistic transposition does tend to lower total word counts in the target document. He and the audience noted other potential problems with this approach, including an author's reluctance to have the text corrected for style. The advantages, however, include stronger texts, minimized translation loss, maximized translation gain, improved readability for the audience, and greater professional satisfaction for the translator.

                      If Kevin had edited this review, I imagine he would have improved upon it a great deal (and the word “self-aggrandizing” in the first paragraph would not appear). But while I may not have used his suggestions for this text, I have used them in my daily work with encouraging results. I will be interested to see if he presents at the next conference in San Diego.

 Danielle Maxson is a freelance Portuguese to English and Spanish to English translator. She can be reached at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

“Mind All the Gaps in Spanish>English Technical Translation”, reviewed by Karen Tkaczyk

At the end of a packed Friday at the annual conference in Boston, Kevin Costello gave us the benefit of his considerable experience in technical translation. He is Instructor of Spanish-English Translation in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures at James Madison University in Virginia. His session included examples taken from work while at a prior position at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain. The title of this entertaining session contained a cultural reference close to my heart. In the London Underground (rail subway system) the loudspeakers always tell us to mind the gap before we board. Kevin is British, as am I.

Kevin started with a little background: our need to bridge linguistic and cultural gaps and thus minimize translation loss, as is the case for all translations. He went on to describe a third stylistic gap specific to technical translation. To bridge this stylistic gap, Kevin said we need to apply simple, powerful techniques of stylistic editing while translating. Anyone who has spoken to me on the subject of technical translation will be aware that I also encourage this. Hence I was an eager attendee, excited to hear Kevin’s opinions and see his examples. Kevin said that if we can become "bistylistic" as well as bilingual and bicultural, we will achieve both our primary aim of minimizing translation loss and the secondary aim of maximizing translation gain.

Kevin listed characteristics of good technical texts.

·         Clear

·         Simple

·         Direct

·         Concise

·         Personal

·         Communicative

He covered some of the typical problems that come from Spanish as a source language, for example, reflexive, passive and impersonal language. He used the Gunning fog index to score poor translations. At first this is just entertaining, but then quickly I saw that it was an effective tool for measuring clarity, especially where there was none. Kevin then described seven methods for improving texts.

·         Write shorter sentences

·         Prefer the active voice

·         Use a personal style

·         Use verbs

·         Use consistent vocabulary

·         Use parallel structure

·         Remove redundancies

He then gave us helpful, clear examples of bloated, pompous, wordy texts that he had worked on, mainly written by Spanish professors, with examples of ‘draft’, fairly literal translations and ‘edited’, optimal translations. It was clear to the whole audience that applying these seven techniques works. This was just the sort of insightful, well-organized, practical conference session I enjoy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Annual Science & Technology Division Dinner at the Indian Restaurant, Kashmir, Boston 2012

By Susanna Weerth

On Thursday, October 27, at 6:15 p.m. members of ATA’s Sci-Tech division gathered in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel Copley Place to walk to an Indian restaurant, Kashmir, on Newbury Street. Alicja Yarborough, who had organized this event, awaited us there for our annual division dinner. It was a short walk from the hotel past Boston's brownstone houses in cold rainy weather. We were happy to be welcomed by Alicja at the restaurant, which had such a pleasant atmosphere. The 34 members attending were seated at tables reserved for our division in a private space.

Before the first appetizer arrived, we had some time to get to know the fellow Sci-Tech Division members at our table. As a relative new comer to translation and interpretation, I was happy to start a conversation with the three members sharing my table. We talked about our specialties, language pairs and direction, and our experience with science, technical and medical translations, as well as our experiences at this year’s conference. As it turned out, two members at my table shared my language pair, and I was pleased to hear their advice.

Appetizers arrived at the tables in bowls and copper dishes: "Vegetable Pakorah," some freshly cut vegetables, deep fried in chick-pea batter and "Sheek kebab," pieces of Tandoori baked minced lamb seasoned with chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, herbs and spices, served with three kinds of different chutney and Indian "Naan" bread. The red chutney was so hot that some members ordered “Lassi”, a traditional yoghurt-based drink of India, to quench the heat of the spicy food.

Before the main courses arrived the Division Administrator, Karen Tkaczyk, introduced herself and gave a little speech. She thanked Alicja Yarborough for organizing the museum visit and the dinner. Karen then introduced the other founding members of the “new” Sci-Tech, Assistant Administrator Steven Marzuola, and Stephanie Strobel. Karen welcomed Nicolas Hartman, the outgoing ATA president and enthusiastic member of the Sci-Tech Division. Karen then introduced other division volunteers: members of the Leadership Council and the Nominating Committee, most of whom attended the dinner. She pointed out that this year the division was very strongly represented with 11 presentations, and she encouraged everyone to attend the Division’s Annual Meeting on Saturday from 2:30-3:30 p.m.

There was quite a variety of entrées: one called "Chicken Tikka Masala", a Tandoori style white meat chicken in a tomato cream sauce. A second, "Dal Makhani" contained lentils sautéed in butter with fresh herbs and spices, garnished with fresh coriander. Other dishes included "Shahi Aloo Gobhi," cauliflower and potatoes cooked with tomato, onion, herbs and spices, and "Kabuli Chaana," whole chick peas cooked with onions and tomatoes.

Division member Alfred Hellstern and Stephanie Strobel took photographs of the event, visiting table to table so they could catch all 34 members happily chatting and eating. Finally, a delicious desert "Galub Jamum," a dish of two deep fried wheat cake balls, soaked in syrup, completed our menu.

Along with enjoying the wonderful menu, we were happy to have met our distinguished group of colleagues and friends. We exchanged business cards to keep in touch.

It was a fabulous event, and I look forward to meeting even more division members at the Sci-Tech Division dinner during next year’s ATA Annual Conference in San Diego.

Susanna Weerth works as an English – German freelance translator and interpreter. She specializes in life sciences (medical, biological and pharmaceutical), patent, and general legal translation and medical interpretation. She holds a professional certification as medical assistant and worked several years as medical technician in a physician's office and a clinical laboratory at the Veterinary University Clinics of Munich. She received a "Diplom" (MS equivalent) in Biology and a "Doktor" (PhD equivalent) in Biology/Neuroimmunology from the University of Munich and the Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology, Germany. She worked in a clinical laboratory in Oncology in Germany and after relocating to the US for several years in neuroscience research in laboratories at different universities and the National Institute of Health. She transitioned into translation by completing the "Certificate in German to English Translation" at the New York University in 2010 and started interpreting the same year with courses at Georgetown and Cross Cultural Communication. She has also taken biomedical writing and editing courses. She is currently involved at the board of the National Capitol Area Translators Association (NCATA) and the Nominating Committee of the Science & Technology Division and NCATA.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More on ‘Translating Technical Manuals’ by João Roque Dias

Here is another point of view on João Roque Dias’s ATA52 conference session on translating manuals. Thank you to Evan Schapiro, Senior Project Manager at CETRA Language Solutions for reviewing the session.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Summary of Translating Technical Manuals – by João Roque Dias

João is a translator from English into European Portuguese, specializing in translation of “nuts and bolts, and everything between the bolt head and the nut”, i.e. technical manuals. He gave a presentation for ATA Science and Technology Division during the ATA conference in Boston on his specialty, “Translating Technical Manuals”. His definition of a technical manual is “a roadmap for the user, the bread and butter for any technical translator. Nobody reads a manual but everybody uses it.” He points out that, technical manuals should be translated by technical translators with a deep knowledge of the subject matter, impeccable writing skills and an excellent command of the style for the manual. Unfortunately this is not always the case and some translators have no idea of what they are translating. He points out that there are different types of technical manuals and different audiences. The translator should take this into account and adjust the style accordingly. The translator should use clear and simple style, master the correct technical terminology and read each sentence as you were the end user. One of my favorite comments from him was “If you don’t understand what you are reading, you should also not attempt to translate it”. He also gave many examples of being precise and on false friends, with references in his native language, European Portuguese.
João continued his presentation with some practical tips, such as:

-          never translate the names of the support department, or else the letter may obviously not arrive to the correct place

-          pay attention to numbers and measurements since they are not written the same way in all languages

-          find out if labels and controls should be translated in the software or in the machine itself

-          do not translate the names of buttons on the actual machine

-          refuse to translate picture captions without seeing the actual picture

-          have a check list for your work so you do not miss anything, such as manual spell check on top of machine spell check

-          read the whole manual (not literally, of course) before you start translating it

-          collect, study and learn the main terminology that will be common in the type of manuals you translate

-          use a controlled and simplified (not simple) language

João displayed a great knowledge on the subject matter and presented a rather “dull” subject in a very entertaining and humorous way. For more information on João himself, or his work you can go to his website: To download his presentation (extended version in PDF format), this is the link:

Penned by Tess Whitty, English into Swedish translator specializing in IT, software and manuals for consumer electronics

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sci-Tech Division Open House

By Stephanie Strobel

The Sci-Tech Division stood out during Division Open-house following the Opening Reception at the ATA Annual Conference. The Sci-Tech Division table featured a creative construction toy “Super Marbleworks Raceway Construction Set.” It was well received by members of the division and particularly appreciated by out-going president, Nick Hartman, who said, “This is why I plan to become very involved in the Sci-Tech Division. These are my people!"

Why did a construction toy strike such a chord? Could it be Joy of Technology? Perhaps “Marbleworks” is the embodiment of technical translation. Technical translation is creative writing and it's active. Buildings go up; a hole goes into the ground; equipment is taken apart or reassembled; the page is displayed or a message is sent. Once the “Marbleworks” raceway is built, the marble "goes round and round and comes out there." Understanding of gravity and momentum guide the construction. It’s very satisfying the way gravity works to create the fun. It’s also very satisfying to see the way our knowledge of science and technology makes things happen.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Annual Conference Division Open House

Division Open House
Wednesday, 7:00pm - 8:00pm

Meet and mingle with members from all 16 ATA Divisions!

ATA Divisions are professional-interest groups providing specialty- and language-specific information and networking to assist their members in today's competitive marketplace. Don't miss this opportunity to get to know them all.

A variety of desserts and coffee will be available.
Open to all ATA conference attendees.


Dear S&TD members,
I am writing on behalf of the Leadership Council. We would like to thank all of you who took the time to respond to the survey we sent out in June 2011. Your responses have been very helpful in determining how we can better serve the division’s 1,300 members.
We received 113 responses and we are happy to observe from this sample how diverse our division is. Years of translation experience range from less than five years (25%) to more than 21 years (28%). We are glad that the services provided so far have proved helpful to maintain the interests of both novices and established professionals. Moreover, the opinions and impressions from such a mixed group have offered the Leadership Council a rounded understanding of the existing needs.

One remarkable finding from our survey is the breadth of subject matter areas in which our members specialize: from engineering and IT to waste and microphotolithography. The figure below shows the self-defined areas of expertise of those who responded.

Questions were asked about the services that the division currently offers or could consider adding. The chart below shows responses. Information on the art of translation and specific subject-matter advice are particularly interesting to our respondents.
We have been and will continue covering these areas in our blog[1] and mailing list[2]. Plans are in the works as to how to address these topics on our website. If you have not yet visited these online communities or visit them infrequently, get in the habit so that you do not miss all the great information! Further, if you have experience and expertise in a specific area that you would like to share with your fellow members, tell us. You can start a thread on the mailing list or ask a member of the Leadership Council individually if you prefer.[3]
Among the responses were requests for information on topics that are not pertinent to our division, such as which translation tools to use. We will avoid areas that are already covered by other ATA divisions and mailing lists, but we will share links to the other ATA divisions on our website.
Finally, our respondents have also noted that they visit such social networking sites as LinkedIn (73%), Twitter (19%), and Facebook (33%) for professional purposes at least occasionally. We do have accounts for the first two options, so if you would like to take advantage of getting news from us and your fellow members through those media, sign up to our group on LinkedIn[4] and follow @ATASciTech on Twitter.
While we can collect your opinions through such surveys only periodically, your comments and suggestions are always valuable. We appreciate your continued feedback on how our division is doing. You can contact us openly at any of the networking opportunities mentioned above, or contact any of us privately.
On behalf of the Leadership Council,
Karen Tkaczyk, Acting Division Administrator

Thanks to the members of our Leadership Council and Jamie Padula at ATA Headquarters for help with preparing and analyzing the survey.

[3] Email sent to goes to the division administrator