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.