Thursday, June 27, 2013

SLD Member Amy Lesiewicz Wins Translation Prize

The ATA has just made a call for nominations for the S. Edmund Berger Prize, which is awarded annually in recognition of excellence in scientific and technical translation. The interview below, on last year's Berger Honoree, was published in the 2013 Winter issue of the SlavFile, newsletter of the Slavic Languages Division, and is reprinted here with their kind permission and our gratitude.

At the 2012 ATA Annual Conference in San Diego, Amy Lesiewicz, an SLD member, was awarded the S. Edmund Berger Prize for Excellence in Scientific and Technical Translation. The Berger prize is one of several prizes awarded annually by the American Foundation for Translation and Interpretation, a non-profit entity closely linked with ATA. Jen Guernsey interviewed Amy about the prize and her translation career.

JG: Congratulations, Amy! Tell us a little bit about your prize-winning translation.
AL: Let me clear this up right away! In the past, the Berger Prize has been awarded to a senior translator for demonstrating excellence in scientific or technical translation. This year, rather than recognizing someone at the end of his or her career, the American Foundation for Translation and Interpretation decided to award the Berger Prize to an up-and-coming translator to promote the start of a career. I don’t want anyone to have the impression that I’ve translated the collected works of Andrei Sakharov or something like that! I’m very honored by the award, but humbled too.

JG: Who nominated you for the prize? Did you know your work had been submitted?
AL: Last fall I was laid off from my in-house translation position at an engineering company. Although I had been translating full-time for five years, the vast majority of that was in-house, and I suddenly found myself a freelancer. I made all the rookie mistakes and was feeling a bit lost when I looked at the ATA website one day and saw an invitation to apply for their mentorship program. The application process was straightforward and painless, and before I knew it I was matched with a wonderful mentor, a German to English translator named Amanda Ennis. She helped me focus on reachable goals, including highlighting my scientific specialization and preparing for my first ATA conference.
Unbeknownst to me, Nick Hartmann from the Foundation asked Susanne van Eyl, the director of the mentorship program, if there were any scientific translators in this year’s mentee class. She gave him a short list, and the Foundation selected me. I was completely surprised and very grateful.

JG: I find that most US-based translators have ended up in the translation field in a roundabout way. From what I know of your career, you fit that mold to some extent. Tell us about your background and your translation career thus far.
AL: I was a chemistry major and much focused on academics; I came to college with 22 credits already under my belt from advanced placement tests and some college classes I took while still in high school. This gave my chemistry advisor the impression that I was headed for a PhD and a career in academia. Therefore, he advised me to take at least two years of French, German, or Russian so that I could read the major chemistry journals in another language. The French and German classes conflicted with my chemistry schedule, so I took Russian, and I immediately fell in love. My instructor, Dr. Irina Ivliyeva, was a wonderful teacher, and a perfect fit for her science and engineering students. I wonder if my science (and maybe even music) background helped with the initial learning process: some students seemed to struggle with learning a new alphabet, but for me it was natural and easy to learn a new symbol and associate it with a sound and/or meaning. Perhaps this is similar to learning chemical symbols and associating them with elements, bonds, structures, and compounds.
By my fourth year in college, I realized I was disenchanted with potential careers in chemistry; my last semester’s course load included nine credits of Russian and only one credit of chemistry. My advisor was studying biimidazole chemistry, a field that had been extensively researched in the Soviet Union. One particular article hadn’t been translated into English, and he asked me to translate it. With only three semesters of Russian behind me, it was well beyond my level of understanding and beyond my little pocket dictionary too, so one Friday afternoon I claimed a table at the back of the library and built a little fortress out of dictionaries and went to work. When I realized I was hungry I looked at my watch and was surprised to find it was after 9:00 pm. That was when I realized that translating is fun; it’s like solving a complex logic puzzle.
From there, it took me a long time to feel qualified to call myself a translator. I finished my chemistry degree, worked various entry-level jobs, went to Michigan State University to earn a BA in Russian, and then realized I still wasn’t qualified, so I went to the University at Albany to earn an MA in Russian and a Certificate of Advanced Study in translation. Since they didn’t have any summer classes in the Russian department, I decided to try to find a summer job or internship in Russia. I ended up with a year-long position as an in-house translator at Language Link Translations in Moscow. It was a great learning experience and introduction to the profession.

JG: In your translation work, are there any particular parts of your experience that you drew on, aside from the obvious language-related capabilities?
AL: With each new assignment, I find myself doing roughly equal parts scientific research and linguistic research. For example, my work log for the last month shows that I translated a journal article on hydrocarbons and heavy metals in the water surrounding Vladivostok, test reports on the efficacy of various fungicides against diseases in several different crops, and back translated an informed consent form for banking umbilical cord blood.
For each assignment, I had to research the proper terminology used in those fields. I think it’s really fun!
A couple of years ago, I was translating a long regulatory document on fire safety of industrial buildings, when I came up against a stumbling block: заполнение проемов. This could mean a door, window, shutter, curtain, hatch, lid, or anything that closes any kind of opening in a wall, floor, or ceiling. The concept is relatively simple and the words are easy, but it took me hours to find the right term in English. At one point, I literally banged my head on my desk, which startled a passing co-worker (this was while I was working in-house). When I finally found a reliable source text (fire safety regulations from the state of California) that defined this exact concept as “opening protectives,” I was so excited that I actually felt a rush of endorphins. It’s not even a particularly exciting or elegant phrase, opening protectives, but it was the right term for the right concept, and it was a wily little guy.
I also get a kick out of unexpected translations. I was translating a contract for wellhead completion services a couple of months ago that mentioned фонтанная установка (literally: fountain device). Turns out, the English term for this thing is a “Christmas tree.” My project manager emailed me after I delivered the translation, suggesting that I find another translation, because “Christmas tree” couldn’t possibly be correct. So I sent her links to websites with pictures of these big stacks of valves (which look nothing like Christmas trees or fountains, if you ask me) and to the Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary.
In cases like those, I sometimes use the Google images search function to double-check that I’ve got the right term. If searches in both languages return pictures of the same thing, I think I’m on the right track.

JG: What recommendations would you make to translators interested in specializing in technical translation, or conversely, technical specialists who would like to transition to translating?
AL: There is a wide spectrum of scientific and linguistic skills, even within a relatively narrow subject matter. For example, my linguistic education is broader than my BS in chemistry, and so my working areas are somewhat broad (from chemistry and the pure and natural sciences to engineering and even non-technical texts). I have met other translators with PhDs in chemistry who focus on a smaller subject area but work from several source languages. Each area and degree of specialization has its advantages.
As a college student, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a teacher to help me find the intersection of my two interests, science and language. I tried contacting chemistry professors who had emigrated from Russia, but they had not maintained any ties to Russia or the Russian language—they read and published in English—and were not interested in working with me. I tried translating a chemistry journal article on my own and asked one of my Russian professors to review it, but he got confused by the science in the second line of the text and gave it back with no input. During my first trip to Russia, I was delighted to find science textbooks in the bookstores, and I spent a year poring over an introductory chemistry book for thirteen-year-olds, looking up every word I didn’t know and writing down all of its collocations and standard phrases. When I was in Moscow, I carried little paperback study guides intended for high school students preparing for college entrance exams, and I read them on the metro during my daily commute. So I guess my advice for language students is this: Don’t wait for someone to teach you scientific vocabulary and style in your second language. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to find a language teacher with a science background, but in America they will most likely be interested in poetry and history. It’s going to be up to you.

JG: I remember an article in which Kevin Hendzel pointed out to us translators, “You’re only as good as your last translation.” I’m sure you have no plans to rest on your laurels just because the stellar quality of your work has been recognized. Where would you like to head with your translation work in the future?
AL: I’d like to focus on gaining clients who send me “higher quality” source texts. I’ve done a lot of work in the petroleum engineering field, and let me tell you, engineers are not always good writers! I enjoy translating scientific and medical journal articles, because they are well written and have been edited for publication. I’ve just joined the American Chemical Society, and I signed up for some upcoming online courses on medical terminology and the chemistry of drugs in the brain. I plan to start reading chemistry journals in English more extensively. Chris Durban said something at the last conference that really struck a chord with me: as a specialized translator, I should be able to rub elbows with scientists in my field and pass for one of them, if only for a few minutes. So in the coming months I hope to network with chemists in my area.

JG: We look forward to hearing more from you in the future. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions!

For more information about AFTI, the Berger prize, or other AFTI activities, visit

Monday, June 17, 2013

Interview with Tess Whitty, English-Swedish IT and Marketing Translator

It seems that many scientific and technical translators take a roundabout path in their careers. Is that true for you? Tell us about how you became a translator with your specialization.
Being a translator is my second career so taking a roundabout way is very true for me. During my studies I was very interested in languages and cultures, but becoming a translator was not on my radar then. I graduated with an M.Sc. in Economics and went on to study for an M.A. in Business Communications in France and Belgium. After this I got a job as a marketing assistant in Stockholm, Sweden and worked myself up the career ladder to become a product marketing manager in IT-services for an international telecommunications company. It wasn’t until I lived in the US with my American husband and two small children that I started looking into an alternative career where I could make use of my linguistic skills. I started researching and learning about being a freelance translator and after my first translation project I was hooked. My specialization in IT and marketing came naturally from having worked with IT at a telecommunication company and from my educational background in marketing. I had lived and breathed IT and marketing for nearly ten years already.
Was it challenging for you to combine your technical and linguistic interests? What advice would you give to translators or interpreters just starting their careers?
I think it would be hard to start out as a technical translator if you only have linguistic experience, but not impossible. In order to become a good specialized translator you need to have a thorough knowledge of what you translate and a keen interest in it too. Since my previous career had focused on internet services and the technology behind them, it was not hard to transfer this to translating computer software and hardware. Both my husband and I are very interested in IT and were early adopters of Internet, email and computers.
What is unique about your skill set? What sets you apart?
I specialize in only one language combination and focus all my training and research on this language pair, which can give me an advantage in the amount of knowledge and expertise I can obtain in these languages. After having lived more than 20 years in a Swedish speaking country and more than 10 years in the US, I am well versed in both cultures and languages and have extensive knowledge and insight in both markets. I have worked with translation for over 10 years and during this time I have also studied both translation practice and theory, though not formally, plus taken every opportunity to improve my Swedish writing skills.
My thorough experience in IT, software and hardware is also one of my strengths. I have worked and translated IT for almost 20 years and feel comfortable discussing software strings, help files, and router and computer hardware with technicians, marketers and linguists.
What is your favorite type of text to translate or interpreting assignment? What makes it fun for you?
Translating user manuals of new software and hardware is fun, since I learn all about the new technology. Translators are probably the ones who have read the user manual the most thoroughly. I also enjoy creating appealing marketing texts for the Swedish market, especially when I can work closely with the client and the editor in order to create the best copy for the purpose.
Are there any resources you use when translating that you’d like to share with readers?
Technicians love using acronyms and Acronym Finder has been a great help for me, plus of course the Microsoft glossary database. More specifically for Swedish, there is the Swedish National Term Bank and of course Svenska Datatermgruppen’s database.
How can readers learn more about you and connect with you?
My website contains more in depth information about me and my translation services both in English and Swedish:
To connect with me you can go to:
Twitter: @Tesstranslates

Monday, June 10, 2013

More resources for technical and scientific translators

Débora C. de D’Eramo, an English>Spanish translator, has a whole treasure chest of great resources for technical and scientific translators. Our first post with links to online terminology databases, glossaries, dictionaries was posted a few weeks ago, and here is a second batch of resources. 

Terminology databases

METEOTERM, multilingual (EN, AR, CH, FR, RU, ES) database of weather and climate specialized terminology – WMO (World Meteorological Organization)

ML Lexicon, multilingual database of forensic science terms - European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI)

TEPA, The Finnish Terminology Centre TSK's term bank (FI, SV, EN)


Glossary of astronomical terms (EN monolingual)

Glossary of biotechnology terms (bilingual site, EN/FR) – Government of Canada BioPortal

Glossary of wind energy terms (EN, DE, ES, FR, DA) – Danish Wind Industry Association

Dictionaries & Thesauri

Automotive & Equipment dictionary (EN, ES, PT)

EnDic, Environmental Dictionary (DE, EN, ET, FI, FR, LT, LV, NL, SV, LA, RU) – Finnish 
Meteorological Institute

Illustrated Professional Dictionary of Horology (FR, DE, EN, ES) – Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry


Guidelines on style for scientific writing

Débora C. de D’Eramo is an English>Spanish translation specialist with a freelance practice focused on life science, technology and business. She has more than 10 years of experience in the field and has worked on pharmaceuticals, health care and scientific projects. You can find her at her website, or follow her on Twitter (@AccuWordsTrans). Contact: dc.deramo(at)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Interview with Karen Tkaczyk, PhD, French-English Chemistry Translator and Science and Technology Division Administrator

How did you become Division Administrator? What do you do?

I’m one of the three division members who worked to re-establish the Science and Technology Division in 2010. In the combination of my pair and field there was not enough support in my language division. I felt something was missing. I was not alone. We are a happy, like-minded group in S&TD. At that time, I was appointed as acting administrator. I ran for a term for 2011-2013. My role includes appointing the Leadership Council and working with them to help provide all the services and activities that the division is supposed to. Personally, I handle much of the communication with ATA headquarters to make sure that we are doing everything we’re meant to on time, and I post the tweets that we send out under @ATASciTech.

It seems that many scientific and technical translators take a roundabout path in their careers. Is that true for you? Tell us about how you became a translator with your specialization.
I came into translation as a second career. I was a chemist who had stopped working after having children. After five years at home with three little ones, I began seeking something interesting to do that would be stimulating but suit the family’s need for flexibility: I did not want to be employed full time again. I had skills inherent from having a bilingual marriage and a good enough education to make me a decent writer (I had a lot to learn, but still, in “average” terms, I was a good technical writer). As soon as I discovered that translators worked freelance I was set. I devoured guidance materials, set up a freelance practice online and according to local regulations, and then began translating appealing documents and networking until clients came to me.
I am a natural technical translator. By that I mean I like technical writing. I read trade journals in my fields. I read non-fiction for pleasure, including popular science. So I specialize because it came naturally. I speak chemistry. My chemistry degrees and prior industrial experience were a natural specialization and subject-matter expertise. I was interested in those fields and very much wanted to keep learning about them. I spend time in France most years with my husband's family and have plenty of exposure to my source language.

What is unique about your skill set? What sets you apart?
My narrow niche sets me apart. I have the immeasurable advantage of having a good feeling about the texts I deliver, knowing I can discuss them in a roomful of chemists or patent attorneys and not feel out of place. I think the sense of confidence I have in my work shows. I also detest the feeling I get when I realize I have accepted a text that is in fact something I don't understand properly. That is perhaps why I am so comfortable being highly specialized. I like to trust my instincts and am happiest when I can do that.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of being specialized like this?

Quite a few of the Science and Technology Division’s subject-matter experts are people like me who had a previous career. One advantage this provides is the speed at which a practice can take off. I found a market niche quickly and have solidified it over the years since. I didn’t go through that "How am I going to market myself? Hmm, well, let's see how it works out" phase that I know many freelancers go through. I was a chemistry translator right from day one. I often hear the time "two years" floated when people are talking about how long it takes to have a stable, established translation practice. With credentials, a tailor-made specialty and sensible business practices, I was refusing work four months after I had decided to become a freelance translator. An obvious advantage is speed. When you translate in a small number of fields, there is less background research to do, more subject-matter familiarity, and you can work at market pace more easily or turn around more translations.
One drawback is saying no a lot. You have to stay strong and refuse the work that is not in the fields that you are aiming for if you really want to get your name out as a specialist with a niche. There are many translators who specialize in a certain field but who still accept work in many other fields. I am not that kind of translator. I do tend to refuse almost everything that that's not in my predefined fields. The exceptions are rare. I can turn that into an advantage too though. When I refuse work, I refuse with a name. I refer colleagues. That pleases everyone.
Another advantage: customers are often prepared to pay higher rates when they have no one in-house who can check a translation with confidence. Working into English, that occurs with highly technical texts more than with "general" texts. When customers feel they can rely on me to get the "hard" stuff right—the complex scientific concepts or manufacturing practices—and want peace of mind, they often accept my rates even though they may be higher than usual.

What is your favorite type of text to translate? What makes it fun for you?
Most days are fun. I wouldn’t be doing this for a living if I couldn't say that. Chemistry patents are among my favorites. There's a logic and predictability that I like. Projects where I work in teams are the best though. I love communicating with colleagues to solve tricky problems, and revising the work of people I admire or seeing how they revise my work. Those are the jobs where I learn most and am completely satisfied.
How can readers learn more about you and connect with you?
My website is at Email is karen at that domain name. You can also find me on LinkedIn (, Twitter (@ChemXlator), Facebook (look for McMillan Translation) and in the division's Yahoo and Facebook groups.

I write articles fairly often. They include how my practice came into being, reviews of conferences, interviews on subjects or people I know, guest blog posts. Some of the articles are in publications like The ATA Chronicle and ITI Bulletin, but others are online. I've been the subject of some pieces too. Here's a selection of what's out there.