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On the usefulness of machine translation (hear me out!)

Colleagues who know me know that I’m not a proponent of offering machine translation post-editing as a service. There is just so much to fix in a machine-translated text that it’s not a productive way of working, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me, who would find it to difficult to leave a sentence alone if the translation can be understood but could be improved.

Nevertheless, I don’t belong to the camp who believe that machine translation (MT) is never useful. In fact, I challenge anyone to tell me that MT would not save them time if they were translating the following sentence.

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I’m going to Cannes!

As I was doing the washing up last night, I decided to tune in to France Info. And it was perfect timing: a few minutes later the presenter interviewed Aurel about his film, Josep, which had been selected for the Cannes Film Festival 2020.

The animated film, produced by Les Films d’Ici Méditerranée, tells the story of Josep Bartoli, a Catalan artist who was among the many Republicans who fled north into France to escape the Spanish Civil War. The French government placed the refugees in concentration camps, in awful conditions, in the middle of winter. You can read a full review in English here.

So why was I so excited when this interview came on the radio?

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The true identity of Athletic Bilbao’s last Englishman is finally unearthed

Earlier this month, Spanish football historian Lartaun de Azumendi published a 43-Tweet-long thread to explain a remarkable discovery he had made about Martyn Veitch, the man usually cited as the last foreigner to play for Athletic Bilbao before they introduced their famous Basque-only policy.

His discovery quite literally changed the history books, as several days later, Athletic Bilbao updated its website to reflect Lartaun’s discovery. The thread was in Spanish, but as a professional translator specialising in sport, I’m always on the look out for interesting stories that would interest English readers, so I asked Lartaun if I could translate it.

Although I have published a version on Twitter, I recommend reading it on here, where I’m free from the shackles of the 280-character limit. Enjoy!

A 43-tweet research thread explaining why Athletic Bilbao never had a player called Martyn Veitch.

Who was Veitch? And what’s the story behind Athletic’s last foreign player before the club adopted its Basque-only policy in 1911? It’s a story we knew (almost) nothing about, until now.

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Izaskun Orkwis’s article on institutional translation

I first met Izaskun Orkwis at the 1st International Conference of Economic, Business, Financial and Institutional Translation, when my only institutional client was the OECD. Since then, she’s given me some great advice on how to get my feet in the door of international institutions.

In an article for the latest edition of the ATA Chronicle, Izaskun draws on her experience with international institutions to explain some of the quirks of working for them and how to ensure your translation is fit for purpose. The article is packed with pearls of wisdom. Here, I highlight just a few, with some additional remarks based on my own experience:

“the different language versions must match exactly, including all nuances and formal structure…replacing parentheses with commas may be fine in other contexts, but not in institutional translation”

 

“There will be humongous databases and parallel corpora that will be both a blessing…and a curse (sometimes you must reuse previous language, unchanged).”

Sometimes I’ve translated 3,000 word documents in 15 minutes, as nearly the entire document is a recycled version of an old one in the translation memory. But as Izaskun says, sometimes the databases are a curse. This is especially true when you find inconsistencies in the memory and you spend far more time deciding which previous version to use than you would have spent just translating it from scratch.

“the institutional translator must…lose their individual voice…the translated document, just like the original, belongs to the institution, which is its sole author”

 

“the institutional translator must…adopt the institution’s working methods”

The latter is particularly challenging for those of us who do short-term contracts for various institutions, as the working methods vary from one institution to another. To give just one example, the World Trade Organization uses Trados Studio (with two different workflows, depending on the type of document), whereas the United Nations Office at Geneva has its own computer-assisted translation tool that runs in the browser. Some institutions require you to upload your translation to a portal; others ask you to save it to a shared network drive.

“the institutional translator must…adhere to vetted terminology”

Izaskun goes on to say that you should consult a terminologist if you feel the need to depart from the vetted terminology. In the work I’ve done, I tend only to have to consult one of the revisers, not a terminologist.

Sometimes the solution in the terminology database is not what the more senior translation staff actually use. In such cases, if I were working at home, with my own setup, I would quickly edit the entry in my termbase, but in an institutional setting, terminology vetting is a complex process and it can take a long time for the entry to be corrected. It gets even more complicated if you suggest a change to the editorial manual. Since it is used by all the UN offices, someone in Geneva can’t just change something without consulting colleagues in New York, Nairobi and elsewhere, which is perhaps why we’re still not allowed to make country names possessive, despite the fact that every UN translator I’ve ever spoken to hates the rule!

“whenever there’s a quote from or a reference to a previous document, no matter how long or short, you must assume there exists a previous translation that needs to be found and reused”

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I’m back…

A few days ago, I got a message from Luke Spear to say I’d been included in his 75-strong blogroll post on his website. I was delighted to be included, but also a little embarrassed, as my latest post was four months old, and even that was just a discount code for booking.com. My latest real post, my review of the 2018 [sic!] Yacht Racing Forum, was over a year old!

It was not for want of things to write about, as 2019 was a hectic year for me. In fact, that was precisely the problem. Too much to do, not enough time to blog.

The post by fellow British Institute in Paris alumnus Luke Spear was the kick up the backside I needed to update my blog. In future, I should have more free time available because I’ve hired an assistant to take care of some of the many admin tasks I have to deal with (more on that in a future post).

A year in Dundee

Tay Bridge, the gateway to Dundee by train.

Tay Bridge, the gateway to Dundee by train. (Click on any of the photos in this blog to see a full resolution version.)

As many ScotNetters will know, in September 2018 my wife began a master’s degree at the University of Dundee. Just two and a half years after my big move to Namibia, it was time to say au revoir to the Mother Continent and hello to the Old Continent. I’d been away from Europe for little over half a lustrum (a favourite word of mine, so had to sneak it in), but it was my first time living in Britain since I’d left her shores and moved to Paris in 1999. How would it feel being back? Would the whole Brexit saga make me just want to leave? Would I get reverse culture shock? Continue reading

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Yacht Racing Forum 2018, in Lorient

At the end of October, I attended the 2018 Yacht Racing Forum. Organised by Geneva-based MaxComm Communication, this year’s edition visited Lorient, in a part of Brittany that is marketed as the Bretagne Sailing Valley because of the huge impact that sailing has on the local economy (see the tweet below).

The Sailing Valley

Taking the forum to Lorient was an excellent decision, but taking it there just a fortnight before the start of the Route du Rhum was a master stroke. Thanks to the location and the timing, the organisers attracted dozens of the key players involved in the race, including a good number of the actual sailors. Continue reading

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Off-topic: Non-racist white Namibians must stand up to racists

The following text is a letter I sent to three Namibian newspapers following my rather unpleasant experience last Sunday. At the time of writing it has not been published by any of them, but letters are usually published on a Friday, so I hope it will still get published.

I stood with the young boy, who was in floods of tears after his bike had been stolen. I and my future in-laws had just tried to chase after the thief. I called his father to explain what had happened. “Those people are troublemakers,” replied the father. “What does he mean by ‘those people’?” I thought to myself. This was back in 2014, when I’d only spent a couple of weeks in Namibia. Then it clicked. He was referring to black people, completely oblivious to the fact that everyone who was helping the boy, apart from me, was black.

Since then, as a white person I’ve often heard comments that I rarely seem to hear when I’m with my wife, who is black. Racist people who don’t know me obviously think they can air their pathetic, antiquated views when I’m around because I’m white. They assume I’ll agree with them, or at best that I’ll simply tolerate them. If I’m with my wife, who is black, I don’t tend to hear such conversations (though on the odd occasion I do).

This Sunday, my wife was away visiting family in the North and I was in Windhoek, so I spent the afternoon working and watching sport at a restaurant in the city centre. There was a group of people on the table next to me, and one of the guests got chatting to me. She was very excited to hear that I was from the city of York, in England, because her grandmother came from there. She seemed a pleasant enough lady at that stage.

Then I started to hear what kind of person she really was. Continue reading

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Financial translation CPD part 2: the 2018 Financial Translation Summer School in Brussels

After attending the 3rd ICEBFIT conference in Alicante then spending a few days with friends in the Barcelona area, I was glad to be escaping the scorching hot and humid conditions of the Mediterranean and jetting off to Brussels, where I could cool down a bit. Or so I thought… Turned out it was almost as hot, so I’d travelled half way around the world with a thick coat for nothing. And at times the heat felt worse, as northern Europe is far less prepared for it than the south, so there is often no air conditioning on public transport or in buildings.

Anyway, enough about the weather.

I was in the Belgian capital for part 2 of my financial translation CPD trip, at the 2018 Financial Translation Summer School (UETF), which is organised every even-numbered year by Société française des traducteurs (SFT) (non-members may attend). This year’s UETF was hosted by BNP Parisbas Fortis at its headquarters, conveniently located right in the heart of Brussels, just around the corner from the Central Station. The auditorium was excellent, the facilities top-notch and the two huge screens perfect for reading every last detail of presenters’ slides without squinting. A rather different experience from the dingy classrooms and noisy air conditioning units in Alicante a week earlier!

I had been a little apprehensive about going, as I expected the list of attendees to be dominated by translators who know financial reports like the back of their hand, translators who can tell you the ins and outs of the Basel III liquidity rules without consulting any notes. Would a translator who focused on macroeconomic reports feel out of depth in a sea of financial translators sensu stricto? With a price tag of €795, I didn’t want to go if I wasn’t going to learn anything relevant to my line of work. Continue reading

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Avis charged me an extra €345.63 for returning a car two days early

Picture this scenario. A company hires me to work for them in house for a month. I ditch my normal per day rate and give a special price for the entire month. The contract specifies that it is a special rate for a full month.

In the end, the company decide they do not need my services for the final week, and they let me leave early.

What should I charge the company? I think most people would expect me to charge the original fee. After all, I booked time in my agenda for that final week and might not find other projects to take up the time.

But what if I told the client that because they were not using my services for the final week, I was going to charge then four and a half times the original price? What would the client think of my business? Would they ever use my services again? Would they recommend my services to other potential clients?

My bad experience with Avis

This is what happened to me when I hired a car from Avis.

I needed a car from 26 April to 16 May, and found a great price with Avis, at just €98.11. Adding a few extra days did not change the price, so given the frequency of strikes in France, I decided to extend the booking to 18 May, so that if my flight got cancelled I would still have the car for the extra two days.

The booking included the following clause:

AvisTerms

For those who don’t speak French, it says “You shall not be refunded for the days that you do not use the car”.

This made perfect sense. If my flight went ahead as scheduled, then by returning the car on 16 May, I’d pay the same price as in the original booking and wouldn’t receive a refund.

Things turned out rather differently. Continue reading

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