December 2000

A Letter from Ken Kronenberg, NETA President
Reports on NETA Meetings
Report on GBANE Meeting -- by Joseph Hittl
Taking Care of Business -- by Laura Rocha Nakazawa
A Chance Encounter -- by Caterina Vaselli Sullivan
Translators’ Guild to Certify Some Members -- by Diana Rhudick
Career Opportunities in Interpretation at the United Nations
Member News
Letter to the Editor
Computer Corner
2001 NETA Programs
Upcoming Events







Dear Netans,
I had an opportunity recently to see how things go right when they go right. Julia Bartlett called me a few months ago to discuss inviting Sue Ellen Wright to do a workshop on terminology management (four days - $350).
The response was underwhelming. I don’t think Julia will be angry with me if I say that she was "disappointed." It turned out that a fair number of NETA members didn’t know what terminology management was or why it might be useful to them. So Julia and I talked it over, and we decided to try something at a lower level. Since tools like Trados and STAR Transit are the basic programs used to manage terminology, she invited Thierry Jambage from STAR Transit to do a four-hour workshop. We decided to charge $100, split 50-50 with the presenter. I sent out a general description and invitation to the NETA list. The initial response was again underwhelming, but I told Julia not to worry, that I would send out the message again...and again...and again, if needed. Eventually, we had to deal with an overflow. To my knowledge, this is the first workshop that NETA has sponsored outside of the regular meetings!
What pleased me the most, apart from confirmation that persistence often carries the day and the $500 that went into NETA’s treasury, was that the idea for these workshops came from a new member, who was then prepared to do the actual legwork required to bring it off. I mainly provided e-mail support and got the venue. NETA now has about 170 members (we lost about 20% in nonrenewals—not a bad figure!) This represents an enormous reservoir of knowledge, skill, and potential organizational energy and talent. I am open to your suggestions for future workshops and other events. If you will take charge of it, NETA will give you support, and we will all be happy to give you the credit. Not only is this good for NETA, it also gives you experience in organizing, coordinating, dealing with companies, and understanding what a membership organization is about. If you have an idea, let’s talk about it.
Before closing, I would like to thank two people for their services to NETA. Regina Correia-Branco served as vice president for two years. Before stepping down as VP, she made her greatest contributions to the Fair Committee, and I am really glad that we will continue to be able to count on her in that capacity. Christine Castle served as our membership coordinator for the two years she lived in the Boston area. She has now moved back to Seattle, leaving Jill Orenstein with a wonderfully complete database that will require only the usual updating.
All the best,
Ken Kronenberg
President, NETA



General Meeting
27 attendees

Our series opener was a general meeting to get acquainted with each other and with the issues we will focus on this year. President Ken Kronenberg welcomed everyone and handed the floor over to newsletter editor Diana Rhudick. Diana reported the election results: President, Ken Kronenberg; Vice President, Terry Coe; Treasurer, Suzanne Owen; Secretary, Jill Orenstein. Congratulations to everyone. Diana then called on members to contribute articles to this newsletter about topics such as their area(s) of expertise, local events or websites of interest, tips on running a home office or a particular software package. She noted that the newsletter can now be found at our website,, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Ginger Kuenzel.

Next up was Terry Coe, our new vice president, who spoke about NETA’s yearly conference and exhibit. He said that the Conference Committee was already up and running and could use more volunteers. The time commitment depends on people’s schedules. The conference is slated for April 21, at Bentley College.

Ginger Kuenzel, our webmaster extraordinaire, then described our website. She uses FrontPage 98 to put the site together and is willing to teach anyone to use it, free of charge, in exchange for help maintaining the site. Ginger reminded people to check their entry in the list of NETA members found at the site to make sure it is correct. Any changes or new entries should be sent to her in the format used on our website, to:

Rudy Heller, NETA’s corepresentative to GBANE (Global Business Alliance of New England,, explained that this group is a "super chamber of commerce" containing 53 organizations involved in international affairs. Rudy talked about his attendance at GBANE meetings along with Laura Nakazawa. He feels there is great potential for our ties with this group and stated that our long-term goal is to instill in people’s minds that NETA is the source for translations and related information in the New England area. Judging by the meetings they’ve attended, many GBANE members could use education on why translation is important and what exactly is involved in the process.

The last speaker of the evening was Laura Nakazawa. Laura described November’s STAR Transit workshop, explaining that it was a step along the way toward educating Netans in the use and value of translation tools. She hopes to organize other workshops to train people on different translation tools and help us decide whether we need them and if so, which one is best for us. Two audience members pointed out that if your work does not have repetitive text, such as updated versions of computer manuals, and if you do not get much source material in electronic format, translation tools are not for you. Ken then closed the meeting and invited everyone to the snack bar for mingling and munching.
compiled by Diana Rhudick

ATA Accreditation
Jackie Murgida, Rudy Heller, and Andy Klatt
approximately 20 attendees

Rudy started off the meeting by introducing the statue of Saint Jerome, and explaining his role in history as the translator of the Bible. He brought the statue back from a translation conference in Colombia and it presided over the meeting. He also handed out a photocopy of an article on accreditation published in the 41st ATA Conference Proceedings.

Accreditation began in 1971. The objective of the exam is to be "a testament to a translator’s professional competence to translate from one specific language to another." The exam is open book, with controlled space and time conditions. When a member passes, his membership changes from that of associate to active (in the US) or corresponding (overseas).

The skills that are tested are comprehension of the source language, general knowledge, analytical skills in the source and target languages, application of appropriate translation skills, among others. Jackie mentioned at this juncture that you must be a good writer in order to be a good translator. You must be able to write like an educated native speaker.

There are five passages of 250 to 300 words in each of the following categories: General, Scientific/Medical, Semi-technical, Legal/Business, Literary. Currently the number is being lowered to 200–250 words. The exam does not test knowledge of specific terminology. The ATA article reviews the purpose for each category. For example, the scientific/medical text may represent "communication between scientists or between physicians," and the semi-technical text may represent "communication between scientists and educated laymen." Andy notes that a literary passage is often contemporary, and sometimes taken from early 20th century prose or fiction. Rudy commented that in his experience, working from English into Spanish, the literary texts are usually not heavy, but light, humorous, designed to test the translator’s ability to transfer the content and meaning.

Grading is a balance of major and minor errors. The graders are encouraged to be as objective as possible so their own personal styles do not interfere. The grading is becoming more and more objective over the years as there is more interchange between graders. This is promoted by communication via the Internet. Graders work in isolation, and each one develops his own ways to assess the exam.

Major and Minor Errors

If an editor reading the text would make an obligatory change, then this is considered an error, but not if it were an optional revision. The use of colloquial language is an issue, and does count. The key thing to remember is that the final product should read as if it were written in that language. It should not sound like a translation. There is greater acceptance of terminology and word choice. However, if the reader has to stop to think about the meaning, or if the word choice definitely does not belong, then it is considered an error. A change in the meaning of the text is considered a major error. A person reading the text who doesn’t know the other language must be able to understand the translation. For this reason, graders must know both languages well. Has usage been grossly violated? Is the style inappropriate to the subject matter? These are the questions that are asked.

Constant repetition of what may be minor errors is considered one major error; for example, incorrect punctuation, misspellings, grammatical errors, etc. These minor errors are counted as individual mistakes up to three times. Thereafter, they are considered one major error.

A certain number of errors is allowed. A passage is marked as failed if there are:

2 or more major errors
1 major error and 7 or more minor errors
20 or more minor errors

Categories of Errors

Each of these errors is discussed in more detail in the article. Most errors fall under one or more of the following categories:

Incomplete passage
Misunderstanding of original text
Mistranslation into target language
Addition or omission
Terminology or word choice
Too freely translated
Too literal, word-for-word translation
Syntax (sentence structure)
Indecision—gave more than one option
Inconsistency (same term translated differently)
Claim of words "not in the dictionary"

Literary Question: How much creativity is allowed?

The answer is that this is not a test of creativity. You may use a different image, but keep the same meaning, tone, style, and intent. Substitute appropriate sayings in the target language. A native reader of the target text should be affected in the same way as a native reader of the source text.

Every grader in the group must translate all the texts. They get 20 minutes to translate the same texts instead of an hour. The exams go to the coordinator. Then the exams are graded by seven graders, and go back to the original graders. Trip-ups are found and accounted for, and then adjustments are made to the texts according to the results. It takes a good three months to select the passages. The point is not to trap you; texts are carefully selected to avoid "gotcha" situations. Adjustments are made as the year progresses in order to allow for extraneous situations.

As far as differences from country to country, whether it is British versus American English, or Brazilian and Continental Portuguese, it is important to be consistent! Also, be careful of false cognates that may cause confusion between related languages. Overlaps between syntax and grammar and being too literal are other common mistakes. Do not be indecisive! Choose the word that you think is the most appropriate.

Illegible handwriting is a problem. If you have poor handwriting, then print. If you use block letters, be sure to indicate capital letters somehow by underlining them, or making them larger, and indicate diacritical marks where appropriate. Your translations should be written clearly enough to photocopy. Remember, you don’t have to erase things. Just cross it out, and keep on going.

Rudy comments that the committee is aware of the problems with handwriting. There is no way to incorporate computers at this stage since no venue is large enough to accommodate so many people. Also, people use different computer platforms, which means that you have to compensate for computer learning curves, Mac versus Windows, and multiple word processors.

Scratch paper is not allowed in the exam. Rudy jokingly adds, "We’ll shoot you at dawn if everything isn’t placed in the envelope." Of course, breaches of security have occurred.

Plan Ahead

Bring a valid photo ID. Bring something to check grammar, and spelling, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Little Brown Book. Bring a selection of dictionaries; you never know what passages you are going to get. You may not share dictionaries and resources, or use electronic devices. As the exam is handwritten, bring a dark ballpoint pen or pencil. The timing is the same for everyone.

Taking the Exam

The most recent exam was given at Boston College on November 18. All exam sittings are listed on the ATA website: You will also find strategies for taking the test. Be careful of how you spend your time. Don’t be frivolous. Take 15 minutes to choose which texts you are going to translate. Look for problems in the texts, stuff that takes too much time. Choose texts with which you are familiar.

Some people are slow. In that case, it is possible to do two passages, but they must be very good. Every test goes to two graders, and is graded anonymously. If they disagree, then it goes to a third grader to break the stalemate. If only two passages are done and the graders don’t agree, then it does not go on to a third grader. You need to pass two out of the three texts. Remember that the grader takes into consideration the time crunch. If you did two, then you took more time, and therefore it should be better.

People fail the test for various reasons. Some people take the test before they are ready, or they have taken classes and want to try taking the exam for the sake of experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

At this point, the presentation was stopped so the attendees could review the pages of frequently asked questions, and bring up any concerns they had.

How to practice: You may purchase practice test passages for $40 apiece. You may take up to five practice tests. Then send them back to ATA to be graded. The grader makes marks and returns the test. That way, you can get a better idea of where your weaknesses are. Corrections on a practice test may take three weeks or more, as the grader is doing this for free on his own spare time.

Review procedure: If you take the exam and don’t pass, you can request a review. It costs $100 to file for a review. It will not take place until the end of the current year, when the passages are set aside, and never used again. Then the reviewer will look over your exam for grading criteria, and grade the exam again. If it is reversed, the reviewer fee is refunded, you receive a certificate of accreditation, and your name is published in the ATA Chronicle. You will never receive corrections on a passed test.

Andy suggested that we should consider hosting the exam at our yearly NETA Exhibition and Conference for people who travel from various parts of New England to attend.

Terry Hanlen at the American Translators Association is the accreditation manager ( He is the person you should contact for more details regarding the accreditation process, or if you need to cancel your sitting.

For copies of the article provided for this presentation, contact the ATA office at (703) 683-6100. [41st ATA Conference Proceedings, "What is ATA Accreditation?" pp. 11-21]

Career Management: Surviving and Thriving as a Free Agent
Deborah L. Knox
approximately 16 attendees

Deborah began by saying we are basically "portfolio employees": we network, negotiate our own contracts, have skills for bartering, are freelancers, self-employed. The important thing to focus on is who you are. You have to be true to that person, and go out into the world and do that thing that makes you who you are. You have to be able to view or perceive your job as an application in the real world. Deborah mentioned her book, Life Work Putting your Spirit Online. It’s about representing and expressing yourself on the Internet.

Deborah explained her handout with a diamond-shaped diagram, one representing You, and the other the application of that person in the World of Work. Each quadrant of the diamonds focuses on the different aspects of life and work.

The diamond is meant to be a four-part model, a holistic approach to the decision-making process. Describe yourself first, and then apply it to the working world. You need to sit down and make a list of all of your attributes from each quadrant. However, no exercise is complete until it has been prioritized. That is the second step.

The first quadrant asks: what do I do? These are functional, transferable skills. Upon assessing them, your ego goes up. How can you gain skills and knowledge so that you can get where you want to go?

The second quadrant asks: where do I want to go? Here we are addressing autonomy, deadlines, the physical conditions of your workspace. Take a look at your values and work experience. Consider taking the Meyers-Briggs evaluation test.

The third quadrant asks: whom do I do my best work with? Think about your colleagues, and the clients you come in contact with. What kind of people and work habits do you prefer or dislike?

The fourth quadrant asks: why do I do what I do? Focus on short- and long-range goals. What are the rewards you garner from what you do? Perhaps it is money, satisfaction, the knowledge gained, connecting with people, or being active.

The Internet can also help you focus on what is most important to you. Once you get to this point, you need to create a plan of action. Pull together all those words and thoughts, and focus on what is important to you. If the task seems impossible, you may not be ready to make the transition just yet. Deborah provided a template to use to view the results of your lists that produces a statement, not necessarily to be used in a résumé or on a brochure.

At Deborah’s website (, you will find worksheets for these exercises, and there are 120 links to explore. Then you can go through the websites and search for the kind of job that fits your description. You can also do some networking and informational interviews to gain more information on different people and companies. This will allow you to be really selective about the projects, criteria, and company you want to work with. Another great way to do this is by joining a professional group like NETA where you can meet people who are working in that industry, find out if they are fun and interesting, and if this is something you want to explore further.

Change is constant, and we can manage it by knowing who we are in the moment. You can re-evaluate it at any time. Ask yourself if your needs are being met. If not, then you need to answer the question, what does? You have to balance your compromises and trade-offs. We have been trained to believe that we aren’t supposed to think about what we want, but you should.

There is a book by Charles Handy you can read to gain more info called The Age of Unreason. Or you can go to this website:

When you go through the self-assessment process, look at individual accomplishments. Inventory both your work and passion accomplishments and ask yourself, Who am I? What do I want to contribute? Your passion is what drives your mission. What supports the overall mission of your career? Remember the saying, "Do what you want and the money will follow."

Using another handout, Deborah instructed the group to read each paragraph and rate themselves on a scale from one to five, one being "not at all" and five being "mastery." The page had subjects such as: career management, self-management, project management, planning and decision-making, leadership, growth and development. These are the things that need to be in your toolbox. If you find that your score is low, develop a learning plan for it.

Think of your accomplishments and take the time to write about them. There is a formula for this represented by the acronym P.A.R.: problem – action – results. When you do this writing exercise, you should quantify the hours you put into it, and the skills you used and gained from it as much as possible.

The last handout dealt with "Questions for Understanding Models" taken from Deborah’s book. The thrust was being able to deal with change and knowing who you are.

October and November minutes compiled by Jill Orenstein


Julia Bartlett

The STAR Transit Training Session took place on Saturday, November 4, 2000. It was conducted at a computer lab at Boston College and presented by Thierry Jambage from STAR. There were 11 participants from many different technical backgrounds. The cost was $100 per person.

The class lasted about four hours. During the first part, Thierry gave an introduction to translation memory tools. In the second half, he led the mostly multilingual group in hands-on work with STAR Transit on PCs. Participants received individual attention and were able to ask specific questions. All participants enjoyed the friendly environment, where they had some free time for networking. The highlight of the session was the announcement that all of them would receive a sample of the STAR Transit Light version!

Considering that it is the first time we have organized this type of activity, the occasional computer glitches were minor. Most of the attendees were satisfied with the outcome and felt they had learned a lot. Many of them have already expressed an interest in taking part in a follow-up workshop, and we hope to be able to offer many more!


REPORT ON GBANE (Global Business Alliance of New England) MEETING -- September 18, 2000

The meeting was held at the offices of FleetBoston Financial in downtown Boston. NETA representatives were Bill Grimes and Joseph Hitti. The meeting room was on the trading floor, where more than a hundred traders could be seen busy at their computer screens. The room was equipped with an update screen continuously streaming foreign currency exchange rates.

Everyone at the meeting was dressed business-style, prompting Bill to confide in me that were it not for the sandwiches, this would have been a pretty stressful activity, especially since he was wearing a suit for the first time in a long while.

The meeting started with a presentation by Keith Cheverals, Managing Director, Global Markets, FleetBoston Financial. Keith gave a brief address focused on the US trade deficit which currently stands at $30 billion. He spoke positively about the international and cosmopolitan community of Boston. He also told his audience that the Fleet trading floor is the nerve center of the institution, and that the expertise here is crucial to the bank. He described the trading floor as a technology-innovative component that was costly and driven by sales. He concluded with two take-home lessons:

a. Information is the most critical aspect of international trade;
b. He would like to see the foreign exchange process linked intimately to the international trade process, in order to mitigate the risks of doing business internationally. The weakness of the euro right now is hurting US firms doing business in Europe.

The City of Boston’s Business Assistance Team then presented their organization. Their office offers support programs to small- and medium-size businesses during their growth phase when they are the most vulnerable. They must be located in Boston proper to be eligible for assistance. (website below)

GBANE Executive Director Urszula Wojciechowska then asked attending members to introduce themselves and briefly describe their organizations. Joseph described NETA, highlighting its membership of 200–300, its monthly meetings, its annual conference, its website where clients searching for translators can submit jobs and obtain quotes, concluding with NETA’s desire to be GBANE members’ portal for all their translation needs. During conversations after the talk, some members indicated that their organization was present at NETA’s meeting last spring (e.g., James M. Cox, Deputy Director of the Export Assistance Center of the US Dept. of Commerce). Another (Tobias Stapleton, Executive Director of the International Trade Assistance Center) suggested that NETA be present at their international booth in October. Others inquired about translating websites. Joseph gave an enthusiastic affirmative to such a query from David Sokolove, Secretary General of the Moroccan American Business Council, since it implies potential Arabic translation jobs.

One interesting observation was the presence of a representative from the Quebec Delegation to New England which, to my knowledge, had closed its doors a couple of years ago. But The Boston Globe has reported that this delegation reopened its offices in Boston, with Louise Beaudoin, Minister of International Relations of the Government of Quebec, appearing at several functions in town.

As time was running short, Kathleen Molony, of the Mass Trade Office, gave a brief statement to the effect that trade missions really do work. She cited a couple of recent missions carried out in Europe and Asia. Bill stayed on for a tour of the trading floor. Joseph picked up literature from several of the organizations present, and he would be happy to share information if anyone is interested. Some of these organizations are:


Laura Rocha Nakazawa

One of the workshops I attended at the last ATA Conference was given by Jonathan T. Hine Jr., Ph.D. It was called "Taking Care of Business: The non-language side of freelancing." As many of the readers of this newsletter are independent contractors, I thought that this workshop might be of interest.

The first statement of the presentation may seem obvious, that is, we are in business, offering our professional services, to cover our costs and make a profit. However, as we start to work independently, many of us do not take the time to do a business plan and ascertain all the different elements in the equation that will allow us to turn a profit and be successful in our chosen field.

Dr. Hine began by asking us to define what the break-even point is for us. This knowledge will allow us to set goals and evaluate our progress. He presented a model of a basic budget, which should include a clear knowledge of how much we need to live. This is our personal budget and it includes items such as: rent/house payment, groceries, insurance premiums, clothing, gasoline, utilities, retirement plans, vacation. It constitutes the "owner’s required draw." On the other side we have to create an operating budget for our business, listing such items as: advertising, vehicle mileage, fees, equipment depreciation, office expenses, rent, supplies, utilities, postage, books. The sum of these two categories represents our total requirements, to which we have to add a growth factor of 3% to remain viable.

He also provided some useful formulas, like the one used to estimate the hourly rate:


52 weeks @ 40 hours/week (full-time) 2080
Less a 2-week vacation 2000
Less 11 state and federal holidays (8 hours/day) 1912
Less allowance for sick time (10 hours/month) 1792
Less overhead (indirect costs, e.g., 30%) 1255 (Total billable hours)
Labor rate = (Income requirements) / (Billable hours)

Another important calculation is the piece rate, or how much to charge per word or other unit:

  • estimate how many hours the job will take
  • multiply by hourly rate to estimate total quote for job, then
  • divide by estimated number of words, lines, pages or whatever unit is used, to arrive at a piece rate to quote the customer.

Having a sample page of the work is useful to be able to do the calculation correctly. This will give us a better idea of the complexity of the piece, amount of research necessary, and total time involved. Another element is to be very familiar with our real translation speed. For this we must keep a clock running and include time for proofreading, checking references and terminology, talking to the client/agent, etc.

Lastly, record-keeping is essential to having good overall control of our business. It is important to keep track of word counts, revenues, account receivables, and overdue payments.

As freelancers working on a 1099 basis, we must withhold our own taxes. The formula he used is:

Gross receipts (to date) – Expenses (to date) = Net income (roughly)
Net income x Sum of all tax percentages = Tax due

Programs like Quicken or QuickBooks can be very useful to chart all these variables and give us a quick glimpse of where we stand in relation to our goals.

The workshop was presented in a very professional and clear way, especially for translators who are generally not very financially oriented. Dr. Hine’s examples and easy-to-follow graphics were helpful and a real contribution to anyone seriously considering becoming a freelance professional.


Caterina Vaselli Sullivan

One day at the conference I was lounging about and struck up a conversation with a gentleman next to me. We talked about our respective professions, mine as an interpreter/translator in the Boston area and his as a firefighter in West Palm Beach, Florida. His wife was attending another conference going on at the same time as ours except that ours was much bigger and we kind of overtook the hotel grounds! Anyway, he was telling me how the majority of his work is not fighting fires but responding to medical emergencies. So, because I have an interest in health issues and I do work as a medical interpreter, I asked him what they do in an emergency when the patient does not speak the language. He said that the major languages they deal with are Spanish and Haitian Creole. Sometimes they have firefighters on the scene who speak the language. Sometimes they try to find somebody in the neighborhood who speaks the language or as a last resort, they have picture books with different phrases. Once the person reaches the hospital, they do have bilingual staff that can assist them.

In one situation the barrier was not only linguistic but cultural. The firefighters arrived at the home of a Haitian family where the wife was ill and the husband was right next to her. The captain wanted the lieutenant who spoke the language to speak to the wife directly. But the lieutenant tried to explain that if he talked to the wife it would create a major problem. According to cultural standards, he has to speak to the husband first. But the captain was angry at all this and reprimanded the firefighter because he did not obey his superior's command. Hence the importance of an interpreter in any situation. They are not only linguists but cultural specialists.

The gentleman I was talking to said that firefighters who act as interpreters should get more pay, but of course their union will not allow it. I encouraged him to get more information regarding interpreting at our conference to help the firefighters who are bilingual or trilingual.

This episode is just one example of all the people that I interacted with at the conference. One of the main points of the conference is the importance of these interactions. Language and culture permeates everything. It’s everywhere and in every line of work. The exchange of information is phenomenal when we learn to interact. As a freelancer working out of my home, I’m thankful to know what is going on not only in our state, but also around the country and in the world. It makes us a little less isolated.


Diana Rhudick

Soon you will be able to market yourself as a "certified" translator if you are a member of the Translators and Interpreters Guild jobs referral service. The Guild has announced that it will officially certify members in good standing of either of its two referral services (one for translators, one for interpreters) in the near future. Certification will mean that the certified member has met all the requirements of membership in the Service: not an agency owner; 90% of your translation or interpreting income is from your own work; your application containing education, experience, a sample translation, and references is accepted; and you have satisfactory client evaluation forms. Fees are also involved; see the group’s FAQs at The main advantages of Guild membership are help with nonpaying clients, health insurance, being on an electronic list, and membership in the Referral Service.



The UN is now actively seeking qualified individuals to interpret simultaneously from French and Russian (or Spanish) into English for permanent or temporary employment. Anyone interested can consult the notice on the UN website. The competitive examination will be held January 8-10, 2001. Contact person is Peter Mertvago, Officer-in-Charge of the English Interpretation Section.



Rudy Heller was chosen as the new administrator of the ATA’s Spanish Division at the Sept. ATA conference. Congratulations, Rudy!

Congratulations also to Teresa Triana, winner of NETA’s logo contest and a $100 certificate to i.b.d., Ltd. Thank you to all the creative members who submitted designs. Our new look is coming soon.

As members of GBANE, NETA members are now officially members of the Federation of International Trade Associations (FITA,



Dear Editor:

At the risk of upsetting you, I would like to know what is so wrong about accepting translations [in areas that you are unfamiliar with] if they are not too technical and if one does sufficient research and has it reviewed by a fellow translator. It seems that there are a few translators doing this already, myself included. At the [Sept. ] meeting, I overheard translators say that they take whatever comes their way. Of course, I do not take things that I believe I can't handle, but I have done translations that are not in my area. Any opinions on this...
name withheld by request

All letters to the editor are welcome. Send to:


When  Worlds Collide


The May 2000 issue of WIRED magazine, the high-end high-tech lover’s favorite rag, devoted 20 pages to the worlds of machine translation and speech recognition. Overall, the articles provide an intelligent, impartial look at what’s happening in these fields. The first article gives us a history of the search for instant, oral machine interpreting and brings us up to date with current international efforts to create a borderless global marketplace. For it is the marketplace, in its online incarnation, that is driving today’s efforts to produce universal mechanical communication.

The first attempt at electronic translation described in the history is a device reported in a British newspaper 50 years ago whereby students and secretaries could type in text and have it translated immediately onto a tape. Whatever happened to that device? Next, a succession of scientists predicted the imminent success of machine translation, the forebears of Clinton’s infamous State of the Union message promising "devices that can translate foreign languages as fast as you can speak." To which the author asks the burning question, "Why does the future of MT never seem to arrive?"

With more domain names being registered outside the US than in it, and English becoming just another minority language on the Net, the author feels the need for on-line translation is clear. I particularly liked his suggestion to add a feature such as "Save as Spanish" for Word files. He recounts his visits to most of the top MT research centers to see how they are progressing. While visiting Berlitz, he mentions that in-house translators will soon start using Trados. He also describes the Babel Fish software created by Systran at as a whipping boy for anyone intent on criticizing the capabilities of MT. The author attempts to be more fair-minded about the possibilities and achievements of MT, suggesting that we need to change our notions of how to use computers for translation, and how to judge their progress.

The article also contains seven pages of sidebars recounting great moments in machine translation. They start in 1629 with René Descartes proposing a universal language using symbols to represent the same concepts that exist in different languages, and end in 2264 with a computer declaring that "Humans are dumber than bags of hair" and other unpleasantries. Some highlights of the time line are 1949, when Warren Weaver, "the father of machine translation" who worked at the Rockefeller Foundation’s natural sciences division and authored Alice in Many Tongues, drafted a memorandum for peer review which outlined the prospects for MT. Or 1960, when Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, MIT’s first full-time MT researcher, published a report stating that fully automatic and accurate translation systems were impossible. Weaver was encouraged by work on war-time code-breaking to feel that the "code" of a foreign language could be broken to translate it into another. When he wrote to a colleague at MIT about his theories, the reply was that "the boundaries of words in different languages are too vague, and the emotional and international connotations are too extensive to make any quasi-mechanical translation scheme very hopeful." But Weaver persisted. He felt that a system of prelinguistic symbols was the underpinning of all human languages, like a shared source code that could be used to convert ideas between languages. His ideas spread, then sky-rocketed in 1957 with the launching of Sputnik. Many in the US felt this country would not have been caught off guard if it had had ready translations of Russian classified documents. The Wired article claims that months before the launch, an article appeared in a Russian hobbyist magazine about the imminent launch of an experimental satellite, but the US Navy never saw a translation of it. So now you understand how taking the initiative to contact the potential translation client and propose a translation can really pay off!

At this point in time, the US had a rosy view of MT’s possibilities. But in fact, even when a translation program actually worked, it barely produced comprehensible translations. Posteditors of MT output complained about the gibberish they had to work with, for, as the author states, "No such process of understanding through context took place in a computer at this stage of MT development." Once it dawned on developers how crucial context was to translation, the rosy-eyed view clouded over.

In 1961, a book by Mortimer Taube stated that computers would never be able to translate well because of the intuitive nature of translation, since "machines are not capable of intuition." Bar-Hillel suggested that the focus should shift from attempting to achieve fully automatic, high quality translation (FAHQT), to developing automated aids for human translators. Amen to that.

The pendulum eventually swung back to interest in MT, and researchers discovered that restricting the areas of discourse to be used could create accurate MT systems. The author explains that "MT is especially useful in translating technical documents, such as software documentation and equipment-maintenance manuals." The example of Canada’s weather reports is supplied. So expectations of MT were realigned, and today’s developers are aiming for more realistic goals.

The author saw a demo of Native Search, IBM software that lets users type Net search queries in their own language and receive Web pages translated into their own language in reply. IBM is planning to use tools like this one and ViaVoice (speech recognition) as part of the new age of computing, one that will be wireless, handheld, Web-based, and voice-driven.

The author also visited Lernout & Hauspie in Boston. There, he heard and saw a demo of their voice recognition software, Voice Xpress, and Power Translator, which translated the text into another language after it appeared onscreen. Next, L&H’s RealSpeak read the translation out loud in a natural-sounding voice. This speech was not domain-restricted. He concludes that spontaneous speech produces somewhat garbled translations. So if you want "accurate and graceful translations of anything but dull technical prose, human translators won’t be beaten by computers anytime soon." Sigh of relief. MT will, however, be in great demand in places such as chat rooms and phone conversations—places where accurate and graceful speech are not required?

Looking ahead, researchers in this area feel that only a better insight into the processes of language and cognition will lead to improved MT. Ah, but can language be codified into electronic rules and statistics? Or, as the author says, "language is…like a living system that flourishes inside us: an inner wilderness that our algorithms can’t quite fence in."

Then there are those who worry that MT could discourage people from learning new languages and give the impression that getting bits of literal meaning amounts to a full understanding of another culture and language. The article’s history sidebar for the year 2020 has Singapore’s minister of education declaring that teaching children to read and write is a waste of time and so cancels these subjects in the schools, relegating the lowly tasks to machines.

The author’s final message is one of hope. Writing for a techie magazine, he sees a place for machines in the cross-cultural exchange of ideas.

The article entitled "Say Anything" deals, appropriately enough, with developments in speech processing and speech recognition. This is an informative piece divided into speech processing, speech synthesis, machine translation, and natural-language processing. Speech processing software converts speech into text, speech synthesis converts text into speech, MT is obvious, and natural-language processing analyzes and understands underlying grammar. Each subsection of these four categories gives name brands for the products it is describing, and greater detail about things such as product price and how they actually work. The article reiterates the belief that a real-time universal interpreter is within our reach for restricted-domain conversations (ordering a meal, reporting the weather), but that spontaneous speech comprehension and reproduction remains elusive.

For successful continuous-speech recognition, acoustic conditions must be excellent and the system must be trained to the user’s voice. Command and control speech processing systems can carry out spoken commands and don’t need to be trained, but the fields of activity are limited (read out bank account balances, draw a four-column table).

The subsection on MT is further divided into unassisted and assisted MT. The former refers to unedited MT output for immediate use. For instance, L&H is developing a German-English mail gateway so that company employees can send e-mail in one language and it will be received in the original plus a translation. Assisted MT is defined as raw translation that is meant to be edited. Some systems can learn from corrections and thus improve their accuracy.

Natural language processing is, of course, a component of speech-processing systems because the spoken input must be analyzed in order to be converted into text. NLP is the component that analyzes sentence structure and meaning to produce appropriate responses. Its main use is in databases that answer queries entered as questions (Microsoft English Query, EasyAsk). It analyzes a collection of documents related to the query to build a database of key words and concepts that will produce natural language answers. It can also help a company with high e-mail volumes to answer FAQs. NLP performance can be enhanced with the addition of a commonsense knowledge base, which is like an electronic grammar book to help clarify potential linguistic ambiguities.

The two-page mid-section entitled "Universal Translators" lists 20 MT research centers worldwide. Of these, eight are in the US, including Dragon Systems of Newton and the Spoken Language Systems Group of MIT. There’s also a tear-out directory of translation tools online.

And in case you were wondering, the Asian woman on the front cover of the magazine is saying "Talk to me" in, um, Japanese?



The German language saw a major overhaul of its grammar and spelling in Germany last year to simplify the rules and, ostensibly, to make life easier for schoolchildren. As reported in the August 12 issue of The Economist, however, the results have been less than spectacular. Some parents have even gone to court to demand the old rules be brought back. To make matters worse, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading daily newspaper, has decided to ignore the new rules altogether. Some less-than-elegant examples of the changed rules are the new word, Bestellliste, (yes, that’s right, three "l’s"), and the fact that sometimes you can still use the letter b , other times it is verboten. According to the article, the premier of the Land of Thuringia "says he is more concerned about the increasing use of English words in everyday German than petty semantic tiffs." As we all know, using English words is far worse than having confusing grammar and spelling. For a comprehensive look at the new rules, go to It has a zipped file that can be downloaded.




Jan. 8 Marjorie Agosín, Spanish poet, discusses her work & collaboration with English translators
Feb. 12 Ergonomics and the Workstation
Stuart Goldstein, owner of Ergonomics International
March 12 Taxes for the Self-employed
April 21 Conference and Exhibition on International Trade and Technology
May 14 TBA

Meetings are at Boston College’s McGuinn Hall, fifth floor faculty lounge. For directions and a map, go to

The most recent ATA accreditation exam was held on Nov. 18. NETA is looking for someone to take over scheduling of the exam and hopefully there will be another one in the spring as usual.





GBANE Annual Christmas Luncheon
Dec. 8, 2000
Harvard Club, Boston
Sponsored by Welsh Development Agency
Organized by British American Business Council of NE
Phone: (617) 720-3622, ext. 3; website: England

"The Global Economy: Implications for International Business in the Year to Come"
Jan. 17, 2001, 8:15–10 AM
State Street Corp., Boston
Dr. C. Probyn, Chief International Economist, State Street Bank
For details:, click on "Calendar"

7th GBANE Networking Evening
"Succeeding in the Global Marketplace"
Feb. 7, 2001
Le Meridien Hotel, Boston
For details:, click on "Calendar"

Conference on Training & Career Development in Translation & Interpreting
March 7–10, 2001
Madrid, Spain
Contact: Dpto. De Traducción e Interpretación, Universidad Europea de Madrid, Villaviciosa de Odón, 28670, Madrid
e-mail:; website:

"Internet in Europe: Status & Opportunities"
April 11, 2001, 6–8 PM
Le Meridien Hotel, Boston
In collaboration with French, German, & Netherlands American Chambers of Commerce
For details:, click on "Calendar"

Society for Technical Communication Annual Conference
May 13–16, 2001
Chicago, IL
For details:

ATA Financial Translation Conference
May 18-20, 2001
New York University
Financial translation sessions in English & other languages
Please send suggestions for speakers and offers to serve on the organizing committee, and sponsorship offers/ideas to: (Marian Greenfield).Watch your e-mail for updates.

TRADOS offers one-day training workshops every month for its CAT tools: Workbench, MultiTerm, and WinAlign, in Alexandria, Virginia. For more info, phone: (703) 683-6900; fax: (703) 683-9457; e-mail:


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NETA accepts individual members only. A one-year membership costs $30 and runs Sept. 1–Aug. 31. Please contact Jill Orenstein at 77 Parkman St., Brookline, MA, 02446, or at for a membership application form.

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