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 dont think Julia will be angry with me if I say
that she was "disappointed." It turned out that a fair number of NETA members
didnt 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 NETAs 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 nonrenewalsnot 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,
lets 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,
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, netaweb.tripod.com, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Ginger Kuenzel.
Next up was Terry Coe, our new vice president, who spoke
about NETAs 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
peoples 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rudy Heller, NETAs corepresentative to GBANE (Global
Business Alliance of New England, www.gbane.org), 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 peoples minds that NETA is the source for
translations and related information in the New England area. Judging by the meetings
theyve 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 Novembers 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
AT OUR OCTOBER MEETING
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 translators 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 200250 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 translators 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 doesnt 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:
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)
Indecisiongave 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
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 dont 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, "Well shoot you at dawn if everything isnt placed in the
envelope." Of course, breaches of security have occurred.
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: www.atanet.org. You will
also find strategies for taking the test. Be careful of how you spend your time.
Dont 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 dont 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
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
dont 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 (email@example.com). 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]
AT OUR NOVEMBER MEETING
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 Transitions.com: Putting your Spirit
Online. Its 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
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 Deborahs website (www.lifeworktransitions.com),
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
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 arent
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 Deborahs book. The thrust was being able to
deal with change and knowing who you are.
October and November minutes compiled by Jill Orenstein
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!
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
The City of Bostons 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 200300, its monthly meetings, its annual conference,
its website where clients searching for translators can submit jobs and obtain quotes,
concluding with NETAs 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 NETAs 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:
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 "owners 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,
- 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
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
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
The workshop was presented in a very professional and clear
way, especially for translators who are generally not very financially oriented. Dr.
Hines examples and easy-to-follow graphics were helpful and a real contribution to
anyone seriously considering becoming a freelance professional.
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. Its
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, Im 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.
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 groups FAQs at
www.ttig.org. 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
ATAs Spanish Division at the Sept. ATA conference. Congratulations, Rudy!
Congratulations also to Teresa Triana, winner of NETAs 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, www.fita.org).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The May 2000 issue of WIRED magazine, the high-end high-tech lovers
favorite rag, devoted 20 pages to the worlds of machine translation and speech
recognition. Overall, the articles provide an intelligent, impartial look at whats
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 todays efforts to produce universal mechanical
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 Clintons 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
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 babelfish.altavista.com 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 Foundations
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,
MITs 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 MTs 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
Canadas weather reports is supplied. So expectations of MT were realigned, and
todays 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
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&Hs 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 wont be beaten by computers anytime soon."
Sigh of relief. MT will, however, be in great demand in places such as chat rooms and
phone conversationsplaces 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
like a living system that flourishes inside us: an inner wilderness that our
algorithms cant 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 articles history sidebar for the
year 2020 has Singapores 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 authors 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 users voice. Command and control speech processing
systems can carry out spoken commands and dont 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. Theres 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?