Monday, August 22, 2011

Blog Moved

This blog has been moved to our main company site.  Please click here to continue to follow.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

FIT XIX World Congress

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the XIX World Congress of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs/International Federation of Translators (FIT).  FIT is an international organization made up of more than 100 translator, interpreter and terminologist associations, representing over 80,000 translators in 55 countries.  My speech was on how translation theory applies to community interpreting.

It's always a pleasure to speak at something like this, but I'm especially flattered to read this review by attendee Maria Cristina de la Vega posted online:

[Terena Bell] offered an engaging presentation about problems in interpretation and how translation theory is a good framework for improving interpretation. As an illustration, Terena discussed the difficulties in interpreting the idiom “drink & drive”.  When interpreting that phrase into other languages, one needs to use the technique of amplification to convey its meaning. (Target language employs more words than the source language to express the same idea). She stressed how important training is to avoid pitfalls for new interpreters, such as false friends, that the uninitiated may not recognize. Terena started out in the field of community interpreting and is very familiar with the challenges facing the standardization of our profession in that subspecialty. 

Thanks, Cristina! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Supporting Contract Interpreters

Did you know that roughly 75% of interpreters working in the United States are independent contractors?

Here at In Every Language, we understand the power of micro-business and we make it part of our mission to help contractors from disadvantaged background grow their careers.  Part of these efforts include our recent endorsement of the Contract Interpreters Information Center.

In this work, In Every Language joins respected colleagues from around the nation in supporting this valuable and growing resource.  The Center's website explains the benefits of running your own micro-enterprise as a contractor, contains advocacy information on the contractors' federal labor rights, and offers a blog updating state-specific information as it becomes available.  Information is also available on how an independent contractor can make her/himself more attractive to translating and interpreting agencies.

We appreciate our hardworking interpreters who strive day-in, day-out to ensure that our clients' communications are accurately conveyed from one language into the next.  That's why we do what we can to support them, and that is why In Every Language backs the Contract Interpreters Information Center.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Suggestions for Successful Japanese In-Country Review

I don’t know much about Japanese culture. I feign to say I know nothing, as I once read Memoirs of a Geisha, but I don’t really think that counts. It’s a shame, because from everything I’ve heard, Japan is a great place — steeped in tradition, elegance, and art. What I do know about, though, is translation. I know how to make sure a document’s prepped for the best translation possible, I know how to select the right team of translators to do it, and I know how to manage quality control and assurance so that the translation reads as well as it does in the original. The processes involved are relatively foolproof and tend to be adaptable across languages. But when it comes to Japanese, though, something — anything — everything almost always goes wrong. And it’s not just me. Most of my colleagues will tell you that into Japanese translation is hands down the most difficult work we do. In the world of Japanese translation, no news is not good news. Feedback is often vague. And in-country review (ICR)? Well, let’s face it, in-country review of a Japanese translation is a royal pain in the oshiri.

All multi-language vendors (MLV) have faced it: A painstakingly prepared translation is delivered to your client, who then sends it off for ICR. Ideally, the reviewer speaks English, in order to compare the translation to the original, but sometimes he doesn’t. Weeks pass, even months, and then it comes — sometimes long after the bill has already been paid and the files moved off the hard drive. The in-country reviewer isn’t pleased. “The translation is bad,” he says, and oftentimes says no more than that.

It’s frustrating. You write for details — was it word choice, was it grammar, did you accidently translate into Korean? Nothing comes. Meanwhile, you sit in your office, panicked your company’s reputation will crash around you, all because some guy in Japan doesn’t know how to elaborate.

Of course, this is how you see it if you know nothing about Japan. But if you do know something about Japan, you see how the same culture that gives us geishas, calligraphy, and plum wine also contributes to poor in-country review. Or what we call poor ICR in our Anglo-Saxon construct, that is. When we start looking at ICR as a cultural process and not a linguistic one, feedback -- or lack thereof -- starts to make more sense.
The Japanese are, of course, Japanese. We can’t expect them to act like anything other than themselves. In our American culture, we are so delineated, so black and white. We are demanding, confrontational, young. Our culture is a child compared to theirs and we shouldn’t be surprised if sometimes the Japanese don’t feel like they shouldn’t simply pat us on the head and sigh. It makes sense that we would want everything immediately detailed out and that they would be a bit more patient and reserved. If we consider culture to be an integral part of translation, then we must consider it to be integral to proper in-country review as well.

Enter Maureen McCarthy, an employee whom I’ve asked to co-write this article. Maureen also happens to be In Every Language’s Japanese expert. Call her the Encyclopedia Britannica to my Memoirs of a Geisha. Everything I don’t know about Japan, she does, which is reason #412 why we like to have her around the office.

Maureen, am I crazy? Could the delay in ICR response time have anything to do with the Japanese not wanting to rush things, with their being less confrontational than Americans are?

In my experience, the delay time has more to do with the hierarchy that exists in a Japanese workplace, and the need for important decisions and documents to go through a lot of people. For example, when I lived in Akita, a friend of mine was planning to go on a business trip to Tokyo with some other colleagues. The trip was an annual affair with many people involved, and for months my friend had been eagerly awaiting this retreat. She had cleared her involvement with her immediate boss and with the head of the office. However, the trip was to take place in May. In Japan, there are often big employee shifts in the workplace every April, as this is when the academic and fiscal years begin in Japan. In this instance, the trip coordinator moved to a different branch and a new coordinator came on board. This meant that many aspects of the trip changed, including my friend’s involvement. The new coordinator thought she was not a necessary member of the group, but instead that she should remain at the office as she had many responsibilities there. Unfortunately, she was not informed of this decision until two weeks before the trip. This is not through any fault of the new coordinator, nor hers or her boss’s. It is simply that major decisions often need to go through a lot of channels in the Japanese workplace. In this case, the decision was especially difficult because key players in the decision making process changed, and the situation had to be reevaluated from the beginning.

More specifically, with ICR response times, there could be a number of factors at play, such as the people involved with the decision-making,  the steps it goes through on the Japanese end, and even the time of year — March, April, and May were always very hectic at my previous workplace. It is even possible that the original reviewer thought the translation was fine, so he did not see it as a priority for his superiors to view. But when his bosses did eventually see the translation, they may have had a very different idea concerning its suitability and told the initial reviewer to write back saying they were not pleased. By now of course, weeks –or maybe even months — have passed before you receive the email saying the translation was not up to the standard they expected.

So could that contribute to the fact that the reviews are often “incomplete” by American standards? In-country reviews are just a waste of time if they’re not helpful. Instead of a simple pass/fail -- as though translation were 9th grade gym class -- the reviewer should score the translation on, say, a scale of 1 to 5, rating clearly specified factors such as grammar, spelling, and non-subjective word choice (think translating neko as dog instead of cat). These factors should be agreed upon between the client and the reviewer ahead of time, and, if subjective factors start to come into play, these factors should be presented to the language service provider (LSP) so the LSP can better understand the client’s needs.

ICR itself has one of two goals. Some companies use ICR to help select a translation vendor. Multiple LSP’s translate a sample, then an in-country reviewer decides whose translation is the best. In these instances, it’s essential that the reviewer speak the original language so he can tell if any “errors” he finds are issues with the translation or problems that were also in the original.

The other common goal that ICR sets out to accomplish is to make sure that the translation is ready for its target market. In this way, reviewers are the governor on the go-cart, the childproof cap on a prescription, the airline agent who scans your ticket before boarding. In other words, the buck stops with them. That’s why you shouldn’t pick just anyone to perform your ICR. If this person is your final layover on the way to happy translation land, make sure he knows what he’s doing. In both instances, it’s essential that the reviewer be familiar with the content matter and, of course, the target language, country, and culture.

That’s why it’s so disparaging, as an LSP owner, when we receive back the occasional, negative ICR. All negative ICR’s are brought immediately to my attention to make sure the issues found are addressed. But if no specifics are provided, well, to quote George Costanza from “Seinfeld,” “I’ve got nothing.”

I appreciate what you say, Maureen, about how it may be the reviewer’s boss and not the actual reviewer coming back with ICR comments, and I think that’s part of why Japanese ICR’s can be so non-descript — because the person reporting on the review might not actually be the person with final say. But are there any other cultural factors that keep the details on the kibosh? Why are Japanese ICR’s so ambiguous? And, more importantly, is there anything LSP’s can do to help a reviewer provide the detail we need?

The Japanese are often described as extremely polite and formal. While this is true to a degree, there is also a strong inclination among many to be non-confrontational. If a conflict can be avoided, it usually will be. This is, of course, wonderful in many ways, as it means less fighting and troubles over small things, but it also has a downside in that we in the West often expect to talk through any problems. We Americans usually count on others, especially in a working environment, to tell us if they are displeased so we can work through it.

When I first began learning Japanese, all of my Japanese friends and colleagues were very supportive and encouraging. They would always compliment me on my language ability, and never corrected me or told me when my Japanese was incorrect. For me this was wonderful, and everyone’s kindness and encouragement really motivated me to do better. On the downside, when I began to study Japanese formally, I discovered I had been making mistakes all along. No one wanted to be the bearer of bad news or make me feel bad by correcting me.

When an ICR is undetailed, this most likely means that no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. When a reviewer feels that a translation is unacceptable, they probably do not want to dwell on the details as that may be uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing to one or both parties. This could explain the very brief answers and the lack of a proper, detailed review.

I am not sure if there is an easy solution to this problem, as so much of it stems from differences in our cultures, but I think, Terena, your suggestion of rankings on a scale, or a list of questions, would be a good approach to take. If the reviewer had a survey or form to complete, asking specific questions and having a list of choices, they may be more likely to respond and to give LSPs the details they desire.

Wonderful. It makes perfect sense that the reviewer wouldn’t want to be overly harsh or hurt anyone’s feelings with his review. I think we all agree that there’s a difference between constructive criticism and just being mean. But in translation, a mistake isn’t always a mistake. At home, I may sit on a sofa in my living room while you sit on a couch in your den. Language is often subjective. I hate to think that every time an ICR doesn’t go well, it means that the translation was poor. Sometimes it simply means the translation wasn’t perfect, with the meaning of perfection taking in a lot of subjective elements. Reading your response, though, Maureen, I think that no news, or detail, at least in this case, is bad news — that a lack of detail in the ICR means that the errors were all non-subjective, something made by an early language learner, like you said. Is that correct, or am I simply misunderstanding? Is it always a matter of bad or good, or could lack of detail in ICR mean there were subjective differences instead?

It doesn’t necessary mean that the errors are the translator’s fault, although that is a possibility. It is likely instead that the language the translator used could simply be different than what the reviewer wanted or expected.

There are many different levels of formality in Japanese. The way you speak to your boss is not the same as the way you speak to a colleague, which again is different than the way you would speak to your family members. If a document is being translated for a company, it is important to clarify what level of formality is to be used. For example, if the document is something that’s given to customers, most likely the customer will be addressed in very formal Japanese. If, however, the document is of a more familiar nature, it need not be as formal.

It is also important to remember that Japanese is often not as direct as English or other Western languages. Take, for instance, leaving work for the day. In English we may say something along the lines of “See you tomorrow!” In polite Japanese, however, one would say “osaki ni shitsure shimasu” (excuse me for the rudeness of going before you). If you’re not leaving work, though, and instead leaving a gathering of friends, it would change. While the English is still “see you tomorrow,” the Japanese would change to “mata ne (see you later),ja ne”(see ya), or maybe even “mata ashita”(see you again tomorrow).

Although situational differences are important when translating between all languages, Japanese has an abundance of them. Not only is Japanese often more florid than other languages, it also has a daunting amount of set phrases that are used in specific situations, such as the aforementioned leaving work. For ICR this may not mean that the translation is incorrect, but that there may have been a different phrase that the client wanted to be used. It could also be that the translator put the document perfectly into Japanese, but that the original document was very brusque and to the point, whereas in Japanese it would normally be written in much more elegant terms. This would not really be a translator error, but merely a lack of communication in terms of what the client really wants, as well as evidence of the great difficulty of translating between two such different languages. Perhaps, then, the only true solution would be more in-depth collaboration with the client, such as asking them a series of questions before beginning the project or touching base with them periodically throughout the process.

Another solution I can think of is to make sure your client wants translation instead of localization. Now, I’ve heard the argument that a really good translation is localization, but when clients entrust us with their documents, we as translators must take care not to overstep our bounds. It’s very easy to say that if a document is to the point in English that we need to soften it up in Japanese. But when a client asks for translation, as opposed to localization, we also have more of an obligation to be true to the original. There may be a reason why the text is more direct. Perhaps the author wants to unquestionably drive home his point, or maybe he’s upset and wants that emotion conveyed through the text. In those cases, completely rewriting the text to softening the tone and formalize the language would be inappropriate.

This is why it’s so important to get as much information as you can from your client before you begin. If the tone of an original document could be construed as rude in Japanese — or even simply neutral — we should point this out and find out how much of it is — and isn’t — intentional. At this stage, we’re doing more than simply translating; we’re making the document local. The difference between translation and localization becomes a hazy gray zone -- a spectrum -- and it takes cooperation between the translation team and the client to find out where along that spectrum the translation should hit. ICR should definitely be involved in that process; if the reviewer doesn’t know what the translator is striving for, then he won’t know how to judge the outcome.

Good translation cannot be created in a vacuum. In this regard, Japanese really isn’t all that different. In fact, because the Japanese culture focuses more on the team than the individual, a collaborative approach to translation should be easier for Japanese than for other languages. The processes applied to those other languages still work here: Get as much information as you can up front. Understand not just the words, but the intent, meaning, and goal of a document. Take culture into consideration.

I may not know Japan, but I do know translation and, as it turns out, all Japanese translation takes is the same attention you’d hopefully give to all your other languages, plus a little extra care.

(This article was co-written by our project manager for Asian languages, Maureen McCarthy, and originally ran in the January 2011 issue of MultiLingual Magazine.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Blog: How to Request an Interpreter

(The guest blog below was written by Linda Golden, Interpreting Project Manager.)

Over the last year, I have answered many, many calls and emails from clients (or potential clients) requesting interpreters. Regulars know exactly what they want: Arabic on Friday at 3:00 PM for a two-hour diabetes consult.  Others need a little more guidance. Here are a few things to keep in mind – and on hand – that will make requesting an interpreter a smoother process.

“Arabic on Friday at 3:00” is useful information, and we’ll need that eventually. But first, what’s your name? Are you calling from a doctor’s office?  A hospital? On behalf of a lawyer? And has your company worked with us before? If you’re a new client, we’ll need extra information from you – be prepared to let us know how you found out about us and where we should send a bill. If we’re already working together, we’ll be able to fill your request more quickly.

Know Your Needs
A language service provider can’t provide service unless you provide the language your client speaks. Try to be as specific as possible – is it Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese? Spanish from Mexico or Cuba? Like American English and United Kingdom English, the same language spoken in different countries has differences. That’s not to say that an Arabic interpreter from the Sudan can’t interpret for an Iraqi, but knowing ahead of time what to expect will help her prepare.

If you’re not sure what language your client speaks, there are a couple of tools that can help. “I Speak Cards” present the phrase “I speak ______________” in a number of languages, with the English name of the language next to the phrase. Ideally, the limited-English speaker will find his or her language on the list, point to it and solve your mystery; however, this only works if the client can read in their language. In Every
Language has these cards – just request them.

If you know where your client is from, another resource is Ethnologue. Ethnologue lists languages both by country and language name. It also gives alternate names for languages and can help you figure out if there are variants of the language.

Details, details
In addition to language, you’ll also need to provide details like where and when you’d like the interpreter to provide services. Is there a suite number? Is there more than one wing to the building in which your office is
located? What will the subject of the appointment be? A deposition requires different vocabulary than a parent-teacher conference, and a parent-teacher conference requires different vocabulary than a laparoscopic
cholecystectomy. If the meeting will include written materials like handouts, discharge instructions or Power Point presentations, consider sending us a copy of those materials, or even having them translated.  Providing this information will allow the interpreter to better prepare for the appointment.

When calling to request an interpreter, keep in mind that interpreting takes time, so an appointment or meeting that usually takes 30 minutes may take an hour. Plan and schedule accordingly. Finally, if you’re calling more than one company, keep some notes so you know who you’ve called and who will be providing an interpreter. Double-booking interpreters only costs you money, and if you need to give feedback about the interpreter, you don’t want to waste time calling the wrong company.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Translating Slogans

In a per-word world, slogan translation should be some of the most inexpensive work we do. After all, something like Refreshingly Real is only two words. But what’s refreshingly real about slogan translation is that this type of work comes anything but cheap, in all the senses of the word. Translating slogans is difficult, pain-staking and downright costly -- especially if you don’t get it right.

Since opening in 2005, In Every Language has translated slogans and catch phrases for everything from hamburgers to recliners to stud farms -- that’d be horses, not good looking men. I’ve found that the act of translating slogans requires a collaborative environment between the translation company, the ad agency and the end client. And as with anything else we do, some clients are more collaborative than others. When both the ad agency and the end client are on board, the translation itself is more effective, the work is done more quickly and the bill itself can be lower. To translate anything, you have to understand it, but if you translate slogans long enough, it’s inevitable that someone -- ad agency or end client side -- will misunderstand and it unfortunately doesn’t take long for the email to arrive asking  why they have to “spend so much” or “wait so long” for something that’s “just a few words.”

When things go right, though, the client understands. Fortunately for us, there are agencies out there that know how much work they put into crafting those “few words” and realize  that translation will take more than an hour and $25. Others, though -- especially smaller ones working with their first national or global account -- somehow don’t grasp that what took them hours of work will also take hours -- or maybe even days -- of work from you.

That’s because our work parameters may be different, but the work itself can be very much the same. The ad folks are idea makers, given weeks or months with a product, hours or weeks with its maker, truly able to start from scratch in their conceptual dreaming. When it comes to writing or translating a slogan, in any language, you really are cramming everything about a product or a company -- its soul, its spirit, its I Ch’ing -- into “just a few words.”  You have to make the buyer acknowledge the product, you have to make him want the product and you have to make him remember to buy the product, all in the blink of an eye. That type of thoughtful capturing takes time, both in target and source.

But the ad agency has the home court advantage, so to speak, because it gets to start from scratch. Translators are guests in the deal, having to play on the ad agency’s basketball court, as they take what ad writers have decided is persuasive, then make it equally persuasive in another language for another group of people living in another culture -- all while being true to the original text.

That’s why I still say slogan translation instead of transcreation, a term swiftly taking hold in our industry. If, as some argue, localization is simply translation done right, then transcreation is localization in the emperor’s new clothing. Despite the creative energies required, translators are not the creators here. If you go to, transcreation as a word isn’t even in there yet, but creation is. It’s “the act of producing or causing to exist; an original product of the mind.”  Translators are producing and their slogans definitely would not exist in the target language if it weren’t for them, but translated slogans are anything but “an original product of the mind.”  They’re much more intrinsically and difficulty birthed than that. In translating a slogan, you have to make people want, remember and buy the product, but you also have to do it within the confines of the original slogan’s want-remember-buy trifecta. Where the agency was free to explore, design and dream without any non-product parameters, translators must do those things within the parameters they have set. We are reshaping the idea, but we did not create the materials it is made of. But on what level?  And in what way?

Take the slogan “This should go over big.”  When McDonald’s ad agency came to us, they needed it translated specifically for Spanish speakers living in the United States. Now, before you get all excited, I have to tell you In Every Language is not the me encanta (I’m lovin’ it) company. While I’d love seeing my name -- ahem, I mean my translation -- up in lights, the slogan work we do for McDonald’s is much more local(ized) than anything marketed on an international level. The portion of Mickey D’s “billions and billions served” that sees our work is Hispanic Americans in the Midwest and Mid-South -- principally Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The translated slogans run in Spanish-language newspapers and are on roadside billboards in immigrant neighborhoods. Because of where the slogans appear, they can’t really be localized for a specific dialect. Here in Louisville, Kentucky alone, we have Spanish speakers born in Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Spain, Guatemala, Belize, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Puerto Rico. Take in the rest of the state, then the rest of the region and the list grows longer. And McDonald’s understandably doesn’t want to have to put up multiple billboards for all those different countries. The work we do must be localized for a Spanish-speaking consumer, but it must be generalized for all ethnicities of consumer all at once.

In most of these countries, a Big Mac is called a Big Mac. It’s not a Grande Mac, a Mac Gigante or anything where we could readily use the name of the sandwich to linguistically play on its size. The word big itself wasn’t capitalized, either, which means that the link between the sandwich being a Big Mac and its being big in size wasn’t meant to be overly overt, anyway. So on to the next point of consideration: what the slogan was trying to say, as opposed to exactly what it said. And I think it’s quite obvious to anyone reading this article that the core message of this slogan was that a Big Mac is big. Not only is it big, but it was going to be a smash hit.

In Louisville, we’re odd for the United States in that there are more Cubans than Spanish-speakers of any type. So our first impulse was ¡Cosa más grande! (The biggest thing!), a typical Cuban expression used to denote surprise or praise. Perfect, you might think, as it gets across the sheer overwhelming nature of the Big Mac’s large size and also manages to play on the word big. But not so quick. Remember we’re working with different dialects and outside of Cuba, this phrase is actually quite funny because of the triteness of it all. Remember Bart Simpson?  Well, “Cowabunga, dude” might have been alright -- I would never argue cool -- to say when Bart first hit the scene in 1989, but say it now and you’ll get laughed right out of pretty much anywhere except an English-as-a-foreign-language class. So, think of ¡Cosa más grande! as something like that -- a phrase that does, in fact, mean something and that some speakers might think was cool – but think of Cuba as English class -- the one place where ¡Cosa más grande! is actually okay for grown-ups to seriously say. Next, please.

Leave Louisville and go into the rest of our region and you’ll meet a lot of Mexicans. And face it, when clients say they want generalized Spanish for the US, what they most often ask for is Mexican. Mexican is the catch-all Spanish in our country, whether it  should be or not. So, effort number two was No te hagas de la boca chiquita (Don’t pretend you have a small mouth) -- a Mexican expression, but at least one people from other countries wouldn’t make fun of. First problem, though: it was still a little dialect-specific. Second problem: While the expression is said when a host wants a dinner guest to feel comfortable and eat up, its size word (chiquita) references small, not big. We wanted to stay away from any subliminal ties small vs. big might convey.

So onto solution three: Esto va en grande (This is going to be big). Pay dirt. Esto va en grande is understood in multiple countries, uses the word grande and is said when the speaker wants to reassure the listener that what is heading his way really is the real deal, positive and not just a promise.

So, our translation for This should go over big went over pretty well with the client and we got set to translate our next slogan for them: Refreshingly Real. When we received the copy, there was no context at all, just the slogan and this sentence: “Is it possible to have a few words translated into Spanish by Monday?,” followed by a request that we also translate the word small. So, we didn’t know what McDonald’s item was being modified, just that it was refreshing, real and might come in different sizes. I think we’d all agree that’s not enough to go on. This is where that collaborative environment comes in. With This is going to be big, there was some back and forth trying to get it right, but given a picture of a Big Mac and the original slogan, it didn’t take a genius to figure out the factors involved. Refreshingly Real, though, was a bit more problematic.

We asked for an image, like we’d had of the Big Mac and point blank asked, “What is refreshingly real? (McDonald's? A specific sandwich? A drink?)”  Enter fruit smoothies ad, the magical PDF that held the key to solving all our dangling modifier problems.  Or so we thought.

Smoothies, by and large, are an American concept. Going through a drive-thru and ordering a cold drink that comes in a cup the size of Montana is not really something folks do outside of the United States. We found ourselves not only translating a slogan, but introducing its concept, since we had to complete the rest of the ad, which promoted real fruit smoothies. 

Now, while I’ll argue that slogans are still translated, naming products definitely falls under transcreation. Research showed that frappé is the most common Spanish word for smoothie, where smoothies do exist, but the problem was McDonald’s already sold frappés and those frappés were already called frappés by Spanish-speakers in the Midwest and Mid-South. In this forever determining of the linguistic path of the fruit smoothie, we were truly starting from scratch.

So what did we name it? In most of South America, people say smoothie for fruit drinks and frappé for coffee drinks. In Mexico, frappé works for both coffee and fruit drinks. Malteada and batido both specifically mean milkshake, but McDonald’s new fruit smoothies don’t have any ice cream in them. Our team thought of raspado, which is similar to slushie, but raspado was too regional; non-Mexicans would be confused by McDonald's selling fruit scraps. In the end, we went with frappé after all and stuck de fruitas (fruit) after it to modify. Boring, I know, but why reinvent the rueda (wheel)?

After getting smoothie figured out, refreshingly real (verdaderamente refrescantes) was refreshingly easy.

It just goes to show, though, that what may be “just a few words” to the client is an entire thought process for us. Our world is anything but a per-word one, where two little words can quickly turn into an intensive spelunking mission deep into the heart of Spanish smoothie history. Translation can turn into transcreation and next thing you know, the project scope has changed.  But what hasn’t changed and what’s sitting there making your job harder is that translators must still consider the original marketer’s intent, the original ad’s language, the product itself and the target market(s). Creativity can be controlled, but collaboration can‘t be, as some clients are naturally more forthcoming and cooperative than others. I suppose we should take it as a compliment when these clients get upset about having to “spend so much” or “wait so long.”  It just means that we as translators are good at what we do, that we’re offering the type of customer service where cultural and linguistic exploration is a given, because the best slogan translators are skilled at making something look easy that clearly is not.

(This article initially ran in MultiLingual Magazine.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Should We Translate or Shouldn’t We?

If Blackwater asked you to translate assembly instructions for an automatic rifle, would you do it? What if they told you the document’s target audience was teenagers in the Sudan?  This is not a hypothetical, but a real dilemma my staff had to grabble with a few years ago.  At the height of Blackwater’s unpopularity, not that long after the shooting crisis in Iraq, my staff sat in an office in Louisville, Kentucky and asked ourselves, “Should we or shouldn’t we?”  In Every Language was still a young company, starting to grow an early, national-level client list, and to be quite frank, we probably could have used the money.  But we decided not to touch the project with the proverbial ten-foot pole.

Personally, I don’t know as much about the Sudan as I should, but I do know I don’t want to be responsible for anybody killing anybody there or anywhere else, for that matter.  For all I know, though, these guns could have been used for defensive purposes.  For all I know, without this translation, someone might not have known how to properly assemble his gun and gotten his defenseless head blown off as a result.  The point is, once we’ve translated, the power leaves our hands and the document returns to the hands of the client.  We rarely know exactly what happens to it.  I didn’t know then and I don’t know today.  So given the chance, would I turn down translating that project again? That’s something else I don’t know.

Military contracts and contractors aside, the language services profession is rote with controversial issues as subject matter.  If you’re pro-life, do you interpret for an abortion?  If you’re pro-choice, do you interpret for a crisis pregnancy center?  And it doesn’t stop there.  Legal interpreters who are against the death penalty having to interpret judgments they don’t agree with, feminist translators asked to localize for adult entertainment.  Read enough bumper stickers and you’ll quickly learn everyone has their issues.

In truth, though, these issues are important to us on many levels.  Regardless of your set of ethics, no one likes to think of herself as an unethical person.  We each have our constructs, whether we have religion or not, the sheer having or not-having of religion being yet another.  Be we ruled religiously, morally, or ethically, we all have certain things we will or will not do: murder, theft, translation for two competing clients?

Located in Arlington, Virginia, Alboum and Associates bills itself as “translators for the good guys.”  There, the meaning of good guys includes clients in the stop-smoking market, or as CEO Sandra Alboum calls it, “tobacco control.”  Because of the large number of clients Alboum has in this industry, her contract translators pledge not to translate for big tobacco while they’re translating for her.  Alboum claims, “We are translating for you but we are also supporting your cause and as part of your cause, we commit to not work for big tobacco or any pro-tobacco organization or pro-tobacco lobbying. We’re not going to work for competition, if you will.”  In fact, Alboum goes one step further by promoting her company and her contractors to clients as being tobacco-free.

Now, I’m from Kentucky, where tobacco wasn’t just the number one cash crop, but where farming it was a way of life.  But in today’s climate, you don’t have to tell me or our dwindling state economy that smoking is no longer cool.  Anti-tobacco sentiment is, in fact, the well-shared, majority opinion.  But many issues don’t boil down into majority and minority categories with such ease.  Take abortion for example.  According to Derek Selznick with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, 20% of Americans are adamantly pro-life, 20% are adamantly pro-choice and the rest are either in between or without opinion.  No majority or minority here, unless you claim the majority as undecided.  Tobacco use may be a clearer cut issue, but when your opinion is without clear majority, whose ethics does a company follow then?

In Alboum’s case, her company would drop a translator who translated for both sides. If her company had pro-choice clients, “then [a translator started] translating for the conservative, right-to-lifers…we would have to re-evaluate.  You’re supposed to be on the same page as your client and you’re providing a service for people that understand and are sensitive toward their cause.”

Victor Hertz, CEO of Accredited Language Services in New York, New York, disagrees.  He claims he would never drop a freelance translator based on who else hse translated for or on any set of ethics that translator might hold.  “Unless you can prove that there’s a social good that’s being infringed upon, it’s none of your business,” he says, asking “At what point do you impose your personal values upon others?”

And that is the question.  Whose is it to judge?  As company owners, I suppose you could say it’s ours.  In the end, I, Terena Bell, am responsible for In Every Language as a business.  Sandra Alboum is responsible for Alboum and Associates; Victor Hertz is responsible for Accredited Language Services.  As CEO’s, the buck stops with us and whether and how our companies judge will be based off the executive judgments we make.  In fact, this responsibility is exactly why LinguaLinx in Cohoes, New York, owned by CEO David Smith, doesn’t judge as a business.  “We don’t judge,” Smith says matter-of-factly.  “I would limit the company if I injected my personal viewpoints or morals or values into it.”  Not limiting his company is a personal driver for Smith, whose company regularly takes on projects and clients he doesn’t agree with.  “My company does a lot of things I don’t agree with but in the interest of growing the company as its own independent entity, that I just need to [do].”

One of these things may or may not be pornography translation.  At this year’s annual conference of the American Translators Association –Translation Company Division, Smith sat a panel where he admitted to accepting adult entertainment projects after another panelist expressed opinions against it.  To Smith, though, the ethic at hand is not whether pornography itself is good or bad.  The more important ethic -- the larger priority -- is that responsibility I mentioned earlier.  “Because of my decisions and what I’ve done,” Smith states, “forty-three people go home to their families and can pay their bills.  That’s a good feeling.  I’m creating jobs. That’s the way I look at it.  I’m creating jobs, I’m creating profitability, I’m creating opportunity. People have 401K’s, their retirements, and they rely on me, they rely on my decisions. So whether I personally agree with porn or not, the decision is made that it’s profitable and it needs to be done.”  To Smith, each assignment LinguaLinx accepts gets him one step closer to a goal and creates greater provision for his employees.

 For some of us, though, the two concepts of growing our businesses and pushing our own beliefs aside are not mutually exclusive.  At the end of the day, both translators and business owners are still people.  In fact, 46% of translators and interpreters recently polled by Foreign Exchange Translations occasionally turn assignments down for ethical reasons, and even Smith admits, “I don’t think [accepting assignments you’re against is] necessary to grow, but I think you’re limiting your growth.”

Assignment acceptation and rejection are more clearly addressed in the interpreting world, where one might argue that individual interpreters have an obligation to reject assignments that run contrary to their personal beliefs.  In fact, the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) Code of Ethics includes provisions on both impartiality and neutrality:

Impartiality: The interpreter strives to maintain impartiality and refrains from counseling, advising or projecting personal biases or beliefs.

Neutrality: The interpreter maintains the boundaries of the professional role, refraining from personal involvement.
Both of these core ethics speak of separation between yourself and your assignment, but the way in which interpreters, well, interpret these rules can be very different.

Marjory Bancroft, Director of Cross-Cultural Communications in Columbia, Maryland, claims “interpreters divide roughly into three categories on this issue: 1) Interpreters who are certain they could remain neutral no matter what the assignment (or just about certain), 2) Interpreters who know there are certain assignments they could not be impartial about and who would therefore decline or withdraw from such assignments, [and] 3) Interpreters who are not sure what they would do and may have to face such a situation in real life to know.”

I think we would all admit that categories one or two would be preferred: interpreters who are certain in their abilities and limitations.  Actually, for Victor Hertz, ethical boundaries are just one more area that make a linguist qualified or unqualified for a particular assignment.  “If [freelancers are] good, they’ll say I can’t do this. If the reason they can’t do this is ethical -- whatever the issue is -- that seems to me to be no different than a translator saying I do technical but not legal.”

Personally, I wish all freelancers would bow out when they knew they wouldn’t do a good job. It would keep a lot of the world’s bad translations from being out there. Whether you think a certain client is evil or whether you simply don’t know the words involved with a particular topic, the fact of the matter remains that you should be professional enough to know what assignments you can do well and which ones you can’t–for whatever reason.  Translation is not the place for martyrs and regardless of which jobs we accept, it’s our job to do those jobs well.  Only we, as individuals, can tell what will and what won’t get in the way.  When Blackwater came to my company, there were a lot of things I didn’t know about the project.  But there was one thing I did know: my individual ethics would have gotten in the way.  So what gets in your way? When should you and when shouldn’t you translate?

(This article initially ran in MultiLingual Magazine.)



Clark, Ken.  “That which must not be translated.”  Translation Guy Blog.  March 29, 2010.

National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. Code of Ethics.