31 August 2015

Tips for translators: stop multitasking

Here are some tips to help translators increase productivity and reduce stress. They are inspired by new findings in neuroscience and by It's time to pay attention which was broadcast by Australia's Radio National program Big Ideas. The program blurb reads in part:
For many of us modern life is lived at a frenetic pace and is full of countless distractions. It’s compounded by increasing demands of work and the 24/7 digital age.
Authors Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse have taken this contemporary challenge head on and at the launch of their new book One Moment they offer some advice on how to slow down, be present and start paying attention to what is actually going around you.
The tips I draw from this program and other reading on neuroscience are:

  • Stop trying to multitask. It has been conclusively demonstrated that it reduces rather than improves overall productivity, particularly for intellectually demanding tasks like translation.
  • Strive for blocks of translation time with minimal distractions as the impact of switching your attention to other tasks or allowing your mind to wander has been shown to be far greater than most people realise.
  • Turn off all alerts, warnings, sounds and popups displayed on your screen(s) by non-critical applications, including email software, Skype, Twitter and Facebook.
  • If you're working on a job, avoid dealing with email first thing in the morning. It's too likely to give rise to stress and distraction. Leave it for later.
  • Deal with email and other communication tasks in specific blocks of time. One option is a block before a scheduled breaks for exercise.

More: Multi-tasking: how to survive in the 21st century

There is ample evidence in favour of the proposition that we should focus on one thing at a time.
Another study ... suggested that we are also poor judges of our ability to multitask.
... But don't settle for the quotes. This longish article goes into considerable detail and makes a number of useful distinctions, including four definitions. Recommended.

26 August 2015

'Strategic communication': FT definition

Today's addition to the FT Lexicon is of special interest to my target audience (my caps and highlighting):
Strategic communication: Communication is strategic when it is completely consistent with a corporation’s mission, vision, values and is able to enhance the strategic positioning and competitiveness of the organisation.
The most important concept to understand in relation to communication strategy is that communication should be seen from the audience’s perspective. One way to think about this is each time a person or organisation communicates, they should ask themselves the following question: “As a result of this communication, my audience will…”
Interviews with chief executive officers and other c-suite executives, such as the chief financial officer, show that strategic communication must be clear, true, repeated, consistent and delivered with passion.
For more, see strategic communication.

This definition is immediately relevant to my previous post New 'Description' box (see below) in that this blog is primarily for translators who are invited to (or hope one day to be invited to) express their opinion about a client's communication strategy in their target language. I am aware that this does not happen very often, but hope that it will become more common in future. In France, too many companies still base their communication strategy on a corporate perspective rather than their audience's perspective. The difference is both enormous and strategic.

New 'Description' box

Following my post on Particularités de la traduction du texte de presse and the clarifications discussed concerning my target audience, I have changed my the contents of my Description box from
A blog for translators, translation buyers and others interested in the special challenges of translating technical journalism between French and English (and to a certain extent between other western European languages). It is also a repository for occasional items on topics of interest to translators and linguists in general.
This blog focuses on a small niche in the language services market, namely for the adaptation between French and English (and to some extent other language pairs) of technical journalism for clients who seek to influence a clearly definied readership. Typical projects include website localisation, press releases and technical articles designed to shape opinions rather than simply inform. My blog is also a repository for occasional items of interest to translators and linguists in general.

25 August 2015

How the French think

Award-winning historian and fellow in politics at Balliol College, Oxford, Sudhir Hazareesingh has written and is actively promoting a book entitled How the French think: An affectionate portrait of an intellectual people and subtitled Why the life of the mind is so important in France.

Virtually every point made by Hazareesingh can have an impact on the way the French write a novel or draft technical journalism. Translators working from French need to understand why the French typically take a top-down or deductive approach, why they seek the highest possible level of synthèse, why they prefer generic terms to more precise ones and why even the chapô of an eminently technical article often seek to express both an overarching framework and a high-level synthèse in just one or two lofty sentences.

Each of these traits presents the translator — and more specifically the translator with a mandate to convince or influence on the client's behalf — with a range of challenges, the first being to maintain (and if so, in what form) or discard?

You can listen to Sudhir Hazareesingh discussing How the French think on Australia's Radio National program Big Ideas. The program blurb reads:
In an affectionate portrait of an intellectual people, Sudhir Hazareesingh explores the rich history of French thought from the enlightenment through to modern times. He also examines some of the social and cultural constructs that characterise it and offers his thoughts on how this perceived downturn might be reversed.
On 14 July 2015, the London-based RSA wrote:
A nation renowned for its central ideals of citizenship, progress and social justice, and with a history of confident and often brazen optimism, has now been seized by a mood of introspection and doubt.
Award-winning author and academic Sudhir Hazareesingh explores the reasons behind the recent loss of confidence in the creativity of French public thinkers, and asks how might this nation’s once globally influential intellectual heritage be revived?
The Economist's review, dated 13 June 2015, was entitled They think, therefore they are.
The FT's review can be found here.

20 August 2015

Specialisation, statistical errors in science and P-hacking

Background: Can we quantify levels of specialisation?

Like many other links posted on this blog, those included in my post of 18 August promoted specialisation as one of the best tickets to the top end of the translation market.
Specializing: a ticket to the high end of the profession? and Future-proofing the translation profession also focus on just what top-end translators mean by specialisation.

Here then is a further example for translators (and would-be translators) specialising (or aiming to specialise) in scientific papers and science journalism.

A case study for the scientific translator

First, anyone working in these fields should be aware of the debate — currently gathering pace and soon, many hope, to become truly momentous — on statistical errors. See, for instance Statistical errors: P values, the ‘gold standard’ of statistical validity, are not as reliable as many scientists assume by Regina Nuzzo published by Nature (vol. 504) in February 2014.

The issue give me an opportunity to quantify my ideas on the depth of understanding a high-end translator requires to work proficiently on texts the use p-values or a similar level of statistical analysis.
  1. The translator should have a reasonable grasp of what p-values are and how they are calculated.
  2. Given that tens of thousands of scientists are accused of misunderstanding the proper use of p-values, as explained in the link above, it is probably too much to ask that translators know more than the scientists that they work for in the this area. But ...
  3. The translator should definitely be aware of the debate and its impact on the document in hand and on science in general.
  4. The translator should be familiar with the relevant terminology and all relevant subtleties and nuances.

On P-hacking

Quote #1 from Statistical errors: P values, the ‘gold standard’ of statistical validity, are not as reliable as many scientists assume:
Perhaps the worst fallacy is the kind of self-deception for which psychologist Uri Simonsohn of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues have popularized the term “P-hacking” ... (which), says Simonsohn, “is trying multiple things until you get the desired result” — even unconsciously.

P-hacking terminology

Quote #2 (my bold):
P-hacking; it is also known as data-dredging, snooping, fishing, significance-chasing and double-dipping.
Quote #3:
It may be the first statistical term to rate a definition in the online Urban Dictionary, where  the usage examples are telling: “That finding seems to have been obtained through p-hacking, the authors dropped one of the conditions so that the overall p-value would be less than .05”, and “She is a p-hacker, she always monitors data while it is being collected.”


Want to learn still more?
Read We found only one-third of published psychology research is reliable – Now what?

Key quote (my bold):
There are two major ways that researchers quantify the nature of their results. The first is a p-value, which estimates the probability that the result was arrived at purely by chance and is a false positive. (Technically, the p-value is the chance that the result, or a stronger result, would have occurred even when there was no real effect.) Generally, if a statistical test shows that the p-value is lower than 5%, the study’s results are considered “significant” – most likely due to actual effects.
Another way to quantify a result is with an effect size – not how reliable the difference is, but how big it is. Let’s say you find that people spend more money in a sad mood. Well, how muchmore money do they spend? This is the effect size.

18 August 2015

Specializing: a ticket to the high end of the profession?

Specializing: a ticket to the high end of the profession?: recommended reading ... though I think I would have preferred Specialisation: a ticket to the high end of the profession?
By David Jemielity. Published on 18 August 2014.

Also the one-day symposium “Future-proofing the translation profession” co-sponsored by the ITI, the European Commission and the Chartered Institute of Linguists. To see what the speakers and panelists had to say, click here.

Particularités de la traduction du texte de presse

As it says in the box above, this blog is for "translators, translation buyers and others interested in the special challenges of translating technical journalism between French and English (and to a certain extent between other western European languages)."
To be more precise it is for those interested in the special challenges of translating technical journalism for direct customers who commission adaptations or transcreations with the express aim of achieving the most positive impact possible on a well defined mother-tongue readership.

The habitual aim of this blog is thus different from considerations involving the translation of journalism for a publisher wishing to publish journalism in a second or nth language or the ('for information') translation of journalism for customers who wish to know what a given article says.

Articles on translating journalism of any kind being few* and far between, the post below focuses on a full-length paper on the translation of general journalism with examples mainly for French-to-Romanian. The paper was originally published in Traduire (issue 225, 2011, pp33-48) and has been available on line since 10 February 2014.
Revue Traduire : Présentation.
* A future post will review La traduction des textes journalistiques by René Meertens.
225 | 2011 : Traduire hors des sentiers battus

Particularités de la traduction du texte de presse : le problème du titre journalistique

par Carmen-Ecaterina Aştirbei, doctorante à l’université « Alexandru Ioan Cuza » de Iaşi, Roumanie et à l’Université de Bretagne-Sud de Lorient, France

Le skopos* est défini ainsi :
Quant aux articles à traduire, il y a d’une part ceux que font traduire dans une ou plusieurs langues des revues destinées à une région particulière, (par exemple, la National Geographic Society publie une édition française de sa revue). D’autre part, certaines publications paraissent simultanément dans plusieurs langues (par exemple, le Forum du désarmement est une revue publiée en français et en anglais par l’Institut des Nations Unies pour la recherche sur le désarmement). Une troisième catégorie est constituée par les articles traduits quotidiennement, d’une langue source dans une langue cible, afin d’offrir au public des informations d’actualité, d’ordre général ou appartenant à divers domaines d’activité. Par exemple, certains articles parus dans Le Monde peuvent être traduits dans des quotidiens roumains (Adevărul, Evenimentul zilei) afin d’apporter dans la langue cible le même contenu informationnel.
* Le terme skopos, d’origine grecque, signifie but ou objectif et a été introduit pendant les années (...) 
Mais il arrive que les destinataires du texte soient des profanes, des personnes peu familiarisées avec le domaine en question. Par exemple, un communiqué de presse est généralement lu par un journaliste qui n’a qu’une connaissance approximative du sujet présenté. D’habitude, les informations sont destinées au grand public et doivent donc être assimilées par le plus grand nombre de lecteurs possible. La clarté et la simplicité du style sont de rigueur. ... Le discours de presse est un discours de vulgarisation, adressé au grand public, raison pour laquelle les termes trop spécifiques doivent être évités. A contrario, le traducteur doit, lors de sa traduction, respecter la lettre et la terminologie du texte source si cela est nécessaire. Un article scientifique, même si c’est de la presse écrite, sera traduit d’une manière appropriée ; toute adaptation va altérer le contenu informationnel d’origine. Du point de vue de la théorie du skopos* aussi, formulée par Katarina Reiss, un texte à visée informative sera traduit en respectant l’invariance du contenu et en mettant, lors de la traduction, l’accent sur le texte cible et sur sa fonction dans la langue et la culture d’origine.

Customer feedback to webmasters can produce results

Whether as customers, users, browsers or language service professionals, we often wonder whether it's worth our time to send feedback to corporate webmasters regarding translation, localisation, language quality or other issues..

Well, these two quotes from EY UK looks beyond audit with digital design purchase suggest that it should, at least in some cases, be increasingly worthwhile (my bold):
Seren, which is based in London’s Silicon Roundabout and employs 50 people ... uses customer feedback to advise clients such as financial services, media, telecoms and gaming companies on their digital design.
“Conversations historically were about using digital technology for cost reduction and compliance,” said Mr Langdon. “Now EY and its clients have realised that the digital conversations have got to be about growth, innovation and the customer.”
Seren on content & channel strategy:
We define the types of content and channels that will allow you to effectively connect with your customers and build valuable relationships at any stage in the customer lifecycle.
Seren on content strategy:
We map ideal customer journeys to define the exact content and channel mix required to move your customers through them. By only investing in content that you know is required we are able to get more impact for your investment.

The mysterious Punctuation Appreciation Society

On 24 April 2015 the Australian Financial Review published an excellent piece on punctuation and punctuation marks by Rosie Blau – China correspondent and columnist for The Economist – under the heading Julian Barnes, Claire Messud and the punctuation appreciation society.
I suspect that the editor may have removed the passage explaining the references to author and translator Julian Barnes (he translated Alphonse Daudet's In the Land of Pain from the French), American novelist Claire Messud, and the mysterious punctuation appreciation society which does not appear to have a dedicated website.

A couple of quotes to whet your appetite

On the dash – here with a space on either side; my preferred form by far in all but the most compact layouts.
The dash has an obvious appeal for those who relish a backhand sweep – and to hell with the words that precede or follow it.
The elegance of the en or em dash is best understood when working with metal type, with which we used to print books. Measure the sharp-edged dash up against the letter “n" or “m". The space the dash occupies is the exact width of the letter. “Letters are signs for sounds," wrote typeface designer Eric Gill; the dash fills the silent space where a sound would otherwise be.
On the exclamation mark.
In French it is much less forceful, so the translator of, say, Madame Bovary will have to prune up to 30 per cent of Flaubert’s exclamation marks. When Emma Bovary and Rodolphe are romantically moon-gazing, and Rodolphe enthuses, “Ah! la belle nuit!", one if not both of those marks would have to go.

17 August 2015

Capitalism, an extended definition

Some concepts are more difficult to define that others. This presents terminologists with a major challenge.

'Capitalism' is such a term.

In the Books section dated 16 August, FT columnist John Plender (author of Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets) reviewed Conceptualizing Capitalism: Institutions, Evolution, Future by Geoffrey M. Hodgson under the heading Linguistic purge finds inequality Marx missed.

Some quotes for those interested in the linguistic and terminological considerations (my bold):
There is no generally accepted definition of capitalism. Nor is there any agreement on its starting point, which anyway depends on the choice of definition.

One of the eccentricities of the book is that it takes more than 250 pages before spelling out its full definition of capitalism. This is because Hodgson is on a mission to cleanse economics of imprecise language. He believes that our understanding of the subject has been impaired by the “deep corruption” in the social sciences of terms such as property, exchange and capital. So he spends several chapters clarifying these and other concepts.
On the word capital itself he has good points to make. For a start, the economist’s standard definition of capital is at odds with business usage, which makes for confusion.

And now, according to Hodgson, we have been deluged with such loose terms as social capital, human capital, religious capital and cultural capital to the point where the word is emptied of meaning.
The obvious criticism, which he acknowledges, is that of Alice in Wonderland: he is making words mean what he wants them to mean. I would argue that terms like human capital are anyway meaningful and useful. The focus of this linguistic purge is too narrow.

16 August 2015

Wines with, and without, caps

In August 1985, language maven* William Safire, in his then regular NYT column On language, tackled the topic of when, and when not, to use capitals in naming wines in English. It's a case of "the devil is in the detail" and, by the same token, an excellent example of the type of detailed knowledge into-English translators whose fields of specialising include wine, wine tasting, oenology and similar subjects need to master. See On language; wines without caps.

For more on the term 'language maven', see here.
Note that while I agree entirely with Steven Pinker's strong views on mavens, I also believe that detailed analysis of challenging topics in grammar, punctuation, typography, etc. by powerful minds such as Safire's can save practising translators a great deal of research and help them to compile their own style guides quickly and efficiently.

Rule 3: When a wine is named after a grape, do not capitalize - unless the grape is named after a place and the wine comes from that place. ... Cabernet Sauvignon originated in Bordeaux, and if the wine comes from there, capitalize; cabernet is the name of the grape, not a city, and deserves no capital. ... Wine carrying the name tokay is named after a grape that is named after a town in Hungary, so the only time to capitalize a tokay is when the wine comes from around that town in Hungary.

05 August 2015

Skapinker on Google Translate

In Translation-ease: Is Google Translate good enough to use in business? (FT, 5 August 2015), Michael Skapinker gives an excellent summary of the state of the art achieved by Google Translate.

Some quotes (my bold):

In his book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? , David Bellos, a Princeton University language expert, says Google has created an entirely new type of translation system.
You may have noticed, as Bellos tells us, that Google Translate, while relying on superfast computing and data mining, is “built upon the millions of hours of labour of human translators”.
Google also requires humans to improve its translations. When you use the Google Translate typing translation feature, you see a small icon saying “wrong?” that allows you to submit your own, better translation.
While Google Translate has improved, it is still not good enough for any credible business to use it for anything other than getting a general idea of what someone else has said.
The truly impressive feature of Google Translate is its voice option. You tap the microphone icon, say something in your language and hear it repeated in translation. It is meant to be a pocket-sized interpreter.
In many cases today, these conversations take place in English. ... Google Translate’s voice feature may be better than some of these discussions. Many of the nuances may be lost — but they are often lost anyway when people are not speaking their own language.
For the important conversations, you still need a skilled human interpreter, and you need a proper translator for company documents, announcements and web materials.
But it is no longer impossible to imagine a day when, having done such superb work and put it online, many human translators have done themselves out of a job.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...