Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trust Me on This - Don't Ask Your Bilingual Friend or Employee to Translate Important Stuff

I know what you're thinking. Professional translation services can be expensive. My [website, mobile app, annual report, insert any number of things your company could need translated; the options are practically limitless] has a ton of words, and I don't want to dip into my budget to pay for something like that. Oh, I've got it! Suzanne, who works in sales, grew up in France. I'll ask her to translate my [insert any number of things your company could need translated] into French.

It sounds like the perfect solution, doesn't it? It costs $0.00, and surely someone who is bilingual is just as qualified as a professional translator to translate your [insert any number of things your company could need translated], right? Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way.

Bilingualism ≠ Good Translator 

At a glance, it may seem as though any bilingual person can automatically be a translator because they are fluent in two languages; however, this perception is, quite simply put, 100% incorrect. Believing that any bilingual person is automatically a good translator is like believing that anyone who speaks English can be a New York Times® Best Seller. It's just not true. To be a good translator, it is absolutely imperative that said person be a good writer. If you can't eloquently convey thoughts on paper (or via your keyboard nowadays), you do not have what it takes to render a high-quality translation. Not a member of the grammar police? You need to be commissioner of the grammar police as a translator. If Suzanne sometimes confuses 'they're, there, and their', chances are likely that she will make a mistake that embarrasses your company in the translation you had her do for free.

Let's say Suzanne isn't commissioner of the grammar police, but she's at least a card-carrying captain. That's great, but is Suzanne an expert in French grammar rules too? Does Suzanne know that the French use more noun clauses than we do in English? Does Suzanne know how to maintain language register between the two languages? Does Suzanne know that the French like to start out sentences or paragraphs with an explanation and end with the main point (or topic sentence), whereas in English we often make our main point immediately, then spend the rest of the sentence or paragraph explaining1? Not knowing all of these mechanical and cultural differences could make your translation sound like an awkward and stilted....well, translation.

The goal when translating a [insert any number of things your company could need translated] is to take the message from the original, then shape, mold and craft that same message into another language in the most appropriate way possible. A good translation should never sound like a translation. Professional translators have been educated on all of the above-mentioned topics. We learned about modulations, transpositions and equivalents. We studied and practiced how to translate for years before getting paid to do it. We can spot a grammatical error from a mile away (and we know that "spotting something from a mile away" is an Americanism that can't be translated word-for-word in French or other languages). 

The fact of the matter is that professional translation is worth the cost for any text that needs to be publication-quality. If your company had a legal issue, would you consult your employee John who took one criminal justice course in college, or would you consult a practicing lawyer who is a member of your region's bar association? I rest my case.


Siepmann, Dirk. "Academic Writing and Culture: An Overview of Differences between English, French and German" Erudit. 2006. Accessed December 11, 2015.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Client Glossaries: One of the Most Important Aspects of Financial Translation

Every company has a unique culture - from their strategy and their operating model all the way to their language. As someone who worked in corporate America for many years prior to launching my own translation business, I experienced first-hand how particular companies can be about the words they use to describe their business and everyday operations. My former employer even invented their own incotermIt is important that translators (and especially financial translators) realize that customers do indeed have a strong preference with regards to terminology to ensure that our customers are satisfied with our translations. Always follow client glossaries as closely as possible.

The tricky thing is that not all companies may be aware of their strong preference for some terms over others. That's why it is absolutely critical for translators to work with clients in advance to come up with a client glossary if the client does not already have one. It is impossible to provide a high-quality translation if we don't know what our clients want to begin with.

Are there really that many different ways to say the same thing in financial translation?
Oh yes, indeed!

Some companies prefer to say revenue, some go for revenues, some use the word turnover, others choose sales or sales revenue. Some companies record expenses in their general ledger, others recognize expenses, while others account for expenses. Similarly, a balance sheet, statement of financial position and statement of financial condition are all synonyms. Profit and Loss statements (or P&Ls) also have several synonyms, such as statement of profit and loss, income statement, statement of financial results, statement of operations, and income and expense statement, and chances are highly likely that your client prefers one of those terms over the other in all of the above cases. This is also the case for the industry-specific terms that customers use to describe their business.

I realize that a lot of financial translators have their own preferred terminology - I know I do - but ultimately, we need to set our preferences aside if they do not align with those of our clients. 

So, you have a client that does not have their own glossary. What do you do?

  1. First, propose your own glossary that contains all the terms you like best, and ask the client to review it.
  2. Offer to work with them to create their own customized glossary if they want to make extensive changes to the glossary you proposed, or if they want you to create a completely new one based off of their old reports or website (at an additional cost, of course). You can either do this manually by looking through old reports, or you could try a terminology management tool with a term extractor (I highly recommend buying Jost Zetzsche's The Translator's Tool Box: A Computer Primer for Translators to help you decide which tool would work best for you).
  3. Follow the glossary! Most, if not all, translation software programs enable users to upload glossaries or have built-in terminology management tools that will help you ensure that you follow their terminology preferences to the letter. They also help ensure that your translation remains consistent throughout those long, 500+ page reports.

Financial translation is considered a highly-specialized niche for a reason. Ensuring that you accurately translate not just your customer's reports, but also their corporate culture and voice, will keep them coming back to you year after year.

Monday, November 23, 2015

There’s No Place Like the ATA Annual Conference

Photo by Jeff Sanfacon,
 ATA Staff Photographer
Once again, the American Translators Association (ATA) pulled off another fantastic Annual Conference. This year’s 56th Annual Conference was held in Miami, Florida from November 4th through November 7th, and Celina Gonzalez-Posse and I had the honor of attending the conference and representing the Georgia ATA Chapter (AAIT) at the event. There were more than 1,600 attendees who traveled from 52 countries, over 175 sessions covering countless language pairs and practical topics for both translators and interpreters, and plenty of opportunities for networking and/or reconnecting with colleagues and friends. There were also more than 75 exhibitors (including a large number of language service providers, translation and project management software companies, interpreting equipment companies, etc.).

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
  - L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The conference officially commenced at the welcome reception on Wednesday evening, and from that point on, attendees were hurled into a whirlwind of information and networking opportunities. As a representative of AAIT, my mission was three-fold: 1) to gain skills and knowledge on ways to better serve our Chapter, 2) to represent AAIT at our Chapter table in the exhibiting hall and 3) to attend the most rousing sessions in an effort to scout potential speakers for future AAIT events.

I kicked off the conference early by attending a several-hour long chapter and division leadership workshop the day before the conference began. During this workshop, we had roundtable discussions with other ATA Chapters on common issues that all Chapters face, and we each shared our successes and areas for improvement. Topics covered during this workshop included ‘Going above and beyond core services’, ‘Sourcing content for blogs or newsletters’, ‘Organizing workshops’ and ‘Finding speakers’. BTW – the AAIT is the first Chapter to ever organize and host a Job Fair. Everyone was very impressed with the idea. We’re trend-setters! This workshop was a wonderful opportunity for us to learn different strategies to better serve our membership and become better leaders.

“Knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”
  - L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz

I do not envy the ATA’s conference organizers. It’s quite a daunting task to fulfill the needs of ATA conference attendees when our industry is so vast and encompasses so many different languages, skill levels and fields of expertise, but every year they manage to offer an extensive array of sessions that target even the most specific subsets of our industry. Given the broad scope of sessions offered during the same time slots every day, it was physically impossible to attend every session, but below are some of my personal favorites from the sessions I attended:
  • Jan Fox, a four-time Emmy award winning reporter/anchor for ABC and NBC, presented on Speaking boldly. Her inspiring presentation focused on how to improve your public speaking skills and make a bigger impact when speaking to anyone (but especially to clients and in presentation settings). She provided numerous useful and easy-to-implement tips to make you a better speaker.
  • Grant Hamilton, a distinguished French < > English translator and owner of the translation company Anglocom, delivered a very practical presentation on how to improve your style and vocabulary to differentiate yourself as a remarkable translator rather than a run-of-the-mill translator. As the translation industry is fragmenting into a low-cost bulk market and a high-paid premium market, this topic is especially relevant to ensure you are in the latter and not the former.
  • Michael Farrell, a freelance technical translator, presented on IntelliWebSearch, a magnificent tool that he created, to a crowd of attentive translators. This tool (which has a freeware version and a modestly-priced paid version) enables translators to highlight a term in any platform they’re working in (Word, Trados or any other CAT tool, an online translation platform, etc.), type a shortcut (Ctrl + alt + B) and automatically search all of their favorite electronic terminology databases and glossaries at the same time. This tool is a huge time-saver for perfectionist translators such as me, who like to search a term in five different databases before settling on le mot juste. I emailed myself a reminder to purchase the paid version of this program before his presentation even ended. Here’s the link to it if you’re interested:
  • Jennifer Bader, a former US and French attorney turned freelance translator, presented on challenges in translating French Initial Public Offerings and other securities offerings. She explained the main differences between the French and US regulatory frameworks for IPOs, described the IPO process for both countries and discussed pitfalls that translators face when translating French IPOs into English. As a financial translator, I love hearing other people's thoughts on this particular field.

“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”
  - L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

I have attended three ATA conferences in the past five years, and despite the fact that I am a much more seasoned translator now than I was five years ago, the ATA conference never fails to disappoint. You can make invaluable connections during these conferences, the sessions are thought-provoking and inspiring at any stage in your career, and for desk-bound translators working at home, it’s quite refreshing to get out of the house and interact with other human beings for at least a few days every year, even if you dread it before you go (I’m a hermit, I know the feeling). This year, I left Miami with countless ideas and goals, but one I’d really like to stick to would be this: going to the ATA conference every year. I’ll be following the yellow brick road to San Francisco come November 2-5, 2016.

Want more info on the ATA’s 56th Annual Conference?

Sessions from the 56th Annual Conference

Video Recap

ATA Election Results

ATA 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco Teaser
Photo by Jeff Sanfacon, ATA Staff Photographer