Question and Answers
How to make a successful translation?
Translation buyer's side
- Several conditions must be met to make your translation successful:
Considering that the translation will always have a zooming effect on imperfections and/or errors, the original document should show a good writing level.
- Whenever you use desktop publishing and you wish to obtain a wygiwyg translation, it is absolutely necessary to make the document available in its native format (
a Pdf file or a printout cannot be used to preserve the original layout at a reasonable cost.
You should also consider assigning to a technically competent person the responsibility of receiving and answering the possible translator's questions.
In accordance with the principle that says that no one should control himself, you should assign proofreading to a third party.
- In all cases, the translator must be modest and not commit himself to translating documents related to unfamiliar domains, or at least he should be aware that his learning efforts will need a long and hard personal investment, and that the first translations in a new domain are probably not going to be profitable.
He should also work in a modern environment (data system with dictionaries, translation database, computer-aided translation system, desktop publishing software).
He should maintain archives for all his translation work and he should be able to deliver the translation on various standard media according to what his customer asks, e.g. Internet, diskettes, ZIP cartridges, CD-ROM etc. DVD ROMs are not yet necessary because the translation files associated with a single order can usually be written on a single CD-ROM and that DVD readers can read CD-ROMs.
He should have at his disposal all the linguistic background necessary to eliminate translation uncertainties (dictionaries, spell checking software, etc.), also he should never hesitate to contact the competent person by his customer.
- He should always ask his customer about specific
terminology and he should also familiarise himself with the customer's document/writing
How can you estimate translation time?
- Usually a translator can translate
from 10 to 25.000 characters per day (including the time necessary for searching
unknown terms or expressions and understanding the involved technical background)
depending on the intrinsic document difficulty. For
technical documentation this is roughly equivalent to 6 to 15 standard
size pages (around 250 words).
- Most of the word processors and desktop
publishing software include some character counting routine. This
can help you to evaluate the number of days/man required to achieve the translation
- According to the size of the document,
you should also decide whether you work with a single translator or a team.
For a short document (up to 50.000 characters),
your translation will seldom have problems to be inserted in a freelance competent
translator work flow.
- For bigger documents, the teamwork
has the advantage to shorten the translation time. However,
you should be aware that the necessary time is not inversely proportional to
the number of people, except when it is possible to cut the text into as many
independent pieces than required by the team headcount.
It can be envisaged to translate 1000 pages
in a few weeks. However, it is not realistic
to multiply too much the number of translators if you wish to keep a certain
Literary or scientific knowledge?
This question is as old as the technical
translation itself. Unless you know a translator
who is equally competent in both aspects, which is of course possible, common
sense advises you to begin with determining the nature and specificity of the
text to be translated. Your choice would then
be made accordingly.
Does automated translation work?
Here you should absolutely distinguish automatic translation from computer aided translation.
Concerning automatic translation, and without trying to evade the question we can answer yes and no.
The answer is yes, if you first take a great care in setting up the software with appropriate parameters which is very often the same as choosing in advance between various ways of translating a word or an expression i.e. substantially prepare the software work and if your objective is limited to a global understanding
of the text. The biggest advantage is the huge execution speed of the translation process. However, the result of such a translation can in no way be directly published.
The answer is no, if you wish to obtain an acceptable result after a reasonable amount of proofreading and correction time. Our experience shows that the translator spends more time in proofreading and in implementing the corrections than what he needs to make directly his own translation.
Computer Aided Translation (CAT)
Insofar as computer aided translation
is concerned the results are much more interesting. The
main idea consists in taking advantage of the previous translation work by storing
sentences in a database. Such systems have
been recently developed (we can mention here 2 software suites: TRADOS Workbench
and STAR Transit http://www.star-group.net
- Both of them offer a professional environment fully dedicated to translation, with simultaneous display of source and target text, with and/or without typographical enrichment, with online background real-time working translation database and multilingual dictionaries; the databases are enriched automatically during the translation process, or separately.
- The translation database is made of text pieces called segments which are initially pre-cut from the source text at the importation time. Those segments and their translated - possibly multilingual - counterparts are building the database. Obviously the system keeps track of the translation equivalent segments. At the beginning of the new translation process, the source text is cut into segments and the database is searched for similar segments; it is always possible to set a similarity threshold for translation validation.
- Both software provide multilingual dictionaries which are fed "interactively" by the translator, but that can alo be fed automatically.
- The biggest difficulty is to transform the source document format (Word, Wordperfect, RTF, PageMaker, FrameMaker,
QuarkxPress etc...) into a common format which can be handled by the user interface. Specialised filter are in charge of this work, but the amount of work necessary to get a suitable result cannot be neglected. Both suites exist in stand-alone (special freelance) or network versions with centralised database.
- Time gain = lower cost = productivity increase.
- Translation consistency, thanks to automatic suggestion for the similar segments (translation database or terminology database).
- Team translation consistency (but to a lower extent because of translation sequencing problems) thanks to the networking capability of the translation and terminology databases.
- The translation environment is constant ( to a lower extent for TRADOS Workbench) which speeds up the return on investment.
- These tools, although they look relatively simple
to use, require a relatively long learning process.
- Errors are still possible, they can easily be
unrecognised and be reproduced from translation to translation.
- Whenever something is already present in the
database the gain is not 100%, firstly because it is reasonable to check and
secondly because typographical markers (tags) and enrichment are seldom identical
which impinges on the result reliability. During
the successive updates of a technical manual, tag changes are implemented, these
changes must absolutely be also translated (implemented in the translation).
It is often a cumbersome mental exercise
because of the semantic differences between the languages, and because the enrichments
can always be simply transferred without modification for example in French
a negative sentence requires two negative words "ne" and "pas" and translating
"je ne comprend pas" into English requires to suppress a tag pair
"I do not understand". For segments
found 100 % identical by the software, it is reasonable to evaluate the gain
to 50%, which is already very valuable.
Teamwork or single translator / agency or freelance?
- Small documents obviuosly require only one person. For more important volumes, the team seems to be a better choice, because it implies a time gain.
Teamwork can nevertheless give good results only if it is really organised around such a team concept, i.e. if the translation &terminology; databases are fed with new entries in real time and that each translator benefits from a permanent connection. There must be also some kind of permanent dialog between the translators to adopt common positions if opinion differences arise. This is perfectly reallistic when the team is integrated in the company which takes over the global translation responsability; it is much more questionnable if this company works with external frelance translators (which is often the case) to balance workload needs. This last strategy brings however more flexibility in case of urgent translation. Considering the choice agency/freelance, obviously the freelance translator should always have a cost advantage.
- Shorter response time for large volume translation.
- Translators can specialise on specific parts of the document according to their own background and experience.
Team work drawbacks
- The translation consistancy is more questionnable.
- When the team is too large, the time gain drops very quickly because the team is self generating extra synchronisation and coordination work.
Single translator advantages
- The translation consistancy is maximised.
- The translator shows a stronger motivation because he conducts 100 % of the translation.
Single translator drawbacks
- The response time is higher for large documents.
- If the document consists of several parts related to different domains, a risk of lower quality translation exists.
- The ability to process large volumes.
- La permanence of a company.
- Agencies actually widely subcontract to freelance translators.
- The price is higher by 20 to 40 % than freelance's price (wygiwyg cost comes often on top of it).
- The direct relation increases flexibility and encourages fidelity.
- For the same service, the price is remarkedly lower.
on very large volumes is impossible.
- A temporary
difficulty can always be envisaged (illness, vacation).
How can you take advantage of the Pdf format?
The Pdf format (Portable Document Format) is a data file format which has been designed by Adobe (http//www.adobe.com) to facilitate file distribution, quality visualisation and printing for all kinds of documents. Its utilisation has become universal, many files using this format are found on the Web, mainly for product brochures. This format is also very interesting for technical documentation preview and distribution because it has intrinsic strong qualities:
- It is very compact
because it is a compressed format (compressing Pdf data does not lead to a large
size gain). It is compatible with almost
all displays and printers, wether they are Postscript or not.
- It preserves all
hypertext link functions from the original data providing you select the right
options at file generation.
- The Acrobat Rreader
programme, which allows to display and print Pdf data files, is freely available.
- This format allows
annotation addition (visible only on the display, an interesting feature for
small correction and/or limited document changes) as soon as you own Acrobat
Exchange. The Annotations are visible with Acrobat Reader .
The pdf format cannot reasonably
be used as a source format for working with documents that extend beyond
a few pages. If there is no other available
solution one must :
- Either abandon the idea of using a computer
aided translation system (the benefits of the translation memory and of the
online electronic dictionaries is then lost),
- Or reformat text data that could be extracted
from the Pdf data file and use it as the CAT data source .
In both cases the overcost can be
estimated at 50 % of the pure translation cost, furthermore, in the first case,
no later reuse of the document can be envisaged, because it will not be in the