Translation is (Not) a Team Sport

October 25, 2012

Usually, translators sit alone at their desks while reading a text in one language and hammering it down on their keyboards in another language. Of course, they use their terminology databases, reference texts, background material, etc., etc. But, essentially, a translator receives her/his text from a client, gets it done and sends it back. All necessary clarifications happen between two people.

But what if the text is too long for one person to translate within the given time constraints? For example, a user documentation of 3000 pages or more? Almost a year’s work for one person. So, what to do?

Easy: hack the text in small chunks and distribute it among, say, fifteen translators. They get it done in a couple of weeks.

But, wait a minute. What about consistency? What about terminology? Will all of them use the same word for the same thing?

In all projects where more than one translator is involved some preparatory work is necessary before the text is split up between the members of the translation team:

  • Terminology analysis of the complete text
  • Research and definition of consistent terms and words
  • Identification of repeated phrases and sentences
  • Prior translation of repeated phrases and sentences to avoid inconsistencies
  • Careful segmentation of the text to avoid logical overlaps

Such translation projects are best managed by an experienced translator, who takes care of the up-front analysis and segmentation.

Consistent terminology increases usability and translation quality

Changing Reality

February 22, 2012

Some people tend to see only one side of the coin. They believe what is right and that it is right what they believe. Their own reality. It does not occur to them that other people’s realities might look, feel or sound totally different.

Now, this is probably sufficient for some applications, activities or professions.

It is an absolute no go for translators.

As a translator you must be flexible enough to open your mind to other people’s ideas. You must be ready and willing to get to the other side.

For those who need specifics, the other side in this case is the reader’s mind.

Of course, translators who work this way best work for clients who are equally open to walk new and innovative paths. Both must be aware that their messages shape the reader’s reality. And translators are well advised to shape their readers’ realities in the interest of their clients…

Cross the road

Text Analysis, Instructional Texts (User Manuals / Instruction Guides)

January 23, 2012

User manuals, instruction guides, handling instructions and operating guidelines are texts where two elements are equally important. The terms and facts about the described tool, machine or software matter a lot. And, of course, the user must be able to perform a certain task with the tool, machine or software. Therefore, the needle of the Text Type Detector, T-TD, goes to upward right.

What is important when translating user manuals and instruction guides?

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Good Reading

January 10, 2012

Last time I travelled abroad by plane I bought a book in one of the airport bookstores. You know, one of those books you buy just to pass the time during the flight…

This time, I was in for a real surprise and therefore I will recommend you this little book for a change.

It is, of course, translation focused. It is also fun to read. Really. I kept giggling and chuckling all the time, sometimes almost to the point of cracking up. The fun part, of course, are the mistakes frequently made by native speakers of German when they use similar words in English that are, however, totally inappropriate in a given situation.

The book’s title is “False Friends in Business English”. It was ingeniously written by Stephanie Shellabear. The intended audience are business women and men in German speaking countries. Not only does Shellabear give wonderful real-life examples, she also emphasises pitfalls, describes common mistakes and shows how to avoid them. She has a clear, easy-to-read instructive style without ever lecturing the reader.

I particularly liked the classification of errors by cringe factor. A very good idea!

The book will be really helpful to those German speaking Austrian, German and Swiss business travellers, who want to avoid some of the embarrasing moments when the English speaking opposite is too polite to comment on yet another gross misnomer…

And for those with good knowledge of English (and native or very good knowledge of German) it is hilarious lecture*.

Good reading:False Friends in Business English, Stephanie ShellabearStephanie Shellabear,

False Friends in Business English,

ISBN 978-3-648-01113-3,

Really good reading.


*pardon the pun, couldn’t resist: that would be the German “Lekt├╝re”, which, of course, should be translated as “to read” or “reading” in this place…;-)

Season’s Greetings

December 20, 2011

To all of you, a happy Holiday Season and my best wishes for the New Year
Happy Holidays

Website Study

September 12, 2011

Today, the company website is one of the most important means of communication for successful businesses. With the internet being accessible worldwide and many even small companies acting beyond the borders of their HQ country, an English version of the company website is a must.

Over the last 12 something months I have investigated the international English-language websites of 100 Austrian B2B companies.

For those who do not know: the official language in Austria is German. Therefore, most English website versions are translations.

The results are scary but no surprise:
For a non-German speaking visitor, more than half of the English websites are completely useless. Unless the visitor is already familiar with the company, it is hard to find information on the company, on the product and on how to get in touch.

Often, the translations are simply insufficient from a language point of view. The English version is unimaginative, of a low quality, and lacks the spirit of a message beneath. But the translators are not the only ones to blame, because there is a relation between the German source version and the English-language version.

The study covers 20 test criteria on 74 pages. It is available as PDF for a small compensation of EUR 75. Please note that the study is available in German only. Contact me at to order.


1::1 Approx.

August 30, 2011

the Illusion of Verbatim Translations

Translation always is an approximation. Even between languages with a very similar cultural and linguistic background some concepts remain simply untranslatable.

Therefore, the traditional idea to mirror a text word by word in a target language – i.e. what most people have been forced to do at school – does not work in the real world, especially in business reality.

If there is no exact match for a certain concept expressed in one language in the other language, what does a translator do? Well, s/he must find a way to make the situation clear to the reader in the translation. This can be done through comments, with added descriptive explanations, or by finding a similar concept in the target language.

What really matters is to evoke the same emotional and/or intellectual response to the text in the reader.

Simple word-by-word match-writing is not suitable for a professional text.

make every word matter

Price Quotes and How to Make Them Comparable

June 21, 2011

In the translation business different types of pricing have appeared among translators and across regions and countries. Why, I have no idea, to be honest. In other service professions, the hour is a common benchmark by which the services of different providers can be compared. In other, more tangible services, say a foot massage or a training course of some kind, the service itself is a unit with a certain price.

So far, so good. But what do we have in translation? There are prices per word, per line, per page, per character, percentages of known and unknown text sections, and some colleagues only give lump sum estimates for the texts they work with.

I think it’s not wise to keep the client in the dark about pricing. It leaves behind a feeling of uncertainty in the client, which in the end bounces back to the provider as a “no, sorry, we will accept the quote that gives us a clear idea about what we will have to pay in the end.”

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Back on Track

June 6, 2011

Hello again. Sorry for the long interruption in my blog entries. First, I had to tackle a rather complex project involving GUI localization. There was lot of pre-existing client terminology involved that needed alignment and checking. Then, I needed a brief vacation.

From the latter I brought something back for you: The funny side of wrong translations.

While the English and German versions on the first sign became somewhat clear in the context (there was a huge fenced-in construction site next to the sign), I never really grasped the meaning of the second. I just liked it a lot and laughed heartily for quite some time after taking the shot. The sign stood in a window next to the entrance of an Asian restaurant in Rome. I never saw anybody walk in…

Until soon

Translatorspeak – Part II

March 24, 2011

As explained in part one of this series, the translation industry uses its very own jargon.

Some more technical terms have accumulated in the entries since Translatorspeak – Part I:

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