Interview with a language translator

Me Language translator

Olivier den Hartigh is a language translator of English into French. He is an expert in translation and interpreting since 1995, and has a great deal of experience with translation technologies. He has worked for many of the world’s largest brands. Olivier shares his time between the South of France and Australia. He has translated over 2 million words during his career.

How did you start in the translation industry?

I started my career as a language translator shortly while finishing my MA in Translation Studies. I worked for a translation agency – or language service provider – as we call them now, whose office was just a few miles from where I lived in the UK. That was the 90s back then. And at that time, I would need to physically go to the agency to get the documents to translate and get my check. It was a pre-requisite. Something that’s just fun to think of nowadays when most language translators work for companies all over the globe.

Back then, I caught the virus of translating and decided to start an independent career as a freelance translator … and that’s where you currently find me. Of course, with the internet, at a later stage, I could just carry on being a language translator anywhere in the world. And that’s when I travelled to South-East Asia, South Africa, Australia and Canada.

What translation project are you most proud of and why?

I have been lucky enough to be engaged in several important projects. Some of the ones I am really proud of are the translation into European French of some of the Sony PlayStation terminology, several localisation projects for OS X and iOS, lots of nuclear technology and engineering manuals, reports and notices for nuclear power plants and INPO, some technical and scientific books. And, more recently, when I was already working for TranslateMedia, several projects for UK Energy, the Government Office for Science and other UK government bodies, a project about the history of Levi’s corp. And another one for the Spanish FootLocker sneaker store, D-Link’s website and many more.

Generally, I tend to enjoy various projects: from technical to purely commercial ones, as well as such combining complex technical issues with a marketing perspective, like websites, booklets, etc.

What is the worst thing about working as a language translator?

Probably the worst thing about working as a language translator is that it is hard to make plans in advance, because you never know how busy you will be at any given time in the future.

Another issue is uncertainty. Even if I have managed to keep myself quite busy and to secure an on-going flow of projects, nothing – and I mean nothing – can guarantee that it will keep like this in the next weeks, months or years.

Yet, this can also be considered a good thing, since it makes you always do your absolute best. You are always pushed to go an extra mile. Any mistake could mean losing a client, even if it’s taken you several years to gain their confidence. This could be hard and demanding, but it also makes you feel alive.

What do you see changing in the translation industry in the next few years, and further into the future?

I expect that in the near future, 100% of the projects will be processed using computer-assisted translation tools, with an online translation repository to improve leveraging. This would pose new problems related to the quality of those translations, discounts for matches derived from poor quality memories, etc.

In a more distant future, machine translation could progressively take over a higher number of fields, provided that the topics are specific enough and that the quality of the source copies is good enough, since not even the most powerful computer in the world stands any chance against a poor copy developed by a non-native speaker of English. This mechanisation would make us translators more revisers and proof-readers of an increasingly higher number of machine translations.

What technologies have you used so far and what has been the outcome?

I have used most of the translation and localisation tools commercially available, premium or free, such as SDL Trados, Passolo, memoQ, OmegaT or Catalyst, together with several developed and used internally by some companies, like Apple Xtrans or Microsoft LocStudio, as well as some other designed by agencies for the use of their translators. In addition, I used online translation services, like SDL WorldServer, DocZone data center or TranslateMedia TM-Stream, as well as other which were just a two-column web interface linked to a database. Moreover, I have used online translation memory servers and even been part of a hybrid human-TM project.

In my experience, I tend to get the best results when I am provided with the source files (for example, QuarkXPress, InDesign or MS Office files instead of PDFs) and allowed to choose the CAT tool that is best for the job, both in terms of productivity and of quality.

What advice would you give to clients embarking on a large localisation/translation project?

I always say that the most important pieces of information I need before approaching any project are two: if there are any terms which the client wants to leave in the original language and if the client prefers a formal or informal addressing style.

Apart from that, they should devise a proper translation procedure which takes into account the different processes involved: extraction of texts, preparation, translation, revision, editing, layout, etc. For example, working directly on HTML or InDesign files could save the client lots of hours of edition and layout.

Another advice, clients should always provide us with a final text, since it is always more expensive to make changes in several translated documents than in a single source text.

In your experience what makes a “good” translation agency?

I prefer to work with translation agencies that allow me a certain amount of freedom with regard to how I process the files they send me. After more than a decade in the industry, I usually know which is the best procedure to be applied to a given type of files.

Another point is that some agencies make you feel as if you were the ‘other’, the one who will get half of the rate paid by the end client and, because of that, almost the enemy to beat. Some translation agencies are only starting to realise that language translators and their relationships with them are one of their main assets.

In my opinion, a good translation company is one which is able to design a good translation process instead of being just an intermediary between clients and translators. One which is able to select the most appropriate translators for any given job. One which is able to provide these translators with all the information they need. And one which is able to support both clients and language translators when needs arise.

Tips to Get the Best English-French translation – Part I

Lego people collaborating - like a translator collaborating with his customer to get the best English-French translation

Except your English to French translator, the person most interested in getting the best English-French translation is, of course, you. However, because of a lack of knowledge about the translation process, your collaboration may not be as effective as it should. Or, even worse, you may end up disturbing the outcome.

With that in mind, I have listed some measures that should be observed by everyone involved in a French translation. I understand that in real life, the situation sometimes goes beyond our control. So, let’s say the following recommendations represent the best scenario, where everyone wins.

Plan Your English-French Translation Project

It is very important to plan a project in advance and give the French translator the time to do their job in the best condition possible. If you are already accustomed to working with a translator, you should have an idea of ​​how long it takes to accomplish a particular task. However, productivity varies from person to person, from text to text and even from day to day.

Be aware that several “obstacles” can disrupt your translator at any time.

Your translator may have time reserved for another project, juggling two or more texts at a time. He might be able to offer your English-French translation project his full dedication, which is very common.

The text may vary from what the professional is accustomed to translate. This makes the process more time consuming.

The translator may be busy with personal issues or even preparing to take a vacation.

I recommend that you always talk to your translator as soon as you know of a future translation. If your company deals with recurring projects that need translation, there is no reason not to warn the translator in advance. Of course, you can only ask someone to book their time when you have more details, such as dates, text size, content, etc. An organised translator will be grateful to know that a project is coming. They will have this future project in mind when setting up their work schedule.

In your company, make sure that everyone involved in the production of the original text meets the deadlines. In addition, the timeline must take into account not only the work of the translator itself but also the time it takes for someone in your company to make a final reading of the translation. Nevertheless, be very careful: asking your staff to “edit” a translation is a double-edged sword and should be done with great care and responsibility.

Know that very short deadlines are usually accompanied by emergency fees. These are expenses that you can avoid, though. And there’s more: chaotic deadlines can affect the quality of the final text. I will discuss this topic in more detail in the near future.

Reference Materials for the Translation

As far as avoiding mistakes in translating a technical text is concerned, I suggest that you use people from your company who are experts in the subject to provide translators with appropriate terminology and reference materials. This advice is pertinent to all types of text and media. It is important to send to the translator all materials that are in any way related to the text to be translated.

If you have relevant bilingual documents such as previously translated content, do not even think twice! Other useful materials are glossaries (monolingual or bilingual), lists of preferred terms, style manuals, acronyms, abbreviations and acronyms written in length, etc. In general, experienced translators are prepared to detect pertinent terms, phrases, and other style elements present even in monolingual texts. So, go ahead and submit that report in English produced in 2012, even if you do not find the translation into French. Likewise, all relevant texts in the target language (i.e. language to which the text is translated) will be most welcome.

These support materials help you maintain consistency between your company texts. They help your translator deliver a high-quality service. Depending on the case, access to these materials may even reduce the delivery schedule.

As you can see, everyone benefits from of these measures. You increase your chances of receiving an impeccable English-French translation. Moreover, your French translator appreciate the support and consideration that help them meet their client’s needs more quickly and efficiently.

For more tips, read Tips to Get the Best English-French translation – Part II

Translation and… Tennis? Really?

tennis ball with english and french flags

From Tennis to English-French translation

A taste for language study, grammar, literature and translation, and more than 25 years as an English into French translator defines a large part of who I am, the way I think, with whom I relate and to whom I dedicate most of my time now. In the past, things were very different. As a teenager, one of the activities that most occupied my time was tennis.

Funny thing that I should think about tennis – now – when I spent so much time translating documents these days, wouldn’t you think?

Translated English documents to French for 25 years

While I spend most of my professional life doing French translations these days, the truth of the matter is, recently I met a very old friend of mine for an important event in my life. Someone who played a major role, whom I hadn’t seen for 10 years.

Our meeting after all these years made me think about how and when we met 35 years ago. We were both teenagers and I used to play tennis. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t very good at it but this is not important. What’s important is that meeting him after such a long time got me to compare my present life as a language translator and my former life as a teenager playing tennis. My mind began to “travel back” and weave parallels between those two activities. I was amazed to see how much they have in common. So here’s a little exercise in reflection: any of the items below are what I see and feel as much about the field of translation as about tennis, or for any individual sport for that matter.

Thoughts about what it is to be a translator and/or a tennis player

                – It is notoriously lonely, which does not mean that everything depends on you alone.

               – Those who see practice it without knowing it, think that it is something purely mechanical.

                – You have to train your whole life; there is no time when there is no need to practise and improve. In the beginning it’s just to do the basics, but the higher the level you reach, the more important it is to train regularly to seek to extend your own limits.

                – You can always improve.

                – It is 99% creating and 1% inspiration.

                – If, for those who look from the outside, what the person does seem easy and natural, you can be sure that it takes a lot more effort than you can imagine.

                – We need to train a lot, for years and years, so that when we come across some of those crucial moments of our career, when we have those immense challenges that mark us for the rest of our lives, we know how to seize the opportunity.

                – There is luck. But strategy cannot be ignored.

                – There is much room for discussion about rules and questions. But inside is inside, and outside is outside.

                – You have to be able to get a taste for – or at least accept and take satisfaction – from practice in all aspects (even those we do not like) – tiredness, repetition, frustration, pain. The moments of memorable victories and recognition are rare and are directly related to this continuous effort.

               – Mistakes are a part of it and often happen. There simply isn’t any way you cannot – eventually – make mistakes. One must accept that this will happen and be able to deal with errors so as not to compromise the final result, and jeopardise their self-confidence and the pleasure of continuing to dedicate themselves.

                – Defeat is also a part of it. You need to know how to use it as a source of motivation to improve. But if you repeatedly fail to win, there is something very wrong with what you are doing, and you need to acknowledge this fact and seek help.

                – The only way to improve is always to measure ourselves with who is better than you.

                – It is important to have a model (or some) of what we would like to be. And it is important to know why we choose this model.

                – Defeating or pointing out mistakes of those who are technically inferior does not make us better at something.

And the comparison with translation does not stop here

                – Making serious mistakes, gossiping or giving justifications only makes the situation worse. The only solution is to learn from them immediately and find a way to get it right the next time.

                – The feeling of pride in winning is very strong, because we fight alone and the merit is strongly individual. But whoever wins a major victory always has a huge number of people to thank for, for getting there.

                – It takes a very unique combination of ambition and humility, always.

                – Do not stand still in one place. To stop is to go back.

                – You cannot rest on your laurels while your career has not come to an end. This is a mortal sin.

                – Few things reveal our true ethics as a painful defeat. Or even the possibility of defeat.

                – Even the most correct of people might try to distort a rule in their favour or take advantage from time to time. But nothing is more difficult than doing what we know to be right when we are robbed or harmed in bad faith. And this happens often.

                – External factors, whether natural or human, interfere all the time. No one is immune to them. But whoever is really serious never uses these factors as justification for their failures.

                – It is perfectly possible to be self-taught, but the immense majority of self-taught people will have visible technical defects or deficiencies if they ever stop learning.

                – Except for rare exceptions, it is possible to identify self-taught, amateur or occasional practitioners in a matter of seconds.

               – “Having passion” and being a professional – which makes of that practice, the career of a lifetime – are completely different things. Being professional and not losing your passion for something that requires so much effort and dedication is the big challenge.

                – There is plenty of room for great professionals who will never be on top or go down in history. There is no shame and it is possible to have a very dignified and productive career at intermediate levels. The degree of effort and dedication required remains exactly the same.

                – There are those who have innate talent for the thing, and this is noticeable, even if we do not know exactly what it is.

                – Helping someone improve makes us even better.

                – Our opponent is our colleague. Without it, we are nothing, we have no merit. Our enemy today is your partner tomorrow, or vice versa.

                – It is fundamental to respect the adversary and know how to recognise his merits.

More analogies with translation

                – It is crucial to know how to separate a profession from personal relationships, even though these two dimensions are constantly mixing.

               – We do not devote ourselves because we expect recognition. We dedicate ourselves because it is part of who we are and we want to carry it out with quality.

                – It’s a journey of self-knowledge. We need to face our faults and weaknesses, as well as discover and know how to take advantage of our talents.

                – We have to know how to study alone, to work alone, to protect ourselves, to overcome solitary challenges.

                – Those who observe us from the outside will judge us, sometimes based on details we barely notice. It’s part of the activity.

                – Claiming that you are good at it means nothing. You have to show it.

                – A beautiful victory or one of pride fills everyone.

                – Anyone who says they do not feel pressure when other people are watching is lying blatantly. The great merit lies in not letting the performance fall too much under pressure.

                – Anyone who thinks that constantly investing in quality instrumental makes no difference in performance does not understand anything. Whoever thinks that only the instrumental solves everything, either.

                – The better you are, the more difference it makes in a fraction of a second, a centimetre, a degree.

                – It’s not something we do. It is something that one is. It’s a way of life, a way of thinking. Not just the person, but the whole family.

               – It is an practice that transforms our way of looking at life and that influences everything we do, even if it is totally unrelated to the activity itself.

                – When done well, it even touches. But only for those who know how to really enjoy it.

               – It is science. It’s art. Juggling. It’s dance.

And I’m sure the list could go on and on. One day, maybe in 35 years’ time – Will I still be doing English-French translation? – I might still add items to this list…

PS: talking about tennis, I didn’t mean to generalise. That wasn’t even the goal. Much of this would also apply to a number of other individual sports or any challenging thing one might practise.

Translation – Buy It, Sell It, Love It

become more visible in France

Are you doing everything to get your company to become more visible to a worldwide audience?

Chances are that your competitors are localizing their technical, marketing, and educational messages so that these documents are more accessible to their clients.

More and more businesses are building websites that include information in other languages in order to reach a wider audience and become more visible. And it isn’t just international audiences that need these multilingual sites. Canada is an extremely diverse country. Take Vancouver as an example. More than half of the city’s population claim a language other than English as their native language, meaning that businesses that demonstrate a willingness and ability to speak in these languages are far more likely to enjoy growth and success.

Did you know that …

  • More than 70% of all web surfers prefer to speak and read in a language other than English?
  • More than half of all search queries on Google are done in a language other than English?
  • People are three times more likely to buy your product or service if information is available in their native language?

Enlisting the help of a professional translator to localize your print and online messages can be exactly what your company needs in order to grow, tap into an increasingly diverse market and become more visible.

The choice is yours! Trust the professionals!