On the difficulty of bilingual blogging

I’ve been shamefully reluctant to post here, principally because of the rod I’ve set for my own back of maintaining this blog in bilingual form. My original inspiration was the marvellous Céline Graciet. But in attempting to follow her example, I have found the prospect of producing regular EN>FR translations to professional standard a great inhibition to producing even the English text!

I’d been guarding all this as a shameful secret (though my EN blogging continues happily enough), but since I read Ian Monk’s excellent piece Self-translation/Self-destruction I’ve been feeling a lot better about the difficulty. After the obligatory nod to the supreme auto-traducteur Samuel Beckett, Monk writes:

While translating someone else can be a fascinating form of “creation,” which entails grasping a text as closely as possible, then “making” another language “say the same thing,” the entire creative process has already been gone through in great depth when writing a given text for the first time. Recreating it in another language is thus not only tedious, but strangely “artificial,” and the result quite often abortive, while someone else could well have breathed new life into [it] and made it live again happily in its new linguistic world… Years later, I still write in English and French. (Why one, then the other? Sorry, that’s quite another story.) And I still translate. But never, if it can be helped, myself.

Also, producing a bilingual blog uses (and fatigues) exactly the same parts of the brain as does my FR>EN translation and EN editing work, so (happily!) silence here also reflects the fact that I’m usually busy enough doing the paid work that is now coming in regularly enough for me not to worry too much about “marketing myself online.”

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To the business fair

Douglas CARNALL meets Olivier BRETON at the Salon d'Entrepreneurs in Nantes, 21 November 2012

Douglas CARNALL meets Olivier BRETON at the Salon d'Entrepreneurs in Nantes, 21 November 2012

Being an auto-entrepreneur means invitations to various business seminars and fairs regularly arrive by post and email. I’m somewhat allergic to “business” per se, but the conventional wisdom is that finding direct clients is the key to success as a translator. And it’s quite fun to don a suit and hustle round some exhibition booths indulging in the pleasant game of business card exchange.
I went to a couple of talks to keep my ear in. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know the French talent for obscuring any topic behind a palisade of incomprehensible acronyms has not diminished. If I relocate to Sarthe (72) I can get my rent subsidised for a couple of years, and various loans at very favourable interest rates. If I employ someone who’s been unemployed for a long time, a troubled inner city youth, a disabled person, or can represent my activity as good for the environment, ditto. All this seems very sensible policy, but it’s not really my principal concern.
As I suspected, most of the businesses and organisations represented were either squarely parochial or long-established multinationals: in general the former have little need for language services and the latter are already doing business with a translation house of commensurate scale.
I talked to a few software providers about my own requirements for billing software that supports multiple currencies (answer: that’s gonna cost ya), received an offer from Loire-Atlantique’s premier business newsletter should I wish to do direct mail marketing, agreed to be interviewed by some business students about being “an entrepreneur,” and met a lovely booth rep who aspires to be a UN conference interpreter. All very pleasant and sociable, but I was beginning to be a little disheartened to not even have found one new client, when I ran into Olivier Breton (pictured). That bike of his looks wacky, but in fact it’s a very comfortable riding position (I tried it). And he needs some T&Cs translating into English. Hoorah!

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Two bilingual texts to admire

One naive imagination I held which has been cruelly shattered is that I would be able to advertise my talents merely by linking to the work that I have done when it is published online. Of course, such projects are the exception not the rule: naturally I have to guard the majority of the work I have done—on individuals’ medical and psychological casenotes—in strict confidence.
However, two articles I have translated have now appeared online in bilingual form, and it is a great pleasure to link to them. Both are by my client Youmna Ovazza, a mover and shaker in the digitization of French businesses in the brave new world of social networking online. The first, On Community Management, is an interesting reflection on how Web 2.0 wreaks change on the organisation of companies’ relations with customers and the wider public; and the second, on Sustainable Management, reflects on her experiences managing the companies and teams who do this. As on this blog, you can toggle between the English and French versions on her site, which might be fun for you, if you like that sort of thing.
The appearance of these translations is very satisfying. A text that you wrote, but did not write, appears before you on the screen. A most mysterious and miraculous phenomenon, and I trust that the results are a smooth and effortless read, which in no way reflects the considerable mental labour involved in their production.

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Developing a bilingual site using WordPress

Well, as you can see, there’s rather a nice little pair of flags to the right of this entry, which enable you to toggle between French and English. This feature comes thanks to the excellent qTranslate plugin for WordPress, which provides a reasonably comfortable framework for bilingual blogging. The install was straightforword, though it did introduce a little bug that temporarily trashed date formatting. The solution was easy to find: the qTranslate community are natural documenters it seems, and Google’s indexes had done their work.
A bilingual blog is more than twice the work, but it’s essential for the aspiring translator I think, and most educational.

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The rough school of online translation help

In my quest for at least enough prominence to earn a modest living, I participate in the KudoZ forums at Proz.com. Working translators pose tough terms for others to discuss and propose translations. Each accepted answer earns a few points, whose value is to enhance your ranking in searches for translators at the site.

I’ve got the site configured to send me the questions by email, and I try to respond quickly to those that are within my competence. By dint of an assiduous couple of months glued to my screen, I’ve finally amassed enough points to hit the front page! I rank 25 23 20 19 13 10 of 715 site members who translate from French to their native English with expertise in medicine.

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infrastructure update

I’m in rather a good mood with my technology today, after the recent hassles. The new laserwriter installed with only the minimum of configuration difficulty yesterday, and has been tested connected directly to the laptop and to the network. My recent travails with an update to Ubuntu 11.04 are over: I decided to revert to 10.10 for the time being, and normal service has been restored after several hours of mostly straightforward effort.

I’m now running LibreOffice 3.3.2 which is eight months newer than the default Ubuntu 10.10 install, and will hopefully prove more stable than its predecessor. Although I’m using Firefox 3.6.17 as I write this, I’m finding Chromium 11 very nice to use, especially in the limited screen real estate of the netbook: it’s definitely quicker than Firefox 3.x. I had a brief encounter with Firefox 4.0.1 and it did seem brisker, but I’ve also read comments that it’s a still a bit beta-ish round the edges, so I’m going to hold off the install for now.

And as you’re reading this, you’ll see that I’m finally getting round to hacking in WordPress: the import of the The Proceedings of Cabinet Beezer from blogger.com was a real treat: a three-step click-click-click of a most wondrous kind.

The next step is to bi-lingualise the site, and it looks like there are various templates and plugins out there that should help considerably, e.g. qTranslate, so look out!

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Is proprietary translation support software worth it?

I’m a happy Ubuntu user, but the reality is that there are still a lot of Word files flying around in the commercial environment. A combination of Open Office and OmegaT seems to handle them quite well, but on my latest job I experienced a number of formatting difficulties that had to be corrected manually, which was both time-consuming and introduced a new potential source for error.

Open Office crashed on me recently, just as I was tweaking a final .docx file before sending it off. Its automated recovery process then recovered the file to a previous version, causing errors to be reintroduced that had already been corrected in a proofing stage. This was vexing, and required another round of corrections.

One obvious way to avoid such problems in future would be to use the industry standard proprietary solutions. I priced this today: Microsoft Office plus SDL Trados Studio 2009 would be at least 650 euros, a considerable overhead given prevailing market rates for translation.

The decision for the time being is to upgrade to the latest and greatest LibreOffice, and persist with OmegaT, but it’s under review. Version control problems caused by software crashes are most unwelcome.

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Running with the ProZ

I regularly update a list of significant projects on my professional profile at Proz.com. I recently paid for full membership to the site in order to bid for a job going by within my fields of interest: and landed it! Which was pleasing. The short test translation of 50 French words translated straight-forwardly into 38 words in English. The site announced ten bids for the job when I went back to look a few hours later, but it was my bid that received a return offer towards the end of the afternoon last Tuesday.

The work required the translation from the French to English of several abstracts and full papers for a specialist healthcare conference to be held later this year. Of the full papers, the longer was fully within the scope of my professional interests in health care and information technology; the other had some straight-forward clinical material, combined with some technical detail in a subject that I have to confess I had contemplated only in the most superficial way in the past.

The search for background information online to assist in my comprehension of this arcana was necessarily brisk, as the first tranche of the delivery had a deadline less than forty eight hours away. That slight hump surmounted, the deadline was easily met.

The longer paper, due last, has had its moments, as my dear old Aunt Margaret used to say, but I now have the comfortable satisfaction of a fair copy of the final draft circulating in-house for minor corrections fully 24 hours before I had initially planned to send it off, and 36 hours inside the deadline.

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Revealing my brilliance as a translator to the world

All my work so far has come from personal contacts, but it’s not enough to live on. Sites such as proz.com and translatorscafe offer the prospect of getting work from around the world, but it’s not so easy: there are 15,478 translators offering my language pair on proz.com for example. I am buried in a heap of translators, many much more qualified than I, and with decades of experience. No fewer than 7313 claim competence in medical translation. As on all search engines, the question of ranking is key.
There are two obvious ways to increase this ranking: one is to cough up the cash (114 euros/year) to join the site; this would reduce my competitors to a mere 978 others. The other way is to answer so-called KudoZ questions: tricky questions of terminology asked online by other translators. I tune in to this every day using an RSS feed, but they are indeed tricky. When I do know the answer, I have mostly found that the question has already been answered by someone else. As this means that their answer is more likely to have been agreed by peers coming later to the question, it is they who get the points. Still, this morning I received an email informing me of my first four points. Hooray! But some of my colleagues have thousands… ulp!

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Adding Scribus and OmegaT to the infrastructure

Set off on the latest job expecting to meander: and duly did, getting somewhat bogged down in software issues, rather than Just Doing The Work.

The job, through an agency, was delivered as reasonable photocopies of the paper originals as the source text for the job. And at the weekend, and by hand, no less. Searching around on the internet for guidance (for example), it seems that delivering a reasonable facsimile of the original layout to ease later official scrutiny seems to be the way to go.

Of course, if all we had were a manual typewriter we could do a reasonable job, providing the font sizes in our original were more or less congruent with what our typewriter could do, and we had a pasteup board, T-squares and set squares, metal rule, craft knife, cowgum et cetera to hand.

But please! This is the second decade of the twenty-first century: surely we can do a little better than that?

Well, of course you can. Running Ubuntu 10.10 on a 380 euro netbook (it’s an ASUS EEEPC1015N which is already a nice start, with (a first ever, in my humble experience with the Ubuntu install since ~5.x) scan/print/text/openoffice/ all JustWorking(TM) straight off the default+latest_updates install.

Well, if I was using the Mac for this about 1995, I would have certainly used either PageMaker or Quark on Mac OS 7.x (with a laserwriter available), but the final artwork would have been camera-ready, possibly still with some pasted (physically, with Pritt(TM)) elements on the original. This means mounting it on board, which adds to the longterm storage and archiving problems.

Now, with Scribus and OmegaT both readily available for GNU/Linux (with a bit of googling, and the goodness of apt-get) there seemed no very good reason not to plunge in, and try to use both for the translation task in hand.

Ahem! I am afraid I am that both inexperienced and impatient user that they’re looking for :-)

Still, it seemed reasonable to file a bug report when a preferences dialog ignored users of 10 inch screens. The Scribus project follows best practice in the free software community in enabling bug reporting and tracking in a completely open way.

Well, as is so often the way when we seek the goodness and wisdom of gnu, time passes pleasantly and copiously while you check versions and updates and reviews online in preparation for your big splashy launch. And after all, if you can set up something that’s nice to use that is completely free, that is a considerable saving in annual overheads, in comparison with signing a license agreement for the proprietary software (Trados, Wordfast, etc etc) and paying handsomely for the privilege. Wouldn’t it, I thought, be nice if I could actually (i) solve all the install problems, and (ii) get the first page (of ten) actually done. By five.

I had high hopes. The morning came and went. I cooked for my lovelies, but then got straight back to the office as they siesta’d after lunch. Fortunately Trevor was rockin’ online.

By four, it was obvious we were going to crack it. Well, the Scribus part of the equation. But the technique is apparently to deliver up all the text to Scribus already formatted in OpenOffice (any 3.x should be OK, I run the Oracle branded 3.2 that was the default in Maverick Meerkat 10.10), and then import the text at the last minute. Along the way we sucked our teeth at the lack of undo in the built-in text editor, though that feature’s apparently on its way.

So I still haven’t translated a line, but it was Sunday after all, and you’ve got to sharpen the saw.

Posted in ASUSEEEPC1015N, certificates, libreoffice, OmegaT, openoffice, scribus, translation | 2 Comments