Translation in the time of COVID-19 – Part 2 of 2

Translation in the time of COVID-19 – Part 2 of 2

The language of the pandemic

During these trying times, history is being written before our eyes. As conveyors of information, language professionals must carefully choose their words in order to get the information across to a very broad audience and bring people closer despite the distance separating them.

Such thoughtful linguistic decisions have pushed the World Health Organization to adopt particular words or structures when addressing COVID-19, choices which then trickle down to the media, our texts and ultimately the general public. As an example, to fully understand the nature of this crisis, distinctions had to be made between an infectious disease and a contagious disease, and between case fatality rate and infection fatality rate. The use of words like isolation, quarantine, lockdown and health emergency has also needed refining over time. And the term social distancing has been a real head-scratcher, considering that it is the farthest thing from social. For us, after many discussions, we have chosen to take a case-by-case approach. Sometimes, you have to create and maintain social distancing, other times, you have to follow physical distancing guidelines. It’s all about context and, let’s face it, nothing about this pandemic is straightforward, with changes happening daily. And during this time, the vocabulary is also changing.

The need to work from home

As we are forced to navigate unknown territory, we have all had to change our work methods, habits and routine to some extent. Fortunately, almost all language experts were already equipped to work remotely due to the nature of their profession. At most, only a few small adjustments were needed to enable work to continue under these circumstances. This capacity to adapt easily to the situation has allowed us to be somewhat less affected by this crisis than companies in other lines of business.

Clients can continue to communicate with our project managers online. Client confidentiality and data security remain core concerns for us, and our undaunted IT team is on top of the situation. We operate through a robust IT infrastructure that enables us to continue our activities uninterrupted while meeting increased demand. There are definitely many challenges, but they are no match for our team.

Staying healthy, connected and on the job

For a good many of us, we are experiencing the impact of this crisis in three ways.

First, we need to meet exponentially greater demand for language services. Each of us also has to juggle our personal circumstances around working from home, shopping for groceries or medication, and caring for children, elderly parents or other vulnerable people in our lives. And lastly, we have to comply with the measures in place and to take care of our own physical and mental health so that we can continue working and meeting client needs.

At a time when thousands of workers across all sectors have been laid off, those of us fortunate enough to keep working have a civic duty to continue providing essential services that support our economy, to the extent possible. We don’t really know what tomorrow holds. We could get lost in idle speculation, but one thing is certain: as long as there is information to share and rendered in another language, we will be there.

Translation in the time of COVID-19 – Part 2 of 2

Translation in the time of COVID-19 – Part 1 of 2

During this unprecedented global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light, like never before, on how we are all connected. At the time of writing, half of the world is in lockdown while certain countries are taking timid steps toward reopening. Ironically, the affliction that is bringing us together is also forcing us to keep our distance from one another. Solidarity is no longer expressed as a group, but rather through isolation. In this context, communication is critical: for the battle to be won, relevant information has to quickly reach millions of people living in isolation, so that they can comply with the most recent health and hygiene measures. In other words, we are relying on up-to-date, factual information to help us eventually contain the pandemic. And that work—which is truly a race against the clock—must be done in all languages and on all fronts.

A general call to arms

Under normal circumstances, our society already produces masses of documents. In this new reality, we’re witnessing an explosion of news, press releases, policies, directives, product and service offers, and restrictions. Enormous amounts of written material are being generated.

Spring had not yet sprung before the pandemic pulled the rug out from under us. The coronavirus went from being headline news to monopolizing the entire mediascape in just a few days. In the blink of an eye, our inboxes saw an onslaught of COVID-19-related emails: ongoing memos from employers about measures being taken, meeting postponements, and trip, course and outing cancellations. Our favourite stores closed. For over two months, society has been at a standstill. Your world has gotten smaller, and who knows for how much longer.

Far from the front lines, language professionals are in a relay race of receiving, reworking, tightening or translating documents containing critical information, often at remarkable speeds.

An essential service

Access to information has always been important; now it is vital. Translation services play an essential role in effective communication, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased translation needs tenfold. Companies have to keep clients, employees, suppliers and business partners informed of the measures they have put in place, as well as their guidelines for remote work and hygiene etiquette, new schedules and delivery procedures. This crucial information is disseminated via email, social media or the company’s website.

At Idem, millions of words cross our screens. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, each government press briefing triggers a new wave of requests for language professionals. As a team, we have to work hand-in-hand to be ready to act practically day and night to meet this burgeoning demand.

The information has to circulate simultaneously in both official languages, making translation an essential service. This is especially the case when the documents come from organizations that also provide essential services to a vulnerable population.

Our experienced internal staff are fully engaged, and can rely on the invaluable support of a large pool of external collaborators. Urgent projects follow one after the other, and quality can never be compromised. For that, language professionals have to be on the ball and mentally prepared to find exactly the right words regardless of the tight deadlines.

Lost in translation

Lost in translation

We’ve all gotten a good chuckle out of badly translated restaurant menus. “Choice of flat” for plat au choix, “expensive customers” for chers clients… Sadly, bungled translations are commonplace. Whether they’re the unfortunate result of first-generation machine translations or the work of people unfamiliar with the dictionary, these kinds of mistakes happen when context is not taken into account. If you’re in England looking for a flat (British for “apartment”), you certainly won’t find it in a restaurant!

Anyone can make a mistake, but not everyone can translate. A dictionary and translation software are useful—essential even. However, to translate effectively using these tools, you must already be proficient in the language and understand that meaning is dictated by a variety of linguistic, geographic and cultural factors.

From a linguistic point of view, when explorer Jacques Cartier came upon the cape on the Gaspé Peninsula between Percé and Grande-Rivière and called it Cap‑d’Espoir (“Cape of Hope”), little did he know that the cape’s name would later take on the opposite meaning, Cap-Désespoir, as the English referred to it as “Cape Despair.”[1] Some knowledge of geography and botany can also be useful in translation. For example, while there were no apple trees in biblical lands, the Bible refers to the forbidden fruit as an apple! This results from an incorrect translation of the Latin word pomum, which means any fruit, not specifically the fruit of an apple tree (malum). It’s more likely that the fruit Eve supposedly picked from the tree of knowledge and gave to Adam to eat was a fig.[2]

As amusing as such blunders may be, there have been cases where translation errors have had catastrophic repercussions. According to some sources, the bombing of Hiroshima resulted from such an error. When the Allies called for Japan’s unconditional surrender, journalists wanted to find out how the Japanese authorities would react. Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki replied that he “was withholding comment for the moment.” He used the word mokusatsu, which has several possible meanings. News agencies and translators took it to mean “to treat with silent contempt” or “not worthy of comment,” and thus erroneously quoted the Prime Minister as saying that he was rejecting the ultimatum.[3] We all know what happened next.

More recently, during the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008, Russia and Georgia were both claiming the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A ceasefire agreement might have been signed, but the Russians had left tanks in territory considered to belong to Georgia. A subtlety in the Russian translation was supposedly the source of this misunderstanding, which prolonged the war by a month. It seems that only the English document specified that the Russian forces had to withdraw.[4]

The moral of the story: while anyone can make a mistake, the best way to avoid them is to use the services of a professional translation company that relies on trustworthy translators and sound processes.

[1] “Through the Lens of History: Historic, fateful or comical translation errors”

[2] Idem

[3] Idem

[4] Alféef, Emmanuelle. “Traduction : les erreurs qui ont changé la donne,” L’express. April 18, 2011.

A translator’s play-by-play

A translator’s play-by-play

I work as a translator at an agency, and my project manager has just assigned me an 800 word document. So here’s me jumping in!

I begin by checking whether the client has provided any specific instructions, and he has: “This document will be used at our members’ annual seminar.” I already get an idea of what the document is about from the file name: training_XGTmachinery.doc. It appears to be a training document for some type of machinery. Let me open the file and see…

First line: yes, the title is definitely referring to training. I’ll get back to it later once I have the big picture.

The content is pretty specialized! I’ll need to research a lot of technical terms. Luckily, the client sent us a glossary with a previous project. Phew!

I’m a third of the way through the translation and I now know this training is for a workshop for farm equipment operators. I do my best to set the right tone for the target audience and use industry terminology.

Okay, now I’m halfway done. I’ve found almost all the technical terms relating to farming equipment in the client’s glossary and some reliable online sources, but I’m still uncertain about two terms and one sentence seems to be incomplete (I think a word is missing). I’ll need to contact the client, but to avoid bothering him with several messages, I’ll combine all my questions in a single email. That means I need to scan the rest of the document to see if there are other snags. Done! I didn’t find any other issues, so I send off my questions.

We have a few questions about the document we are currently translating…

I get back to work and, in the process, I’m learning how the machines in the document are operated. No doubt about it, translation is the perfect job for enquiring minds.

The client has replied to my email. That was fast! He’s answered my questions about the two terms and confirmed that a word is indeed missing from that sentence. Oh! And he’s asked me to use an updated version of his document, which he has attached to his email.

But since the changes aren’t clearly indicated, the two documents will need to be compared. My project manager gets on it right away and sends me the new document to be translated.

I pick up where I had left off. A few sentences have changed and others added. Our translation support tools make it really easy to see the changes.

Great! I’ve finished my translation. Only the title remains, but it’ll be a whole lot easier to translate now that I know exactly what the training is about. I’d even say I feel a bit like an expert in the subject!

Rereading my document is an essential step and I always leave time for it. First, I compare the source and target documents to make sure my translation is faithful to the original. Then I check the names, figures and dates. Next, I shift my focus solely to the style of my translation to make sure it flows as smoothly and naturally as possible in English.

Final step? I run the corrector. While it’s not a perfect tool (sometimes it even makes mistakes), it’s invaluable for detecting those pesky little errors that are easy to miss and helping me to polish my final draft.

I’m really fortunate to work with talented revisers, so my document will be reread and further improved by another language professional. Now that I’m satisfied with my translation, I pass it along to my colleague for that next step. But my day isn’t over yet; other projects are already popping up and piquing my curiosity. On to the next one!

Our translation company at a glance

Idem offers a wide range of language solutions tailored to organizations of every size operating in different fields. Professionalism, receptivity and approachability have been our bywords from the start. Our approach is grounded in cooperation, strong partnerships and proven efficiency. Entrust us with your communications.
Project management: A major component of the translation process

Project management: A major component of the translation process

From the client’s first contact to the delivery of the finished document, a translation project entails many steps. And ensuring that everything runs smoothly calls for rigorous coordination, which is where project managers come in. These individuals have a complex and demanding role, overseeing all aspects related to project analysis, quotes, planning and follow-up. Their specific skills and expertise make them indispensable for the efficient operation of a translation company.

First-rate communicator

Good project managers are above all excellent communicators, with superior verbal and writing skills. They have to respond quickly to client questions and provide clear instructions to everyone working on a translation project, supporting them with tact and diplomacy every step of the way. They are the focal point of each project, liaising with everyone involved and effectively communicating client instructions to the language professionals so that nothing is left to chance.

Discerning analyst

Project managers are skilled at asking clients the right questions to obtain the right information. What will the document be used for? Who will read it? Will there be accompanying visuals? Are there specific constraints, such as a limited number of characters? They also meticulously document their projects to ensure that, if needed, a colleague can seamlessly step in to take over the work.

Unshakeable expert

Project management takes a cool head at all times as pressure can build quickly when unforeseen circumstances, technical difficulties and very tight deadlines pop up. When this happens, project managers need to be able to turn on a dime and be resourceful in finding a solution to each problem. And to do their job efficiently without losing time on unnecessary steps, they must have a sound work method.

Exceptional planner

Project managers must always be on top of their game and highly familiar with their resources’ talents so they can assign the right projects to the right translators. They understand that all language professionals have their strengths and weaknesses, and some are keener about certain topics than others. For example, a project manager would assign marketing and advertising texts to more creative translators, website and software content to localization specialists, and contracts and other regulatory documents to legal translators.

Here’s how a typical translation project flows:

1. Receipt of the request: The client asks for a quote on the cost of translating documents.

2. Analysis: What type of project is it? Translation? Adaptation? Localization? How many files? What’s the total word count? Is it a rush?

3. Quote preparation: The project manager provides the client with a detailed description of the services and costs as well as an estimated delivery time.

4. Planning: Will other steps be involved on top of translation and revision? (Proofreading? Desktop publishing? Quality assurance?) Who should be used for the project? Which translators are best equipped for the mandate?

5. Follow-up: Project managers make sure everything goes as planned. They ensure that the timeline is respected, process any updates from the client and, if needed, reassign certain tasks to other collaborators.

6. Delivery: The translated documents, in layout, are returned to the client by the agreed deadline. For long-term projects with multiple documents, or if some translations are more urgent than others, file delivery may be staggered.

7. Invoicing: The project manager records the initially quoted fees and adds any discounts negotiated or offered as part of the project.

8. Archiving: The databases are updated, and the source and target files are archived in a way that ensures they can easily be traced if needed.

Project management specialists clearly play a crucial role at every step of the translation process. Versatile, resourceful and never leaving anything to chance, these qualified professionals are adept at multitasking with impressive efficiency. They ensure that the language experts always work under the best possible conditions so that the clients always get the best possible translations.

Our translation company at a glance

Idem offers a wide range of language solutions tailored to organizations of every size operating in different fields. Professionalism, receptivity and approachability have been our bywords from the start. Our approach is grounded in cooperation, strong partnerships and proven efficiency. Entrust us with your communications.