Tag cloud from my recent 140k word translation project

Tag cloud from my recent 140k word translation project

This is what kept me busy in the past few months… Now I created a tag cloud from the most frequent phrases in the project

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Translating genealogy documents

If you are a true American, you must have some interesting ethnic background from at least 4 different countries. If you are a true American, you don’t speak any of your ancestors’ mother tongues, even if your own grandparents made the move to the New World. And, if you are a true American, you search your own family tree for generations back, because those roots are vitally important.

And so was born the niche market of translating genealogy documents. Some of these include illegible marriage certificates from 1872 issued in the church of a remote village in European country that ceased to exist a long time ago. If you’re a bit luckier, you may have to work from scanned newspaper clippings from 1906.

Occasionally I receive such documents from a particular client of mine (of course, based in the U.S.) to translate from Hungarian into English.  Luckily, English to Hungarian assigments come much more often. I say luckily, since such documents are produced nowadays by curious Americans who want to build their family tree, and somehow wish to communicate with remote kins who were left behind in the old country.

One recurring assignment comes from St. Louis, Missouri, from a keen amateur genealogist, who managed to trace back his ancestry to the 15th century, or so he claims. Apparently his family is from Moravia, what is now part of the Czech Republic. Throughout the centuries, his forefathers spread to Poland, Hungary, Austria… and France.  At some point a direct ancestor escaped France and settled in England, which proved to be a springboard for a later generation to emigrate to the United States some time in the early 1800’s.

Now this gentleman in St. Louis used the services of a professional genealogist, and found a few hundred people around the world with the same family name. He produced a nice CD-ROM with a captivating family story, had it translated into a dozen or so languages, including Hungarian, and he’s asking for current family photos to be included in future editions.

From a translator’s point of view, such documents offer a rare multilingual challenge. For this particular client I had to correct the spelling of some Czech, Polish and other European place names.  I even had to correct the dates of some historical events, which may have been overlooked by the researching genealogist.

All in all, translating such documents is a welcome retreat from technically monotonous manuals and GUI strings 🙂

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Freelancing while travelling

One of the key benefits of being a freelance translator is that you have full control over your working schedule.  Well, sort of.  Yes, you may take as much holiday as you want, but then again you have to keep your clients, and keep your clients satisfied.

While others may imagine a freelancer idling away his time in a hammock on a white sandy beach, the reality is different.  First of all, you MUST take your notebook with you. When you search for accommodation, the most important factor is a reliable and fast internet connection, before anything else such as good location or a view over the sea.  Personally, the last time I travelled without my notebook was almost 10 years ago (but then I managed to be offline for two months – and my clients still came back to me after I returned…).

A conscientious freelance translator advises his clients several weeks in advance of any holiday.  I usually send out such alerts about two weeks before I leave: if any client has any  job that’s just waiting to be dispatched, they can send it earlier so that I can finish as much work as possible before I even leave for the much deserved holiday.

Now, for some unknown reason, if you have, say, eight regular clients that provide you with a steady supply of work, all eight are somehow mysteriously connected. They all send you the triple of their regular weekly workload just three days before you take your plane. Just when you need to dedicate more time to travel preparations (buying insurance, printing out boarding passes, packing, buying presents for your hosts, etc.), you’re suddenly flooded with last-minute work.  OK, not all of them is due before you leave, but certainly you don’t want to spend the first few days of travel typing away on your notebook.

You send out another e-mail to all clients 12 hours before you need to go to the airport (obviously placing all email addresses in the BCC field). If your flight is on a weekday afternoon, you find an urge to check your emails one last time before boarding, even if you only have 5 minutes left after a tedious process of clearing security.

On the first week of your holiday, your clients still pretty much remember that you have sent them an email about your absence – and they send you only small jobs that you readily accept, just to keep them happy. (And not to give them any chance to try other translators in your language pair…)

On the second week clients seem to have forgotten your being on holiday, or there’s simply a global conspiracy against you… the point is they start to have increasing demands that you cannot simply placate by working 2 hours every night after the kids are finally put to bed.

Last Tuesday, just as I was walking among beautifully preserved Roman mosaics in Northern Morocco, I received a phone call. First it seemed strange as my phone displayed a Moroccan number. I answered the phone all the same, and it turned out to be my Swiss client, asking me a bit unpatiently why I hadn’t replied their email that had been sent just an hour earlier.  I told them about my holiday and the email alerts, but obviously they forgot.  Anyway, I asked about the word count and the deadline – and I happily accepted the job that has a dealine later this week. In fact, as soon as I post this on my blog, I’ll start working on this 10k job.  I’ll receive payment for this some time in April – and it will retrospectively cover most of the expenses we had during two weeks of budget travel in Morocco 🙂

And the last time I checked my emails before taking the plane back home – a US client sent me a massive job of some 60k words: this will surely keep me busy till Easter… when I take another week of holiday (strictly in a place with good wifi coverage).

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Networking friends with benefits

In quick succession, I was contacted twice via my LinkedIn profile by prospective new clients.  I joined this professional networking site about the same time as I joined Facebook, in 2007.  For years, it seemed this was just another social network site where it’s nice to be present, but no tangible benefits were in store.

Well, no tangible benefits until a few weeks ago. A few days before Christmas a direct client contacted me from Hong Kong, a law firm specialized in patents. Just when I was hoping to do some last minute Christmas shopping and buy a tree at the local market, I had to quote on a highly technical text.  The client accepted my higher-than-the-average quote, I brushed up my high school physics, and delivered the project in the first week of January as agreed. As of last Friday, the payment was already on its way 🙂

Now another prospective client contacted me, this time from the U.S., with a large and interesting job. We’ve been in touch before, but now that I browsed through my email correspondence with them, I realized they had also contacted me first via LinkedIn back in 2010, but our first actual project will start only now.

I do encourage all freelance translators out there to be active on LinkedIn. It does pay off to be connected to former classmates, other translators, project managers, former non-translator colleagues, etc.  It’s a good idea to join several interest groups. There are many that are related to the translation business, these are obvious starting points. But if you have any specialties, join those professional groups as well, whether it be IT development, medical imaging or lean manufacturing. In such groups, you may be THE translator, the first point of contact for prospective and hopefully well-paying direct clients.

A recently introduced feature on LinkedIn allows you add “skills” to your profile from a pre-determined set. For example, my profile includes skills such as “Localization”, “Medical devices”, “Financial translation”, “MemoQ”, etc.  These labels will help others to find you if they are specifically looking for translators with such skills.

Good old offline social networking may also bring you new clients. A few years ago a direct client, a manufacturer of a specific machinery contacted me from California. They received my name and contact details from this Italian translator they had been working with.  And the Italian translator happened to be a colleague I had met at an international translators’ conference in Poland a couple of years earlier.  When the Californian manufacturer asked her if she could recommend a good Hungarian translator, she gave them my details, as I was the only Hungarian translator she knew (and luckily enough for the client, I also happen to be a good one).  Networking does pay off, as I received the client’s 20k word job.

If you’re a freelancer who spends way too much time in front of an LCD screen, cut off from the real world, it’s compelling to attend translator conferences in your own country and abroad.  For example, Proz.com conferences are great events to mingle. Hand out and collect business cards, and quickly follow up by adding people on Facebook and LinkedIn (nobody will keep those business cards anyway…).

To round off my post in style, I’d like to ask you to “like” my blog (in the upper right corner of this page).  You’ll be better off as you’ll receive useful updates from me, and I’ll also benefit from the greater visibility of my translation blog 🙂

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What I did in 2011

When you translate/edit/review one assignment after the other, you don’t even realize just how many you do in a whole year.  Now I did just that: I made a quick count of how many translation assignments I worked on in 2011.

In my regular folders I found 315 projects for a total of 22 clients. These jobs covered almost 50 brands, incuding Agfa, Burger King, Citi, Dymo, to name but a few from the beginning of the alphabet. Now, most of these were small repeat jobs, but a few do stand out.

In February I was asked to do a 15k French into Hungarian legal translation, which seemed a routine task at first, but when I actually received the source text, it turned out that it’s heavy on biochemistry. Luckily enough there’s a pharmacist in the family, so within a couple of days I was fully aware of cycloalkylenes, inferior alkylydenes and similar delights.

Most of April saw me busy with another challenging project, this time in the field of lean management. In this case the terminology did not pose a major problem (a “kaizen” is a “kaizen”, after all). The source file was a large Excel file with 11 tabs. The challenge lay in finding a smart way to extract translatable text, process it in my CAT tool (which was still my long-lasting companion, Deja Vu X), then export the translated text, and finally make sure that everything looks exactly the same as in the source.

In mid-July I found a couple of slower days, and this proved to be the right moment to switch to a new CAT tool, MemoQ. Even though I prurchased the software back in April, I hadn’t had the time to learn it on a new project until July. It was an instant love, and I’m using it ever since, learning new functionalities as deemed necessary by upcoming projects.

In September I was busy working for a Canadian direct client that produces smart payment cards. Once again, the source file was an Excel file, and a rather complex one at that. Here all the cells included untranslatable codes, so I had to find ways to strip cell content into translatable strings of text. I had to rely heavily on Excel’s text functions. For some tabs, I had to export Excel content into Word where I had to record a few simple macros to get rid of untranslatable characters. Obviously I could’t simply delete unwanted characters, I had to hide them instead.  When the entire process was over, I had to unhide everything so that the final delivered documents includes all these garbled looking code again.

The next interesting job I did in November, when I was selected as a “second reviewer” for this challenging task.  The source text consisted of several individual “passages” and 3 to 6 related statements for each passage. The purpose of the text was to evaluate the reader’s level of comprehension.  After reading the passage, the reader is supposed to the read the statements and decide whether they are true, false or “cannot say”. A translator translated all text first, then two separate translators created back-translations into English (one native English, one native Hungarian).  The end client then came back with some questions regarding any mistranslations. My task was to compare all these texts (original source, first translation, both back-translations, client’s comments) and come up with a final and perfect localized version.  It was a fun project and a great intellectual challenge 🙂

Apart from these, I did my routine repeat jobs for long-standing clients: manuals for medical imaging equipment, smart teaching techology, and many more; codes of conduct, training materials, web copies, ad campaigns, corporate communication campaigns, etc.

The new year starts off with another busy period.  As of today, my capacities are fully booked until mid-January.  Bear with me if you can’t see any new blog posts: it means I’m busy translating.

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What a difference a phoneme makes

What a difference a phoneme makes


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Two most expected translator conferences in 2012

The 2012 dates of two established annual events for freelance translators are now announced.

Proz.com‘s international conferences have been around since 2004, and have been taking place at different locations almost every year since then.  In fact, one of the most successful conferences from this series took place in Budapest in 2007…  organized single-handedly by this freelance translator 🙂

Next year’s conference will be held in Barcelona on the June 9/10 weekend.  Registration is likely to open soon, but even now you can sign up for the mailing list.  Conference program and participation fees are likely to be posted in the near future.  Usually a great international bunch of 250 to 300 freelance translators gather for these informative and fun-packed events.

Kilgray, the Hungarian developer of the up-and-coming CAT tool MemoQ, have also been organizing their own ‘user conferences’ in the past few years in Budapest. The 2012 event, called MemoQFest, will take place between 9 and 11 May (Wednesday to Friday).  In addition to learning about new features of their tool, as well as industry trends, every night there’s also some fun event waiting for the unsuspecting participant. To quote the event’s website, if you do not want to miss anything, consider booking your trip from Monday till Sunday (7-13. May, 2011).

Last year’s MemoQFest attracted some 200 international participants. With MemoQ’s fast-paced growth in the CAT tool market, that number is likely to be significantly higher this time around.

Both events are likely to attract mostly European participants, but experience suggests that up to 10% come from further afield.  Save the dates now!



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