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Note Aramis Translation is closed. This Page is left in the hope that it will still be useful to someone

Do you need a linguist?

Let's look first at the issues involved.

You may think that technology has progressed to the point where, certainly as far as written translation is concerned, one no longer needs human intervention. If you do need that human touch, what sort of linguist do you need?

  • Machine translation (MT)/Computer Aided Translation (CAT)
  • MT is translation done entirely by a computer algorithm. It is certainly getting better but there is a very long way to go before it can do a perfect translation (What is a perfect translation?). For business purposes that means a translation that conveys the whole sense of the original without ambiguity. However, where a more literary style is required it cannot cope with producing anything that doesn't sound rather stilted.
    It is the sort of thing you get if you hit "Google Translate" (or similar) button on a website.
    Whilst it will sometimes produce whole sentences that are perfectly correct, you are just as likely to get nonsense, since the computer programs have no way of recognising context. Take the word "well" for example. It can be a noun, verb, adverb or an interjection. It has that many and more meanings in English. So, when the MT software encounters it when translating, say into French, it will choose one of the possible French words at random.
    Is it useful?
    Yes, for online documents and if you only need to get the gist of what a document is saying but you need to be very wary of a crucial word having been mis-translated.

    CAT is software used by professional translators mainly to ensure consistency through their work - translating the same phrase the same way every time it occurs in a document, for example. It can sometimes also speed up the work.
    Is it useful?
    Yes but not directly to the client needing a translation.

  • Interpreter
  • An interpreter conveys the meaning of the spoken word.
    He listens to what is said by person A in one language and repeats it to person(s) B in another and possibly vice versa.
    Interpretation can be done in two ways "simultaneous" (sometimes called "whispered") and "consecutive".
    Simultaneous is the sort of thing that you may see at a conference or at intergovernmental talks, where the delegates are wearing headphones listening to the interpreter repeat as the speaker goes along.
    Consecutive is usually in a one-to-one situation, where the speakers pause every sentence or two and allow the interpreter to convey what has just been said.
    Which do I need?
    It depends on the context. Some interpreters will only take on consecutive work. Simultaneous interpreters command the highest fees since the skills involved are even greater and probably more stressful and tiring and one can only work for fairly short periods.

  • Translators
  • A Translator looks at the written word and conveys its meaning in another language.
    Those translators who are members of one of the professional bodies will usually translate in one direction - from a source language to a target language which is their native tongue or language of habitual use. In the latter case, where his/her use of his/her adoptive language is up to native speaker level, he/she will sometimes translate in both directions.
    Many translators work from only one source language but others will offer several.
    In order to have a trading edge, many translators will offer a specialism in a particular field of which they have knowledge.
    So, if you want a highly technical document about nuclear engineering translated you would not look for someone who specialises in literary translation.
    When do I need a translator? When you need documents accurately translated so that there can be no confusion by either party as to what the originals mean - obviously pretty important if you are about to sign a contract that might have dire consequencies for your company if you have mis-understood the terms!

  • Finding your linguist
  • 1. Languages company or agency
    You could delegate the job to a languages company or agency. A translation company may have in house translators who will process your document or they may commission it from a freelance translator. An agency will simply do the latter. Bigger companies will offer translations from a multitude of languages. The better companies will then have the work checked for accuracy before sending it to the client. This costs extra and, of course it wants its profit on top. So using a company as opposed to an individual translator costs considerably more.
    The company may employ interpreters whom they allocate as appropriate or, again they may commission a freelancer. As with translation there are add-on costs.
    2. Freelance Translator/Interpreter
    He/she will take commissions either from the above or from direct clients. In the case of translators, the work is completed and either sent to the company, which eventually sends the finalised work to the client or, in the case of direct clients it is sent to the client. Some freelancers have a working arrangement with a colleague to proofread each other's work. In the case of interpreters the same applies as to how they find work. When they are working under a company, the company will sometimes ask the client for feedback on performance as a quality assurance measure. Many professional translators are members of one or both of the two main professional bodies:

    CIOL       ITI

    Standards/Quality: Like finding a plumber or electrician who does a good job and doesn't overcharge, without a recommendation, it might seem a bit of a lottery. Given the standards required to achieve full membership of one of the professional institutes, this does give some measure of quality. All full members of the two institutes have to either pass the body's own translating diploma or have an equivalent qualification such as an MA in translation. In the former cases the pass mark could be said to be close to 100% - one serious mistake and it's a fail. This does not mean that all those who set themselves up as linguists and who are not a member of either body is not capable of producing professional standard work. However, as in most walks of life, there are cowboys around.
    The situation with interpreters is similar. The Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DiPSI) is aimed mainly at legal, social and health service work but is taken as as general indicator of the ability to translate at a professional level. A DiPSI qualification is now virtually compulsory for working in any government related field in the UK. Most work in those sectors tends to be consecutive, so the DiPSI may not mean that the person takes on the more taxing simultaneous translating.
    3. Where to find your linguist
    Obviously these day many people turn instantly to the internet and use their favourite search engine.
    Alternatively there are the online or paper directories such as Yellow Pages.
    Both companies and individual linguists can be found this way.
    Both the professional bodies have a system on their web site for finding a linguist.In both cases it allows you to set various parameters to limit the search results to suit your needs.

New to doing business abroad? see the New to trading abroad? page.

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