North East Linguistic Picnic – 5 July

For the first time in a long time – perhaps ever – we are planning to hold a large, regional-based event in our very own corner of the world! All linguists in the north-east – translators, interpreters, teachers, lecturers, students – are welcome to attend our “Linguistic Picnic” at Saltwell Park, Gateshead, on 5 July.

If it’s sunny we’ll be outside enjoying the lovely surroundings, but if it’s raining we’ll be inside enjoying the imposing surroundings of Saltwell House.

For more information, please check out our facebook page

or click on the following link to download the information and contact info should you have any further questions: ITI NERG Linguistic Picnic July 5th Gateshead

Alternatively, feel free to leave a comment or follow the blog for updates and info!

We look forward to seeing some familiar faces from ITI NERG, and some new ones if you haven’t  been to an event before! If you live further away from Newcastle/Gateshead, this would be a perfect opportunity to plan a summery day trip out, make some new friends and network with a group of enthusiastic colleagues!

See you in Saltwell Park!


NWTN BOOST YOUR SKILLS DAY – 8th February 2014, YHA Manchester

The downside: Manchester is a bit too far to get to from Hexham and Newcastle for a 9:30 start. The upside: that’s an excuse for the NERG contingent to make a weekend of it and stay overnight…

I certainly didn’t want to miss the varied selection of speakers on offer at this year’s ‘Boost…’ day hosted by the North West Translators’ Network. I had attended a previous event at the YHA so I suspected the company and refreshments would be good. What I didn’t know was quite how wide a spectrum of approaches would be represented and discussed: the day proved even more eye-opening than anticipated.

The other attendees seemed similarly enthusiastic, so there was a real buzz as the day began with Chris Durban’s presentation on ‘Working the Room’. She held our attention as she challenged some commonly-held attitudes and advocated her alternative approach.

The main challenge was to cut our ties with the ‘poverty cult’ which ultimately gives translators an inferiority complex. (Chris describes this in a recent ITI blog post: One simple message was that not investing in your business may prevent you from reaping rewards later on. Another positive spin-off of the confident approach Chris advocated is that prospective clients find you personable. This is necessary if you are to attract ‘good clients’ who are passionate about their work, have comfortable budgets, and deal directly with you. You will need to persuade them to trust you in an area where the cost of failure (of the translation) may be high. Conversely, the wages of success can also be high! If you are to produce convincing solutions for your customers, you will need to specialise and keep your knowledge up to date. Could you make subject-specific small talk with people who work in that field? If you first mingle with your potential customers and establish yourself, your expertise and brand/personality, it will then seem more natural when you begin to pitch your services to them.

The second speaker, Graham Cross, provided some fascinating insights into a way of working which was also specialised but very different. He described how texts could be broadly divided into ‘persuasive’ and ‘informative’ categories. Technical texts fell into the ‘informative’ camp and therefore had to make sense in real terms. A technical translation could only make sense if the translator understood what it described and reproduced this understanding in the target language; hence the absolute requirement for specialist knowledge of the relevant technical area. Graham described how his career had progressed in terms of new subject and language specialisms. Knowledge could be expanded, but boundaries must only be pushed slowly. This meant there were no leaps in the dark, and you didn’t come unstuck by taking on a language combination or subject matter you couldn’t cope with. Graham’s career progression could be seen as he described how he developed his preferred way of working. At school, he had been asked to sight translate from Latin to English in front of the class. As a professional translator, he found it quick and useful to dictate his work to a typist. The typist could often add value to the target text. This way of working involved producing a first draft which needed relatively little revision.

The third speaker was former ITI Chair Nick Rosenthal. He also advocated ‘getting it right first time’ as the first rule of quality assurance. His presentation represented a third angle on the profession: that of running a translation company. Nick pointed out that sales, management and production all contribute to a business. He made a major distinction between production- and sales-led companies. Some companies produce first, then sell their product; others sell first, then work out how they will make the product they’ve promised! Sales could come in both soft and hard varieties: some business people were more comfortable with soft sales. Soft sales in particular would certainly require patience, as lead times could be long. You might need to bid for work repeatedly, or repeat the same reasonable proposition to a potential client several times before they were in the right frame of mind or position to accept it. Although long-term relationships might be time-consuming to build, once established they would also reduce the need for overt sales input. Nick emphasised that commercial acumen was important, and questions such as whether or not to register for VAT must be addressed. Some clients took translators more seriously if they were registered, so it might harm your business if you weren’t.

To round off the ‘training’ part of the day, the speakers formed a panel for a wide-ranging discussion. Tips from the panel included:

  • Get hold of the ’industry bible’ and specialist journal for your chosen specialist area
  • You could present a ‘free trial offer’, for example by translating a CEO’s biographical paragraph into English for use in corporate publicity materials
  • Update your rates to allow for inflation
  • Outsource some functions, such as bookkeeping
  • Make sure you have and use your own set of terms and conditions
  • Retain full copyright over translated material until you receive payment in full
  • Have standard reply emails at the ready, from which you can copy and paste to save time

A busy day was rounded off nicely, with some attendees moving on to the Dog Bowl. Here was a chance to enjoy food and drink with friendly fellow translators and interpreters, and boost our bowling skills.

By Kim Sanderson (

Presentation at SOAS: “Translation Technology”, by Natascha Jaeger

Back in November, I was invited to give a presentation to the MA translation students at SOAS in London. As I had recently made the transition from in-house to freelance translator, this was a great opportunity for me to reflect on the profession. What skills will these students need to succeed in the translation world? For me, one of the answers is in the name of the module I was offered a session in: “Translation Technology”. A few years ago, this was still considered something of a bonus but I have no doubt that today’s students will be expected to know what CAT tools are available and how to use them. Yet an interest in language technology often doesn’t come naturally to the budding translator and even seasoned professionals would agree that the excitement lies in the manual aspect, the creative process, not in the applying of translation memories. An unavoidable dilemma of the modern world? I don’t think so. CAT tools do not replace the creative aspect but provide a convenient way to deal with repetitions, work with various file types and other technical/administrative concerns. In my presentation, I highlighted how technology enables me to focus on the linguistic task while working as efficiently as possible. To this aim, I included some real-life examples that illustrate how I personally make use of it and what features really stand out for me.

*** To find out what these examples are and learn more about CAT tool technology, look out for Natascha’s presentation on the same topic at the Mining Institute, Newcastle upon Tyne, in May 2014! ***

“Food & Beverages” – A look back at the translation workshop in Leeds

A very interesting, well-attended afternoon Workshop, to bring together members of ITI’s regional group in Yorkshire (YTI) and translators from the North East Regional Group (NERG) was organised by YTI on the theme of food and drink on Saturday 23 November January 2013 at the Swarthmore Education Centre in Leeds. The workshop was attended by around 45 participants, with one travelling all the way from Leicester.

Those arriving in advance of the Workshop were able to meet new and familiar colleagues, catch up on news and generally network over a delicious lunch served just next to the meeting rooms in the centre. Meanwhile, the other participants arrived and the Workshop began with the group assembling in one of the larger meeting rooms to find out how the afternoon would be organised and be divided up into their language groups.


Six languages were represented (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Portuguese) and the group was split up into 10 groups according to language pairs so that participants could put their heads together and grapple with a range of challenging texts dealing with facts about food and drink, menus, promotional leaflets, recipes, etc. The conversations were lively and it was a very useful opportunity to see how other translators deal with some of the linguistic challenges found in such texts, in particular the translation of traditional dishes and ingredients for which there may be no equivalent in the target language.


Everybody had the opportunity to network during the mid-afternoon break and to enjoy putting theory into practice by sampling some of the delicious home-made cakes. Overall, the Workshop provided an opportunity to share translation experiences and, for those who were unfamiliar with the topic of the workshop, to gain some insight into the challenges presented by translation in the food and drink sector. The Workshop was extremely well-organised by YTI’s hard-working coordinators, Charlotte Couchman and Paul Clarke, who had taken care of the photocopying and meeting arrangements and their efforts were greatly appreciated by all the participants.

Beam Me Up … communications that are lost in machine translation

While useful for communicating the basics, machine and online translation tools still can’t grasp the nuances of language

An article by Gülay Eskikaya, published online in the Guardian on Wednesday 25 September 2013, 15.00 BST (

My childhood memories of Star Trek might be hazy at best, but one image did stick in my mind. On some occasions when Captain Kirk met with an alien species he would communicate with them through a universal translation device. I can’t remember whether he flicked a switch or prodded at a device but there was definitely some intraspecies communication going on. The pointy-eared or four-eyed alien would speak in his own language but Captain Kirk and the audience would hear him in English. I remember being fascinated by this as a concept.

Fast forward four or five decades since Star Trek was conceived and there are those who would argue that we are not far off that idea. No, we’re not communicating with little green men, but with the advent of online machine translation it is so much easier to at least attempt communication with people from our own planet.

I have come across long-distance relationships, lovers cruelly divided by language as well as oceans, conducted entirely through Google Translate; language students swearing that they wouldn’t have passed exams without it. The tool was even said to have been used last year in a UK court when the court-appointed interpreter failed to arrive for the hearing – albeit just to inform the defendant that the hearing was being adjourned because the interpreter was absent.

This is good news if you need to know or communicate something quite basic or to just get the gist of a text. I recently came upon a blog and could not identify the language and just copying a few words into Google Translate did the trick (it was Swahili). It’s less good news if you have some serious stuff to translate and want your language to appear – human.

Earlier this year, there was a kerfuffle in the Turkish press after an interview with Noam Chomsky went awry. The Turkish daily, Yeni Şafak, interviewed the political commentator about developments in Egypt over email in English and then translated his answers into Turkish. In a published transcript of Chomsky’s “original” replies, the following sentence appeared: “Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West.”

When the Turkish original: “Aksine ne zaman ki her şey süt liman olur, düzene girer işte o zaman Batı’da telaş başlar” is fed into Google translate then you do indeed get that garbled English sentence above. The words “süt” and “liman” do mean milk and port on their own, but taken together they form an idiomatic expression to indicate calm.

A human translator might have put it thus: On the contrary, when everything has calmed down, then this will be when the West starts panicking.

At the moment, much of machine translation on its own is not sophisticated enough to replicate natural human language. Companies hoping to reduce sometimes considerable translation costs are attracted by a machine/human hybrid collaboration increasingly being offered by translation agencies.

This involves running texts through translation programmes and the resulting copy is post-edited by a human linguist. Of the many winners in this formula, unfortunately the translator is not one of them. Finding themselves at the bottom of a production chain, they find that they have increasingly less room to manoeuvre in a crowded market. Newbie translators, who are perhaps recent language graduates and keen to gain experience and start building their network of clients, may be more likely to be tempted by lower paying jobs such as these.

The modern world demands that messages be conveyed quickly and in a variety of languages. The British Academy’s 2011 Language Matters More and More report notes that “the proportion of internet usage conducted in English is already on the decline, falling from 51 to 29% between 2000 and 2009.” English may still be the big player on the internet but communicating globally means more languages, not less.

To that end, machine translation serves a particular purpose and serves it well. However, machines can only translate words and not meaning and will be unable to grasp concepts, abstractions or cultural references. Ultimately, machine translation fails to differentiate between the language of a literary masterpiece and a car manual, a United Nations convention and a text message. To the machine it’s one and the same.

The homogenisation of language may be the dream of science fiction writers and futurologists but even a machine programmed to have a brain the size of a planet and fed every article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica will still be missing a heart. Algorithms may be able to work well with data but can they deal with syntax, idiom or nuance? Translations should be elegant as well as accurate. Good translation is good writing which reflects a lifetime of experience, creativity and imagination.

I think Captain Kirk would agree that we are not yet in possession of that magical universal translator which will allow us to communicate effectively and accurately. I for one hope that time remains light years away.

Gülay Eskikaya is an English/Turkish interpreter and translator and runs Turkish Business Translations.

Working sustainably as a translator – time management

An article by Laura Ball, German to English translator and owner of Laurel Translations (

As a translator, you love your work. Not just the actual translation process and finding just *that* right word, but also the challenge of juggling different jobs and managing the marketing, accounting, business development and customer service aspects of the work. At the same time you are simultaneously your own boss, counsellor and friend. You enjoy being good and efficient at doing something and you thrive on the challenge, even it does get a bit much sometimes. So there’s no way you’re lazy; no way you’d be inclined to “pull a sickie”. However, every so often something strange happens. It makes no sense, you don’t know how to avoid it and you don’t know what to do about it. This is what it is:

 After I have been [working] for a few weeks, I tend to suddenly come up against a wall. I can’t stand the thought of doing another job. Sometimes I’ve even turned down a 5-word sentence, such is my disgust at the thought of doing any more work. I then spend a few days thinking very hard about what I am taking on, generally erring on the side of turning work down, until I can feel reasonably cheerful about translation again.

 If the problem resonates with you, I hope that this article will provide you with a structured way of examining your working habits and attitudes to find out why you hit this ‘wall’, what you can do when it happens and, perhaps more importantly, how to avoid hitting it in the first place. As sole traders or small business owners, one of our key concerns is to grow our business and develop client relationships. In order to do this, any business has to be sustainable. Your business model has to be viable not just in the short term, but in the long term, over ten or twenty years or even longer. A key factor in sustaining a business is to ensure that its assets are sustainable. As a translator, your single biggest asset is: you. So, sustaining your business is all about sustaining yourself. Therefore, going for coffee, going swimming at lunch time, bouldering on Friday afternoons, doing judo or even taking an afternoon off to go shopping, are all a viable, indeed necessary and integral part of running and maintaining and sustaining your business. Perhaps remembering this key factor will help you if you find yourself thinking work is somehow more morally acceptable than pleasure and that taking time off to do something fun is a tad self-indulgent. In fact, “taking time off to do something fun” is rarely self-indulgent – it is instead an important part of doing business. With this in mind, please read on to find out more about taking time off – wisely.

We all enjoy doing different activities to relax. Some of us may need more time to relax, others less. Some of us may benefit from taking regular breaks and others may prefer to work intuitively and take breaks on a more haphazard basis, as and when they feel like it. The following article will hopefully outline some of the underlying factors that make any leisure activity effective and help you to recognise what might be useful for you.

Most of us are aware of the importance of taking breaks. However, what seems to be equally important is how you spend your break. It is not enough to use your five or ten minute break to move from your desk to your sofa to read the paper. This does not involve enough of a contrast to working to give your brain the rest and variety that it needs. From comments mae by other translators, the types of activities that you can do during a break to make it most effective typically involves something that a) gets you out of the house, b) makes you actively focus on something other than work, c) occupies your attention entirely, d) is physically active and e) is something that you perceive as pleasurable

 It is entirely up to you to choose which activity or activities to spend your breaks doing, as long as they meet some or all of the above criteria. Some suggestions include taking a regular break during work to meditate or have a deep brain rest[1], or to intersperse work periods with cleaning the house. Various leisure activities that were cited as being helpful included attending Tai Chi, yoga, martial arts or other evening classes, going for coffee, to the gym or to have a massage, visiting to children’s assemblies and classroom events, getting into teaching or going cycling, swimming or bouldering. However, if you find that cleaning the house or going for a walk just doesn’t occupy your brain enough, go cycling instead or set yourself a series of  “housework challenges” whilst cleaning to make it more demanding.

 It would seem logical that an activity that meets all the above criteria will be most effective, whereas activities that only meet one or two will be less effective. At some points in the day it may only be necessary to take a short break that fulfils just one criterion. There is also nothing to stop you from doing two separate activities that fulfill different criteria to be just as effective. Longer breaks, however, such as leisure time spent at the weekends, on days off or in the evening should meet more of the criteria. That way you can be sure of using the leisure time effectively as well as enjoyably and will return to work feeling truly refreshed and ready for a new challenge.