Volume 4, No. 1 
January 2000



Happy 2000!
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2000
  Translator Profiles
Love, Languages, and Translation
by Peter Griffin
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
When Trust Is Broken
ASTM Standard for Language Translation
by Steve Lank
Translating the Web: Into the Future
by Jan Oldenburg
Science or Translation?
by Maria Karra
  Translators in the Media
Translators and the Media—Part 1
Translators and the Media—Part 2
  Business & Finance
Translating a Brazilian Balance Sheet
by Danilo Nogueira
  Translating Development
Neologisms in International Development
by Alexandra Russell-Bitting
The Arabic Language and Folk Literature
by Srpko Lestaric
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XVIII
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
WordFisher for MS Word
by Tibor Környei
Translators’ Emporium
Translators’ Events
Letters to the Editor
Call for Papers
Translation Journal
Translation in the Media


ATA 40th Annual Conference, November 4-6, 1999, St. Louis Missouri

Translators and the Media:
A Public Forum to Examine the Image of Translation and Translators in the Popular Media

Part 1

Panel Members: Dee Dee Myers, Kevin Hendzel, Chris Durban, Janet Fraser, Manouche Ragsdale
Moderator: Neil Inglis
Neil Inglis:

y name is Neil Inglis. I’m your moderator for today’s seminar. Before we begin, I would like to share with you a brief personal anecdote, then proceed with the preamble and the introduction of our distinguished guests.
To the extent that Western civilization may be said to be based on the Bible, it is based on the work of translators.
Today, a newcomer to the ATA conference buttonholed me and said “Mr. Inglis, everywhere I go in this conference, people are talking about something called the “poverty cult” or the “cult of poverty” and they say it’s got something to do with you [laughter]. And he went on to say “Well, what is this poverty cult? What do you mean by poverty cult?”

A quick definition of the poverty cult is what happens when you go all the way to the ATA conference and leave your business cards at home [laughter], which I almost did.

Before we begin, a little background. Those of us assembled in this conference hall have a record to be proud of. For example, to the extent that Western civilization may be said to be based on the Bible, it is based on the work of translators. To the extent that modern civilization is undoubtedly predicated upon international exchanges in science and technology, it too is based on the work of translators. If that is true, however, then how can it be that as we stand at the dawn of this new millennium, we translators, the architects of our historical, technical and religious language—how can it be that we remain so under-appreciated and so invisible? How can the worldwide Internet—that medium that has swept aside borders, collapsing boundaries and catapulting other languages and cultures directly into our homes and living rooms—how can it be that the worldwide web should have ended up convincing the general public in the United States that translation can now be accomplished perfectly well by the click of a mouse? Where once the perpetual question asked of translators at cocktail parties was “How many languages do you speak?”, now—alas—the most prominent remark is the dismissive “Oh, I thought software did that now.”

In the commercial translation market, clients expect the impossible on unrealistic terms and with deadlines presupposing access to H. G. Wells’ time machine. The client rallying cry has become “Of course I need it yesterday. If I had needed it tomorrow, I would have given it to you tomorrow.”

But there is a serious note here. It is perhaps not surprising that translators have grown frustrated with their invisibility: too weary, and often too intimidated to undertake an uphill struggle that often seems simply overwhelming and demoralizing.

In the next hour and a half, we are going to change those perceptions and attempt the impossible. My colleagues and I intend to examine the current public image of translators and interpreters, to dissect their relations with clients, to critique various approaches to public relations and client education—and to prescribe specific practical measures enabling associations and individuals to elevate translators’ public image and promote their visibility with clients, public officials and the media.

What we are not going to do is indulge in wailing and gnashing of teeth about poor translator visibility while throwing in the towel and doing nothing ourselves. We shall resist the temptation to complain bitterly about media depictions of translators while never ever making the effort to correct those erroneous perceptions, even to the extent of becoming participants in our own self-destruction. We panelists set our face against those who cannot entertain the idea of spending money on professional public relations to promote our profession, while simultaneously demanding that our clients pay for our professional services.

Overcoming these preconceptions, ladies and gentlemen, and revolutionizing the debate is a Herculean task, but our panelists tonight are equal to that task. For assembled before you tonight are the leading members of the “professionalist” movement in the translation community. Plus our very special guest, Dee Dee Myers, who possesses unique expertise in television media and a track record at the highest levels of the U.S. governments and who brings unique insights to our discussion. Dee Dee’s experience and perspective on the issues on our agenda are—we believe—especially valuable.

The translators on our panel are all working translators, but they are also activists. In the last three years, these translators, in conjunction with elected association officials and other key players, have fought a good fight. They have joined the battle to promote the public image of translators on the pages of the Financial Times, Export Today, the L.A. Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, to name but a few. Collectively, they have briefed Wall Street brokers, magazine reporters, radio talk show hosts and TV personalities.

My colleagues are going to demonstrate to you tonight that you are a member of a very special and very unique profession that is intrinsically interesting to the media and to the world at large. They will all bring home the message that this battle for public recognition and client education can be fought and won on every level by every individual translator, every association and every group.

It goes without saying that our panelists reject the poverty cult in all its forms, and we devoutly wish that by the end of today, you shall too. For there is no room in today’s proceedings for self-pity and self-deprecation, there is no place for internecine squabbling, ancient grievances or raking over the coals of yesteryear.

Our discussions today will be on a grand scale, focusing on global issues in the worlds of business, politics and defense, and the pivotal role of languages therein. Let the proceedings begin!

Dee Dee Myers
served as White House Press Secretary under President Clinton from 1993-1994. As a member of the President’s inner circle, Myers viewed firsthand the making of history. From the signing of the monumental Mid-East peace accords to the passage of the President’s first budget, from the decision to send U.S. forces into Haiti to the battle to reform health care, Dee Dee Myers was there.
   After leaving the White House, Myers filled the liberal chair on the CNBC political talk show “Equal Time” for two years, matching wits nightly with conservative co-hosts Mary Matalin and then Bay Buchanan. Dee Dee Myers is now the political editor of Vanity Fair magazine.

Kevin Hendzel
(khendzel@asetquality.com), translator and author, is Chief Operating Officer and Director of Language Services at ASET International Services Corp. Kevin served as head linguist on the technical translation staff of the Direct Communications Link (the “Presidential Hotline”) between 1981 and 1985 and has since published 34 books and 2,200 articles in translation (Russian to English) in physics, electronics, telecommunications and law. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Kevin has been a featured speaker at five national ATA conferences and the East Coast Regional Conference, where he served on the organizing committee. His articles on translation and the translation industry have been published in over a dozen trade and professional publications throughout the U.S., Europe, South America and Africa.

Chris Durban
(ChrisDurban@compuserve.com), is a freelance translator, author and columnist. Chris writes a widely-read column entitled “The Onionskin” devoted to client education issues in the translation industry. She is a French to English translator specializing in finance and capital markets. Based in Paris, she was a staff translator with EFSA from 1973 to 1987 and has organized five training events for financial translators in conjunction with the Paris Bourse.

Janet Fraser
(fraserj@wmin.ac.uk), trained as a translator and interpreter at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, in the mid-1970s. After two periods working as a staff translator, she moved into multilingual journalism and since 1988 has been teaching at the University of Westminster. Janet is a Fellow of the Institute of Linguists (IOL) and a Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). She is actively involved in ITI, including sitting on its Council in 1999-2000.

Manouche Ragsdale
(manouche@intextrans.com), was born in Tunisia, educated in France and earned a degree in English from the University of Toulouse, France. Her minor languages are Spanish and Italian. Manouche has continuously worked as a translator (French-English, English-French) since the late 1960’s, with an emphasis on the worlds of entertainment and advertising.

She is just completing a second term as ATA Board of Directors member. She is an accredited member of ATA and has recently been appointed chair of the ATA PR Committee. In such spare time as her busy schedule permits, she manages a translation and audiovisuals company based in Los Angeles, California.

Neil Inglis
(moderator) (ninglis@imf.org), is a senior translator with the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, where he will soon have completed his tenth year. He is participating in today’s event as a private citizen and guest of the organizers, not as a staff member of the Fund. Neil is known to ATA members as a forceful and sometimes controversial advocate of economic prosperity and enhanced professional standards. Born in the United Kingdom, he attended Cambridge University and the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster) before moving to the U.S. in 1984. He gave keynote speeches in 1996 at the East Coast Regional Conference and the ATA conference in Colorado Springs, both focusing on the “poverty cult.”

Neil Inglis: The destruction and abolition of the poverty cult, although not explicitly mentioned on tonight’s agenda, is a goal energetically pursued in various ways by my distinguished colleagues. We have divided the day’s agenda into a variety of topics, and we will begin with the cinematographic portion of today’s entertainment. I will turn you over to Kevin.

Film clips

Kevin Hendzel: We thought we would start this evening looking at how the media—specifically motion pictures—have viewed interpreters and translators over the last thirty years. These clips start out with the Cold War, and move forward to an amusing close. I would like everyone to pay attention to how the interpreter or translator is portrayed, specifically the hotline interpreter at very beginning, played by a very young Larry Hagman.

1. Fail-Safe, directed by Sidney Lumet (1964)

[U.S. President and interpreter in undisclosed secret location in White House during national crisis involving a potential nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union ca. 1964. This discussion is between the President (Henry Fonda) and his interpreter (Larry Hagman) immediately before the President is to call the Soviet Premier.]


—US President: Buck, I’m going to talk to the Soviet Premier. You will translate what he says to me. He’ll have his own translator telling him what I say, but I want something more from you. 

—Interpreter: Whatever I can do.

—President: I think the Premier will be saying what he means. He usually does, but sometimes there’s more in a man’s voice than in his words. There are words in one language that don’t carry the same weight in another, do you follow me?

—Interpreter: I think so, sir.

—President: It’s very important that the Premier and I understand each other. I don’t have to tell you how important. So I want to know not only what he’s saying, but what you think he’s feeling, any inflection in his voice, any tone. Any emotion that adds to his words; I want you to let me know.

—Interpreter: I’ll do my best.

—President: I know you will, Buck. It’s all any of us can do. Don’t be afraid to say what you think. Don’t be afraid all this is too big for you, Buck. It’s big all right, but it still depends on what each of us does, that’s lesson number one. I’ll talk to Moscow, now.

2. The Killing Fields, directed by Roland Joffe (1984)

[Opening scene in landmark post-Vietnam film followed by a post-bombing battle scene in which the interpreter and reporter pick through rubble and attempt to avoid arrest by the Khmer Rouge.]

—Cambodia. To many Westerners it seemed a paradise, another world, a secret world. But the war in neighboring Vietnam burst its borders and the fighting soon spread to neutral Cambodia. In 1973 I went to cover this side-show struggle as foreign correspondent of the New York Times. It was there, in the war-torn countryside, amidst the fighting between government troops and the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, that I met my guide and interpreter Dith Pran, a man who was to change my life in a country that I grew to love and pity.




—Tell me what she’s saying here.

—She needs help. Her shop was destroyed last night, her husband killed.

—How many bombs?

—She doesn’t know.

—Does she know where the hospital is?

—Yes, over there. She wants to know, did someone arrest the pilot?

3. Stargate, directed by Roland Emmerich (1994)

[At a secret U.S. Army military facility, a U.S. army linguist briefs a visiting translator on the strange markings discovered on an ancient archeological stone structure. The visiting translator immediately questions the accuracy of the translation. His revised translation becomes the name of the film.]

—Two lines of hieroglyphs. Now the inner track has the classic figures, but the outer track is like the cartouche in the center. It’s got writing unlike anything we’ve ever found before.

—Those aren’t hieroglyphics. It might be some form of hieratic or maybe cuneiform. Well, the translation of the inner track is wrong. Must have used Brugsch. I don’t know why they keep reprinting his books.

—Excuse me, what are you doing? We’ve used every known technique.

—That’s a curious word to use, eh? “kevé”..


—That’s an adverbial? “segemenev”... unsealed, buried..

—Excuse me, what, what... what are you doing?

—It’s not a coffin. “For all time”... hmm, who in hell translated this?

—I did.

—Well, this should read, a million years under the sky as Ra Sun-God, sealed and buried for all time... so, it’s not “door to heaven,” it’s “Stargate”.

4. Ed’s Next Move, directed by John Walsh (1996)

[Two young men are sitting in a parked car after a disastrous party, exchanging stories about past girlfriends. They are slightly drunk.]

—But what happened to your old girlfriend?

—She broke it off. Said I wasn’t flexible. Said she felt claustrophobic. She actually gave me a list of everything wrong in our relationship.

—A list?

—A list. I did ask for one, but I was joking. Claustrophobic! What does that mean anyway?

—I don’t know. It’s like sometimes you need a translator.

[Other man looks out the window and has a mental flashback fantasy about a scene in which he and his ex-girlfriend would have communicated through interpreters. The man and his ex-girlfriend are standing in a field in Wisconsin. Each has a personal interpreter dressed in a power business suit. Each interpreter listens to the original statement and then interprets what the man or his girlfriend “really means.”]

I just feel claustrophobic.

Interpreter: You need me more than I need you.

Man: I need you as much as anyone needs anyone they care about.

Interpreter: I’m confused because I haven’t taken this perspective on my needs before.

Girlfriend: I’m like a balloon and you’re like a rock.

Interpreter: I’m open to change. You’re an immovable object who can’t see the benefit of a little risk.

Man: I think you’re wrong.

Interpreter: I’m right as usual.

Girlfriend: I just think we need to take some time to rethink what we’re doing together, maybe make things a little less exclusive.

Interpreter: There’s a guy at work who makes the zipper on my jeans melt.

Man: No!

Interpreter: Yes.

Man: I don’t think it’s healthy for us to see other people.

Interpreter: If I see you with that guy I’ll kill him and/or separate him from his most precious organ with a dull butter knife.

Girlfriend: I just need to take some time to figure things out. I just need some time. Is that too much to ask?

Interpreter: Wake up, it’s over.

Man: My head hurts.

Interpreter: My head hurts.

Girlfriend: Call me later. I’ll be home.

Interpreter: If you think I’m going to change my mind, you’re dreaming.

Man: Yeah, fine. Alright, okay.

Interpreter: I cannot put into words the feelings raging within me at this moment. Suffice it to say I am now envisioning putting a gun to my head the moment you walk away from me.

Interpreter 1: Bob, latté?

Interpreter 2: I know a place around the corner.

Kevin Hendzel:
Consider the first clip, where you have a President lecturing an interpreter about language. And then the perception of the interpreters at the end, where they have complete control of everything—an interesting change.

Neil Inglis
The first question is for our special guest, Dee Dee Myers, and we will start with some background that focuses on recent military events. Here are two passages from the press, specifically the Daily Telegraph.

Item 1
. A report in the Daily Telegraph. “On April 14, NATO planes flying from Aviano, in northern Italy, made two attacks near the town of Djakovica in southern Kosovo. One of the targets turned out to be a column of refugees heading south for the Albanian border—a column of civilians driven by Serb soldiers. Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark was scheduled to go on the air and explain what seemed to be civilian victims of NATO planes. At the last minute, a staff member rushed to Clark with the transcript of an intercepted Serb radio transmission, on the basis of which Clark publicly accused the Serbs of an act of extreme brutality—opening fire on the civilians in the refugee column. It was simply not true. The radio conversation NATO had intercepted had been mistranslated. It was “all a question of the use of indefinite articles and some other things in the translation itself,” according to Gen. Clark. NATO had a significant fund of goodwill to draw on; most of the correspondents trusted Jamie Shea. But in the days that followed, the Alliance ran through that trust like a spendthrift.

Item 2
. Report in the Electronic Telegraph, May 23, 1999. “The Evening Standard reported on May 18 that Gerhard Schröder was opposed to any deployment of NATO ground troops. According to the report, the German Chancellor, speaking in southern Italy, had said the use of ground troops was “unthinkable.” The word “unthinkable” dominated news stories over the next 24 hours. Papers sought to portray a major gap between Britain and Germany. There was one small problem. Schröder never said what he was claimed to have said. The German papers carrying Schröder’s press conference made no reference to “unthinkable” (undenkbar in German). Instead, what the Chancellor had said was: “For Germany, sending ground troops is not being considered. ”

Based on your personal experience as White House Press Secretary, how often do reporters and other media figures rely on translators and “spin-doctoring” to remedy the damage, or just blame the translator/interpreter? How often do reporters formally recognize translators and interpreters in their work? What do reporters and media figures think about the role of translators and interpreters?

Dee Dee Myers:
That’s a series of complicated questions. I think—particularly for Americans, as I’m sure most of you are aware—reporters and media people are completely dependent on translators and interpreters (and I’m well aware, by now, of the difference! We had this nasty little habit at the White House of calling everybody translators, regardless of what their job was, because Americans don’t speak any other languages.)

Kevin and I were speaking just a few minutes ago: we don’t think there’s a President this century who had much competence in any foreign language, let alone several. So American diplomats are generally quite dependent, although obviously we have a Secretary of State who speaks several languages now. That’s the exception rather than the rule, and it’s only true in many respects because Madeleine Albright was born overseas. As for people like me, for the staff—we were completely dependent on translators to translate questions from reporters from other countries, and answers, or news accounts of stories that would affect what we were expected to do every day. So I think, on balance, Americans—and I’m sure it’s true in many other countries, depending on what language business is being done in—are completely dependent on interpreters. Every now and then, you’ll see a Head of State correct his interpreter. That happened just recently in Oslo, where Yasser Arafat’s interpreter interpreted something to the effect of “we hope that the Wye accords are implemented completely”, at which Arafat broke in to correct him, saying “no, implemented honestly.” Most of the time Arafat acts like he doesn’t speak English, but obviously he speaks fairly good English if he can make that correction.

Now, do people blame interpreters or do they spin...? Well, whatever’s going to get them out of a jam the quickest! Sometimes both, and in the case of your Wes Clark example, I think that’s the answer. On the one hand, you’ve created a situation where you’ve been pointing fingers at the Serbs, and you’re going to have to spin your way out of that, trying to figure out a way to continue to paint them as the bad guys. And you’ve obviously been caught in quite an unfortunate mistake, so you’re going to blame the interpreters—and interpreters, as all of you I’m sure know, are kind of defenseless. They really can’t step forward and say “I didn’t make a mistake” or “I repeated what the President said, he changed his mind.” When it comes to protecting yourselves, you are at the end of the food chain, and I’m sure many of you have been in circumstances where things like that have happened. Ultimately, making the official—whether it’s the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury—look good and protecting them from blame is the overriding mission. So you’re powerless against those forces that are working to protect the principle—even if he or she is at fault.

Finally, you ask what the perception of translators is in the media. Depending on what their jobs have been, there are too many reporters who have no perception. In general, the American public doesn’t have much of an impression of translators and interpreters at all. They see you standing there interpreting for the Head of State, and they think that all the job requires is that somebody know two languages. Now that’s something I certainly found out in spades when I was working in the government: not only do interpreters have incredible language skills—and often in more than one language—but they also have incredible technical skills in whatever area they’re translating. You don’t go in to interpret for arms-control negotiations between the United States and Russia unless you have real expertise in the language of arms control, the history of arms control. But for my experience in the White House I wouldn’t have the more complex appreciation I do for what you guys do.

There are a lot of reporters at the White House who have served as foreign correspondents, and that helps a lot. Because even though many of them develop quite good language skills for everyday conversational needs, they know that they’re still dependent on translators to make sure they get the nuances of issues of state correct day in and day out. People with international experience have a greater appreciation of language skills, and I think that makes one of the goals of your organization easier: that is, trying to build a more complex and better perception—or a perception at all—of interpreters and translators.

Neil Inglis
Kevin, here is a selection from one of your articles published this year:

”The world around us has changed. It has only been in the last decade that the translation and localization industries have exploded in size, complexity, maturity and visibility. What was once believed to be the exclusive domain of eccentric academics holed up in the dark corners of public libraries has now evolved into a $11 billion-dollar worldwide industry that has negotiated the wave of technical innovation and international trade with remarkable agility. The industry has a global reach that has only recently begun to attract the attention of Wall Street, journalists and the media.”

Can you give concrete evidence of this claim that the industry “has only recently begun to attract the attention of Wall Street, journalists and the media?” If all this new-found visibility is true, why do none of the results of this activity appear to filter through to the general public? How much Wall Street interest in the industry is interest in translation itself and how much is interest in money?

Kevin Hendzel
: I hope that some of you were able to see the posters that we have put up along the back of this room, outside and up front here. These are all articles or feature articles or letters to the editor that have been written or placed by individuals serving on our panel, or by ATA in the past three years. Thus, when, say, The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times of London published a misinformed item on machine translation, all of us would get into a flurry, and end up getting more column inches for our letters and responses to their claims for machine translation than were actually there in the original articles.

But we’ve also looked at what happened prior to 1995, through some data provided by Wolfgang Gunther. Wolfgang did a dialogue search of 400 scientific, medical, technical, business publications and 54 US daily newspapers, looking at terms relating to translation and interpreting. These occurred 660,000 times in daily newspapers over about eight years. By comparison, there were 520,000 terms related to architect—meaning translators and translation are more commonly mentioned in the press than architects. There were 856,000 devoted to lawyers; 1,767,000 devoted to attorneys; 712,000 devoted to engineer; and 134,000 devoted to chemists. I should add that Wolfgang’s a chemist—needless to say, he was very hurt by that piece of information.

How does this kind of exposure not filter through to the public?

Well, the fact is we don’t know what Wolfgang’s references are saying about translation. After all, those could be 660,000 references to machine translation. What we need to do is examine this information and see how we are being portrayed.

With respect to your last question—is Wall Street interested in translation or in something else?—Wall Street is interested in money. They don’t care if we make sausages in multiple languages; the only thing they care about is money. And the money that has risen up into the industry, which is now $11 billion domestically, has exploded on the scene in the last five years. In 1965 the US domestic market for translation services totaled $25 million, solely because the government was spending a lot of money on the Cold War. Today it’s $11 billion at home and an estimated $17 billion worldwide, which makes a much different market. Wall Street has noticed us because of money, which has caused a lot of mergers and acquisitions, as we’re all aware.

But one of the side effects of all of this is that we’re much more visible as an industry. Today I get calls from brokers who want to know about revenue, translation and profit. That would never have happened seven years ago.

So our professional star is rising, and we all need to be aware of it; we need to take advantage of it. Every person in this room is responsible for it. And what we’ll discuss tonight is how ATA can act, how the regional groups can act, and how individuals can act. In the handouts take a look at some of the things the activists have done over the last two years.

Neil Inglis
Janet and Chris, how would you characterize the broader public view of translators and the translation industry in Europe? In what ways does it differ fundamentally from the views of the essentially monolingual (excepting Spanish) U.S. business community?

Janet Fraser:
In the UK, which is the situation I know best, we obviously have an advantage and a disadvantage. The world is so dominated by English—at least that’s the perception—that very often the British feel that they don’t need to speak foreign languages. That said, most people in Europe and certainly in the UK are fluent to a certain extent in at least one other foreign language. But a little learning is a dangerous thing. Because so many people do have some knowledge of foreign languages, it’s assumed that anybody with any knowledge of foreign languages can translate or can interpret, and of course we know that that is not the case.

However, I think a measure of the position in Europe and in the UK is given by the fact that the European Union spends some forty percent plus of its annual administration budget on translation and interpretation services—an enormous chunk. But it’s a question of getting people to understand the nature of the very specific skills that we have.

I gather that in the US technical writing and writing for professional purposes is very highly developed. In the UK it’s not, and translation students are left out of that writing skills side, with the result that very often translators get left out of the technical documentation loop. They are the last group to be thought about. One translator with whom I’ve done some research—and I don’t know whether it conveys in American English—said “we’re the tail-end Charlies”, in other words, the last people thought about when documents are being prepared. There’s another perception that one translator had, that “we are somebody who types a text from one language into another, just before it has to be submitted”—(my emphasis). So we’ve got a long way to go in the UK as well.

And just one small remark in parenthesis: until two years ago, translators and interpreters didn’t even have their own entry in the trade telephone directories. If you wanted to find translators and interpreters, you needed to go to secretarial services. Now they have their own entry, but it appears between Trampolines and Transparent Packaging. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Chris Durban:
I’ll echo some of what Janet has said. Certainly the situation is different from one European country to the next, but I know in the twenty-plus years I’ve lived in France, there has been a major change in the private sector, which is what I know best. Nowadays, most of the French business people I work with have a passive knowledge of at least one foreign language—they can certainly read English. And this has had a definite impact on the translation market. The for-information / gist / “just-tell-me-what-this-says” market is, if not gone, at least on its way out. So my recommendation to translators in general is to specialize—choose a subject where there is demand, and move up into for-publication work; that is where the action is and where demand will be in the years ahead. The business people I work with are at ease in reading one foreign language, but they cannot write it (which is where we come in). Sometimes they do not know this, which means translators in France—and I daresay the rest of Europe—face a client education problem as well.

Neil Inglis:
Last year, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright interrupted her Czech interpreter during a presentation to correct a specific phrase he used in Czech. Many Czech interpreters subsequently defended the interpreter, pointing out that the correction itself was suspect. What is surprising about this event is not that a multilingual Secretary of State took issue with an interpreted comment, but that the interpreter was noticed at all. In researching this event, the panelists had extreme difficulty finding press photos that actually showed interpreters in the same frame as public officials.
(To Myers): Do you have an opinion on why this is so? What was your experience at the White House on photo-ops involving public officials and their interpreters? Do you find that the press or government officials actively choose to exclude references to interpreters or translators?

Dee Dee Myers:
Growing up in politics, one thing you do is something called “advance”, where you go out and plan events, setting up the photo and making sure everything is perfect when the President, or the Presidential candidate, or the Governor comes into the room. And one of the immutable truths of that is get everybody out of the picture except the two—who are usually two guys. This is a deliberate effort and a lot of energy goes it—even on things like the “Walk in the Woods”, which President Reagan did with Gorbechev, and Clinton recreated in Vancouver with Yeltsin. The question arose, “Well, they can’t really talk to each other without the translators.” And the answer was: “That’s okay, they’ll just stumble along until the photo-op is over and then the translators will come up behind them.” So there is without a doubt a concerted effort to keep translators out of pictures. But it’s certainly less a statement about the importance of translators than it is about trying to always frame the dignity of the President, or the President of Russia or whoever. Yet in a way it does have that effect. You can’t be constantly shoving the translators out of the picture without a lot of people around getting the message that these people are a little bit less important.

The same is true for late-night negotiating sessions where translators are involved—sorry! interpreters. I keep saying translators when I mean interpreters, even though I now know the difference. But you do have both translators and interpreters involved in producing documents, and there is certainly, for the negotiators, a sense that, “hey all you have to do is put down what we say,” when in fact you guys know that that’s not at all what happens; trying to match two different languages about very difficult technical issues is a lot more difficult than just “writing down what we say.” I think there is sometimes a lack of appreciation for the difficult jobs that translators and interpreters do, but at the same time, a growing appreciation for it.

I think one of the reasons is that you have to tie what it is you all do to what’s important to people’s lives. They don’t have any understanding about how translation and interpretation services affect their lives. For example, we all know that international trade requires translation and interpretation. That creates a lot of jobs, and most of the jobs in the United States that are international trade-related pay almost twenty per cent more than those that aren’t. So there are ways in which you can begin to link the services that you provide to the real lives of people in ways that can make it more meaningful, more concrete. And that goes from talking about the President of the United States down to whatever other services you all provide.

Neil Inglis:
Chris, this is from a recent paper you gave at a translation conference: ”About three years ago I began writing a client education column for the ITI Bulletin. The motive was sheer frustration at how often translators regale each other with tales of poor decisions by customers and resulting damage in terms of market share or image—yet only rarely make these stories accessible to a wider public. As a result, business users of translation have little opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes. Instead, translation anecdotes picked up by the general and business press tend to be tales—à la “Nova” and “WC Fields”—usually apocryphal, and in any case so dated and lacking in names, figures and interest that they are little more than filler.”

Why do translators fail to make these disasters known to the public or, perhaps more important, to the clients themselves? Why is this important to the image of the profession? Are translators professionally obligated to inform their clients when their translated material falls below par?

Chris Durban:
Well that’s an easy one! One of the reasons these stories don’t often come to light is confidentiality. All of us know that we are required to respect the confidentiality of our clients’ work. And of course it’s generally not in a translator’s business interest to highlight mistakes made by her clients.

When I research stories for the Onionskin, I make a point of working my way up the chain to try to identify who made the mistake. And believe me, it is positively embarrassing to see the extent to which people hide behind others or point their fingers at someone else, anyone else.

A lot of the blunders are due to clients not knowing how to use their translators in the first place. And of course, as we all know, some translators do take on jobs which they’re really not qualified to do. But regardless of the cause, the fact that this news does not get out means that clients don’t learn from past mistakes. That has an impact on all of us because it means that translators who aim to provide quality services are constantly having to go back to educate clients on the most basic things, such as “professional translators work only into their native language” or “remember to run proofs past the translator for a final check before publication.”

A lot of the articles posted around this room contain kernels of wisdom and useful tips, but I admit I have been struck by the number of journalists who will happily write up an article and not mention any of the basic points that make up best practice. Or, worse yet, recycle utterly misleading information. Result: clients simply don’t know how to use our skills. Part of this is due no doubt to the fact that translators come at the end of the document creation process, so we are always rushed for time.

With regard to your last question—are we professionally obligated to inform clients of poor work?—I have no sympathy, none whatsoever, for shoddy work. I know several translators who say they feel bad about pointing out that a colleague has done a poor job; I disagree. Quite frankly, and not to get too metaphysical about this, I think language deserves better. And in business terms, our clients certainly deserve better. Most of the customers I work with want their texts to work, and if I or anyone can do the job of educating them so that they can use translators’ professional services more effectively, it’s all for the better. It’s important to remember that clients get very little feedback; that’s a given in our industry.

A last point: when I research Onionskin stories, I often come up against “Oh, it’s all so subjective, you know. ” Well, I’m happy to say it isn’t really all that subjective, in fact. Among qualified professionals you can generally reach a consensus about what represents good to excellent work.

Janet Fraser:
I’d just like to follow on briefly from what Chris has said, and to think about the role of these urban myths, or urban legends, in translation. I have two wonderful books at home, The Choking Doberman and The Vanishing Hitchhiker, in which the author goes into the purpose of the urban myth, which is to somehow sanitize and make manageable the fears we all have by emphasizing the fact that we know these are stories and legends. I think much the same applies to translation. By perpetuating anecdotes, we manage our own fear about the scale of the task, instead of being confident about what it is that we do. The urban myth also serves the purpose of a put-down, of not allowing hubris, and I think that too relates to what has traditionally been a personality—among translators in particular—that has not served us well. We have this stereotype of being bookish, introverted, monkish, sitting in our cells, rather isolated. We need to realize that we have the skills to get out there and to actually portray our working lives as they are, instead of as a series of urban myths.

Neil Inglis:
Janet, you’ve performed original research on clients’ misperceptions about the nature and professionalism of translators. You have data on translation companies’ and agencies’ failure to supply background information or answer questions for translators and translators’ failure to ask.

What have you found to be the greatest client misperceptions about translators in the U.K.? How have translators responded to this client environment? What is your advice for promoting client education in both the U.K. and U.S?

Janet Fraser:
Yes indeed, one of my roles as an academic is to conduct research, in this case very practitioner-oriented research. I’ve now surveyed a quarter of the membership of the UK translators’ association, which is statistically significant, and am doing some work to counter the anecdote, counter the urban legend and give translators some facts and figures to work with.

First of all, I found crass ignorance. One translator was actually asked “Well how much do you charge for photocopying into French?” Another translator asked, “How long is the document you want translated?” and heard “Oh, about half an inch thick.” Yet another supplied a disk to a printer; the printer rang her up and asked, “Well, what button do I press to put it into Greek?” (I’m not quite sure what was going on there.) I’ve given you the quote about the tail-end Charlies. Another translator said she felt like a semi-mechanical adjunct to the whole documentation process; the last thing that clients think of; a necessary evil. Perhaps one translator summed it all up: she said, “Very often I’ll ask questions, and the client scratches his head and says, But can’t you just translate?”

I did find stunning levels of non-cooperation between clients and translators—and by clients I mean both agencies and companies, and direct clients. I found that only eight percent of UK translators were told as a matter of course who the readership was for their translation. Seventeen percent said they were never given that information. Only twelve percent of translators were given information on document use and status, by which I mean “for publication”, where it’s going to appear, how it’s going to be used, who the readership is, how expert they are and so on. Nine percent said they were never given it. But I also found that significant proportions of translators were not asking for that information. This was confirmed by the translation agencies and companies, which I surveyed separately. Twenty-two percent said their translators never asked them for such information. Fourteen percent said that they were never asked about use and the status.

And yet I found that when I analyzed the forms, a lot of the translators referred to client education. My “client educators,” as I called them, ranked more highly on all the criteria—and I won’t go into the criteria here—but they scored more highly on satisfaction and information criteria then those who did not educate. And those who asked for the information were much more likely to be satisfied with their clients.

So it’s really a question of educating every single new client, reminding them about the way you like to work, the things you need, reminding them to give you glossaries. Translators told me, “I discovered there was a glossary after I’d done the job; nobody thought to send it to me. I found there was plenty of documentation there but they simply didn’t think I would be able to use it.” Or: “Access to the client would have resolved questions in two hours. It took me several days of net-searching to actually answer the questions that I had.” It’s a question of not giving in to “bad behavior” from clients on things like deadlines and providing information.

One translator said to me—and it’s a bold statement, but think about it—”There’s no such thing as a deadline. The deadline is all in their mind, but you’ve got to get them to realize that it’s all in their mind.” Another translator proved it. She had a client who wanted something in a very obscure language, highly technical, by tomorrow, and she took a deep breath and refused. The client threw a wobbly—a tantrum, in US English!—went away, got it done elsewhere, and then came crawling back, saying “I’ve had to bin this job, it was rubbish.” That client now does not say to her “ I need it by... ” He says, “How long do you need?”

Neil Inglis:
In the U.S. where the press and media cover technology obsessively—where magazines from Time and Newsweek to Export Today sing hosannas to the miracles of translation software, how do translation companies deal with such expectations?

(To Kevin and Manouche): How do translation service providers handle impossible client expectations for software? What does a U.S. translation company do when a manufacturer or exporter—who is likely to view foreign languages as a curiosity or a nuisance—finds out the true cost of translation?

Manouche Ragsdale:
As you know, client education is a sore point with all of us. Clients do not understand our business. Recently I had a client who called and said, I’m giving a conference in (he named a resort) and I would like to rent 900 head-sets that translate into Spanish. I’m not making this up. And I said, I don’t think they’ve been invented yet. I would be very rich if I could invent the head-set that translates. But what you need is interpreters, and not only that, you need two per language, you need full audio-visual equipment, and you need installation. And I listed a whole list of what they needed, to this poor man who had been thinking that he was going to get away with around 900 dollars for his conference. When I finished rattling off what he needed, plus perhaps the cost of putting up the interpreters at the resort site, and giving them food (food—what a crazy notion! Why do you need food?!), it came to several thousand dollars. I heard a big thud; it was the client dropping, and then, when he revived, he said, You’re sure I need that? And I said, Positive. I would gladly give you the magic headsets if I had them, but I don’t. So finally, through education, and through a serious talk, I explained that he needed humans to do the work. This education is primordial. There is a huge amount of misinformation, disinformation, ignorance, whatever you want to call it.

Continued with Part 2.