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Certified Translation: the UK Way

November 24th, 2010

One of my most bizarre experiences as a translator took place some time ago not so long after my move to the UK. An agency asked me to translate a marriage certificate, which then needed to be certified by an affidavit. I had to check in my dictionary what an ‘affidavit’ is and found out that it is a formal statement sworn in front of a notary public. It seemed so far departed from Poland, where to become a sworn translator you not only need the right qualifications (a relevant degree), but also have to take a rigorous competence exam organised by the Ministry of Justice. After that you receive an official stamp and can certify your own translations, which is required in case of most official documentation (marriage, birth certificates, etc).

Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

I arranged a meeting with a notary public who was also the ‘taker of oaths’ and brought my translation with me not sure what to expect of the whole process. The notary’s office was based in a house which could have been taken out of a Dickens’ novel. I was ushered into a room where I waited for the notary, who soon turned up wearing his black robe and looking rather distracted. He looked at my translation and the original text, marked them as page A and page B and then offered me the Bible (sic!) to put my hand on. Amazing! I felt like in an American court movie, while at the same time thinking that I might as well be swearing on Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

He pronounced:
‘Do you swear that the text A is an accurate translation of text B?’
‘I do’ (pharyngeal swallowing sound). He scribbled some sort of signature underneath my translation.
‘OK, please pay £16 at the reception.’
‘But wait a minute! How about some sort of official stamp?’
‘Oh, she wants a stamp. There you go’, he sounded amused, like he was pampering his little niece by letting her play with his stationary.
‘And receipt??’ I really panicked here. I was wondering what evidence there was of me obtaining the ‘certification’ that I could present to the agency who hired me.
‘Oh, the receptionist will give you a receipt. Good bye!’ and he disappeared into the back rooms of the house.

I paid and collected my receipt (which I still have as a keepsake) and left with total confusion and disbelief. The agency was very happy with the translation and they did not question the affidavit. I guess it must have still had the aura of credibility bestowed on it by the notary public’s magical powers to turn a translation into an accurate translation. Cross my heart and hope to die!

Eggs Not For Translators

December 8th, 2009

A recent translation enquiry and the following email exchange with one of my customers have inspired me to do this wacky mathematical experiment…

The most precious object - Fabergé Imperial Egg - the Coronation Egg

The most precious object - Fabergé Imperial Egg - the Coronation Egg

I have been reading up a bit on the Fabergé Eggs and the tradition of the Russian Tsars to commission a jewelled egg as an Easter gift for their spouses and have been completely beguiled by this idea as well as by the magnificence of the surviving Imperial Easter Eggs. One of the masterpieces, the Coronation Egg, presented by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife at Easter 1897, was estimated to have sold at the 2004 Sotheby’s auction for about 18-24 million dollars making it one of the most expensive decorative objet d’art in history.

My customer and I with an almost audible deep sigh commented in our emails on how many words one would have to translate to be able to afford such a precious thing. This thought has been haunting me ever since – exactly how many words? Or rather – how many years would I have to work to be able to purchase such an egg???

Are you ready to find out?

299 years !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have assumed the following:

To earn 24,000,000 dollars: 1 translator working at a rate of 2,000 words a day charging $0.11 per word (an average rate according to my sources) would have to work for 109,090 days, which equals 298.87 years. Forget holidays, weekends, paying rent or taxes – all of this to buy this one special egg. In terms of total word count – 218,180,000 words to translate!

Luckily, a Russian jeweller Alfa Jewel has started to produce a limited edition of exact replicas of the Faberge Eggs. The first design, Spring Flowers Egg, which they have now made available costs a mere £166,000. Now, here’s a thought…

Translator Mum

March 23rd, 2009

My little son was born with his hands on the computer keyboard. Well, almost. The amount of time I spend on my laptop – translating, researching, learning, broadcasting, socialising, listening to music and radio, telephoning, playing, killing time, managing, organising, living – is just too scary to think about.

When Kasper arrived, I often found myself typing with one hand while holding the sleeping child on my lap with the other. Having fairly long fingers helps with AltGr+2 (=@ on the Polish keyboard) or AltGr+a (=ą) key combinations. I challenge you to have a go if you haven’t tried it before…

But it wasn’t until Kasper was 7 months old that I embarked on a large translation project and announced with a big bang being back in business. On Mother’s Day (UK – 22nd March) and with the project nearly finished, here are some thoughts on being a new mum and a freelance translator – trying to manage without additional childcare.

Translation Super-Mum

You need the following ingredients:
1. one determined translator mum
2. one cooperative infant
3. one patient partner
4. one translation project that better be worth it
5. one good project manager (if applicable)

So you are a determined translator mum. Accept that from now on the concept of free time does not exist. As a new mum this is probably nothing new – what free time? you ask. Ha! That free time you have just started to recoup in the evenings with your baby’s newly developed sleeping routine. If you follow the advice literature, your cooperative baby (round 6 months) now goes to bed around 7pm and, apart from a late evening feed, sleeps through the night until morning (‘morning’ in baby talk means anything between 3-7am).

So the deal is – you can work from 7pm as long as you can keep your eyes open – but remember this routine must be sustainable – you can’t kill yourself staying up till early hours as that will have a knock-on effect on your productivity the following day.

So, let’s agree that 7-12pm is doable – 5 hours of work, then 6-7 hours sleep if you’re lucky – also sensible. The day belongs to your baby and their routine – feeds, walks, playtime, so don’t try and do too much. Don’t feel guilty about not doing any translation work, and take a nap during the day (while your cooperative baby naps) to charge your batteries a bit. If you think a regular full time working week is 37.5 hours (5 days x 7.5 hours), then you get near this if you work 7 days x 5 hours= 35. The extra 2.5 hours you make up during the weekend, when your partner takes the baby for a walk and to visit the grandparents – and voila – this proves you can theoretically squeeze in a full-time workload into a mum’s day.

Now, the patient partner comes into play. They must be patient as your shared ‘quality time’ is out of the equation. Those nice evenings cuddling up in front of the telly after a whole day of baby talk and potato pure (in mum’s case) – they are on hold for the duration of your project. Your partner needs to show a lot of understanding and help out as much as possible with your baby in the evenings/early mornings and weekends. If they are willing and able to help – then you are a lucky translator mum. I count myself as one – and am very grateful for it!

As for the translation project and the project manager – the better conditions they offer (interesting topic of translation, decent pay, reasonable deadline, good communication style, professionalism, etc), the happier you will be to be back at your desk every night! Thank you Benny for being my James Perfect.

It feels really great to be able to achieve this and feel to be back on the professional arena without missing out on your baby’s development. It is definitely a shared effort and a compromise, but remember that every project has an end date and hopefully you get a chance to relax and take a deep breath before the next job comes up.

The alternative is to move to a country with free childcare!

So that’s my recipe. It is ready to serve!


Usable Usability?

February 25th, 2009

The term usability has caused me a bit of a translator’s headache recently. After just a few minutes of research, I discovered I was not the only one. What a nuisance it has been to the Polish IT-crowd and linguists! You just need to look it up online and bang! you have just walked into a mine field of self-righteous blog posts, snide comments and endless forum threads.

Do I even dare to join the discussion?

The Wikipedia definition of usability in English is the following:

Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability can also refer to the methods of measuring usability and the study of the principles behind an object’s perceived efficiency or elegance.

Let’s get an overview of possible/existing translations of the term ‘usability’ into Polish:

użyteczność – the most widely used Polish translation of the term is strictly speaking incorrect. It is a loan translation from English which entered the IT jargon before linguists managed to get to it! It translates back as “usefulness” or “practicality”, which is not equivalent to the ease of use that the real ‘usability’ offers.

Jakob Nielsen's vote - No!

funkcjonalność – being fit for purpose – we are getting warmer – however, this term has already been taken to denote “having many functions” – the English equivalent of “functionality”. Next please.

używalność – the proposed alternative to użyteczność, which seems to tick the boxes – it suggests the capability of use, however the suffix -alny can be also interpreted by some as a “bare minimum”. Let me give an example: in Polish jadalny means “edible” – it is far from being delicious.

Jakob Nielsen's vote - Not sure!

ergonomia – the study of principles and methods for adjusting devices and tools to the human physical and mental capabilities. Jack pot? I think this well established term is the closest in its meaning and scope to “usability” and offers a whole range of possible usages as a noun, an adjective or an adverb.

Jakob Nielsen's vote - Yes!

My verdict – Funkcjonalność jest używalna, a ergonomia użyteczna.

Viva la ergonomia!

James Perfect is a Localisation Manager at a software engineering company Digita Ltd. Every year his company releases several new applications and updates (with accompanying website documentations), which require to be translated into a set of languages of the countries which are targeted for sales. With years of experience in the localisation business, James has developed a smooth-running process and established a good work relationship with a circle of freelance translators. Before his career as a PM took off, James himself used to work as a translator and now he finds this experience invaluable for his current job. He is directly involved in commissioning translations, so he always makes sure that the work deadlines are realistic. As a successful project manager he is organised, works well under time pressure and can prioritise tasks. He responds to emails within hours and leaves no enquiries unanswered. At the begging of each project, he provides the translators with glossaries and other helpful materials (such as demo versions of the software etc.) and makes sure to leave feedback upon completion. On the personality level, James is chatty, approachable and open-minded. He is a proud dad of a 5-year-old girl called Susan and he likes to take her swimming every Sunday morning to the local pool.

Jenny Morelikeit works as a Project Coordinator for a translation agency. Her latest customer is a vacuum cleaner manufacturing company. Wanting to boost sales in several foreign markets, the company Dusty No More Ltd has decided to have their website translated into the relevant languages. With a very small budget (further diminished by the agency margins) and no time to spare (the launch of the translated websites was scheduled rather unrealistically), Jenny has to move fast to find translators available to do the work over the weekend. With a long chain of communication, one document goes missing and one is sent out before reaching its final draft form. Jenny works under a lot of time pressure and therefore has no time for pleasantries. There is no time to deal with the translators’ enquiries so certain nuances of the text are left to intelligent guesses. After a stressful day, it takes several glasses of red wine and a bubble bath for Jenny to recover and switch to party mode for the coming weekend.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual people or companies is coincidental. All names are fictitious.

P.S. I really sympathise with all Jennies of the translation world and I know how they feel! Acting as a middle person between customers and translators is a demanding and high-pressure job which requires a lot of optimism and patience. I would also like to use this opportunity to thank all wonderful PMs with whom I had the pleasure of working – thank you for being a James!

Which Word? The T-Word…

December 11th, 2008

Which Word has the pleasure of announcing the launch of a new blog on translation, technology and technology of translation. For those who worry that this sounds a bit too robotic for their liking, I rush to add that I will look at the human face of technology as I am passionate about issues relating to human-computer interaction (HCI), especially the multicultural aspect. But I must warn you, as a Pole living in the UK, I am bound to show some personal bias and also comment on the Polish-British interaction (PBI 😉 ) along the way. I hope that some of you readers will join me in this journey into the unknown! So, fasten your seatbelts – Proszę zapiąć pasy – and off we go!